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Burundi

Executive Summary

The Republic of Burundi is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected government. The 2018 constitution, promulgated in June, provides for an executive branch that reports to the president, a bicameral parliament, and an independent judiciary. In 2015 voters re-elected President Pierre Nkurunziza and elected National Assembly (lower house) members in elections boycotted by nearly all independent opposition parties that claimed Nkurunziza’s election violated legal term limits. International and domestic observers characterized the elections as largely peaceful but deeply flawed and not free, fair, transparent, nor credible. There were widespread reports of harassment, intimidation, threatening rhetoric, and some violence leading up to the 2018 referendum and reports of compelling citizens to register to vote and contribute financially to the management of the elections planned for 2020.

The National Police of Burundi, which is under the Ministry of Public Security’s authority, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The armed forces, which are under the Ministry of Defense’s authority, are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. The National Intelligence Service (SNR), which reports directly to the president, has arrest and detention authority. The Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party, has no official arrest authority but some were involved in or responsible for numerous detentions and abductions. They routinely assumed the role of state security agents and as such detained and turned over individuals to members of the official security services, in some cases after harassing or physically abusing them. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings on behalf of the government; forced disappearances on behalf of the government; torture on behalf of the government; arbitrary arrest and politicized detention on behalf of the government; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, including elections that were not found to be transparent, free, or fair; significant acts of corruption; trafficking in persons; violence against women to which government negligence significantly contributed; crimes involving violence targeting minority groups and persons with albinism; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and use of forced or compulsory or worst forms of child labor.

The reluctance of police and public prosecutors to investigate and prosecute cases of government corruption and human rights abuse and of judges to hear them in a timely manner resulted in widespread impunity for government and CNDD-FDD officials, and their supporters and proxies.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups struggled to operate in the face of governmental restrictions, harassment, and repression. The law requires CSOs to register with the Ministry of the Interior, a complex process that includes approval for an organization’s activities. Registration must be renewed every two years, and there was no recourse for organizations denied registration or renewal. By law an organization may be suspended permanently for “disturbing public order or harming state security.”

Many human rights defenders who had fled the country in 2015 remained outside the country at year’s end. Those who remained in the country were subjected to threats, intimidation, and arrest. The cases of Germain Rukuki and Nestor Nibitanga, who were convicted in 2018 and remained in jail at year’s end, and three members of PARCEM, who were held from April 2018 until January when they were released following a successful appeal of their convictions, were emblematic of the judicial threats faced by human rights monitors from both recognized and unrecognized organizations.

In 2016 the government banned five CSOs led by opponents to the president having a third term and in January 2017 banned Ligue Iteka. Ligue Iteka and other organizations without official recognition continued to monitor the human rights situation. Members of both recognized and unrecognized organizations reported being subjected to harassment and intimidation and took measures to protect the identities of their employees and their sources. In January the government indefinitely suspended PARCEM for allegedly undermining public order and security.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In December 2018 the government requested that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) close its office in Bujumbura, abrogating the 1995 memorandum of understanding under which the OHCHR worked in the country. The government cited the existence of national institutions as evidence that the OHCHR office was no longer necessary. The government had suspended cooperation with the office in 2016 in response to the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) report that found “reasonable grounds to believe” security forces and Imbonerakure had established multiple detention facilities that were unacknowledged by the prosecutor general and included allegations that senior leaders were personally complicit in human rights violations. On February 28, the OHCHR closed its office.

The UN Human Rights Council created the three-member COI in 2016 to investigate human rights violations since 2015; its mandate was renewed in 2017 and again in September 2018. The government refused to allow commission members to enter the country after publication of the 2016 UNIIB report, did not respond substantively to any requests for information from the commission, and in October 2018 declared the commission members, who never had access to the country, to be officially unwelcome in the country. In September the commission delivered its annual report, finding there was reason to believe that grave violations of human rights and crimes against humanity continued to be committed in the country, including extrajudicial killings, systematic torture, sexual violence, and political oppression. The COI reported these violations were primarily attributable to state officials at the highest level and to senior officials and members of the SNR, police, the Burundian National Defense Forces, and Imbonerakure. Following the annual report, in September its mandate was once again extended. Government officials dismissed the report, and the Ministry of Human Rights broadcast a radio report that stated the government “will never work with the [COI],” adding that the decision to once again extend its mandate was supported by the European Union and other countries “with the objective of maintaining Burundi in a state of colonialism.” They concluded, “The Government of Burundi does not promote human rights to please the international community.”

In 2016 the AU announced it would send 100 human rights monitors and 100 military monitors to the country and stated that the Burundian president supported the deployment. Approximately 40 human rights monitors and eight military monitors deployed in 2016, but the government did not grant permission for the rest of the monitors to enter the country. The 40 monitors stayed in the country until September 2018, when the number was reduced due to a gap in financing. In November 2018 the AU Peace and Security Council voted to extend the mission with reduced staffing levels. According to the AU, the monitors were limited in what they could do because the government had yet to agree on a memorandum of understanding for the monitors. As of October, the 10 civilian and three military AU monitors who remained, and who did not make their reports public, were the only external monitors in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Parties to the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement of 2000 committed to the establishment of an international criminal tribunal, which had yet to be implemented, and a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was adopted into law in April 2014. Between becoming operational in 2016 and October, the TRC gathered testimony and conducted outreach activities under its mandate to investigate and establish the truth regarding serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations committed in the country. The TRC is also mandated to establish individual responsibilities and those of state institutions, individuals, and private groups.

Based on testimonies collected from September 2016 to May 2018, the commission provisionally identified thousands of mass graves of varying size throughout the country dating from the time of its mandate as well as numerous allegations of killings, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and violations of due process rights. Some CSOs and opposition political figures raised concerns that, in view of ongoing human rights abuses, political tensions, a climate of fear and intimidation, fears of retribution for testimony, and restrictions on freedom of expression, conditions were not conducive for an impartial or effective transitional justice process. CSOs cited concerns that the participation of ruling party members in deposition-gathering teams could reduce the willingness of some citizens to testify or share fully their stories. Some of the TRC commissioners were perceived by some CSOs as representing the interests of the ruling party and therefore not impartial. A lack of funding and qualified experts adversely affected the TRC’s ability to operate. The operating environment did not change during the year.

Ombudsman Edouard Nduwimana’s mandate included monitoring prison conditions and encouraging interreligious dialogue. During the year he also focused on dialogue with opposition political parties, both within and outside the country.

The CNIDH, a quasigovernmental body charged with investigating human rights abuses, exercised its power to summon senior officials, demand information, and order corrective action. In 2016 the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) provisionally downgraded CNIDH’s accreditation due to concerns regarding its independence. In February 2018 GANHRI confirmed its decision, suspending CNIDH’s right to participate fully in global meetings with counterparts. The CNIDH also monitored the government’s progress on human rights investigations but did not regularly release its findings to the public. In April a new group of commissioners was appointed to a four-year term and took steps to implement measures to help the CNIDH restore its accreditation.

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

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a centralized constitutional republic. Voters popularly elect the president and the lower house of parliament (National Assembly). Following a two-year delay, presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held on December 30, 2018; however, presidential elections were cancelled in Beni and Butembo, nominally due to an ongoing Ebola outbreak and security concerns, and in Yumbi because of intercommunal violence. Legislative and provincial elections in those regions were held in March. On January 10, the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) declared Felix Tshisekedi the winner of the December 2018 presidential election. His electoral victory was confirmed by the Constitutional Court on January 20, and he was inaugurated on January 24. The 2018 election was marred by irregularities and criticized by some observers, including the Council of Bishops, who said the results did not match those of their observation mission. Many international actors expressed concern over the CENI decision to deny accreditation to several international election observers and media representatives. Some persons questioned the final election results due to press reports of unverified data leaked from unnamed sources alleging opposition candidate Martin Fayulu received the most votes. The election aftermath was calm, with most citizens accepting the outcome. The January 24 inauguration of President Felix Tshisekedi was the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history. On August 26, the president’s Course for Change (CACH) political alliance entered into a power-sharing agreement to form a government with former president Joseph Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) political coalition, which won an absolute majority in the National Assembly. Under the agreement, Tshisekedi’s CACH took 35 percent of ministerial posts, while Kabila’s FCC took 65 percent.

The primary responsibility for law enforcement and public order lies with the Congolese National Police (PNC), which operates under the Ministry of the Interior. The National Intelligence Agency (ANR), overseen by the presidency, is responsible for internal and external intelligence. The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the military intelligence service operate under the control of the Ministry of Defense and are primarily responsible for external security but in reality focus almost exclusively on internal security. The FARDC suffered from weak leadership, poor operational planning, low administrative and logistical capacity, lack of training, and questionable loyalty of some of its soldiers, particularly in the east. The presidency oversees the Republican Guard (RG), and the Ministry of Interior oversees the Directorate General for Migration, which, together with the PNC, are responsible for border control. Civilian authorities did not always maintain control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by government; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests of journalists, censorship, internet blackouts, and criminal libel; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; some restrictions on citizens’ right to change their government through democratic means; serious acts of corruption by the government; trafficking in persons; violence against women and children due in substantial part to government negligence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of national/ethnic/racial minorities, or indigenous people; and crimes involving violence or threat of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and forced labor, including by children.

Impunity for human rights violations and abuses was a problem. Despite the occurrence of some notable trials of military officials, authorities often did not investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government.

Government security forces, as well as illegal armed groups (IAGS), continued to commit abuses, primarily in the east and the Kasai region. These abuses included unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, destruction of government and private property, and sexual and gender-based violence. IAGs also recruited, abducted, and retained child soldiers and forced labor. The government took military action against some IAGs but had limited ability to investigate abuses and bring the accused to trial (see section 1.g.).

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

Elements of the SSF continued to kill, harass, beat, intimidate, and arbitrarily arrest and detain domestic human rights advocates and domestic NGO workers, particularly when the NGOs reported on or supported victims of abuses by the SSF or reported on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the east. In September, Human Rights Watch’s lead analyst for the country, Ida Sawyer, was granted a visa, and returned for the first time in three years. Sawyer–one of the foremost experts on human rights in the country–had been blacklisted under the Kabila regime. She stated she was encouraged by the Tshisekedi administration’s commitment to real change. During the year the government declined to issue or renew visas for some international journalists and researchers. Representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the ANR met with domestic NGOs and sometimes responded to their inquiries.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated at times with investigations by the United Nations and other international bodies but was not consistent in doing so. For example, the government refused to grant the United Nations access to certain detention centers, particularly at military installations such as military intelligence headquarters, where political prisoners were often detained. The government and military prosecutors cooperated with the UN team supporting investigations related to the 2017 killing of two UN experts, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan, in Kasai Central Province.

In August, FARDC Colonel Jean de Dieu Mambweni was formally charged in the killings of the two UN experts, leading to the creation of a higher-level military panel that was hearing the case against him as well as the other defendants, some of whom were being tried in a lower level military court since June 2017. As of August a number of key suspects remained at large, including Evariste Ilunga, one of the few suspects identified in the video of the killings, and several others who were part of a prison escape in Kasai Central Province in May.

On July 8, the ICC convicted Bosco Ntaganda of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ituri between 2002 and 2003. Ntangada’s crimes included murder, rape, sexual slavery, and the use of child soldiers in the country. In 2004 the government requested the ICC investigate the situation. On November 7, the ICC sentenced Ntaganda to 30 years in prison for his crimes.

Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the National Commission on Human Rights published reports on 2018 intercommunal violence in Yumbi Territory, the condition of prisons and other detention facilities, and insecurity due to poaching in Haut Lomami Province. It also visited detention centers, followed up on complaints of human rights violations from civilians, and held a meeting on the right to demonstrate. It continued to lack sufficient funding for overhead costs or to have full-time representation in all 26 provinces.

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

Kenya

Executive Summary

Kenya is a republic with three branches of government: an executive branch, led by a directly elected president; a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and National Assembly; and a judiciary. In the 2017 general elections, the second under the 2010 constitution, citizens cast ballots for president, deputy president, and parliamentarians, as well as county governors and legislators. International and domestic observers judged the elections generally credible, although some civil society groups and the opposition alleged there were irregularities. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared Jubilee Coalition Party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta had won re-election as president over opposition candidate Raila Odinga. The Supreme Court subsequently annulled the results for president and deputy president, citing irregularities, and the court ordered a new vote for president and deputy president that the opposition boycotted. The IEBC declared President Kenyatta winner of the new vote, and the Supreme Court upheld the results. Kenya held three by-elections in April after the courts nullified the 2017 election results in those constituencies due to irregularities.

The National Police Service (NPS) maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. The National Intelligence Service collects intelligence internally as well as externally and reports directly to the president. The Kenya Defense Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security but have some domestic security responsibilities, including border security and supporting civilian organizations in the maintenance of order, including postdisaster response. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of the government and by al-Shabaab; forced disappearances by the government or on behalf of the government; torture by the government; harsh and life threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by the government; arbitrary interference with privacy; censorship; widespread crimes of violence against women and girls, which the government took inadequate action to prevent or prosecute; widespread acts of government corruption; and the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), established to provide civilian oversight of police, investigated numerous cases of misconduct. Impunity at all levels of government continued to be a serious problem. The government took limited and uneven steps to address cases of alleged unlawful killings by security force members, although IPOA continued to refer cases of police misconduct to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) for prosecution. Impunity in cases of alleged corruption was also common.

On January 15, five al-Shabaab terrorists conducted a complex terrorist attack at the Dusit D2 Hotel in downtown Nairobi, killing 21 persons including one American. Al-Shabaab also staged deadly attacks and guerilla-style raids on isolated communities along the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. Human rights groups alleged security forces committed abuses, including extrajudicial killings, while conducting counterterror operations.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, although some groups reported experiencing government harassment during the year. Officials were sometimes cooperative and responsive to the queries of these groups, but the government did not implement recommendations by human rights groups if such recommendations were contrary to its policies. There were reports officials intimidated NGOs and threatened to disrupt their activities (see section 2.b.). Less-established NGOs, particularly in rural areas, reported harassment and threats by county-level officials as well as security forces. Human rights activists claimed security forces conducted surveillance of their activities, and some reported threats and intimidation.

The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission issued its final, multivolume report about human rights abuses and injustices from the colonial period through the 2007-2008 postelection violence to President Kenyatta in May 2013. The government largely failed to implement the commission’s recommendations on justice and accountability, despite calls from survivors, victims, religious leaders, and civil society (see section 1.e., Property Restitution). In March a lobby group, the National Victims and Survivors Network, petitioned the Senate to take over the consideration and implementation process of the commission from the National Assembly.

In 2013 a group of civil society organizations filed a High Court petition accusing the government of having failed to investigate and address properly sexual and gender-based violence that occurred during the 2007-2008 postelection violence or to provide medical and legal assistance to survivors. The case continued at year’s end.

There were also reports officials and police officers threatened activists who sought justice for police killings and other serious abuses during the 2017 elections. Human Rights Watch reported that, between August 2017 and March 2018, police and other officials directly intimidated at least 15 activists and victims in Nairobi and in the western county of Kisumu. The intimidation included threats of arrest, warnings not to post information about police brutality, home and office raids, and confiscation of laptops and other equipment.

Government and security officials promptly investigated the 2016 triple homicide case of International Justice Mission (IJM) lawyer and investigator Willie Kimani, IJM client Josphat Mwenda, and their driver Joseph Muiruri, and charged four police officers accused in the case. In October a court barred the prosecution from submitting a 2016 video confession by one of the defendants as evidence. The trial continued at year’s end.

The KNCHR reported security agencies continued to deny it full access to case-specific information and facilities to conduct investigations of human rights abuses as the constitution permits.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government took note of recommendations of the United Nations or international human rights groups but in many cases did not implement them.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The KNCHR is an independent institution created by the 2010 constitution and established in 2011. Its mandate is to promote and protect human rights in the country. Citing budget restrictions, the administration reduced KNCHR’s budget for the fifth straight year.

The NPSC and IPOA, both government bodies, report to the National Assembly. The NPSC consists of six civilian commissioners, including two retired police officers, as well as the NPS inspector general and two deputies. In January a new commission took office. The NPSC is responsible for recruiting, transferring, vetting, promoting, and disciplining NPS members. In September the NGO consortium the Police Reforms Working Group Kenya issued a press statement noting its concerns regarding the August dismissal of IPOA’s chief executive officer by the board. The working group also called for a parliamentary inquiry into the appointment process and activities of IPOA’s board and urged the government to safeguard the independence of IPOA’s secretariat. The CEO was reinstated in October.

The ODPP is empowered to direct the NPS inspector general to investigate any information or allegation of criminal conduct and to institute criminal proceedings in police abuse or corruption cases.

Police accountability mechanisms, including those of the IAU and IPOA, maintained their capacity to investigate cases of police abuse, although disagreements around the dismissal and reinstatement of IPOA’s CEO likely delayed some investigations. The IAU director reports directly to the NPS inspector general. Eighty-two officers served in the IAU, mostly investigators with a background in the Kenya Police Service and the Administration Police Service. During the year the IAU also began interviews to select 150 additional officers. The IAU conducts investigations into police misconduct, including criminal offenses not covered by IPOA. Between January and September, the IAU received approximately 1,200 complaints, the number of which had increased year-to-year as police and the public became more familiar with the IAU. As required by law, the IAU relocated to offices separate from the rest of the police service in late 2018. This move also contributed to the increase in the number of cases the IAU received. The EACC, an independent agency, investigates cases involving police corruption. IPOA also helps to train police officers on preventing abuses and other human rights issues.

As of June, IPOA received 3,237 complaints, bringing the total since its inception in 2012 to 13,618. IPOA defines five categories of complaints. Category One complaints comprise the most serious crimes–such as murders, torture, rape, and serious injury–and result in an automatic investigation. In Category Two serious crimes, such as assault without serious injury, are investigated on a case-by-case basis. Categories Three to Five, for less serious crimes, are generally not investigated, although during the year IPOA and the IAU entered into regular dialogue about referring cases deemed less serious offenses for disciplinary action. If, after investigation, IPOA determines there is criminal liability in a case, it forwards the case to the ODPP. As of June, IPOA launched 489 investigations.

The law requires the NPSC eventually to vet all serving police officers. Vetting required an assessment of each officer’s fitness to serve based on a review of documentation, including financial records, certificates of good conduct, and a questionnaire, as well as public input alleging abuse or misconduct. The NPSC reported it had vetted more than 15,000 officers since 2012. The NPSC, however, had not vetted any officers since the new commission took office in January. Some legal challenges brought by officers removed from the service after vetting continued in court.

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

Mali

Executive Summary

Mali, a constitutional democracy, reelected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to a second five-year term in August 2018. International observers deemed the elections to have met minimum acceptable standards despite some irregularities and instances of violence. Parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for October 2018, were further delayed from June 2019 until at least May 2020, ostensibly to allow time to enact constitutional and electoral reforms.

Security forces include the National Police, the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA), the National Gendarmerie, the National Guard, the General Directorate of State Security (DGSE), and the National Penitentiary Administration (DNAPES). FAMA, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard are administratively under the Ministry of Defense, although operational control of the National Guard and National Gendarmerie is shared with the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection. Police officers have responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order in urban areas, while gendarmes have that responsibility in rural areas. The army occasionally performed domestic security operations in northern areas where police and gendarmes were absent. The National Guard has specialized border security units, which were largely ineffective. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection include maintaining order during exceptional circumstances, such as national disasters or riots. The DGSE has authority to investigate any case and temporarily detain persons at the discretion of its director general. It usually did so only in terrorism and national security cases. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the civilian and military security forces.

As of November 6, the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), a signatory to the Algiers Accord for Peace and Reconciliation, had withdrawn from the national dialogue aimed at implementing the 2015 accord. The CMA signed the accord with the Malian government in 2015, as did the Platform of Northern Militias (Platform)–including the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA), the Arab Movement for Azawad-Platform (MAA-PF), and the Coordination of Patriotic Resistance Forces and Movements (CMFPR). The CMA’s withdrawal, which occurred on September 25, came in response to comments by President Keita that parts of the already signed Algiers Accord could be revisited in the context of the national dialogue. In July the government assisted in brokering signed agreements to “cease hostilities” between a dozen armed groups of the Dogon and Fulani ethnic communities. Intercommunal violence between nomadic Fulani herders and Dogon farmers and hunters increased in the first half of the year, and internal displacement throughout central Mali has more than quadrupled since January 2018.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearance by government forces; torture by government forces; arbitrary detention by government forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; significant acts of corruption; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by nongovernmental armed groups, some of which received support from the government; crimes involving violence against national and ethnic minorities; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons; violence against women and children, which was rarely investigated; slavery and trafficking in persons; and the disregarding of workers’ rights through the use of exploitative labor, including child labor.

The government made little or no effort to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity continued to be a problem. The 2012 coup leader Amadou Sanogo, first arrested in 2013, remained under arrest awaiting trial. Sanogo’s trial began in Sikasso in 2016, but the presiding judge accepted a defense motion to delay the trial until 2017. The case remained pending at the Court of Appeals, awaiting results of a DNA analysis. Impunity for serious crimes committed in the country’s North and Center continued with few exceptions. On September 30, the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided there was sufficient evidence for Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud to stand trial on charges including torture, rape, sexual slavery, and deliberately attacking religious buildings and historic monuments. Al Hassan had been transferred by the government to the ICC following a year of local detention in response to an ICC arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the 2012 occupation of Timbuktu by al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine (“Defenders of the Faith”).

Ethnic militias committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, targeted killings, the destruction of homes and food stores, and the burning of entire villages. Despite the 2015 Algiers Accord for Peace, elements within the Platform–including GATIA, MAA-PF, and the CMFPR–and elements in the CMA–including the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA)–committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Extremist groups, including affiliates of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and the al-Qa’ida coalition Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (translated as the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, JNIM), neither of whom are parties to the peace process, kidnapped and killed civilians and military force members, including peacekeepers.

The French military counterterrorism operation, Operation Barkhane, continued. The operation had a regional focus, undertaking counterterrorism activities in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. Together, those five countries comprise the G5 Sahel, an alliance through which the countries coordinate security, counterterrorism, and development policies. Approximately 2,500 soldiers conducted counterterrorism operations in collaboration with the FAMA in northern Mali. The government, in collaboration with French military forces, conducted counterterrorism operations in northern and central Mali leading to the detention of extremists and armed group elements accused of committing crimes. Accusations against Chadian peacekeepers from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)–including accusations of killings, abductions, and arbitrary arrests in the Kidal region in 2016–remained unresolved. Reports of abuses rarely led to investigations or prosecutions.

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 cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is an independent institution which receives administrative and budgetary assistance from the Ministry of Justice. The government continued to provide the CNDH with headquarters and staff. The adoption of the 2016 law pertaining to the CNDH and its subsequent implementation, allowed the CNDH to make strides toward fulfilling its mandate. The CNDH became more effective and autonomous. The Ministry of Justice decreased control over the CNDH’s budget and the commission’s large membership included civil society representatives. With improved funding and capacity, the CNDH issued statements on several cases of human rights violations including the Ogossagou massacre and conducted investigations into allegations of abuse. In August the CNDH undertook missions in Diema to facilitate the return of displaced victims of hereditary slavery. It also issued a statement to condemn the practice. The current minister of justice, appointed in May, previously served as the president of the CNDH.

The commission of inquiry established by the National Assembly in 2014 to investigate violence between the government and armed groups in Kidal had not released a public report on its findings by year’s end.

The Ministry of Defense established at least three commissions of inquiry in 2014 to investigate forced disappearances perpetrated by the military in 2012. None of the commissions had released any public reports by year’s end.

The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, created in 2015 to accept evidence, hold hearings, and recommend transitional justice measures for crimes and human rights violations stemming from the 2012 crisis, had not initiated any investigations by year’s end.

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

Niger

Executive Summary

Niger is a multiparty republic. President Issoufou Mahamadou won a second term in 2016. He won 92 percent of the vote in a second round boycotted by the opposition. The African Union certified the election as free and fair despite the criticism of some domestic observers who noted the jailing of the leadership of the lead opposition party among other irregularities. The government replaced regionally elected political leadership accused of corruption with political appointments. Early in the year, the political opposition boycotted a political mediation council and the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI). At year’s end, the government and CENI were hosting tentative, informal election-related discussions.

The National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, Public Security, Decentralization, and Customary and Religious Affairs (Ministry of Interior), is responsible for urban law enforcement. The Gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, has primary responsibility for rural security. The National Guard, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for domestic security and the protection of high-level officials and government buildings. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and, in some parts of the country, for internal security. Every 90 days the parliament reviews the state of emergency (SoE) declaration in effect in the Diffa Region and in parts of Tahoua and Tillabery Regions. On November 30, 2018, the council of ministers declared a new SoE in three additional departments of Tillabery (Torodi, Tera, and Say). Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, although at times individual soldiers and police acted independently of the command structure.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful killings and forced disappearances by the government, allied militias, terrorists, and armed groups; arbitrary arrest and detention by government security forces and armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; political prisoners; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; lack of accountability for cases of violence against women and girls due in part to government inaction; and caste-based slavery and forced labor, including forced or child labor.

The government took some steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, but impunity remained a problem. The Defense Forces conduct annual human rights training. Additionally, all Nigerien peacekeeping battalions receive human rights and law of war training prior to deployment. Several agencies possess the authority to investigate abuses by security forces. The Office of the Inspector General of Security Services is responsible for the investigation of Police, National Guard, and Fire Department abuses. The inspector general handles inspection of Civil Protection personnel, vice Fire Department, which is covered by the Office of the Inspector General for Army and Gendarmerie). The inspector general of army and gendarmerie is tasked with investigating any abuses related to the Gendarmerie and military forces. Nevertheless, law enforcement impunity remained a problem.

Terrorist groups targeted and killed civilians and recruited child soldiers. The government was involved in campaigns against terrorist groups on its borders with Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad, and it was wary of increasing terror attacks in Burkina Faso and spillover from insecurity in Libya.

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 cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. At times the government, citing security concerns, restricted access to certain areas of Diffa Region.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is responsible for investigating and monitoring a wide variety of human rights issues, including prison and detention center conditions. During the year the government conferred on the CNDH an additional mandate with regard to the prevention of torture.

The Office of the Mediator of the Republic served as an official government ombudsman, including on some human rights issues. The CNDH and the mediator operated without direct government interference, although they often lacked the resources necessary to carry out their work effectively.

The government maintained organizations to fight trafficking in persons: the National Commission for the Coordination of the Fight against Trafficking in Persons, which serves as the supervising board for the National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and the Illegal Transport of Migrants. Both organizations complained of funding shortfalls.

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

Rwanda

Executive Summary

Rwanda is a constitutional republic dominated by a strong presidency. The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led a governing coalition that included four smaller parties. In 2017 voters elected President Paul Kagame to a third seven-year term with a reported 99 percent of the vote and a reported 98 percent turnout. One independent candidate and one candidate from an opposition political party participated in the presidential election, but authorities disqualified three other candidates. In the September 2018 elections for parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, candidates from the RPF coalition and two other parties supporting RPF policies won all except four of the open seats. For the first time, independent parties won seats in the chamber, with the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) and the Social Party Imberakuri (PS-Imberakuri) winning two seats each. In both the 2017 and 2018 elections, international monitors reported numerous flaws, including irregularities in the vote tabulation process. In September, 12 new senators were elected to the 26-member Senate via indirect elections. Faculty at public and private universities elected two other senators. President Kagame appointed another four senators, and the National Consultative Forum for Political Organizations designated two, in accordance with the constitution.

The Rwanda National Police (RNP), under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for internal security. The Rwanda Defense Force (RDF), under the Ministry of Defense, is in charge of providing external security, although the RDF also works on internal security and intelligence matters alongside the RNP. Since April 2018 the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) has carried out many of the investigative functions formerly performed by the RNP, including counterterrorism investigations, investigation of economic and financial crimes, and judicial police functions. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over state security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by state security forces; forced disappearance by state security forces; torture by state security forces; arbitrary detention by state security forces; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, press, and the internet, including threats of violence against journalists, censorship, website blocking, and criminal libel and slander laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; and restrictions on political participation; criminal violence against women and girls, which the government took insufficient action to prevent or prosecute.

The government occasionally took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, including within the security services, but impunity involving civilian officials and some members of the state security forces was a problem.

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

Several domestic human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, and international groups also published reports on human rights abuses. The government was often intolerant of public reports of human rights abuses and suspicious of local and international human rights observers, and it often impeded independent investigations and rejected criticism as biased and uninformed. Human rights NGOs expressed fear of the government, reported state security forces monitored their activities, and self-censored their comments. NGOs, such as HRW, working on human rights and deemed to be critical of the government experienced difficulties securing or renewing required legal registration. As of October 1, the government had not renewed its lapsed memorandum of understanding with HRW, and HRW had no representatives operating in the country.

The government conducted surveillance on some international and domestic NGOs. Some NGOs expressed concern that intelligence agents infiltrated their organizations to gather information, influence leadership decisions, or create internal problems.

Individuals who contributed to international reports on human rights reported continued government harassment including short-term detention without charges, questioning, and threats of arrest and prosecution for the contents of their work.

Some domestic NGOs nominally focused on human rights abuses, but self-censorship limited their effectiveness. Most NGOs that focused on human rights, access to justice, and governance issues vetted their research and reports with the government and refrained from publishing their findings without government approval. Those NGOs that refused to coordinate their activities with progovernment organizations and vet their research with the government reported they were excluded from government-led initiatives to engage civil society.

A progovernment NGO, the Rwanda Civil Society Platform, managed and directed some NGOs through umbrella groups that theoretically aggregated NGOs working in particular thematic sectors. Many observers believed the government controlled some of the umbrella groups. Regulations required NGOs to participate in joint action and development forums at the district and sector levels, and local government had broad powers to regulate activities and bar organizations that did not comply.

NGOs reported the registration process remained difficult, in part because it required submission of a statement of objectives, plan of action, and detailed financial information for each district in which an NGO wished to operate. NGOs reported the government used the registration process to delay programming and pressure them into supporting government programs and policies.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government sometimes cooperated with international organizations, but it criticized reports that portrayed it negatively as inaccurate and biased.

In 2012 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Tanzania, transferred its remaining genocide cases to the IRMCT, which maintained an office in Tanzania and continued to pursue genocide suspects. From 1994 through July, the tribunal completed proceedings against 80 individuals; of these, 61 were convicted, and 14 were acquitted. Two cases were dropped, and in the remaining three cases, the accused died before the tribunal rendered judgment. As of October 1, eight suspects remained fugitives. The government cooperated with the IRMCT, but it also expressed concern regarding the IRMCT’s practice of granting early release to convicts, especially when those released had not professed remorse for their actions.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The adequately funded Office of the Ombudsman operated with the cooperation of executive agencies and took action on cases of corruption and other abuses, including human rights cases (see section 4).

The government funded and cooperated with the NCHR. According to many observers, the NCHR did not have adequate resources to investigate all reported abuses and remained biased in favor of the government. Some victims of human rights abuses did not report them to the NCHR because they perceived it as biased and feared retribution by state security forces.

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

Senegal

Executive Summary

Senegal is a republic dominated by a strong executive branch. In February voters re-elected Macky Sall as president for a second term of five years in elections local and international observers considered generally free and fair. The government postponed until mid-2020 local municipal elections originally scheduled to take place in December.

Police and gendarmes are responsible for maintaining law and order. The army shares that responsibility in exceptional cases, such as during a state of emergency. The National Police are part of the Interior Ministry and operate in major cities. The Gendarmerie is part of the Ministry of Defense and primarily operates outside major cities. The army also reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, but the government did not have effective mechanisms to punish abuse and corruption.

Significant human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killing by the government; torture and arbitrary arrests by security forces; harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; lack of judicial independence; criminal libel; corruption, particularly in the judiciary, police, and elsewhere in the executive branch; trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and forced child labor.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, but impunity for abuses existed.

In the southern Casamance region, situated between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, a de facto ceasefire between security forces and armed separatists continued for a seventh year. Sporadic incidents of violence occurred in the Casamance, but they were associated more with criminal activity than directly with the separatist conflict. Individuals associated with various factions of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC) continued to rob and harass local populations. There were occasional accidental contacts, skirmishes, and arrest of MFDC units by security forces. Mediation efforts continued in search of a negotiated resolution of the conflict, which began in 1982. The government regularly investigated and prosecuted these incidents.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative but rarely took action to address their concerns.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s National Committee on Human Rights included government representatives, civil society groups, and independent human rights organizations. The committee had authority to investigate abuses but lacked credibility, did not conduct investigations, and last released an annual report in 2001.

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

Tanzania

Executive Summary

The United Republic of Tanzania is a multiparty republic consisting of the mainland region and the semiautonomous Zanzibar archipelago, whose main islands are Unguja (Zanzibar Island) and Pemba. The union is headed by a president, who is also the head of government. Its unicameral legislative body is the National Assembly (parliament). Zanzibar, although part of the union, exercises considerable autonomy and has its own government with a president, court system, and legislature. In 2015 the country held its fifth multiparty general election. Voting in the union and Zanzibari elections was judged largely free and fair, resulting in the election of a union president (John Magufuli). The chair of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission, however, declared the parallel election for Zanzibar’s president and legislature nullified after only part of the votes had been tabulated, precipitating a political crisis on the islands. New elections in Zanzibar in 2016 were neither inclusive nor representative, particularly since the main opposition party opted not to participate; the incumbent (Ali Mohamed Shein) was declared the winner with 91 percent of the vote.

Under the union’s Ministry of Home Affairs, the Tanzanian Police Force (TPF) has primary responsibility for maintaining law and order in the country. The Field Force Unit, a special division of the TPF, has primary responsibility for controlling unlawful demonstrations and riots. The Tanzanian People’s Defense Forces includes the Army, Navy, Air Command, and National Service. They are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces and directed their activities.

Significant human rights issues included: torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet; violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and site blocking; the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, or other mistreatment of refugees that would constitute a human rights abuse; restrictions on political participation where the government is unelected or elections have not been found to be genuine, free, or fair; pervasive corruption; trafficking in persons; criminal violence against women and girls, in which the government took little action to prevent or prosecute; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of national/racial/ethnic minorities, or indigenous people; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; use of forced or compulsory child labor, as listed in the Department of Labor’s report on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.

In some cases the government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, but impunity in the police and other security forces and civilian branches of government was widespread.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups have generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The overall climate for NGOs, however, has shifted in the last few years. Some human rights NGOs complained of a negative government reaction when they challenged government practice or policy. Many NGOs are concerned the government is using the NGO registration laws passed in June to deregister NGOs that focus on human rights. In August the registrar of NGOs deregistered 158 NGOs for “unaccepted” behavior, alleging they were used for profit sharing and benefiting their members, which is outside the permitted NGO activities.

In May the registrar of societies in the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a public notice requesting that all religious institutions and community-based organizations registered under the ministry verify their registration status with all the required documentation. The countrywide process began with Dar es Salaam and the coastal regions in May and continued at year’s end. There are similar concerns about how the government can use this process to deregister organizations that make any statements related to human rights.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally cooperated with visits from UN representatives, such as special rapporteurs, as well as those from UN specialized agencies such as the International Labor Organization or other international organizations (but not including NGOs) that monitor human rights.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The union parliamentary Committee for Constitutional, Legal, and Public Administration is responsible for reporting and making recommendations regarding human rights.

The Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) operated on both the mainland and Zanzibar, but low funding levels and lack of leadership limited its effectiveness. The commission has no legal authority to prosecute cases but can make recommendations to other offices concerning remedies or call media attention to human rights abuses and violations and other public complaints. It also has authority to issue interim orders preventing actions in order to preserve the status quo pending an investigation. The CHRAGG also issued statements and conducted public awareness campaigns on several issues. These included the need for regional and district commissioners to follow proper procedures when exercising their powers of arrest, the need for railway and road authorities to follow laws and regulations when evicting citizens from their residences, and calling on security organs to investigate allegations of disappearances or abductions, including of journalists, political leaders, and artists.

On September 19, President Magufuli appointed a CHRAGG chairman and five commissioners.

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

Zambia

Executive Summary

Zambia is a constitutional republic governed by a democratically elected president and a unicameral national assembly. In 2016 the country held elections under an amended constitution for president, national assembly seats, and local government, as well as a referendum on an enhanced bill of rights. The incumbent, Patriotic Front (PF) President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, won re-election by a narrow margin. A legal technicality saw the losing main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, unsuccessfully challenge the election results. International and local observers deemed the election as having been credible but cited a number of irregularities. The pre-election and postelection periods were marred by limits on press freedom and political party intolerance resulting in sporadic violence across the country. Although the results ultimately were deemed a credible reflection of votes cast, media coverage, police actions, and legal restrictions heavily favored the ruling party and prevented the election from being genuinely fair.

The national police have primary responsibility for internal security and report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities in cases of national emergency. The president appoints the commanders of each military service and they report directly to him. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary and extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary detentions by police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom, and censorship including arbitrary application of criminal libel laws against critics of the government, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists; substantial interference with the right of assembly; official corruption; and the criminalization, arrest, and prosecution of persons engaged in consensual same-sex sexual relationships.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of human rights violations. Impunity remained problematic nevertheless, as alleged violators affiliated with the ruling party or serving in the government were either not prosecuted for serious crimes or, if prosecuted, were acquitted or released after serving small fractions of prison sentences. The government also continued to apply the law selectively to prosecute or punish individuals who committed abuses and mostly targeted those who opposed the ruling party.

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 cases. Government officials were not always cooperative or responsive to views critical of the government. For example, officials at the Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development sought to impede release of a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that criticized some elements of the government’s response to lead pollution in a densely populated area surrounding a former lead mine. After numerous attempts to work with the government on a joint launch of the findings, HRW eventually decided to release the report outside the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRC is an independent body established by the constitution to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights. The HRC monitored human rights conditions, interceded on behalf of persons whose rights it believed the government denied, and spoke on behalf of detainees and prisoners. The HRC and independent human rights committees across the country enjoyed the government’s cooperation without substantial political interference.

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

Zimbabwe

Executive Summary

Zimbabwe is constitutionally a republic. The country elected Emmerson Mnangagwa president for a five-year term in July 2018 in general elections. Despite incremental improvements from past elections, domestic and international observers noted serious concerns and called for further reforms necessary to meet regional and international standards for democratic elections. Numerous factors contributed to a flawed overall election process, including: the Zimbabwe Election Commission’s (ZEC) lack of independence; heavily biased state media favoring the ruling party; voter intimidation; unconstitutional influence of tribal leaders; disenfranchisement of alien and diaspora voters; failure to provide a preliminary voters roll in electronic format; politicization of food aid; security services’ excessive use of force; and lack of precision and transparency around the release of election results. The election resulted in the formation of a government led by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party with a supermajority in the National Assembly but not in the Senate.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) maintains internal security. The Department of Immigration and the ZRP, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs, are primarily responsible for migration and border enforcement. Although the ZRP is officially under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Office of the President directed some ZRP roles and missions in response to civil unrest. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force constitute the Zimbabwe Defense Forces under the Minister of Defense. The police report to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the military reports to the Ministry of Defense. The Central Intelligence Organization, under the Office of the President, engages in both internal and external security matters. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings of civilians by security forces; torture and arbitrary detention by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of government restrictions on free expression, press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; widespread acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting women and girls; and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although not enforced.

Impunity remained a problem. The government took very few steps to identify or investigate officials who committed human rights abuses, and there were no reported arrests or prosecutions of such persons.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Such groups were subject to government restrictions, interference, monitoring, confiscation of materials and documentation, arrest, and other forms of harassment. Major domestic NGOs included the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, ZESN, Election Resource Center, ZLHR, Zimbabwe Peace Project, ZimRights, Zimbabwe Legal Resources Foundation, Heal Zimbabwe Trust, Women’s Coalition, and Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise.

The government harassed NGOs that it believed would expose abuses by government personnel or that opposed government policies, and it continued to use government-controlled media to disparage and attack human rights groups, especially those believed to be in communication with western embassies or governments. State media reporting typically dismissed the efforts and recommendations of NGOs critical of government, accusing the NGOs of seeking regime change.

In September a UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association visited the country. His report encouraged the country to ratify remaining key international human rights treaties, combat corruption and impunity, follow the Motlanthe Commission recommendations, and seek support of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, among others.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ZHRC remained underfunded but managed to fulfill some of its constitutionally mandated functions. The ZHRC conducted public outreach throughout the country. Through its website, a hotline, social media platforms, and mobile legal clinics, the ZHRC’s human rights officers conducted public outreach throughout the country and accepted complaints from the public for investigation. The ZHRC, however, did not have sufficient personnel to investigate the number of complaints it received.

The ZHRC issued a preliminary report condemning demonstration violence in January, including at least eight deaths. In March, Human Rights Watch reported the number of deaths as 17.

The government did not overtly attempt to obstruct the ZHRC’s work or deliberately withhold resources based on the commission’s criticism of the government or security services’ actions. In January and February, however, the ZHRC reported some police officers did not understand the commission’s mandate and denied them information or entry into holding cells to visit the accused.

The establishment of the constitutionally mandated National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) continued. The commission consists of nine members with offices located in Harare and Bulawayo. The NPRC established Provincial Peace Committees in all 10 provinces in July. The committees were designed to engage local stakeholders to find solutions to historically intractable issues. In March the High Court ruled to extend the NPRC’s lifespan to January 2028.

The NPRC conducted inclusive, nationwide stakeholder engagements beginning in May to engage citizens in rural areas. The NPRC was involved in President Mnangagwa’s meeting in March with Bulawayo-based civil society organizations known as the Matabeleland Collective to address legacy issues involving the Gukurahundi massacres of the 1980s. The NPRC also cochaired the president’s Political Actors Dialogue in February, which remained active. Some NGOs questioned the commission’s independence and effectiveness.

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

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future