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Algeria

Executive Summary

Algeria is a multiparty republic whose president, the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members and the prime minister, who is the head of government. A 2016 constitutional revision requires the president to consult with the parliamentary majority before appointing the prime minister. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune came to office after winning the December 2019 presidential election, which saw approximately 40-percent voter turnout, following mass popular demonstrations (known as the Hirak) throughout 2019 calling for democratic reforms. Observers characterized the elections as well organized and conducted without significant problems or irregularities, but noted restrictions on civil liberties during the election period and lack of transparency in vote-counting procedures.

The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside of urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the 200,000-member General Directorate of National Security or national police, under the Ministry of Interior, share responsibility for maintaining law and order. The army is responsible for external security, guarding the country’s borders, and has some domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. The Ministry of Justice reported no civil, security, or military officials were prosecuted or convicted of torture or other abusive treatment. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Algeria held a constitutional referendum on November 1. The president and supporters of the referendum argued the new constitution will lead to a greater balance of power between the president and parliament; opponents believed the draft will further consolidate presidential power and did not include sufficient governance and human rights reforms. The constitutional referendum passed with 66.8-percent support and 23.7-percent turnout, which observers assessed was accurate.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary detention; political prisoners; lack of judicial independence and impartiality; unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and press, including criminal defamation laws, arrests of journalists, and site blocking; substantial interference with freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish public officials who committed violations, especially corruption. Impunity for police and security officials remained a problem, but the government provided information on actions taken against officials accused of wrongdoing.

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 during the year that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The government completed its investigation into the April 2019 death of Ramzi Yettou, whom police allegedly beat while he was walking home from an antigovernment protest in Algiers. Yettou died one week after the incident. The cause of death was reported as “undetermined,” prompting authorities to order the investigation. The government did not release the investigation conclusions publicly.

The government did not investigate the May 2019 death of Kamel Eddine Fekhar, who died in pretrial detention following a nearly 60-day hunger strike after his arrest in March 2019, despite ongoing requests from NGOs and Fekhar’s family to conduct an investigation.

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 torture and prescribes prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for government agents found guilty of torture. Human rights activists reported police occasionally used excessive force against suspects, including protestors that could amount to torture or degrading treatment. The Ministry of Justice did not provide figures about prosecutions of police officers for abuse during the year. Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) asserted that impunity in security forces was a problem.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were some significant reports of mental and physical abuse in detention centers that raised human rights concerns. Human rights lawyers and activists expressed concern with prisons’ COVID-19 management.

On July 17, Moussa Benhamadi, former minister and member of the National Liberation Front (FLN), died from COVID-19 while imprisoned. Benhamadi had been held in pretrial detention at El-Harrach Prison since September 2019 as part of an investigation into corruption involving the local high-tech firm Condor Electronics. According to Benhamadi’s brother, he contracted the virus on July 4 and was only transferred to a hospital in Algiers on July 13.

Authorities held some pretrial detainees in prolonged solitary confinement. Authorities held Karim Tabbou, leader of the unrecognized political party Union Democratique et Sociale (UDS), in solitary confinement from his arrest in September 2019 until his July release. Authorities charged him with undermining the morale of the army and distributing flyers or other publications that could harm the national interest.

Authorities referred businessman Rachid Nekkaz, president of the Movement for Youth and Change party and former presidential candidate, to the criminal court on July 29. The government held him in solitary confinement at Kolea Prison after his December 2019 arrest. In November 2019 Nekkaz called for the elimination of all parliamentarians who planned to vote for the Hydrocarbons Law “via Kalashnikov.”

The penal code prohibits the detention of suspects in any facilities not designated for that purpose and declared to the local prosecutor, who has the right to visit such facilities at any time.

Physical Conditions: In 2019, four prisons (out of 49 nationwide) had an inmate population that was between 7 and 10 percent above capacity, according to the Ministry of Justice, which also reported a total prisoner population of 65,000 individuals. Convicted terrorists had the same rights as other inmates but were held in prisons of varying degrees of security, determined by the danger prisoners posed. Prison authorities separate vulnerable persons but provide no consideration for sexual orientation. There were no legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in prison, but authorities stated civil protections extend to all prisoners regardless of gender orientation.

The government used specific facilities for prisoners age 27 and younger. The Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate for Prison Administration and Resettlement (DGAPR) maintained different categories of prisons that also separated prisoners according to the lengths of their sentences. The government acknowledged that some detention facilities were overcrowded but reported it used alternatives to incarceration such as releasing prisoners with electronic bracelets, conditional release, and replacing prison terms with mandatory community service to reduce overcrowding. The Ministry of Justice stated cell sizes exceeded international standards under the United Nations’ Nelson Mandela Rules. Some observers, including government-appointed human rights officials, attributed overcrowding in pretrial detention facilities to continued overuse of pretrial detention.

Authorities generally transferred pretrial detainees, after presenting them before the prosecutor, to prisons rather than holding them in separate detention facilities. The government stated pretrial detainees were normally held in cellblocks separate from those that confined the general prison population.

Administration: The General Directorate of National Security (DGSN) reported it conducted investigations into 83 allegations of mistreatment and took administrative actions against officers it deemed to have committed abuses. Religious workers reported they had access to prisoners during the year and authorities allowed detainees access to religious observance. The DGSN reported it conducted 14 human rights-focused training sessions for 1,289 police officers this year.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local human rights observers to visit prisons and detention centers. ICRC staff visited prisons, police and gendarme stations under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, and an administrative detention center operated by the Ministry of Interior. The ICRC hosted training sessions on human rights standards related to arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures for judicial police from the DGSN and National Gendarmerie, as well as for judges.

Improvements: Authorities alleviated overcrowding by increasing the use of minimum-security centers that permit prisoners to work and by using electronic monitoring. The National Human Rights Council (CNDH) reported numerous visits to prisons and that prison conditions related to COVID-19 were an important focus of their work. The DGSN’s human rights office, created in 2017, reported it led seminars and workshops with the National Human Rights Council and the NGO International Penal Reform (IPF) to provide additional human rights training to its officers. The DGAPR increased prisoners’ access to medical care by offering specific services for detainees at certain hospitals nationwide, to include tuberculosis and cancer treatments. The DGAPR also increased weekly bank transfer limits from 1,500 ($12.50) to 2,500 dinars ($20.83), permitting prisoners more money to purchase staple goods in the prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. A detainee has the right to appeal a court’s pretrial detention order and if released, seek compensation from the government. Nonetheless, overuse of pretrial detention remained a problem. An increase in pretrial detention coincided with the beginning of the popular protest movement in February 2019. The 2017 Universal Period Review, the latest statistics available, reported that 10 percent of the prisoners were in pretrial detention. Security forces routinely detained individuals who participated in unauthorized protests. Arrested individuals reported that authorities held them for four to eight hours before releasing them without charges.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

According to the law, police must obtain a summons from the prosecutor’s office to require a suspect to appear in a police station for preliminary questioning. With this summons police may hold a suspect for no more than 48 hours. Authorities also use summonses to notify and require the accused and the victim to attend a court proceeding or hearing. Police may make arrests without a warrant if they witness the offense. Lawyers reported that authorities usually carried out procedures for warrants and summonses properly.

If authorities need more than 48 hours to gather additional evidence, they may extend a suspect’s time in police detention with the prosecutor’s authorization in the following cases: if charges pertain to an attack on data processing systems, they may extend the time in detention once; if charges relate to state security, they may do so twice; for charges concerning drug trafficking, organized and transnational crime, money laundering, and other currency-related crimes, they may do so three times; and for charges related to terrorism and other subversive activities, they may do so five times for a maximum of 12 days. The law stipulates detainees should immediately be able to contact a family member, receive a visit, or contact an attorney.

The law provides detainees the right to see an attorney for 30 minutes if the time in detention has been extended beyond the initial 48-hour period. In these cases authorities permit the arrested person to contact a lawyer after half of the extended time has expired. Prosecutors may apply to a judge to extend the period before arrested individuals can have access to an attorney. The court appearance of suspects in terrorism cases is public. At the end of the detention, the detainee has the right to request a medical examination by a physician of choice within the jurisdiction of the court. Otherwise, the judicial police appoint a doctor. Authorities enter the medical certificate into the detainee’s file.

In nonfelony cases and in cases of individuals held on terrorism charges and other subversive activities that exceed a 12-day period plus any authorized extension, the law calls for the release of suspects on provisional liberty, referred to as “judicial control,” or release on own recognizance while awaiting trial. Under provisional liberty status, authorities subjected suspects to requirements such as reporting periodically to the police station in their district, stopping professional activities related to the alleged offense committed, surrendering all travel documents, and, in some terrorism-related cases, residing at an agreed-upon address. The law provides that foreigners may be required to furnish bail as a condition of release on provisional liberty status, while citizens may be released on provisional liberty without posting bail.

Judges rarely refused requests to extend pretrial detention, which may be appealed. Should the detention be overturned, the defendant has the right to request compensation. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and reportedly abused them physically and mentally.

Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities used vaguely worded provisions such as “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “insulting a government body” to arrest and detain individuals considered to be disturbing public order or criticizing the government. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations criticized the law prohibiting unauthorized gatherings and called for its amendment to require only notification as opposed to application for authorization. These observers, among others, pointed to the law as a significant source of arbitrary arrests intended to suppress political activism. Police arrested protesters throughout the year for violating the law against unregistered public gatherings.

According to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), at least 44 persons were arbitrarily detained for expressing their opinion, and a number of them were in pretrial detention as of August 25.

On March 1, police arrested human rights activist Ibrahim Daouadji in Algiers. On March 19, Daouadji appeared before a judge in an Algiers court; authorities did not inform his lawyer, and he was placed under warrant by the investigating judge. On April 9, he was sentenced to six months in prison and a 50,000 Algerian dinars (approximately $450) fine for a video he posted online. In the video he criticized his detention conditions after being held in pretrial detention for three months in 2019.

On February 11, authorities released former parliamentarian Louisa Hanoune, president of the Worker’s Party. In May 2019 a military court had convicted Hanoune and sentenced her to 15 years in prison for “conspiracy against the authority of the state.” Human rights organizations criticized the government’s use of military courts to try civilians.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. Nongovernmental observers believed pretrial detainees were a significant portion of the total detainee and prisoner population but did not have specific statistics. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of August 29, approximately 18 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention, an increase from 12 percent in 2019.

The law limits the grounds for pretrial detention and stipulates that before it can be imposed, a judge must assess the gravity of a crime and whether the accused is a threat to society or a flight risk. Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. Human rights activists and attorneys, however, asserted that some detainees were held without access to lawyers.

The law prohibits pretrial detention for crimes with maximum punishments of less than three years imprisonment, except for infractions that resulted in deaths or to persons considered a “threat to public order.” In these cases, the law limits pretrial detention to one month. In all other criminal cases, pretrial detention may not exceed four months. Amnesty International alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals on security-related charges for longer than the 12-day prescribed period.

On January 2, security forces released Lakhdar Bouregaa, an independence-war-era figure, from pretrial detention. Authorities arrested Bouregaa in June 2019 and charged him with “demoralization and contempt for the armed forces.” Authorities held him in pretrial detention for more than six months.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary was not always independent or impartial in civil matters and lacked independence in some human rights cases. Family connections and status of the parties involved influenced decisions. While the constitution provides for the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government, the executive branch’s broad statutory authorities limited judicial independence. The constitution grants the president authority to appoint all prosecutors and judges. These presidential appointments are not subject to legislative oversight but are reviewed by the High Judicial Council, which consists of the president, minister of justice, chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court, 10 judges, and six individuals outside the judiciary who the president chooses. The president serves as the president of the High Judicial Council, which is responsible for the appointment, transfer, promotion, and discipline of judges. The judiciary was not impartial, and observers perceived it to be subject to influence and corruption.

In April the National Union of Judges (SNM) criticized the Ministry of Justice’s decision to bypass the SNM before submitting proposed penal code amendments to parliament.

In May the Ministry of Justice summoned SNM president Saadeddine Marzouk to appear before the Court of Justice. Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati did not specify the charges against Marzouk. The ministry issued the summons shortly after Marzouk called for the new draft constitution to address judicial independence and core Hirak demands.

In August, President Tebboune appointed new courts of appeal presidents and attorneys general, a decision affecting 35 out of 48 judges at the courts of appeal, and 36 out of 48 attorneys general. Tebboune replaced 17 court presidents and transferred 18 of them, while he replaced 19 attorneys general and transferred 17. Tebboune did not indicate if the High Judicial Council reviewed his decision. In October 2019 judges paralyzed the judicial system by going on a general strike to protest the government’s decision to relocate 3,000 judges. The judges suspended the strike after the government agreed to reconsider its decision.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but authorities did not always respect legal provisions that protect defendants’ rights. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to be present and consult with an attorney provided at public expense if necessary. Most trials are public, except when the judge determines the proceedings to be a threat to public order or “morals.” The penal code stipulates that defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial but may be tried in absentia if they do not respond to a summons ordering their appearance.

Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The testimony of men and women has equal weight under the law.

On March 24, an appeals court summoned opposition leader Karim Tabbou, who was convicted earlier in March for “harming national unity,” to appear for his appeal, two days before he was due to be released. The court did not notify Tabbou’s lawyers of the proceedings. During the appeal Tabbou suffered a stroke and was taken to the infirmary. After Tabbou left the court, the judge sentenced him in absentia, affirmed his conviction, and increased his prison sentence from six months to one year. Tabbou’s lawyer argued that he did not receive a fair trial. On July 2, authorities released Tabbou on bail.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

International and local observers alleged that authorities occasionally used antiterrorism laws and restrictive laws on freedom of expression and public assembly to detain political activists and outspoken critics of the government.

According to the CNLD, 61 political prisoners associated with the Hirak protest movement were in government detention. They included journalists, activists, lawyers, opposition figures, and Hirak protesters. International human rights organizations and local civil society groups repeatedly called on the government to release all political prisoners. On September 8, Minister of Communication and government spokesperson Ammar Belhimer stated there were no political detainees in the country.

On July 10, retired army general and former presidential candidate Ali Ghediri went on a hunger strike to protest his detention. The government arrested Ghediri in June 2019 for “undermining the army’s morale” and imprisoned him on treason and espionage charges. On July 29, the Algiers Court’s Indictments Division dropped the espionage charges. Ghediri claimed that his 13 months in prison had been “a political confinement to keep him away from the political scene and the presidential election.”

In June authorities convicted Amira Bouraoui, founder of two opposition movements (Barakat “Enough” and al-Muwatana “Citizenship”). She received a one-year prison sentence on the charge of “inciting an unarmed gathering, offending Islam, offending the President, publishing content which may harm national unity, publication of fake news that may harm safety and public order, and undermining the lives of others.” After 11 days in prison, authorities released Bouraoui on July 2, and placed her under judicial supervision.

In March the government arrested Slimane Hamitouche, the national coordinator of SOS Disparus (an association advocating for the families of those who disappeared during the Dark Decade, 1991-2002), for “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “harming national unity.” In February authorities released Samir Belarbi, a political activist and Barakat movement founder, from pretrial detention, but arrested him again in March for “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “harming national unity.” The government first arrested Belarbi in September 2019 for “harming national unity” and “advertising that may harm the national interest.” On September 15, authorities released Belarbi and Hamitouche from prison after they completed their sentences.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may bring lawsuits, and administrative processes related to amnesty may provide damages to the victims or their families for human rights abuses and compensation for alleged wrongs. Individuals may appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, but their decisions cannot be legally enforced.

In August the lawyers’ collective for Hirak detainees released a statement denouncing the abuse of Hirak detainees’ rights. The collective noted that courts were scheduling appeals trials unusually quickly, ultimately preventing Hirakists’ release or precluding their ability to wait for appeals at home after completing their sentences.

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

The constitution provides for the protection of a person’s “honor” and private life, including the privacy of home, communication, and correspondence. According to human rights activists, citizens widely believed the government conducted frequent electronic surveillance of a range of citizens, including political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists. Security officials reportedly searched homes without a warrant. Security forces conducted unannounced home visits.

An anticybercrime agency is charged with coordinating anticybercrime efforts and engaging in preventive surveillance of electronic communications in the interests of national security. Falling under the Ministry of Justice, the agency has exclusive authority for monitoring all electronic surveillance activities, but did not provide details regarding the limits of surveillance authority or corresponding protections for persons subject to surveillance. The Ministry of Justice stated the agency was subject to all existing judicial controls that apply to law enforcement agencies.

In 2019 the government moved the anticybercrime agency from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of National Defense. A new decree allowed authorities to conduct domestic surveillance and required internet and telephone providers to increase cooperation with the Ministry of National Defense.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and independent media outlets regularly criticized and satirized government officials and policies, but the government on some occasions restricted these rights. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts of public sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

Freedom of Speech: While public debate and criticism of the government were widespread, journalists and activists were limited in their ability to criticize the government on topics crossing unwritten “red lines.” Authorities arrested and detained citizens for expressing views deemed damaging to state officials and institutions, including the use of the Berber flag during protests, and citizens practiced self-restraint in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about security force conduct during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in place, although the government said there had never been an arrest or prosecution under the law. A separate law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for publications that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings.

On March 27, authorities arrested Khaled Drareni, correspondent for the international press freedom group Reporters without Borders and cofounder of the independent news website Casbah Tribune. Police held him in a police station for two nights. On March 29, the Sidi M’Hamed criminal court of Algiers ordered Drareni’s detention in El-Harrach Prison. On March 30, authorities moved him to Kolea Prison. Police had first arrested Drareni on March 7 for assembling without a permit and held him for four days. After his release, Drareni continued covering the antigovernment protests, despite authorities forcing him to sign a letter vowing not to do so. On August 10, the Sidi M’Hamed court in Algiers sentenced Drareni to a three-year prison sentence and a fine. On September 8, an appellate court held a hearing and on September 15 upheld the conviction and sentenced him to two years in prison, where he remained at year’s end.

On May 30, police rearrested Issam Sayeh, an engineer and social media activist. On July 20, the court convicted Sayeh for “insulting the president and the army” and sentenced him to 18 months imprisonment. Authorities first arrested Sayeh in July 2019 and released him in September 2019.

On August 27, authorities arrested Mohamed Tadjadit (known as “the poet of the Hirak”) and placed him in pretrial detention. According to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), Tadjadit is under investigation for publications that may undermine national unity, insult the president, and expose lives to danger by inciting a gathering during the lockdown period.

NGOs reported during the year that following suppression of public activities in years past, they no longer hold events outside of private locations. They also report that owners of public gathering spaces have been told not to rent their locations to certain NGOs.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. ANEP CEO Larbi Ounoughi stated in August that the agency represented 60 percent of the total advertising market. Nongovernmental sources assessed most daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. ANEP added it wished to preserve a pluralistic press and freedom of information and noted that it funded opposition newspapers.

In August, Ammar Belhimer, Minister of Communication and government spokesperson, stated ANEP’s public advertising constituted a form of indirect aid to the press that if liberalized, could lead to the collapse of media outlets who would lose their funding. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising, however, permitted it to exert undue influence over print media.

On April 2, parliament adopted amendments to the penal code that criminalized breaking the government-imposed COVID-19 lockdown rules and spreading “false news” that harms national unity. Penalties for convictions under the bill, which does not distinguish between news reports, social media, or other media, entail prison terms of two to five years and fines.

On April 27, police arrested activist Walid Kechida in Setif for posting memes on Facebook. Authorities accused him of “insulting the president,” “insulting police officers during the performance of their duties,” and carrying out an “attack on religion.” His case is pending trial and he is in pretrial detention.

Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the difficulty of receiving information from public officials. Except for several daily newspapers, the majority of print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.

Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, most foreign media were not accredited. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be citizens and prohibit them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation. According to Reporters without Borders, the government intimidated activists and journalists. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists.

On August 19, authorities arrested France 24 correspondent Moncef Ait Kaci and cameraman Ramdane Rahmouni. The gendarmerie had summoned Ait Kaci in November 2019 and in February. Ait Kaci did not provide reasons for the arrests or the summons, but denied they were related to his articles.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government. Press outlets report taking extra caution before publishing articles critical of the government or government officials due to fear of losing revenue from ANEP.

On May 12, authorities blocked the news website Le Matin dAlgerie. On May 12, authorities blocked the news website lAvant-Garde Algerie. No reason was cited to explain the blocks.

On April 9, authorities blocked internet access to Maghreb Emergent and Radio M, news sites belonging to the Interface Media Group. Kadi Ihsan, Maghreb Emergent editor-in-chief, reported the government denied authorization for his journalists to move in Algiers after curfew unlike some other journalists. Minister of Communication and government spokesperson Ammar Belhimer stated the sites received foreign financing through crowdsourcing, and concluded the sites were funded through “foreign soft power.”

In September an El Watan article detailing large-scale alleged corruption by the sons of the late army chief of staff, Ahmed Gaid Salah, prompted the government to suspend El Watans advertising revenue. The newspaper responded by emphasizing its support for the army.

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and stated the definitions in the law failed to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine. The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials. Defamation laws specify that former members of the military who make statements deemed to have damaged the image of the military or to have “harmed the honor and respect due to state institutions” may face prosecution.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.”

Internet Freedom

The government monitored certain email and social media sites.

Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and email. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.

Police arrested Abdelkarim Zeghileche, director of the independent radio station Radio Sarbacane, on June 23 and placed him in pretrial detention. On August 24, the Constantine court convicted and sentenced Zeghileche to two years in prison for “offense to the president of the Republic” and sharing social media posts “undermining national unity.”

There was some disruption of communication prior to planned antigovernment demonstrations during the year, namely internet shutdowns, the blocking of access to certain online news sites and social media platforms, and the restricting or censorship of content. In March parts of the country continued to experience internet outages during hirak protests.

The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of internet service providers (ISPs) to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance to prevent terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.

By law ISPs face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

For a fourth year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school examinations. The decision was in response to previous leaks of examination materials, which were posted on social media.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Academic seminars generally occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for all religious publications. The law gives authorities broad power to ban books that run counter to the constitution, “the Muslim religion and other religions, national sovereignty and unity, the national identity and cultural values of society, national security and defense concerns, public order concerns, and the dignity of the human being and individual and collective rights.” It further prohibits books that “make apology for colonialism, terrorism, crime, and racism.”

Importers must submit to the ministry the title, author’s name, editor’s name, edition, year, International Standard Book Number, and number of copies to be imported. Importers of books covering the “national movement and the Algerian Revolution” must submit the entire text of the books for review, including a secondary review by the Ministry of the Moudjahidine (veterans of the revolution). The Ministry of Culture can also require a full content review of books on other topics if it chooses. The ministry has 30 days to review the importation application; in the absence of a response after 30 days, the importer may proceed with distribution of the publication. After deciding, the ministry notifies the customs service of the decision to allow or ban the importation of the publication. Appeals may be made to the ministry, with no independent or judicial review provided for in the decree.

A 2017 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran stated, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious reference, public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.” The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days. A nonresponse after this period is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government curtailed this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the national government-appointed local governor before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding organizers’ publicity and outreach efforts. The DGSN reported it arrested 3,017 protesters this year.

The Hirak protest movement, which began in February 2019, consisted of mass, peaceful protest marches taking place every Tuesday and Friday in many locations throughout the country. The protests stopped with the onset of COVID-19 but slowly resumed later in the year. Prior to COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of individuals marched peacefully demanding political reforms. The marches occurred mostly without incident, although police at times used tear gas and water cannons as methods of crowd control.

Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering. NGOs reported instances of not receiving the written authorization in time to hold planned meetings. NGOs reported that the government threatened hotel and restaurant owners with penalties if they rented rooms to NGOs without official authorization. In most cases the NGOs continued to hold their meetings and police came to the hotels to end the gatherings.

Throughout the year police dispersed unauthorized gatherings or prevented marching groups of protesters from demonstrating. Police typically dispersed protesters shortly after a protest began and arrested and detained organizers for a few hours. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other NGOs criticized the government’s use of the law to restrict peaceful assembly.

On the day of the presidential election in December 2019, protests occurred at numerous polling stations throughout the country. Security forces fired rubber bullets at antielection demonstrators in Algiers, Bejaia, Tizi-Ouzou, and Bouira. In Bouira protesters started a fire at the ANIE office. Authorities arrested protesters in those cities, as well as in Mostaganem and Setif. Thousands protested in central Algiers, prompting police forces to deploy water cannons and helicopters.

On March 17, President Tebboune banned gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, Hirak protests resumed in the Kabylie cities of Tizi Ouzou, Bejaia, and Bouira. Protesters and police reportedly clashed during the Bejaia protests.

On June 15, protesters in Tin Zaoutine protested a security barrier preventing access to the town’s water supply. One person was killed and four injured during the protest. Prompted by this event, protesters in Tamanrasset and Bordj Badji Mokhtar gathered to denounce the south’s marginalization in general, and the incident in Tin Zaoutine specifically.

On August 30, police arrested 40 demonstrators who attempted to resume Hirak demonstrations across nearly 30 wilayas (provinces), according to the CNLD. While authorities released most of the protesters late in the night, approximately 40 others remained in custody in jurisdictions across the country. In total, the arrests occurred in 28 wilayas.

According to the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, authorities arrested about 200 persons linked to the protests since the coronavirus restrictions came into effect. On June 19, the league reported 500 persons connected to the Hirak movement were arrested in 23 different wilayas. Authorities later released some of the protesters.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government restricted this right.

The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines and up to six months’ imprisonment.

According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation are entitled to receive a response within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for province-level associations, and 30 days for communal organizations. While the Ministry of Interior oversees the accreditation process for most associations, the president of a local assembly approves applications for communal associations. Although the Ministry of Interior is responsible for authorizing associations, the government stated COVID-19 spurred the ministry to relax registration rules, specifically for health-care charities operating on the local level, as these organizations were better positioned to assist during the pandemic.

The Ministry of Interior may deny a license to or dissolve any group regarded as a threat to the government’s authority or to public order, and on several occasions failed to grant, in an expeditious fashion, official recognition to NGOs, associations, religious groups, and political parties. According to the ministry, organizations receive a receipt after submitting their application for accreditation, and after the time periods listed above, this slip is legally sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space. The law does not explicitly include this provision. If the application is approved, the ministry issues a final accreditation document.

Many organizations reported that they never received a deposit slip and that even with the receipt, it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without formal accreditation. Other organizations reported they never received any written response to their application request even after calling the ministry and trying to register at local police stations. The ministry maintained that organizations that were refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified time period could appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.

The ministry did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparus (SOS Disappeared), Djazairouna, the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), the National Association for the Fight against Corruption, and the Youth Action Movement, all of which submitted their renewal applications in prior years.

The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 132,426 local and 1,734 national associations registered as of September, including 39,437 new local associations and 80 new national associations registered since January. Unlicensed NGOs remained active, but rarely received government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.

According to the Ministry of Interior, during the COVID-19 pandemic the government significantly eased local association requirements, giving local organizations the space to operate. The government determined local civil society organizations, specifically health-care-related charities, were better positioned to assist locally than the federal government. The Ministry of Interior relaxed its registration rules, allowing local governments to authorize local associations, resulting in more than 1,000 new local charity associations. National associations must still submit their applications to the Ministry of Interior for authorization.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted the exercise of these rights.

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

In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” The government requires that foreign diplomats and private sector personnel have armed security escorts from the government if they travel outside of Algiers wilaya, El-Oued, and Illizi, near hydrocarbon industry installations, and the Libyan border. Citing the threat of terrorism, the government also prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi. Newspapers reported that the government restricted foreign tourists from traveling through trails in Tassili and Hoggar, as well as certain areas in and around Tamanrasset, due to security concerns.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states that citizens have the right to enter and exit the country. The law does not permit those younger than 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women younger than 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women older than 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft who had not completed their military service to leave the country without special authorization. The government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

From October 2019 to January, the NGO Alarme Phone Sahara (APS) reported the government deported 4,722 individuals, including 2,582 Nigeriens, from Algeria to Niger. APS reported two types of deportation convoys from Algeria to Niger. Authorities, in coordination with the Nigerian government and pursuant to a bilateral agreement, transfer Nigeriens directly to Nigerien security forces at the Assamaka, Niger, border post. Convoys also leave citizens of various nationalities near Assamaka where they must walk the last 10 to 15 miles into Nigerien territory. APS reported the International Organization on Migration (IOM), Doctors without Borders (MSF), and Nigerien security forces look for deportees lost in the desert. According to APS, deportees include nationals from Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Benin, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Cameroon, Sudan, Somalia, Bangladesh, and Syria.

On October 9, Human Rights Watch reported that the country expelled more than 3,400 migrants of at least 20 nationalities to Niger, including 430 children and 240 women. Security personnel separated children from their families during the arrests, stripped migrants and asylum seekers of their belongings, and failed to allow them to challenge their removal or screen them for refugee status. Numerous asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR were among those arrested and expelled.

According to UNHCR’s March 2019 report on Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, the government protected a significant number of refugees in five large refugee camps in Tindouf and ran two other smaller camps near Tindouf, one surrounding a women’s boarding school, and another used for administrative purposes. UNHCR reported many Sahrawi refugees lost their jobs and other sources of income due to COVID-19. Simultaneously, a pulmonary livestock epidemic killed over 1,700 sheep and goats in the camps this year. Sahrawi refugees rely on these animals to supplement their diets and incomes.

In 2019 the government protected a smaller urban refugee population, primarily in Algiers. The report noted the refugee population included predominantly Syrians (an estimated 85 percent), as well as Yemenis, Congolese, Ivoirians, Palestinians, Malians, Central Africans, and other nationalities. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees.

IOM estimates 90,000 migrants enter the country every year. Authorities typically expel irregular migrants through the border with Niger. Nigerien nationals are brought to Assamaka via official convoys, based on an agreement between Algeria and Niger. They are then transported to Agadez, where IOM Niger provides humanitarian assistance. Authorities accompany third-country nationals (TCNs) of mixed nationalities (mainly from West Africa) to the border at Point Zero, a nine-mile desert location between Ain-Guezzam, Algeria, and Assamaka, Niger. IOM Niger provides assistance through humanitarian rescue operations. No publicly are available data on the number of migrants the government expelled from Algeria through these operations. The government suspended expulsions when COVID-19 necessitated border closures. As of July, IOM Niger assisted 6,546 migrants in Assamaka (19 percent Nigeriens, 81 percent TCNs).

In September, IOM organized a voluntary return flight for 114 migrants from Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Liberia who were stranded in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic. IOM reported Algerian authorities facilitated their efforts.

In July, IOM organized a voluntary return for 84 Malian migrants from Algiers to Bamako, Mali. IOM reported this operation was possible thanks to an agreement between Algerian and Malian authorities to temporarily lift travel restrictions and enable IOM to facilitate the safe return of stranded migrants. Migrants residing outside of Algiers received inland transportation assistance; the inland movement was closely coordinated with and supported by relevant Algerian authorities.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that during government roundup operations of suspected migrants, some of those detained were raped, suffered sexual harassment, or both and that unaccompanied minors were sometimes rounded up and taken to the border for expulsion.

UNHCR reported refugees and migrants traversing land routes to and through the country continue to risk death, kidnapping, sexual- and gender-based violence physical abuse, and other violence.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into the country across the Malian border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements.

In 2019 the CNDH stated the government had dedicated $12 million to ensure the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations (to include accommodation, food, clothing, health care, medicines, and transportation). Authorities conducted repatriations in coordination with consular officials from the migrants’ countries of origin, but the migrants were not permitted to challenge their removal. The government stated that it maintained a policy of not removing migrants registered with UNHCR, and that in a few cases it worked with UNHCR to return registered refugees who were mistakenly removed. Air Algerie signed an agreement with the IOM agreeing to provide charter flights for humanitarian supplies and migrants returning voluntarily.

Access to Asylum: While the law generally provides for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. In 2019, UNHCR offices in Algiers reported an estimated 200 to 300 asylum requests per month, mostly from Syrian, Palestinian, and sub-Saharan African individuals coming from Mali, Guinea, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Those determined by UNHCR to have valid refugee claims were primarily from the DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, and the Central African Republic. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.

In 2019 UNHCR registered more than 10,000 Syrians, but fewer than 7,000 remained registered with UNHCR as of September 2019. The Algerian Red Crescent, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Solidarity, maintained “welcome facilities” that provided food and shelter for those Syrians without means to support themselves. The facilities were in Sidi Fredj. The government did not grant UNHCR access to these reception centers but reported that by 2016 most Syrians no longer used the centers.

Employment: The government does not formally allow refugee employment; however, many worked in the informal market and were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status in the country. Other migrants, asylum seekers, and Malians and Syrians who had a “special status” with the government, relied largely on remittances from family, the support of local family and acquaintances, and assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario)-administered camps near the city of Tindouf. The Polisario (through the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society), UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, and partner NGOs provided basic services including food aid, primary health care, and primary and secondary education. The government invested heavily in developing the camps’ infrastructure and also provided free secondary and university educations, as well as advanced hospital care, to Sahrawi refugees. The remote location of the camps and lack of government presence resulted in a lack of access by police and courts. Other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had access to free public hospitals, but independent NGOs reported instances of migrants being turned away.

School administrators must allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported some children had trouble integrating into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools due to language barriers or cultural differences. NGOs also indicated that some migrants were denied treatment at health-care facilities.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees have not sought local integration or naturalization during their 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and the Polisario Front continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara. The IOM leads an “Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration” program to help migrants return to their homes willingly with economic and social support, including personalized professional training and other socioeconomic assistance. Although the government is not a financial donor to the initiative, they do cooperate.

Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians, 7,000 of whom were registered as of September 2019, and Malians.

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

The existing law states that members of local, provincial, and national assemblies are elected for five-year terms and that presidential elections occur in the 30 days prior to the expiration of the presidential term. If Algerians adopt the new constitution, the next legislative elections would be held in accordance with new electoral laws. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two five-year terms. The new constitution maintains term limits. The ANIE, established in 2019 to replace the High Independent Election Monitoring Body, is responsible for organizing the election and voting processes, monitoring elections, and investigating allegations of irregularities.

Recent Elections: On November 1, the country held a constitutional referendum. Official government statements say the new constitution intends to strengthen political freedoms, although the government did not release the text until September 17, after parliament finalized the draft. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as restrictions on political party activities inhibited the activity of opposition groups. The referendum passed with 66.8-percent support and 23.7-percent turnout, according to ANIE President Mohamed Charfi’s announcement on November 2.

The country last held presidential elections in December 2019 after two failed attempts earlier in the year. Voters elected former prime minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune president with 58 percent of the vote, meeting the majority needed to avoid holding a second round. Tebboune was sworn in as president on December 19. Restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly inhibited participation in the process. There were no international observers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Ministry of Interior must approve political parties before they may operate legally.

The government increased undue media influence and opposition political parties claimed they did not have access to public television and radio. Sometimes security forces dispersed political opposition rallies and interfered with the right to organize. During popular protests against the government, security forces sometimes dispersed demonstrations when protesters came near to government buildings. Since taking office in December 2019, Tebboune’s government has blocked foreign funding and pressured media to limit government criticism. The government used COVID-19 restrictions to prevent political opposition meetings; however, the FLN and the Democratic National Rally continued to meet despite restrictions.

Pursuant to the constitution, all parties must have a “national base.” Electoral law requires parties to have received 4 percent of the vote in the preceding election or to collect 250 signatures in the electoral district in order to appear on the ballot, although electoral laws would change if citizens adopt the new constitution. Opposition parties from across the political spectrum criticized the law for creating a more complex process for qualifying for the ballot, as well as for establishing an electoral monitoring body whose members would be appointed by the president and parliament, which is controlled by a coalition headed by the president’s party.

The law prohibits parties based on religion, ethnicity, gender, language, or region, but there were various political parties commonly known to be Islamist, notably members of the Green Alliance. According to the Ministry of Interior, in September there were 71 registered political parties, one more than in 2019. During the year the ministry authorized 13 parties to hold organizational sessions known as party congresses. Parties must hold a party congress to elect a party leader and confirm membership before the Ministry of Interior counts them as a registered party. The ministry reported they approved the Union Democratique et Sociale (UDS) party, but that the UDS did not hold its party congress. In July the government released UDS leader Karim Tabbou from prison.

The law does not place significant restrictions on voter registration.

Membership in the Islamic Salvation Front, a political party banned since 1992, remained illegal. The law also bans political party ties to nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting requirements. By law political parties may not receive direct or indirect financial or material support from any foreign parties. The law also stipulates resources from party members’ domestic contributions, donations, and revenue from party activities, in addition to possible state funding, must be reported to the Ministry of Interior. According to Tebboune’s public statements, his administration is revising political funding laws and the new constitution would change campaign finance and funding laws.

Opposition party leaders complained that the government did not provide timely authorizations to hold rallies or party congresses. In January the government refused the Pact of the Democratic Alternative’s request to assemble for a meeting.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate. The law requires parties to ensure that at least 30 percent of the candidates on their electoral lists are women.

At least 33 percent of seats in elected assemblies are reserved for women. Due to this law after the legislative elections of 2012, the proportion of women in the National People’s Assembly (APN) increased from 8 percent to 32 percent of seats (146 out of 462).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Authorities continued their anticorruption campaign against political, military, and security officials, as well as prominent business leaders from the Bouteflika era.

The law provides for criminal penalties of two to 10 years in prison for official corruption, but the government did not fully implement the law. Although Tebboune’s administration has emphasized rooting out corruption, it remained a problem, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: The government amended and repealed several articles in the Criminal Procedure Code to toughen anticorruption legislation. In December 2019 the government adopted new amendments aimed at protecting public funds through criminal proceedings and removing constraints on judicial police.

The government repealed the criminal code section stipulating that only the board of directors of the institution concerned may initiate charges related to theft, embezzlement, or loss of public and private funds against senior, public sector “economic managers.”

The government repealed four articles regulating criminal proceedings related to crimes involving public funds, and the role of the Military Security Service and Judicial Police in these investigations.

The government amended laws to clarify oversight of the Judicial Police. The previous language limited the Judicial Police’s ability effectively to investigate corruption cases and other criminal offenses. The law stipulates the legal protection, and therefore impunity, of leaders of economic enterprises.

On July 1, the Sidi M’Hamed court sentenced former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal to 12 years in prison after their convictions on corruption charges. Their cases involved illegal campaign financing during Bouteflika’s presidential campaigns. In the same proceedings, the court convicted eight additional former Bouteflika-era ministers and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from two to 20 years.

On July 1, businessman Ali Haddad received an 18-year sentence for “privileges, advantages and public contracts” and squandering public funds. The court confiscated Haddad’s assets and sentenced four of his brothers to four years in jail each. On November 3, an Algiers appellate court reduced Haddad’s prison sentence to 12 years, released a portion of his previously seized assets, and overturned the convictions of Haddad’s four brothers.

In April courts sentenced former police Director General Abdelghani Hamel, detained since July 2019, to 15 years in prison on corruption charges. Hamel used his position to obtain land and real estate for himself and his family in Tlemcen, Oran, Tipaza, and Algiers.

Financial Disclosure: The law stipulates that all elected government officials and those appointed by presidential decree must declare their assets the month they commence their jobs, if there is substantial change in their wealth while they are in office, and at the end of their term. Few government officials made their personal wealth public, and there was no known enforcement of the law.

On July 29, Tebboune dismissed the Minister of Labor Ahmed Chawki Fouad Acheuk Youcef. Although Tebboune did not state the reason for Acheuk Youcef’s dismissal, press reports alleged that he failed to declare overseas property.

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

A variety of domestic human rights groups operated with varying degrees of government restriction and cooperation. The law requires all civil associations to apply for operating permission, and at year’s end several major civil associations remained unrecognized but tolerated.

Amnesty International maintained an office and actively reported on human rights matters, but it did not receive official authorization to operate from the Ministry of Interior. Amnesty International has received authorization to open a bank account, although the organization awaits final documentation from the government to open the account.

Although the government did not renew the accreditation of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, the organization had members countrywide, received independent funding, and was one of the most active independent human rights groups. The Algerian League for Human Rights, a separate but licensed organization based in Constantine, had members throughout the country monitoring individual cases.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government extended an invitation to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2014 and again in 2015, but no visit occurred.

In 2013 government representatives attended a session with the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. The government officially recorded 3,200 forced disappearances during the 1990s and noted families remain unsatisfied with the government’s official response surrounding the disappearances of their family members. The government reported the working group was tasked with addressing questions posed by the families of “the disappeared.” The MFA stated the working group took on the role of a UN investigative body, which was outside its mandate and ran contrary to the country’s constitution. The MFA further added that they extended invitations to the working group in 2014 and again in 2015, but UN financial and scheduling constraints delayed their visit. The MFA claimed that the UN would not be able to visit until at least 2023 due to continued financial and scheduling issues.

The country joined the Human Rights Council in 2014 but continued to deny requests for visits from the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions (pending since 1998) and counterterrorism and human rights (pending since 2006), the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (pending since 2009), and the UN Security Council Mali Panel of Experts on Sanctions (since 2016). The MFA stated that even during the 1990s, the country did not record many extrajudicial executions, but the perception caused numerous human rights groups to request special rapporteurs.

The MFA said it cooperates with the UN and the EU on human rights matters and reports. The MFA reported that during its last Universal Periodic Review in 2017, the country accepted 179 of the 218 UN recommendations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Council (CNDH) has budget autonomy and the constitutional responsibility to investigate alleged human rights abuses, officially comment on laws the government proposes, and publish an annual report that is submitted to the president, the prime minister, and the two speakers of parliament. CNDH releases the report to the public. The CNDH reported representation in 1,548 communes and five regional delegations located in Chlef, Biskra, Setif, Bechar, and Bejaia.

The CNDH reported COVID-19 hampered its activities. Nevertheless, the CNDH noted that during the year it had: assessed children’s right to education; inquired into teachers’ salary demands; conducted webinars with the Arab and African Human Rights Networks; conducted prison visits; and worked on migrant topics related to health and sanitation in a pandemic. Between January 1 and August 31, the CNDH reported receiving 380 complaints, down from 687 in 2019, but did not specify how many it investigated. A CNDH representative reported the organization’s focus during the year was on prison conditions (particularly in the context of COVID-19), vulnerable populations (specifically migrants and the elderly), day laborers, and constitutional proposals.

The government also maintained cooperation with the Algerian Red Crescent Society, a local humanitarian volunteer organization officially recognized by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The local group collaborates with the Ministry of Health, providing medical assistance and analyses to vulnerable groups, including refugees and migrants. The Algerian Red Crescent also promotes tolerance via cultural events supporting migrants, such as Christmas-related events, work to protect vulnerable children, and distribution of food and supplies for education and sanitation.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not specifically address spousal rape. Prison sentences for rape range from five to 10 years and, although sex crimes are rarely reported due to cultural norms, authorities generally enforced the law. A provision of the penal code allows an adult accused of “corruption of a minor” to avoid prosecution if the accused subsequently marries his or her victim and if the crime did not involve violence, threats, or fraud. The law stipulates sentences of one year to life imprisonment for “anyone who voluntarily causes injury or blows to his or her spouse.” It also introduced penalties for verbal and psychological violence, sexual assault, harassment, and indecent assault.

Domestic violence remains a society-wide problem. The law states that a person claiming domestic abuse must visit a “forensic physician” for an examination to document injuries and that the physician must determine the injuries suffered “incapacitated” the victim for 15 days. The law prescribes up to a 20-year imprisonment for the accused, depending on the severity of injuries. If domestic violence results in death, a judge may impose a life sentence.

For the first quarter of the year, the Ministry for National Solidarity, Family, and Women reported that there were 260 logged cases of violence against women, down from 1,734 cases in 2019. The Minister of Solidarity provides psychological care, guidance, and administrative and legal support through their Social Action and Solidarity Departments (DASS) teams, which are in all the country’s provinces. The National Security General Directorate (DGSN) reported there were 6,121 complaints related to violence against women.

According to statistics from women’s advocacy groups published in the local press, between 100 and 200 women die each year from domestic violence. The government maintained two regional women’s shelters and finished building a third shelter in Annaba, which the government said will be operational by the end of the year. These shelters assisted with 300 cases of violence against women during 2019. The Information and Documentation Center on the Rights of Children and Women, a network of local organizations that promoted the rights of women, managed call centers in 15 provinces.

Femicides Algeria, an advocacy group which tracks and publicizes femicides, reported 38 women have been killed because of their gender in the country since the start of the year.

In April media reported several femicides. In Bouzareah a police officer shot and killed his wife in front of their four children. In Zahana a man threw his wife from the window of their second-floor apartment. In Relizane a 25-year-old man stabbed his mother. The women died in these three cases and police arrested the perpetrators. Their cases are still pending.

In October a 19-year-old woman, Chaima Sadou, was kidnapped, raped, and murdered. Authorities arrested a suspect, who confessed to killing Sadou. The suspect previously served three years in prison after authorities convicted him for sexually assaulting and stalking Sadou when she was 15 years old. Sadou’s remains were burned beyond recognition.

During the year a women’s advocacy group, the Wassila Network, received 200 cases of domestic violence. The Wassila Network stated information on domestic violence remains sparse and public authorities have not provided exact statistics on violence against women since 2012. The Wassila Network noted this number is a fraction of actual cases since victims of domestic violence rarely report the abuse to authorities and because of a forgiveness clause provided in the legal code. The clause stipulates that, if the victim forgives his or her aggressor, legal action ceases. The Wassila Network described situations in which a victim goes to police to report a domestic violence incident and family members convince the victim to forgive the aggressor, resulting in no charges.

The Wassila Network reported 16 femicides during the COVID-19 lockdown. According to the NGO, the figure is likely much higher, since many cases are not reported. Women’s groups expressed concerns about the consequences of the lockdown. NGO Femmes Algeriennes vers un Changement pour l’Egalite (FACE) issued a statement highlighting the increase of violence against women within the home. FACE called for authorities to implement emergency measures to protect women from violence.

Two women’s rights activists, Wiam Arras and Narimene Mouaci, launched a Facebook initiative called “Feminicides Algerie” to track femicide in the country. As of August 18, they documented 36 cases of femicide. The initiative’s goal is to publicize the extent of violence against women, specifically violence resulting in death. They began their publicity initiative in 2019, after seeing the discrepancy between official statistics and NGO statistics, the latter of which were almost double that of the authorities.

Women’s rights NGOs maintained call centers and counseling sessions throughout the COVID-19 lockdown. The Wassila Network, which usually averages between 20 calls a week, received an average of 70 calls per week since the COVID-19 lockdown began in March.

The law provides for sentences of one to 20 years’ imprisonment for domestic violence and six months to two years’ incarceration for men who withhold property or financial resources from their spouses.

In 2018 the Ministry for National Solidarity, Family, and Women and UN Women launched an administrative database, named AMANE, to collect information on violence against women. UN Women is using the information collected to assist the government in developing targeted programs to support and protect women in vulnerable situations, including violence, as part of one of its programs funded by the Belgian government. The government reported it uses the data to identify patterns of violence against women, specifically collecting data on family situations, types of violence, and relationship to the perpetrators. The 2019 AMANE data showed women aged 36-50 represent 47 percent of reported cases; women aged 19-35 represent 30 percent of cases; and the most frequent perpetrators are women’s husbands.

Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C): This was not generally practiced in the country but was widely present among immigrant communities in southern sectors, particularly among Sub-Saharan African migrant groups. While this abuse is considered a criminal offense punishable by up to 25 years in prison, there were no reports of any related convictions, nor any official pronouncements by religious or secular leaders proscribing the practice.

Sexual Harassment: The punishment for sexual harassment is one to two years’ imprisonment and a fine; the punishment doubles for a second offense. Women’s groups said that most reported cases of harassment occurred in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their children; have the right to manage their reproductive health; and had access to the information and means to do so. Societal and family pressure restricted women from making independent decisions about their health and reproductive rights.

Conservative elements of society challenged the government’s family planning program, including the provision of free contraception. A 2018 Oran hospital survey showed that a husband’s prohibition or religious disapproval influenced women’s contraceptive practices. Married and unmarried women had access to contraceptives, although some clinics required a prescription before dispensing birth control pills to unmarried women. A doctor in Oran said anecdotally that her colleagues more frequently questioned young women’s motives for seeking birth control, compared to past practice. Women did not need permission to obtain birth control pills, but doctors required permission of the partner for women who sought tubal ligation.

Civil society organizations such as the Wassila Network coordinated medical, psychological, and legal support to victims of sexual violence.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, the maternal mortality rate gradually dropped from 179 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1998 to 112 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017 (the most recent available annual data). The WHO attributed the decline to increased medical training, investments in health care, and specific government initiatives aimed at reducing maternal deaths. A 2018 study by a prominent women’s group found that 75 percent of women who used nonbarrier birth control opted for the birth control pill, while 11 percent opted for an intrauterine device. These figures coincided with the United Nations Population Fund’s most recent data.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for gender equality, aspects of the law and traditional social practices discriminated against women. In addition some religious elements advocated restrictions on women’s behavior, including freedom of movement. The law prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, although authorities did not always enforce this provision.

Women may seek divorce for irreconcilable differences and violation of a prenuptial agreement. In a divorce the law provides for the wife to retain the family’s home until the children reach age 18. Authorities normally awarded custody of children to the mother, but she may not make decisions about education or take the children out of the country without the father’s authorization. The government provided a subsidy for divorced women whose former husbands failed to make child support payments.

The law affirms the religiously based practice of allowing a man to marry as many as four wives. The law permits polygamy only upon the agreement of the previous and future wife, and the determination of a judge as to the husband’s financial ability to support an additional wife. It was unclear whether authorities followed the law in all cases since local authorities had significant discretion and the government did not maintain nationwide statistics.

Women suffered from discrimination in inheritance claims and were entitled to a smaller portion of an estate than male children or a deceased husband’s brothers. Women did not often have exclusive control over assets that they brought to a marriage or that they earned.

Women may own businesses, enter into contracts, and pursue careers similar to those of men. Women enjoyed rights equal to those of men concerning property ownership, and property titles listed female landowners’ names.

Children

Birth registration: The mother or father may transmit citizenship and nationality. By law children born to a Muslim father are Muslim, regardless of the mother’s religion. The law does not differentiate between girls and boys in registration of birth.

On August 8, the prime minister changed the procedure for recognizing children born to an unknown father. The decree stipulates requests must be made through the Ministry of Justice. The decree also states that a “person who has legally fostered a child born to an unknown father, may submit a request, on behalf and for the benefit of this child, to the public prosecutor in order to change the patronymic name of the child and make it match his own.” If the child’s mother is known and alive, her consent is required to change the name. Those born abroad can file a request at the diplomatic or consular center of their place of residence.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal but continues to be a problem. The government devoted increasing resources and attention to it. A national committee is responsible for monitoring and publishing an annual report on the rights of children. The government supported the Qatari NGO Network for the Defense of Children’s Rights. For the first quarter of the year, the Ministry for National Solidarity, Family, and the Status of Women reported that the government intervened in 887 child endangerment cases.

Laws prohibiting parental abduction do not penalize mothers and fathers differently, and the punishment for convicted kidnappers includes the death penalty.

In August, Meriem Chorfi, president of the National Body of the Protection and Promotion of Children (ONPPE), stated her organization’s toll free telephone number received 1,480 reports related to children’s rights abuses. She added that 500 calls occurred during the mandatory COVID-19 curfew period. Chorfi estimated the ONPPE hotline receives 10,000 calls per day, mostly to request information or clarification on specific topics related to child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 19 for both men and women, but minors may marry with parental consent, regardless of gender. The law forbids legal guardians from forcing minors under their care to marry against the minor’s will. The Ministry of Religious Affairs required that couples present a government-issued marriage certificate before permitting imams to conduct religious marriage ceremonies.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits solicitation for prostitution and stipulates prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years when the offense is committed against a minor younger than 18. By law the age for consensual sex is 16. The law stipulates a prison sentence of between 10 and 20 years for rape when the victim is a minor. The DGSN reported there were 1,443 victims of child sexual abuse.

The law established a national council to address children’s matters, which gives judges authority to remove children from an abusive home, and allows sexually abused children to provide testimony on video rather than in court.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish population numbered fewer than 200 persons.

Religious and civil society leaders reported that the Jewish community faced unofficial, religion-based obstacles to government employment and administrative difficulties when working with government bureaucracy.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, although the government did not always effectively enforce these provisions (see also section 7, Worker Rights).

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and the Status of Women provided some financial support to health-care-oriented NGOs, but for many NGOs, such financial support represented a small fraction of their budgets. The government provided disability benefits to persons with disabilities who registered.

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and Women reported that in 2019 it ran 238 centers throughout the country that provided support for persons with intellectual, auditory, vision, and physical disabilities.

Many persons with disabilities struggled to acquire assistive devices and noted the National Office of Apparatus and Accessories for the Handicapped did not have a presence in all provinces.

The ministry stated that it worked with the Ministry of Education to integrate children with disabilities into public schools to promote inclusion. The majority of the ministry’s programs for children with disabilities remained in social centers for children with disabilities rather than in formal educational institutions. Advocacy groups reported that children with disabilities rarely attended school past the secondary level. Many schools lacked teachers trained to work with children with disabilities, threatening the viability of efforts to mainstream children with disabilities into public schools. For the 2020-21 school year, the government reported it created 1,722 positions to assist children with disabilities, including 940 master teachers’, 400 teachers’, and 382 school assistants’ positions. The government also reported it limited class sizes for children with auditory, visual, and mental disabilities.

Many persons with disabilities faced challenges casting ballots due to voting centers that lacked accessible features.

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

The law criminalizes public indecency and consensual same-sex sexual relations between adult men or women, with penalties that include imprisonment of six months to three years and a fine. The law also stipulates penalties that include imprisonment of two months to two years and fines for anyone convicted of having committed a “homosexual act.” If a minor is involved, the adult may face up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. LGBTI activists reported that the vague wording of laws criminalizing “homosexual acts” and “acts against nature” permitted sweeping accusations that resulted in multiple arrests for consensual same-sex sexual relations, but no known prosecutions during the year.

LGBTI status is not, in itself, criminalized; however, LGBTI persons may face criminal prosecution under legal provisions concerning prostitution, public indecency, and associating with bad characters. NGOs reported that judges gave harsher sentences to LGBTI persons for the above crimes compared to non-LGBTI persons. An NGO reported that LGBTI men were targeted more often than women.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI persons based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Officials asserted that the law covers LGBTI individuals through general civil and human rights legislation. Government officials did not take measures specifically to prevent discrimination against LGBTI persons. LGBTI persons faced discrimination in accessing health services such as longer wait times, refusal of treatment, and shaming. Some organizations maintained a list of “LGBTI-friendly” hospitals, and several NGOs operated mobile clinics specifically for vulnerable communities. NGOs reported that employers refused jobs to LGBTI persons, particularly men perceived as effeminate. Community members reported obtaining legal assistance was also a challenge due to similar discrimination.

On July 24, Constantine’s national gendarmerie arrested 44 individuals for supporting a same-sex marriage. On September 3, authorities convicted 44 individuals of same-sex sexual relations, public indecency, and subjecting others to harm by breaking COVID-19-related quarantine measures. Two men received three years in prison and a fine, and the others received a one-year suspended sentence.

In February, two men shared their wedding ceremony on social media. Following the post, Tebessa security authorities arrested the two men, charging them with “displaying shameful images to the public, committing an act of homosexuality in public, and possession of drugs.”

During the year LGBTI NGOs organized virtual meetings. The NGOs reported government harassment, including threats of imprisonment.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Strong social stigma towards the vulnerable groups in which HIV/AIDS was most concentrated–commercial sex workers, men who have sexual relations with men, and drug users–deterred testing of these groups. The government reported it did not take measures to specifically prevent and treat HIV/AIDS in the LGBTI community. Members of the country’s LGBTI community reported pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is not available.

According to UNAIDS the country was close to achieving the UNAIDS’ 90-percent target, with 84 percent of persons living with HIV knowing their status. Civil society organizations are integral to the region’s HIV response, and advocate for HIV prevention, treatment, and funding. Many civil society organizations include individuals affected by HIV, helping these organizations reach key populations.

The government’s National AIDS Committee met during the year. The committee brought together various government and civil society actors to discuss implementation of the national strategy to combat HIV/AIDS.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a professor at El-Hadi Flici Hospital, Algiers’ primary hospital for infectious diseases, stated ambulances were delivering AIDS patients’ medicines to reduce their susceptibility to COVID-19.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution allows workers to join and form unions of their choice, provided they are citizens. The country has ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these conventions fully.

The law requires that workers obtain government approval to form a union, and the Ministry of Labor must approve or disapprove a union application within 30 days. To form a union, an applicant must be Algerian by birth or have held Algerian nationality for 10 years. The law also provides for the creation of independent unions, although the union’s membership must account for at least 20 percent of an enterprise’s workforce. Unions have the right to form and join federations or confederations, and the government recognized four confederations. Unions may recruit members at the workplace. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of employers’ antiunion practices.

The law permits unions to affiliate with international labor bodies and develop relations with foreign labor groups. For example the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), which represented most public-sector workers, is an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation. Nevertheless, the law prohibits unions from associating with political parties and receiving funds from foreign sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage in illegal activities. The government may invalidate a union’s legal status if authorities perceive its objectives to be contrary to the established institutional system, public order, good morals, law, or regulations in force.

The law provides for collective bargaining by all unions, and the government permitted the exercise of this right for authorized unions. Nevertheless, the UGTA remained the only union authorized to negotiate collective bargaining agreements during the annual tripartite meeting. Other authorized unions can bargain with specific ministries but are excluded from the tripartite meeting.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes, and workers exercised this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce. The decision to strike must be approved by majority vote of workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on a number of grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offered to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions reached in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an agreement, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained during public-sector service strikes, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services included banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days to two months’ imprisonment. The law protects union members from discrimination or dismissal based on their union activities. Penalties for abusing union members’ rights are not sufficient to deter abuses. The law says any firing or other employment action based on discrimination against union members is invalid. The government did not effectively enforce these laws.

The government affirmed there were 91 registered trade unions and 47 employers’ organizations, the same number as reported in 2019. The government registered 11 new trade unions between January and September. Many trade unions remained unrecognized by the government; they identified delayed processing and administrative hurdles as the primary obstacles to establishing legal status. The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations reiterated in 2017 that the lengthy registration process seriously impedes the establishment of new unions.

Attempts by new unions to form federations or confederations suffered similar challenges. Representatives of the National Autonomous Union for Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP) stated that the union continued to function without official status.

The government continued to deny recognition to the General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA), an independent trade union confederation that includes public and economic sector unions and committees. CGATA membership included workers from unions representing government administrators, diplomatic personnel, state electricity and gas employees, university professors, public transport and postal workers, and lawyers. The confederation also included migrants working in the country. In December 2019 authorities shut down CGATA’s offices and authorities arrested and jailed an executive member of CGATA, Kaddour Chouicha. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) called for Chouicha’s immediate release, and described his arrest as “a flagrant violation of Algeria’s obligations to respect freedom of association,” and “a deeply troubling indictment of those in power.”

SNAPAP and other independent unions faced government interference throughout the year, including official obstruction of general assembly meetings and police harassment during sit-in protests. Furthermore, the government restricted union activities and the formation of independent unions in certain critical public services sectors, such as oil and gas and telecommunications. The International Trade Union Confederation reported that judicial abuse of trade union leaders had intensified.

On August 11, Numilog company, a subsidiary of Cevital, laid off 196 workers at its facility in Bejaia. The workers were the target of dismissal decisions following a series of cyclical three-day strikes during which they demanded the right to join a trade union.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. NGOs reported that irregular migrants sometimes worked in forced labor and that their lack of work permits made them more vulnerable to exploitation. For example, female migrants were subjected to debt bondage as they worked to repay smuggling debts through domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced prostitution. Designated penalties under this statute were not commensurate with penalties for kidnapping. Construction workers and domestic workers were reportedly vulnerable. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations, yet the country has not determined by national law or regulation the types of work that are hazardous for children. The country does not bar all of the worst forms of child labor. Under the law there is no legislative provision prohibiting the use, procuring, or offering of a child under 18 years of age for the production and trafficking of drugs. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers younger than 19 from working at night. The ILO noted, however, that the country’s standard of “night” for children is only eight hours, less than the 11 hours recommended by the ILO.

Although specific data was unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sales market, often in family businesses. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and refers violators to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections and, in some cases, investigated companies suspected of hiring underage workers. The ministry’s Labor Inspector Service in 2019 conducted 124,698 inspections and reported 10 children were found working illegally. The Ministry of Labor attributed the low figure to the fact that most children work in the informal economy, and inspections are limited to registered businesses. The law for the protection of the child criminalizes anyone who economically exploits a child, but the penalties are neither sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes. Monitoring and enforcement practices for child labor were ineffective and hampered by an insufficient number of inspectors to examine the formal and informal economy.

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and Women leads a national committee composed of 12 ministries and NGOs that meets yearly to discuss child labor issues. The committee was empowered to propose measures and laws to address child labor as well as conduct awareness campaigns.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment, salary, and work environment based on age, gender, social and marital status, family links, political conviction, disability, national origin, and affiliation with a union. The law restricts women from working during certain hours of the day, and does not permit women to work in jobs deemed arduous. In addition to the legislative provisions in force, employers must ensure that the work entrusted to women, minors, and persons with disabilities does not “require an effort exceeding their strength.”

Women reported facing employment discrimination with job offers being extended to less qualified male applicants. Although the law states women should receive a salary equal to men, leaders of women’s organizations reported that discrimination was common, and women were less likely to receive equal pay for equal work or promotions, particularly in the private sector.

Few businesses abided by the law requiring that they reserve 1 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported that the government did not enforce payment of fines for failing to abide by the law. The government usually highlights its efforts in March to coincide with the National Day of the Disabled. The ministry, however, reported it had increased efforts to enforce the 1-percent quota during the year. From January 2019 to September 2019, the Ministry of Labor audited 160,218 organizations and found that 2,389 companies did not respect the 1-percent quota.

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment based on sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, or religion. The government did not adequately enforce the law, since discrimination reportedly existed, specifically against migrant workers in the informal economy who lacked a legal means to address unfair working conditions. Particularly vulnerable were women, girls, and young men from sub-Saharan Africa who were lured into the country to accept jobs in restaurants and hair salons, but were forced to work in prostitution or engage in other forced labor conditions. The recent roundups and expulsions mark the sharpest spike in these operations since the start of the pandemic in March.

On August 9, President Tebboune directed authorities to monitor and assess foreign traders and their activities, specifically targeting refugees’ activities.

Men held a large percentage of positions of authority in government and the private sector. NGOs reported instances in which unaccompanied migrant female youth were exploited as domestic workers and were known to be loaned out to families for extended periods to work in homes or exploited as prostitutes.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A tripartite social pact among business, government, and the official union established a national, monthly minimum wage which is above the poverty income level. In June President Tebboune directed the Ministry of Labor to increase minimum wage from 18,000 to 20,000 Algerian dinars ($140-$155) per month. He also eliminated tax obligations for low-income workers.

The standard workweek was 40 hours, including one hour for lunch per day. Half of the lunch hour is considered compensated working time. Employees who worked longer than the standard workweek received premium pay on a sliding scale from time-and-a-half to double time, depending on whether the overtime occurred on a normal workday, a weekend, or a holiday.

The law contains occupational health and safety standards that were not fully enforced. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face such conditions, they may renegotiate their contract or, failing that, resort to the courts. While this legal mechanism exists, the high demand for employment in the country gave an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees. Labor standards do not formally allow refugee employment or adequately cover migrant laborers; therefore, many economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere who worked in the informal sector, primarily in construction and as domestic workers, were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status.

The government requires employers to declare their employees to the Ministry of Labor and to pay social security benefits. Penalties for noncompliance are insufficient to deter abuses. The government allowed undeclared workers to gain credit for social security and retirement benefits for time spent in the informal economy if they repay any taxes owed after registering. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Labor Ministry did not employ sufficient inspectors to deter abuses.

On March 22, the government placed 50 percent of its civil servants and private workers on mandatory leave, with full compensation, in accordance with COVID-19 lockdown measures.

The government prioritized pregnant women and women raising children, as well as individuals with chronic illnesses and those with health vulnerabilities, for exceptional leave. On March 24, authorities extended exceptional leave to the private sector.

On August 2, the government enacted a law intended to protect health-care workers following an increase in “physical and verbal attacks” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law also sanctions acts of violence against public assets and medical equipment, with the maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Benin

Executive Summary

Benin is a constitutional presidential republic. In 2016 voters elected Patrice Talon to a five-year term as president in a multiparty election, replacing former president Thomas Boni Yayi, who served two consecutive five-year terms. In 2019 authorities held legislative elections in which no opposition party was deemed qualified to participate after failing to meet registration requirements implemented in 2018, effectively excluding them from the elections. Voter turnout declined from 65 percent in 2015 to 27 percent; the pro-Talon Progressive Union and Republican Block parties continued to hold all 83 seats in the National Assembly. Unlike in 2015, when the last legislative elections were held, international observers did not assess the elections as generally free, fair, and transparent.

The Beninese Armed Forces under the Ministry of Defense are responsible for external security and support the Republican Police in maintaining internal security. The Republican Police, formed in 2018 through a merger of police and gendarmes, are under the Ministry of Interior and have primary responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order in urban and rural areas. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious restrictions on press freedom and unjustified arrests and prosecutions of journalists; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; and child labor.

Impunity was a problem. Although the government tried to control corruption and abuses, including by prosecuting and punishing public officials, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices 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

There were credible reports from civil society groups that police and military members used disproportionate and lethal force against citizens.

For example, on March 24, police fatally shot University of Abomey Calavi student Theophile Dieudonne Adjaho during a demonstration staged by the National Federation of Beninese Students. The students were demanding cancelation of classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as protesting arrests at previous demonstrations.

Authorities have not investigated this killing or the killings of civilians in connection with the 2019 legislative elections during which civil society groups stated police and military members used disproportionate and lethal force against protesters. During May 2019 postelection clashes between security forces and antigovernment protesters in Cotonou, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported at least two deaths, including a female bystander who was shot when a Beninese Armed Forces member fired to disperse crowds. Although the president acknowledged that four civilian casualties occurred during the protests, he made no further comment. Although investigations of police and military personnel conduct were not generally made public, there was no indication during the year that any were conducted.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated 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, but such incidents continued to occur.

The penal code prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following example. On April 28, a video circulated on social media showing a police officer beating a motorbike taxi rider and his female passenger for failing to wear facemasks mandated by COVID-19 enforcement measures. The beating took place on a Cotonou street in the presence of three other officers. On April 19, the Republican Police director general issued a statement deploring the incident and stating that the responsible police officers had been identified and would be punished. On April 30, the officer responsible for the beating and those who witnessed it were arrested but not charged. By ministerial order the officers were administratively sanctioned for use of excessive force.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions web platform, there was one allegation submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Beninese peacekeepers deployed to the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There were also three open allegations from prior years of sexual exploitation and abuse by Beninese peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including one each from 2019, 2018, and 2016. As of September the government had yet to report on any accountability measures taken in the four cases. All four cases involved accusations of exploitative relationships with adults.

Authorities rarely held police accountable for misconduct, and impunity remained a problem. The Inspectorate General of the Republican Police Investigation Division is responsible for investigating serious cases involving police personnel. There were no reports, however, that any investigations were conducted. The government provided some human rights training to security forces, often with foreign or international donor funding and assistance.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate medical care, food, and sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: According to the Benin Bar Association, conditions in the country’s three prisons and eight jails were inhuman due to overcrowding, malnutrition, and poor sanitation. The 11 facilities held approximately 9,000 inmates, significantly exceeding a capacity of 5,620 inmates. Convicted criminals, pretrial detainees, and juveniles were often held together. There were deaths due to lack of medical care, neglect, and poor ventilation in cramped and overcrowded cells. Prisoners with mental disabilities lacked access to appropriate disability-related support.

During the year the government reduced overcrowding through the administrative release of 1,300 persons. In April and May, authorities released 439 prisoners on parole to reduce COVID-19 transmission. In addition the Beninese Human Rights Commission reported that authorities released a number of pretrial detainees in February after it urged judicial authorities to review cases of pretrial detainees and release those for whom there was insufficient evidence to justify prosecution.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of allegations of mistreatment upon instruction by the Beninese Human Rights Commission. Prison authorities allowed visitors, but according to NGO reports, prison officials sometimes charged visitors a fee that was substantial for the average person.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by human rights monitors. Representatives of religious groups–the Prison Fellowship, Caritas, the Prisons Brotherhood, and Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture–and NGOs–Amnesty International, the Beninese Human Rights Commission (an independent government entity), the Friends of Prisoners and Indigents Clinic, and Prisoners without Borders–visited prisons, although some NGOs complained credentials were not systematically granted when they submitted requests to make visits. The commission also urged prison directors to provide adequate health care to inmates.

Improvements: The Directorate of Prison Administration implemented a centralized record-keeping system for Ministry of Justice officials to enable it to better track remand periods and court hearings and thus facilitate prompt release of prisoners at the end of their sentences. The installation of new generators and solar lighting, the construction of new dormitories and wells, septic tank maintenance, and the purchase of beds and medical supplies improved prison conditions during the year.

The government began implementing a program to provide more permanent health-care assistance to prisoners as opposed to ad hoc health care from NGOs. For example, on October 14, the Beninese Prison Agency deployed seven doctors and three psychologists to provide health-care services to prisoners in all 11 prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, Republican Police occasionally failed to observe these prohibitions. A person arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, is by law entitled to file a complaint with the liberty and detention chamber of the relevant court. The presiding judge may order the individual’s release if the arrest or detention is deemed unlawful.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized judicial official and requires a hearing before a magistrate within 48 hours of arrest, but these requirements were not always observed.

After examining a detainee, a judge has 24 hours to decide whether to continue to detain or release the individual. Under exceptional circumstances, or in arrests involving illegal drugs, a judge may authorize detention beyond 72 hours not to exceed an additional eight days. Warrants authorizing pretrial detention are effective for six months and may be renewed every six months until a suspect is brought to trial. Detainees have the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, which was generally observed. Detainees awaiting judicial decisions may request release on bail and have the right to prompt access to a lawyer. Suspects were not detained incommunicado or prevented access to an attorney.

The government sometimes provided counsel to indigent defendants in criminal cases. Persons in rural areas accused of serious crimes often lacked adequate legal representation because defense attorneys were predominantly based in Cotonou and generally did not work on cases in rural areas.

There were credible reports of individuals held beyond the legal limit of 48 hours of detention before a hearing, sometimes by as much as a week. Authorities often held persons indefinitely “at the disposal of” the Public Prosecutor’s Office before presenting the case to a magistrate.

Arbitrary Arrest: Unlike in 2019 there were no reports of arbitrary arrest. Nevertheless, some NGOs believed the practice might have continued, especially in the rural areas where individuals are not aware of their right to file complaints.

On June 18, the Constitutional Court ruled that the 2017 arrest and detention of Armand Pierre Lokossou–who was charged with criminal breach of trust and held until January–violated the arbitrary arrest and pretrial detention provisions of Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Pretrial Detention: The law defines the maximum length of pretrial detention for felony cases at five years and for misdemeanors three years. Approximately two-thirds of inmates were pretrial detainees. Inadequate facilities, poorly trained staff, and overcrowded dockets delayed the administration of justice. The length of pretrial detention frequently exceeded the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged crime.

Detainees held beyond pretrial limits may obtain recourse from the Constitutional Court. On June 4, the court ruled that judicial officials violated the code of criminal procedure when a Liberty and Detention Court judge failed to order the release of a pretrial detainee after six months’ detention. In February the Beninese Human Rights Commission ordered the release of a Cotonou Prison pretrial detainee held for three years after a court ordered his release pending trial in 2016.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary; however, the president heads the High Council of the Judiciary that governs and sanctions judges. The judicial system was also subject to corruption, although the government continued to make substantial anticorruption efforts, including the dismissal and arrest of government officials allegedly involved in corruption scandals. Authorities respected court orders.

In 2018 the National Assembly passed a bill creating the Court to Counter Economic Crimes and Terrorism (CRIET). Observers within the judicial sector raised concerns that the bill establishing CRIET may have violated judicial impartiality, the right of appeal, and due-process principles. CRIET decisions could not be appealed to intermediate appeals courts–designed to correct errors such as a lack of jurisdiction, failure to provide a legal basis for a decision, or action by a court exceeding its authority–but had to be filed directly with the Supreme Court. Intended in part to quell domestic and international criticism, on April 21, the National Assembly revised the CRIET law to provide for appeals to be filed within the CRIET structure.

Trial Procedures

While the constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, judicial inefficiency and corruption impeded the exercise of this right.

The legal system is based on French civil law and local customary law. A defendant is presumed innocent. Defendants enjoy the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, to a fair, timely, and public trial, to be present at trial, and to representation by an attorney.

By law courts must provide indigent defendants with counsel upon request in criminal cases. Government-provided counsel, however, was rarely available, especially in cases handled in courts located in remote areas. Defendants who cannot understand or speak French are entitled to free interpretation services as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to confront witnesses; to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf; and to not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

Defendants may appeal criminal convictions to both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, after which they may appeal to the president for a pardon.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. The nongovernmental Organization for the Defense of Human and Peoples’ Rights reported that there were political prisoners at the Cotonou, Parakou, Abomey, and Akpro-Misserete prisons. Additionally, Amnesty International and other NGOs stated that several individuals arrested for involvement in postelection protests in 2019 were detained for politically motivated reasons.

The government permitted access to such persons by human rights or humanitarian organizations such as the Beninese Human Rights Commission.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There were credible reports the government attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes against specific individuals located outside the country.

In April 2019 a Spanish court rejected the government’s request for the extradition of former minister of finance Komi Koutche, who had been arrested during a stopover in Madrid in 2018 based on an Interpol (International Police Criminal Organization) Red Notice. The court cited lack of evidence to substantiate the request, potential political motivation for the request, and CRIET’s inability to provide for a fair trial due to its lack of independence from the government. On April 4, CRIET tried Komi Koutche in absentia, found him guilty of embezzlement of public funds and abuse of office while head of the National Fund for Microcredit, and sentenced him to 20 years’ imprisonment. Koutche remained in self-imposed exile at year’s end.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The judiciary exercised independence in civil matters. If administrative or informal remedies are unsuccessful, a citizen may file a complaint concerning an alleged human rights violation with the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court’s ruling is not binding on courts; however, citizens may cite rulings from the Constitutional Court to initiate legal action against offenders in regular courts. Adverse court rulings other than those of the Constitutional Court may be appealed to the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice. Unlike in prior years, appeals may no longer be filed with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. On April 23, the government withdrew its 2016 declaration filed with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights that provided for Beninese citizens and NGOs to file complaints and appeal adverse court rulings to the court. The country’s withdrawal followed an April 14 decision by the court ordering Benin to postpone communal elections after Sebastien Ajavon, a prominent government critic and leader of the opposition party Union Sociale Liberale (Liberal Social Union), filed a complaint alleging that his party had been wrongfully excluded from participation in the elections. In a separate case brought by Ajavon, the court ordered the government to repeal a 2019 amnesty law.

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:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. There were reports the government inhibited freedom of the press through restrictions on and sanctioning of journalists and press outlets.

There were many public and private media outlets, including two public and seven private television stations, three public and 50 private radio stations, and approximately 175 newspapers and periodicals. Many of these refrained from openly criticizing government policy.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The press and media were closely regulated. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasigovernmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual and perhaps inherently contradictory role of providing for press freedom and of protecting the country against “inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing” media reporting.

On January 3, officers from the Central Office for Cybercrime Prevention arrested Aristide Fassinou Hounkpevi, editor of the online media outlet LAutre Figaro as well as correspondent of the newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune, for publishing false information about the minister of foreign affairs on a social media site. On January 9, the prosecutor at the Court of First Instance of Cotonou ordered Hounkpevi’s release without charge. The Union of Benin’s Media Professionals stated there was no material evidence to substantiate the accusations against Hounkpevi.

On July 7, HAAC issued an order for all online media outlets “without authorization” to halt publication or face sanctions. The law states that operation of “a website providing audiovisual communication and print media services intended for the public is subject to the authorization” of HAAC. Three outlets suspended operations temporarily, while remaining outlets ignored the order. On July 10, the National Council of Benin’s Press and Audiovisual Employers issued a statement deploring HAAC’s decision.

In April 2019, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, police arrested Casimir Kpedjo of the newspaper Nouvelle Economie for “spreading false information about the Beninese economy.” Kpedjo was held for five days, charged by CRIET with publishing “false information,” and released. As of December 10, Kpedjo had yet to be tried.

In December 2019 police arrested Benin Web TV journalist Ignace Sossou. He was convicted of “harassment through electronic means” after posting quotes of the Cotonou prosecutor’s comments–recorded during anti “fake news” training organized by the French Media Development Agency–to his personal social media accounts. The Cotonou Court of First Instance sentenced Sossou to 18 months’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine. On May 19, the Court of Appeals reduced his sentence to six months’ imprisonment, and on June 24, he was released. As of November HAAC had yet to honor a May 2019 Court of Appeals ruling rescinding suspension of La Nouvelle Tribune, and the newspaper had not resumed publication.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Public and private media refrained from openly criticizing government policy. Some journalists practiced self-censorship because they were indebted to government officials who granted them service contracts. Other journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear the government would suspend their media outlets. HAAC held public hearings on alleged misconduct by media outlets during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law journalists may be prosecuted for libel and slander. Journalists may also be prosecuted for incitement of violence and property destruction, compromising national security through the press, or a combination of the two. Penalties for conviction include incarceration and fines. By law anyone convicted of “relaying false information against a person using electronic means” may be sentenced to between one and six months in prison and receive a substantial monetary fine.

Internet Freedom

The government censored online content, but it did not restrict public access to the internet or monitor private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law states that operation of “a website providing audiovisual communication and print media services intended for the public is subject to the authorization” of HAAC. On July 7, HAAC issued an order for all online media outlets “without authorization” to halt publication or face sanctions. The National Council of Benin’s Press and Audiovisual Employers issued a statement deploring HAAC’s decision (see section 2.a.).

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association and the government respected the right of peaceful association but not that of peaceful assembly. Advance notification is required for demonstrations and other public gatherings. The government frequently restricted freedom of peaceful assembly on political grounds.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Permits are required prior to holding protests, but authorities regularly denied or ignored requests for permits.

Authorities sometimes cited “public order” to prevent demonstrations by opposition groups, civil society organizations, and labor unions.

In June the prefect of Cotonou cited public order concerns as the basis for denying a permit to demonstrate in sympathy with the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States regarding the killings by police of African Americans. Human rights activists and some in the opposition media also reported denials of permits to protest local cases of civilian deaths by security forces (see section 1.a.). On July 16, the Constitutional Court ruled that the mayor of Parakou violated constitutional provisions relating to freedom of assembly and public liberty because his prohibition in February of demonstrations critical of the government was discriminatory.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

In 2018 as part of its effort to reduce corruption, the government banned roadblocks throughout the country. There have been no illegal roadblocks since that time.

Foreign Travel: The government maintained documentary requirements for minors traveling abroad as part of its campaign against trafficking in persons. This was not always enforced, and trafficking of minors across borders continued.

The government regulates the timing and length of seasonal movement of migratory Fulani (Peul) herdsmen and their livestock into and within the country. On February 18, the government reversed a decree issued in December 2019 that had banned Burkinabe, Nigerian, and Nigerien herders from crossing into the country with their cattle.

On March 17, the government closed the country’s land borders to all but specially authorized official travel in an effort to limit the cross-border transmission of COVID-19. Air and sea borders remained open to travelers, however. As of November land borders remained closed.

In July 2019 the government issued a decree barring anyone wanted on criminal charges from obtaining civil documents, including passports, national identity cards, and certificates of citizenship. On July 3, human rights activist Conaide Akouedenoudje filed a complaint with the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights requesting it rule on the decree’s compliance with the country’s human rights obligations. In October the court dismissed the complaint with the explanation that the claimant was not affected by the decree and thus was not an injured party.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. 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.

Durable Solutions: The government assisted refugees and asylum seekers with obtaining documents from their countries of origin while granting their status as privileged residents. The government also facilitated naturalization of refugees as part of a local integration effort. The government involved civil society, media, and academia in the process. In 2018 the government National Commission of Assistance to Refugees assumed responsibility for refugee issues in the country following closure of the local UNHCR office. The commission cooperates with UNHCR through its regional office in Dakar, Senegal.

g. Stateless Persons

There were large communities of stateless individuals residing in eight villages along the border with Niger and Nigeria. These villages were returned to Benin following the resolution of land disputes among Benin, Niger, and Nigeria. The residents lacked the necessary identification documents to claim citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In April 2019 the government held legislative elections that excluded opposition parties. In 2018 the National Assembly legislated more stringent requirements for parties to qualify to run in elections. In February 2019, two months before the legislative elections, the Constitutional Court declared all parties must possess a “certificate of conformity” with requirements to participate in elections. In February 2019 the independent election commission announced that no opposition party met the requirements, leaving only two progovernment parties on the election ballot. Voter turnout for the elections was an historic low of 27 percent. Although there were incidents of voter interference by opposition demonstrators, election-day voting proceeded calmly in most of the country. Protesters in opposition strongholds in central Benin blocked some roads for much of the day, and media reported demonstrators in Parakou burned ballot materials at polling stations and prevented some citizens from voting. The government implemented an internet blackout on election day that blocked access to social media sites including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and iMessage apps.

In November 2019 the National Assembly, in which two pro-Talon parties hold all 83 seats, passed a constitutional amendment requiring that presidential candidates obtain sponsorship from elected officials. To implement this amendment, the National Assembly adopted changes to the electoral code requiring that presidential candidates obtain endorsements from at least 10 percent of the country’s National Assembly members (83) and mayors (77), thereby giving them a direct role in determining presidential candidates. On May 17, authorities held communal elections to elect 1,815 communal council members. The independent election commission declared several political parties ineligible to participate in the elections for failing to meet registration requirements. All but six of the country’s 77 mayors belonged to the two progovernment political parties in the National Assembly. There were isolated reports of electoral irregularities.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. By custom and tradition, women assumed household duties, had less access to formal education, and were discouraged from involvement in politics. There were five female ministers in the president’s 24-member cabinet and one woman among the prefects administering the country’s 12 geographic departments. In November 2019 the National Assembly adopted a constitutional amendment mandating that women fill a minimum of 24 seats in the National Assembly beginning in 2023.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government sometimes implemented the law effectively; however, there were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. It was commonly believed, and acknowledged by some judicial personnel, that the judicial system at all levels was susceptible to corruption.

Corruption: According to the newspaper Matin Libre, traffic police routinely solicited bribes from truckers in exchange for not enforcing the law against overloaded and unsafe vehicles.

The government took several actions during the year to combat corruption. For example, on July 22, the Council of Ministers ordered the dismissal of Port of Cotonou customs officers Zenoudine Ali Yerima and Sedekon Marc Maxime Kanho for fraud. Importers reportedly paid the two officers to undervalue goods listed in customs import declarations and to falsify other customs documents.

Financial Disclosure: On April 20, the National Assembly repealed a legal provision that required all elected and public officials to submit asset disclosure statements to the Supreme Court Audit Chamber upon assuming and departing office. Nevertheless, income and asset disclosure by elected and public officials as determined by the Council of Ministers continued to be required.

The legal provision removing the blanket asset disclosure requirement also removed the penalty for failure to submit an asset disclosure.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views. Nevertheless, the government denied permits to some domestic human rights groups to protest government action. Human rights groups reported they did not share all of their human rights findings publicly due to fear of government reprisal.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2018 the Constitutional Court swore in the first members of the Beninese Human Rights Commission. On January 3, the commission submitted its first report on the human rights situation in the country to the National Assembly. The National Assembly approved the report, and on October 22, the report was published. The country also had an ombudsman responsible for responding to citizen complaints of maladministration who was independent, adequately resourced, and effective.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, but enforcement was weak due to police ineffectiveness, official corruption, and victims not reporting cases due to fear of social stigma and retaliation. Sentences for rape convictions range from five to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law explicitly prohibits spousal rape and provides the maximum penalty for conviction of raping a domestic partner. Because of the lack of police training in collecting evidence associated with sexual assaults, ignorance of the law, and inherent difficulties victims faced in preserving and presenting evidence in court, judges reduced most sexual offense charges to misdemeanors. The primary form of evidence used to prove sexual assault required physician certification. Since physicians were only accessible in large cities, victims in rural areas were effectively precluded from pursuing charges.

Penalties for conviction of domestic violence range from six to 36 months’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, domestic violence against women was common. Women remained reluctant to report cases, and judges and police were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes.

The Ministry of Social Affairs provided financial support to some victims of abuse. The ministry’s Center for Social Promotion provided mediation services that in some cases resulted in victim restitution. The ministry also organized public outreach campaigns to raise public awareness of violence against girls and women. During the year the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Affairs instituted a services training program for victims of rape, domestic violence, and other forms of gender-based violence to health clinic and social service first responders.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and provides penalties for conviction of performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10 years and substantial monetary fines. Nevertheless, FGM/C occurred, and enforcement was rare due to the code of silence associated with this crime. The practice was largely limited to remote rural areas in the north. According to UNICEF, 7 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 underwent FGM/C in 2018.

The government, in conjunction with NGOs and international partners, continued to raise public awareness of the dangers of the practice.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and offers protection for victims, but sexual harassment was common in the workplace and in schools. Persons convicted of sexual harassment face sentences of one to two years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines. The law also provides for penalties applicable to persons who are aware of sexual harassment but do not report it. Victims, however, seldom reported harassment due to fear of social stigma and retaliation; furthermore, police, examining magistrates who conduct pretrial investigations, and prosecutors lacked the legal knowledge and capacity to pursue such cases. Although laws prohibiting sexual harassment were not widely enforced, judges used other provisions in the penal code to address sexual abuses involving minors.

On May 1, Office of Radio and Television Broadcasting health correspondent Angela Kpeidja stated that “rape and moral and sexual harassment” were rampant at the state-owned broadcaster.

On May 4, civil society groups and the Benin Human Rights Defenders Association coalition of human rights NGOs issued a joint statement denouncing sexual harassment and calling on the Ministries of Labor, Communications, Justice, and Social Affairs to enforce laws prohibiting sexual harassment and protecting its victims. On May 5, the president pledged to do more to protect women in the workplace and to encourage them to report incidents of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children. The law limits abortion to safeguarding the life of a girl or woman.

Societal pressures imposed barriers to contraception. Although minors had the legal right to access contraception without parental consent, health-care workers sometimes disrupted access by requiring parental consent. In some areas, notably the Plateau Department bordering Nigeria, traditional leaders used voodoo to threaten women to stay indoors during contraceptive campaigns, according to the Beninese Association for Social Marketing. Roman Catholic churches prohibited the use of modern contraceptives. Anecdotal reports suggested that cultural norms also influenced low rates of contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

According to the government’s 2017-2018 Demographic Health Survey, the maternal mortality rate was 391 deaths per 100,000 live births. Factors contributing to the high mortality rate were deliveries without adequate medical assistance, lack of access to emergency obstetric care, and unhygienic conditions. According to the survey, 84 percent of live births took place in a health center (most of which were public), and 20 percent of girls and women ages 15-19 were either pregnant or had already had one live birth. These rates varied dramatically with higher adolescent birth rates (24 to 38 percent) in northern departments and lower rates (ranging from 8 to 16 percent) in southern departments.

Poor access to reproductive health information in rural areas, poverty, and low levels of formal education contributed to low usage of contraceptives and high pregnancy rates. Only 13 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraception, and 35 percent of women had an unmet need for contraception.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality for women in political, economic, and social spheres, women experienced extensive discrimination in obtaining employment, credit, equal pay, and in owning or managing businesses. There were legal restrictions on women in employment, including limitations on the occupations in which women are allowed to work.

The law bans all discrimination against women in marriage and provides for the right to equal inheritance. The government and NGOs educated the public on women’s inheritance and property rights and their increased rights in marriage, including prohibitions on forced marriage, child marriage, and polygyny. The government did not enforce the law effectively, however.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country to a citizen father. By law the child of a Beninese father is automatically considered a citizen, but the child of a Beninese woman is considered Beninese only if the child’s father is unknown, has no known nationality, or is also Beninese. Particularly in rural areas, parents often did not declare the birth of their children, either from lack of understanding of the procedures involved or because they could not afford the fees for birth certificates. This could result in denial of public services such as education and health care.

A 2018 law authorizes vital records offices to issue provisional birth certificates on an exceptional basis to persons lacking one who were enrolled in the Administrative Census for the Identification of the Population program. According to the UNICEF State of the Worlds Children survey, 86 percent of births were registered in 2018.

Education: Primary education is compulsory for all children between ages six and 11. Public school education is tuition free for primary school students and for female students through grade nine in secondary schools. Girls did not have the same educational opportunities as boys and the literacy rate for women was 18 percent, compared with 50 percent for men. In some parts of the country, girls received no formal education.

Child Abuse: Violence against children was common. According to the Center for Social Promotion of Aplahoue, there were reported cases of rape, abduction, forced marriage, and trafficking of girls during the year. The law bans a wide range of harmful practices and provides for substantial fines and up to life imprisonment for persons convicted of child abuse. Police of the Central Office for the Protection of Minors arrested suspects, referred them to judicial authorities, and provided temporary shelter to victims of abuse. Courts meted out stiff sentences to persons convicted of crimes against children, but many such cases never reached the courts due to lack of awareness of the law and children’s rights, lack of access to courts, fear of police involvement, or a combination of the three.

On March 18, the Ministry of Social Affairs launched a hotline staffed by social workers to report child abuse cases and to facilitate a systematic response to child abuse by police and social workers. On May 26, a hotline operator received a call concerning a badly abused six-year-old boy in Womey-Yenadjro neighborhood in Abomey-Calavi north of Cotonou. The abuser was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage at younger than age 18 but grants exemptions for children ages 14 to 17 with parental consent and authorization of a judge. According to the Benin 2017-2018 Demographic Health Survey, 9 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before age 15. Child, early, and forced marriage included barter marriage and marriage by abduction, in which the groom traditionally abducts and rapes his prospective child bride. The practice was widespread in rural areas, despite government and NGO efforts to end it through information sessions on the rights of women and children. Local NGOs reported some communities concealed the practice. The joint government and UNICEF Zero Tolerance for Child Marriage campaign to change social norms and create a protective environment for children in their communities continued.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides penalties for conviction of rape, sexual exploitation, and corruption of minors, including procuring and facilitating prostitution; it increases penalties for cases involving children younger than age 15. The child trafficking law provides penalties for conviction of all forms of child trafficking, including child commercial sexual exploitation, prescribing penalties if convicted of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Individuals convicted of involvement in child commercial sexual exploitation, including those who facilitate and solicit it, face imprisonment of two to five years and substantial monetary fines. The child code prohibits child pornography. Persons convicted of child pornography face sentences of two to five years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Although concealed from authorities, traditional practices of killing breech babies, babies whose mothers died in childbirth, babies considered deformed, and one newborn from each set of twins (because they were considered sorcerers) occurred. Authorities enforced prohibitions and discouraged the practice through door-to-door counseling and awareness raising.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no known 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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law provides for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, including physical, sensory, intellectual, psychological, mental, and communication disabilities, against all forms of exploitation and violence.

The Federation of Associations of Persons with Disabilities of Benin reported that persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment, health care, access to education, and access to justice.

The government operated few institutions to assist persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Affairs coordinated assistance to persons with disabilities through the Support Fund for National Solidarity.

The Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act provides for a wide range of social benefits to persons with disabilities, including improved access to health care, education, vocational training, transportation, and sports and leisure activities. It includes provisions regarding the construction or alteration of buildings to permit access for persons with disabilities. It requires schools to enroll children with disabilities. In July the Ministry of Social Affairs conducted a campaign to provide medical care, temporary housing, family reintegration assistance, and social service provider referrals for homeless persons with mental disabilities.

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

The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. A provision related to public indecency in the penal code, however, may be applied to prosecute same-sex sexual conduct by charging individuals with public indecency or acts against nature. The law prohibits all forms of discrimination without specific reference to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Members of the LGBTI community reported police tolerated violence against LGBTI individuals. For example, on July 29, in the northern town of Bohicon, a group of 15 men attacked and severely beat a transgender woman at a bar. Upon seeking assistance at the police station, police required the victim to stay the night, photographed her injuries and genitalia with their mobile phones, and accused the victim of deceiving the men by identifying as a woman. The victim was asked if she had stolen anything or done anything to provoke the beating. The victim did not file a formal complaint, and as of December police had not conducted an investigation of the assault.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Police generally ignored vigilante attacks. Incidents of mob violence occurred, in part due to the perceived failure of local courts to punish criminals adequately. Such cases generally involved mobs killing or severely injuring suspected criminals, particularly thieves caught stealing. For example, on July 28, vigilantes caught a burglar breaking into a shop in the southwestern village of Kinkinhoue. Media reported that the vigilantes burned the victim to death. Police did not conduct a formal investigation of the incident.

Despite government efforts to implement policies to regulate transhumance (the practice of moving livestock seasonally from one grazing area to another), periodic violence between farmers and Fulani herders continued. While several commune-level officials blamed armed Fulani herders from Nigeria for provoking violence by allowing their cattle to eat farmers’ crops, both herders and farmers engaged in violence. There were numerous reported instances of violence similar to the following examples. On January 21, in Ouinhi in the southwest of the country, herders killed two farmers; on May 1, in Woroko in the central part of the country, six persons died and several more were injured in clashes between farmers and herders; on June 3, in the northern town of Malanville bordering Niger, nine individuals died in clashes between farmers and herders; and on August 5, a farmer in the northern town of Bembereke stoned to death a Fulani child age 10 for trespassing.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers, except certain civil servants and public employees, to form and join independent unions with some restrictions. Unions must register with the Ministry of Interior, a three-month process, or risk a fine. The law does not establish clear grounds on which registration of a trade union may be denied or approved, and official registration may be denied without the union having recourse to a court. The law provides that a trade union federation must be made up of at least five enterprise-level trade unions in the same sector or branch of activity. Additionally, the law requires that a trade union confederation must be composed of at least three trade union federations of different sectors or branches of activities and that only trade union confederations may have affiliation at a national or international level.

The law provides for the rights of workers to bargain collectively. By law collective bargaining agreements are negotiated within a joint committee including representatives of one or several unions and or representatives of one or several employers’ associations. A labor inspector, a secretary, and one or two rapporteurs preside over the committee. The minister of labor has the authority to determine which trade unions may be represented in the negotiation at the enterprise level. The minister has the power to extend the scope of coverage of a collective agreement. The law imposes compulsory conciliation and binding arbitration in the event of disputes during collective bargaining in all sectors, “nonessential service” sectors included. The National Permanent Commission for Consultation and Collective Bargaining, and the Social Sector-based Dialogue Committee were active in each ministry to foster dialogue between the government and unions. Two government decrees of 2017 established the National Social Dialogue Council and appointed its members to replace the National Permanent Commission for Consultation and Collective Bargaining. On September 30, the council held its fourth extraordinary session.

The law restricts the maximum duration of a strike to 10 days per year for all employees, except workers who are barred from striking. By law health-sector staff and military, police, customs, and water, forest and game and wildlife officers are barred from striking. Minimum service is required for workers who carry out essential responsibilities such as judges, prison and justice system personnel, and staff of the sectors of energy, water, maritime and air transport, financial administration, and telecommunication.

Authorities may declare strikes illegal for reasons such as threatening social peace and order and may requisition striking workers to maintain minimum services. The government may prohibit any strike on the grounds it threatens the economy or the national interest. Laws prohibit employer retaliation against strikers, except that a company may withhold part of a worker’s pay following an illegal strike.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Employers may not take union membership or activity into account in hiring, work distribution, professional or vocational training, or dismissal. In addition to certain civil servants and public employees, domestic workers, agricultural workers, migrant workers, and those in export processing zones are excluded from relevant legal protections.

The government generally respected the right to form and join independent unions and the right to collective bargaining. The government did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the informal sector and with regard to the provisions on antiunion discrimination and reinstatement. There were reports that employers threatened individuals with dismissal for union activity. No violations related to collective bargaining rights were reported. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, with certain exceptions. The law allows for imprisonment with compulsory labor. By law authorities may exact work not of a purely military character from military conscripts. Laws regulating various acts or activities relating to the exercise of freedom of expression allow imposition of prison sentences involving obligation to perform social rehabilitation work. Penalties for conviction of forced labor were generally commensurate with similar crimes.

The government did not consistently enforce the law, particularly in the large informal sector. Forced labor occurred, including domestic servitude and bonded labor by children. Forced labor was mainly found in the agricultural (e.g., cotton and palm oil), artisanal mining, quarrying, fishing, commercial, and construction sectors. Many traffickers were relatives or acquaintances of their victims, exploiting the traditional system of vidomegon whereby a child, usually a daughter, is sent to live as a servant with a wealthier family, despite NGO and government efforts to raise awareness of the risks associated with this practice.

In 2018 the government adopted penal code revisions that criminalized adult trafficking and provided for 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction. The law was not effectively implemented due to lack of agent training on the antitrafficking provisions.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The List of Hazardous Occupations sets the minimum age for employment in hazardous work at age 18. The list identifies 21 trades prohibited for children and defines 74 related hazardous activities. Specific trades noted on the list include mining and quarrying, domestic service, and agriculture.

The labor code prohibits the employment or apprenticeship of children younger than age 14 in any enterprise; children between ages 12 and 14, however, may perform domestic work and temporary or light seasonal work if it does not interfere with their compulsory schooling. Children 14 and older may be employed as an apprentice in a trade if the apprentice has a formal contract with the tradesperson overseeing the apprenticeship. While apprenticeships are common, contracts are rare. The law bans night work for workers younger than age 18 unless the government in consultation with the National Labor Council grants a special dispensation. Workers younger than 18 are entitled to a minimum 12-hour uninterrupted break including the nighttime period.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Labor Office, under the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, enforced the labor code only in the formal sector. The total number of inspections conducted during the year was unavailable. Penalties for those convicted of violating laws in the formal sector were commensurate with similar crimes.

Despite the government’s limited capacity to enforce child labor laws, the government took steps to educate parents on the labor code and prevent compulsory labor by children, including through media campaigns, regional workshops, and public pronouncements on child labor problems. These initiatives were part of the Labor Office’s traditional sensitization program. The government also worked with a network of NGOs and journalists to educate the population regarding child labor and child trafficking. The Ministries of Justice and Labor supported capacity building for officials and agencies responsible for enforcing child labor laws.

To help support their families, children of both sexes, including those as young as age seven, worked on family farms, in small businesses, on construction sites in urban areas, in public markets as street vendors, and as domestic servants under the practice of vidomegon. Many rural parents sent their children to cities to live with relatives or family friends to perform domestic chores in return for receiving an education.

Host families did not always honor their part of the vidomegon arrangement, and abuse and forced labor of child domestic servants was a problem. Children often faced long hours of work, inadequate food, and sexual exploitation, factors indicative of forced labor and exploitation of children in domestic servitude. Sometimes the child’s parents and the urban family that raised the child divided the income generated by the child’s activities. Up to 95 percent of children in vidomegon were young girls. Several local NGOs led public education and awareness campaigns to decrease the practice.

Most children working as apprentices were younger than the legal age of 14 for apprenticeship, including children working in construction, car and motorbike repair, hairdressing, and dressmaking. Children worked as laborers with adults in quarries, including crushing granite, in many areas. Children were at times forced to hawk goods and beg, and street children engaged in prostitution (see section 6). Children younger than age 14 worked in either the formal or informal sectors in the following activities: agriculture, hunting and fishing, industry, construction and public works, trade and vending, food and beverages, transportation, and other services, including employment as household staff.

Primary education is compulsory for all children between ages six and 11. Children ages 12 to 13 were particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, as they may have completed primary school but were younger than the minimum legal working age of 14.

Some parents indentured their children to “agents” recruiting farm hands or domestic workers, often on the understanding that the children’s wages would be sent to the parents. In some cases these agents took the children to neighboring countries to work, including Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, and Ghana.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and labor code prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, and disability. The laws, however, do not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV or other communicable disease status. In general the government effectively enforced these laws and regulations in the formal sector. Women, however, experienced extensive discrimination because of legal restrictions on working in certain occupations (see section 6) and societal attitudes. Women’s wages consistently lagged those of men. According to the International Labor Organization Global Wage Report, in 2017 women on average earned 45 percent less per hour than men. Employment discrimination occurred in the private and public sectors. The prohibitions on discrimination did not apply to the large informal sector.

The labor code includes provisions to protect the employment rights of workers with disabilities, but many experienced discrimination in hiring and access to the worksite.

The Office of Labor is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Migrant workers in the formal sector enjoyed the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens in the formal sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government set minimum wage scales for several occupations in the formal sector that were slightly higher than the poverty level. According to the UN Development Program, 60 percent of the population–predominantly in the informal sector–lives on an income of $1.90 a day or less, a poverty-level income that is less than the minimum wage.

The labor code sets workweek hours at 40 to 60 hours, depending on the type of work, and provides for paid holidays and at least one 24-hour rest period per week. Domestic and agricultural workers frequently worked 70 hours or more per week, above the maximum of 12 hours per day or 60 hours per week provided for by the labor code. The labor code also mandates premium pay for overtime and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.

The law establishes appropriate occupational safety and health standards (OSH). The government has the authority to require employers to remedy dangerous work conditions but did not effectively do so. Provisions of the law related to acceptable conditions of work apply to all formal-sector workers. Penalties for violating the labor code were commensurate with those for similar violations.

The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Microcredit were responsible for enforcement of the minimum wage, workweek, and OSH standards. The ministries did not effectively enforce these standards, especially in the large informal sector. Significant parts of the workforce and foreign migrant workers working in the informal sector did not benefit from minimum wage scales. Authorities generally enforced legal limits on workweeks in the formal sector but did not effectively monitor or control foreign or migrant workers’ work conditions. Government efforts were impeded by the insufficient number of labor inspectors and lack of resources to implement inspections. Random inspections were conducted in some sectors, but no information was available on the number of violations identified or convictions of persons tried for violations. The law does not provide workers with the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

Many workers supplemented their wages by subsistence farming or informal sector trade. Most workers in the formal sector earned more than the minimum wage; many domestic and other laborers in the informal sector earned less. Violations of OSH standards mostly occurred in informal-sector trades, including hairdressing, dressmaking, baking, mechanics, and carpentry, where workers faced biological, chemical, physical, and psychological risks. Children involved in these trades as apprentices worked long hours and were more vulnerable to hazardous working conditions. In some mechanical and carpentry shops, children worked near dangerous tools and equipment, and some adults and children lacked adequate protective gear. According to various sources, informal workers accounted for more than 90 percent of workers in the country. Informal workers faced numerous challenges and vulnerabilities, including long working hours and no social security coverage. They often endured substandard working conditions and were exposed to occupational risks. No data on workplace fatalities and accidents were available.

Botswana

Executive Summary

Botswana is a constitutional, multiparty, republican democracy. Its constitution provides for the indirect election of a president and the popular election of a National Assembly. The Botswana Democratic Party has held a majority in the National Assembly since the nation’s founding in 1966. In October 2019 President Mokgweetsi Masisi won his first full five-year term in an election that was considered free and fair by outside observers.

The Botswana Police Service, which reports to the Ministry of Defense, Justice, and Security, has primary responsibility for internal security. The Botswana Defense Force, which reports to the president through the minister of defense, justice, and security, is responsible for external security and has some domestic security responsibilities. The Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services, which reports to the Office of the President, collects and evaluates external and internal intelligence, provides personal protection to high-level government officials, and advises the presidency and government on matters of national security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

The National Assembly passed a six-month state of emergency in April and extended it for an additional six months in September. Ostensibly to give the government necessary powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the terms of the state of emergency included a ban on the right of unions to strike, limits on free speech related to COVID-19, and restrictions on religious activities. It also served as the basis for three lockdowns that forced most citizens to remain in their homes for several weeks to curb the spread of the virus. Opposition groups, human rights organizations, and labor unions argued that the state of emergency powers were too broad, placed too much power in the presidency, and were unnecessarily restrictive.

Significant human rights issues included: serious restrictions on free expression, press, and the internet, including the existence of criminal slander and libel laws; substantial interference with freedom of association; serious acts of corruption; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation of children and forced child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses. Impunity was generally not a problem.

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. The Botswana Defence Force has a judge advocate general that would investigate any such cases; the Botswana Police Service would conduct an internal investigation into these types of allegations with a referral to civilian prosecutors if necessary.

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, but unlike in years prior to 2019, there were no reports of police using such tactics. Some laws prescribe corporal punishment for convicted offenders in both criminal and customary courts. Human rights groups viewed these provisions as cruel and degrading; the Court of Appeals ruled these provisions do not violate the constitution’s provisions on torture or inhuman treatment. In April police reportedly used excessive force in at least one instance while enforcing the 2019 COVID-19 lockdown regulations in Lobatse, where two persons were beaten and injured. President Masisi released a statement vowing to investigate the incidents thoroughly and pledged not to tolerate abuse by security forces. The government did not release further information on the investigation following this statement. On September 29, police also fired tear gas and rubber bullets at university students in Palapye who were protesting nonpayment of their student allowances. Students alleged police used excessive force to break up the protests, while police said the students set fires and refused to disperse. Two students were arrested and charged with incitement to violence and disobedience of the law.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

Physical Conditions: Authorities occasionally held juveniles with adults, although only for a few days while the juveniles awaited transport.

The Francistown Center for Illegal Immigrants (FCII) is a dedicated facility for processing asylum and other immigration claims by individuals who entered the country illegally. In previous years journalists reported allegations of authorities abusing asylum seekers in the FCII, but there were no reports of such abuses during the year. There was no school at the center, and international observers expressed concern some children were separated from parents at a young age. The government considered FCII to be a transit center for refugees, but some refugees previously spent several years there while awaiting review of their cases. Although in 2019 the government moved remaining long-term residents to the nearby Dukwi Refugee Camp, there was no protocol in place to prevent arrivals from spending long periods in FCII while their cases were processed. There were no significant reports regarding conditions at other prisons that raised human rights concerns.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions brought by inmates against prison officials and took disciplinary or judicial action against persons responsible for abuses. The law requires the minister of defense, justice, and security to appoint a committee to visit prisons on a quarterly basis and allows religious authorities to visit with prisoners. The government enforced this law. Prisoners in general may also attend religious services.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed international and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to meet with prisoners and permitted independent human rights observers to visit prisons. The International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons. Representatives of diplomatic missions have also been allowed access to the FCII.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Botswana Police Service (BPS) officers received human rights training at the country’s International Law Enforcement Academy.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police must produce an arrest warrant issued by a duly authorized magistrate upon the presentation of compelling evidence, except in certain cases, such as when an officer witnesses a crime being committed or discovers a suspect is in possession of a controlled substance. Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) personnel have the power to enter premises and make arrests without warrants if the agency suspects a person has committed or is about to commit a crime (see also section 2.a.).

The law requires authorities to inform suspects of their rights upon arrest, including the right to remain silent and to file charges before a magistrate within 48 hours. Authorities generally respected these rights. There were no reports of denial of a suspect’s right to an attorney during the first 48 hours after arrest and the right to arraignment before a magistrate. A magistrate may order a suspect held for 14 days through a writ of detention that may be renewed every 14 days. The law provides for a prompt judicial determination of the legality of a person’s detention. Heavy court caseloads occasionally delayed this determination. Authorities generally informed detainees of the reason for their detention, although there were some complaints this did not always occur. There is a functioning bail system, and detention without bail was unusual except in murder cases, where it is mandatory. Detainees have the right to contact a family member and hire attorneys of their choice, but most could not afford legal counsel. There were no reports authorities held suspects incommunicado or under house arrest.

Pretrial Detention: A writ of pretrial detention is valid for 14 days and is renewable every 14 days. Some detainees, however, waited several weeks or months between the filing of charges and the start of their trials. Pretrial detention in murder, rape, livestock theft, and robbery cases sometimes exceeded a year, but there were no reports of instances in which the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentences actually imposed. Pretrial detainees comprised approximately 25 percent (2015 data) of prisoners, according to the NGO World Prison Brief. Delays were largely due to judicial staffing shortages and a backlog of pending cases.

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 and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and authorities generally informed them promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals if he or she cannot understand the language of the court. Trials in the civilian courts are public, although trials under the National Security Act may be secret. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney in a timely manner. In capital cases the government provides legal counsel or private attorneys to work pro bono for indigent clients. Courts tried those charged with noncapital crimes without legal representation if they could not afford an attorney. As a result many defendants were not aware of their procedural rights in pretrial or trial proceedings. Defendants may question witnesses against them. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense and to appeal. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. The constitution states these rights extend to all citizens. Some NGOs provided limited, free legal assistance.

In addition to the civil court system, a customary or traditional court system also exists. According to traditional practice, a tribal chief presides over most small villages. While customary (traditional) courts enjoyed widespread citizen support and respect, they often did not afford the same due process protections as the formal court system. Although defendants may confront, question, and present witnesses in customary court proceedings, they do not have legal counsel, and there are no standardized rules of evidence. Customary trials are open to the public, and defendants may present evidence on their own behalf. Tribal judges, appointed by the tribal leader or elected by the community, determine sentences. Many tribal judges were poorly trained. The quality of decisions reached in the customary courts varied considerably, and defendants often lacked a presumption of innocence. Tribal judges applied corporal punishment, such as lashings on the buttocks, more often than did civil courts. Those convicted in customary courts may file appeals through the civilian court system.

A separate military court system does not try civilians. Military courts have separate procedures from civil courts. Defendants in military courts are able to retain private attorneys at their own expense and view evidence to be used against them. Defendants in military court may have their cases transferred to the civilian judicial system. In addition military personnel may sue other military personnel in civilian civil court.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

In the formal judicial system, there is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including for human rights cases, which includes a separate industrial court for most labor-related cases. Administrative remedies were not widely available. By mutual agreement of the parties involved, customary courts, which handle land, marital, and property disputes, tried most civil cases but; they often did not afford the same due process protections as the formal judicial system. Although individuals and organizations may file complaints regarding domestic decisions with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the country has not ratified the protocol that established the court, which means the country does not always implement the court’s rulings.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were reports the DISS had developed capabilities for online surveillance. The BPS also used online surveillance of social media as part of COVID-19 state-of-emergency measures.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Speech: The law restricts the speech of some government officials and fines persons found guilty of insulting public officials or national symbols. The law states, “Any person in a public place or at a public gathering (who) uses abusive, obscene, or insulting language in relation to the president, any other member of the National Assembly, or any public officer” is guilty of an offense and may receive a substantial monetary fine. The penal code also states that any person who insults the country’s coat of arms, flag, presidential standard, or national anthem is guilty of an offense and may receive a substantial monetary fine. There were no arrests or convictions under this law during the year.

The state of emergency includes a statute that makes it illegal to publish COVID-19 statements online “with an intent to deceive” concerning a person’s health status or containing information on the virus. The maximum penalty for conviction of violating the provision is five years in prison, a substantial monetary fine, or both. At least six persons were arrested under the statute, including an opposition official and a teacher who questioned the government’s decision to impose a seven-week national lockdown.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government dominated domestic broadcasting. The government owned and operated the Botswana Press Agency, which dominated the print media through its free, nationally distributed newspaper, Daily News, and two state-operated FM radio stations. State-owned media generally featured reporting favorable to the government and, according to some observers, were susceptible to political interference. Opposition political parties claimed state media coverage heavily favored the ruling party.

Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views, which frequently included strong criticism of the government; however, media members complained they were sometimes subject to government pressure to portray the government and country in a positive light. Private media organizations had more difficulty than government-owned media obtaining access to government-held information.

A 2008 law mandates registration of media outlets and journalists with the National Press Council and has been criticized by human rights and press freedom NGOs, although it has never been implemented.

On June 18, police arrested journalists David Baaitse and Kenneth Mosekiemang for allegedly taking photos of a DISS facility. DISS stated the pair was surveilling a “highly classified strategic security installation.” The pair were charged with nuisance and released on bond pending trial. DISS issued a statement on the case that declared press freedom was not limitless and that media had a responsibility to defend the country’s national security. As of October, the two had not been tried.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some members of civil society organizations stated the government occasionally censored stories in government-run media it deemed undesirable. Government journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were no arrests for slander during the year. Nevertheless, the law states, “Any person in a public place or at a public gathering (who) uses abusive, obscene, or insulting language in relation to the president, any other member of the National Assembly, or any public officer” is guilty of an offense. The law also states that any person who insults the country’s coat of arms, flag, presidential standard, or national anthem is guilty of an offense under the sedition clause. The Constitutional Court has not considered the constitutionality of the sedition clause.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government did monitor social media content related to COVID-19 while enforcing state of emergency rules (see section 1.f.).

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, although there were restrictions on the ability of labor unions to organize and strike (see section 7.a.).

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government barred in-person religious services during lockdown periods and limited the size of services to 50 persons as well as the number of weekly religious services per congregation as part of the state of emergency.

Freedom of Association

Labor leaders expressed views that restrictions on strikes during the COVID-19 state of emergency were unnecessary, unrelated to public health concerns, and were an attempt by the government to restrict trade union activities.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: The government’s COVID-19 restrictions set limits on internal movement. A series of “extreme social distancing” periods (lockdowns) forced most of the population to remain at homes for weeks at a time. Those engaged in essential services such as food supply, utilities, and critical government functions were allowed to circulate with permits. Ordinary individuals required permits to carry out basic functions like visiting the grocery store. The number of permits was strictly limited on a daily basis and could only be acquired through an online application. Additionally, the government divided the country into nine zones, with permits required to pass from one zone to another. Regulations stated permits were meant only for exceptional travel, such as essential services or for funerals. The automated online permit system, however, approved most permits regardless of the purpose of travel.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations.

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 system for granting refugee status was accessible but slow. The government generally provided protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

The government held refugees and asylum seekers in the FCII until the Refugee Advisory Committee, a governmental body, made a status recommendation. The committee met quarterly during the year. UNHCR representatives participated in advisory committee meetings as observers and technical advisers.

The government repatriated a number of Zimbabwean refugees from the Dukwi Refugee Camp, many of whom had been living at the camp for more than a decade. Approximately 375 persons agreed to repatriate voluntarily, but another 200 refugees refused repatriation, stating they feared abuse in Zimbabwe due to their affiliation with opposition parties. UNHCR alleged the government rushed the repatriation process for the 200, preventing UNHCR from assessing the veracity of their claims and whether they were eligible for resettlement. Under international pressure from UNHCR and foreign missions, the government agreed to a more thorough process of evaluating the Zimbabwean cases.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government applies the principle of first country of asylum; on that basis in previous years it detained individuals, many of whom had refugee status in a third country and then claimed asylum.

Freedom of Movement: As a general policy, all registered refugees must reside in Dukwi Refugee Camp under a strict encampment policy, although the government may issue a residence permit to remain outside the camp in exceptional cases, such as for refugees enrolled at a university, in need of specialized medical care, or with unique skills.

Employment: In February 2019 UNHCR reported that most of the country’s 1,005 registered refugees were living in the Dukwi Refugee Camp and did not have the right to work outside the camp.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees at the Dukwi Refugee Camp had access to education and basic health-care services. In 2019 the government began allowing noncitizens, including refugees, to receive HIV/AIDS medication. UNHCR facilitated refugee and asylum seekers’ exit permit applications for medical referrals as necessary. Officials typically granted exit permits for three days; refugees found outside the camp without a permit were subject to arrest.

International observers stated there was no access to education in the FCII, which as of August held nine children. The center hosts a clinic, and a specialized nurse provides basic health care, while critical cases are referred to the Francistown city hospital.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection at the Dukwi Refugee Camp to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. UNHCR provided food and other provisions to individuals under temporary protection.

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: The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won a majority in the October 2019 parliamentary elections, returning President Mokgweetsi Masisi to office for a full five-year term and continuing the party’s control of the government dating from independence in 1966. The vote was generally considered credible by outside observers; however, opposition parties challenged some of the election results in court, citing primarily irregularities with voter registrations. In December 2019 the Court of Appeals dismissed all claims and ordered the opposition parties to pay court costs.

Using COVID-19 state of emergency powers, the government postponed indefinitely two special elections, scheduled for May, for district council seats to replace two lawmakers who died. As of November the special elections had not been rescheduled.

Political Parties and Political Participation: On July 29, the National Assembly suspended the leader of the opposition (an officially designated position), Dumelang Saleshando, for one week for accusing members of President Masisi’s family of improperly manipulating the government tendering process. The speaker of the National Assembly, who was appointed by the president, called for the suspension vote after the opposition leader refused to retract his accusation. All votes for the suspension were from the BDP, which the president leads as party chairman. The Court of Appeals temporarily lifted the suspension after the opposition leader filed a lawsuit challenging it. On August 6, the BDP subsequently suspended from party activities for 60 days the only party member of parliament who voted against the opposition leader’s suspension.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Nevertheless, observers suggested cultural constraints, including the sexual exploitation of women in politics, limited the number of women in government. There were six women in the 65-seat National Assembly, three of them elected and three appointed by President Masisi. In 2014, four women were elected to the National Assembly. The president named four female members of parliament to serve in the 30-member cabinet. There were also two women in the 34-seat House of Chiefs.

While the constitution formally recognizes eight principal tribes of the Tswana nation, amendments to the constitution also allow minority tribes to be represented in the House of Chiefs. The law provides that members from all groups enjoy equal rights. Outside observers noted many tribes were unrecognized or unrepresented, and women were underrepresented in the traditional chieftaincy system.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally sought to implement these laws effectively. Officials tasked with enforcement lacked adequate training and resources, however. Media reports of government corruption continued during the year. There were numerous reports of government corruption, including allegations tied to tenders issued by local governments for COVID-19 projects, such as renovating public facilities so that they complied with virus prevention measures and also in the acquisition of personal protective equipment. A 2019 poll by Transparency International found that 7 percent of those polled had paid bribes to government officials. This number grew from the 1 percent who reported paying bribes in a 2015 poll.

Corruption: In July former permanent secretary to Presidents Khama and Masisi Carter Morupisi and his wife stood trial on charges of abuse of office, money laundering, and receiving bribes. The government continued to investigate Isaac Kgosi, the country’s former chief of DISS, regarding alleged embezzlement at the National Petroleum Fund. In March, Kgosi was arraigned on charges of embezzlement. Trial procedures continued as of year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: In August 2019 parliament passed a bill requiring declaration of assets and liabilities by members of parliament. A 2009 presidential directive requires all cabinet ministers to declare their interests, assets, and liabilities to the president. There were no cases reported where a declaration was questioned or sanctions imposed.

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

The small 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 generally cooperative and responsive to domestic NGO views on most subjects. The government interacted with and provided financial support to some domestic organizations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: An ombudsman within the Office of the President handled complaints of maladministration, including some human rights abuses in the public sector, and the government generally cooperated with the ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman, however, lacked sufficient staff.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. Authorities effectively enforced laws against rape when victims pressed charges, although police noted victims often declined to press charges against perpetrators. In February 2019 the BPS Commissioner announced it would no longer allow the withdrawal of gender-based violence (GBV) cases waiting to be heard by magistrate court. On October 13, President Masisi announced the BPS would establish standard operating procedures for dealing with GBV, including establishing dedicated units to handle GBV, establishing a special hotline for GBV victims, and requiring GBV victims to be interviewed in private spaces. By law the minimum sentence for conviction of rape is 10 years’ imprisonment, increasing to 15 years with corporal punishment if the offender was unaware of being HIV-positive and 20 years with corporal punishment if the offender was aware of being HIV-positive. By law formal courts try all rape cases. A person convicted of rape is required to undergo an HIV test before sentencing.

The law prohibits domestic and other violence, whether against women or men, but it remained a serious problem. Although statistics were unavailable, media widely reported on cases of violence against women, including several high-profile murder cases.

The government regularly referred victims of gender-based violence to a local NGO that ran shelters for women.

In April shelter operators and civil society groups reported a significant increase in victims of GBV at the start of the seven-week COVID-19 lockdown. The government made statements to discourage such violence but did not devote extra resources to address the issue or help shelters overwhelmed by the influx of victims.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in both the private and public sectors. Sexual harassment committed by a public officer is considered misconduct and punishable by termination, potentially with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, suspension with loss of pay and benefits for up to three months, reduction in rank or pay, deferment or stoppage of a pay raise, or reprimand. Nonetheless, sexual harassment, particularly by men in positions of authority, including teachers, was widespread.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. They had the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. A 2018 study of family planning found that 98 percent of women knew of at least one family-planning method. The major factors hindering greater contraceptive prevalence rates included a shortage of supplies, provider biases, inadequately skilled health-care workers, HIV status, culture, religion, and popularly accepted myths and misconceptions. Access to health care during pregnancy and childbirth was widespread, with 95 percent of the population living within an average of 5 miles from the nearest health facility.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including postexposure prophylaxis, emergency contraceptives, counseling, treatment of injuries, and rapid HIV testing.

According to 2019 data, the maternal mortality ratio was 166 deaths per 100,000 live births. The leading causes of maternal mortality included postpartum hemorrhage, genital tract and pelvic infections following unsafe abortion, and ectopic pregnancy.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Under the constitution women and men have the same civil rights and legal status. Under customary law based on tribal practice, however, a number of traditional laws restricted women’s property rights and economic opportunities, particularly in rural areas. Women increasingly exercised the right to marriage “out of common property,” in which they retained their full legal rights as adults. Although labor law prohibits discrimination based on gender and the government generally enforced the law effectively, there is no legal requirement for women to receive equal pay for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration: In general, citizenship is derived from one’s parents, although there are limited circumstances in which citizenship may be derived from birth within the country’s territory. The government generally registered births promptly. Unregistered children may be denied some government services, including enrollment in secondary schools and national exams.

Education: Primary education was tuition free for the first 10 years of school but is not compulsory. Parents must cover school fees as well as the cost of uniforms and books. These costs could be waived for children whose family income fell below a certain level.

Child Abuse: The law penalizes neglect and mistreatment of children. There was reportedly widespread abuse of children. The deputy opposition whip, Pono Moatlhodi, was charged with assault for allegedly setting a dog on a 12-year-old he suspected of stealing mangoes. Child abuse was reported to police in cases of physical harm to a child. Police referred the children and, depending on the level of abuse, their alleged abuser(s) to counseling in the Department of Social Services within the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development as well as to local NGOs. Police referred some cases to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Child marriage occurred infrequently and was largely limited to certain tribes. The government does not recognize marriages that occur when either party is younger than the minimum legal age of 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the prostitution and sexual abuse of children. Conviction of sex with a child younger than 16, including a prostituted child, constitutes defilement and is punishable by a minimum of 10 years’ incarceration. In 2019 parliament amended the law, raising the age of consent from 16 to 18. The penalty for conviction of not reporting incidents of child sexual exploitation ranges from a substantial monetary fine to imprisonment for no less than two years but no greater than three years, or both. Perpetrators who engage in sexual exploitation of children are punished, if convicted, with a substantial monetary fine, imprisonment for no less than five years but no longer than 15 years, or both. The law further requires the government to develop programs to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. In May, Member of Parliament Polson Majaga was charged with defilement of a minor (statutory rape), and was subsequently suspended by the BDP from party activities but retained his seat in the legislature.

Child advocacy groups reported increases in sexual abuse of children during COVID-19 lockdowns. For example, UNICEF in April reported 23 cases of defilement and 22 rape cases during the first seven days of the national lockdown.

Child pornography is a criminal offense punishable by five to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Displaced Children: According to an international organization, 61,649 orphans and vulnerable children received government support between April and September 2018. Once registered as an orphan, a child receives school uniforms, shelter, a monthly food basket, and counseling as needed.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The government’s policy provides for integrating the needs of persons with disabilities into all aspects of policymaking. It mandates access to public buildings or transportation for persons with disabilities, but access for persons with disabilities was limited. Although government buildings were being constructed in such a way as to provide access for persons with disabilities, older government office buildings remained largely inaccessible. Most new privately owned commercial and apartment buildings provided access for persons with disabilities.

Violence against persons with disabilities was not common, and authorities punished those who committed violence or abuses against persons with disabilities.

Children with disabilities attended school, although human rights NGOs raised concerns the law does not stipulate accessible education for children with disabilities. In 2018 the UN special rapporteur on minority issues observed that most teachers were not trained in sign language or in teaching methods adapted to the educational needs of deaf persons. The special rapporteur also noted that the absence of sign language interpreters in the health-care sector inhibited the dissemination of information. The government made some accommodations during elections to allow for persons with disabilities to vote, including providing ballots in braille.

There is a Department of Disability Coordination in the Office of the President to assist persons with disabilities. The Department of Labor in the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the labor force and investigating claims of discrimination. Individuals may also submit cases directly to the Industrial Court. The government funded NGOs that provided rehabilitation services and supported small-scale projects for workers with disabilities.

Indigenous People

The government does not recognize any particular group or tribe as indigenous. The eight tribes of the Tswana group, which speak mutually intelligible dialects of Setswana, have been politically dominant since independence, are officially recognized by law, and were granted permanent membership in the House of Chiefs. Constitutional amendments subsequently enabled the recognition of tribes from other groups.

English and Setswana are the only officially recognized languages, a policy human rights organizations and minority tribes criticized, particularly with regard to education, as the policy forced some children to learn in a nonnative language. In 2018 the UN special rapporteur on minority issues noted the lack of mother tongue education or incorporation of minority languages into the school curriculum may constitute discrimination and encouraged the government to review its language policy with regard to education.

An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 persons belong to one of the many scattered, diverse tribal groups known collectively as Basarwa or San. The Basarwa constituted approximately 3 percent of the population and are culturally and linguistically distinct from most other residents. The law prohibits discrimination against the Basarwa in employment, housing, health services, or because of cultural practices. The Basarwa, however, remained marginalized economically and politically and generally did not have access to their traditional land. The Basarwa continued to be geographically isolated, had limited access to education, lacked adequate political representation, and some members were not fully aware of their civil rights.

The government interpreted a 2006 High Court ruling against the exclusion of Basarwa from traditional lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) to apply only to the 189 plaintiffs, their spouses, and their minor children. Many of the Basarwa and their supporters continued to object to the government’s interpretation of the court’s ruling.

Government officials maintained the resettlement programs for Basarwa were voluntary and necessary to facilitate the delivery of public services, provide socioeconomic development opportunities to the Basarwa, and minimize human impact on wildlife. In 2012 the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues approved a set of nine draft recommendations addressing the impact of land seizures and disenfranchisement of indigenous persons. In 2013 attorneys for the Basarwa filed a High Court case in which the original complainants from the 2006 CKGR case appealed to the government for unrestricted access (i.e., without permits) to the CKGR for their children and relatives. There has been no ruling in the case to date.

No government programs directly address discrimination against the Basarwa. With the exception of CKGR lands designated in the 2006 court ruling, there were no demarcated cultural lands.

In previous years the government charged Basarwa with unlawful possession of hunted wildlife carcasses. Five Basarwa filed a lawsuit against the minister of environment, natural resource conservation, and tourism regarding the national hunting ban, implemented in 2014. In 2019 the government lifted the ban on wildlife hunting.

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

The law does not explicitly criminalize lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct, but the penal code includes language that has been interpreted as criminalizing some aspects of same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults. Specifically it criminalizes “unnatural acts,” with a penalty if convicted of up to seven years’ imprisonment. There was widespread belief this was directed against LGBTI persons. In June 2019 the High Court found this language unconstitutional, thereby decriminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct in the country. The ruling party welcomed the decision. The government, however, has since appealed the judgment. Consideration of this matter by the Court of Appeals was delayed when the court system shut down for seven weeks as a consequence of the country’s COVID-19 response. A court date for the appeal had not been set as of November, and the existing laws on same-sex sexual activity remained in effect. Security forces generally do not enforce these laws.

There were no reports police targeted persons suspected of same-sex sexual activity. There were incidents of violence, societal harassment, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no reported cases of authorities investigating abuses against LGBTI persons, however. The victims of such incidents seldom filed police reports, primarily due to stigma but occasionally as a result of overt official intimidation.

In July a transgender woman was given a sentence of flogging by a traditional court after being convicted of violating public order for insulting another person. By traditional law women are excluded from flogging in the traditional courts due to modesty concerns over removing a blouse for canings. The transgender person was not afforded this exception but was able to avoid the punishment after a doctor deemed she was too ill for corporal punishment. She paid a fine instead.

Public meetings of LGBTI advocacy groups and debates on LGBTI matters occurred without disruption or interference. In 2016 the Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 High Court ruling ordering the government to register the NGO Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana (LeGaBiBo) formally. LeGaBiBo has since participated in government-sponsored events.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

According to 2019 UNAIDS data, the HIV prevalence rate for adults, who were 15 to 49 years of age, was approximately 21 percent. According to the UN Population Fund, limited access to sexual and reproductive health information and youth-friendly services, as well as gender-based violence, contributed to high HIV rates. The government funded community organizations that ran antidiscrimination and public awareness programs.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers–except police, military, and prison personnel–to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. The law provides some workers with the right to strike. The COVID-19 state of emergency barred all industrial actions by unions, although workers at some companies did conduct short work stoppages over pay matters without government interference. The law allows registered unions to conduct their activities without interference and with protection from antiunion discrimination.

The law limits the right to organize. Police, military, and prison personnel belong to employee associations to communicate collective needs and concerns to their government employer. Union representatives reported employee associations were generally not as effective as unions in resolving labor disputes.

Trade unions failing to meet formal registration requirements are automatically dissolved and banned from carrying out union activities. The law does not protect members of unregistered trade unions and does not fully protect union members from antiunion discrimination. This means that those trying to establish, join, or register a trade union are not protected from antiunion discrimination.

The law imposes a number of substantive requirements on the constitutions and rules of trade unions and federations of trade unions. The law also authorizes the registrar to inspect accounts, books, and documents of a trade union at “any reasonable time” and provides the minister of defense, justice, and security with the authority to inspect a trade union “whenever he considers it necessary in the public interest.” It also allows the registrar or attorney general to apply for an order to restrain any unauthorized or unlawful expenditure of funds or use of any trade union property. Employers and employer associations have the legal right to ask the registrar to withdraw recognition of a union, and the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development has the right to suspend a union if it is “in the public interest,” although the former practice was uncommon and the latter has never been employed. Any person acting or purporting to act as an officer of a trade union or federation that fails to apply for registration within 28 days of its formation is subject to sanctions.

The law provides for collective bargaining only for unions that have enrolled at least one-third of a sector’s workforce. The law does not allow employers or employers’ organizations to interfere in the establishment, functioning, or administration of trade unions. The law provides a framework for either employers or unions to nullify collective bargaining agreements and provides a mechanism for the other party to dispute the nullification. The law also permits an employer or employers’ organization to apply to the government to withdraw the recognition granted a trade union if it establishes that the trade union refuses to negotiate in good faith with the employer.

The law prohibits employees providing “essential services” from striking. In August 2019 the National Assembly passed legislation limiting the sectors covered by this prohibition in line with a recommendation from the International Labor Organization. The law limits its definition of essential services to aviation, health, electrical, water and sanitation, fire, and air traffic control services.

The law empowers two officials within the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development (the minister and the commissioner of labor) to refer a dispute in essential services to arbitration or to the Industrial Court for determination.

Civil service disputes are referred to an ombudsman for resolution, and the ombudsman generally made decisions without government interference. Labor commissioners mediate private labor disputes, which, if not resolved within 30 days, may be referred to the Industrial Court.

Workers who are members of registered unions may not be terminated for legal union-related activities. Dismissals may be appealed to civil courts or labor officers, which have rarely ordered payment of more than two months’ severance pay. The law does not provide for reinstatement of workers, but a judge may order reinstatement if the termination is deemed to be related to union activities. The law does not provide protection to public employees’ organizations from acts of interference by public authorities in their establishment or administration.

The government generally did not respect freedom of association for workers. In addition the government placed significant barriers to union organizing and operations, and there were some restrictions on the right to collective bargaining. Workers exercised the right to form and join unions, and employers generally did not use hiring practices to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights. The government refused to recognize migrant workers’ attempt to form a union after the workers had submitted all required documents to register their association. Legal penalties for violations of laws governing freedom of association were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

The law severely restricts the right to strike, and strikes were rare. When unions followed legal requirements, exhausted arbitration, and notified the government in advance of a planned strike, the government permitted strikes and did not use force on strikers. Due to strike requirements, however, many strikes were ruled illegal, and striking workers often risked dismissal. The law prohibits sympathy strikes. Compulsory arbitration was rare and only applied in cases involving a group dispute of workers in essential services. The law prohibits an employer from hiring workers to replace striking or locked-out workers and prohibits workers from picketing only if the parties have an agreement on the provision of minimum services or, if no such agreement has been made, within 14 days of the commencement of the strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit and criminalize all forms of forced and compulsory labor, including by children. Civil society representatives reported in previous years the government did not effectively enforce relevant laws, particularly in remote areas, mainly due to a lack of staff and funding. Labor inspectors refer cases to the BPS for prosecution. In the past authorities prosecuted cases involving trafficked individuals and won convictions. There were anecdotal reports of forced child labor in cattle herding and in domestic servitude (see section 7.c.). Members of the San community, including children, were sometimes subjected to forced labor conditions on cattle farms in the Ghanzi district. The law prescribed penalties that were not commensurate with comparable serious crimes.

The law punishes with compulsory prison labor any willful breach of a contract of employment by an employee who is acting either alone or in combination with others if such breach affects the operation of essential services. Sentences of imprisonment involving compulsory prison labor may be imposed on any person who prints, makes, imports, publishes, sells, distributes, or reproduces any publication prohibited by the president “in his absolute discretion” as being “contrary to the public interest.” Similar sentences may be imposed concerning seditious publications and on any person who manages, or is a member of, or in any way takes part in the activity of an unlawful society, particularly of a society declared unlawful as being “dangerous to peace and order.” The provisions are worded in terms broad enough to allow punishment for the expression of views, and insofar as they are enforceable with sanctions involving compulsory labor, they are incompatible with international standards. A prisoner may be employed outside a prison under the immediate order and for the benefit of a person other than a public authority.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor.

The minimum age for work is 15, but children as young as 14 may be employed in light work that is “not harmful to (their) health and development” and is approved by a parent or guardian. The law, however, does not define the types of permitted light work activities. The law provides that work shall not exceed six hours per day when a child is not in school and five hours when a child is in school, but only on vacation days between the hours of 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. Although the law prohibits night work and hazardous underground work for children, it does not cover hazardous activities, such as the use of dangerous machinery, tools, and equipment. In addition the law establishes the right of children to be protected from sexual exploitation, including through prostitution and the production of pornography (see section 6).

The Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies in all sectors, but its resources were too limited for effective oversight in remote areas. District and municipal councils have child welfare divisions, which are also responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Other involved government entities included offices within the Ministry of Basic Education and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. Government officials continued to address public gatherings, cautioning against the worst forms of child labor. Penalties, however, were not commensurate with those for comparable serious crimes.

Despite laws and policies designed to protect children from exploitation in the workplace, child labor occurred mostly on small-scale cattle posts or farms, where employees lived with their children in family units, particularly in the Ghanzi region. Child labor also occurred in domestic work and street vending. Civil society representatives noted in such cases where it was likely to exist, child labor resulted from a lack of awareness of the law among parents and their employers.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws prohibit discrimination based on race, color, tribe, place of origin, including national origin, social origin, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV status, marital status, religion, creed, or social status. The government generally enforced these regulations, and penalties were not commensurate with comparable serious crimes.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

According to the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development, the minimum hourly wage for full-time labor in the private sector was determined by sector. The minimum wage was higher than the official estimate of the poverty income level for all sectors. Formal-sector jobs generally paid well above minimum wage.

The law permits a maximum 48-hour workweek, exclusive of overtime, which is payable at time-and-a-half times the base hourly rate. In May the government froze payment for overtime work of public servants as a measure to address a budget shortfall during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to union representatives, some workers were required to perform overtime duties without compensation.

There are limited occupational safety and health (OSH) requirements. The government’s ability to enforce OSH legislation remained limited due to inadequate staffing and lack of clear ministerial jurisdictions. The law provides protection against termination for workers who verbally complain about hazardous conditions, but no specific provisions in the law allow workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. There were no figures available on the number of industrial accidents during the year that caused the death or serious injury of workers.

The Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for enforcing wage, hour, and OSH standards, but the number of inspectors was not sufficient to effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The primary forms of compensation for labor in the informal sector were housing and food, particularly in the agricultural and domestic service areas. Wages in the informal sector were frequently below the minimum wage. Informal-sector workers generally were covered by the same legal protections available to formal-sector workers.

Foreign migrant workers were vulnerable to exploitative working conditions, mainly in domestic labor.

Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

Burkina Faso is a constitutional republic led by an elected president. On November 22, the country held presidential and legislative elections despite challenges due to growing insecurity and increasing numbers of internally displaced persons. President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote, and his party–the People’s Movement for Progress–won 56 seats in the 127-seat National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity. The government had previously declared that elections would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.

The Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Defense are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Internal Security oversees the National Police. The army, air force, and National Gendarmerie, which operate within the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but sometimes assist with missions related to domestic security. On January 21, the government passed legislation formalizing community-based self-defense groups by establishing the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland, a civilian support corps for state counterterrorism efforts with rudimentary oversight from the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, but members of the security forces and community-based defense groups committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government and extremists; forced disappearance by the government and extremist groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by the government; serious abuses in an internal conflict; serious acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government investigated and punished some cases of abuse, but impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem.

The country experienced deadly attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year. Terrorist groups Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and other armed groups, such as the homegrown Ansaroul Islam, perpetrated more than 500 attacks that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths as well as scores of deaths among government security forces. Security incidents included improvised explosive device attacks, targeted killings, kidnapping, attacks on mining sites (especially gold mines), burning of schools, and theft of food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and the internal displacement of more than one million persons.

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 state security forces committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Multiple independent domestic and international human rights groups accused the security forces of committing hundreds of extrajudicial killings of civilians as part of its counterterrorism strategy (see section 1.g.).

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, on April 9, government security forces executed 31 unarmed Fulani men in the town of Djibo in the northern Sahel Region hours after arresting them during a counterterrorism operation. Residents later interviewed regarding the incident attributed the killings to the Groupement des Forces Anti-Terroristes, a mixed counterterrorism force (composed of members of the army and gendarmerie) based nearby. On April 10, the Defense Ministry’s director of military justice announced the opening of an investigation and later recommitted to investigating these and other similar killings on July 3. The president also reiterated this commitment. There were no updates regarding the investigation by year’s end.

On May 11, gendarmes, accompanied by several local members of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (Volontaires pour la defense de la patrie or VDPs), arrested 25 suspected terrorists trading in the market in Pentchangou near Tanwalbougou in Fada N’Gourma Commune (Est Region); 12 of the detainees died later that night, reportedly while in police custody. Local and international human rights advocacy groups claimed that the prisoners, all of whom were ethnic Fulani/Peuhl, were executed and suggested that the security services had profiled members of the Fulani ethnic group. On May 27, the Fada prosecutor declared a preliminary probe could not determine the cause of death of the 12 detainees but stated they were not executed. As of November the case was under investigation by the military tribunal.

In July a security officer was arrested who had headed a June 29 operation in Tanwalbougou (Est Region) that led to the death of seven civilians.

According to a local human rights group, the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights (le Mouvement burkinabe des droits de lhomme et des peuples or MBDHP), on May 4 and 5, VDPs arrested Idrissa Barry, a councilor; Amadou Diande, another councilor; and his son Adama Diande, a community health worker, in the vicinity of Barsalogo, Centre-Nord Region. Their families found them fatally shot and killed.

On March 8, at least 43 Fulani men were killed in the commune of Barga in the Nord Region. While the government blamed the attack on violent extremist organizations, local media and observers reported the attackers were members of government-condoned vigilante groups known as Koglweogo, who reportedly believed the Fulani were harboring terrorists.

Extremists carried out more than 500 attacks that resulted in hundreds of deaths, targeting traditional, religious, and political leaders; humanitarian workers; members of government security forces; VDPs; and civilians. For example, on July 6, extremists killed the mayor of Pensa in Bam Province and later killed six soldiers and three VDPs who deployed in response to the initial attack. On August 7, unidentified armed individuals attacked a cattle market in Namougou village in the Est Region, killing at least 20 persons and wounding many others. On August 8, a truck loaded with animal feed transported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to the city of Djibo was attacked by unidentified armed individuals. On August 11, Souaibou Cisse, Grand Imam of Djibo, was kidnapped by unidentified gunman and was found dead on August 15 in Tibere village, three miles from Djibo. On November 11, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara terrorists ambushed a military convoy in Oudalan Province in the Sahel Region, killing 14 soldiers and injuring others (see section 1.g.).

Ethnic Fulani (Peuhls), who were often recruited by extremist groups, were disproportionately the target of extrajudicial killings by security forces due to their perceived sympathies with Islamic extremist groups.

There were several accounts of criminal groups working in concert with terrorist organizations and drug traffickers killing gendarmes, police, VDPs, and park rangers, especially in the Est Region. Burkinabe security forces also reportedly committed abuses while conducting counterterrorism operations in Mali. In particular, the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) Human Rights and Protection Division documented 50 alleged “arbitrary” executions by the Burkinabe Armed Forces between May 26 and 28. As of year’s end, there was no update to these cases.

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of disappearances of civilians suspected by security forces of committing acts of terrorism. For example, Amnesty International reported on the disappearances of 34 persons attributed to security forces in March and April, and HRW reported on the disappearances of at least 180 persons in the area around the town of Djibo in the Sahel Region between November 2019 and June, which HRW said available evidence suggested had been carried out by security forces.

Extremists were also suspected in numerous disappearances (see section 1.g., Abductions).

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Local rights groups alleged numerous accounts of torture committed by the military, gendarmerie, police, VDPs, and members of the Koglweogo. The majority of allegations of torture involved victims suspected of having links to terrorists or persons of Fulani/Peuhl ethnicity.

A human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported that prison guards at the Ouagadougou’s House of Arrest and Correction (MACO) occasionally used excessive physical force, inflicting injuries on prisoners.

In March the MBDHP accused defense and security forces of inflicting acts of torture against offenders of the government’s COVID-19 curfew.

On July 10, a gendarme and a soldier reportedly raped two girls in Ouagadougou during an arrest for lack of identity documents. On July 24, the two were sentenced to four and three years, respectively, in prison.

On August 14, a gendarme reportedly tortured a 16-year-old minor in the Boucle du Mouhoun who refused his advances. The gendarme placed an order at the restaurant where she worked and asked the girl to deliver it to his home, where he handcuffed her, forced her to wear gris-gris (type of amulet common in parts of West Africa), and put chili pepper into her vagina. On October 20, he was given a five-year prison sentence by the Banfora Court (with possibility of parole after two years) and ordered to pay the victim 500,000 CFA francs ($900) in damages within a period of three months.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one open allegation from 2015 of sexual exploitation and abuse by Burkina Faso peacekeepers deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission, allegedly involving 10 peacekeepers who engaged in transactional sex with an adult. As of September the government was still investigating the allegation and had not provided accountability measures taken.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention facilities were harsh and at times life- threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same locations as convicted prisoners. The High Security Prison (HSP) in Ouagadougou, which mostly houses suspected terrorists, was at double its designed capacity, housing more than 900 inmates. Almost all were in pretrial detention.

Female prisoners had better conditions than those of men, in large part due to less crowding. Some infants and children younger than age five accompanied their inmate mothers. There were no appropriate facilities or installations for prisoners or detainees with disabilities, who relied on other inmates for assistance.

Food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate in the majority of detention facilities across the country. Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria were the most common health problems among prisoners. For example, at the HSP there were three nurses employed to treat more than 900 detainees and prisoners, with no doctor present on site but available on an on-call basis. Detention conditions were better for wealthy or influential citizens or detainees considered nonviolent.

Prisoners received two meals a day, but diets were inadequate, and inmates often relied on supplemental food from relatives. Some prisons lacked adequate ventilation, although some cells had electricity and some inmates had fans. Sanitation was rudimentary.

In April the government released 1,207 prisoners from prisons nationwide in response to COVID-19, an estimated 16 percent reduction of the prison population. Pardons depended on the age and health of prisoners, and only those who had already served at least half of their sentence were eligible. Prisoners convicted of banditry, terrorism, and female genital mutilation (FGM) were excluded from the measure. While this reduction provided relief to sanitary conditions in chronically overpopulated facilities, the facilities continued to operate at more than double their original capacity.

Administration: The government issued a May 20 statement reiterating the local prosecutor’s commitment to a criminal investigation into the May 11 death of 12 detainees who were “suspected terrorists” in Tanwalbougou, Est Region, as well as a government administrative inquiry into the same incident (see section 1.a. and 1.g.).

On August 4, the director of the Ziniare prison, Kalfa Millogo, was arrested for extortion of funds from detainees.

Because of COVID-19, the government suspended visits to all prisons from March 19 until further notice. Parcels and meals coming from outside for inmates, as well as visits by lawyers to their clients, were authorized, subject to compliance with the prevention system against COVID-19 set up in penitentiary establishments by the Ministry of Health in early March.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross was able to visit 2,800 prisoners in eight facilities in Ouagadougou, Fada N’Gourma, and Ouahigouya.

Improvements: As part of the fight against COVID-19, the French government and the Ministry of Justice signed an agreement in late June to strengthen the management of COVID-19 at the MACO and at the HSP.

In October the government completed the construction of a new detention center with a designed capacity for 500 inmates and a new administrative building for prison personnel in the civil prison of Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city of the country. The new detention center has 76 collective cells and 15 individual cells. The cells include showers, toilets, as well as collective visiting rooms and three individual visiting rooms for detainees’ lawyers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. Arbitrary arrests occurred, however, and a lack of access to defense counsel and inadequate staffing of the judiciary prevented many detainees from seeking pretrial release in court.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law police and gendarmes must usually possess a court-issued warrant based on sufficient evidence before apprehending a person suspected of committing a crime, but authorities did not always follow these procedures. Authorities did not consistently inform detainees of charges against them. Detainees have the right to expeditious arraignment, bail, access to legal counsel, and, if indigent, access to a lawyer provided by the government after being charged. In practice, however, attorneys were not appointed until trial began. A judge may order temporary release without bail pending trial. Authorities seldom respected these rights. The law provides detainees access to family members through court-issued authorizations.

The law limits detention without charge for investigative purposes to a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a single 48-hour period. In terrorism investigations the law allows detention for a 10-day period. In cases not related to terrorism, police did not always comply with the law, and the average time of detention without charge (preventive detention) was one week. Once authorities charge a suspect, the law permits judges to impose an unlimited number of consecutive six-month preventive detention periods while the prosecutor investigates charges. Authorities often detained defendants without access to legal counsel for weeks, months, or even years before the defendant appeared before a magistrate. There were instances in which authorities detained suspects incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Local independent rights groups alleged that security forces regularly arrested individuals arbitrarily for suspected involvement in terrorism. An official with the Ministry of Justice reported that hundreds of individuals detained at the HSP remained in detention without being charged. Judiciary leaders decried what they saw as a “broad net” cast by security forces in the field, whom they suspected of rounding up large groups of suspects without sufficient cause.

Pretrial Detention: In many cases authorities held detainees without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged offense; this was especially true in cases involving terrorism. While a pretrial release (release on bail) system existed, the extent of its use was unknown. Authorities estimated 52 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial status, but local independent rights groups estimated it to be as high as 70 percent. Local media regularly reported on cases of persons detained more than one year without trial. During the year the courts began ordering the release of suspected terrorists against whom there was insufficient evidence to move to trial on criminal charges, according to reports from HSP officials in Ouagadougou. On February 6, an HSP official reported that during January, 39 adult male terror suspects held at HSP were ordered to be released by the military and civilian courts. Some who were released unconditionally for a lack of evidence were to remain under court supervision pending further investigation of their cases. More than half of the released suspects were from the community of Djibo in the embattled Sahel Region close to the border with Mali.

The HSP population grew steadily, from 550 in October 2018 to more than 900 in pretrial detention as of August, and the government had not yet successfully prosecuted a single terrorism case through to completion. A lack of counsel specialized in criminal law, particularly defense lawyers willing to represent detainees arrested on terrorism charges, greatly contributed to delays in bringing cases to trial.

In September the government completed construction of a second courthouse in Ouagadougou to focus on terrorism cases. The national counterterrorism court (which has jurisdiction over terrorism cases) at this new courthouse was not operational by year’s end. The Superior Council of Magistrates named the judges to sit in the new tribunal and increased the staff to manage a growing caseload of unresolved terrorism cases.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides persons arrested or detained the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Prisoners who did so, however, reportedly faced difficulties due to either judicial corruption or inadequate staffing of the judiciary.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was corrupt, inefficient, and subject to executive influence, according to NGOs. There were no instances in which the trial outcomes appeared predetermined, however, and authorities respected court orders. Legal codes remained outdated, there were not enough courts, and legal costs were excessive. Citizens’ poor knowledge of their rights further weakened their ability to obtain justice. The reluctance of private defense lawyers to represent terrorist suspects in criminal cases was a problem, due to both lack of funds to pay appointed counsel and the social stigma associated with representing accused terrorists.

Military courts try cases involving military personnel charged with violating the military code of conduct. In certain rare cases, military courts may also try cases involving civilian defendants. Rights provided in military courts are equivalent to those in civil criminal courts. Military courts are headed by a civilian judge, hold public trials, and publish verdicts in the local press.

Trial Procedures

The law presumes defendants are innocent. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Trials are public but may be delayed. Judicial authorities use juries only in serious criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to legal representation, consultation, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to provide evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but a refusal to testify often resulted in harsher decisions. Defendants may challenge and present witnesses, and they have the right of appeal. In civil cases where the defendant is destitute and files an appeal, the state provides a court-appointed lawyer. In criminal cases court-appointed lawyers are mandatory for those who cannot afford one. The government did not always respect these rights, due in part to a continuing shortage of magistrates and court-appointed lawyers.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year, although some arrests and detentions may have been politically motivated.

In January, after diplomatic negotiations, the military prosecutor granted a six-month permission to Djibril Bassole to receive medical care in France. Bassole, former minister of foreign affairs and founder of opposition party New Alliance of the Faso, was sentenced in September 2019 to 10 years’ imprisonment by the Ouagadougou military court for allegedly providing support to the failed 2015 military coup. Bassole signed a declaration of honor in which he pledged “to appear in court as soon as [his] medical treatment is completed.” In addition, the former minister deposited the sum of 30 million CFA francs ($50,000) as a bond. Bassole, who was to return to Burkina Faso on June 29, requested and was granted a temporary extension of his stay in Paris.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but it was often seen as inefficient, corrupt, and subject to executive influence. As a result, citizens sometimes preferred to rely on the Office of the Ombudsman to settle disputes with the government.

The law provides for access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, and both administrative and judicial remedies were available for alleged wrongs. Victims of human rights violations may appeal directly to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, even before going through national courts. For civil and commercial disputes, authorities may refer cases to the ECOWAS Common Court of Justice and Arbitration in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. The courts issued several such orders during the year.

There were problems enforcing court orders in sensitive cases involving national security, wealthy or influential persons, and government officials.

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. In cases of national security, however, the law permits surveillance, searches, and monitoring of telephones and private correspondence without a warrant. The penal code permits wiretapping in terrorism cases, to be authorized by the president of a tribunal for a limited term. Investigative judges have the authority to authorize audio recording in private places. These investigations techniques were relatively new to the legal framework. The national intelligence service is authorized to use technology for surveillance, national security, and counterterrorism purposes.

In 2018 President Kabore declared a state of emergency in response to growing insecurity from extremist attacks in 14 provinces within seven of the country’s 13 administrative regions. The state of emergency granted additional powers to the security forces to carry out searches of homes and restrict freedom of movement and assembly. The state of emergency was most recently extended in January for an additional 12 months. Authorities in the Sahel and Est Regions also ordered a curfew due to extremist attacks.

According to international and local independent rights groups, the military employed informant systems to generate lists of suspected terrorists based on anecdotal evidence.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The country experienced numerous attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year, such as targeted killings, abductions, attacks on schools and mining sites, and theft of food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and creating significant internal displacement. Security forces also were responsible for killings and other abuses.

Killings: According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, as of November 14, there were more than 2,200 conflict-related fatalities since the beginning of the year, including more than 1,000 civilian deaths perpetrated by both security forces and various armed groups.

HRW issued a report in July documenting 180 civilian deaths, the majority of whom were Fulani men, between November 2019 and June, allegedly at the hands of security forces around Djibo in the Sahel Region.

On June 29, security forces reportedly arrested 12 Fulani men near Tanwalbougou (Est Region). Seven of the 12 were found dead on the outskirts of the village, in the same area where security forces allegedly killed 12 others while in detention the month before (see section 1.a.). The other five were released in a nearby village, after allegedly being tortured to the point of requiring urgent medical care.

In addition to large numbers of attacks against civilians perpetrated by armed groups and security forces alike, there were numerous attacks by extremists against security forces throughout the year (see section 1.a.).

As of August extremists including Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin and the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and Ansaroul Islam had conducted 22 attacks against political leaders and village officials in various locales, unlike in prior years when there were few known incidents of apparent targeted assassinations. In March a former mayor, a deputy mayor, three village chiefs, one prince, and two village development councilors were killed in the Est Region. In May, four village development councilors were killed in the Est Region. On June 13, the deputy mayor of the commune of Solhan, Sahel Region, was killed. In July a mayor and two municipal councilors were killed in the Centre Nord Region.

Armed groups also took advantage of poor road maintenance to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in potholes and ditches in efforts to ambush security forces and VDPs, which also led to the deaths of civilians. On January 4, a provincial government-sponsored bus convoy carrying children back to school after winter holidays triggered an IED believed to have been planted by extremists in Sourou Province. The blast killed 14 passengers, including seven schoolchildren. On July 12, Mathias Tankoano, the president of the Higher Council of Communication (CSC), and his security escort escaped an ambush by unidentified armed individuals employing a remotely controlled IED.

Extremists often targeted religious houses of worship and faith leaders. In December 2019 extremists killed 14 worshipers including the pastor during Sunday mass in their church in Hontoukoura village, (Komondjari Province, Est Region). On February 10, extremists abducted seven persons at the home of a pastor in Sebba, Sahel Region; five bodies, including that of the pastor, were found the following day. On February 18, extremists stormed Pansy village (Yagha Province, in the commune of Boundore) killing 24, including a pastor of the International Missionary Society, and they burned a Protestant church. On August 11, extremists kidnapped the imam of Djibo Grand Mosque in the Nord Region, while he was travelling back from Ouagadougou. He was found dead on August 15 in the outskirts of Djibo.

On January 20, extremists killed 36 civilians in Nagraogo and Alamou villages in Barsalogho Commune, Centre-Nord Region. Returned internally displaced persons (IDPs) were among the victims. On January 25, extremists stormed the village of Silgadji (Tongomayel Commune, Soum Province, Sahel Region) and killed 39 civilians of different religious backgrounds. Press and security services reported that on May 29, extremists attacked a convoy of local shopkeepers returning from the local market in Loroum Province’s Titao town, killing 16 civilians. On May 31, extremists fired upon the crowd at the cattle market in Kompienbiga village, near Pama, killing 25 and injuring others.

On June 26, armed attackers ambushed a convoy of merchants, under escort by VDPs, on the Titao-Solle road in Loroum Province (Nord Region). Despite a prompt reaction from the Solle military detachment, six VDPs and one soldier were killed and several others injured.

On July 13, 20 gunmen attacked the villages of Gabougou and Fondjoma in Matiakoali Commune, in the East. They allegedly killed five persons and abducted two others. Two days later the same gunmen reportedly returned to these villages claiming that they had a list of 30 individuals they would execute. Many in the villages fled.

On July 21, the body of a VDP from Peela village in Tangaye, abducted two days earlier by extremists, was discovered by fellow VDPs. They had to move the body from a distance using a rope because the body had been covered in explosives.

Communal tensions, often exploited by extremists, security forces, and VDPs, sometimes resulted in interethnic clashes.

An investigation by the government remained open with no charges made following the January 2019 attack by members of Koglweogo against Fulani herding communities in Yirgou outside the town of Barsalogho that killed 46 civilians. On February 4, authorities provisionally released the Koglweogo vigilante group leader Boureima Nadbanka and one other Koglweogo member, of 13 who had been arrested in December 2019; the releases followed protests by Nadbanka’s supporters who had blocked roads to pressure the government into releasing him.

Abductions: Extremists kidnapped dozens of civilians throughout the year, including international humanitarian aid and medical workers. In August media sources reported the kidnapping of the deputy mayor of Lanfiera (Centre Ouest Region) by unidentified armed individuals. On August 27, extremists kidnapped two retired civil servants on the Namissiguia-Djibo road at an illegal checkpoint and released them on September 5 in the village of Bourro, 19 miles from Djibo (Sahel Region). On September 18, the chief of Djibasso village, in the Boucle du Mouhoun Region, was kidnapped and remained missing at year’s end.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to HRW, the Collective against Communities’ Impunity and Stigmatization, and the MBDHP, on several occasions security force members tortured and beat civilians they suspected of having ties to terrorist groups, and sometimes destroyed their property (see section 1.c.).

In July witnesses said extremists raped two women in a village in the Nord Region.

Child Soldiers: There were no reports of the government recruiting or using child soldiers. Although it was difficult to obtain precise data on groups that recruited and used children, information from the Ministry of Justice reported the presence of a few children, estimated to be 12-14 years old, held in detention centers on terrorism charges, which indicated that armed nonstate groups may have recruited minors. As of September officials from the Ministry of Justice confirmed that eight minors, arrested with alleged terrorists, were detained at the HSP and the MACO. Several minors arrested and detained as terror suspects were released to NGOs and the Red Cross for return to their families.

Other Conflictrelated Abuse: According to the Ministry of National Education, as of September 15, 2,300 schools had closed due to attacks or insecurity, negatively affecting almost 350,000 students and more than 11,200 teachers (section 6, Children). In a May report, HRW documented the alleged use of 10 schools by government security forces for military purposes in Centre-Nord and Sahel Regions in 2019, including three occupied as bases for six months to a year. In at least eight cases, the schools had reportedly closed due to insecurity prior to the occupation. In July at least 13 schools were burned in the municipality of Tansarga, in the Est Region; reports indicated that up to 20 armed individuals went from village to village ransacking and burning the schools. On September 15, extremists set fire to the elementary school, communal high school, town hall, and prefecture in Tansarga, Est Region.

Local authorities in the Sahel, Nord, and Est Regions reported that extremists had displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians and limited movement in rural areas. According to the independent nonprofit news organization The New Humanitarian, the number of persons in need of emergency food aid tripled to more than 3.2 million during the year, with an estimated 11,000 suffering from “catastrophic” levels of hunger. The government worked with international and local aid organizations to improve food, water, health services, and protection for affected civilians against abuses and violations, but civilians and civilian services remained extremely vulnerable and in many cases were directly targeted by armed groups.

Throughout the year armed groups attacked medical facilities and hijacked ambulances and official vehicles of humanitarian and medical aid workers. According to UN Population Fund, as of July approximately 113 health centers were closed and 156 were idle due to terrorist activity, depriving 1.5 million persons of access to health care. Multiple sources reported that on June 24, unknown attackers seized a World Food Program (WFP) truck in Soum Province (Sahel Region). The attackers stole the truck’s cargo (35 metric tons of vegetable oil for WFP’s nutrition distribution) and abducted the driver and his apprentice for several hours before releasing them and the vehicle the same night.

On August 27, unidentified armed individuals caused a serious water shortage in Titao after they broke into a sector of the city of Titao, in Loroum Province (Nord Region), and destroyed machinery used to pump water to treatment stations of the National Office for Water and Sanitation. The assailants also stole the battery and starter, reportedly for use in making IEDs.

According to a report commissioned by the government, extremist attacks on gold mining sites gave them access to gold as a source of funding, as well as to explosives for the production of IEDs. The report revealed that since 2016, armed extremist groups had reaped 70 billion CFA francs ($126 million) from attacks on mining sites.

Extremist groups also forced women, predominantly in the North and Sahel Regions, to cover their heads, forced men to wear religious garb, prevented children from going to non-Quranic schools, and prohibited civilians from drinking alcohol, smoking, and frequenting bars at the risk of beatings or death.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. In 2019 the National Assembly voted to amend the penal code banning journalists from reporting any security-related news in an effort to preserve national security and prevent the demoralization of the military “by any means.” Attempts to “demoralize” members of the military had previously been a crime.

A 2015 law decriminalized press offenses and replaced prison sentences with substantial monetary fines. Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines. Despite the reform, journalists occasionally faced criminal prosecution for libel and other forms of harassment and intimidation.

Freedom of Speech: The 2019 revision of the penal code criminalizes communicating the position or movements of defense forces, or sites of national interest or of a strategic nature, and the publication of any terrorist crime scene without authorization. The amendment significantly increases penalties for the crime of publicly insulting another person if electronic communications are used to publish the insult; the law had previously prohibited persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office. Local and international associations of journalists called for the rejection of the amendments as an unacceptable attempt to stifle freedom of speech.

On July 29, the CSC issued a decision banning media coverage of political activities during the period from August 3 to October 30, the precampaign period prior to the November 22 presidential and legislative elections. Media coverage of any activity in support of a political party, candidate, or grouping of political parties or independents was banned. This decision drew criticism from media professionals, civil society organizations, and political leaders. They accused the CSC of supporting the president’s majority coalition, since the president and members of the government could continue their official government activities and be covered by the media. Critics noted that on the pretext of reviewing the status of the National Economic and Social Development Program, a presidential program, ministers toured regions using logistical and financial resources of the state. Following the adoption on August 25 of a new electoral law, the precampaign period was changed to October 1-30.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, albeit with some restrictions. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference.

All media are under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Communications, which is responsible for developing and implementing government policy on information and communication. The CSC monitored the content of local radio and television programs, newspapers, and internet websites to enforce compliance with standards of professional ethics and government policy. The CSC may summon journalists and issue warnings for subsequent violations. Hearings may concern alleged libel, disturbing the peace, inciting violence, or violations of state security.

Violence and Harassment: On January 7, unidentified individuals set the car of journalist Ladji Bama on fire, in front of his home in Ouagadougou. On November 10, in the period preceding the November 22 elections, Bama was the victim of another attack by an unidentified individual when a bullet hit the car he and two others were travelling in during their return trip from Dori (Sahel Region), where he had participated in a panel discussing electoral corruption. Bama, who had won awards for reporting on corruption, was one of the journalists who exposed the “fine coal” scandal in 2018 concerning an attempted fraudulent export to Canada of gold and of silver, disguised as coal residue.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on publishing security-related information and insulting the head of state, the law prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing that publishing blatant criticism of the government could result in arrest or closure of their newspaper.

Libel/Slander Laws: On July 24, five activists on social media networks were sentenced to 12 to 36 months in prison for contempt of court, public insults, incitement to hatred towards magistrates, and violence. This judgment came after these activists were accused of having insulted, in Facebook posts, the chief prosecutor for warning government security forces regarding their alleged acts of torture inflicted against offenders of the government’s COVID-19 curfew.

Internet Freedom

The law permits a judge, at the request of a “public minister” (prosecutor), to block internet websites or email addresses being used to spread “false information” to the public. The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet; however, the CSC and the chief prosecutor monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Extremist groups threatened civilians with beatings or death for listening to music.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government at times restricted these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

On multiple occasions throughout the year, the government denied requests for permits to NGOs and civil society organizations who sought to organize demonstrations and rallies. The government stopped a planned rally by a coalition of civil society organizations and labor unions in March, invoking COVID-19 restrictions. On May 30, police used tear gas to disperse a protest march of nightclub workers advocating for the lifting of a COVID-19-related curfew in Bobo-Dioulasso. On August 8, police broke up an impromptu gathering in Ouagadougou calling for the return of former president Blaise Compaore.

Political parties and labor unions may hold meetings and rallies without government permission, although advance notification and approval are required for public demonstrations that may affect traffic or threaten public order. If a demonstration or rally results in violence, injury, or significant property damage, penalties for the organizers include six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and substantial fines. These penalties may be doubled for conviction of organizing an unauthorized rally or demonstration. Demonstrators may appeal denials or imposed modifications of a proposed march route or schedule before the courts.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: The government required citizens to carry a national identity document, and it authorized officials to request the document at any time. Without a national identity card, citizens could not pass between certain regions of the country and were subject to arrest and fines.

Armed extremists restricted movement of thousands of rural inhabitants throughout the country by planting IEDs on major highways, hijacking vehicles, and setting up checkpoints. In response to dozens of attacks by unknown armed groups presumed to be extremists, local authorities instituted a ban on motorcycle traffic from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the Est and Nord Regions.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Recurrent armed attacks and interethnic clashes throughout the Nord and Est Regions caused a steep increase in the number of IDPs, from approximately 560,000 registered in December 2019 to almost 1.1 million as of December 2020 (see section 1.g.). According to The New Humanitarian, the number of persons in need of emergency food aid tripled to more than 3.2 million during the year, with approximately 11,000 suffering from “catastrophic” levels of hunger. In July and August, the NGO Davycas, with WFP and UNICEF support, conducted a nutritional survey for the Ministry of Health in 11 communes of the country with a high concentration of IDPs. The survey showed that more than 535,500 children younger than age five suffered from global acute malnutrition, including 156,500 who suffered severe malnutrition.

On August 20, the government revised its humanitarian response plan for conflict-affected areas. The new plan, at a cost of 233 billion CFA francs ($424 million) is intended to help 2.9 million persons in identified areas for intervention. The government worked with international and local aid organizations to improve food, water, health services, and protection of affected civilians against abuses. The government promoted local integration of IDPs by offering limited assistance to host families.

Despite interventions from the government and NGOs, access to lodging, water, and food remained critical problems facing IDPs. Media reported that in the Centre-Nord Region, some IDPs used a former pigsty for shelter in the rainy season due to a lack of tents; before the rainy season, they had been sleeping outside. In an interview, the mayor of Fada N’Gourma Commune (Est Region) revealed that women could sometimes spend all day waiting in line at a local water point in vain. On August 27, IDPs in the Nord-Ouest Region demonstrated to denounce deficiencies in food distribution and the exclusion of some IDPs from government aid.

IDPs were highly vulnerable to attacks and human rights abuses. On October 4, unidentified armed individuals ambushed a convoy of IDPs in the Centre Nord Region, killing 25 men and later releasing the women and children. The IDPs had been returning to their homes from the town of Pissila, where they had hoped to find an improved security situation. The survivors received psychological support from a partner in the region of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

NGOs reported that IDP girls were particularly at risk for abuses. In a June report on girls in the Sahel Region, the NGO Plan International noted that early marriage, forced labor, and physical violence had multiplied in the conflict-affected area. Similarly, a May Oxfam report described women and girls exposed to daily rape, sexual harassment, and assault in fields and at water points; many, facing extreme poverty, were also vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups.

Oxfam also described corrupt practices in the registration of IDPs and the misappropriation of aid resources. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the precarious conditions of IDPs, with the WFP reporting a significant increase in household costs linked to the pandemic.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, as well as to returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. UNHCR recorded more than 20,000 refugees as of October 31, the vast majority from Mali.

Recurrent terrorist attacks hampered access by humanitarian workers to deliver lifesaving supplies and assistance to refugees, as well as IDPs.

After almost eight years of relatively undisturbed existence, the Malian refugee camps in Mentao and Goudebou effectively closed down for periods during the year. Goudebou emptied after unidentified armed men attacked the camp on March 2, while refugees in Mentao left after government forces carried out a heavy-handed search operation on May 2 that led to serious injuries.

According to refugee accounts relayed by UNHCR, the March 2 attack occurred when unidentified gunmen entered Goudebou Camp to demand a particular refugee, who was not present. The attackers beat members of the refugee’s family, set fire to the gendarme post, and issued all the camp’s refugees a March 7 ultimatum to leave the camp or face death. As of December the camp stood empty, including the schools, health center, and water infrastructure.

The Mentao Camp effectively closed after government security forces entered the camp on May 2 in search of individuals who had attacked gendarmes, killing one, earlier that day. Alleging the assailants had passed through the camp and could still be there, government forces conducted a thorough search of each shelter. According to contacts, the forces separated men and women and severely beat many of the men. At least 32 refugees were injured, some seriously. Although the government told UNHCR there was no ultimatum forcing them to leave, the refugees fled to the town of Djibo. In a May 5 communique, the government promised to investigate the incident and offered to help find a new site to which the refugees could be relocated. On July 14, the government announced the relocation of the Mentao camp onto the site of the reopened Goudoubo camp, which it said had more space and better security measures.

In early April a dispute in a Sud-Ouest Region gold mine near Diebougou resulted in one death and the flight of more than one thousand Nigerien nationals from the mine site towards the towns of Kokologo and Sabou. They ‎sought their government’s consular assistance to be repatriated while the border was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs, aided by the National Committee for Refugees, is the focal point for coordination of national and international efforts.

Freedom of Movement: According to UNHCR, police arbitrarily arrested Fulani refugees travelling from the Sahel Region to Ouagadougou on multiple occasions, sometimes holding them in detention overnight before releasing them.

Access to Basic Services: According to UNHCR, public institutions such as banks, schools, and hospitals occasionally refused service to refugees on a discriminatory basis.

Durable Solutions: Following the March 2 incident in the Goudebou Camp, many refugees decided the situation was too precarious, and more than 5,000 registered with UNHCR for repatriation assistance. Most of them returned to Mali, although mid-March border closures related to COVID-19 prevented some returns.

Temporary Protection: The government agreed to offer temporary protection to individuals who did not qualify as refugees, but there were no such applicants during the year.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, more than 700,000 habitual residents were legally or de facto stateless, mostly due to a lack of documentation. The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion worked with UNHCR to deploy mobile courts to remote villages to issue birth certificates and national identity documents to residents who qualified for citizenship.

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: President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote in the November 22 national elections. His party, the People’s Movement for Progress, won 56 of the 127 seats in the National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. The Congress for Democracy and Progress, the party of longtime former president Blaise Compaore who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2014, became the largest opposition party with 20 seats. Some leading opposition candidates alleged irregularities and fraud but acknowledged the results and urged a “spirit of political dialogue.” National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity. The government had earlier declared that voting would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.

In the period preceding the November presidential and legislative elections, the National Assembly adopted a bill on August 29 to modify the electoral law. This new electoral law stipulates that in the event of force majeure or exceptional circumstances duly noted by the Constitutional Council, resulting in the impossibility of organizing the elections in a part of the territory, the elections shall be validated on the basis of results from those polling stations open on election day. This modification, which was approved with the support of the ruling coalition as well as key segments of the parliamentary opposition, was nonetheless criticized by part of the political class and civil society organizations, since it allows for the exclusion of a large number of voters living in insecure areas of the country.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties generally operated freely. In a September 3 press release, the minister of territorial administration, decentralization, and social cohesion, in application of the electoral code, made public the list of political parties authorized to participate in the November 22 presidential and legislative elections. According to the communique, 143 political parties and three political formations were legally constituted, and the minister urged other political parties to comply with the regulatory provisions by September 11 if they wished to take part in the elections.

The 2015 electoral code approved by the National Transitional Council stipulated the exclusion of certain members of the former political majority. The code stated that persons who “supported a constitutional change that led to a popular uprising” were ineligible to be candidates in future elections. In 2018 the National Assembly passed a new electoral law that allows all political candidates to run for election and opened the vote to members of the Burkinabe diaspora in possession of a national identity card or passport. At least two candidates who were formerly excluded under this law applied to be presidential candidates in the November elections and were approved by the electoral commission.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Parties and government officials stated women were less engaged in politics due to cultural and traditional factors. Although the gender quota law requires political parties to name women to fill at least 30 percent of the positions on their candidate lists in legislative and municipal elections, no political party met this requirement in the November 22 elections, nor during the 2016 and the May 2017 make-up municipal elections. In March a new law establishing “zebra lists” mandated that electoral lists alternate names of men and women in order to better achieve a 30 percent quota. The law includes positive incentives for political parties respecting the quota but no penalties for those who do not abide by the law. In September the Ministry of Territorial Administration, with the financial support of the UN Development Program, organized a public awareness campaign tour for the law on the gender quota in five regions to improve the participation of women in the November elections.

Monique Yeli Kam, of the Burkina Rebirth Movement, was the only female candidate among 14 certified as eligible for the November 22 presidential election. Following the 2020 legislative elections and the formation of a new government, women held 19 of 127 seats in the National Assembly after the elections (compared to 14 women in the previous National Assembly). Of 18,602 city councilors, 2,359 were women.

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. Throughout the year the press reported cases of misappropriation, fraud, or other offenses. The NGO National Network for Anti-Corruption cited the customs, police, and General Directorate of Land and Maritime Transport as the most corrupt entities in the government.

Corruption: Authorities opened an investigation of former minister of defense Jean-Claude Bouda for using government funds to build personal wealth. He was arrested in May 26 and provisionally released on October 22.

On June 14, Judge Narcisse Sawadogo was arrested on corruption allegations, as part of a broader judicial process involving Ouagadougou’s mayor Armand Beouinde. Charging documents stated the magistrate asked for financial compensation to help Beouinde avoid justice. Beouinde was accused of using taxpayer money to buy vehicles worth 4.6 billion CFA francs ($7.9 million) through a company in which he and his family had interests. Sawadogo was released on December 28 after the court ruled the offense of attempted fraud was not constituted.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires government officials–including the president, lawmakers, ministers, ambassadors, members of the military leadership, judges, and anyone charged with managing state funds–to declare their assets and any gifts or donations received while in office. On August 4, the Higher Authority of State Monitoring and the Fight against Corruption launched an electronic platform of declaration of interest and inheritance. The initiative, funded by the World Bank, was made available to government officials as well as members of certain institutions to declare their assets. The Constitutional Council is mandated to monitor and verify compliance with such laws and may order investigations if noncompliance is suspected. Disclosures are not made public, however, and there were no reports of criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance. On the eve of the 2020 presidential and legislative elections, National Assembly members elected in 2015 who had not complied with this law faced no sanctions.

In 2016 the Higher Authority for State Control and the Fight against Corruption extended the requirement to declare assets to include government officials’ spouses and minor children. Infractions are punishable by a maximum prison term of 20 years and substantial fines. The law also punishes persons who do not reasonably explain an increase in lifestyle expenditures beyond the 5 percent threshold set by regulation in connection with lawful income. Convicted offenders risk imprisonment for two to five years and a substantial fine. A 2016 law limits the value of a gift a government official may receive to 35,000 CFA francs ($60).

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and somewhat responsive to their views. In July the minister of defense responded to human rights groups’ allegations on behalf of the government, committing to investigate the numerous allegations; at year’s end there were no significant updates on such investigations.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: During the year the government approved the establishment of an office in Ouagadogou by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; as of year’s end, the office was not yet operational.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2019 President Kabore established the Ministry of Human Rights and Civic Promotion, separating responsibilities from the Ministry of Justice, which had overseen human rights. During the year the Ministry of Human Rights organized several training sessions for security forces on the laws of armed conflict, provided assistance to victims of extremist and gender-based violence, and organized antistigmatization and social cohesion campaigns. The government also assigned gendarmes as provost marshals to accompany deployed troops during military operations to verify detainees were afforded proper treatment and promptly taken before a military magistrate.

The Office of the Ombudsman addresses citizen complaints regarding government entities and other bodies entrusted with a public service mission. The ombudsman, whom the president appoints for a nonrenewable five-year term and who may not be removed during the term, was generally viewed as effective and impartial.

The government-funded National Commission on Human Rights provides a permanent framework for dialogue on human rights concerns. Its members include 15 representatives of human rights NGOs, unions, professional associations, and the government. Although inadequately funded, the commission produced a well documented report, released in June, on intercommunal violence and made recommendations to the government on responding to IDP population needs.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Gender-based violence was prevalent, including rape and domestic violence. According to the penal code, rape is punishable by a prison sentence of 11 to 20 years and a substantial monetary fine when committed against an adult or minor age 13 years or older. The penalty is 11 to 30 years in prison and even higher monetary fines when the victim is younger than 13. Rape was widely underreported in part due to societal taboos and the drawn-out judicial process owing to the overburdened justice system. Media, however, reported on the prevalence of rape cases and subsequent convictions.

In May, Oxfam reported more than one million women and girls in the country faced increased sexual violence, as well as hunger and water shortages, as a result of the conflict and further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic (see sections 1.g. and 2.e.).

On August 12, a man was arrested for having raped and impregnated his 14-year-old daughter who was then repudiated by the family for acts of incest. She was transferred to a shelter for young girls in distress in Ouagadougou.

The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs indicated in a July 8 communique that three girls ages three, five, and eight were raped in the Boucle du Mouhoun Region, and the three-year-old victim died. The communique also revealed that a 17-year-old IDP was seriously injured with a machete by her boyfriend. An investigation was underway into these attacks.

On March 30, a 16-year-old girl was reportedly raped on her hospital bed in the Tanghin-Dassouri Department by the son of a male patient housed in the same room as the victim.

Survivors of domestic violence seldom pursued legal action due to shame, fear, or reluctance to take their spouses to court. For the few cases that went to court, the Ministry of Justice could provide no statistics on prosecutions, convictions, or punishment. A government-run shelter for survivors of gender-based violence housed women and girls regardless of nationality. In Ouagadougou the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs assisted victims of domestic violence at four centers. The ministry sometimes provided counseling and housing for abused women.

The ministry has a legal affairs section to educate women on their rights, and several NGOs cooperated to protect women’s rights. To raise awareness of gender discrimination and reduce gender inequalities, the ministry organized numerous workshops and several awareness campaigns mainly in the Nord, Sahel, Est, and Centre-Ouest Regions.

The law makes conviction of “abduction to impose marriage or union without consent” punishable by six months to five years in prison. Conviction of sexual abuse or torture or conviction of sexual slavery is punishable by two to five years in prison. Conviction of these crimes may also carry substantial monetary fines.

The law requires police to provide for protection of domestic violence survivors and their minor children and mandates the establishment of chambers in the High Court with exclusive jurisdiction over cases of violence against women and girls. The law requires all police and gendarmerie units to designate officers to assist women affected or threatened by gender-based violence and to respond to emergencies; however, some units had not complied by year’s end. It also mandates the creation of care and protection centers in each commune for gender-based violence survivors and a government support fund for their care. The centers receive survivors on an emergency basis, offer them security, provide support services (including medical and psychosocial support), and, when possible, refer them to court.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The practice of FGM/C is prohibited by law, and those found guilty are liable to a prison sentence of one to 10 years with a substantial monetary fine. If a victim of FGM/C dies following the excision, the sentence increases to a term of 11 to 20 years’ imprisonment and an even higher monetary fine. Accomplices are also punishable with penalties. While comprehensive statistics were not available, as of December 2019 the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs had registered 185 FGM/C cases in the Sud-Ouest Region. Some arrests were reported.

Media reported some FGM/C cases. For example, in January, nine girls ages one to five were excised in the village of Tiomboni in Hounde, but no arrests were reported.

The government continued to fund and operate a toll-free number to receive anonymous reports of the practice. The government continued to fund the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for the Fight against the Practice of Excision, which reported that as of August, 3,090 villages had agreed to cease practicing excision. The council strengthened the skills of regional coordinators of women’s associations in the fight against excision through training. The government also provided training to 2,500 health workers to strengthen their skills in caring for FGM/C-related medical complications. On July 14, President Kabore spoke with representatives of youth from the 13 regions of the country engaged in the fight against FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In the Center-East Region, primarily in rural areas, self-proclaimed traditional healers performed rituals in which participants denounced others as “witches” whom they held responsible for their misfortune. Those accused, often elderly women, and less frequently men, were sometimes tied up, humiliated, beaten, brutalized, banned from their villages, or killed. Widows were disproportionately accused of witchcraft by male relatives, who then claimed their land and other inheritance. The law, which was seldom enforced, makes the conviction of physical or moral abuse of women or girls accused of witchcraft punishable by one to five years in prison, a substantial monetary fine, or both.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides for sentences of three months to one year in prison and a substantial monetary fine or conviction of sexual harassment; the maximum penalty applies if the perpetrator is a relative or in a position of authority, or if the victim is “vulnerable.” The government was ineffective in enforcing the law. Owing to social taboos, victims rarely reported sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: The law entitles couples and individuals to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but individuals often lacked the information and means to exercise these rights.

Government and private health centers were open to all women and offered reproductive health services, skilled medical assistance during childbirth (essential obstetric and postpartum care), and diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Family planning services were free in all public health facilities. Remote villages, however, often lacked these facilities or did not have adequate transportation infrastructure to permit easy access.

According to the UNFPA, 58 percent of women aged 15-49 had their reproductive needs satisfied with modern methods. According to the UNFPA also, in 2018 the adolescent birth rate was 132 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19.

Geographical distance, illiteracy, insufficient capacity of providers, lack of medical supplies, and religious and social beliefs regarding the negative effects of contraceptive methods were the main barriers to access to contraception. Women’s limited decision-making power and men’s lack of support for and understanding of family planning were also barriers to access to contraception.

The government worked with international and local aid organizations to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for Internally Displaced Persons.

The volatile security situation impacted women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health needs, since 12 percent of the health centers in the Nord, Sahel, and Est regions closed due to insecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic reduced access to family planning services, as well as overall sexual and reproductive health.

In 2016 according to the National Institute of Statistics and Demography, the maternal mortality rate was 320 deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the UNFPA, between 2014-2019, 80 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel. Among the leading causes of maternal deaths were hemorrhage (30 percent) and infection (23 percent).

The government’s official midwifery curriculum included components on the prevention of FGM/C and care for women and girls affected by it.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Although the law generally provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men–including under family, labor, property, and inheritance laws–discrimination frequently occurred. Labor laws provide that all workers–men and women alike–should receive equal pay for equal working conditions, qualifications, and performance. Women nevertheless generally received lower pay for equal work, had less education, and owned less property. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment under certain working conditions and in the same occupations and industries as men.

Although the law provides equal property and inheritance rights for women and men, land tenure practices emphasized family and communal land requirements more than individual ownership rights. As a result, authorities often denied women the right to own property, particularly real estate. Many citizens, particularly in rural areas, held to traditional beliefs that did not recognize inheritance rights for women and regarded a woman as property that could be inherited upon her husband’s death.

The government conducted media campaigns to change attitudes toward women. It sponsored a number of community outreach efforts and awareness campaigns to promote women’s rights.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives either from birth within the country’s territory or through a parent. Parents generally did not register births immediately, particularly in the rural areas; lack of registration sometimes resulted in denial of public services, including access to school. To address the problem, the government periodically organized registration drives and issued belated birth certificates.

Education: The law provides for compulsory schooling of children until age 16. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Targeted attacks on schools and insecurity forced thousands of schools to close (see section 1.g.). Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Other factors affecting school enrollment included distance to the nearest school, lack of transportation, shortages of teachers and instructional materials, and lack of school feeding programs. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, a cultural preference to educate boys, the early marriage of girls, and sexual harassment of girls.

Many children attended Quranic schools. Educators forced some children sent to Quranic schools by their parents to engage in begging (see section 7.c.).

Child Abuse: The penal code provides for a prison sentence of one to three years with a substantial monetary fine for those found guilty of inhuman treatment or mistreatment of children. In 2019 the government launched a National Child Protection Strategy to create a strengthened institutional, community, and family environment to ensure effective protection for children by 2023.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits forced marriage and provides for prison sentences ranging from six months to two years for offenders, and a three-year prison sentence if the victim is younger than age 13.

According to the family code, “marriage can only be contracted between a man older than age 20 and a woman older than 17, unless age exemption is granted for serious cause by the civil court.” Nonetheless, data from UNICEF indicated that 10 per cent of women were married before age 15 and 52 per cent of women before 18. While early marriage occurred throughout the country, the NGO Plan International reported that some of the highest rates of early marriage were 83 percent in the Sud-Ouest Region, 83 percent in the Centre-Nord Region and 72 percent in the Centre-Est Region. In August the Lobbying and Advocacy Action Group (GALOP), an association mainly composed of the wives of senior officials and chaired by the first lady, initiated a training session to counter the practice of child marriage, which was carried by media in Ouagadougou. GALOP set up a network of journalists and communicators to produce and disseminate press articles to raise awareness of the effects of early marriage. During the year the government organized travelling campaigns targeting specific communes for education against the practice.

According to media reports, however, the traditional practice persisted of kidnapping, raping, and impregnating a girl and then forcing her family to consent to her marriage to her violator. NGOs reported that minors, especially girls, were kidnapped on their way to school or to market and forced into early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides penalties for conviction of “child prostitution” or child pornography of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both. The minimum age of consensual sex is 15. The law criminalizes the sale of children, child commercial sexual exploitation, and child pornography. Children from poor families were particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. The government did not report any convictions for violations of the law during the year. The penal code prescribes penalties of 11 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine for sex trafficking involving a victim 15 years or younger. It also prescribes five to 10 years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines for sex trafficking involving a victim older than age 15.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law provides for a sentence of 10 years’ to life imprisonment for infanticide. Newspapers reported several cases of abandonment of newborn babies.

Displaced Children: Recurrent armed attacks displaced hundreds of thousands of children. According to CONASUR, the national emergency relief council, women and children accounted for 60 percent of the IDPs (see section 2.e.).

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. There is legislation to provide persons with disabilities less costly or free health care and access to education and employment. The law also includes building codes to provide for access to government buildings. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination and reported difficulty finding employment, including in government service.

The government had limited programs to aid persons with disabilities, but NGOs and the National Committee for the Reintegration of Persons with Disabilities conducted awareness campaigns and implemented integration programs.

On October 27, President Kabore presided over a national forum on developing more socioeconomic inclusion for persons with disabilities. The government continued to arrange for candidates with vision disabilities to take the public administration recruitment exams by providing the tests in braille. Additionally, authorities opened specific counters at enrollment sites to allow persons with disabilities to register more easily for public service admission tests. According to the Ministry of Education, children with disabilities attended school at lower rates than others, although the government provided for limited special education programs in Ouagadougou.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Long-standing conflicts between Fulani (Peuhl) herders and sedentary farmers of other ethnic groups sometimes resulted in violence. Incidents were commonly triggered by herders allowing their cattle to graze on farmlands or by farmers attempting to cultivate land set aside by local authorities for grazing. Government efforts at dialogue and mediation contributed to a decrease in such incidents.

On April 13, in the western part of the country, media reported that a land dispute along ethnic lines between Karaboro and Mosse communities in the Cascade Region’s Sideradougou Commune resulted in the death of four men.

Allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture, and violations of due process and basic human rights by security forces and VDPs, particularly against the Fulani community, continued to mount. While senior officials, including President Kabore, appeared politically committed to reinforcing respect for human rights and holding abusers accountable, the government lacked capacity to address a growing case load of such allegations.

Many observers, including HRW, noted an ethnic dynamic underscoring the violence in the country. Armed groups often recruited from the Fulani community, while the vast majority of men allegedly killed by security forces were Fulani because of their perceived support of extremist groups.

On January 21, the government passed a law establishing the VDP in an effort to institutionalize civilian support for state counterterrorism efforts. There were reports the VDPs did not incorporate Fulani into their ranks, nor did Fulani seek to be included among the VDPs. This dynamic underscored the precarious situation for the Fulani, who lacked security in their community but were excluded from the state’s security effort, thereby fueling a perception of or actual experience of marginalization among the Fulani. The government conducted media campaigns in an effort to change attitudes toward the Fulani community. It sponsored a number of media outreach efforts and awareness campaigns against the stigmatization of ethnic groups. In what observers understood to be a reference to the Fulani, President Kabore spoke against the “stigmatization of entire communities following armed terrorist acts in certain localities of our country” in his speech during the December 28 inauguration ceremony for his second and final term of office.

Indigenous People

Indigenous persons and their institutions sometimes participated in decisions affecting their land. Exploitation of natural resources near indigenous land endangered the welfare and livelihoods of indigenous communities. A Chinese construction project announced in 2019 to build a hospital in a protected forest in Bobo-Dioulasso sparked a controversial debate and was strongly rejected by the local population. Indigenous communities criticized the government’s decision to permit construction on approximately 38 acres of the forest and suggested that the hospital be built on another site. Following the controversy, the government suspended the project and commissioned an environmental impact study of the site. On August 13, the government announced that in line with the study’s recommendation, the hospital would be built on another site located a few miles from the original one.

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

The country has no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation, prosecution, or sentencing of bias-motivated crimes against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. NGOs reported police occasionally arrested gay men and transgender individuals and humiliated them in detention before releasing them.

Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was a problem, and it was exacerbated by religious and traditional beliefs. Medical facilities often refused to provide care to members of the transgender community, and LGBTI individuals were occasionally victims of verbal and physical abuse, according to LGBTI support groups. There were no reports the government responded to societal violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons.

LGBTI organizations had no legal status in the country but existed unofficially with no reported harassment. There were no reports of government or societal violence against such organizations.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS continued to be a problem and prohibited some individuals from receiving medical services due to fear of harassment. Families sometimes shunned persons who tested positive and sometimes evicted HIV-positive wives from their homes, although families did not evict their HIV-positive husbands. Some property owners refused to rent lodgings to persons with HIV/AIDS. The government distributed free antiretroviral medication to some HIV-positive persons who qualified according to national guidelines.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers to form and join independent unions, except for public employees and essential workers, such as magistrates, police, military, and other security personnel, who may not join unions. The law provides unions the right to conduct their activities without interference.

The law provides for the right to strike, although it significantly limits that right. For strikes that call on workers to stay home and that do not entail participation in a rally, the union is required to provide eight to 15 days’ advance notice to the employer. If unions call for a march, they must provide three days’ advance notice to the city mayor. Authorities hold march organizers accountable for any property damage or destruction that occurs during a demonstration. The law strictly prohibits all strikes that include occupying the workplace, including nonviolent strikes. The law also gives the government extensive requisitioning powers, authorizing it to requisition private- and public-sector workers to secure minimum service in essential services. The government defined essential services inconsistently with international standards, including services such as mining and quarrying, university centers, and slaughterhouses.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows a labor inspector to reinstate immediately workers fired because of their union activities. Relevant legal protections cover all workers, including migrants, workers in the informal sector, and domestic workers. International organizations reported that contract workers and agency workers faced antiunion discrimination from employers. The law provides for freedom of association and collective bargaining. The government effectively enforced the law. The law lists sanctions for violations, including warnings, penalties, suspension, or dissolution. Penalties consist of imprisonment and fines and vary depending on the gravity of the violation. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Amendments to the law award a legal existence to labor unions of NGOs, create a commission of mediation, and require that associations abide by the law concerning funding terrorism and money laundering. The law also states that no one may serve as the head of a political party and the head of an association at the same time.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally respected the right of unions to conduct activities without interference. Unions have the right to bargain directly with employers and industry associations for wages and other benefits. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. There were no reports of strikebreaking during the year. Government resources to enforce labor laws were not sufficient to protect workers’ rights.

There were no reports of government restrictions on collective bargaining during the year. There was extensive collective bargaining in the formal wage sector, which was where many worker rights violations occurred.

Protesting the government’s decision to tax civil servant benefits and allowances (known as the IUTS or Impot Unique sur les Traitements et Salaires), several thousand civil servants marched peacefully on March 7 in Ouagadougou, Bobo Dioulasso, Koudougou, and other key urban centers and went on strike March 16-20. All further union actions were suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions. After COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, the unions rallied on July 4 and went on strike July 8-9. The unions demanded the annulment of the IUTS tax, a reversal of suspensions and cuts in wages, and follow-through on past promises to increase wages.

On September 17, the minister of national education brought Bassolma Bazie to a disciplinary council for refusing to comply with his official working time. In addition to being a teacher, Bassolma Bazie was the general secretary of the General Confederation of Labor of Burkina Faso. He was also the spokesperson for the coalition of trade unions against the application of the IUTS. The unions and the workers he represented saw this disciplinary action as official harassment against the labor activist to undermine trade union freedoms.

On May 27, the Council of Ministers fired three civil servants from the Ministry of the Economy, Finance, and Development for serious acts of indiscipline during the strike by the coalition of unions against the application of the IUTS from March 16-20. These civil servants reportedly assaulted one of their colleagues for not following the call to strike. The Ministry’s Trade Union Coordination body announced a strike from September 9-11 to demand the reinstatement of the three agents. After the administrative court suspended their termination process on September 8, it suspended the strike and declared it was open to dialogue with the government for a final resolution of the reinstatement issue and other concerns contained in the platform of demands from the coalition of unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law considers forced or compulsory any labor or service provided by an individual under the threat of any type of sanction and not freely offered. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government did not have a significant, effective program in place to address or eliminate forced labor. The government continued to conduct antitrafficking advocacy campaigns and operated a toll-free number for individuals to report cases of violence and trafficking. Penalties for forced labor were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

Forced child labor occurred in the agricultural (particularly cotton), domestic labor, and animal husbandry sectors, as well as at gold panning sites and stone quarries. Educators forced some children sent to Quranic schools by their parents to engage in begging (see section 6, Children). Women from other West African countries were fraudulently recruited for employment and subsequently subjected to forced prostitution, forced labor in restaurants, or domestic servitude in private homes.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children, child pornography, mining, and jobs that harm the health of a child. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 and prohibits children younger than age 18 from working at night, except in times of emergency. The minimum age for employment is consistent with the age for completing educational requirements, which is 16. In the domestic labor and agricultural sectors, the law permits children who are 13 and older to perform limited activities for up to four and one-half hours per day. The law did not define the kinds of work appropriate for children younger than 16. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

The government undertook activities to implement the National Action Plan to combat the worst forms of child labor and to reduce significantly exploitative child labor. The plan coordinated the efforts of several ministries and NGOs to disseminate information in local languages, increase access to services such as rehabilitation for victims, revise the penal code to address the worst forms of child labor, and improve data collection and analysis. The government organized workshops and conferences to inform children, parents, and employers of the dangers of exploitative child labor.

The government did not consistently enforce the law, in part due to the insecurity imposed by violent extremist groups. The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security, which oversees labor standards, lacked transportation and access and other resources to enforce worker safety and the minimum age law. No data were available on number of prosecutions and convictions during the year.

Child labor took place in the agricultural sector or in family-owned small businesses in villages and cities. There were no reports of children younger than age 15 employed by either government-owned or large private companies. Children also worked in the mining, trade, construction, and domestic labor sectors. Some children, particularly those working as cattle herders and street hawkers, did not attend school. Many children younger than 15 worked long hours. A study by the International Labor Organization reported that children working in artisanal mining sometimes worked six or seven days a week and up to 14 hours per day. Street beggars often worked 12 to 18 hours daily. Such children suffered from occupational illnesses, and employers sometimes physically or sexually abused them. Child domestic servants worked up to 18 hours per day. Employers often exploited and abused them. Criminals transported Burkinabe children to Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Niger for forced labor or sex trafficking.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The government did not effectively enforce the laws and regulations. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous or “morally inappropriate” and in industries such as construction. Women were forbidden from doing work that was determined to have a health risk for their health or reproductive capacity.

Discrimination occurred based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, social origin, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. The government took few actions during the year to prevent or eliminate employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law mandates a minimum monthly wage in the formal sector, which does not apply to subsistence agriculture or other informal occupations. The minimum wage was less than the poverty income level.

The law mandates a standard workweek of 40 hours for nondomestic workers and a 60-hour workweek for household employees. The law provides for overtime pay, and there are regulations pertaining to rest periods, limits on hours worked, and prohibitions on excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. There are explicit restrictions regarding occupational health and safety in the labor law. Employers must take measures to provide for safety, to protect the physical and mental health of all their workers, and to verify that the workplace, machinery, materials, substances, and work processes under their control do not present health or safety risks to the workers.

The law requires every company with 30 or more employees to have a work safety committee. If an employee working for a company with fewer than 30 employees decides to remove himself due to safety concerns, a court rules on whether the employee’s decision was justified.

The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and hours of work standards. Ministry inspectors and labor tribunals are responsible for overseeing occupational health and safety standards in the small industrial and commercial sectors, but these standards do not apply in subsistence agriculture and other informal sectors.

These standards were not effectively enforced. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for comparable offenses. There were no reports of effective enforcement of inspection findings during the year.

Employers often paid less than the minimum wage. Employees usually supplemented their income through reliance on extended family, subsistence agriculture, or trading in the informal sector. Employers subjected workers in the informal sector, who made up approximately 50 percent of the economy, to violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The president retains power over the legislative and judicial branches of government. The ruling political party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, has remained in power since its creation in 1985. The country held legislative elections on February 9, which were marked by irregularities. The ruling party won 152 of 180 National Assembly seats. Paul Biya has served as president since 1982. He was last reelected in 2018 in an election marked with irregularities.

The national police and the national gendarmerie are responsible for internal security. The former reports to the General Delegation of National Security and the latter to the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the Gendarmerie. The army is primarily responsible for external security and shares some domestic security responsibilities; it reports to the minister delegate at the presidency in charge of defense. The Rapid Intervention Battalion reports directly to the president. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over security forces. Members of security forces committed numerous abuses.

In July jailed separatist leader Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe announced he talked with the government regarding the prospects for peace in the Anglophone regions. The government, however, denied Ayuk Tabe’s announcement, and other separatists opposed the talks. Cameroon Renaissance Movement president Maurice Kamto urged Cameroonians to stage nationwide peaceful protests on September 22 to demand a resolution to the crisis in the Anglophone regions and for electoral reform before the December 6 regional elections. Hundreds of protesters were arrested, including journalists, and Kamto was placed under unofficial house arrest.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by security forces, armed Anglophone separatists, Boko Haram, and ISIS-West Africa; forced disappearances by security forces; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government, Cameroonian peacekeepers deployed to UN missions, and nonstate armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigations and accountability for violence against women; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and the existence or use of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

Although the government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, it did not do so systematically and rarely made the proceedings public. Some offenders continued to act 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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of their official duties. Most of the killings were associated with the armed conflict in the two Anglophone regions (see also section 1.g., Abuses in Internal Conflict). Additionally, many included unarmed civilians not in conflict-afflicted areas, and others resulted from the use of excessive force on citizens by government agents, including members of defense and security forces.

The Ministry of Defense, through the Secretariat of State in charge of the National Gendarmerie (SED), is responsible for investigating whether security force killings, including police killings, are justifiable. Prosecutions related to these matters are conducted through the Military Tribunal. In some high-profile cases, preliminary investigations are entrusted to a mixed commission of inquiry, including civilian members with relevant professional backgrounds.

On July 23, the Douala-based private television channel Equinoxe TV reported that a taxi driver died in a health center after he was allegedly tortured at the 6th district police station in New Bell, a neighborhood in Douala. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Mandela Center, on July 20, Mitterrand Tchouateum Nja parked his vehicle incorrectly and was subsequently punished for refusing to pay a bribe. Police commissioner Mvoundi Evina and members of the 21st Armored Reconnaissance Battalion of Terminus Saint Michel, including Chief Warrant Officer Lawrence Nkimantap, brutally assaulted Tchouateum. After the assault, police detained Tchouateum at the 6th district police district. He was transferred to Nkoloulou district medical center on July 22 after his condition rapidly deteriorated. Tchouteum remained chained to his hospital bed until a few hours before his death, which came soon after his release from police custody. As of December 8, the Mandela Center had filed a complaint with the Military Tribunal in Douala, and the Military Tribunal had referred the case to the High Court. No criminal charges had been filed against the perpetrators of the attack as of December 15.

According to the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa (CHRDA), on August 13, Cameroonian soldiers raided the village of Mautu in the Southwest Region and killed seven unarmed civilians. The victims, including an elderly man and a pregnant woman known as ‘Mami Blessing,’ were reportedly shot at close range in their homes. Before these killings, the military raided a church on the outskirts of Mautu and shot the church’s pastor. The soldiers executed two boys alongside the pastor and shot another as he tried to escape. The soldiers allegedly invaded the church because the worshipers sympathized with separatist ideology. The CHRDA reported that they were unaware of any ongoing investigation into the incident.

On August 11, multiple media outlets reported the beheading of 32-year-old Comfort Tumassang by suspected Anglophone separatists. The incident took place in Muyuka, Southwest Region. A video circulating on social media that day showed a woman seated on the ground with her hands tied behind her. She begged for mercy before she was beheaded; her body was left in the street. Human Rights Watch also reviewed a second video, filmed before the killing, showing separatists interrogating and threatening Tumassang, whom they accused of collaborating with the military. The three main Anglophone separatist groups–the Ambazonia Governing Council, the “interim government” led by Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, and its splinter faction led by Samuel Ikome Sako–condemned the killing and denied responsibility for the crime.

On November 24, suspected Islamist terrorists attacked the village of Gabas, located within Mayo Tsanaga in the Far North Region, killing three civilians. On November 25, a member of the Gabas vigilance committee, Jean Baptiste Yagai, told the media that terrorists attacked at about 7:00 p.m., hours before the normal time that residents leave the village to hide in the surrounding hills every evening to avoid Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacks. The assault on Gabas was the latest in a series of attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in the Far North Region, especially within Mayo Tsanaga and Mayo Sava. In November at least six civilians were killed in attacks in Mayo Sava, while five civilians were killed and at least four others abducted in Mayo Moskota.

While the government repeatedly promised to investigate abuses committed by security forces, it did not do so transparently or systematically. Unlike in the previous year, however, some information was made available concerning the outcome of investigations into abuses committed by security forces as well as the status of some ongoing trials. President Biya ordered an investigation into the February 14 killing by security forces of an estimated 23 civilians in the village of Ngarbuh, Northwest Region. On April 22, the president released a summary of the investigation’s findings, identifying a sergeant, a gendarme, and a soldier as responsible for the killing of 13 civilians during the incident. President Biya reportedly ordered disciplinary action against the battalion commander, who oversaw the operation, and the arrest of the other three suspects. Their trial was expected to begin on December 17 at the Yaounde Military Tribunal. A total of 17 members of a vigilante group and a former separatist fighter were also charged but remained at large.

On September 21, the Yaounde Military Tribunal issued a sentence in the case against seven soldiers accused of the extrajudicial killing of two women and two children, believed to have taken place in 2015 in the village of Zelevet, Far North Region. The lead officer, Captain Etienne Fabassou, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and breach of regulations for his role and received a sentence of 10 years in prison. Sergeant Cyriaque Bityala, Corporal Barnabas Donssou Gorvo, and Soldier First Class Jean Baptiste Tchanga Chiengang were found guilty of murder and breach of regulations and were also sentenced to 10 years in prison. Of the remaining three soldiers, Soldier First Class Ghislain Landry Ntieche Fewou was found guilty of breach of regulations and sentenced to two years in prison. The two remaining soldiers were found not guilty. Both the prosecution and all those convicted filed appeals. In the case of the prosecution, the sentences were less than those the prosecution had requested.

b. Disappearance

As in the previous year, government security forces were believed to be responsible for enforced disappearances of suspected Anglophone separatists or their supporters. Multiple credible organizations documented the case of Samuel Abue Adjiekha (aka “Wazizi”), a news anchor for Buea-based independent radio station Chillen Muzik and Television Pidgin. Wazizi was detained on August 2, 2019, and pronounced dead on June 5. Wazizi was accused of having connections with armed Anglophone separatists. He was transferred to a military-run facility in Buea on August 7, 2019, and never appeared in court, despite several scheduled hearings. In a June 5 press release, the Defense Ministry asserted Wazizi died of severe sepsis on August 17, 2019 (see also section 1.c.). On June 5, the French ambassador to Cameroon told the press at the end of an audience with President Biya that the president had promised to order an investigation into Wazizi’s death. As of mid-December, there were no developments reported on the investigation.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports that security force members tortured or otherwise abused citizens, including separatist fighters and political opponents. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which security forces severely mistreated political opponents and others in which armed separatists mistreated civilians and members of defense forces. Public officials, or persons acting at their behest, reportedly carried out acts that resulted in severe physical, mental, and emotional trauma.

On July 2, the Cameroon Journalists Trade Union denounced the hijacking of Wazizi’s body as a move to conceal signs of torture on the journalist during his detention.

On July 7, according to CHRDA, 39-year-old Ben Uze was tortured and maimed by the military in Wum, Northwest Region. He reportedly sold 10 liters of palm wine and pineapples to soldiers, who took the items but refused to pay. An eyewitness reportedly told CHRDA that the victim reported the matter to the army commander, who accused him of associating with separatists. As a result, when Uze refused to pay the soldiers he encountered, they severely beat him, causing severe damage to his eye and groin area. Uze reportedly died of his injuries in a hospital.

In a September 24 preliminary report, Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) lawyers claimed police violently suppressed the party’s peaceful demonstrations throughout the country, beating protesters and arresting journalists. They stated that police elements, who used water cannons, batons, and tear gas, injured demonstrators in cities throughout the country, including Douala, Bafoussam, and Kribi. The lawyers reported cases of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment at Yaounde central police station No. 1, listing Therese Assomo Ondoua, Nde Diffo Jaurel, and Wilfred Siewe as some of those tortured during their arrests. Anecdotal evidence and accounts by some protesters who were released corroborated the lawyers’ preliminary report.

Human Rights Watch reported that on May 30, separatists kidnapped and tortured a humanitarian worker in Bali, Northwest Region, accusing him of collaborating with security forces. They released him the following day, and he spent several days in a Bamenda hospital for treatment of the injuries sustained during his detention. The victim told Human Rights Watch that he was blindfolded and taken to a separatist camp on a motorbike. He was later taken to a second location, tied to a tree with a rope, and beaten and kicked before he was released.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, five allegations were submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Cameroonian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. There were also 29 other open allegations dating from previous years of sexual exploitation and abuse by Cameroonian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including 16 from 2019, four from 2018, four from 2017, two from 2016, and three from 2015. As of September, the Cameroonian government had not yet provided the accountability measures taken for all 34 open cases. Of the open cases, nine allegedly involved rape of a child, 16 allegedly involved transactional sex with one or more adults, five allegedly involved an exploitative relationship with an adult, one allegedly involved rape of an adult, and one allegedly involved sexual assault of an adult. There were also two cases that involved multiple instances within each case. One of those case allegedly involved four instances of rape of a child and two instances of exploitative relationships with an adult. The other case allegedly involved rape by two peacekeepers of two children and an exploitative relationship with an adult.

Credible organizations including the CHRDA reported that Reverend Thomas Nganyu Tangem died chained to his hospital bed in Yaounde in July. He was a member of the Mbengwi Monastery in the Northwest Region and was arrested at Mile 16 in Buea in 2018 and transferred to Yaounde where he was allegedly tortured while in detention for two years without charge. Equinoxe Television reported that on several occasions, prison authorities dismissed concerns expressed by other prisoners regarding his health. On July 25, prison authorities took him to Yaounde Central Hospital, where he was shackled to his hospital bed. He died a few days later on August 5. Tangem was never officially charged with a crime.

Anecdotal reports suggested there were cases of rape and sexual abuse by persons associated with the government in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions. NGOs also indicated armed separatists were involved in rape and sexual abuse cases in the two regions.

There was at least one report of medical abuse by government forces. Djilieu Pommier alleged that after being arrested during MRC demonstrations on September 22 in Bafang (West Region), army Lieutenant Mvoundi Evina on September 22 injected him with an unknown substance. As a result of the injection, Djilieu lost the use of his legs and was effectively paralyzed pending an official medical diagnosis.

On May 6, the High Court of Mbam and Inoubou in the Center Region sentenced the head of local police to a three-year suspended prison sentence for mistreatment of 16-year-old Ibrahim Bello in 2017 that resulted in his losing both legs and his left hand; a colleague received a four-year prison sentence. The court ordered them jointly to pay 50 million Central African francs (CFA) ($86,800) in damages. Following the ruling, the NGO Mandela Center filed an appeal requesting damages be increased to CFA one billion ($1.74 million) due to the gravity of the injuries. The convicts and the General Delegation of National Security also filed separate appeals, requesting that damages be reduced. In mid-December, the court of appeals of the Center Region in Yaounde opened appeal hearings; there was no ruling as of year’s end.

While some investigations and prosecutions were conducted and a few sanctions meted out, especially in high-profile cases, security force impunity remained a concern. Such impunity involved most defense and security force branches from the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) to police. Few of the reports of trials involved those in command. The General Delegation of National Security and the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the National Gendarmerie investigated some abuses. The government meted out some sanctions to convicted low-level offenders, and other investigations were ongoing as of year’s end. Factors contributing to impunity included the government’s lack of transparency on the steps taken to address allegations of human rights violations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages and poor-quality food, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a significant problem in most prisons, especially in major urban centers. Prison overcrowding was exacerbated by sustained increases in the number of arrests related to the conflict in the Anglophone regions and the September 22 protests by the opposition MRC. Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons. Authorities often held pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners in the same cells. In many prisons, toilets were only common pits. In some cases, female detainees benefitted from better living conditions, including improved toilet facilities and less crowded living quarters. Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children. Authorities reported that the sick were held separately from the general prison population, but this was often not the case.

According to prison administration officials, the country had 79 operational prisons, with an intended capacity of 17,915. As of October 31, the overall prison population was 22,430, including 580 women and 577 minors. The Ministry of Exterior Relations’ Minister Delegate to the Commonwealth Felix Mbayu provided the figures on November 19, within the framework of the 67th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Access to food, water, sanitation, heating and ventilation, lighting, and medical care was inadequate. Consequently, malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other treatable conditions, including infections, were rampant. Hundreds of cases of COVID-19 were recorded among inmates released from five prisons across Cameroon’s Central Region in April, according to Reuters, which cited unpublished government data. According to the article, the Yaounde Central Prison was the worst hit. More than 31 inmates died there in April, compared with a prepandemic average of one or two a month. A senior prison official reportedly told Reuters that no inmates were tested for COVID-19.

Physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were problems. Some credible organizations reported that physical abuse by persons associated with the government was less prevalent in prisons than in gendarmerie and police detention cells, where some officers often used harsh interrogation techniques. Conversely, violence among inmates was reported in virtually all prisons. In an August 18 letter to the Minister of Justice Shufai Blaise Sevidzem Berinyuy representing detained Anglophones separatists at the Kondengui Principal Prison, informed the minister that Reverend Kisob Bertin was attacked on August 16 in his bed by fellow inmates. He stated that witnesses said the attack had the blessing of the prison administrators, who told some inmates they would not face sanctions if they attacked “Ambazonians” and seized their property.

Administration: Authorities allegedly did not address all credible allegations of mistreatment. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, independent authorities did not investigate the most credible allegations of mistreatment. Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel; without authorization, they had to bribe prison staff to communicate with inmates. Overall prison visits were limited in compliance with COVID-19-related restrictions. Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to observe their religious practices without interference.

Independent Monitoring: Independent monitoring of prisons was constrained by COVID-19-related restrictions. The NGO Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme, however, stated it visited a few prisons up to April and a few others as of August, including in Bafia, Bafoussam, and Nanga Eboko. The Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese in Bamenda also stated it conducted regular visits to the Bamenda Central Prison and provided legal assistance to inmates facing crimes related to the ongoing Anglophone conflict at the Military Tribunal. The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) reported it did not conduct any prison visits as of late August because of a lack of funding.

Improvements: The new Douala-Ngoma Central Prison located approximately 12 miles from Douala, was completed. The facility is expected to help address prison overcrowding and improve the living environment of inmates at the Douala-New Bell central prison. The new prison needed equipment and some other finishing touches before receiving inmates. On April 15, President Biya signed a decree to decongest prisons as part of government measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, approximately 1,800 inmates were freed by May 8. As of July, the total number of inmates who benefitted from the decree was estimated at close to 3,000.

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 in court of an arrest or detention. The law states that except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest must disclose their identity and inform the person arrested of the reason. Any person illegally detained by police, the state counsel, or the examining magistrate may receive compensation. The government did not always respect these provisions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a judge or prosecutor before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement. The law provides that suspects be brought promptly before a judge or prosecutor, although this often did not occur, and citizens were detained without judicial authorization. Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once. This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought. Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods. The law also permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days by administrative authorities, such as governors and civilian government officials serving in territorial command. The law also provides that individuals arrested on suspicion of terrorism and certain other crimes may be detained for investigation for periods of 15 days, renewable without limitation with authorization of the prosecutor. The law allows access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but such cases occurred, especially in connection with the Anglophone crisis. The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal, and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police, gendarmes, the BIR, and other government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado. “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless they paid a bribe, continued, although on a limited scale.

On May 11, six volunteers from “Survival Cameroon,” a fundraising initiative launched by opposition leader Maurice Kamto to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, were arrested while handing out free personal protective equipment in Yaounde. They were placed in custody at the Yaounde II police district without judicial authorization. The volunteers were released on bail after several days of detention. Two other volunteers were arrested on May 14 while filming the transfer of their comrades from the police station to the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor released them on bail on May 26. Christian Penda Ekoka, president of the management committee of the initiative, stated that three other volunteers who were peacefully distributing free masks and hand sanitizer in Sangmelima, South Region on May 23 were arrested and placed in custody at the city’s central police station. They were released on bail after several days of detention. The individuals were accused of unauthorized demonstrations. If found guilty, they could face four years in prison.

According to Cameroon People’s Party (CPP) president Edith Kah Walla, on September 19, members of security forces abducted at least five members of the NGO consortium Stand Up for Cameroon. The arrest occurred after the members left a “Friday in Black” meeting held at the CPP headquarters in Douala. The abductees, including Moussa Bello, Etienne Ntsama, Mira Angoung, and Tehle Membou, were reportedly subjected to brutality and interrogated without legal counsel.

On September 19, 21, and 22, security forces arrested approximately 593 citizens in connection with peaceful protests called for by the MRC opposition party. While some were released, the Military Tribunal charged many with revolution, insurrection, and rebellion and placed them in pretrial detention. MRC women’s wing president Awasum Mispa was arrested on November 21 when she led a group of women to visit MRC president Maurice Kamto. On November 23, an investigating magistrate at the Yaounde Military Tribunal charged her with complicity in revolution and rebellion and placed her in pretrial detention for a period of six months renewable. On November 27, the same investigating magistrate dropped the charges and released her. Kamto’s de facto house arrest was lifted on December 8, two days after the election of regional councilors. The Yaounde Court of First Instance had not opened any substantive hearings in the proceedings initiated by his lawyers.

Pretrial Detention: The code of criminal procedure provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years to appear in court. The 2014 antiterrorism law provides that a suspect may be held indefinitely in investigative detention with the authorization of the prosecutor. Of the 22,430 detainees as of October 31, a total of 14,973 were pretrial detainees.

Amadou Vamoulke, a former general manager of state-owned Cameroon Radio Television, who was arrested and detained in 2016 on embezzlement charges, continued to await trial at the Kondengui Central Prison. After at least 30 hearings as of July 15, the Special Criminal Court failed to produce strong evidence to support the charges against him.

See also section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, case of Thomas Tangem.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but this is not always the case in practice. In some instances, the outcomes of trials appeared influenced by the government, especially in politically sensitive cases. Authorities did not always respect and enforce court orders.

Despite the judiciary’s partial independence from the executive and legislative branches, the president appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them at will.

Military courts may exercise jurisdiction over civilians in a broad number of offenses including civil unrest.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and the defendant is presumed innocent. Authorities did not always respect the law. Criminal defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice, but in many cases the government did not respect this right, restricting access to lawyers, particularly in cases of individuals suspected of complicity with Boko Haram, Anglophone separatists, or political opponents. When defendants cannot pay for their own legal defense, the court may appoint trial counsel at public expense, but the process was often burdensome and lengthy and the quality of legal assistance was poor. Authorities generally allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but authorities often violated this right. Hearsay and anonymous testimony were sometimes permitted, especially in terrorism cases. Defendants are entitled to an interpreter at no charge, but often the quality of interpretation was described as poor. Defendants may appeal convictions. In some cases, authorities did not give the victim a chance to confront the offender and present witnesses or evidence to support his or her case.

Courts often limited procedural rights in politically sensitive cases. On July 16, the Court of Appeals in Yaounde heard a case involving 10 Anglophone separatist leaders, including Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, whom the Yaounde Military Tribunal sentenced to life imprisonment in August 2019. On July 17, prison officials denied the Anglophone leaders access to their defense lawyers, according to several lawyers, including Emmanuel Simh. In a July 17 statement, Dabney Yerima, the jailed vice president of the Ambazonian “interim government,” confirmed and then denounced the denial of access to legal representation. Although they were present at the court, Sisiku and his companions reportedly refused to be judged in French, demanding that their trial be conducted in English. The case was adjourned until August 20, and then until September 17 when a final decision was to be delivered. They reportedly did not receive a legal opinion from the court official on this case. On August 20, the case was postponed until September, after the magistrate in charge was transferred to the Supreme Court. On September 18, the Court of Appeals eventually confirmed the initial life sentence for separatist leader Ayuk Tabe and others.

There were cases where the courts demonstrated some neutrality. On June 16, the Administrative Court in Yaounde ruled that the minister of territorial administration had acted illegally when he independently declared that the leader of the CPP, Edith Kah Walla, had been replaced by the proregime party founder Samuel Fon before the October 2018 Presidential election.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of newly identified political detainees as of September, most of whom were associated with the September 22 protests called for by the MRC opposition party. While there were no official statistics available, the number of detainees was estimated to be close to 600. Prominent among the detainees were MRC Treasurer Alain Fogue and Maurice Kamto’s spokesperson, Olivier Bibou Nissack. Political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in SED facilities and at the Kondengui Principal Prison and the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. Some were allegedly held at Directorate General for External Research facilities. The government did not readily permit access to such individuals.

The 10 Anglophone separatist leaders, including Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, whom the Yaounde Military Tribunal sentenced to life imprisonment on August 20, 2019, remained in detention, as the Court of Appeals in September confirmed the sentence. MRC Vice President Mamadou Mota and a few other MRC members, in addition to the 10 leaders sentenced to life, remained in detention as of December, despite a reduction of their sentences upon appeal. Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, who was convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in detention. In 2016 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention described Marafa’s detention as “a violation of international laws.” The government did not respond to repeated requests for members of the diplomatic community to meet with Marafa.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There were credible reports that for political reasons the government attempted to exert bilateral pressure on other countries aimed at having them take adverse legal action against specific individuals, including Anglophone separatists and other political opponents.

On August 18, Serge Sihonou, the secretary of MRC’s operation in Gabon, was allegedly detained by the counterinterference service of the B2 Brigade in Libreville, where he was harassed and physically abused. He was accused of continuing to run an MRC operation that he created in the town of Oyam, despite a ban on the party in Gabon. On August 21, MRC leader Maurice Kamto sent a letter to the Gabonese ambassador to Cameroon denouncing the treatment and demanding the release of Sihonou. In his letter, Kamto accused the Cameroonian ambassador to Gabon of instigating the harassment of MRC members in Gabon since 2018.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options involved lengthy delays. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies, but the decisions of regional human rights bodies are not binding.

There were reports that the government delegate to the Douala City Council had failed to comply with civil court decisions pertaining to labor matters of city council employees. The Douala City mayor, who replaced the government delegate, however, found a compromise solution after more than 30 months of litigation between Douala City Council workers and the government.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, these rights were subject to restriction in the interests of the state, and there were credible reports police and gendarmes abused their positions by harassing citizens and conducting searches without warrants.

The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant only if pursuing a person suspected of or seen committing a crime. Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision and entered private homes without a warrant whenever they wished. According to media reports, security forces on June 27 conducted raids in the mostly Anglophone neighborhoods of Obili and Melen in Yaounde, following the detonation of two improvised explosive devices in the city. They entered private homes by force and arrested anyone deemed suspicious or who did not possess a national identification card. Many of those detained told media they had been harassed, humiliated, and abused in the process. A video on social media showed more than 100 men and women sitting on the ground surrounded by security officers within a large courtyard in Obili. At the end of the operation, the security officers took away dozens of persons without identification.

An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer, may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this practice occurred. Following a late March decision by Jean Claude Tsila, the senior divisional officer for Mfoundi, approximately 50 prostitutes were placed in police custody after coming in contact with travelers in quarantine due to COVID-19 in some hotels in Yaounde.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Killings: There were credible reports that members of government forces and separatist fighters deliberately killed innocent citizens. On April 22, according to credible organizations, members of government security forces executed six unarmed men in Muambong, Southwest Region. The victims included four former separatist fighters who had accepted an amnesty offer in 2019. Most of the executions were reportedly carried out in front of the victims’ relatives.

On March 12, according to credible accounts, Anglophone separatists killed at least five civilians held hostage, including the deputy mayor of Babessi council, Chefor Oscar, and the newly elected mayor of the Mbengwi council, Ndangsa Kenedy Akam, who was kidnapped 15 days earlier. The killings took place after the Cameroonian army raided their camp, freed five hostages, and killed seven separatist fighters. According to reports, the hostages were subjected to both physical and sexual violence. On May 10, Anglophone separatists ambushed and killed the newly elected mayor of Mamfe, 35-year-old Priestley Ashu Ojong. Shortly after news of Ashu Ojong’s death, Lucas Ayaba Cho, leader of the Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF), praised ADF fighters for eliminating a high value target.

Boko Haram and ISIS-WA intensified deadly attacks on civilians and members of security forces in the Far North Region. LOeil du Sahel reported that on June 25 in Goudoumboul, Boko Haram insurgents killed 18-year-old Almada Ali. On June 26, in Cheripouri, assailants believed to be Boko Haram fighters ambushed and killed 12-year-old Ousmane and his older brother while they were asleep in their home.

On October 24, according to Amnesty International, unidentified gunmen in civilian clothes on motorbikes attacked a school in Kumba in the Southwest Region, firing into a classroom. The attackers killed eight schoolchildren and injured another 12 children. On October 28, Minister of Communications Rene Emmanuel Sadi announced security forces had killed one of the gunmen allegedly responsible for the attack. The government declared a national day of mourning and a delegation of government ministers traveled to Kumba to meet with the victims’ family members. The government also sent a medical team to provide medical and psychosocial support. On the day of the attack, Communications Minister Sadi announced an investigation into the killing, but the government did not follow through with an independent investigation into the attack.

On December 6, unidentified gunmen shot at Encho Elias Ambi, a municipal councilor for Widikum in the Northwest Region, after he cast his vote for the election of regional councilors. He was not harmed during the incident.

Abductions: Armed separatists kidnapped dozens of persons, burned property, and threatened voters in the period before the February 9 legislative and municipal elections. Armed separatists allegedly kidnapped several traditional leaders in retaliation for the traditional leaders’ participation in the December 6 regional elections. They held noncombatants as hostages, including public officials, political leaders, teachers, schoolchildren, and traditional leaders. There were credible allegations that separatists physically abused abduction victims, including committing rape, using stress positions, administering beatings, and flogging with machetes. In some cases the abductors freed the victims after either negotiations or receiving ransom payments.

On July 13, armed individuals abducted at least 60 men, women, and children in the village of Mmouck Leteh in the Southwest Region. On July 15, a local administrator told the BBC that gunmen entered the village late at night, moved through the community kidnapping persons–many of whom were at a local snack bar–and led them away at gunpoint to an unknown destination. According to the BBC, a significant number of the victims were children between the ages of 12 and 16. Later that day, the BBC reported that at least 12 of the abductees had escaped captivity and had returned to the community, and that separatist leader General Ayeke had demanded a ransom totaling $2,500 for the remaining victims. Several hours later, multiple local media outlets announced the release of the remaining abductees, reportedly after negotiations with separatists.

On July 7, five civilians were kidnapped in Muyuka, Southwest Region, presumably by Anglophone separatists. A week later, the victims were still missing. On May 30, according to Human Rights Watch, separatists abducted and mistreated a humanitarian worker, whom they accused of being a spy. The worker was released the next day. In Bambui on May 30, separatists abducted seven staff members of a religious nonprofit organization; they were released after two days.

On April 24, armed men abducted three government officials in Boyo, Northwest Region.

On January 21, suspected separatists abducted 24 schoolchildren in Kumba in the Southwest Region. Security forces rescued the hostages in an operation later the same day, killing two of the abductors in the process.

On January 5, armed separatists kidnapped Choh Issa Bouba, the opposition party Social Democratic Front’s mayor of Babessi, Northwest Region, along with some councilors of his municipality.

On December 12, Anglophone separatists allegedly kidnapped traditional leader Nelson Sheteh in the Northwest Region. On December 13, suspected Anglophone separatists in the Southwest Region abducted three traditional rulers, including Chief Emmanuel Ikome Ngalle. Ngalle died in separatist custody and the other two traditional leaders, Simon Kombe, traditional ruler of Bolifamba, and Emmanuel Efande Ewule, traditional ruler of Lower Bokova, were released on December 14. Many Cameroonians believed that the timing of the abductions and social media statements by separatist leaders suggested the abductions were in retaliation against leaders who participated in the December 6 regional elections.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to anecdotal reports, members of government forces physically abused civilians and prisoners in their custody. Reports suggested that on January 5, a detainee died in Ndu, Northwest Region after being abused by soldiers (See also section 1.a).

In a March 13 report available online, journalist Moki Edwin Kindzeka reported that Anglophone separatists killed four hostages, including a local official, after troops attacked their camp in a western part of the country. The military reportedly freed five others. According to Kindzeka, a young woman recovering at a military base in Bafoussam told a reporter that she had also been raped by her abductors.

Child Soldiers: The government did not generally recruit or use child soldiers, but there were allegations that some members of defense and security forces in at least one instance allegedly used a child for intelligence gathering in the Southwest Region in November 2019. Some community neighborhood watch groups, known as vigilance committees, may have used and recruited children as young as 12 in operations against Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. In July, Human Rights Watch reported that from mid-March to late April, soldiers in Mozogo, Far North Region, forced civilians to perform local night guard duty to protect against attacks by Boko Haram. According to the report, the 42nd Motorized Infantry Battalion in Mozogo worked with local authorities to compile lists of approximately 90 men and at least one boy who were required to join night guard duty.

Boko Haram continued to use child soldiers, including girls, in its attacks on civilian and military targets. There were also some reports that Anglophone separatists in the Southwest and Northwest Regions used children as fighters.

According to UNICEF, from January to December 2019, there were nine incidents involved minors used as forced suicide bombers in the Far North Region (Mayo Sava, Mayo Tsanaga, and Logone-and-Chari divisions). UNICEF’s analysis found individuals manipulated into serving as suicide bombers or forced suicide bombers included children whose parents had been killed in violence, abducted orphaned children, and women whose husbands had been killed.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: As in the previous year, there were reports of repeated attacks on health workers and institutions and the use of firearms around health facilities by members of security forces and Anglophone separatists.

Human Rights Watch reported in July that security forces and armed separatists attacked hospitals and medical staff on multiple occasions. The organization indicated that on June 10, following clashes between separatists and soldiers, including members of the BIR, a grenade was fired into the courtyard of the district hospital in Bali, Northwest Region. One patient died, four others were injured, and four vehicles were destroyed. Human Rights Watch further reported that on June 30 soldiers forcibly entered St. Elizabeth Catholic Hospital in Shisong, Northwest Region, looking for wounded separatists. They fired three gunshots and broke down doors, causing panic among patients, nurses, and other workers who fled.

On July 6, separatists in the Southwest Region killed a Doctors without Borders community health worker known as Felix, after accusing him of collaborating with the military. In addition, in response to the announcement of the Presidential Plan for the Reconstruction and Development of the Northwest and Southwest Regions on July 5, separatists launched attacks on July 6 in villages across the Anglophone regions, destroying public buildings in Lebialem and Manyu in the Southwest Region as well as in Bui, Donga and Mantung, and Ngoketunjia in the Northwest Region.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right, explicitly or implicitly. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the freedom of speech, assembly, and association.

Freedom of Speech: Government officials penalized individuals or organizations that criticized or expressed views at odds with government policy. Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately frequently faced reprisals. On several occasions, the government invoked laws requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse.

On July 24, the senior divisional officer for Upper Plateaux in the West Region, Yampen Ousmanou, sent a warning letter to Jean Rameau Sokoudjou, the traditional ruler of Bamendjou in the West Region, accusing him of rebellion after he organized a meeting in his palace on July 18 without prior approval. The meeting reportedly brought together citizens of diverse political sides and civil society groups to exchange ideas about the country’s future.

Freedom of Press and Media, including Online Media: Private media were active and expressed a wide spectrum of adherence to journalistic ethics. The landscape included constraints on editorial independence, in part due to fear of reprisal from state and nonstate actors, including separatists connected to the armed conflict in the two Anglophone regions. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions, including financial repercussions, for criticizing or contradicting the government.

Violence and Harassment: Police, gendarmes, and other government agents arrested, detained, physically attacked, and intimidated journalists. Journalists were arrested in connection with their reporting on the Anglophone crisis. The state’s failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on journalists created de facto restrictions.

On May 15, according to reports by multiple organizations, including the National Association of English-speaking Journalists, security forces arrested freelance journalist Kingsley Fomunyoy Njoka. He was taken from his home in Douala and detained incommunicado for 24 days. According to Njoka’s legal team, the security forces accused him of criticizing the government’s handling of the Anglophone crisis on social media. On June 12, the Yaounde Military Tribunal indicted the journalist on multiple counts, including secession and collusion with an armed group, and placed him in pretrial detention at the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. On July 13, Njoka filed a defamation complaint against Colonel Cyrille Serge Atonfack, the Ministry of Defense’s communication officer. The suit followed a July 5 interview on Equinoxe Television, during which Atonfack said that Njoka admitted he participated in the killing of former separatist fighters who surrendered at disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) centers in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. He characterized Njoka as the coordinator of the Bui Warriors, an armed separatist group based in Bui, Northwest Region. On June 30, Reporters without Borders noted the allegations against Njoka had not yet been substantiated. They stated that persons close to the journalist characterized his criticism of the government’s handling of the Anglophone crisis as factual and stated the security forces probably monitored him because he regularly discussed the conflict with colleagues.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Under a 1990 law, the Ministry of Communication requires editors to submit two signed copies of their newspapers within two hours after publication. Journalists and media outlets reported practicing self-censorship, especially if the National Communication Council had suspended them previously.

Following the February 14 killing of civilians by security forces in Ngarbuh, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji attacked media for publishing the Human Rights Watch report that accused the Cameroonian army of killing civilians. Atanga Nji particularly targeted Equinoxe Television, STV, Radio Balafon, and Le Jour, asking them to stop relaying false information designed to undermine Cameroonian security forces (see also section 1.a.).

Libel/Slander Laws: Press freedom is constrained by libel and slander laws. Libel, slander, defamation, and blasphemy are treated as criminal offenses. The law authorizes the government to initiate a criminal suit when the president or other senior government officials are the alleged victims. These laws place the burden of proof on the defendant, and crimes are punishable by prison terms and heavy fines. While the government may initiate criminal suits when the president or other senior government official are alleged victims, ordinary citizens may also file libel or slander suits, but the law is often applied selectively and privileges senior government officials and well connected individuals. Some persons successfully filed defamation suits and prosecuted perpetrators. In other cases, courts were reluctant to open hearings. For example, Paul Chouta was detained for alleged defamation of a person who was close to the government, whereas courts failed to acknowledge Alice Nkom’s and Maximilienne Ngo Mbe’s defamation suit against someone associated with the government and did not open hearings on the case.

National Security: Authorities often cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to threaten critics of the government.

Nongovernmental Impact: There were reports that separatist groups in the Southwest and Northwest Regions sought to inhibit freedom of expression, including for the press. In a January article available online, journalist Moki Edwin Kindzeka reported that journalists in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions said separatists were attacking them because of critical reporting and their refusal to broadcast rebel propaganda. He said separatist intimidation was reportedly intensifying as the country prepared for local and parliamentary elections, which the separatists had vowed to stop. Mbuotna Zacks Anabi, the manager and presenter of the community radio station Stone FM in the town of Ndop in the Northwest Region, said the station stopped broadcasting after armed men stormed it on January 27 and set the building on fire.

Internet Freedom

Anecdotal reports indicated that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government occasionally disrupted access to the internet.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Although there were no legal restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, some school authorities reportedly sanctioned academic personnel for teaching politically sensitive topics, and administrative officials often deterred teachers from criticizing the government.

On May 6, Horace Ngomo Manga, the vice chancellor of the University of Buea, terminated the contract of Felix Nkongho Agbor Balla, an instructor in the Department of English Law. The decision was reportedly taken by the university’s disciplinary panel after Higher Education Minister Jacques Fame Ndongo urged the vice chancellor to address Agbor Balla’s alleged ethics violations. Ngomo Manga cited an examination question during the first semester of the 2019-20 academic year that read, “The Anglophone crisis since 2016 was caused by the lawyers’ and teachers’ strike–assess the validity of this statement.”

On October 24, unidentified armed men killed seven children and wounded at least 13 others during an attack on Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, a school in the town of Kumba, Southwest Region. In a press release also released on October 24, Minister of Communication Rene Emmanuel Sadi attributed the attack to separatists. He said 10 heavily armed men on three motorbikes entered the school and opened fire on students inside classrooms. Reports indicated attackers also used machetes. He reported that five girls and one boy died during the attack and described the conditions of several of the wounded as critical, noting that they were taken to hospitals in Kumba and in other nearby towns.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government often restricted this right. The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, and processions to notify officials in advance but does not require prior government approval for public assemblies, nor does it authorize the government to suppress public assemblies that it did not approve in advance. Nevertheless, officials routinely asserted the law implicitly authorizes the government to grant or deny permission for public assemblies. The government often refused to grant permits for gatherings and used force to suppress assemblies for which it had not issued permits. Authorities typically cited security concerns as the basis for deciding to block assemblies. Progovernment groups, however, were generally authorized to organize public demonstrations.

On August 13, the divisional officer of Yaounde II, Mamadi Mahamat, banned the civil marriage ceremony of MRC leader Maurice Kamto’s spokesperson, Olivier Bibou Nissack, which was scheduled to take place at Massao Hotel in Yaounde. Mamadi stated that the organizers of the marriage did not seek authorization for the public event. He also called into question the credentials of Civil Status Secretary Valentin Lewoua, who was to help officiate the marriage. He further stated the chief officiating officer, traditional leader and Maurice Kamto associate Biloa Effa, had been removed by the minister of territorial administration in December 2019.

On August 15, the divisional officer of Nkongsamba in the Littoral Region banned a meeting of the MRC scheduled to take place at the party’s headquarters. Following the ban, some MRC members met at the residence of a colleague, Fabrice Tchoumen, for a private discussion. On August 19, the chief commissioner in Nkongsamba, Joseph Hamadjam, summoned Tchoumen for questioning on August 24, saying that he organized a meeting at his residence without authorization. As of September, the MRC had not reported any ongoing legal proceedings following the questioning.

In September authorities took a series of administrative decisions banning public demonstrations after the MRC called for peaceful protests on September 22 over the government’s decision to organize regional elections before resolving the crisis in the two Anglophone regions and advancing electoral reforms. On September 11, the governors of the Littoral and Center Regions banned public meetings and demonstrations indefinitely. Three days later, Territorial Administration Minister Atanga Nji, in a letter to the two governors and the governor of the West Region, urged them to arrest anyone organizing or leading demonstrations. On September 15, Minister of Communication Rene Emmanuel Sadi warned political parties that protests could be considered “insurrection” and that illegal demonstrations across the country would be punished under the antiterror law. The communications minister also threatened to ban the MRC.

On September 19, the headquarters of the opposition CPP in Yaounde was surrounded by more than 30 police officers and gendarmes. The Yaounde district officer stated that the CPP was holding a public meeting without approval, but CPP president Edith Kahbang Walla said in a statement published the same day that they were holding a regularly scheduled meeting for their members.

According to MRC leaders, an estimated 593 party members were detained throughout the country after they attempted to hold peaceful marches on September 22. Several persons in the Yaounde protest sustained minor injuries. They were reportedly arrested due to concerns they were participating in an insurrection. Videos of the protest showed security officers dispersing crowds with water cannons and tear gas and police firing rubber bullets at protestors. The MRC reported that security forces seriously wounded one individual at the residence of its leader, Maurice Kamto, during the night of September 21.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, but the law also limits this right. On the recommendation of the prefect, the Ministry of Territorial Administration may suspend the activities of an association for three months on grounds that the association is disrupting public order. The minister may also dissolve an association if it is deemed a threat to state security. National associations may acquire legal status by declaring themselves in writing to the ministry, but the ministry must explicitly register foreign associations, and the president must accredit religious groups upon the recommendation of the Minister of Territorial Administration. The law imposes heavy fines for individuals who form and operate any such association without ministry approval. The law prohibits organizations that advocate a goal contrary to the constitution, laws, and morality, as well as those that aim to challenge the security, territorial integrity, national unity, national integration, or republican form of the state.

Conditions for recognition of political parties, NGOs, and associations were complicated, involved long delays, and were unevenly enforced. This resulted in associations operating in legal uncertainty with their activities tolerated but not formally approved.

During the year the government did not officially ban any organizations, but it restricted the MRC’s activities, and virtually prohibited all events planned by the party. In a September 7 press briefing following the announcement of regional elections, Minister Atanga Nji suggested that the MRC could be officially banned. The Ministry of Territorial Administration regularly used threats of suspension against political parties, NGOs, and media outlets. c. Freedom of Religion

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, at times the government restricted these rights. Growing concerns over the entry of armed groups into Cameroon from the Central African Republic, the conflict with Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in the Far North Region, and the armed conflict in the two Anglophone regions appeared to have prompted the government to adopt a more restrictive approach to refugee movements. The government made it more difficult for refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons to move freely in the country.

In-country Movement: Using minor infractions as a pretext, police and gendarmes often extorted bribes and harassed travelers at roadblocks and checkpoints in cities and on most highways. Police frequently stopped travelers to check identification documents, including national identity cards, passports, residence permits, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as security and immigration control measures. Just as in the previous year, humanitarian organizations cited difficulty in accessing certain areas and in some instances were harassed and denied passage by government authorities. Unaccompanied women were frequently harassed when traveling alone. Authorities restricted movements of persons and goods, including motorbikes, especially in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, citing security concerns. Armed Anglophone separatists also restricted the movements of persons and goods in the two Anglophone regions, sometimes in a deliberate attempt to harass and intimidate the local population. Separatist warlords “taxed” cocoa trucks passing through rural areas of the Southwest region. They often used weekly lockdowns referred to as ghost towns to enforce restrictions on movement, in which the armed separatists demanded all businesses close and residents stay home.

On March 13, Northwest Region Governor Adolphe Lele Lafrique signed an order prohibiting the circulation of motorbikes. The order was enforceable daily in the divisions of Bui, Mezam, Momo, Menchum, Ngohketunjia, and Boyo from 6:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. For the same reasons, on September 4, the mayor of Bamenda, Paul Tembeng Achobong, announced a ban on commercial and private motorbikes within most of the city, scheduled to begin on September 7, with the goal of limiting separatist activity in the city. In a press release later that day, Northwest Region Governor Lafrique endorsed the ban and accused separatists of perpetrating attacks on motorbikes. Hours later, the leader of the Southern Cameroons Civil Society Consortium separatist group, John Mbah Akuroh, stated in a video on social media that the prohibition would impoverish thousands of commercial motorbike riders and their families and urged car owners in Bamenda to ground their vehicles until the government lifted the ban.

Foreign Travel: Citizens have the right to leave the country without arbitrary restrictions. The movement of some political opponents and debtors, however, were monitored, and their travel documents were often confiscated to confine them to the country. To obtain exit permits, citizens need a valid passport and visa for their country of destination. With the development of human trafficking operations and networks, children and young women were often subjected to more stringent controls at border locations, including airports.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government at times cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations regarding treatment of IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The country operated an open door policy. This policy, however, was not translated into a progressive legal framework allowing refugees their rights as stated in various legal instruments.

Refoulement: Unlike in 2019, there were no reported cases of forced returns.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system of providing protection to refugees, but the implementation of this system was weak. UNHCR continued to provide documentation and assistance to the refugee population, although local authorities did not always recognize the documents as official, which prevented refugees from travelling and engaging in business activities. UNHCR and the government continued to conduct biometric verification and registration of refugees in the Far North Region, including those not living in refugee camps.

Freedom of Movement: The government often cited security concerns and suspected criminal activity to restrict the movement of refugees and asylum seekers.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees had limited access to health care, education, and employment opportunities. Their rural host communities faced similar problems, but the situation was somewhat worse for refugees. Access to these services varied according to the location of the refugees, with those in camps receiving support through humanitarian assistance, while refugees living in host communities faced difficulty receiving services.

Durable Solutions: In October 2019 the United Nations and the governments of Cameroon and the Central African Republic (CAR) initiated the voluntary repatriation of some 4,000 CAR refugees from Cameroon. Some 500 refugees reportedly signed up in the first phase of the program. By the end of December 2019, UNHCR had repatriated more than 3,500 CAR refugees out of those who expressed the desire to return. The repatriation followed a June 2019 tripartite agreement between Cameroon, CAR, and UNHCR to provide for a safe and dignified repatriation of 285,000 CAR refugees to their home country. Repatriation of CAR refugees stopped in the first part of the year due to funding shortfalls and COVID-19 restrictions.

Temporary Protection: The government continued to provide temporary and unofficial protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, extending this protection to hundreds of individuals, including third-country nationals who had fled violence in the CAR. Due to their unofficial status and inability to access services or support, many of these individuals were subject to harassment and other abuses.

g. Stateless Persons

Not applicable.

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, however, were often marked by irregularities.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On February 9, the country held simultaneous legislative and municipal elections. An estimated 32 political parties participated in the legislative election and 43 participated in the municipal election. Security concerns constrained voter participation in the two Anglophone regions. The courts annulled the legislative elections in 11 constituencies of the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions because voter turnout was below 10 percent; elections were rerun in 11 constituencies of the two Anglophone regions on March 22. The ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) won 152 of the 180 National Assembly seats and won control of 316 of 360 local councils. Opposing political parties lost significantly when compared with previous elections. Irregularities, including lack of equal access to media and campaign spaces, restrictions on the ability of opposition candidates to register for the election, ballot stuffing, lack of ballot secrecy, voter intimidation, inconsistent use of identification cards, and lack of expertise among local polling officials prompted the Constitutional Council and Regional Administrative Courts to annul some legislative elections.

As of September the Supreme Court, which has final jurisdiction over challenges to the municipal election, had not issued a final ruling. Overall, eight opposition political parties gained access to the National Assembly, and nine won control of local councils. Estimates of voter turnout showed an unprecedented low rate of participation of 43 percent for the legislative and municipal elections. The results could partially be attributed to the call for a boycott of the elections by the MRC and other opposition parties. On December 6, the first-ever election of regional councilors was held, 24 years after they were provided for in the 1996 Constitution. Due to the gains achieved in the municipal councils that made up the electoral college in February elections, the ruling CPDM won in nine of the 10 regions. The government cited the regional elections as a sign of progress on decentralization, although some opposition and civil society groups criticized the elections as not signifying meaningful decentralization of power.

In October 2018, Paul Biya was re-elected president in an election marked by irregularities and against the backdrop of protracted sociopolitical unrest in the two Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions.

Political Parties and Political Participation: As of December, the country had 307 registered political parties. The CPDM remained dominant at every level of government due to restrictions on opposition political parties, gerrymandering, unbalanced media coverage, the use of government resources for CPDM campaigning, interference with the right of opposition parties to register as candidates and to organize during electoral campaigns, and the influence of traditional rulers, who were largely coopted by the CPDM. Traditional rulers, who receive salaries from the government, openly declared their support for President Biya prior to the presidential election, and some reportedly compelled residents of their constituencies to prove they did not vote for an opposition candidate by presenting unused ballots. Traditional rulers who refused to associate with the government were either removed or threatened with destitution. Membership in the ruling political party conferred significant advantages, including in the allocation of key jobs in state-owned entities and the civil service.

Human rights organizations and opposition political actors considered the drawing of voter districts and distribution of parliamentary or municipal councilors’ seats unfair. They complained that smaller districts considered CPDM strongholds were allocated a disproportionate number of seats compared with more populous districts where the opposition was expected to poll strongly. Managers of state-owned companies and other high-level government officials used corporate resources to campaign for candidates sponsored by the ruling party.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process and they did participate, although women remained underrepresented at all levels of government. In parliament, women occupied 87 of 280 seats–61 in the National Assembly and 26 in the Senate. Women held 11 of 66 cabinet positions. Similar disparities existed in other senior-level offices, including territorial command and security and defense positions.

The law stipulates that a person can vote at 20 years of age.

The minority Baka, a nomadic Pygmy people, were not represented in the Senate, National Assembly, or higher offices of government.

On June 16, the Administrative Court for the Center Region in Yaounde reinstated Edith Kah Walla as the leader of the CPP. In 2018, Minister of Territorial Administration Atanga Nji issued a decision naming Samuel Fon as head of the party, replacing Edith Kah Walla who was elected in 2011 as party leader. The June 16 Administrative Court decision nullified Atanga Nji’s decision.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The law identifies different offenses as corruption, including influence peddling, involvement in a prohibited employment, and nondeclaration of conflict of interest. Reporting corruption was encouraged through exempting whistleblowers from criminal proceedings. Corruption in official examinations is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both. In addition to the laws, the National Anticorruption Agency (CONAC), the Special Criminal Court, the National Financial Investigation Agency, the Ministry in Charge of Supreme State Audit, and the Audit Bench of the Supreme Court also contributed to fighting corruption in the country. CONAC, the most prominent of the anticorruption agencies, was constrained by the absence of a law empowering it to combat corruption. There were reports that senior officials sentenced to prison were not always required to forfeit ill-gotten gains.

In a prelude to World Anticorruption Day, CONAC on July 10 released a report, 2010-2020, A decade of fighting corruption in Cameroon: Achievements, that listed the most corrupt sectors in the country, including public procurement, finance, justice, and the security forces. CONAC further stated that with assistance from the Special Criminal Tribunal and the Supreme Court, it was able to help recover CFA 1.7 billion ($2.9 million) of government funds.

Corruption: There were consistent allegations of mismanagement of resources with respect to the funds raised to counter COVID-19. Social Democratic Front member of parliament Jean Michel Nintcheu raised the issue several times, challenging the health minister to prove the contrary. He expressed concerns that the money contributed by the public through a national solidarity fund was subject to corruption. He cited overbilling and conflicts of interests within the Ministry of Health.

In a June 12 release, Human Rights Watch urged the government to publish immediately information on the revenues, disbursements, and management of its Health Solidarity Fund, adding that health-care facilities had made mandatory contributions to the emergency fund for more than 25 years. Medical staff told Human Rights Watch that they believed the government had never disbursed any money from the fund, including in response to COVID-19, even though health-care facilities continued to contribute 10 percent of their revenues. Human Rights Watch announced that on May 11, it wrote to the health minister, inquiring about the rules governing the fund and its activities but had not yet received a response.

In September, after 18 months of investigation, the investigating judge at the Special Criminal Court accused former defense minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo of embezzling CFA 236 billion ($4.1 million) as part of the purchase of military equipment for the army. Mebe Ngo and his wife have been awaiting trial at the Kondengui Central Prison since their arrest.

The government continued Operation Sparrow Hawk that was launched in 2006 to fight embezzlement of public funds. As in the previous year, the Special Criminal Court opened new corruption cases and issued verdicts on some pending cases. The National Gendarmerie maintained a toll-free telephone line to allow citizens to report acts of corruption in the Gendarmerie.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires senior government officials, including members of the cabinet, to declare their assets prior to and after leaving office, but the government did not implement the law.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases. Government officials, however, impeded many local human rights NGOs by harassing their members, limiting access to prisoners, refusing to share information, and threatening violence against NGO personnel. Human rights defenders and activists received anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and email. The government took no action to investigate or prevent such occurrences. The government criticized reports from international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Crisis Group, accusing them of publishing baseless accusations.

When Human Rights Watch released its February 25 report, Civilians Massacred in Separatist Area, Minister of Communication Rene Emmanuel Sadi accused it and other organizations of being tirelessly determined to undermine the image of the country and the stability of its institutions. Minister Sadi stated the government was in possession of irrefutable evidence establishing links between the author of the Human Rights Watch report and terrorists.

As in the previous year, there were several reports of intimidation, threats, and attacks aimed at human rights activists. On January 26, the Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network’s head office was the victim of arson, which destroyed the organization’s archives and part of the executive director’s office.

During the Droit de Reponse (“Right to Respond”) program on Equinoxe Television on August 30, Jacqueline Nkoyock, a member of the CPDM central committee, alleged that Phillipe Nanga, the coordinator of NGO Un Monde Avenir, embezzled CFA 280 million ($486,000) provided for a capacity-building project on youth political participation. Nkoyock made the accusation after Nanga remarked that addressing the issue of citizen participation was a prerequisite for free and fair regional elections.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In June 2019 the government passed a law establishing the Cameroon Human Rights Commission (CHRC), as a replacement for the existing NCHRF. Like the NCHRF, the CHRC is a nominally independent but government-funded institution. The law establishing the CHRC extended its mandate to protect human rights. The CHRC was not operational during the year because the president had not yet designated its members.

The NCHRF continued to operate in place of the CHRC. While the NCHRF coordinated actions with NGOs and participated in some inquiry commissions, it remained poorly funded and ceased some of its traditional activities, including conducting prison and detention sites visits. NGOs, civil society groups, and the general population considered the NCHRF dedicated and effective but inadequately resourced and with insufficient ability to hold human rights abusers to account effectively. Several observers questioned the decision to establish a new institution and expressed concerns regarding its ability to confront the government that funds it. After MRC leader Maurice Kamto called for peaceful protests on September 22, interim NCHRF president James Mouangue Kobila issued a statement on behalf of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms on September 16, condemning the proposed protests. After commission member Christophe Bobiokono published a post on Facebook distancing himself from the statement published on behalf of the NCHRF had Kobila as the sole signatory. On September 29, interim NCHRF President James Mouangue Kobila sent a letter to the webmaster of the NCHRF, ordered that Bobiokono be immediately excluded from all NCHRF WhatsApp platforms.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides penalties of between five and 10 years of imprisonment for convicted rapists. Police and courts rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since victims often did not report them. The law does not address spousal rape (see also section 1.g.).

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law protects the bodily integrity of persons and prohibits genital mutilation. Perpetrators are subject to a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years or imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice for commercial purposes or the practice causes death. FGM/C remained a problem, but its prevalence was low. As in the previous year, children were reportedly subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions and among the Choa and Ejagham ethnic groups.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of their deceased husband’s relatives to secure continued use of property left by the husband, including the marital home. To better protect women, including widows, the government included provisions in the law outlawing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the other spouse. The practice of widow rites, by which widows forgo certain activities such as bathing or freedom of movement, was also prevalent in some parts of the country, including in some rural communities of the West Region.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Offenders can be subject to imprisonment for periods of six months to one year and a monetary fine. If the victim is a minor, the penalty can be one to three years in prison. If the offender is the victim’s teacher, the penalty can increase to three to five years in prison. Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread and there were no reports that anyone was fined or imprisoned for sexual harassment, in part due to sexual harassment victims’ reluctance to file official complaints for fear of reprisal and or stigmatization.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number and timing of their children. The Ministry of Public Health offered counseling services to women during prenatal visits, promoting the concept of responsible parenthood and encouraging couples to use contraception to space the timing of their children. Many women, however, lacked the means to manage their reproductive health, and societal pressures continued to reinforce taboos on discussing reproductive health within certain communities. Women’s dependence on receiving their husbands’ consent continued to be a barrier in contraceptive decisions. The government provides support to survivors of gender-based violence or sexual violence through: (1) the development of policies to protect survivors of gender-based violence; (2) legal support to survivors via the judiciary network; (3) general clinical care offered in health facilities; and (4) collection of data through the District Health Information System and provision of situational analysis. Many of the prevention and basic support programs for survivors of gender-based and sexual violence are implemented by community-based organizations.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) indicated that, as of October, 48 percent of married or in-union women ages 15 to 49 made their own informed decisions regarding their reproductive health care.

On December 15, the National Committee to Combat Maternal, Neonatal, and Infant/Child Mortality indicated the ratio of maternal deaths dropped by more than 40 percent between 2011 and 2018, from 782 to 406 deaths per 100,000 live births. The high mortality rate was attributed to inadequate access to medical care; lack of trained medical personnel; and the high cost of prenatal care, hospital delivery, and postpartum care. Prenatal care, skilled attendants during childbirth, emergency obstetrics, neonatal, and postpartum care remained inadequate, particularly in rural areas. The 2018 Cameroon Demographic and Health Survey indicated that, in the five years before the survey, almost 90 percent of women ages 15 to 49 who had a live birth received antenatal care from a skilled provider, and 70 percent of births were assisted by a skilled provider, most commonly a nurse, midwife, or auxiliary midwife.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution provides women and men the same legal status and rights. The government, however, often did not enforce the law. In practice, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. Although local government officials claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of denying women the right to own land, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions. The government did not implement any official discriminatory policy against women in such areas as divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing business or property, education, the judicial process, or housing. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in some occupations and industries (see section 7.d.). Within the private sector, fewer women occupied positions of responsibility.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through their parents, but not through birth in the country’s territory; the responsibility to register a child’s birth falls upon parents. Birth registration was not provided on a discriminatory basis, but many births went unregistered because children were not always born in health facilities. Also, many parents faced challenges in reaching local government offices. While failure to register births did not have immediate consequences for children, in the long run children without birth certificates found it difficult to register for official examinations or secure identification documents.

On February 18, the National Civil Status Bureau and the Ministry of Health signed a memorandum of understanding, as part of a universal birth registration project, implemented by the civil status bureau with donor financial support. The partnership is expected to allow the various actors to improve birth declarations and registrations.

Education: The law provides for tuition-free compulsory primary education up to the age of 12. The law punishes any parent with sufficient means who refuses to send his or her child to school with a fine. The punishment is imprisonment from one to two years for repeat offenders. Children were generally expected to complete primary education at 12. Secondary school students must pay tuition and other fees in addition to buying uniforms and books. This rendered secondary education unaffordable for many children.

A 2019 UN Women report highlighted gender disparity in education, particularly in secondary education. According to the report, the literacy rate in 2019 was lower for women and girls (86 percent) than for men and boys (97 percent).

During the year separatist attacks on schools in the Southwest and Northwest Regions continued to disrupt the normal operation of schools (see section 1.g.). During the year research by Human Rights Watch showed that school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated previously existing inequalities and that children who were already most at risk of being excluded from a quality education had been most affected.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits various forms of child abuse, including but not limited to assault, indecency, kidnapping, forced labor, rape, sexual harassment, and situations where one parent refuses to disclose the identity of the other parent to the child. Penalties for offenses range from a token fine for forced labor to imprisonment for life in the case of assault leading to death or serious harm. Despite these legal provisions, child abuse remained a problem. Children continued to suffer corporal punishment, both within families and at school. Boko Haram continued to abduct children for use as child soldiers or as suicide bombers (see section 1.g.).

On June 29, the daily newspaper La Nouvelle Expression published an article by Herve Villard Njiete, who reported that a man named Mahop forced his own daughter to become his sexual partner from the age of nine to 15. Mahop was arrested after his neighbors reported him to police. According to the newspaper, the young girl, who lived in the PK 11 neighborhood in Douala V, tested positive for HIV.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Despite the law, according to UNICEF’s 2018 child marriage data, 31 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18 and, of these, 10 percent were married before they turned 15. Childhood marriages were more prevalent in the northern part of the country. The law punishes anyone who compels an individual into marriage with imprisonment of from five to 10 years and fines.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation and the sale, offering, or procuring for prostitution of children, and practices related to child pornography. A conviction requires proof of a threat, fraud, deception, force, or other forms of coercion. Penalties include imprisonment of between 10 and 20 years and a substantial fine. The law does not set a minimum age for consensual sex. According to anecdotal reports, children younger than 18 were exploited in commercial sex, especially by restaurant and bar promoters, although no statistics were available. Anecdotal reports suggested the ongoing crisis in the two Anglophone regions had contributed to a dramatic increase in the prostitution of underage girls and number of early pregnancies, especially in areas with IDPs.

Displaced Children: Many displaced children continued to live on the streets of urban centers, although the number was in decline as a result of stringent security measures and a law that criminalizes vagrancy. According to estimates by the International Organization for Migration, there were approximately 2,570 unaccompanied children in the Far North Region as of April 2019, including IDPs, returnees, out-of-camp refugees, and other migrants (see also sections 2.e. and 2.f.). These children faced many challenges, including limited access to school, health, and protection. Thousands of children were harmed by the humanitarian crisis in the Northwest and Southwest. These children faced significant abuses of their rights by armed forces and nonstate armed actors alike. The government had not established structures to ensure that internally displaced children were protected from recruitment by nonstate armed groups and terrorist organizations.

In April the Ministry of Social Affairs started an operation to remove thousands of homeless children from the streets. Henri Nyambi Dikosso, the director of national solidarity at the ministry, led a group of social workers and hospital staff who removed up to 160 children from the street by April 1. The spread of COVID-19 forced authorities to begin the project earlier than planned.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution protects the rights of all persons, including persons with disabilities. A 2010 law provides additional protection to persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The protections under the law cover access to education and vocational training, employment, health services, information and cultural activities, communications, buildings, sports and leisure, transportation, housing, and other state services. Some infrastructure projects were made accessible to persons with mobility issues. Public education is free for persons with disabilities and children born of parents with disabilities. Initial vocational training, medical treatment, and employment must be provided “when possible,” and public assistance “when needed.” The government did not enforce these provisions effectively.

There were no reports of police or other government officials inciting, perpetrating, or condoning violence against persons with disabilities during the year.

The majority of children with disabilities attended school with peers without disabilities. The government introduced inclusive education in many schools and reviewed the curriculum of teacher training colleges to include training in inclusive education skills. Other children with disabilities continued to attend separate schools, such as the Bulu Blind Center in Buea and the Yaounde Special School for Hearing-impaired Children. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that all factors affecting children’s education during the COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected children with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities did not receive adequate protection in conflict zones.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The population consists of more than 275 ethnic groups. Members of President Biya’s Beti/Bulu ethnic group from the South Region continued to hold many key positions and were disproportionately represented in the government, state-owned businesses, and security forces.

Indigenous People

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Baka, including Bakola and Bagyeli, resided primarily in (and were the earliest known inhabitants of) the forested areas of the South and East Regions. The government did not effectively protect the civil or political rights of either group. Logging companies continued to destroy indigenous peoples’ naturally forested land without compensation. Other ethnic groups often treated the Baka as inferior and sometimes subjected them to unfair and exploitative labor practices. The government continued long-standing efforts to provide birth certificates and national identity cards to Baka. Most Baka did not have these documents, and efforts to reach them were impeded by the difficulty in reaching homes deep in the forest.

There were credible reports from NGOs that the Mbororo, nomadic pastoralists living mostly in the North, East, Adamawa, and Northwest Regions, continued to be subject to harassment, sometimes with the complicity of administrative or judicial authorities. In a letter dated August 17, a group of eight persons writing on behalf of the Fulani-Mbororo community and associated with the CPDM, denounced what they described as the demeaning stigmatization of the Fulani-Mbororo as an indigenous and minority people in the country. They stated that the Fulani-Mbororo are not indigenous in the same way as the Baka and are not a minority.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence lasting between six months and five years and a token fine.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights organizations such as the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, Humanity First Cameroon, Alternatives Cameroon, the National Observatory of the Rights of LGBTI Persons and Their Defenders, and others, continued to report arbitrary arrests of LGBTI persons. Data collected through the UNITY platform, a group of 34 local organizations dedicated to the LGBTI population, indicated an increase in arbitrary arrests of LGBTI individuals in the first half of the year. Many of the arrests occurred in Bafoussam on May 17 when police arrested–and later released–53 LGBTI individuals celebrating the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia at a time when COVID-19-related restrictions prohibited large gatherings. LGBTI individuals also continued to face significant stigma, violence, and discrimination from their families, communities, and the government.

The constitution provides for equal rights for all citizens, but the law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality, and access to government services such as health care. Security forces sometimes harassed persons on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including individuals found with condoms and lubricants. Fear of exposure affected individuals’ willingness to access HIV/AIDS services, and a number of HIV-positive men who had sex with men reported also partnering with women, in part to conceal their sexual orientation. Anecdotal reports suggested some discrimination occurred in places of employment with respect to sexual orientation.

In an online article, a human rights activist with the pseudonym John Enama reported that on July 28 the Court of First Instance of Bafang in the West Region imposed fines on four men who were arrested due to what was described as their LGBTI conduct on June 9 in Kekem. The four men pleaded guilty but their lawyer highlighted extenuating circumstances, alleging that their confessions were given under threats and torture. The court accepted the guilty pleas; one man was sentenced to a month in prison and a token fine; the other three were fined. Because the families of the defendants were unwilling to pay the fines, two local NGOs paid them, and they were released.

LGBTI organizations could not officially register as such and so sought registration either as general human rights organizations or as health-focused organizations. Many LGBTI organizations found that operating health programs, particularly HIV programs, shielded them from potential harassment or shutdown rather than promoting advocacy for LGBTI persons as their primary mission.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV often suffered social discrimination and were isolated from their families and society, in part also due to a lack of education on the disease. As in the previous year, while no specific cases of discrimination in employment were made public, anecdotal reports indicated some discrimination occurred with respect to HIV status, especially in the private sector.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Several cases of vigilante action and arson attacks were reported involving arbitrary killings and destruction of both public and private property. In March an organization known as Friends of the Press Network, based in Kumba in the Southwest Region, reported that Southern Cameroon Defense Forces fighters summarily executed Cecilia Bemo, Itoe Ajasco, and Ferdinand Bajaraka Okon, whom they suspected of witchcraft. The killings happened in Ediki Mbonge in the Southwest Region. The victims were reportedly tortured by their executioners, who forced them to confess and summarily shot them.

Promotion of Acts of Discrimination

During the year there was a pattern of discrimination and repeated threats between members of the Bamileke and Beti/Ekan tribes. The animosity started when Maurice Kamto, a Bamileke, challenged the results of the 2018 presidential election and gained momentum when Kamto boycotted the municipal and legislative elections in February. Various government and political figures issued messages via social and traditional media that inflamed intergroup tensions, despite legal provisions against hate speech.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes, albeit with significant restrictions. The right does not apply to defined groups of workers, including defense and national security personnel, prison administration civil servants, and judicial and legal personnel. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Statutory limitations and other practices substantially restricted these rights. The law does not permit the creation of a union that includes both public and private sector workers or the creation of a union that includes different, even if closely related, sectors. The law requires that unions register with the government, have a minimum of 20 members, and formalize the union by submitting a constitution and bylaws. Founding members must also have clean police records. Those who form a union and carry out union activities without registration can be fined under the law. More than 100 trade unions and 12 trade union confederations were in operation, including one public sector confederation. Trade unions or associations of public servants may not join a foreign occupational or labor organization without prior authorization from the minister of territorial administration, who is responsible for “supervising public freedoms.”

The constitution and law provide for collective bargaining between workers and management as well as between labor federations and business associations in each sector of the economy. The law does not apply to the agricultural or informal sectors, which included most of the workforce.

Legal strikes or lockouts may be called only after conciliation and arbitration procedures have been exhausted. Workers who ignore procedures to conduct a strike may be dismissed or fined. Free industrial zones are subject to some labor laws, but there are several exceptions. The employers have the right to determine salaries according to productivity, the free negotiation of work contracts, and the automatic issuance of work permits for foreign workers. Some laws intended to target terrorists can impose harsh legal penalties on legitimate trade union activity.

The government and employers do not effectively enforce the applicable laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Penalties for violations were rarely enforced and were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. Administrative judicial procedures were infrequent and subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Collective agreements are binding until three months after a party has given notice to terminate. As in the previous year, there were no reported allegations that the minister of labor and social security negotiated collective agreements with trade unionists who had nothing to do with the sectors concerned and did not involve trade union confederations that prepared the draft agreements.

Many employers continued to use subcontractors to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights. Major companies, including parastatal companies, reportedly engaged in the practice according to workers from Energy of Cameroon, the water company Camerounaise des Eaux, cement manufacturer Cimencam, Guinness, Aluminum Smelter, COTCO, Ecobank, and many others. Subcontracting reportedly involved all categories of personnel, from the lowest to senior levels. As a result, workers with equal expertise and experience did not always enjoy similar protections when working for the same business, and subcontracted personnel typically lacked a legal basis to file complaints.

Workers’ representatives said many workers were granted technical leave because of COVID-19, which took a heavy toll on most businesses.

Several strikes were announced. Some were called off after successful negotiations and some were carried out peacefully, while others faced some degree of repression.

In May the union of information and communications technology workers, Syntic, issued a notice to strike from May 22 to June 7 at Nexttel, the Cameroonian subsidiary of the Vietnamese company Viettel. According to Syntic, the strike was due to successive violations of the labor code and unilateral salary deductions. A March 25 decision from the minister of labor suspended the unilateral decision of Nexttel’s management to revise the conditions of employee remuneration. The company’s top management decided to punish the 31 dissenting workers by firing them. Syntic asked Nexttel to launch a tripartite dialogue, but Nexttel’s management had not yet answered the notice.

On May 7, 10 workers’ representatives to the Douala City Council were reinstated after spending 36 months without pay. The former government delegate to the city council, Fritz Ntone, suspended the 10 in 2017 after they organized a strike seeking improved working conditions, including health insurance. In 2017 the Littoral Court of Appeal’s Labor Arbitration Council issued a decision requesting the delegate to reinstate the workers’ representatives, but the delegate instead opposed the court decision and referred the issue back to the labor inspector. The case was once again referred to the region’s court of appeals. After multiple postponements, in October 2019 the court confirmed the initial decision to reinstate the workers’ representatives and pay their salaries and outstanding arrears, but the delegate did not comply. The May 7 reinstatement of the workers’ representatives was the result of several rounds of negotiations with the council executive, under the leadership of the new Douala mayor, Roger Mbassa Ndine. The negotiations resulted in the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the workers’ representatives and the council executive. Some of the former workers’ representatives believed the memorandum was not carried out in good faith in accordance with the court decision because the mayor refused to fulfill all commitments under the memorandum.

International labor and trade union organizations report a pattern of firing labor representatives.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced and compulsory labor. The law prohibits slavery, exploitation, and debt bondage and voids any agreement in which violence was used to obtain consent. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The law also extends culpability for all crimes to accomplices and corporate entities. Although the statutory penalties are severe, the government did not enforce the law effectively, in part due to a lack of capacity to investigate trafficking and limited labor inspection and remediation resources. In addition, due to the length and expense of criminal trials and the lack of protection available to victims participating in investigations, many victims of forced or compulsory labor resorted to accepting out-of-court settlements (see also section 1.g., Child Soldiers).

Anecdotal reports of hereditary servitude imposed on former slaves in some chiefdoms in the North Region continued. Many members of the Kirdi–a predominately Christian and animist ethnic group enslaved by the Muslim Fulani in the 1800s–continued to work for traditional Fulani rulers for compensation in room and board and generally low and unregulated wages, while their children were free to pursue schooling and work of their choosing. Kirdi were also required to pay local chiefdom taxes to the Fulani, as were all other subjects. The combination of low wages and high taxes (although legal) effectively constituted forced labor. While technically free to leave, many Kirdi remained in the hierarchical and authoritarian system because of a lack of viable alternative options.

Anecdotal reports suggested that in the South and East Regions, some Baka, including children, continued to be subjected to unfair labor practices by Bantu farmers, who hired the Baka at exploitative wages to work on their farms during the harvest seasons.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits most of the worst forms of child labor and sets 14 as the minimum age of employment. The law prohibits children from working at night or longer than eight hours per day. It also outlines tasks children younger than 18 cannot legally perform, including moving heavy objects, undertaking dangerous and unhealthy tasks, working in confined areas, and prostitution. Employers are required to provide skills training to children between the ages of 14 and 18. Because compulsory education ends at the age of 12, children who were not in school and not yet 14 were particularly vulnerable to child labor. Laws relating to hazardous work for children younger than 18 are not comprehensive, since they do not include prohibitions on work underwater or at dangerous heights. Children engaged in hazardous agricultural work, including cocoa production. The law provides penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment for those who violate child labor laws. These penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes, such as kidnapping.

Children younger than the minimum age of employment tended to be involved in agriculture, fishing and livestock, the service industry, sex work, and artisanal gold mining. There were reports of underage children associated with nonstate armed groups in the Far North, Southwest, and Northwest Regions. In agriculture, children were exposed to hazardous conditions, including climbing trees, handling heavy loads, using machetes, and handling agricultural chemicals. Children in artisanal gold mines and gravel quarries spent long hours filling and transporting wheelbarrows of sand or gravel, breaking stones without eye protection, and digging and washing the soil or mud, sometimes in stagnant water, to extract minerals. These activities left children vulnerable to physical injuries, waterborne diseases, and exposure to mercury. Children worked as street vendors; in fishing, where they were exposed to hazardous conditions; and largely alongside families and rather than for formal employers. Children were subjected to forced begging as talibes in Koranic schools.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law contains no specific provisions against or penalties for discrimination, but the constitution in its preamble provides that all persons shall have equal rights and obligations and that every person shall have the right and the obligation to work.

Discrimination in employment and occupation allegedly occurred with respect to ethnicity, HIV status, disability, gender, and sexual orientation, especially in the private sector. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous or “morally inappropriate” and in industries including mining, construction, factories, and energy. Members of ethnic groups often gave preferential treatment to other members of their group in business. Persons with disabilities reportedly found it difficult to secure and access employment. There were no reliable reports of discrimination against internal migrant or foreign migrant workers, although anecdotal reports suggested such workers were vulnerable to unfair working conditions. The government took no action to eliminate or prevent discrimination and kept no records of incidents of discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage in all sectors was greater than the World Bank’s poverty line. Premium pay for overtime ranged from 120 to 150 percent of the hourly rate, depending on the amount of overtime and whether it was weekend or late-night overtime. Despite the minimum wage law, employers often negotiated lower wages with workers, in part due to the extremely high rate of underemployment in the country. Salaries lower than the minimum wage remained prevalent in the public works sector, where many positions required unskilled labor, as well as in domestic work, where female refugees were particularly vulnerable to unfair labor practices.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours in public and private nonagricultural firms and a total of 2,400 hours per year, with a maximum limit of 48 hours per week in agricultural and related activities. There are exceptions for guards and firefighters (56 hours per week), service-sector staff (45 hours per week), and household and restaurant staff (54 hours per week). The law mandates at least 24 consecutive hours of rest weekly.

The government sets health and safety standards in the workplace. The minister in charge of labor matters establishes the list of occupational diseases in consultation with the National Commission on Industrial Hygiene and Safety. The regulations were not enforced in the informal sector. The labor code also mandates that every enterprise and establishment of any kind provide medical and health services for its employees. This stipulation was not enforced.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcement of the minimum wage and workhour standards, but did not enforce the law. Penalties for violations of the law were not commensurate with those for comparable crimes, such as negligence. Ministry inspectors and occupational health physicians are responsible for monitoring health and safety standards, but the ministry lacked the resources for a comprehensive inspection program. The government more than doubled the total number of labor inspectors, but the number was still insufficient. Moreover, the government did not provide inspectors adequate access to vehicles or computers.

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic is a presidential republic. Professor Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected in the second round of presidential elections in 2016 for a five-year term. In February 2019 the government and 14 armed groups signed the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation. President Touadera appointed Firmin Ngrebada as prime minister. The first round of presidential and legislative elections were held on December 27. Violence by armed groups reportedly prevented 26 out of 68 subprefectures from voting, and interrupted the vote in an additional six subprefectures. Observers noted minor irregularities in voting locations. Election results were still pending at year’s end.

Police and gendarmes have responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order. The Central African Armed Forces report to the Ministry of Defense. Police and the gendarmerie report to the Ministry of Interior and Public Security. Civilian authorities’ control over the security forces continued to improve but remained weak. Members of the security forces committed some abuses. State authority beyond the capital improved with the increased deployment of prefects and troops in provincial capitals. Armed groups, however, still controlled significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing bodies in those areas, taxing local populations and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; torture by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest by security forces; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers and other conflict-related abuses by armed groups; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct between adults; and forced child labor.

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

Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups continued. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during these internal conflicts. Ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property. The government stated it was investigating several high-profile cases of intercommunal violence during the year and considering charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes against perpetrators.

Note: This report refers to the “ex-Seleka” for all abuses attributed to the armed factions associated with Seleka, including the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic, the Union for Peace, which occurred after the Seleka was dissolved in 2013. Although the 3R armed group is not a member of the ex-Seleka, they also committed serious human rights abuses 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 several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year (see section 1.g.). In a report published by the Human Rights Council in August, the UN’s independent expert stated that state security forces allegedly committed human rights abuses against civilians, including rape, use of minors at checkpoints, theft of cattle from the Peuhls, torture, and killing. Consistent with the code of military justice enacted in March 2017, military tribunals, martial courts, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. The last session of the military court, however, dated back to 2013, and existing practice is for military offenses to be tried at the criminal court, which holds only two session a year.

In August a member of the armed forces stationed in Baoro, west of the country near the town of Bouar, killed a driver and his girlfriend out of jealousy.

In December media reports indicated a group that included Russian private military contractors, invited to the country by the government to assist with election security, and the country’s military elements used excessive force against civilians at a road checkpoint in Grimari, resulting in the death of at least four civilians, including a local employee of an international humanitarian nongovernmental organization (NGO).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were reports that forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups were responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Those abducted included police and civilians (see section 1.g.).

There were multiple reports of disappearances committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for the purposes of recruitment and extortion (see section 1.g.).

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

Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were reports from NGOs that Central African Armed Forces (FACA) soldiers, gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture (see section 1.g.).

In June an NGO reported that a female employee of a local bank was arrested and tortured by a police unit known as the Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB).

Impunity remained persistent throughout the country. Contributing factors included poorly trained officials, inadequate staffing, and insufficient resources. Additionally, claims of corruption among top government officials, delayed receipt of salaries for law enforcement and judiciary employees, and threats from local armed groups if officials arrested or investigated members persisted. The mechanisms to investigate abuses included the gendarmerie and the court prosecutors. Military tribunals, martial courts, appeal courts, and the court of cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. The last session of the military court dated back to 2013. Consequently, military offenses, such as torture, are tried at the criminal court, which holds only two sessions a year.

The government worked with the EU to provide training on human rights for FACA and gendarme units.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to an independent expert with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and international NGOs, conditions in prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman.

The UN Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) detained and transferred to government custody several medium- and high-level armed group members.

Physical Conditions: The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and Bimbo Women’s Prison. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded both men’s and women’s prisons.

On April 25, President Touadera signed a decree granting pardon to 227 prisoners to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic. The pardon was directed at convicted minors, pregnant or breastfeeding women, prisoners ages 60 and older, and those with a chronic, serious, or contagious disease. Prisoners charged or convicted of murder, war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, attacks against the internal security of the State, burning of a residential house, and rape of minors younger than age 14 were excluded from the pardon.

On June 24, local press reported that Moussa Fadoul, former mayor of the fifth district of Bangui, died at Camp de Roux military prison due to medical neglect. Fadoul was apprehended in April 2019 by the police service from the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) during an attempted theft of a humanitarian vehicle. Following the death of Fadoul, the remaining prisoners protested, demanding better living conditions, medical care, and adequate legal provisions. In a press conference held on September 30, Central African judicial authorities noted that of the 38 prison centers in the country, 13 had been rehabilitated by the partners of the Central African Republic, mainly MINUSCA.

Nine prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bimbo, Bossangoa, Bambari, and Mbaiki. In March detention facilities rehabilitated by MINUSCA in Bangassou and Paoua reopened. In other locations, including Bossembele and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody. Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities, such as food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Conditions were life threatening and substantially below international standards. The national budget did not include adequate funds for food for prison inmates.

Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender. Smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, Mbaiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa segregated male prisoners from female prisoners, but conditions were substantially below international standards. Female prisoners were placed in facilities without ventilation or electricity. All detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.

There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders. The accusations against detainees ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes. Police and gendarmes held individuals beyond the statutory limits for detention before imposing formal charges.

Prisons were consistently underfunded with insufficient operating resources for the care of prisoners. Additionally, prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors’ unofficial fees. The Central African Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) reported that a prison officer at Ngaragba prison refused to release a prisoner despite the judge’s release order.

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

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by UNHCR independent experts and international donors. The government also permitted monitoring by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert on human rights in the CAR.

Improvements: On May 28, the UN Development Program completed renovation on the prison in Camp de Roux. According to MINUSCA, the prison structure met international standards.

On June 23, 149 civilian prison officers from the first phase of initial training at the National School of Administration and Magistracy started their practical training. This training is part of a national strategy for the demilitarization of prisons, one of the priorities of the Ministry of Justice, jointly supported by MINUSCA, the UN Development Program, and UN Women.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention. Problems included a lack of affordable legal representation and slow, if any, response from the judiciary system.

MINUSCA’s uniformed force of 12,870 military personnel, police officers, and military observers was tasked to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA’s 2,080 police officers were authorized to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law, however, stipulates that authorities must inform detainees of their charges and present them before a magistrate within 72 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 144 hours. The only exceptions are suspects involving national security. Authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and insufficient number of judges.

Authorities sometimes followed legal procedures in cases managed by gendarmes or local police. Many detainees could not afford a lawyer. Although the law provides that a lawyer be provided for those unable to pay in felony cases where a sentence of 10 years or more could be imposed, lawyers are not provided for nonfelony cases. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 5,000 CFA francs ($8.80) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. After lawyers protested for higher wages, their remuneration was increased for the 2019-20 criminal sessions to 50,000 CFA francs ($90) per case.

For individuals detained by ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka and placed in illegal detention centers, legal procedures were not followed and access to lawyers was not provided.

Prosecution of persons subject to sanctions by the UN Sanctions Committee did not occur during the year.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem, however, and ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals.

On June 2, ex-Seleka Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC) forces detained and tortured three men in Bria accused of malfeasance. One of the detainees was subsequently released that day after the local civic leaders intervened.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem; after he visited the prison of Ngaragba in Bangui in September, the magistrate stated that 500 of 700 detainees were in pretrial detention. Although recordkeeping of arrests and detentions was poor, the slow investigation and processing of a case was the primary cause of pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained, understaffed, and had few resources, resulting in poorly processed cases with little physical evidence. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. Judges resisted holding sessions due to security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of affordable legal services and an unresponsive justice system.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was a lack of independence of the judiciary from political actors. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. In 2017 the president issued a decree that appointed eight members to the Constitutional Court, four of whom, including the president of the court, were women. A total of 18 of 27 first instance and appellate courts were operating during the year, including 16 outside of Bangui. The courts in Bangui and some other major cities, notably Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, Mbaiki, Boda, and Bimbo, resumed operation, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was inadequate. Many judges were unwilling to leave Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office space and housing.

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

In 2018 the National Assembly adopted the rules of procedure and evidence for the Special Criminal Court (SCC), and later that year the SCC officially began investigations and publicly launched a prosecutorial strategy. In 2019 the SCC moved into permanent offices. The SCC was established by law in 2015 in the domestic judicial system and operates with both domestic and international participation and support. In August, five national magistrates were sworn in after taking an oath, but the SCC was confronted with serious difficulties in recruiting international judges, delaying the opening of effective trials. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

MINUSCA assisted in setting up the SCC victim and witness protection unit, as provided for by the SCC founding law and the SCC rules of proceedings and evidence. Some victims and witnesses were already under the unit’s protection during ongoing SCC proceedings. Additional unit protection staff were added and more were under recruitment; protection equipment was being delivered and more was in procurement; court procurement; court personnel and other individuals in contact with victims and witnesses were receiving training on protection and other subjects.

In May the SCC accepted the cases of nine members of the armed group UPC arrested for crimes committed in the towns of Obo, Zemio, and Bambouti, located in the southeastern CAR. As of September the SCC received 122 complaints and opened preliminary investigation on one case. Seven cases were being analyzed, and three were ready for preliminary investigations but postponed because of the COVID-19 crisis. Ten cases were transmitted to examining judges, and seven others were referred to ordinary courts.

Operations of the courts of appeals for criminal courts in two of the country’s three judicial districts–the Western District based in Bouar and the Central District based in Bambari–held criminal sessions during the year.

In February parliament passed a bill establishing the Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRRC) to support the 2019 Accord for Peace and Reconciliation. The law includes a wide range of responsibilities for the TJRRC, including establishing truth, determining nonjudicial responsibility for violations, creating a reparations fund, and promoting reconciliation. The TJRRC is further intended to cooperate with the SCC and create a final report with recommendations.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The penal code presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and consult a public defender. Criminal trials use juries. The law obliges the government to provide counsel for indigent defendants; this process delayed trial proceedings due to the state’s limited resources. Defendants have the right to question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and file appeals. The government sometimes complied with these requirements. Defendants 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, to receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities, however, seldom respected these rights.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in order to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. In 2015 the civil courts resumed operations with regular sessions. There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no assurance of their safety and a credible judicial process.

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

The law prohibits searches of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

There were serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law by armed groups. The ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed group fighters operated freely across much of the country. Reports of abuses included unlawful killings, torture, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.

UN agencies and NGOs stated that humanitarian actors had not perpetrated any sexual violence during the year.

Killings: In December 2019 clashes between criminal self-defense groups and armed merchants in Bangui’s PK5 district resulted in the deaths of 50 individuals and 72 injured. The minster of public security and MINUSCA stated they opened an investigation on the case. In January judicial authorities investigated with the assistance of MINUSCA and arrested 20 suspects.

Between March and April, a series of intercommunal clashes occurred between the Runga and Goula factions of the ex-Seleka groups in N’dele, Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. Approximately 50 individuals were reported killed, including civilians and a UN employee. The fighting forced 1,200 civilians to flee their homes. In April, after visiting the town of N’dele where violent clashes took place between the Goula and Rounga tribes, Eric Tambo, the general prosecutor of the High Court of Bangui, stated the court would investigate the case and prosecute the perpetrators for the charge of crime against humanity and war crimes.

The 3R, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and Anti-balaka groups participated in ethnic killings related to cattle theft (see section 6).

On August 24, armed men from the Party of the Rally of the Central African nation attacked and killed 11 civilians, wounded 20, and set fires to homes in the village of Bornou, near the town of Bria, in reprisal of the killing of one of their men. Approximately 400 persons fled their homes, including children, women, and the elderly.

In January, two Anti-balaka leaders, Crepin Wakanam and Kevin Bere-Bere, and 29 combatants were tried before the Criminal Court of Bangui for their responsibility in the 2017 massacre of numerous civilians and the killing of 10 peacekeepers in southeastern region. According to the United Nations, 72 persons were killed, 76 injured, and 4,400 displaced during the attack. They were tried for “crimes against humanity, war crimes, looting and murder.” During the year 20 cases were tried, resulting in more than 40 convictions. The sentences varied from five years to life in prison.

Abductions: The NGO Invisible Children reported that on April 6, an LRA group, composed of men, women, and children, camped near the community of Bougoua, in the prefecture of M’Bomou, and looted food and other items from the community, forcing 15 boys to porter the stolen goods. The boys were released later that day.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Members of armed groups, including the ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka, reportedly continued to mistreat, assault, and rape civilians with impunity.

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

The MPC, FPRC, and UPC are all signatories to the United Nation’s action plan combatting the use of child soldiers; however, they continued to use child soldiers. The FPRC and UPC issued orders barring the recruitment of children; however, NGOs reported the continued presence of children among these groups.

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

During the year the government, UNICEF, and various NGOs worked with the armed groups to combat the exploitation of child soldiers. UNICEF stated that from January to August, 1,125 children left armed groups and registered for reintegration programs. The United Nations estimated the number of children who remained active in armed groups at approximately 5,000. On September 4, President Touadera signed a decree appointing a focal point for children affairs in the Unit in Charge of Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation Program. The focal point is tasked with the mission to promote children rights and facilitate their social reintegration.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: On April 22, MPC leader Alkhatim Mahamat stole construction materials sent by a National Assembly member to the town of Kabo for construction of a school.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press. The government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Speech: Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation by armed groups.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka, and Anti-balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country. The High Commission for Communication is the regulatory body in charge of controlling the content of information broadcast or published in media. Opposition political candidates alleged that the state-owned media favored the existing administration during the presidential election campaign.

In August police briefly detained a journalist from the Association of Journalists for Human Rights radio station while she was investigating irregularities in the issuing of the national identification card. Also in August Henri Grothe, a blogger who resided in France and regularly criticized CAR authorities on social media, was briefly arrested and his passport confiscated upon his arrival at Bangui M’poko international airport. Grothe was released without any charge.

The government monopolized domestic television and national radio station broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government positions.

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

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports that the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events. The country’s sole university was open.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government denied a number of requests to protest that were submitted by civil society groups, citing insecurity in Bangui. In September the government denied the permit request made by the Civil Society Working Group (GTSC) to organize a ville morte (ghost city). The GTSC was demanding the arrest of Ali Darassa, UPC commander in chief, and the resignation of Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada. To deter individuals from participating in the demonstration, the government deployed interior security forces and the presidential guards in the streets. Some GTSC representatives were briefly arrested. On October 13, the youth movement known as “4500,” which intended to demonstrate in front of the office of the judicial police regarding an increase in the cost of a national identification card, was prevented by police from holding its sit-in in Bangui. Three members of the movement were arrested by police and released shortly thereafter.

Freedom of Association

A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: Armed groups and bandits made in-country movement extremely dangerous. Government forces, armed groups, and criminals alike frequently used illegal checkpoints to extort funds.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of September there were an estimated 659,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. Between August 2019 and August 2020, the number of IDPs increased by 8 percent, from 590,000 to 641,000. An estimated 67 percent of IDPs lived with host families, while 33 percent lived on IDP sites.

Humanitarian actors provided assistance to IDPs and returnees and promoted the safe voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs. The government allowed humanitarian organizations to provide services.

Even after reaching safe locations, IDPs frequently risked assault by criminals, often assumed to be associated with armed groups that IDPs encountered if they ventured outside of camps to search for food. Women and girls were particularly at risk of sexual violence on the sites and when venturing outside, such as to go to markets or for agricultural activities. In many affected areas, humanitarian assistance was limited to strictly life-saving interventions, due to limited access and insecurity. The presence of armed groups continued to delay or block planned humanitarian deliveries.

Humanitarian organizations remained concerned regarding evidence that members of armed groups continued to hide in IDP sites and attempted to carry out recruitment activities, putting at risk IDPs and humanitarian staff. Recent survey data indicated an estimated one-third of IDPs residing in IDP sites were concerned regarding their security. Of registered deaths in IDP households surveyed in the three months prior to the mid-year survey, 25 percent were linked to armed conflict.

Security concerns, related to criminality as well as armed group clashes resulting in violence, prevented aid organizations from operating in certain areas. For example, 17,000 IDPs in N’dele were without assistance after aid agencies temporarily suspended operations in May when security incidents in the wake of fighting between armed groups and attacks on civilians made it untenable to continue. Also in N’dele, an estimated 9,700 IDPs sought refuge at an IDP site near MINUSCA to escape fighting between armed groups in early March. By mid-March, however, the site had been emptied as a result of pressure from armed elements.

On February 6, armed individuals broke into the residences of International Committee of the Red Cross employees in Kaga-Bandoro. The attackers assaulted guards and stole material goods. On March 23, in N’dele, attackers broke into the premises of the international NGO War Child and stole computers and office equipment.

During the year two humanitarian workers were killed and 21 injured. There were 304 reported incidents affecting humanitarian workers, premises, and assets between January and September, a 39 percent increase compared with the same period in 2019.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Individuals who had fled their countries of origin and had prior criminal records, however, were immediately repatriated.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential and legislative elections were held on December 27. Armed groups interfered with voter registration and the distribution of election materials. On election day, threats and violence by armed groups reportedly stopped the vote in 26 of 68 subprefectures and interrupted the vote in six other subprefectures. At year’s end it was unclear what percentage of voters were unable to vote due to insecurity. Most of the violence committed around the elections was committed by armed groups. There were no reports government security actors attempted to interfere with the election or prevent individuals from voting. If needed, a second round of presidential and legislative elections may be held in February 2021 and local elections are scheduled to be held later in 2021. The government did not attempt to restrict eligible voters from registering, but armed groups interfered with registration.

International and NGO observers reported high voter turnout in Bangui; however, some media reported the threats of violence suppressed the turnout in insecure areas. NGO observers reported minor irregularities in places where the vote occurred, most commonly citing a lack of indelible ink and legislative ballots at certain sites and cases where voters who did not have a voter identification card were allowed to vote with a certificate from the National Elections Authority. A local NGO group, National Observatory of Elections, stated the irregularities did not undermine the credibility of the elections. The African Union observation mission reported the vote in Bangui conformed to CAR’s electoral code and international standards. Election results were expected to be announced in early January 2021.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. Five of the 39 cabinet members were women, as was the senior presidential advisor for national reconciliation. There were 11 women among the 140 members of parliament. Some observers believed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited the ability of women to participate in political life on the same basis as men. In July 2019 the national assembly rejected the provision on gender parity provided in the draft electoral code and decided instead that political parties’ candidate lists must be composed of at least 35 percent women.

Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons prevented them from effectively advocating for their interests in the political sphere.

In March 2019, 14 members of parliament, including three women, were elected to the Executive Bureau for one-year terms. The election of only three women did not comply with the law on parity, which requires there be a minimum of 35 percent representation by women in state and private institutions for a period of 10 years. The 2016 gender equality law also prohibits gender discrimination and provides for an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance; however, the National Observatory had not been established by year’s end.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not effectively implement the law, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. In 2017 President Touadera issued a decree appointing members of the High Authority for Good Governance, an independent body mandated by the constitution. It is charged with protecting the rights of minorities and those with disabilities and ensuring the equitable distribution of natural resource revenues. In December 2019 President Touadera launched the National Good Governance Strategy.

Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government, and addressing public-sector corruption was difficult in view of limited government capacity.

Corruption: No corruption cases were brought to trial. There were widespread rumors and anecdotal stories of pervasive corruption and bribery. In February an audio recording circulated on social media alleging fraud during the vote of state budget by the national assembly. The fraud was allegedly orchestrated by the first vice president of the national assembly. The CAR government took no legal actions.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires senior members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the beginning of their terms to declare publicly their personal assets and income to the Constitutional Court. The constitution specifies that the law determine sanctions for noncompliance. Declarations are public. The constitution requires ministers to declare their assets upon departing government but is not explicit on what constitutes assets or income.

As of September there was no evidence that any ministers declared their assets.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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 abuses and violations of law. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2017 President Touadera signed into law an act establishing an independent National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties. The commission has the authority to investigate complaints, including the power to call witnesses and subpoena documents. In 2019 the commission collaborated with the Ministry of Justice, MINUSCA, and the African Union to draft the country’s National Human Rights Policy. In addition, the government was setting up the SCC’s victim and witness protection unit with MINUSCA’s assistance (see section 1.e.).

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic abuse, rape, and sexual slavery of women and girls by armed groups threatened their security, and sexual violence was increasingly used as a deliberate tool of warfare. Attackers enjoyed broad impunity. In 2019 MINUSCA verified 322 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence, affecting 187 women, 124 girls, three men, two boys, and six women of unknown age. These incidents included 174 rapes or attempted rapes and 15 cases of forced marriage.

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Domestic violence against women was common, although there are laws and instruments prohibiting violence against women. The government took no known action to punish perpetrators.

As of July the Mixed Unit for the Repression of Violence against Women and the Protection of Children (UMIRR) received 501 complaints from victims of various profiles, including 227 victims of sexual violence (rape, assault, forced marriage) and 232 cases of other form of violence. According to UMIRR, there were 266 reported cases of women who were victims of societal abuse in the country.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls, which is punishable by two to five years’ imprisonment and a moderate to substantial fine.

Nearly one-quarter of girls and women had been subjected to FGM/C, with variations according to ethnicity and region. Approximately one-half of girls were mutilated between ages 10 and 14. Both the prevalence of FGM/C and support for the practice has substantially declined in recent years.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government does not effectively enforce the law, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime.

Reproductive Rights: After recurrent military-political crises, the CAR continued to be characterized by widespread insecurity and impoverishment. The state was largely absent outside of Bangui. This situation created barriers to providing adequate assistance, including health and reproductive care, to vulnerable populations. Many displaced families were in makeshift sites, in the bush, or in fields far from existing basic social services. Of the 814 hospitals and dispensaries in the country, only 55.3 percent were functional in 2015. Anecdotal evidence suggests NGOs were nearly entirely responsible for the provision of healthcare services outside of Bangui.

Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children. Nevertheless, most couples lacked access to contraception, prenatal care, skilled attendance during childbirth, and essential obstetric care and postpartum care.

The government has committed to implementing the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development Program of Action held in Cairo. Law number 06.005 of June 20, 2006, authorized abortion for pregnancy resulting from rape. The law prohibits certain acts that endanger sexual and reproductive health, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Article 29 of the law criminalizes all forms of sexual violence and exploitation in all its forms that target women.

Citizens, in particular women and girls, were affected by high rates of conflict-related sexual violence. The country experienced multiple armed conflicts in the last 20 years, and customs and traditions in the country influenced the existence and exacerbation of gender-based violence, in particular sexual violence. Survivors of sexual violence were discriminated against, and the government was unable to provide adequate care, including health and social services to survivors. Sexual violence committed by armed actors increases the risk of spreading of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

According to UNICEF’s 2018-2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) Findings Report, 82.2 percent of women did not use any form of contraceptive. For girls aged 15 to 19 years, 88.7 percent do not use contraception (MICS IV 2018-2019). The World Health Organization reported 22 percent of women said their need for family planning was satisfied with modern methods. The prevalence of HIV among people aged 15 to 49 years was 4.9 percent (MICS 2010; contacts at the Institute Pasteur in Bangui reported the infection rate in the capital was approximately 18 percent. Data from the MICS IV survey (2018-2019) indicated that the infant mortality rate was 100 deaths per 1,000 live births, and 53 percent of deliveries were assisted.

The maternal mortality rate was 829 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. The major factor involved in the high maternal death rate was the lack of access to adequate healthcare. Only 18.9 percent of women reported receiving prenatal care for their last pregnancy (MICS IV 2018-2019). Fertility was very high (6.4 per MICS IV 2018-2019), and 42.8 percent of women reported having a child before age 18 (MICS IV 2018-2019). The lack of sexual and reproductive education led to early fertility among girls, which was more prevalent in rural than in urban areas (MICS 2010). These factors partly contributed to high maternal and neonatal mortality. Only 53.4 percent of births in 2006 were attended by qualified health personnel (83 percent in urban areas, 35 percent in rural areas).

Women were victims of many forms of gender-based violence, including FGM/C, sexual violence, and early marriage. This gender-based violence is exacerbated by conflicts. According to the MICS 2006 survey, nearly 45 percent of women suffered physical violence from their husbands or relatives; 51.6 percent suffered verbal abuse, 32.2 percent were raped. According to MICS 2010, 24 percent of women aged 15-49 had undergone some form of FGM/C. Although UNICEF did not yet publish the 2020 MICS, contacts reported FGM/C remained a widespread issue in the country and rates may be higher now than in 2010. No information was available on the FGM/C’s implication on maternal morbidity. The MICS 2010 indicated that the induced abortion rate was 6.9 percent among women aged 15 to 45.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration could be difficult and less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately. Unregistered children faced restrictions on access to education and other social services. The lack of routine birth registration also posed long-term problems.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six to 15. Tuition is free, but students have to pay for items such as books and supplies and for transportation. Few Ba’aka, the earliest known inhabitants of the forests in the south, attended primary school. There was no significant government assistance for efforts to increase Ba’aka enrollment.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children younger than 15. UMIRR is in charge of investigating abuses against women and children. As of July children’s rights abuses were reported in 42 households. According to UMIRR, 214 girls and seven boys were reported victims of societal abuse.

With the support of UNICEF, Bethanie, a local NGO, provided legal, psychological, and socioeconomic assistance to 900 vulnerable children, including 200 children victims of sexual violence, 100 children accused of witchcraft, 250 children with HIV, and 350 children victims of other forms of violence in the prefecture of Ombella M’poko and Bangui.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. A 2017 UNICEF report indicated that 68 percent of girls married before age 18 and 29 percent of girls married before age 15, and that 27 percent of boys married before age 18. The practice of early marriage was more common in Muslim communities. There were reports during the year of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka members. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: On June 15, the government enacted the Child Protection Act. The legislation has a series of measures that address the exploitation of minors. The family code prescribes penalties for the commercial exploitation of children, including imprisonment and financial penalties. The minimum age of sexual consent is 18, but it was rarely observed.

Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: Armed conflict resulted in forced displacement, with the number of persons fleeing in search of protection fluctuating based on local conditions. The country’s instability had a disproportionate effect on children, who accounted for 64 percent of IDPs, 48 percent of whom were children younger than five, according to a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant 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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with both mental and physical disabilities but does not specify other forms of disabilities. It requires that in any company employing 25 or more persons, at least 5 percent of staff must consist of sufficiently qualified persons with disabilities if they are available. The law states that at least 10 percent of newly recruited civil service personnel should be persons with disabilities. There are no legislated or mandated accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities. There were no available statistics concerning the implementation of this provision.

The government did not enact programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. The Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection’s Labor Inspectorate has responsibility for protecting children with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Violence by unidentified persons, bandits, and other armed groups against the Peuhl (also known as Fulani or Mbororo), primarily nomadic pastoralists, was a problem. Their cattle wealth made them attractive targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the north. Additionally, since many citizens viewed them as inherently foreign due to their transnational migratory patterns, the Peuhl faced occasional discrimination with regard to government services and protections. In recent years the Peuhl began arming themselves against attacks from farmers who objected to the presence of the Peuhl’s grazing cattle. Several of the ensuing altercations resulted in deaths.

In December 2019 a young man from the subprefecture of Baboua, who was heading to the cattle market, was killed by unidentified armed men. The population of Baboua accused the Peuhl community of being the perpetrators. On December 30, dozens of young persons armed with machetes, knives, and other bladed weapons retaliated against a Peuhl citizen from a neighboring commune of Baboua, killing him.

Indigenous People

Discrimination continued against the nomadic pastoralist Peuhl minority, as well as the forest dwelling Ba’aka. The independent High Authority for Good Governance, whose members were appointed in 2017, is tasked with protecting the rights of minorities and those with disabilities, although its efficacy had yet to be proven.

Discrimination against the Ba’aka, who comprise 1 to 2 percent of the population, remained a problem. The Ba’aka continued to have little influence in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of natural resources. Forest-dwelling Ba’aka, in particular, experienced social and economic discrimination and exploitation, which the government did little to prevent.

The Ba’aka, including children, were often coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They were considered slaves by members of other local ethnic groups, and even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far below those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups.

Reports by credible NGOs, including the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, stated the Ba’aka were effectively “second-class citizens,” perceived as barbaric and subhuman and excluded from mainstream society.

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

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The penalty for conviction of “public expression of love” between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years or a moderate to substantial fine. When one of the participants is a child, the adult could be sentenced to two to five years’ imprisonment or a moderate to substantial fine. There were no reports police arrested or detained persons under these provisions.

While official discrimination based on sexual orientation occurred, there were no reports the government targeted LGBTI persons. Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was entrenched due to a high degree of cultural stigmatization. The IOM reported the case of an LGBTI person who had to move due to physical violence against him by neighbors due to his sexuality. There were no known organizations advocating for or working on behalf of LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS were subjected to discrimination and stigma, and many individuals with HIV/AIDS did not disclose their status due to social stigma.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Violent conflict and instability in the country had a religious cast. Many, but not all, members of the ex-Seleka and its factions were Muslim, having originated in neighboring countries or in the remote Muslim north, a region the government often neglected.

During the worst of the crisis, some Christian communities formed Anti-balaka militias that targeted Muslim communities, presumably for their association with the Seleka. The Interfaith Religious Platform, which includes Muslim and Christian leaders, continued working with communities to defuse tensions and call for tolerance and restraint. Local leaders, including the bishop of Bossangoa, and internationally based academics warned against casting the conflict in religious terms and thus fueling its escalation along religious lines.

Ethnic killings often related to transhumance movements occurred. The major groups playing a role in the transhumance movements were social groups centering on ethnic identity. These included Muslim Fulani/Peuhl herders, Muslim farming communities, and Christian/animist farming communities. Armed group conflict at times devolved into ethnic violence, such as the Kara/Rounga conflict in Birao. Throughout the year, there were recorded acts of violence among the various ethnic groups–primarily between the Rounga and the Goula ethnic groups. Violence between the groups continued in Birao and spread to Ndele.

The law prohibits the practice of witchcraft. Conviction of witchcraft is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment and a moderate to substantial fine. Individuals accused of sorcery or witchcraft experienced social exclusion. According to a legal advocate, the penal code does not have an established definition of witchcraft, and the state does not typically intervene in these cases. District chiefs often preside over witchcraft trials: however, the accused are also often killed by the local population. For instance, on August 27, local press reported that in the village of Barka-Panziin, in the prefecture of Mambere-Kadei, a 60-year-old woman suspected of witchcraft by the inhabitants was severely beaten by her own children and buried alive by the local population. She was rescued by gendarmes stationed at a timber company located two miles away. Women accused of witchcraft faced the possibility of sexual violence in prison while waiting for their trial or serving their sentence. Those accused of witchcraft reported psychological harm from fearing for their physical safety due to the accusations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

The government generally enforced applicable laws and respected laws concerning labor actions. The enforcement of penalties was not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with other violations of civil rights. Workers exercised some of these rights, but only a relatively small part of the workforce, primarily civil servants, exercised the right to join a union. While worker organizations are officially outside government or political parties, the government exerted some influence over the leadership of some organizations.

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

Employers subjected men, women, and children to forced domestic labor, agricultural work, mining, market or street vending, and restaurant labor, as well as sexual exploitation. Criminal courts sentenced convicted persons to imprisonment and forced labor, and prisoners often worked on public projects without compensation. This practice largely took place in rural areas. Ba’aka, including children, often were coerced into labor as day laborers, farm hands, or other unskilled labor and often treated as slaves (see section 6, Children). No known victims were removed from forced labor during the year.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

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

Child labor was common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas. Local and displaced children as young as age seven frequently performed agricultural work, including harvesting peanuts and cassava and helping gather items subsequently sold at markets such as mushrooms, hay, firewood, and caterpillars. In Bangui many of the city’s street children worked as street vendors. Children often worked as domestic workers, fishermen, and in mines, often in dangerous conditions. For example, children were forced to work without proper protection or were forced to work long hours (i.e., 10 hours per day or longer). Children also engaged in the worst forms of child labor in diamond fields, transporting and washing gravel as well as mining gold, digging holes, and carrying heavy loads. Despite the law’s prohibition on child labor in mining, observers saw many children working in and around diamond mining fields. No known victims were removed from the worst forms of child labor during the year.

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

It is illegal to discriminate in hiring or place of employment based on race, national or social origin, gender, opinions, or beliefs. The government did not effectively enforce the law; however, if rigorously enforced, the laws would be sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with the penalties for other civil rights violations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on disability, age, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases.

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

Migrant workers experienced discrimination in employment and pay.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

The minimum wage applies only to the formal sector, leaving most of the economy without a minimum wage. The law applies to foreign and migrant workers as well. Most labor was performed outside the wage and social security system in the extensive informal sector, especially by farmers in the large subsistence agricultural sector.

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

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

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

The government did not effectively enforce labor standards, and violations were common in all sectors of the economy. The Ministry of Labor has primary responsibility for managing labor standards, while enforcement falls under the Ministry of Interior and Public Safety and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The government did not have an adequate number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance with all labor laws. Penalties were seldom enforced and were insufficient to deter violations. Violations for occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. Employers commonly violated labor standards in agriculture and mining.

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

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

The government does not release information on workplace injury and deaths or other OSH statistics, and officials failed to respond to International Labor Organization direct requests to provide this information.

Chad

Executive Summary

Chad is a centralized republic in which the executive branch dominates the legislature and judiciary. In 2016 President Idriss Deby Itno, leader of the Patriotic Salvation Movement, was elected to a fifth term in an election that was neither free nor fair. During the 2011 legislative elections, the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement won 118 of the National Assembly’s 188 seats. International observers deemed the elections legitimate and credible. Subsequent legislative elections have been repeatedly postponed for lack of financing or planning.

The National Army of Chad, National Gendarmerie, Chadian National Police, Chadian National Nomadic Guard, and National Security Agency are responsible for internal security. A specialized gendarmerie unit, the Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees, is responsible for security in refugee camps for both refugees and humanitarian workers. The National Army of Chad reports to the Ministry delegated to the Presidency in Charge of Armed Forces, Veterans, and War Victims. The national police, Chadian National Nomadic Guard, and Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees report to the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration. The National Security Agency reports directly to the president. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control of the security forces, and security force members committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government or on behalf of government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government or on behalf of government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation where elections have not been found to be genuine, free, or fair; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

There were reports that authorities took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, but impunity remained a problem.

Members of Boko Haram, the Nigerian militant terrorist group, killed numerous civilians and military personnel in attacks in the country, often using suicide bombers.

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 and unlawful killings. Human rights groups credibly accused security forces of killing and torturing with impunity. The Ministry of Justice and the National Commission on Human Rights investigate allegations of security force killings.

In March, 44 suspected Boko Haram prisoners died in a gendarmerie prison cell. The National Commission on Human Rights assessed they died from heat, overcrowding, and lack of adequate food and water (see section 1.c., Prison Conditions).

In May 2019 Yaya Awad, arrested for allegedly stealing a motorcycle, died in custody at the seventh police district of N’Djamena after police fatally beat and otherwise injured him during interrogation. In July authorities sentenced three police officers involved in the incident to five years in prison and fines.

On March 23, Boko Haram militants killed 92 soldiers in an attack in Boma, Lake Chad Province.

Interethnic violence resulted in deaths (see section 6, Discrimination).

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there was anecdotal evidence the government continued to employ them.

In response to the March Boko Haram attack that killed 92 soldiers, the government launched the Wrath of Boma military operation. Two reputable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) investigated and reported alleged abuses by security forces during the operation.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces due to corruption and poor discipline. Offices that investigated abuses included the Ministry of Justice and the National Commission on Human Rights. Authorities offered training in human rights to its security forces through international partners, such as the United Nations and individual countries.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 41 prisons remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a serious problem. Despite the near doubling of the prison population, no new facilities had been constructed since 2012. Authorities did not separate juveniles from adult male prisoners and sometimes held children with their inmate mothers. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners and did not always separate male and female prisoners. Regional prisons were crumbling, overcrowded, and without adequate protection for women and youth. Prison guards, who were not regularly paid, sometimes released prisoners if bribed.

No estimate of deaths in prisons or detention centers was available. In March the government transferred 58 suspected Boko Haram fighters to a Gendarmerie prison in N’Djamena for processing and investigation of their cases. On April 16, 44 were found dead in their cell. Two reputable NGOs released investigative reports that attributed the deaths to poor prison conditions. On August 7, the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) concluded the 44 prisoners died due to overcrowding in a cell designed for 20 individuals, the oppressive heat of the dry season, and lack of adequate food and water.

Local NGOs reported potable water, sanitation, and health care were inadequate. Provisions for heating, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate or nonexistent. Inmates were vulnerable to diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, COVID-19, and malaria. The law stipulates a doctor must visit each prison three times a week, but authorities did not comply. The few prisons that had doctors lacked medical supplies. Prison authorities provided insufficient food to inmates. Family members of detainees frequently provided them with food, soap, medicine, and other supplies. NGOs reported government officials forced prisoners to work on their private enterprises as a source of free labor. On September 15, the National Assembly questioned Minister of Justice Djimet Arabi on allegations of poor living conditions in detention centers.

Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of prison riots.

Administration: Authorities did not investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. There was no mechanism for prisoners to submit complaints. There were no data available on prisoner access to the requirements of religious observance or practice.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit prisons, and the ICRC conducted such visits. At the maximum-security Koro-Toro Prison, where few families visited due to its distance from N’Djamena, the minister of justice stated in September that the ICRC had a permanent authorization to visit. On November 6, representatives of the Chadian Convention for the Defense of Human Rights (CTDDH) announced the existence of a dozen “secret prisons” of the National Security Agency (ANS). Abbas Alhassan, a CTDDH spokesperson, described “inhuman and cruel” conditions, as did two previous detainees whom Radio France Internationale interviewed. The Ministry of Justice stated there were two ANS-operated prisons, they were not secret, they were monitored by the ministry and ICRC, and their operation was justified on security grounds. In December the CNDH visited ANS detention facilities and assessed prison conditions were adequate.

Improvements: In accordance with a presidential pardon, in August authorities released 538 detainees, including General Mahamat Abdoulkader Oumar, aka Baba Ladehe, a former rebel convicted in 2018 of murder, rebellion, criminal conspiracy, illegal possession of weapons, and armed robbery.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The law does not provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, or to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. In its Freedom in the World 2019 report, Freedom House stated security forces “routinely ignore constitutional protections” regarding detention. There were reports officials held detainees in police cells or in secret detention facilities.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Although the law requires a judge to sign and issue arrest warrants before arrests may take place, this did not always occur. By law detainees must be charged within 48 hours or released, unless the procureur (investigating magistrate) authorizes an extension of detention for investigative purposes. Nevertheless, authorities often did not make judicial determinations promptly. The law allows for bail and access to counsel, but there were cases in which authorities provided neither. In some cases authorities denied detainees visits from doctors. While the law provides for legal counsel for indigent defendants and prompt access to family members, this rarely occurred, according to legal observers. Authorities occasionally held detainees incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to local media, security forces arbitrarily arrested journalists, demonstrators, critics of the government, and other individuals.

On February 11, Amnesty International reported the “incommunicado” detention by the National Security Agency of Baradine Berdei Targuio, president of the Chadian Organization for Human Rights. Media reported that two days prior to his arrest, Targuio made Facebook posts regarding the health of the president.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, despite government efforts to address it. According to justice activists, in 2018 at least 20 to 25 percent of inmates were in long-term pretrial detention. According to a Ministry of Justice official, authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees without charge for years, particularly for felonies allegedly committed in the provinces, because the court system only had the capacity to try criminal cases in the capital. The length of detention sometimes equaled or exceeded the possible sentence for the alleged crime. Lengthy pretrial detention was exacerbated by an overworked judiciary susceptible to corruption.

Unlike in previous years, there was no reported release of Boko Haram fighters.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was overburdened, corrupt, and subject to executive interference. According to representatives of the bar association, members of the judiciary were not always impartial in civil matters, sometimes received death threats or were demoted for not acquiescing to pressure from officials, or were otherwise coerced into manipulating decisions. Government personnel, particularly members of the military, often were able to avoid prosecution. Courts were generally weak and in some areas nonexistent. Judicial authorities did not always respect court orders. Local media and civil society organizations reported members of the Judicial Police of Chad, an office within the Ministry of Justice with arrest authority, did not always enforce domestic court orders against military personnel or members of their own ethnic groups.

A judicial oversight commission has the power to investigate judicial decisions and address suspected injustices. The president appointed its members, increasing executive control of the judiciary.

The constitution provides for a military court system composed of the Military Court and the High Military Court, which acts as an appellate court.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for a presumption of innocence, and for fair, timely, and public trials. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and to be provided free interpretation. According to local media, however, these rights were seldom respected. Only criminal trials used juries but not in politically sensitive cases. While defendants have the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner, this did not always occur. By law indigent persons have the right to legal counsel at public expense in all cases, although according to legal experts this seldom occurred. Human rights groups sometimes provided free counsel to indigent clients. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and to be present at their trial. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but the government did not always respect this right, according to lawyers. Defendants have the right to appeal court decisions.

The constitution recognizes local customary law in places where it is long established, provided it does not interfere with public order or constitutional provisions for equality of citizens. Courts tended to blend the French language legal code with traditional practices. Local customs often supersede the law. Residents of rural areas and refugee and internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps often lacked access to formal judicial institutions, and legal reference texts were unavailable outside the capital or in Arabic. In minor civil cases, the population often relied on traditional courts presided over by village chiefs, canton chiefs, or sultans. Penalties in traditional courts sometimes depended on the clan affiliations of the victim and perpetrator. Decisions of traditional courts may be appealed to a formal court.

In some areas growing Islamic legal tradition influenced local practice and sometimes influenced legal interpretation. For example, local leaders may apply the Islamic concept of diya, which involves a payment to the family of a crime victim by the perpetrator or the perpetrator’s family. The practice was common in Muslim areas. Non-Muslim groups challenged the practice, asserting it was unconstitutional. In October 2019 the government issued an interministerial order regulating the practice of diya, with the criminal code taking precedence in any conflict with diya practices.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

According to the NGO Citizen Action for the Integral Application of Amnesty in Chad, in 2018 there were at least 72 political detainees. Media suggested the September 4 arrest of former oil minister Djerassem Le Bemadjiel was politically motivated because of his ties to an opposition party (see section 4, Corruption). Human rights organizations were not allowed access to these detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Lawsuits for human rights abuses may be brought before a criminal court, but compensation is addressed by a civil court. Administrative and judicial remedies, such as mediation, are available.

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

Although the constitution provides for the right to privacy and inviolability of the home, the government did not always respect these rights. It was common practice for authorities to enter homes without judicial authorization and seize private property without due process. Security forces routinely stopped citizens to extort money or confiscate goods.

In October security forces encircled the homes of opposition party members seeking to participate in a constitutional forum (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly).

A government decree prohibits possession and use of satellite telephones.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but the government severely restricted these rights, according to Freedom House. Authorities used threats and prosecutions to curb critical reporting.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and attempted to express a variety of views; however, authorities placed severe restrictions on them. The government subsidized Le Progres–the only daily newspaper–and owned the biweekly newspaper L’Info. Government and opposition newspapers had limited readership outside the capital due to low literacy rates and lack of distribution in rural areas.

Radio remained a critical source of information throughout the country. The government owned Chadian National Radio. Private stations faced high licensing fees. The number of community radio stations that operated outside of government control continued to grow, and radio call-in programs broadcast views of callers that included criticism of the government.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities reportedly harassed, threatened, arrested, and assaulted journalists for defamation. Local media reported that journalists faced regular arrest after publication, with most released fairly quickly, others held in detention for weeks or months, and some severely mistreated, particularly when articles discussed impunity or criticized the president and his associates. Human rights defenders and journalists were also threatened, harassed, and intimidated by anonymous individuals.

On November 27, security forces broke up an interview with “citizen forum” organizers at the headquarters of radio station FM Liberte. Police used tear gas and detained approximately 70 attendees of an unrelated journalism training class for several hours. On December 1, independent radio stations organized a protest “day without radio.”

In September 2019 a court convicted Inoua Martin Doulguet, editor in chief of the newspaper Salam Info, of “criminal conspiracy, complicity, defamation, and insult” for an article concerning an alleged sexual assault by a former minister. On May 5, an appeals court acquitted him for procedural and substantive errors by the lower court.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets. According to Freedom House, private radio stations faced threat of closure for coverage critical of the government. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship.

On June 8, the High Authority for Media and Broadcasting (HAMA) suspended newspaper Abba Garde for 12 months, alleging defamation, unprofessional conduct, false news, and ethical breaches. HAMA also banned its director Moussaye Avenir De la Tchire from working as a journalist for the same period. On June 9, the Convention of Private Press Entrepreneurs in Chad noted the HAMA suspension of Abba Garde and its director and stated there were no provisions under the law for a 12-month suspension for defamation or dissemination of false news, or the suspension of a journalist in the exercise of his profession for the same alleged offenses.

On August 27, the minister of communication, spokesperson for the government, visited the private television stations Electron TV and Alnassour TV and remarked private media remained privileged partners and must properly do their work of awareness raising, education, and entertainment. Observers considered this a warning to private media to avoid sensitive topics.

On September 7, HAMA suspended 12 newspapers for three months pursuant to the law requiring newspaper publishers and managing editors to possess a postgraduate degree in journalism. According to Reporters without Borders, the HAMA decision suspended approximately one-quarter of the country’s privately owned print media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are misdemeanors punishable by fines. Authorities arrested and detained persons for defamation.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and directly censored online content, such as Facebook. There was widespread speculation the government monitored private online communications, blocked sites, and arrested activists for postings on social media.

In July the government banned social media throughout the country and cut internet access outside N’Djamena. This followed an incident the same month at the Champ de Fil market, where a member of the presidential guard allegedly killed a motorcycle mechanic and was subsequently rescued from an angry crowd after receiving a severe beating. The incident sparked critical commentary on social media, including calls for ethnic violence. On August 8, the president stated the government disrupted social media to prevent interethnic violence; he did not explain the restrictions to internet access. On October 2, authorities ended these restrictions. Throughout this period social media users in N’Djamena could access apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp with the use of a virtual private network.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were government restrictions on academic freedom. The government banned large gatherings–including cultural events–due to COVID-19 restrictions.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly in limited circumstances, the government did not respect this right. The government regularly interfered with opposition protests and civil society gatherings. Authorities routinely banned gatherings and arrested organizers, and security forces used excessive force against demonstrators.

The law requires organizers to notify the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration five days in advance of demonstrations, although groups that provided advance notice did not always receive permission to assemble. The law also requires opposition political parties to meet complicated registration requirements for party gatherings.

Unlike in previous years, in January police peacefully escorted student protests for better conditions in university campuses.

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the government banned meetings of more than 50 persons but selectively applied these restrictions to stifle political opposition.

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases dropped in June, the government eased restrictions on communal prayer but requested worshippers respect social distancing and use face coverings.

In October the government held a 600-person national forum to solicit and debate potential constitutional changes. Security forces encircled the headquarters of several opposition parties and civil society organizations and the homes of some opposition politicians during the forum to intimidate those who either boycotted or were not invited to the forum.

In November authorities banned an alternative “citizens’ forum,” citing COVID-19 restrictions limiting mass gatherings. In November and December, authorities banned efforts by opposition parties to hold assemblies or marches, also citing COVID-19 restrictions.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. While the law requires the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration to provide prior authorization before an association, including a labor union, may be formed, there were no reports the law was enforced. The law also allows for the immediate administrative dissolution of an association and permits authorities to monitor association funds. In late 2018 authorities modified the regulation on NGOs to exert greater control over development and humanitarian activities, requiring NGOs to contribute 1 percent of their budget to the “functioning of the structures of the Ministry of Planning.”

Authorities denied recognition to some opposition political groups (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation)

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government limited these rights.

In-country Movement: Lack of security in the east, primarily due to armed banditry, occasionally hindered the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide services to refugees. In Lake Chad Province, attacks by Boko Haram and simultaneous government military operations constrained the ability of humanitarian organizations to aid IDPs.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

According to the International Organization for Migration, in August more than 360,000 persons were displaced in Lake Chad Province, more than one-half of the province’s population. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with an environmental crisis, the security situation continued to deteriorate, exacerbating humanitarian needs.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, and other persons of concern. The country hosted refugees and asylum seekers mainly from Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), and Nigeria, as well as IDPs, citizen returnees from CAR, and citizen returnees from the Lake Chad basin.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International observers reported numerous protection incidents in the Lake Chad area in February. According to international observers, these incidents included physical attacks, kidnappings, and homicides. Armed groups were suspected of a majority of the incidents, especially for cases of kidnapping and homicide.

Authorities rarely prosecuted perpetrators of sexual violence. The judicial system did not provide consistent and predictable recourse or legal protection. To overcome these problems, UNHCR enlisted a local NGO to support refugees through the judicial process. The Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees was unable to provide humanitarian escorts consistently but was generally effective in providing protection inside refugee camps.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for asylum or refugee status. The government, however, has established a system for the protection of refugees. In cooperation with UNHCR, the government continued a project to strengthen the civil registration system for the issuance of civil status certificates (birth, marriage, and death certificates) to tens of thousands of refugees born before 2013.

Access to Basic Services: Although local communities hosted tens of thousands of newly arrived refugees, antirefugee sentiment existed due to competition for local resources, such as wood, water, and grazing land. Refugees also received goods and services not available to the local population, and refugee children at times had better access to education and health services than those in the surrounding local populations. Many humanitarian organizations included host communities in their programming to mitigate this tension.

Durable Solutions: Authorities continued to resettle refugees, although fewer than in previous years. As durable solutions became more difficult to achieve, UNHCR explored helping refugees secure protection by receiving admission to third countries.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens with the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government limited this right. The executive branch dominated the other branches of government.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2016 presidential election, President Deby won a fifth term with 59.92 percent of the vote; Saleh Kebzabo placed second with 12.8 percent. While the election was orderly and had a high voter turnout, it was neither free nor fair, and there were numerous irregularities. According to the African Union, staff at polling stations were not adequately trained, 81 percent of ballot boxes observed had not been checked to see if they were empty at the start of polling, and 10 percent of polling stations did not provide secrecy in voting. Runner-up Kebzabo refused to accept the outcome of the vote, stating it was an “electoral stickup.” Other opposition politicians cited alleged ballot stuffing and the disappearance of ballot boxes.

During the 2011 legislative elections, the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) won 118 of the National Assembly’s 188 seats. International observers deemed the election legitimate and credible.

The COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected progress on voter registration and preparations for future elections. Every year the May to September rainy season disrupts travel and complicates electoral processes.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were 138 registered political parties, of which more than 100 were associated with the dominant MPS party. Changes to the law in 2018 complicated and increased the cost of party registration, outreach, and participation procedures that opposition leaders attributed to the government’s attempt to limit dissent. Authorities continued to refuse registration to some political parties, including Les Transformateurs, on murky administrative grounds.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. The law decrees leadership of all political parties must include at least 30 percent women. Women’s political participation, however, was limited by many factors, including lack of access to campaign funds and cultural norms that discourage activism. The law establishes the principle of parity in nominations and elective offices with a requirement of 30 percent women at a minimum, increasing progressively toward equal representation of men and women.

Ethnicity influenced government appointments and political alliances. Political parties and groups generally had readily identifiable regional or ethnic bases. Northerners, particularly members of the president’s Zaghawa ethnic group, were overrepresented in key institutions, including the military officer corps, elite military units, and the presidential staff.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but authorities did not implement the law effectively, and corruption was pervasive at all levels of government.

According to Freedom House’s Freedom in The World 2020 report, corruption, bribery, and nepotism “are endemic” and prominent journalists, labor leaders, and religious figures faced harsh reprisals for speaking out, including arrest, prosecution, and exile. According to Freedom House, prosecutions of high-level officials were widely viewed as selective efforts to discredit those who posed a threat to the president or his allies.

Corruption: There were reports of selective investigation of government officials.

Corruption was most pervasive in government procurement, the awarding of licenses or concessions, dispute settlement, regulation enforcement, customs, and taxation. Judicial corruption was a problem and hindered effective law enforcement. Security forces arbitrarily arrested travelers on pretexts of minor traffic violations to generate bribes.

On September 4, authorities jailed former oil minister Djerassem Le Bemadjiel, charging him with numerous offenses including embezzling public funds, illicit use of state property, and corruption. Local media suggested his arrest and detention was politically motivated because of his alleged link with the Les Transformateurs political party. Social media users demanded other former ministers with serious allegations against them of embezzlement and illicit enrichment also be investigated.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, but the laws do not specify sanctions for noncompliance, and declarations were not made available to the public.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were sometimes cooperative and responsive to their views.

In August a court approved a request by a former member of the CTDDH to suspend Mahamat Nour Ibedou from his position as head of the organization. In December a new CTDDH general assembly was installed despite protests by sitting members of procedural violations. Observers believed the former member lacked standing to bring the legal action, the new general assembly lacked legitimacy, and authorities supported these actions to lessen the stature and capability of the CTDDH to investigate human rights problems.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights coordinated efforts by local and international NGOs to protect human rights. Local NGOs reported the ministry functioned independently but was of limited effectiveness.

In February the CNDH became operational. The commission’s mandate is to advise the government on human rights, conduct investigations, assess prison conditions, verify adequate protection against abuse and torture of prisoners, and provide recommendations to the government following investigations. Observers consider the CNDH to be substantially independent of the government and relatively effective.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is punishable by eight to 30 years in prison. Nevertheless, rape–including rape of female refugees–was a problem. The law does not specifically address spousal rape, gender of victims, or domestic violence. Police often detained alleged perpetrators, but rape cases were rarely tried. Authorities fined and released most rape suspects, according to local media. Communities sometimes compelled rape victims to marry their attackers.

Although the law prohibits violence against women, domestic violence was widespread. Police rarely intervened, and women had limited legal recourse.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for girls and women, but the practice remained widespread, particularly in rural areas. According to UNICEF, 38 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 underwent FGM.

By law FGM/C may be prosecuted as a form of assault, and charges may be brought against the parents of victims, medical practitioners, or others involved. Nevertheless, lack of specific penalties hindered prosecution, and authorities prosecuted no cases. NGOs cited enduring local social norms and limited federal authority in rural areas as major impediments to progress.

The Roman Catholic Church and the CNDH alerted authorities in August of the resurgence of the practice of FGM/C, attributed to lack of enforcement of the law. The Ministry of Women and Early Childhood Protection is responsible for coordinating activities to combat FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides penalties for sexual harassment ranging from six months to three years in prison and fines. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Reproductive Rights: The law provides for the right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, to manage their reproductive health, and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Many persons, however, lacked access to reproductive information or care, particularly in rural areas. Obstacles to contraception use included the lack of education, the limited supply of contraceptive products, and cultural sensitivities. The government provided some contraception products for free to the public through NGOs. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated only 24 percent of live births were attended by skilled health personnel between 2014 and 2019. The country had a severe shortage of health-care providers and a significant shortage of nurses, midwives, hospital staff, and specialists, such as obstetricians. Prenatal care remained limited, particularly in rural areas. The government provided limited access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence due to capacity constraints. In practice, not all survivors of sexual violence received health services.

The UNFPA estimated that in 2017 the maternal mortality rate was 1,140 deaths per 100,000 live births. Factors contributing to maternal mortality included adolescent pregnancies, multiple closely spaced births, and lack of access to medical care.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Although property and inheritance laws provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, the government did not enforce the laws effectively. Family law discriminates against women, and discrimination against and exploitation of women were widespread. Local leaders settled most inheritance disputes in favor of men, according to traditional practice. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations deemed dangerous, including mining, construction, and factories.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth within the country’s territory or from at least one parent. The government did not register all births immediately and also denied registration on a discriminatory basis.

Education: Although primary education is tuition free, universal, and compulsory between ages six and 16, parents were required to pay for textbooks, except in some rural areas. Parents often were required to pay tuition for public secondary education. According to a UNESCO Institute for Statistics 2019 report, 65 percent of girls attended primary school compared with 83 percent of boys.

Human rights organizations cited the problem of the mouhadjirin, migrant children who attended certain Islamic schools and whose teachers forced them to beg for food and money. There was no reliable estimate of the number of mouhadjirin.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 for men and women. The law precludes invoking the consent of the minor spouse to justify child marriage and prescribes sentences of five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines for persons convicted of perpetrating child marriage, although the practice was widespread.

According to UNICEF, 67 percent of girls were married before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, with punishments of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines. The law specifically addresses the sale, offering, or procuring of children for prostitution. The law prohibits sexual relations with children younger than age 14, even if married, but authorities rarely enforced the ban. The law criminalizes the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production of pornography, but no cases of child pornography were reported. The country was a destination for some child trafficking in the country, and refugee children from CAR were particularly vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation.

Medical professionals in N’Djamena reported a sixfold upsurge in sexual assault on underage girls toward the end of the rainy season, attributed to rising insecurity.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no known 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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, although it does not specify the types of disability. The government did not effectively enforce the law, according to the Chadian Disability Organization. There are no laws that provide for access to public buildings for persons with disabilities, or other forms of access such as education, health services, the judicial system, or other state services. The government operated education, employment, and therapy programs for persons with disabilities. There were no reports of violence or other abuses against persons with disabilities.

Children with physical disabilities may attend primary, secondary, and higher education institutions. The government supported schools for children with vision or mental disabilities, but they were inadequate.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

There were approximately 200 ethnic groups speaking more than 120 languages and dialects.

Conflict between herders and farmers resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries, particularly during November and December. Authorities called for peaceful cohabitation and traveled to provinces in central areas of the country worst hit by violence to mediate and encourage dialogue. On December 24, the government created a disarmament commission to confiscate firearms, which are illegal for private citizens to possess. NGOs stated this conflict persisted due to growing human and cattle populations, competition over scarce resources, and judicial impunity for perpetrators of violence with political or economic connections to authorities.

The government restricted social media and internet access between July and October, citing fears of interethnic violence following a violent incident at the Champ de Fil market (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom).

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, with punishments ranging from three months’ to two years’ imprisonment and fines. The government did not actively enforce this law, although there were reports of police harassment.

The law does not prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services.

In a media interview in November, the president stated same-sex marriage “is a negative value” and unacceptable in Africa.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law provides individuals with HIV or AIDS the same rights as other persons and requires the government to provide information, education, and access to tests and treatment for HIV or AIDS, but authorities rarely complied with the law. According to the Chadian Women Lawyers’ Association, women sometimes were accused of passing HIV to their husbands and were threatened by family members with judicial action or banishment.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The CNDH and local media reported cases of COVID-19 victim stigmatization, particularly in the initial months after the outbreak of the pandemic.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of all workers, except members of the armed forces, to form and join independent unions of their choice. All unions must be authorized by the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration, which may order the dissolution of a union that does not comply with the law as determined by the ministry. The law provides for the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. While there are no restrictions on collective bargaining, the law authorizes the government to intervene under certain circumstances. The law recognizes the right to strike but restricts the right of civil servants and employees of state enterprises to do so. The law requires a 72-hour notification before a strike. By law civil servants and employees of state enterprises must complete a mediation process before initiating a strike, but there is no specified timeline for this process. Civil servants who engage in strikes or resign in protest may be subjected to imprisonment and forced labor. Employees of several public entities classified as essential services, including postal workers, abattoir employees, and nine more categories, must continue to provide a certain level of services and may be “requisitioned” at the government’s discretion during a strike. The law permits imprisonment with hard labor for participation in an illegal strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and explicitly covers all workers, including foreign and irregular workers. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Union members reported these protections were not always respected.

The government effectively protected freedom of association and collective bargaining, although both were subject to delays, primarily due to administrative difficulties in convening key officials for negotiations. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

There were no reports of restrictions on collective bargaining or punishment of workers for participating in illegal strikes. More than 90 percent of employees in the formal sector belonged to unions. In the informal sector, which employs the vast majority of workers, most workers were self-employed and nonunionized, working as farmers or herders. State-owned enterprises dominated many sectors of the formal economy, and the government remained the largest employer. Unions were officially independent of both the government and political parties, although some unions were unofficially linked through members’ affiliation with political parties.

Strikes that occurred were not accompanied by demonstrations, due to the Ministry of Interior and Public Security 2016 ban on demonstrations, a ruling that was under court challenge.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law criminalizes labor trafficking offenses, including forced labor. The Ministry of Justice’s Action Plan for 2019 Ordinance on Trafficking in Persons focuses on training members of the courts, local authorities, traditional and religious leaders, members of civil society, and members of enforcement agencies.

The penal code criminalizes “involuntary labor” or servitude using force, fraud, or coercion, although observers noted there are gaps in the law. These penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The government engaged in forced prison labor and may legally compel political prisoners to engage in forced labor. Prison officials subjected prisoners to forced labor on private projects, separate from the penalties provided for by the legal sentence imposed on the prisoners. Human rights NGOs reported that the use of forced prison labor was common.

Government efforts to enforce the law were not consistently effective. The government did not conduct adequate inspections. There were no reports of prosecutions.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred in the informal sector. Children and adults in rural areas were involved in forced agricultural labor, gold mining, charcoal production, and, in urban areas, forced domestic servitude.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code stipulates the minimum age for employment is 14. The law provides exceptions for light work in agriculture and domestic service at age 12. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18. The legal minimum age for employment, a lack of schooling opportunities in some areas, and tribal initiation practices contributed to a general acceptance of working children if they were 14 or older, some of whom might have engaged in hazardous work. The law allows for children age 16 or older to engage in certain forms of hazardous work. The prohibition on children doing hazardous work does not apply to children in the informal sector. The minimum age for military recruitment is 18, and the minimum age for conscription is 20. The law prohibits the use of child soldiers.

The Child Protection Brigade (CBP) of the National Police is responsible for enforcing criminal laws against child forced labor and trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and use of children in illicit activities. The CPB coordinated with the Ministry of Women, Childhood Protection, and National Solidarity, the Ministry of Public Service, Employment, and Social Dialogue, and the Ministry of Justice to enforce criminal laws against child labor and hosted detachments from all three organizations to facilitate collaboration. Child labor remained widespread, but authorities did not prosecute any cases, according to officials at the Ministry of Labor. Two cases of child trafficking were investigated. Labor laws apply to work only in formal enterprises; there are no legal protections for children working in the informal sector. Penalties for violating child labor laws were not commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The law does not impose penalties “if the breach was the result of an error as to a child’s age, if the error was not the employer’s fault.” Police sometimes took extrajudicial action, such as arresting and detaining persons without a court warrant, against child labor offenders. Traditional leaders also sometimes meted out traditional punishments, such as ostracism, according to local human rights organizations.

While the government did not have a comprehensive plan to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, it worked with UNICEF and NGOs to increase public awareness of child labor. Efforts continued to educate parents and civil society on the dangers of child labor, particularly for child herders.

Child laborers were subjected to domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced labor in cattle herding, agriculture, fishing, and street vending. Local children were also found in forced cattle herding in Cameroon, the CAR, and Nigeria. Child herders often lived in substandard conditions without access to school or proper nutrition. Their parents and herders generally agreed on an informal contract for the child’s labor that included a small monthly salary and a goat after six months or a cow at the end of a year. Local NGOs reported compensation often was not paid. According to the Chadian Women Lawyers’ Association, girls sold or forced into child marriages were forced by their husbands into domestic servitude and agricultural labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and labor regulations prohibit employment or wage discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin or citizenship, or membership in a union. There are no laws preventing employment discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, or social origin. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations deemed hazardous, arduous, or “morally inappropriate” and in industries such as mining, construction, and factories. Women generally were not permitted to work at night, more than 12 hours a day, or in jobs that could present “moral or physical danger,” which is not defined.

Workers may file discrimination complaints with the Office of the Labor Inspector, which investigates and subsequently may mediate between workers and employers. If mediation fails, the case is forwarded to the Labor Court for a public hearing. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. The penalties by the Labor Court for discrimination were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. Persons with disabilities frequently experienced employment discrimination. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, foreign citizens often had difficulty obtaining work permits, earned lower wages, and had poor working conditions. LGBTI persons and HIV-positive persons faced social and employment discrimination and generally did not reveal their sexual orientation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was greater than the World Bank poverty rate. The law limits most employment to 39 hours per week, with overtime paid for additional hours. Agricultural work is limited to 2,400 hours per year, an average of 46 hours per week. All workers are entitled to uninterrupted rest periods of between 24 and 48 hours per week and paid annual holidays.

The law mandates occupational health and safety (OSH) standards that are up to date and appropriate for main industries. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardy to their employment, but they generally did not do so. The law gives inspectors the authority to enforce the law and explicitly covers all workers, including foreign and informal workers.

The Office of the General Inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor has responsibility for the enforcement of the minimum wage, work hours, and occupational OSH standards. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The minimum wage was not effectively enforced, and many persons were paid less, especially in the informal sector. The Ministry of Public Works employed insufficient labor inspectors to enforce the law. Labor inspectors may refer cases to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights for prosecution. The government did not provide adequate staffing or training, which, together with corruption impeded effective enforcement. Authorities did not always respect legal protections for foreign and irregular workers. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable violations.

Salary arrears remained a problem for some private-sector employees. Workers did not always avail themselves of their rights concerning workhour limits, largely because they preferred the additional pay. Pursuant to International Monetary Fund recommendations, the government paid some wage arrears to private-sector contractors.

Multinational companies generally met the government’s acceptable OSH standards. The civil service and local private companies occasionally disregarded OSH and safety standards. Local private companies and public offices often had substandard conditions, including a lack of ventilation, fire protection, and OSH protection.

Côte d’Ivoire

Executive Summary

Cote d’Ivoire is a democratic republic governed by a president re-elected in October under conditions generally considered free, although some international observers questioned the fairness of the overall electoral process. Ahead of the country’s October 31 presidential election, civil society and international human rights organizations alleged infringements on rights to assembly and expression and at least two reported instances of unregulated non-state-actor violence against protesters. Also prior to the election, opposition leaders challenged the legality of President Alassane Ouattara’s candidacy for a third term; however, the institution charged with validating candidate eligibility, the Constitutional Council, approved his candidacy on September 14. International election observers differed in their overall assessments of the election. Some found the process to be overall satisfactory while others concluded it did not allow for genuine competition. The Constitutional Council, which the constitution empowers to certify the results of elections, validated the incumbent president’s re-election on November 9. The country’s first ever senatorial elections in 2018 were peaceful.

The National Police, which reports to the Ministry of the Interior and Security, and the National Gendarmerie, which reports to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for domestic law enforcement. The Coordination Center for Operational Decisions, a mixed unit of police, gendarmerie, and Armed Forces of Cote d’Ivoire personnel, assisted police in providing security in some large cities. The Armed Forces of Cote d’Ivoire, which report to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for national defense. The Directorate of Territorial Surveillance, under the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection, is responsible for countering internal threats. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant reported human rights issues included: forced temporary disappearance by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention by security forces; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and the press; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and association; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women and girls; and crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged abuses perpetrated by members of the security services. The government provided some information on steps that it took to prosecute officials in the security services, as well as elsewhere in the government, who were accused of abuses, but victims of reported abuses alleged their perpetrators were not disciplined.

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. Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged abuses, including killings, perpetrated by members of the security services.

b. Disappearance

There were at least two reports of disappearances carried out by or on behalf of government authorities at the end of 2019 and during the year. The alleged victims both emerged alive after their disappearances. Amnesty International and media reported that, on December 30, 2019, Rigobert Soro, a police officer and the brother of prominent opposition figure Guillaume Soro, was summoned to the National School of Police and arrested. Soro was reportedly held by the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST) but, according to a January 10 Amnesty International report, authorities refused to acknowledge his detention. A February 26 letter from the Human Rights Council of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the government noted that Rigobert Soro had been detained incommunicado by the DST from December 31 to January 10 before being transferred to the country’s main prison.

In January, according to media reports, security authorities allegedly detained Tano Koffi Bouaffo Fabrice, an opposition supporter, without explanation at his place of work and transported the alleged victim to an unknown location. Authorities released him more than a month after his detention and disappearance.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. The government did not provide information regarding reports of abuse within prisons, or mechanisms to prevent or punish such abuses. Human rights organizations reported that prisoners were subject to violence and abuse, including beatings and extortion, by prison officials and that the perpetrators of these acts went unpunished. Human rights organizations reported mistreatment of detainees between arrest and being booked into prison.

Prison authorities acknowledged abuse might happen and go unreported, since prisoners fear reprisals.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces, although members of the security forces reportedly did commit isolated abuses without punishment. Failure to enforce disciplinary action contributed to impunity. The government used military police and the military tribunal to investigate abuses.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and unhealthy due to insufficient food, gross overcrowding, understaffing, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of proper medical care.

Physical Conditions: The government acknowledged prison overpopulation was a problem and that existing facilities, originally built to hold no more than 8,000 prisoners, were insufficient to hold the total prison population of 21,430 as of late August. In at least one prison, the inmates reportedly slept packed head-to-toe on the floor.

Prisons generally held men and women in separate prison wings. The government reported that juveniles were held separately from adults; however, a human rights organization reported that this policy was not always observed. The same organization reported the government was making efforts to open more juvenile-only detention centers. Additionally, prisons often held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. The children of female inmates sometimes lived with their mothers in prison. Some human rights organizations reported that prominent prisoners or those who had been politically active sometimes enjoyed slightly better living conditions than other prisoners.

In addition to a daily budget allocation per inmate for food, the government reported it provided an additional allotment for personal hygiene supplies. Human rights organizations reported that wealthier prisoners could buy food and other amenities, as well as hire staff to wash and iron their clothes, while poorer inmates did not receive sufficient food on a regular basis. Families routinely supplemented the rations of relatives in prison if they had the means. Under certain circumstances the government allowed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide prisoners with food and nonfood items, including items to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as masks, isolation tents, and hygiene kits. The government permitted one NGO to construct a 48-patient capacity COVID-19 isolation and treatment center at the country’s main prison and outfit the center with ventilators, tents, toilets, showers, and personal protective equipment.

According to the government, each prison facility had a staffed medical clinic available 24 hours a day. Inmates were required to inform prison guards if they needed medical attention, and guards escorted prisoners to the prison clinic. Inmates with severe medical conditions were transferred to outside hospitals. Each prison clinic had a supply of pharmaceuticals, although human rights organizations reported that clinics often lacked necessary medicines, particularly for chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. In these cases inmates’ families had to acquire the medication from an outside pharmacy. A human rights organization reported, however, that only the country’s main prison had a doctor, while medical care in smaller prisons was provided by nurses, some without the necessary qualifications. The organization further reported prisoners did not have access to these medical professionals at all times. Some human rights organizations reported that no medical staff worked in some prisons at night at all.

Prison health workers went on strike for three days in July to demand COVID-19 hazard pay and better health policies in the country’s prisons. As of July the prison health workers’ union reported that, in the country’s main prison, 91 detainees, 11 prison guards, and two health workers had contracted the virus. A prisoner infected with COVID-19 told media he and others infected were made to sleep in tents between the prison’s medical clinic and morgue. The prisoner stated that prison medical staff did not treat several infected prisoners.

Human rights organizations observed that prisoners sometimes slept without mattresses. Poor ventilation and high temperatures, exacerbated by overcrowding, remained problems in some prisons. While potable water generally was available in prisons and detention centers, water shortages were common.

Within detention facilities unsanitary conditions persisted, including detainees living in close proximity to toilets.

Information on conditions at detention centers operated by the DST was not readily available for the year.

Administration: Inmates may submit complaints of abuse to prison directors; however, the government did not provide information on such cases during the year. Domestic media reported alleged physical abuse and extortion of prisoners by prison officials (see section 2.a., Violence and Harassment). In May tensions between competing factions of prison guards and prisoners at the country’s main prison concerning the informal power wielded by a prison official accused of running a racketeering ring and physically abusing prisoners boiled over into violence. The minister of justice and human rights visited the prison and opened an investigation into the incident. While some media reported that security forces removed the prison official from the premises following the incident, no other information was available about any subsequent legal actions. Prison administrators continued to detain or release prisoners outside normal legal procedures. Authorities generally permitted visitors in prisons on visiting days. Human rights organizations observed that, in detention centers operated by the DST, requests for access to prisoners by their lawyers and families were typically not formally refused but instead made practicably impossible by bureaucratic requirements.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted some local and international NGOs adequate access to prisons, but access to detention centers run by the DST was more restricted. Human rights organizations reported sometimes having access to prisons when they formally requested such access in advance.

Improvements: In April the government released 2,004 prisoners in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. A human rights organization reported, however, that continued overcrowding prevented adequate physical distancing within prison facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but both reportedly occurred. Human rights organizations reported that authorities arbitrarily detained persons, often without charge. Many of these detainees remained in custody briefly at either police or gendarmerie stations before being released or transferred to prisons, but others were detained at these initial holding locations for lengthy periods. The limit of 48 hours’ detention without charge by police was sometimes not enforced. Although detainees have the right to challenge in court the lawfulness of their detention, most detainees were unaware of this right. Public defenders were often overwhelmed by their workloads.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The government revised the law in 2019 to allow the state to detain a suspect for up to 48 hours without charge, subject to renewal only once for an additional 48 hours. The law specifies a maximum of 18 months of pretrial detention for misdemeanor charges and 24 months for felony charges, subject to judicial review every eight months.

Police occasionally arrested individuals and held them without charge beyond the legal limit. While the law provides for informing detainees promptly of the charges against them, human rights organizations reported that this did not always occur, especially in cases concerning state security or involving the DST. A bail system exists but was reportedly used solely at the discretion of the trial judge. Authorities generally allowed detainees access to lawyers, but in national security cases, authorities sometimes did not allow access to lawyers and family members. The government sometimes provided lawyers to those who could not afford them, but other suspects often had no lawyer unless privately retaining one. Public defenders occasionally refused to accept indigent client cases they were asked to take because they reportedly had difficulty being reimbursed by the government as prescribed by law. Human rights organizations reported multiple instances in which detainees were transferred to detention facilities outside their presiding judge’s jurisdiction, in violation of the law.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law does not permit arbitrary arrest, but authorities reportedly used the practice. One human rights organization documented several cases of detainees held for up to 12 days without charge and without access to hygiene supplies. Multiple media sources reported that in September, Justin Koua, the local spokesperson of an opposition political party, was arrested on his way to work. Koua was charged with disturbing the peace, inciting insurrection, and as an accessory to property destruction as a result of his calls for protests against President Ouattara’s candidacy for a third term. Koua’s lawyers told media his arrest violated the law because he was not first served with a summons to appear before authorities. During the week following his arrest, media reported Koua was transferred to four different detention facilities. Koua’s lawyers later told media they were not officially informed of any of these transfers and learned of the transfers from unofficial sources.

Pretrial Detention: According to officials, 6,586 inmates were in pretrial detention as of late August, slightly more than 30 percent of the total inmate population. Prolonged pretrial detention was a major problem. In some cases the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Inadequate staffing in the judicial ministry, judicial inefficiency, and authorities’ lack of training or knowledge of legal updates contributed to lengthy pretrial detention. There were reports of pretrial detainees receiving convictions in absentia, with judicial authorities sometimes claiming the presence of the accused at their trial was not necessary, and at other times, not providing sufficient notice and time to arrange transportation to the trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and although the judiciary generally was independent in ordinary criminal cases, the government often did not respect judicial independence. In January various professional associations and civil society organizations complained of continual interference by the executive branch in the judiciary and the government’s refusal to implement several court decisions.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary sometimes did not enforce this right. Although the law provides for the presumption of innocence and 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 government did not always respect this requirement. In the past, assize courts (special courts convened as needed to try criminal cases involving felonies) rarely convened. During the year standing criminal tribunal courts established to replace the assize courts to address the backlog of cases began hearing cases.

Although the judicial system provides for court-appointed attorneys for those who cannot afford them, only limited free legal assistance was available; the government had a small legal defense fund to pay members of the bar who agreed to represent the indigent. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, although the government sometimes pursued rapid trials that did not respect such rights (see section 2.a, Libel/Slander Laws). Defendants may present their own witnesses and evidence and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. Lack of a witness protection mechanism was a problem. Defendants cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess guilt, although there were reports they sometimes were. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, but courts may try defendants in their absence.

Those convicted had access to appeals courts, but higher courts rarely overturned verdicts. In March parliament approved constitutional changes that abolished the Supreme Court and elevated three existing courts to serve as courts of last resort: the Cour de Cassation (Court of Appeals), Conseil d’Etat (Council of State), and Cour des Comptes (Court of Auditors). These courts have jurisdiction over different types of legal matters. The Cour de Cassation is the highest court of appeals for criminal and civil matters of law. The Conseil d’Etat is the highest court of appeals with respect to administrative disputes. The Cour des Comptes is the supreme auditing institution, tasked with overseeing matters related to public finances and accounts. In addition to these three courts, the Conseil Constitutionnel (Constitutional Council) determines the eligibility of legislative and presidential candidates, adjudicates electoral disputes, certifies election results, and renders judgment on the constitutionality of laws and treaties.

Military tribunals reportedly did not provide defendants the same rights as civilian criminal courts. Human rights organizations did not report any trials of civilians by military tribunals.

The relative scarcity of trained magistrates and lawyers resulted in limited access to effective judicial proceedings, particularly outside of major cities. The government reported 450 magistrates for an estimated population of 27.5 million. In rural areas traditional institutions often administered justice at the village level, handling domestic disputes and minor land questions in accordance with customary law. Dispute resolution was by extended debate. There were no reported instances of physical punishment following such customary procedures. The law specifically provides for a “grand mediator,” appointed by the president, to bridge traditional and modern methods of dispute resolution.

Human rights organizations and political parties asserted that the government used the judicial system to marginalize various opposition figures. In October 2019 authorities convicted Jacques Mangoua, an opposition-aligned elected official, of illegal possession of munitions after a one-day trial and sentenced him to five years in prison, several months of which he served before being released on bail in March pending his appeal. In April, Guillaume Soro, a prominent opposition figure and then aspiring presidential candidate living abroad in self-exile, was convicted in absentia of embezzlement and money laundering. Soro was also charged in absentia, in December 2019. Soro’s trial followed, by a week, an African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in Tanzania ordered a stay of Soro’s arrest warrant on the grounds that it “could seriously compromise [his] freedom and political rights.” One week after the ACHPR’s decision, Ivoirian authorities then delivered a summons to Soro’s vacant residence, convened a one-day trial without legal representation for Soro, and convicted and sentenced Soro to a 20-year prison sentence and a substantial fine. (Note: In November, Soro called for security forces and the population to overthrow the Ivoirian government. End Note.).

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government denied there were political prisoners, however multiple members of opposition parties were arrested at the end of 2019 and during the year on various criminal charges.

In December 2019 authorities arrested several supporters of Guillaume Soro, including five members of parliament, on charges of publishing false news and undermining public order and the authority of the state. In April the ACHPR in Tanzania ruled that the arrest warrant against those detained be stayed and that those detained be released, on the grounds that their incarceration “exposed them to a serious risk of being deprived of the enjoyment of their rights…and…may lead to irreparable harm.” In September, the government released some of those detained on several conditions, including that all abstain from contacting each other and engaging in cyber activism. Several others remained in detention.

Officials reportedly granted prisoners who were members of opposition parties the same protections as other prisoners, including access by international human rights organizations.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There were credible reports the country attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as a reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country. After Guillaume Soro on November 4 called for the armed forces to overthrow the government, the government charged some opposition leaders with sedition and terrorism and issued an international arrest warrant for Soro and three associates living in France (see section 1.e, Denial of Fair Public Trial and section 3, Recent Elections).

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was subject to corruption and outside influence. Citizens may bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights abuse, but they did so infrequently. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies such as the ACHPR. In April, however, the government withdrew its recognition of the ACHPR’s jurisdiction in matters brought by Ivoirian nonstate actors, effective April 2021.

Property Restitution

In January the government evicted the residents of more than 600 households living illegally on state-owned land abutting Abidjan’s Felix Houphouet-Boigny International Airport and demolished houses located within 50 yards of the airport’s perimeter. Some evicted persons whose houses were not demolished returned to their homes. Prior to eviction the government declared the land was intended for future airport expansion, and in late 2019 distributed leaflets instructing residents to vacate and marked with paint the houses slated for demolition. A community group stated that residents were warned by authorities several times they were subject to eviction from the land. The local mayor provided each evicted household with 30,000 CFA francs ($52). The government did not provide compensation, stating that no compensation was due because these persons had occupied the land illegally, but promised to provide alternative land for those whose houses had been demolished to construct new homes. As of September the government had not identified a site for resettlement.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. The law requires warrants for security personnel to conduct searches, the prosecutor’s agreement to retain any evidence seized in a search, and the presence of witnesses in a search, which may take place at any time. Human rights organizations alleged that in December 2019 several incarcerated opposition figures’ homes were searched without proper documentation.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted both rights.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, and rebellion, as well as insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government. Sometimes the government took steps to remove such content from social media, including in January when an anonymous Facebook user called for deadly violence against Roman Catholics. Other times the practical application of this law raised questions of political influence. In August, Edith Gbalet Pulcherie, a civil society organization leader, used social media to call for demonstrations against President Ouattara’s intention to seek a third term of office. Several opposition parties and individuals also called for demonstrations for the same purpose. Several demonstrations occurred around the country shortly thereafter, some of which degenerated into riots. Pulcherie and three other members of that organization were arrested and charged with inciting those riots, as well as with disturbing public order, calling for insurrection, violence and assault, and destruction of public and private property. The government cited the accused’s social media posts calling for protests, but no further evidence, to substantiate the charges.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The law bans “detention of journalists in police custody, preventive detention, and imprisonment of journalists for offense committed by means of press or by others means of publication.” The law, however, provides for substantial fines for anybody found guilty of committing offenses by means of press or by others means of publication.

Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published editorials condemning the government. Journalistic standards were flouted by regime and opposition-aligned media outlets, sometimes leading to allegations of defamation, and subsequent counterallegations that opposition media were more likely to be charged for that offense.

The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations and is generally viewed as supportive of the government and more likely to impose sanctions on media close to the opposition. Opposition groups and civil society criticized the government’s control over the main state-owned television station, claiming it gave far more coverage to the ruling party’s political activities. There were numerous independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by community radio stations, but the regulatory authority allows community radio stations to run political programs if they employ professional journalists. The owners of these stations, however, reported they often self-censored and avoided broadcasting political content, such as political debates and interviews with political leaders, because they feared being sanctioned or shut down by the communications authority.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation by authorities due to their reporting.

On March 25, Sindou Cisse and Marc Dossa, two journalists affiliated with Generations Nouvelles, an opposition-aligned newspaper, were found guilty of publishing “fake news” when they reported on the existence of COVID-19 cases in prisons. They were sentenced to substantial fines.

On March 31, a court sentenced Vamara Coulibaly, director of publication of the newspaper Soir Info, and Paul Koffi, director of publication for the newspaper Nouveau Reveil, to substantial fines for spreading false news when they printed a letter on March 29 from lawyers for arrested opposition Member of Parliament Alain Lobognon in which they complained about prison conditions in which their client was being held.

In May media reported security officials had beaten Claude Dasse, a journalist investigating a rumored prisoner extortion scheme by officials at the country’s main prison. When Dasse arrived at the prison for a scheduled interview with the warden, he was instead met by a prison official implicated in the investigation. The official reportedly had guards beat Dasse and hold him in a prison cell for several hours. Before releasing Dasse, the official reportedly warned him he would be killed if he reported the encounter. Although Dasse alleged that an investigation opened by the local prosecutor established that he had been assaulted and held against his will, authorities had taken no further action on the case as of December.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. Both independent journalists and journalists affiliated with the state-owned media said they regularly exercised self-censorship to avoid sanctions or reprisals from government officials. The National Press Authority, the government’s print media regulatory body, briefly suspended or reprimanded newspapers and journalists for statements it contended were false, libelous, or perceived to incite xenophobia and hate. Human rights organizations reported legal intimidation had a chilling effect on media coverage of certain topics, and media often only believed themselves to be secure publishing stories critical of the government after the same reporting had appeared in international publications.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by six months to five years in prison and substantial fines.

In March the gendarmerie summoned Yacouba Gbane and Barthelemy Tehin, two journalists working for an opposition-aligned newspaper, for questioning in connection with an editorial alleging government corruption. The journalists were charged, prosecuted, and found guilty of defaming the state the same day. Each was subjected to a substantial fine.

Internet Freedom

There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, except that the latter were restricted, along with many other public activities, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes restricted the freedom of peaceful assembly.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. The law requires groups that wish to hold demonstrations or rallies in stadiums or other enclosed spaces to submit a written notice to the government at least three days before the proposed event. The organizers must receive the government’s authorization in order to proceed.

Numerous opposition political parties reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permits. Several human rights organizations affirmed the routine unequal treatment of opposition political parties and reported that opposition political party gatherings were sometimes dispersed with excessive force by security personnel.

In December 2019 some local authorities prohibited public demonstrations through early January, shortly before two opposition-planned marches and political gatherings across the country. In August the government suspended demonstrations on public roads through mid-September (later extended through November 1), following a spate of protests opposing President Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term.

Protests in various locations in response to President Ouattara’s candidacy turned violent, and protesters clashed with both police and other civilian supporters. Human rights organizations alleged that, during one anti-Ouattara protest in August, security forces in Abidjan allowed groups of civilian men, some armed with machetes and sticks, to attack demonstrators, seriously injuring one person. Security authorities announced an investigation into those attacks.

On October 19, the Student and Scholastic Federation of Cote d’Ivoire, called a 72-hour strike to protest school fees. At the Abidjan campus of the Felix Houphouet-Boigny University, the strike included violent clashes between student federation members and machete wielding nonstudent youth, leaving several injured.

In mid-November the government reported that several investigations confirmed that, since August, 85 persons had been killed, 484 injured, and 225 arrested in connection with election-related protests or clashes, many of them between groups of supporters of rival political parties. Some of those arrested included protesters marching peacefully but without government authorization.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law do not specifically provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: There were reports of impediments to internal travel. Although some roadblocks set up by security forces served legitimate security purposes, extortion of bribes was sometimes reported.

In March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government declared a state of emergency and implemented a nationwide nightly curfew. During the first week of the curfew, videos of security forces using heavy handed and sometimes physical enforcement tactics circulated widely on social media. In response, the government issued a statement reassuring the population of its intention to enforce the curfew in ways that “respect human rights.” Images later circulating via media sources showed security forces and public officials discussing curfew enforcement and COVID-19 test site construction with the public in various neighborhoods in Abidjan. In April, four soldiers, including a colonel, were arrested and referred to a military tribunal for allegedly harassing and extorting civilians not in compliance with the curfew.

As part of the state of emergency, the government also established a “cordon sanitaire” intended to prevent the spread of the virus by requiring permits for persons to leave or enter Abidjan. There were credible reports of bribery at some of those checkpoints. The state of emergency was lifted on July 15.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

As of mid-December international organizations and the government estimated there were approximately 3,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country as a result of feared or experienced violence associated with the October 31 presidential election. International organizations also reported that the number had been as high as 5,530 persons before IDPs began to return home voluntarily in late November and early December. The government actively coordinated with international organizations to register and deliver services to the IDPs.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government was generally hospitable towards refugees, who enjoyed most rights and freedoms afforded to citizens. Returnees were generally well received by communities and administrative authorities; however, competition over limited resources, the lack of public infrastructure, and property rights disputes in areas of return affected social cohesion between nationals, returnees, and migrants.

Access to Asylum: The constitution, international conventions and treaties the country is party to, and executive orders provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established an administrative system for providing protection to refugees. There is no national asylum law. Asylum seekers awaiting adjudication of their application enjoy a full set of basic rights, including freedom of movement, health care, and education. Asylum seekers are not entitled to work until they receive refugee status.

Freedom of Movement: Refugee documents, including a refugee identity card issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, allowed refugees to move freely in the country, with refugees younger than age 14 included on their parents’ documents.

Durable Solutions: UNHCR reported it is almost impossible for refugees to be naturalized, except through marriage to an Ivoirian national. UNHCR was only aware of one case of nonmarital naturalization: a resident living in the country for more than 20 years who was granted nationality through a presidential decree.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection for individuals who did not qualify as refugees under the relevant UN conventions and were denied asylum. Nationals of members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) may remain in the country with a valid identification document (i.e., a national identity card or passport) from their country of origin. Non-ECOWAS African nationals and nationals of other countries must obtain a residency permit within 90 days of their asylum claim rejection or face deportation. To obtain a residency permit, non-ECOWAS African nations must submit their asylum rejection letter and pay a substantial fee. Residency permit requirements for other nationals are based on reciprocity between the country and the applicant’s country of origin.

g. Stateless Persons

The government did not report the number of persons believed to be stateless during the year. The migrant parents of many children born in the country did not register their children, thus placing these children at risk of statelessness. With birth registration a requirement for citizenship, all unregistered children were at risk of statelessness. UNHCR estimated there were almost 519,000 abandoned children and foundlings (i.e., abandoned children of unknown parentage), who were at risk of statelessness because they could not prove their citizenship through their parents, as required under the law. Such children were deprived of the opportunity to attend high school (which is legally compulsory until the age of 16, but also requires the presentation of identity documents as part of the enrollment process), and, as adults, would be unable to open a bank account, travel abroad freely, or vote or exercise other political rights, such as running for office.

Stateless persons reportedly faced numerous significant additional difficulties, such as in accessing health services, marrying civilly, or receiving an inheritance. Social stigma and harassment can also accompany statelessness.

The government has policies to resolve the status of certain stateless persons. The country has adopted a legal process for identifying and protecting stateless persons. Two regulations signed in September formally establish procedures for some individuals to petition the government for a formal determination of statelessness status. According to UNHCR this determination would pave the way for some stateless persons to receive identity documents and access to other legal processes. As of December the government had not yet begun to adjudicate cases under these new mechanisms.

From 2018 through September 2019, judges in seven cities issued nationality certificates to more than 100 children of unknown parentage. A Catholic parish in Abidjan began a program in March 2019 to help parishioners navigate the cumbersome and costly procedure for obtaining birth certificates for any parishioner’s child born in the country.

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 adult suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election on October 31. The lead-up to the election was marked by intense political maneuvering by the regime and opposition, acrimonious and divisive rhetoric, protests, and largely civilian-on-civilian violence.

The opposition vociferously contested President Ouattara’s decision to seek a third term following the July death of the ruling coalition’s candidate. Although the opposition argued that President Ouattara was precluded from running due to a term limit, the Constitutional Council, which the Ivoirian constitution empowers to validate presidential candidacies, validated Ouattara’s candidacy on September 14 on the grounds that it would be his first term under the 2016 Constitution. The Council also validated the candidacies of three prominent opposition figures but rejected those of 40 other contenders, specifying in each case which eligibility criteria the contender failed to meet. Before and after the election, opposition leaders repeatedly alleged the Council was inherently biased toward the ruling coalition. UN, ECOWAS, and African Union officials visited the country several times during the electoral period to encourage a tension-calming dialogue between the government and the opposition but did not recommend a revision of the Council’s decision on candidacies.

Among those barred from competition were prominent opposition figures Guillaume Soro and former president Laurent Gbagbo, both rejected due to domestic criminal convictions. Following the Constitutional Council’s announcement, the ACHPR issued two separate rulings on September 15 and September 25 ordering the government to permit Soro and Gbagbo to run for election. The government did not respond directly to either ruling but indicated in public statements that it did not consider the ACHPR’s rulings binding given its April announcement that it was withdrawing from the optional protocol that allowed nonstate actors to petition the Court.

Election-related protests and violence escalated immediately before the election, particularly in mid-October after the opposition launched a campaign of “civil disobedience” and an “active boycott” designed to prevent the election from occurring unless the government conceded to opposition demands. In addition to violent clashes between civilians, many criminal acts occurred during the campaign: media reported multiple incidents of vandalism, including the burning of Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) field offices, theft and destruction of voter cards, and construction of crude roadblocks by opposition-aligned youth to obstruct major roads.

Scattered, disruptive, and occasionally deadly unrest continued on election day in several locations in the central and southern parts of the country. Reported incidents included theft and destruction of electoral materials, civilian-on-civilian clashes, ransacked polling stations, and roadblocks around polling stations, which suppressed voter participation. The CEI confirmed that 21 percent of polling stations were not operational on election day–October 31–due to disruptions. International election observers reported the same but also noted that, in some cases, polling sites did not open because election officials failed to deploy necessary voter equipment and materials. At polling sites that did open, voting generally took place without incident although observers noted scattered minor irregularities, such as sites opening late or closing early and election officials struggling, without apparent malicious intent, to tabulate results accurately. In mid-November, the government reported that its investigations confirmed that since August, 85 persons had been killed and 484 injured, including several members of the security forces, in election-related violence.

International election observers differed in their overall assessments of the election. The African Union stated the election “was held in an overall satisfactory manner.” The International Election Observation Mission of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa and The Carter Center found that officials “generally adhered to voting procedures in the majority of the polling stations visited,” but criticized the political climate in which the election took place as “not allow[ing] for a genuinely competitive election.” The CEI ultimately reported a voter participation rate of almost 54 percent of registered voters at the polling stations that were able to open. If calculated on the basis of the country’s full list of approximately 7.5 million registered voters, the stated turnout would have been approximately 42.9 percent. On November 9, the Constitutional Council certified that President Ouattara had won re-election with 94.27 percent of the vote. President Ouattara was sworn in for a third term on December 14.

On November 2, the opposition, asserting that President Ouattara was no longer president, announced the establishment of a National Transitional Council. On November 4, via social media from France, Guillaume Soro claimed in his capacity as a member of the transitional council that President Ouattara no longer had the constitutional power to command the armed forces and called for them to overthrow him. The government subsequently announced charges of sedition and terrorism against 20 senior opposition figures involved in the Council’s creation. Although one leading opposition member was provisionally released in late December, several individuals arrested on those charges remained incarcerated. On November 18, the government issued an international arrest warrant for Soro and three of his aides requesting their extradition from France.

Prior to the 2018 senatorial elections, the CEI declared it would restrict observers from remaining in the voting stations throughout the day, but later reversed its decision. Diplomatic observers and local civil society groups judged the elections to be peaceful and credible.

The law requires the national voter registry to be updated annually. The registry was not updated in 2019, but was in June and July. CEI staff generally appeared well prepared to execute that process, although some opposition parties reported their members’ difficulty obtaining documents required to prove their eligibility to vote. The government extended the registration period twice and, midway through the registration process, extended the validity of existing national identity cards so that holders could register and vote in the October presidential election without having to obtain new biometric identity cards before June. The extension had been a key demand of the opposition.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Although the law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic or religious lines, there have historically been links between ethnic groups and specific political parties.

Throughout the year, opposition parties reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permits. Following the August government ordinance banning demonstrations in public thoroughfares, and subsequent arrests of opposition supporters participating in unauthorized demonstrations, media broadcast images of ruling coalition supporters marching unimpeded through the streets en route to the formal nomination of President Ouattara as its presidential candidate.

An ACHPR ruling to affect greater political party balance and public confidence in the CEI’s work led the government to overhaul that institution in July 2019. Many opposition parties chose to boycott the overhaul negotiation, were not invited to join the CEI once it was reconstituted, and subsequently appealed against the legality and impartiality of the institution. In July the ACHPR ruled that the CEI was not illegal or fundamentally biased, but that the ruling coalition had controlled the nomination and leadership election process in ways that undermined public confidence in the impartiality of the institution. President Ouattara had by then invited the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, the country’s largest unified opposition party, to join the CEI, and the government announced it would rerun elections for leadership positions at local levels of the CEI organization. As of December, the Democratic Party’s representative had not taken his oath of office due to continued political disagreements. On September 30, the Ivorian Popular Front, the only party previously represented in the CEI that the broader opposition accepted as an authentic opposition party, suspended its participation due to its overall objection to the electoral process.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Of 253 National Assembly (lower legislative body) members, 29 were women, the same number as in 2017-19. Of 99 Senate (upper legislative body) members, 19 were women, including 11 of 33 appointed by President Ouattara in April 2019 and eight of 66 elected in 2018.

Members of the transgender community reported difficulty obtaining identity and voting documents. Electoral staff and fellow voters at polling sites for the October presidential election were observed assisting voters with disabilities, such as those who were unable to walk up stairs or legally blind individuals. The same assistance was offered during the June-July voter registration process due to a lack of government-provided accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

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 were reported to engage frequently in corrupt practices with impunity. Human rights organizations reported official corruption, particularly in the judiciary, police, and security forces, but noted that victims of such corruption often did not report it or assist in investigations, fearing retaliation. In September 2019 the High Authority for Good Government (HABG), a government anticorruption authority, issued a communique announcing measures to end unauthorized charges for the delivery of administrative documents. Civil society groups and government officials reported the HABG was not empowered to act independently or to take decisive action. The HABG can make recommendations, but the public prosecutor must decide to take up a case. Additionally, the constitutionally mandated High Court of Justice to judge members of government, including the president and vice-president, for crimes committed during the exercise of their official functions has not been established.

Corruption: Human rights organizations reported government authorities awarded many contracts to persons or businesses without following procurement rules and often with little notice. In July 2019 the government endorsed a new public-procurement code to increase the transparency of the public-procurement process. In August the government’s public procurement regulatory authority launched an EU-funded audit program to investigate more than 200 sole-source public procurements that occurred between 2014 and 2017.

Financial Disclosure: A presidential decree requires the head of state, ministers, heads of national institutions, and directors of administration to disclose their income and assets. The HABG requires public officials to submit a wealth declaration within 30 days of the beginning of their term in office. The declaration is confidential, but the list of those who declared their wealth is publicly accessible in the official government journal. Officials who did not comply or provided a false declaration faced substantial fines. There were no cases during the year when the veracity of a declaration was questioned or sanctions employed. The procedures for reviewing the declaration of assets were not included in the implementing decree. The law requires the HABG to retain declarations of assets for at least 10 years.

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

A number of international and domestic human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials met with some of those groups, sometimes at very senior levels. While the government was somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views, depending on the topic or case, it was at other times defensive about more sensitive topics.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is responsible for implementing the government’s policy on human rights. In January 2019 the National Commission for Human Rights, an advisory body that consults on, conducts evaluations of, and creates proposals to promote and defend human rights, became the National Council for Human Rights. The change was intended to provide the council with more financial and operational autonomy. The organization remained nevertheless fully dependent on funding from the government, donors, or both, and human rights organizations continued to question its independence and effectiveness. As of October 2019, the human rights council had 31 regional commissions and seven thematically focused departments. The civilian-controlled Special Investigative Cell within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights investigates persons responsible for human rights abuses committed during the postelectoral crisis of 2010-11. Information on prosecutions against suspects was not readily available.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and provides for prison terms of five to 20 years for perpetrators. The law does not specifically penalize spousal rape, and there is a rebuttable presumption of consent in marital rape cases. The court may impose a life sentence in cases of gang rape if the rapists are related to or hold positions of authority over the victim, or if the victim is younger than age 15. Media and NGOs reported that rape of schoolgirls by teachers was a problem, but the government did not provide information on charges filed.

A local human rights organization that supports the rights of persons with disabilities reported a man was sentenced to a 20-year prison term for the April 2019 murder of his pregnant girlfriend, a woman with disabilities. The same organization reported that the 2019 rape and killing of another teenage girl with disabilities remained unsolved as of September.

Survivors were often discouraged from pursuing criminal cases, with their families often accepting payment as compensation. A human rights organization cited a recent case in which a rape victim with disabilities’ father brought a complaint against the rapist and then withdrew it upon receiving a private payment from the assailant. The mother of the victim, wanting her own compensation, threatened to file a complaint and then refused to do so after receiving a payment from the assailant. There was at least one report of security forces intervening to persuade a family to file criminal charges rather than accept private compensation for a sexual assault on their minor child.

Although rape victims were no longer legally required to obtain a medical certificate, some human rights organizations reported that victim who did not do so encountered difficulties in moving their cases forward. Obtaining a medical certificate could be costly. In the first half of the year, the government reported authorities accepted 50 rape cases for investigation without a medical certificate.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law specifically forbids FGM/C and provides penalties for practitioners of up to five years’ imprisonment and substantial fines. Double penalties apply to medical practitioners, including doctors, nurses, and medical technicians. Nevertheless, FGM/C remained a problem. The government reported one FGM/C prosecution in the first half of the year. The defendant was fined and sentenced to 24 months in prison. The most recent 2016 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated that the rate of FGM/C nationwide was 36.6 percent, with prevalence varying by region.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Societal violence against women included traditional practices that are illegal, such as dowry deaths (the killing of brides over dowry disputes), levirate (forcing a widow to marry her dead husband’s brother), and sororate (forcing a woman to marry her dead sister’s husband). The government did not provide information regarding the prevalence or rate of prosecution for such violence or forced activity during the year but stated that no deaths were linked to these practices.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes penalties of one-to–three years’ imprisonment and fines. Nevertheless, the government rarely, if ever, enforced the law, and harassment was widespread and routinely tolerated.

Reproductive Rights: The law provides for full and equal access to reproductive health information and services to all men and women ages 15 and older. Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and had access to the information and means to do so, free from coercion, discrimination, or violence. Government policy required emergency health-care services to be available and free to all, but care was not available in all regions, particularly rural areas, and was often expensive.

According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2010-19, 44 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated 82 percent of all women had the autonomy to decide whether to use contraception. Barriers to modern methods of contraception included cost (the government only partially subsidized the cost of some methods of contraception), distance to points of purchase such as pharmacies and clinics, and low or unreliable stocks of certain types of contraception. Other barriers to use included misinformation and hearsay, as well as religious beliefs and biases against marginalized groups.

According to estimates by the WHO, 74 percent of births in 2010-19 were attended by skilled health personnel. Barriers to births attended by skilled health personnel included distance to modern health facilities, cost of prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, and low provider capacity. According to WHO estimates, in 2010-18, the adolescent birth rate was 123 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19.

Health services for survivors of sexual violence existed, but costs of such services were often prohibitive for victims, law enforcement often did not know to refer victims to medical practitioners, and many medical practitioners were not trained in treatment of survivors of sexual violence.

According to estimates by the WHO, UNICEF, the UNFPA, the World Bank, and the United Nations Population Division, in 2017 (the latest year for which data are available), the maternal mortality rate was 617 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 658 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Factors contributing to the high maternal mortality rate were chiefly related to lack of access to quality care. Additionally, local nongovernmental organizations reported women often had to pay for prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, which dissuaded them from using modern facilities and increased the likelihood of maternal mortality. As a result of FGM/C, scarification was common. Scarification can lead to obstructed labor during childbirth, an obstetric complication that is a common cause of maternal deaths, especially in the absence of Caesarean section capability.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men in labor law, although there were also restrictions on women’s employment (see section 7.d.). A 2019 law establishes the right for widows to inherit upon the deaths of their husbands as much as the deceased’s children can. Human rights organizations reported many religious and traditional authorities rejected laws intended to reduce gender-related inequality in household decision-making.

Children

Birth Registration: The law confers citizenship at birth if at least one parent was a citizen when the child was born.

The law provides parents a three-month period to register their child’s birth for a nominal fee. In some parts of the country, the three-month window conflicts with important cultural practices around the naming of children, making birth registration difficult for many families. To register births after the first three months, families must also pay a fine. For older children, authorities may require a doctor’s age assessment and other documents. To continue to secondary school, children must pass an exam for which identity documents are required. As a result children without documents could not continue their studies after primary school. The government, with the support of UNICEF, requires healthcare workers in maternity wards and at immunization sites to complete birth registration forms automatically when providing services. According to UNICEF this service was offered during the year in nearly 62 percent of the country’s health centers and, since the beginning of the program, health workers have completed registration paperwork for 85,779 newborns out of 94,892 live births, a registration rate of 90 percent.

Education: Primary schooling is obligatory, free, and open to all. Education was thus ostensibly free and compulsory for children ages six to 16, but families generally reported being asked to pay school fees, either to receive their children’s records or pay for school supplies. In principle students’ families do not have to pay for books or user fees, but families usually covered some schooling expenses not covered by the government. Parents also often contributed to teachers’ salaries and living stipends, particularly in rural areas. Parents of children not in compliance with the law were reportedly subject to substantial fines or two to six months in jail, but this was seldom, if ever, enforced, and many children did not attend or have access to school.

Girls participated in education at lower rates than boys, particularly in rural areas. Although girls initially enrolled at a higher rate, their participation dropped below boys’ because of a cultural tendency to keep girls at home to care for younger siblings or do other domestic work, and due to reported sexual harassment of female students by teachers and other staff. In April 2019 the Ministry of National Education created a new gender unit to focus on improving education and training for girls and women. The gender unit sponsored several events during the year, including a celebration of International Day of the Girl and a training for community leaders and parents on preventing pregnancy among school-aged girls.

Child Abuse: The penalty for statutory rape, or attempted rape, of a child younger than age 16 is a prison sentence of one to three years and a substantial fine. In March the government published a report detailing the findings of a 2018 study carried out with the support of international donors on violence against children and youth younger than age 18. The study found that 19 percent of girls and 11 percent of boys had been victims of sexual violence and 47 percent of girls and 61 percent of boys had been victims of physical violence. In 2019 the government investigated 59 cases of sexual abuse of minors and 37 child rape cases. In the first half of the year, the government reported two child rape convictions and four pending prosecutions. In February authorities arrested the relatives of a nine-year-old who died while being raped for not reporting the crime and for aiding in the rapist’s escape. To assist child victims of violence and abuse, the government cooperated with UNICEF to strengthen the child protection network in areas such as case management, the implementation of evidence-based prevention programs, and data collection and analysis.

Responsibility for combating child abuse lies with the Ministries of Employment, Social Affairs, and Professional Training; Justice and Human Rights; Women, Families, and Children; Solidarity, Social Cohesion, and the Fight against Poverty; and National Education. International organizations and civil society groups reported that lack of coordination among the ministries hampered their effectiveness.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: A law passed in July 2019 equalized the legal age for marriage for women and men at 18. The law prohibits marriage of women and men younger than 18 without parental consent. The law specifically penalizes anyone who forces a minor younger than 18 to enter a religious or customary matrimonial union. Nevertheless, reports of traditional marriages involving at least one minor spouse persisted.

In 2017 (most recent data available) according to UNICEF, 27 percent of girls were married by age 18 and 7 percent by age 15. In September media reported that a 15-year-old girl had been forced to marry a 29-year-old man in a customary marriage and was subjected to repeated abuse until she stabbed him to death in self-defense. Authorities arrested the girl and she confessed to the homicide; however, the public prosecutor ultimately released her and entrusted her to the Child and Youth Judicial Protection Service.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The law prohibits the use, recruitment, or offering of minors for commercial sex or use in pornographic films, pictures, or events. Violators can receive prison sentences ranging from five to 20 years and substantial fines. Statutory rape of a minor carries a punishment of one to three years in prison and a monetary fine.

The country is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to trafficking in persons, including sex trafficking.

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

Displaced Children: Human rights organizations reported thousands of children countrywide lived on the streets and were frequently subject to harassment by authorities. The government implemented a program to reduce the number of homeless minors. Officials in the Ministry of Youth opened several centers in a few cities where at-risk youth could live and receive training. A charity associated with First Lady Dominique Ouattara broke ground on a shelter to house former juvenile offenders. There was no information on the number of minors assisted in 2020.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community numbered fewer than 100 persons, including foreign residents and Ivoirian converts. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution contains protections for persons with disabilities. The law requires the government to educate and train persons with physical, mental, visual, auditory, and cerebral motor disabilities; hire them or help them find jobs; design houses and public facilities for wheelchair access; and adapt machines, tools, and work spaces for access and use by persons with disabilities as well as to provide them access to the judicial system. The law prohibits acts of violence against persons with disabilities and the abandonment of such persons. These laws were not effectively enforced.

Political campaigns did not include braille or sign language, undercutting civic participation by persons with vision and hearing disabilities. The CEI did not provide any formal accommodations for persons with disabilities at polling sites for the October presidential election, although observers reported CEI staff assisting persons with disabilities during both the presidential election and the June-July voter registration period on an ad hoc basis, including by physically carrying registration documents down to ground level of a building if the registration center was located on a higher floor.

Persons with disabilities reportedly encountered serious discrimination in employment and education. Prisons and detention centers reportedly provided no accommodations for persons with disabilities. Although the law requires measures to provide persons with disabilities access to transportation and buildings and designated parking spots, human rights organizations reported these provisions were frequently not implemented around the country.

The government financially supported some separate schools, training programs, associations, and artisans’ cooperatives for persons with disabilities, located primarily in Abidjan, but human rights organizations reported these schools functioned primarily as literacy centers and did not offer the same educational materials and programs as other schools. The government made efforts to recruit persons with disabilities for select government positions. Nonetheless, it was difficult for children with disabilities to obtain an adequate education if their families did not have sufficient resources. Although public schools did not bar students with disabilities from attending, such schools lacked the resources to accommodate them. In some instances, provisions were financed by private donations. Homelessness among persons with mental disabilities was reportedly common.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The country has more than 60 ethnic groups; human rights organizations reported ethnic discrimination was a problem. Authorities considered approximately 25 percent of the population foreign, although many within this category were second or third generation residents. Land ownership laws remained unclear and unimplemented, resulting in conflicts between native populations and other groups.

The law prohibits xenophobia, racism, and tribalism and makes these forms of intolerance punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. During the presidential election period, numerous interethnic (referred to as intercommunal in the country) clashes occurred. A particularly violent clash in Dabou between two ethnic groups, Malinke and Adjoukrou claimed 16 lives and injured 67 persons. Government officials found that the violence had been instigated by unidentified outside actors wanting to stoke the conflict, potentially for political gain, but did not say whether the actors were progovernment or opposition. Security forces deployed to the town to restore order and remained on the scene for several days.

In November, brutal intercommunal conflicts broke out in the rural interior towns of Daoukro, between Baoule and Malinke, and in M’Batto, between Agni and Malinke. The government recorded six deaths in Daoukro and three deaths in M’Batto, including two cases of persons burned to death and one beheading, although one opposition party claimed the actual death toll was much higher.

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

Homosexuality is not criminalized, but public heterosexual and same-sex intimate activity is subject to conviction as a form of public indecency that carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment. In July 2019 the government made minor changes to the law, but human rights organizations reported the changes did not prevent tacit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Human rights organizations reported the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community continued to face discrimination and violence. Authorities were at times slow and ineffective in their response to societal violence targeting the LGBTI community. Further, LGBTI persons often did not report violence committed or threatened against them, including assault or homicide, because they did not believe authorities would take their complaints seriously. LGBTI community members reported being evicted from their homes by landlords or by their own families. Familial rejection of LGBTI youth often caused them to become homeless and drop out of school. Members of the LGBTI community reported discrimination in access to health care.

In February a gay man was reportedly severely beaten by family members after presenting his long-term partner publicly at his birthday party. The next day, his uncle told him he would not let his homosexuality tarnish the family’s image and instructed relatives to beat or kill him. After his relatives beat the man, neighbors sheltered him and took him to a health center for treatment. He then took refuge in a church, but congregants demanded the pastor expel him. Information regarding authorities’ response to this incident was not readily available.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no credible reports of official discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status, and the government respected the confidentiality of individuals’ HIV/AIDS status. The government adhered to global standards of patient rights, and a statement of these rights was posted or available at health facilities. The law expressly condemns all forms of discrimination against persons with HIV and provides for their access to care and treatment. The law also prescribes punishment for refusal of care or discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status. Social stigma persists.

The Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene managed a program within the National AIDS Control Program to assist vulnerable populations at high risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS (including but not limited to men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers, persons who inject drugs, prisoners, and migrants). The Ministry of Women, Families, and Child Protection oversaw a program that directed educational, psychosocial, nutritional, and economic support to orphans and other vulnerable children, including those infected or affected by HIV.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provides for the right of workers, except members of police and military services, to form or join unions of their choice, provides for the right to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers or others against union members or organizers. The law prohibits firing workers for union activities and provides for the reinstatement of dismissed workers within eight days of winning a wrongful dismissal claim. The law allows unions in the formal sector to conduct their activities without interference. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. Under the law, for a trade union to be considered representative at the business or establishment level, the union must win at least 30 percent of valid ballots cast representing at least 15 percent of registered electors. For broader organizations the trade union must have the support in one or more enterprises together employing at least 15 percent of the employees working in the occupational and geographical sector concerned. Foreigners are required to obtain residency status, which takes three years, before they may hold union office.

The law requires a protracted series of negotiations and a six-day notification period before a strike may take place, making legal strikes difficult to organize and maintain. Workers must maintain a minimum coverage in services whose interruption may endanger lives, security, or health; create a national crisis that threatens the lives of the population; or affect the operation of equipment. Additionally, if authorities deem a strike to be a threat to public order, the president has broad powers to compel strikers to return to work under threat of sanctions. Illegally striking workers may be subjected to criminal penalties, including forced labor. The president also may require that strikes in essential services go to arbitration, although the law does not describe what constitutes essential services.

Apart from large industrial farms and some trades, legal protections excluded most laborers in the informal sector, including small farms, roadside street stalls, and urban workshops.

Before collective bargaining can begin, a union must represent 30 percent of workers. Collective bargaining agreements apply to employees in the formal sector, and many major businesses and civil service sectors had them. Although the law may allow employers to refuse to negotiate, there were no complaints about this from unions pending with the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes.

There were no complaints pending with the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection of antiunion discrimination or employer interference in union functions.

In March media reported the public health workers’ union threatened to strike if the government did not provide them with personal protective equipment and hazard pay, in view of the risks of contracting COVID-19. The government met the union’s demands to prevent disruption of health services.

In July union members at the government-run center for agricultural research went on strike complaining of delayed salary payments and demanding research premiums; the government refused to meet the union’s demands.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits, and provides criminal penalties for, all forms of human trafficking, including for the purposes of forced labor or slavery. The law grants government officials broad power to requisition labor for “national economic and social promotion,” in violation of international standards. Judges may propose that defendants convicted of certain crimes perform physical labor for the benefit of the state as an alternative to incarceration, but the defendant must accept the terms of such a sentence.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The government did not provide enough resources or conduct enough inspections to enforce compliance. Forced and compulsory labor continued to occur in small-scale and commercial production of agricultural products, particularly on cocoa, coffee, pineapple, cashew, and rubber plantations, and in the informal labor sector, such as in domestic work, nonindustrial farm labor, artisanal mines, street shops, and restaurants.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 16 years although the minimum age for apprenticeships is 14. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18 years. Minors younger than 18 may not work at night. Although the law prohibits the exploitation of children in the workplace, the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection did not enforce the law effectively outside the civil service and large national and multinational companies.

The National Monitoring Committee on Actions to Fight Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Labor, chaired by the First Lady, and the Interministerial Committee for the Fight against Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Labor are responsible for assessing government and donor actions on child labor.

The law prohibits child trafficking and the worst forms of child labor. The government took active steps to address the worst forms of child labor. In June 2019 the government launched the 2019-21 National Action Plan for the Fight against the Worst Forms of Child Labor. In July 2019, as part of the National Action Plan, the government reached an agreement with Burkina Faso to prevent unaccompanied minors from entering the country. The budget for the 2019-21 National Action Plan, although higher than the previous plan’s, has not yet been fully funded by its government and international organization partners. Periodic, standardized data collection efforts remain weak. Efforts to counter child labor in sectors besides the cocoa industry, such as palm oil, cotton, and artisanal gold mining, also remain weak. Separately from the National Action Plan, a private foundation led by the First Lady was building a shelter for victims of trafficking in the northern part of the country, after inaugurating a similar center in the southwest.

The Department of the Fight against Child Labor within the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, along with the two antitrafficking committees, led enforcement efforts. The government’s National Action Plan calls for efforts to improve access to education and health care for children and income-generating activities for their families, as well as nationwide surveys, awareness campaigns, and other projects with local NGOs to highlight the dangers associated with child labor. The government engaged in partnerships with the International Labor Organization, UNICEF, and the International Cocoa Initiative to implement these measures.

The List of Light Work Authorized for Children between 13 and 16 Years of Age introduces and defines the concept of “socializing work,” unpaid work that teaches children to be productive members of the society. The list states that a child cannot perform any work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. or during regular school hours, that light work should not exceed 14 hours a week, and that it should not involve more than two hours on a school day or more than four hours a day during vacation. In late 2016 basic education became compulsory for children aged six to 16, increasing school attendance rates and reducing the number of children looking for work.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Child labor remained a problem, particularly in artisanal gold and diamond mines, on agricultural plantations (generally small plots), and in domestic work. Within agriculture, the worst forms of child labor were particularly prevalent in the cocoa and coffee sectors. Inspections during the year did not result in investigations into child labor crimes. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for comparable crimes but were seldom applied. The number of inspectors and resources for enforcement were insufficient to enforce the law.

Children routinely worked on family farms or as vendors, shoe shiners, errand runners, domestic helpers, street restaurant vendors, and car watchers and washers. Some girls as young as nine years old reportedly worked as domestic servants, often within their extended family networks. Children working on farms faced hazardous conditions, including risk of injury from machetes, physical strain from carrying heavy loads, and exposure to harmful chemicals. According to international organizations, child labor was reported increasingly on cashew plantations and in illegal gold mines, although no official studies had been conducted. A study released in July found that child labor in the cocoa sector had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused schools to be closed from March to May.

To help prevent child trafficking, the government regulated the travel of minors into and out of the country, requiring children and parents to provide documentation of family ties, including at least a birth certificate.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equal access to public or private employment and prohibits any discrimination in access to or in the pursuit of employment on the basis of sex, ethnicity, or political, religious, or philosophical opinions.

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The law specifically prohibits workplace discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status but does not address other communicable diseases. The law includes provisions to promote access to employment for persons with disabilities: it stipulates that employers must reserve a quota of jobs for qualified applicants, but does not provide penalties for employment discrimination.

The government did not effectively enforce its antidiscrimination laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes. Human rights organizations continued to report discrimination with respect to gender, nationality, disability, and sexual orientation and gender identity. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in certain occupations and industries, including in mining, construction, and factories, but no known limitations on working hours based on sex. The government indicated that if a woman wanted to carry out any of the work on the “prohibited list,” she needed to contact an inspector at the Ministry of Labor. While women in the formal sector received the same pay and paid the same taxes as men, reports of a reticence to hire women persisted.

While women in the formal sector received the same pay and paid the same taxes as men, reports of a reticence to hire women persisted.

While the law provides the same protections for migrant workers in the formal sector as it does for citizens, most faced discrimination in terms of wages and treatment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage varied by sector. The minimum wage in all sectors exceeded the government’s estimated poverty level. The Ministry of Employment and Social Protection is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. Labor unions contributed to effective implementation of the minimum salary requirements in the formal sector. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of the total labor force worked in the informal economy, in which labor standards were generally not enforced. Labor federations advocated for just treatment under the law for workers when companies failed to meet minimum wage requirements or discriminated between classes of workers, such as women or foreign workers. The government started paying back-wages in 2019 based on a 2017 labor agreement reached with public-sector unions.

The law does not stipulate equal pay for equal work. There were no reports authorities took action to rectify the large salary discrepancies between foreign non-African employees and their African (i.e., both foreign African residents and Ivoirians) colleagues employed by the same companies.

The standard legal workweek is 40 hours. The law requires overtime pay for additional hours and provides for at least one 24-consecutive-hour rest period per week. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards in the formal sector, while the informal sector lacks regulation. The government, through the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, developed a 2019-21 strategic plan for conducting labor inspections in the informal sector. With support from the French government, during the year the government began conducting inspections in several industries in the informal sector, including building construction, carpentry, and hair dressing.

The law provides for the establishment of committees of occupational, safety, and health representatives responsible for verifying protection and worker health at workplaces. Such committees are to be composed of union members. The chair of a committee could report unhealthy and unsafe working conditions to the labor inspector without penalty. By law workers in the formal sector have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. They may utilize the inspection system of the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection to document dangerous working conditions. Authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. This labor law and related standards do not apply in the informal sector. The law does not cover several million foreign migrant workers or workers in the informal sector, who accounted for 70 percent of the nonagricultural economy.

The government did not effectively enforce the law appl