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. From January 1 to September 30, UNAMA reported an overall increase in civilian deaths over the same period for 2017, from 2,666 to 2,798. The number of civilian deaths attributed to progovernment forces increased from 560 to 761. The total number of civilian casualties decreased from 8,084 to 8,050.
According to the annual report UNAMA released in February, Afghan Local Police (ALP) in Zurmat District, Paktiya Province, killed a civilian and injured two others during an attempted home invasion and robbery in September 2017. Although the government investigated and prosecuted some cases of extrajudicial killing, an overall lack of accountability for security force abuses remained a problem, particularly with the ALP.
There were numerous reports of politically motivated killings or injuries by the Taliban, ISIS-K, and other insurgent groups. UNAMA reported 1,743 civilian deaths due to antigovernment and terrorist forces in the first nine months of the year. These groups caused 65 percent of total civilian casualties, compared with 64 percent in 2017. On August 15, ISIS-K killed 48 individuals and injured 67 in a bombing that targeted students in a Kabul classroom.
There were reports of disappearances committed by security forces and antigovernment forces alike.
UNAMA, in its biannual Report on the Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees, reported multiple allegations of disappearances by the ANP in Kandahar.
Two professors, working for the American University of Afghanistan and kidnapped by the Taliban in 2016 in Kabul, remained in captivity.
Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were numerous reports that government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses.
NGOs reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians. On April 17, the government approved the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, building on the prior year’s progress in passing the Antitorture Law. Independent monitors, however, continued to report credible cases of torture in detention centers.
UNAMA, in its April 2017 Report on the Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees, stated that of the 469 National Directorate for Security (NDS), ANP, and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) detainees interviewed, 39 percent reported torture or other abuse. Types of abuse included severe beatings, electric shocks, prolonged suspension by the arms, suffocation, wrenching of testicles, burns by cigarette lighters, sleep deprivation, sexual assault, and threats of execution.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) stated in its June report on the use of torture in detention centers that of the 621 detainees they interviewed, 79 persons, or 12 percent, reported being tortured, for the purpose of both eliciting confessions as well as punishment. The AIHRC reported that of these 79 cases, the ANP perpetrated 62 cases, with the balance by the NDS and ANDSF.
In November 2016, first vice president General Abdul Rashid Dostum allegedly kidnapped Uzbek tribal elder and political rival Ahmad Ishchi. Before detaining Ishchi, Dostum let his bodyguards brutally beat him. After several days in detention, Ishchi alleged he was beaten, tortured, and raped by Dostum and his men. Dostum returned in July and resumed his duties as first vice president after more than a year in Turkey. As of August there was no progress on the case brought by Ishchi.
There were numerous reports of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment by the Taliban, ISIS-K, and other antigovernment groups. The AIHRC and other organizations reported summary convictions by Taliban courts that resulted in executions by stoning or beheading. According to media reports, Taliban in Kohistan District, Sar-e Pul Province, stoned a man to death in February on suspicion of zina (extramarital sex). There were other reports of ISIS-K atrocities, including the beheading of a 12-year-old child in Darzab District, Jowzjan Province, in April, the beheading of three medical workers in Chaparhar District, Nangarhar Province, in April, and stoning of a man in Nangarhar in February.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were difficult due to overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and limited access to medical services. The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (GDPDC), part of the Ministry of Interior, has responsibility for all civilian-run prisons (for both men and women) and civilian detention centers, including the large national prison complex at Pul-e Charkhi. The Ministry of Justice’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Directorate is responsible for all juvenile rehabilitation centers. The NDS operates short-term detention facilities at the provincial and district levels, usually collocated with their headquarters facilities. The Ministry of Defense runs the Afghan National Detention Facilities at Parwan. There were credible reports of private prisons run by members of the ANDSF and used for abuse of detainees. The Taliban also maintain illegal detention facilities throughout the country. The ANDSF discovered and liberated several Taliban detention facilities during the year and reported that prisoners included children and Afghans accused of moral crimes or association with the government.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons continued to be a serious, widespread problem. Based on standards recommended by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 28 of 34 provincial prisons for men were severely overcrowded. The country’s largest prison, Pul-e Charkhi, held 13,118 prisoners, detainees, and children of incarcerated mothers as of October, 55 percent more than it was designed to hold. In August more than 500 prisoners at Pul-e Charkhi participated in a one-week hunger strike to protest prison conditions, particularly for elderly and ill inmates, and the administration of their cases.
Authorities generally lacked the facilities to separate pretrial and convicted inmates or to separate juveniles according to the seriousness of the charges against them. Local prisons and detention centers did not always have separate facilities for female prisoners.
According to NGOs and media reports, children younger than age 15 were imprisoned with their mothers, due in part to a lack of capacity among Children’s Support Centers. These reports documented insufficient educational and medical facilities for these minors.
Access to food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care in prisons varied throughout the country and was generally inadequate. The GDPDC’s nationwide program to feed prisoners faced a severely limited budget, and many prisoners relied on family members to provide food supplements and other necessary items. In November 2017 the local NGO Integrity Watch Afghanistan reported that Wardak Prison had no guaranteed source of clean drinking water and that prisoners in Pul-e Charkhi, Baghlan, and Wardak had limited access to food, with prisoners’ families also providing food to make up the gap.
Administration: The law provides prisoners with the right to leave prison for up to 20 days for family visits. Most prisons did not implement this provision, and the law is unclear in its application to different classes of prisoners.
Independent Monitoring: The AIHRC, UNAMA, and the ICRC monitored the NDS, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Defense detention facilities. NATO Mission Resolute Support monitored the NDS, ANP, and Defense Ministry facilities. Security constraints and obstruction by authorities occasionally prevented visits to some places of detention. UNAMA and the AIHRC reported difficulty accessing NDS places of detention when they arrived unannounced. The AIHRC reported NDS officials usually required the AIHRC to submit a formal letter requesting access at least one to two days in advance of a visit. NDS officials continued to prohibit AIHRC and UNAMA monitors from bringing cameras, mobile phones, recording devices, or computers into NDS facilities, thereby preventing AIHRC monitors from properly documenting physical evidence of abuse, such as bruises, scars, and other injuries. The NDS assigned a colonel to monitor human rights conditions in its facilities.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both remained serious problems. Authorities detained many citizens without respecting essential procedural protections. According to NGOs, law enforcement officers continued to detain citizens arbitrarily without clear legal authority or due process. Local law enforcement officials reportedly detained persons illegally on charges not provided under local criminal law. In some cases authorities improperly imprisoned women because they deemed it unsafe for the women to return home or because women’s shelters were not available to provide protection in the provinces or districts at issue (see section 6, Women). The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter, but authorities generally did not observe this requirement.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Three ministries have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the NDS. The ANP, under the Ministry of Interior, has primary responsibility for internal order and for the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a community-based self-defense force. The Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF), also under the Ministry of Interior, investigates major crimes including government corruption, human trafficking, and criminal organizations. The Afghan National Army, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security, but its primary activity is fighting the insurgency internally. The NDS functions as an intelligence agency and has responsibility for investigating criminal cases concerning national security. The investigative branch of the NDS operated a facility in Kabul, where it held national security prisoners awaiting trial until their cases went to prosecution. Some areas were outside of government control, and antigovernment forces, including the Taliban, oversaw their own justice and security systems.
There were reports of impunity and lack of accountability by security forces throughout the year. According to observers, ALP and ANP personnel were largely unaware of their responsibilities and defendants’ rights under the law. Accountability of the NDS, ANP, and ALP officials for torture and abuse was weak, not transparent, and rarely enforced. Independent judicial or external oversight of the NDS, MCTF, ANP, and ALP in the investigation and prosecution of crimes or misconduct, including torture and abuse, was limited or nonexistent.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
UNAMA, the AIHRC, and other observers reported arbitrary and prolonged detention frequently occurred throughout the country. Authorities often did not inform detainees of the charges against them.
The new Penal Code, which took effect in February, modernizes and consolidates criminal laws incorporating new provisions, including the introduction of alternatives to incarceration for adults. Understanding and knowledge of the new code among justice-sector actors and the public was not widespread, but a UNAMA “Survey and Preliminary Findings on Implementation of the 2017 Penal Code (RPC) in Afghanistan”, conducted between April and July, found that courts generally were applying the new Penal Code and were aware of when it should be applied.
Existing law provides for access to legal counsel and the use of warrants, and it limits how long authorities may hold detainees without charge. Police have the right to detain a suspect for 72 hours to complete a preliminary investigation. If police decide to pursue a case, they transfer the file to the Attorney General’s Office. After taking custody of a suspect, the Attorney General’s Office can issue a detention warrant for up to seven days for a misdemeanor and 15 days for a felony. With court approval, the investigating prosecutor may continue to detain a suspect while continuing the investigation, with the length of continued detention depending on the severity of the offense. The investigating prosecutor may detain a suspect for a maximum of 10 days for a petty crime, 27 days for a misdemeanor, and 75 days for a felony. The prosecutor must file an indictment or release the suspect within those deadlines; there can be no further extension of the investigatory period if the defendant is already in detention. Prosecutors often ignored these limits. In addition there were multiple reports that judges often detained prisoners after sentences were completed because a bribe for release had not been paid. Incommunicado imprisonment remained a problem, and prompt access to a lawyer was rare. Prisoners generally were able to receive family visits.
The criminal procedure code, although rarely used, provides for release on bail. Authorities at times remanded “flight risk” defendants pending a prosecutorial appeal despite the defendants’ acquittal by the trial court. In other cases authorities did not rearrest defendants released pending appeal, even after the appellate court convicted them in absentia.
According to international monitors, prosecutors filed indictments in cases transferred to them by police, even where there was a reasonable belief no crime occurred.
According to the juvenile code, the arrest of a child “should be a matter of last resort and should last for the shortest possible period.” Reports indicated children in juvenile rehabilitation centers across the country lacked access to adequate food, health care, and education. Detained children frequently did not receive the presumption of innocence, the right to know the charges against them, access to defense lawyers, and protection from self-incrimination. The law provides for the creation of special juvenile police, prosecution offices, and courts. Due to limited resources, special juvenile courts functioned in only six provinces (Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Kunduz). Elsewhere, children’s cases went to ordinary courts. The law mandates authorities handle children’s cases confidentially.
Some children in the criminal justice system were victims rather than perpetrators of crime. In the absence of sufficient shelters for boys, authorities detained abused boys and placed them in juvenile rehabilitation centers because they could not return to their families and shelter elsewhere was unavailable.
Police and legal officials often charged women with intent to commit zina (sex outside marriage) to justify their arrest and incarceration for social offenses, such as running away from their husband or family, rejecting a spouse chosen by their families, and fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping to escape an arranged marriage. The constitution provides that in cases not explicitly covered by the provisions of the constitution or other laws, courts may, in accordance with Hanafi jurisprudence (a school of Islamic law) and within the limits set by the constitution, rule in a manner that best attains justice in the case. Although observers stated this provision was widely understood to apply only to civil cases, many judges and prosecutors applied this provision to criminal matters. Observers reported officials used this article to charge women and men with “immorality” or “running away from home”, neither of which is a crime. Police often detained women for zina at the request of family members.
Authorities imprisoned some women for reporting crimes perpetrated against them and detained some as proxies for a husband or male relative convicted of a crime on the assumption the suspect would turn himself in to free the family member.
Authorities placed some women in protective custody to prevent violence by family members. They also employed protective custody (including placement in a detention center) for women who had experienced domestic violence, if no shelters were available to protect them from further abuse. The 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) presidential decree–commonly referred to as the EVAW law–obliges police to arrest persons who abuse women. Implementation and awareness of the EVAW law was limited, however. In March, President Ghani issued a decree amending the new Penal Code to reinforce EVAW as a stand-alone law.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention remained a problem in most provinces. Observers reported some prosecutors and police detained individuals without charge for actions that were not crimes under the law, in part because the judicial system was inadequate to process detainees in a timely fashion. Observers continued to report those detained for moral crimes were primarily women.
Pretrial Detention: The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter. Nevertheless, lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. Many detainees did not benefit from the provisions of the criminal procedure code because of a lack of resources, limited numbers of defense attorneys, unskilled legal practitioners, and corruption. The law provides that, if there is no completed investigation or filed indictment within the code’s 10-, 27-, or 75-day deadlines, judges must release defendants. Judges, however, held many detainees beyond those periods, despite the lack of an indictment.
Amnesty: In January the government released 75 Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) political detainees as follow-up to a September 2016 peace accord with the HIG that included amnesty for past war crimes for HIG members including its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary continued to be underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained, largely ineffective, and subject to threats, bias, political influence, and pervasive corruption.
Judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were often intimidated or corrupt. In May, UNAMA reported that the Anticorruption Justice Center, established in 2016 to combat corruption, has thus far indicted 142 cases, including charges of misuse of authority, embezzlement, bribery, forgery of documents, and money laundering. Bribery and pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency impaired judicial impartiality. Most courts administered justice unevenly, employing a mixture of codified law, sharia, and local custom. Traditional justice mechanisms remained the main recourse for many, especially in rural areas. Corruption was common within the judiciary, and criminals often paid bribes to obtain their release or a sentence reduction (see section 4).
There was a widespread shortage of judges, primarily in insecure areas, leading to the adjudication of many cases through informal, traditional mediation. A shortage of women judges, particularly outside of Kabul, limited access to justice for women. Many women cannot and do not use the formal justice system because cultural norms preclude their engagement with male officials. Only 234 of 2162, or 12 percent, of judges are women. The formal justice system was stronger in urban centers, closer to the central government, and weaker in rural areas. Courts and police forces continued to operate at less than full strength nationwide. The judicial system continued to lack the capacity to absorb and implement the large volume of new and amended legislation. A lack of qualified judicial personnel hindered the courts. Some municipal and provincial authorities, including judges, had minimal training and often based their judgments on their personal understanding of sharia without appropriate reference to statutory law, tribal codes of honor, or local custom. The number of judges who graduated from law school continued to increase. Access to legal codes and statutes increased, but their limited availability continued to hinder some judges and prosecutors. UNAMA found during an April to July survey that judges did not have sufficient copies of the new Penal Code.
During the year an investigatory committee, formed by President Ghani in 2016, closed its inquiry into the Farkhunda case, which involved the 2015 death of a woman killed by a mob. The committee report described deficiencies in responses by the police, prosecutors, and the courts. The investigation was closed during the year without further action.
In major cities courts continued to decide criminal cases as mandated by law. Authorities frequently resolved civil cases using the informal system, the government mediation mechanism through the Ministry of Justice Huquq office, or, in some cases, through negotiations between the parties facilitated by judicial personnel or private lawyers. Because the formal legal system often was not present in rural areas, local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) were the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes. They also imposed punishments without regard to the formal legal system. UNAMA and NGOs reported several cases where perpetrators of violence against women crimes that included domestic abuse reoffended after their claims were resolved by mediation. For example, UNAMA cited a case where a Taliban court’s mediation sent a victim of spousal abuse back to her home, only for her husband to cut off her nose afterwards.
In some areas the Taliban enforced a parallel judicial system based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments included execution and mutilation. According to media reporting, in February a Taliban court in Obe District, Herat Province, cut off a man’s hand and leg as a sentence for robbery.
The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary rarely enforced this provision. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. The government formally uses an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence, and those accused have the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although the judiciary did not always respect these rights. Some provinces held public trials, but this was not the norm. The law requires judges to provide five days’ notice prior to a hearing, but this requirement was not always followed.
Three-judge panels decide criminal trials, and there is no right to a jury trial under the constitution. Prosecutors rarely informed defendants promptly or in detail of the charges brought against them. Indigent defendants have the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allow. The judiciary applied this right inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers. Citizens were often unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys are entitled to examine physical evidence and documents related to a case before trial, although observers noted court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial, despite defense lawyers’ requests.
Criminal defense attorneys reported the judiciary’s increased respect and tolerance for the role of defense lawyers in criminal trials, but defendants’ attorneys continued to experience abuse and threats from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.
The criminal procedure code establishes time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when the accused is in custody. The code also permits temporary release of the accused on bail, but this was rarely honored. An addendum to the code provides for extended custodial limits in cases involving crimes committed against the internal and external security of the country. Courts at the Justice Center in Parwan regularly elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the judiciary does not meet the deadlines, the law requires the accused be released from custody. Often courts did not meet these deadlines, but detainees nevertheless remained in custody.
In cases where no clearly defined legal statute applied, or where judges, prosecutors, or elders were unaware of the statutory law, judges and informal shuras enforced customary law. This practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports the government held political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Corruption and limited capacity restricted citizen access to justice for constitutional and human rights violations. Citizens submit complaints of human rights violations to the AIHRC, which reviews and submits credible complaints to the Attorney General’s Office for further investigation and prosecution.
The law prohibits arbitrary interference in matters of privacy, but authorities did not always respect its provisions. The criminal procedure code contains additional safeguards for the privacy of the home, prohibiting night arrests, requiring the presence of a female officer during residential searches, and strengthening requirements for body searches. The government did not always respect these prohibitions.
Government officials continued to enter homes and businesses of civilians forcibly and without legal authorization. There were reports that government officials monitored private communications, including telephone calls and other digital communications, without legal authority or judicial warrant.
Media and the government reported that the Taliban routinely used civilian homes as shelters and bases of operation, including in their attacks on Farah in May and Ghazni in August. There were also reports that the Taliban and ISIS-K used schools for military purposes.
Continuing internal conflict resulted in civilian deaths, abductions, prisoner abuse, property damage, displacement of residents, and other abuses. The security situation remained a problem due to insurgent attacks. Terrorist groups caused the vast majority of civilian deaths.
Killings: During the first nine months of the year, UNAMA counted 2,798 civilian deaths due to conflict, an increase of 5 percent from the same period in 2017. UNAMA noted an increase in indiscriminate suicide attacks by antigovernment forces, particularly in Nangarhar Province, where civilian casualties more than doubled compared with the same period in 2017. UNAMA attributed 65 percent of civilian casualties to antigovernment forces, including the Taliban and ISIS, and 22 percent to progovernment forces. UNAMA documented 649 civilian casualties from airstrikes in the first nine months of the year, a 39 percent increase over the same period in 2017. The AIHRC, in its annual report of civilian casualties, reported 3,239 civilians killed from March 2017 to March 2018, a 15 percent increase over the prior year. The AIHRC attributed 65 percent of civilian casualties to antigovernment forces.
On April 2, Afghan Air Force helicopters struck a madrassa in Dasht-e Archi District, Kunduz Province, in an operation targeting Taliban forces. The strike caused at least 107 casualties, according to UNAMA, including 81 children.
UNAMA documented an increase in attacks by antigovernment forces against religious leaders, recording 27 targeted killings in 2016 and 2017, most of which were attributed to the Taliban. On August 3, ISIS-K targeted a Shia mosque in Gardez, Paktia Province, in a suicide bombing that killed 39 civilians during Friday prayers.
Antigovernment elements also continued to attack religious leaders who spoke against the Taliban. On March 7, a suicide bombing killed Mullah Abdul Zahir Haqani, the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs director for Nangarhar Province. On June 4, ISIS-K targeted a gathering of religious scholars in Kabul with a suicide bombing, killing 14 after the scholars issued a religious declaration condemning suicide attacks, and a bomb attack on another religious gathering killed at least 55 persons on November 20.
During the year antigovernment groups continued to perpetrate complex suicide attacks targeting civilians. On September 11, a suicide attack targeting a protest in Nangarhar Province killed approximately 68 and wounded 165. On January 27, the Taliban killed more than 100 individuals in Kabul with a vehicle-borne IED hidden in an ambulance. On January 20, the Taliban attacked the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul, killing 42, including 17 foreign nationals.
Antigovernment elements also continued to target government officials and entities, as well as political candidates, throughout the country. On July 31, attackers assaulted the offices of the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province, killing at least 15. On April 12, the governor of Khawaja Omari District, Ghazni Province, was killed when the Taliban attacked the district headquarters, leaving more than 12 dead.
Abductions: UNAMA documented 255 cases of conflict-related abductions involving 1,005 abducted civilians in 2017, of which 215 cases were attributed to the Taliban. In June the Taliban abducted 44 construction workers in Kandahar Province, eventually releasing them in August after mediation by local elders.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: An April 2017 report by UNAMA documented the highest levels of torture of conflict-related detainees in police custody since 2010. According to the report, the Kandahar police tortured 91 percent of detainees by forcibly pumping water into their stomachs, crushing their testicles with clamps, suffocating them to the point of losing consciousness, or applying electric current to their genitals. In July Afghan security forces arrested Nizamuddin Qaisari, a local militia commander and district police chief. A widely released video showed the arresting forces beating Qaisari’s restrained security detail, leading to several days of protests.
Antigovernment elements continued to punish civilians. In August 2017 Taliban and ISIS-K members killed approximately 36 individuals, including civilians, at Mirza Olang village, Sayyad District, Sar-e Pul Province, accusing them of supporting the government. Shortly after voting in the October parliamentary elections, Taliban combatants kidnapped an individual and cut off the finger he had dipped in ink following voting, a common practice after voting to prevent duplicate voting.
Antigovernment groups regularly targeted civilians, including using indiscriminate IEDs to kill and maim them. Land mines, unexploded ordnance, and explosive remnants of war (ERW) continued to cause deaths and injuries. The ANP reported that unexploded ordnance (UXO) killed 140 individuals per month. Media regularly reported cases of children killed and injured after finding UXO. The Ministry of Education and NGOs continued to conduct educational programs and mine awareness campaigns throughout the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration provided mine-risk education for refugees and undocumented returnees.
In 2017 civilian casualties from ERW decreased by 12 percent compared with 2016. Child casualties accounted for 81 percent of all civilian casualties caused by ERW in 2017. ERW caused 518 child casualties (142 deaths and 376 injured). Overall in 2017, UNAMA documented 639 civilian casualties (164 deaths and 475 injuries) from ERW.
Child Soldiers: There were reports the ANDSF, particularly the ANP and ALP, and progovernment militias recruited children. The AIHRC reported that government security forces in Kandahar Province used child recruits. UNAMA verified or documented credible allegations of the recruitment and use of six boys by security forces during the first six months of the year. The government expanded child protection units to all 34 provinces; however, some NGOs reported these units were not sufficiently equipped, staffed, or trained to provide adequate oversight.
Under a government action plan, the ANP took steps that included training staff on age-assessment procedures, launching an awareness campaign on underage recruitment, investigating alleged cases of underage recruitment, and establishing centers in some provincial recruitment centers to document cases of attempted child enlistment. Recruits underwent an identity check, including an affidavit from at least two community elders that the recruit was at least 18 years old and eligible to join the ANDSF. The Ministries of Interior and Defense also issued directives meant to prevent the recruitment and sexual abuse of children by the ANDSF. Media reported that in some cases ANDSF units used children as personal servants, support staff, or for sexual purposes.
According to UNAMA, the Taliban and ISIS-K continued to use children for front-line fighting and setting IEDs. On August 1, an ISIS-K group numbering more than 200 surrendered to the government in Jowzjan Province. According to some reports, the group included several dozen children, including at least four younger than age 12, many of whom were child combatants. While the law protects trafficking victims from prosecution for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking, it was unclear if the government would treat the child ex-combatants as trafficking victims or penalize them as combatants.
UNAMA verified or documented credible allegations of the recruitment of 23 boys by antigovernment elements in the first six months of the year (17 by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, two by ISIS-K, and four by the Taliban). In some cases the Taliban and other antigovernment elements used children as suicide bombers, human shields, and IED emplacers, particularly in southern provinces. Media, NGOs, and UN agencies reported the Taliban tricked children, promised them money, used false religious pretexts, or forced them to become suicide bombers.
See also the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: The security environment continued to have a negative effect on the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate freely in many parts of the country. Violence and instability hampered development, relief, and reconstruction efforts. Insurgents deliberately targeted government employees and aid workers. NGOs reported insurgents, powerful local individuals, and militia leaders demanded bribes to allow groups to bring relief supplies into the country and distribute them. Antigovernment elements continued their targeting of hospitals and aid workers. According to media reports through August, 23 aid workers were killed, 37 injured, and 74 abducted. During 2017, UNAMA documented 75 incidents targeting health-care facilities and health-care workers, resulting in 65 civilian casualties (31 deaths and 34 injured) compared with 120 incidents during 2016 that caused 23 civilian casualties (10 deaths and 13 injured). On January 24, ISIS-K assaulted the Jalalabad office of Save the Children, killing three. In August the Taliban threatened the ICRC by rescinding guarantees for the security of its workers.
In the south and east, the Taliban and other antigovernment elements frequently forced local residents to provide food and shelter for their fighters. The Taliban also continued to attack schools, radio stations, and government offices. During the year the Taliban continued to threaten and shut down hundreds of schools, often in an attempt to extort revenue from Ministry of Education payrolls, according to media reports. In June more than 2,000 Islamic scholars, members of a group known as the Ulema Council, convened on the campus of the Polytechnic University of Kabul. On the morning of June 4, the group of scholars issued a fatwa, or religious edict, stating that the insurgency by extremist groups had no religious basis and that suicide bombings were forbidden by Islam. Shortly thereafter, a bomber detonated an explosive device outside the tent where the council had met, killing 14 of its members and injuring at least 20. On August 15, another bomber detonated an explosive device at the Mowud Education Center (MEC) in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi District. As many as 500 students in their teens and twenties were studying for university entrance exams at MEC at the time of the attack, which left 34 dead and at least 57 injured. On August 16, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. The education center is largely attended by Kabul’s minority Shiite Hazara community. Reports suggested that the attack was part of a pattern of violence against the Hazara community.
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 the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including incidents that occurred while making arrests or holding persons in custody or during disputes with civilians. There were also reports of civilians killed during military operations in Sinai. Impunity was a problem.
There were instances of persons tortured to death and other allegations of killings in prisons and detention centers. The government charged, prosecuted, and convicted perpetrators in some cases.
Authorities charged two police officers with the death of Mohamed Abdel Hakim Mahmoud (aka Afroto) due to what government investigators described as beatings following his arrest on January 5. Following news of his death, local residents protested outside the police station, resulting in the arrest of 102 protesters. In February the court released at least 79 protesters on bail. On November 28, the Mokattam state security misdemeanor court sentenced 99 defendants to one year in prison. On November 11, a Cairo criminal court sentenced an assistant detective from the Mokattam police station to three years in prison and a police officer to six months in connection with Afroto’s death. According to press reports, the police officer convicted will not serve time in prison because he had already spent 10 months in remand detention, while the assistant detective will still serve three years in prison, excluding the time already served in remand. The verdict remained subject to appeal.
As of year’s end, an investigative team led by the Prosecutor General’s Office had not released conclusions of its investigation into the killing of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, who was found dead in 2016 with what forensics officials said were signs of torture. According to press reports, Italian prosecutors asked in December to investigate a number of Egyptian secret service agents suspected to be involved in Regeni’s death. Egyptian authorities denied this request. In November the Italian minister of foreign affairs summoned the Egyptian ambassador to Italy to prompt him to urge Egyptian authorities to act quickly to honor the commitment made at top political levels to hold accountable those responsible for Regeni’s killing.
There were reports of suspects killed in unclear circumstances during or after arrest. On March 27, according to press reports, Abdel Halim Mohamed El-Nahas died following a five-hour interrogation in Tora Prison. According to his cellmates’ statements to a local rights organization, he returned from the interrogation having lost his ability to speak or move and quickly died.
There were reports of groups of suspected terrorists and other suspected criminals killed during security raids conducted by security forces. The Interior Ministry said police officers fired at suspects only when suspects fired first. Rights groups argued these shootings might have amounted to extrajudicial killings. In some cases human rights organizations and media reported there was evidence that police detained suspects before killing them. In June authorities killed 10 persons and arrested two in raids across the country. Authorities said those killed were members of the Arm of Egypt Movement (HASM), who were involved in a March 24 attack on Alexandria’s security chief that killed two soldiers. On March 25, authorities killed six persons in operations related to the same attack, according to an official statement.
There were reports the Egyptian navy shot and killed fishermen from Gaza near the Egypt-Gaza maritime boundary. For example, on November 8, Gazan Mostafa Abu Audeh was allegedly shot and killed by Egyptian naval forces while he was fishing just off the coast of the Palestinian city of Rafah. According to press reports, the Egyptian military denied the reports. On February 8, the Court of Cassation upheld the 2015 appeals court verdict in the case of four police officers charged in the 2013 deaths of 37 Muslim Brotherhood (MB) detainees while transferring them to Abu Zaabal Prison near Cairo. Following a successful 2014 appeal of their convictions, in 2015 the appeals court reduced one officer’s sentence from 10 to five years, while maintaining the one-year suspended prison sentences for the three other officers.
At year’s end the government had not held accountable any individual or governmental body for state violence after 2013, including the deaths of hundreds of civilians during the 2013 dispersals of the sit-ins at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Cairo and Nahda Square in Giza. On July 25, parliament approved a law giving the president authority to immunize military commanders against prosecution for crimes committed between February 19, 2011 (suspension of the 1971 constitution) and January 23, 2012 (the seating of parliament) and between July 3, 2013 (suspension of the 2012 constitution) and January 1, 2016 (seating of the current parliament). They also have future immunity against prosecution for any crimes that may occur during the suspension of the present constitution and in the absence of a parliament.
Terrorist groups, including “Islamic State”-Sinai (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis), HASM, and Ajnad Misr, among others, conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets throughout the country, including places of worship. There were no published official data on the number of victims of terrorist violence during the year. According to local media reports, terrorists killed hundreds of civilians throughout the country. As of April in Sinai alone, militant violence killed at least six civilians and 37 security force members, according to publicly available information. During the same period in Sinai, the government killed 225 terrorists, according to official public statements.
On March 24, a bomb placed under a car exploded as the motorcade of Alexandria’s director of security passed. The blast killed two police officers and injured at least four others. No party claimed responsibility, but the Ministry of Interior blamed HASM; authorities arrested and killed several persons they said had ties to the attack (see above).
On November 3, terrorists attacked a bus carrying Coptic Christian pilgrims to a monastery in Minya, killing seven and injuring at least seven others. ISIL-Sinai claimed responsibility for the attack. On November 4, the government reported that police in Minya killed 19 militants responsible for the attack in Assyut.
Several international and local human rights groups reported continuing large numbers of enforced disappearances, alleging authorities increasingly relied on this tactic to intimidate critics. According to a 2017 Amnesty International (AI) statement, security agents caused the disappearance of at least 1,700 persons since 2015. The Cairo-based NGO Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) documented 230 enforced disappearances between August 2017 and August.
Authorities also detained individuals without producing arrest or search warrants. According to ECRF, authorities detained many of these individuals in police stations or Central Security Forces’ camps, but they were not included in official registers. Authorities held detainees incommunicado and denied their requests to contact family members and lawyers. The length of disappearances documented by AI ranged from a few days to seven months. According to ECRF the organization received more than 10,000 reports of enforced disappearances since 2013, but it had only been able to document 1,520 due to resource constraints. According to government statements, in 2017 the National Council for Human Rights raised 110 cases of enforced disappearances with the Interior Ministry, which responded with information on 55.
According to local organizations and an AI report, on March 1, authorities arrested Ezzat Ghoneim, a human rights lawyer who worked on enforced disappearance cases for ECRF, while returning to his home from work. On March 4, he appeared before State Security Prosecution at which time authorities issued him a 15-day detention order on charges including joining an illegal group and publishing false news. Before his reappearance authorities filmed Ghoneim for an Interior Ministry video broadcast on March 16. The video labeled those who expressed opinions contrary to the state narrative as “terrorists” and claimed Ghoneim was a terrorist. On April 26, the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances transmitted a prompt intervention letter concerning Ghoneim’s enforced disappearance. Ghoneim was later added to case 441/2018, which contains at least 13 activists, journalists, and researchers facing similar charges of spreading false news and joining a terrorist group. On September 4, a court ordered Ghoneim’s release on probation pending investigation, and security forces moved him from prison to a police station. On September 14, his family went to the police station to visit him, but security forces informed them he had been released, according to an AI report. His whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year.
According to a 2016 AI report, authorities held many victims of forced disappearance at the National Security Sector Lazoughly Office. There were also reports that military authorities continued to hold civilians in secret at al-Azouly Prison inside al-Galaa Military Camp in Ismailia. Authorities did not charge the detainees with crimes or refer them to prosecutors or courts. They also prevented detainees’ access to their lawyers and families.
According to a 2018 annual report of the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, hundreds of disappearance cases were under the working group’s review. The report noted the working group’s “concern” that, despite the government’s engagement, relatively few cases were transmitted under its urgent action procedure during the reporting period of May 2016 through May 2017. As of December 2017, the working group had not received a response to its 2011 request to visit the country, which it renewed in January (see section 5).
The constitution states that no torture, intimidation, coercion, or physical or moral harm shall be inflicted upon a person whose movements are restricted or whom authorities have detained or arrested. The penal code forbids torture to induce a confession from a detained or arrested suspect but does not account for mental or psychological abuse against persons whom authorities have not formally accused, or for abuse occurring for reasons other than securing a confession. The penal code also forbids all public officials or civil servants from “employing cruelty” or “causing bodily harm” under any circumstances.
Local rights organizations reported hundreds of incidents of torture throughout the year, including deaths that resulted from torture (see section 1.a.). According to domestic and international human rights organizations, police and prison guards resorted to torture to extract information from detainees, including minors. Reported techniques included beatings with fists, whips, rifle butts, and other objects; prolonged suspension by the limbs from a ceiling or door; electric shocks; sexual assault; and attacks by dogs. A June 2017 UN Committee against Torture report concluded that torture was a systematic practice in the country. Government officials denied the use of torture was systematic. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and local NGOs, torture was most common in police stations and other Interior Ministry detention sites. The local NGO al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence documented an average of 35 to 40 instances of torture per month. Authorities stated they did not sanction these abuses and, in some cases, prosecuted individual police officers for violating the law.
On May 7, AI released a report stating prisoners detained on politically motivated charges were held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement. The report also stated such prisoners were subjected to physical abuse, including beatings, lack of food, humiliation, and restricted movement–sometimes for years. In response the government denied widespread use of solitary confinement.
In an October 11 report, HRW alleged security forces detained Khaled Hassan on January 8 in Alexandria and held him incommunicado until bringing him before a military court in May. HRW reported Hassan was repeatedly tortured during his detention, including being raped twice. The government released a public response criticizing the report and stated there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by security officials. Hassan remained in detention pending trial at year’s end.
On June 25, prosecutors ordered the detention of the head of the investigations unit and his assistant pending investigations into the death of Ahmed Zalat while in police custody. On June 2, police arrested Zalat on charges of theft. On the evening of his arrest, authorities transferred him to a hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Family members told press that Zalat’s body bore clear signs of torture. The case was referred to criminal court; the next session was scheduled for December 9.
Local rights groups and international NGOs reported authorities sometimes subjected individuals arrested on charges related to homosexuality to forced anal examinations (see section 6).
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in the prisons and detention centers were harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, inadequate medical care, poor infrastructure, and poor ventilation.
Physical Conditions: According to domestic and international NGO observers, prison cells were overcrowded, and prisoners lacked adequate access to medical care, proper sanitation and ventilation, food, and potable water. Inmates often relied upon external visitors for food and other supplies or were forced to purchase those items from the prison canteen at significantly inflated prices, according to a September 28 Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights report. Tuberculosis was widespread. Provisions for temperature control and lighting generally were inadequate. Reports that guards abuse prisoners, including juveniles, in adult facilities were common. Prison conditions for women were marginally better than those for men. Media reported that some prisoners protested conditions by going on hunger strikes.
Authorities did not always separate juveniles from adults and sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Rights organizations alleged the illegal use of Central Security Forces camps as detention facilities.
The large number of arrests and the use of pretrial detention during the year exacerbated harsh conditions and overcrowding, contributing to the prevalence of deaths in prisons and detention centers. During 2017 the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) reported police detention centers were at 150 percent of maximum capacity and that prisons were at 300 percent of maximum capacity. Health care in prisons was inadequate, leading to a large number of prisoner deaths due to possibly treatable natural causes. Human rights groups and the families of some deceased prisoners claimed that prison authorities denied prisoners access to potentially life-saving medical care and, in some cases, denied requests to transfer the prisoners to the hospital, leading to deaths in prison.
International NGOs continued to allege that journalist Hisham Gaafar’s health, including his eyesight, was deteriorating because prison authorities could not provide him necessary health care. Since 2015 authorities detained Gaafar on charges including membership in the MB and illegally receiving foreign funds for his foundation. According to HRW Gaafar suffered from a number of ailments that required continuing specialist care. On November 19, Cairo Criminal Court renewed the detention of Gaafar, pending investigations on charges of receiving funds from foreign agencies for “the purpose of harming national security” and belonging to “a banned group.”
On February 14, authorities arrested Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, former presidential candidate and leader of the opposition party Strong Egypt, on charges of belonging to a banned group and spreading false news. According to rights groups and his family’s statements to the press, his health was deteriorating due to lack of access to adequate health care. Reportedly, Aboul Fotouh had at least one heart attack while in prison, was unable to walk unassisted due to back pain, and was held solitary confinement. On November 17, Cairo Criminal Court ordered that Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh remain in prison for an additional 45 days pending further investigations.
There were reports authorities sometimes segregated prisoners accused of crimes related to political or security issues separately from common criminals and subjected them to verbal or physical abuse and punitive solitary confinement. The retrial of imprisoned activist Ahmed Douma began in July, and the next hearing was scheduled for January 9, 2019. In 2015 authorities convicted Douma of several offenses, including assaulting police and military forces during clashes between protesters and police in 2011. In 2017 the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial of the case. Beginning with his arrest in 2015, authorities held Douma in solitary confinement for more than 1,200 days.
The law authorized prison officials to use force against prisoners who resisted orders.
Administration: The penal code provides for reasonable access to prisoners. According to NGO observers and relatives, the government sometimes prevented visitors’ access to detainees. Prisoners could request investigation of alleged inhumane conditions. NGO observers claimed, however, that prisoners sometimes were reluctant to do so due to fear of retribution from prison officials. The government investigated some, but not all, of these allegations. As required by law, the public prosecutor inspected prisons and detention centers.
Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit visits by nongovernmental observers but did permit some visits by the National Council for Women and Parliament’s Human Rights Committee to prisons and detention centers. The latter visited six prisons and 24 police stations with detention centers during the 2017-18 parliamentary term. The law formally recognizes the NCHR’s role in monitoring prisons, specifying that visits require notifying the prosecutor general in advance. The NCHR visited two prisons during the year. Authorities did not permit other human rights organizations to conduct prison visits.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but reported incidents of arbitrary arrests and detentions remained frequent, according to local and international rights groups. A December 10 report by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information claimed that police refused to release for as long as months several defendants whom courts ordered released.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. The government does not have effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. Official impunity was a problem. Police investigative skills remained poor. Police did not investigate reported police abuses sufficiently, according to local and international human rights groups. The government investigated and prosecuted some, but not all, reports of abuse, and some prosecutions resulted in acquittals due to insufficient or contradictory evidence. The government frequently called for investigations of abuses by security forces, although these investigations rarely resulted in judicial punishment.
The primary security forces of the Interior Ministry are the Public Police and the Central Security Forces. The Public Police are responsible for law enforcement nationwide. The Central Security Forces provide security for infrastructure and key domestic and foreign officials, and are responsible for crowd control. The National Security Sector, which investigates counterterrorism and internal security threats, also reports to the minister of interior. The armed forces report to the minister of defense and are generally responsible for external defense, but they also have a mandate to “assist” police in protecting “vital public facilities,” including roads, bridges, railroads, power stations, and universities. Military personnel have arrest authority during “periods of significant turmoil.” The Border Guards Department of the Ministry of Defense is responsible for border control and includes members from the army and police. Single-mission law enforcement agencies, such as the Tourist and Antiquities Police and the Antinarcotics General Administration, also worked throughout the country.
The appeal of the retrial of a Central Security Forces officer previously convicted of killing secular activist Shaimaa el-Sabbagh at a peaceful demonstration in 2015 continued. In 2017 a Cairo Criminal Court sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
For persons other than those apprehended in the process of committing a crime, the law requires that police act on the basis of a court-issued warrant issued either under the penal code or the code of military justice, both of which were in effect simultaneously; however, there were numerous reports of arrests without such a warrant.
Ordinary criminal courts and misdemeanor courts hear cases brought by the prosecutor general. Arrests under the penal code occurred openly and with warrants issued by a public prosecutor or judge. There was a functioning bail system, although some defendants claimed judges imposed unreasonably high bail.
Criminal defendants have the right to counsel promptly after arrest, and usually, but not always, authorities allowed access to family members. The court is obliged to provide a lawyer to indigent defendants. Nevertheless, defendants often faced administrative and, in some cases, political obstacles and could not secure regular access to lawyers or family visits. A prosecutor may order four days of preventative detention for individuals suspected of committing misdemeanors and 15 days for individuals suspected of committing felonies. The period of preventative detention is subject to renewal by the prosecutor for up to 60 days, in cases of both misdemeanors and felonies. On the 61st day, the prosecutor must submit a case to a relevant judge who may release the accused person or renew the detention in increments of 15 days (but no longer than 45 days at a time). Detention may extend from the stage of initial investigation through all stages of criminal judicial proceedings. Except in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, the combined periods of prosecutor and court-ordered detentions may not exceed six months in cases of misdemeanors and 18 months in cases of felonies. After the detention reaches its legal limit without a conviction, authorities must release the accused person immediately. Legal experts offered conflicting interpretations of the law in cases in which convictions carry the death penalty or life imprisonment, with some arguing there is no time limit to court-ordered renewals of detention in such cases.
Charges involving the death penalty or life imprisonment sometimes could apply to cases related to demonstrations, such as blocking roads or demonstrating outside government buildings; as a result authorities might hold some appellants charged with nonviolent crimes indefinitely.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arrest, search, or detention without a judicial warrant, except for those caught in the act of a crime. There were frequent reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. Local activists and rights groups stated that hundreds of arrests did not comply with due-process laws. For example, authorities did not charge the detainees with crimes or refer them to prosecutors and prevented access to their lawyers and families (see section 1.b.).
On August 23, security forces arrested political activist Sameh Saudi’s wife and two children, five and seven years old, at their home in Cairo when they did not find him, according to an AI report. Authorities arrested Saudi later that day and released his family.
Pretrial Detention: The government did not provide figures on the total number of pretrial detainees. Rights groups and the quasi-governmental NCHR alleged excessive use of pretrial detention and preventative detention during trials for nonviolent crimes. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Large backlogs in the criminal courts contributed to protracted periods of pretrial detention. Estimates of the number of pretrial and preventive detainees were unreliable. According to a 2016 report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, almost 1,500 persons in four governorates remained in detention without bail for more than two years without a conviction and at various stages in the legal process. According to a 2015 report by the NCHR, citing Interior Ministry figures, at least 7,000 persons remained in detention without a conviction at various stages in the legal process on charges related to incidents after mid-2013, including approximately 300 “activists.” Most others were affiliated with the MB, according to the NCHR.
Authorities continued to hold Ola al-Qaradawi and her husband Hosam Khalaf, who were arrested in June 2017 while on vacation in Egypt. Al-Qaradawi was being held in solitary confinement in Cairo, had limited access to a lawyer, and had yet to be formally charged. In December, Khalaf received a visit from his father and sister. According to the family’s statements to the media and international NGOs, they were being investigated in connection with belonging to the MB and spreading information aimed at distorting Egypt’s image. On June 12, the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a report concluding that the arrest, detention, and imprisonment of Ola al-Qaradawi and her husband Hosam Khalaf was arbitrary. The report included information provided by the government responding to the allegation that the arrest was arbitrary.
On September 8, following more than five years of detention, a Cairo Criminal Court sentenced photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (known as Shawkan) to five years’ imprisonment. Authorities arrested him while he was taking pictures during the security forces’ dispersal of the MB sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Cairo. Authorities charged Shawkan and 739 other defendants with belonging to the MB, possessing firearms, and murder. The court sentenced 75 defendants to death, 47 to life in prison, 215 to 15 years in prison, 23 to 10 years, and 374 to five years’ imprisonment. Five defendants died during the course of the trial. Of the defendants, authorities tried 419 in their absence. As of November, no defendants were released, as in addition to the prison sentence, defendants were ordered to pay financial compensation for damages–estimated to be in the tens of millions of pounds–incurred to private and public properties, as well as a variety of vehicles belonging to security forces during the protest and its violent dispersal. According to press reports, the prosecution sought continued imprisonment of those due for release in lieu of financial compensation as the court has not settled on a final payment amount, and it assumed that, no matter its exact determination, those convicted will be unable collectively to gather the required amount for payment.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to the constitution, detainees have the right to challenge the legality of their detention before a court, which must decide if the detention is lawful within one week or otherwise immediately release the detainee. In practice authorities deprived some individuals of this right, according to international and local human rights groups.
Amnesty: The constitution gives the president the power to cancel or reduce a sentence after consulting with the cabinet. According to press reports, as of September the president had used this authority to grant clemency to more than 15,000 prisoners–generally debtors or those who had served more than one-half their sentences, including secular activists, student protesters, MB members, and others.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Individual courts sometimes appeared to lack impartiality and to arrive at outcomes that were politically motivated or without individual findings of guilt. The government generally respected court orders. Judicial and executive review is available to individuals sentenced to the death penalty.
Some trials involving hundreds of defendants continued, particularly in cases involving demonstrators sympathetic to former president Morsi and the MB in 2013 and 2014.
On April 28, the Court of Cassation upheld the death sentence against six defendants, sentenced three defendants to life, and 59 to 10 years in prison. It acquitted 47 defendants. The defendants faced charges in connection with the killing of a police officer and attempting to kill two other police officers in 2013. In August 2017 the Minya Criminal Court sentenced 24 persons to death, 12 of them in their absence, and a further 119 to life in prison, eight of them in their absence. It sentenced a further two defendants to 10 years in prison and acquitted the remaining 238 defendants.
On September 23, a court sentenced MB Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, along with 64 defendants out of 682 others, to life imprisonment in a retrial over charges of inciting violence in a 2013 case charged with attacking a police station and killing two police officers in Minya. Dozens of others tried in the same case received sentences ranging from two to 15 years, while authorities acquitted 463 others. On July 29, the Minya Criminal Court issued a death sentence to one defendant in the retrial. In 2015 the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial after the Minya Criminal Court issued provisional death sentences in 2014 to 683 defendants.
The law imposes penalties on individuals designated by a court as terrorists, even without criminal convictions. As of May authorities had added more than 2,800 persons to the national terrorists list. The effects of a designation include a travel ban, asset freeze, loss of political rights, and passport cancellation. HRW claimed designated individuals could not contest the designation, and authorities had not informed most individuals of their designation before the court decision; however, the decision may be appealed directly to the country’s highest appeals court. On July 4, the Court of Cassation overturned a ruling placing 1,538 people on a government terrorist list, many of whom were jailed members of the banned MB. The Court of Cassation returned the case to a lower court for reconsideration. On September 27, the Court of Cassation removed Badie and 35 other MB members from the official terrorist list.
The constitution states: “Civilians may not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that represent a direct assault against military facilities, military barracks, or whatever falls under their authority; stipulated military or border zones; military equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, military secrets, public funds or military factories; crimes related to conscription; or crimes that represent a direct assault against its officers or personnel because of the performance of their duties.”
Authorities used military courts to try civilians accused of threatening national security. Public access to information concerning military trials was limited. Military trials were difficult to monitor because media were usually subjected to restraint orders. Rights groups and lawyers stated defense attorneys in military trials had difficulty gaining access to their clients and to documentation related to the cases.
According to a 2016 HRW report, military courts had tried at least 7,400 civilians since the issuance of a 2014 decree ordering the military to “assist” police in securing “vital public facilities.” In an official statement responding to a HRW report, the government noted that, according to the constitution, the military judiciary adjudicates all crimes related to the armed forces, its officers and personnel, and what falls under the military’s jurisdiction.
Domestic and international human rights organizations criticized the executions between December 2017 and January 9 of 22 individuals previously convicted in military courts and raised concerns about lack of respect for fair trial assurances. In one instance authorities executed four individuals convicted in a military trial in 2016 of a deadly attack that killed three military college students and injured two. According to human rights organizations, the defendants were subjected to forced disappearance for more than 70 days. According to the defendants’ written testimony, most were tortured in prison.
On July 31, a military court sentenced poet Galal el Behairy to three years in prison on charges of publishing fake news and insulting the military. The charges stemmed from his anthology of poems The Best Women on Earth, whose title plays on a phrase used to describe the military.
On October 15, the Court of Cassation upheld three-year sentences for former president Morsi and 18 others for insulting the judiciary. On September 30, the Cairo Criminal Court ordered a retrial of MB Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and other senior figures in the MB, related to a 2015 case in which Badie and 13 others received life sentences “over violence between MB supporters and opponents near the group’s headquarters.” The retrial started October 15 and included additional charges of beating protesters, but the law allows modification of charges if new evidence arises. Some local and international rights groups questioned the impartiality of proceedings. According to press statements by Morsi’s family, authorities have only allowed them to visit him twice since his incarceration in 2013. They also stated he remained in solitary confinement and denied medical treatment for his diabetes, resulting in impaired vision in one eye, among other complications.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary often failed to uphold this right.
The law presumes defendants are innocent, and authorities usually inform them promptly and in detail of charges against them. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials. Attendance is mandatory for individuals charged with felonies and optional for those charged with misdemeanors. Civilian criminal and misdemeanor trials usually are public. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney, and the government is responsible for providing counsel if the defendant cannot afford a lawyer. Defendants have the right to free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals. The court assigns an interpreter. The law allows defendants to question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The constitution provides for the right of an accused person to remain silent in his own trial. Defendants have the right of appeal up to the Court of Cassation. Judges must seek the nonbinding review of the grand mufti on all death sentences, and the president must confirm all such sentences.
The law permits individual members of the public to file charges with the prosecutor general, who is charged with deciding whether the evidence justifies referring the charges for a trial. Observers reported, however, that, due to unclear evidentiary standards, the Prosecutor General’s Office investigates and refers for trial the overwhelming majority of such cases, regardless of the strength of the evidence.
After a prime ministerial decree in October 2017, authorities have referred certain economic and security crimes, including violations of protest laws, to state security courts instead of the public prosecutor. State security courts may have two military judges appointed to sit alongside three civilian judges and verdicts of state security courts can only be appealed on points of law rather than the facts of the case as in a civilian court.
Military courts are not open to the public. Defendants in military courts nominally enjoyed the same fair trial assurances, but the military judiciary has wide discretion to curtail these rights in the name of public security. Military courts often tried defendants in a matter of hours, frequently in groups, and sometimes without access to an attorney, leading lawyers and NGOs to assert they did not meet basic standards of due process. Consequently, the quick rulings by military courts sometimes prevented defendants from exercising their rights. Defendants in military courts have the right to consult an attorney, but sometimes authorities denied them timely access to counsel. According to rights groups, authorities permitted defendants in military trials visits from their attorneys every six months, in contrast with the civilian court system, where authorities allowed defendants in detention attorney visits every 15 days.
The Military Judiciary Law governing the military court system grants defendants in the military court system the right to appeal up to the Supreme Military Court of Appeals. The president must certify sentences by military courts.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were reports of political prisoners and detainees, although verifiable estimates of their total number were not available. The government claimed there were no political prisoners and that all persons in detention had been or were in the process of being charged with a crime. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned as many as several thousand persons solely or chiefly because of their political beliefs. One local rights organization estimated there were more than 2,000 political prisoners in Borg al-Arab Prison alone. A local rights group considered any persons arrested under the 2013 demonstrations law to be political prisoners.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals had access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and filed such lawsuits during the year. Nonetheless, courts often dismissed cases or acquitted defendants for lack of evidence or conflicting witness testimonies. Individuals and organizations can appeal adverse domestic decisions to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Since the launching of Operation Sinai 2018 in February, the government has intensified its efforts to establish a buffer zone in North Sinai Governorate to interdict weapons smuggling and incursions to and from the Gaza Strip. The government also created a buffer zone around the Arish Airport, south of al-Arish.
Based on interviews and analysis of satellite imagery, human rights organizations reported the government destroyed approximately 3,600 homes and commercial buildings and hundreds of acres of farmland in North Sinai since January. In contrast to such reports, according to statements to media, the government stated it demolished 3,272 residential, commercial, administrative, and community buildings between mid-2013 and 2016. Although the government stated it would appropriately compensate all families whose homes it destroyed, rights groups stated that the security forces continued to evict residents of the buffer zone without adequate compensation for loss of property. Moreover, the government did not compensate residents for agricultural land. Human rights organizations, including HRW, reported that security forces punitively demolished the homes of suspected terrorists, dissidents and their families.
The constitution prohibits such actions and provides for the privacy of the home, correspondence, telephone calls, and other means of communication. Nevertheless, there were reports that security agencies sometimes placed political activists, journalists, foreigners, and writers under surveillance; monitored their private communications; screened their correspondence, including email and social media accounts; examined their bank records; searched their persons and homes without judicial authorization; and confiscated personal property in an extrajudicial manner.
The conflict involving security forces, militant groups, and terrorist organizations in North Sinai continued. Although the government severely restricted access for media to the North Sinai, starting in July it began organizing supervised visits to the region for domestic and international media organizations. Rights groups and international media reported that the armed forces used indiscriminate violence during military operations resulting in killings of civilians and destruction of property. After launching Operation Sinai 2018, the government imposed severe restrictions on North Sinai residents’ travel to mainland Egypt and movement within North Sinai Governorate. The armed forces stated officially that it provided sufficient humanitarian assistance for local residents throughout the operations.
Human rights groups reported the restrictions caused shortages of food and potable water in Sheikh Zuwayed and Rafah, and the army began selling and distributing food to the population of the region.
Killings: At the end of the year, the government recognized no civilian deaths due to security force actions. Human rights organizations stated some persons killed by security forces were civilians. On May 8, two separate videos released on social media depicted men apparently wearing army uniforms killing a detained and unarmed individual.
Human rights groups and the media reported civilian casualties following army artillery fire in civilian residential areas. According to media reports in May, army shelling killed two children and injured three others when shells hit a residential area south of Rafah.
Human rights groups and media also reported authorities shot civilians for allegedly not adhering to security personnel instructions at checkpoints or for unknown reasons. For example, according to media reports, soldiers fired weapons near a crowd outside a food distribution center. Shrapnel injured four persons, including one woman who lost vision in one eye and was not allowed to seek medical treatment in mainland Egypt.
Militants and terrorist groups in Sinai continued to target the armed forces and civilians, using tactics including gunfire and beheading, including the November 2017 attack in the Rawda Mosque in North Sinai, which killed more than 300 civilians. In June, ISIS claimed responsibility for beheading two civilians it claimed cooperated with the armed forces. There were many reports of attacks using improvised explosive devices targeting military or civilians. For example, on October 25, an improvised explosive device emplaced by militants on a roadside, detonated in the city of Arish, killing at least two military contractors and injuring 10 others.
Abductions: Militants abducted civilians in North Sinai. According to human rights groups, militants rarely released abductees; they were more often shot or beheaded. According to human rights groups, militants abducted civilians rumored or known to cooperate with security forces.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: According to press reports, militants attacked health-care personnel and ambulances trying to reach security checkpoints or transfer injured soldiers to hospitals. State authorities forcibly displaced civilians from the Rafah border area in an attempt to curb smuggling operations, according to press reports and human rights organizations (see section 2.d.).
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 some government forces, including the PMF and Asayish, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, as did ISIS and other terrorist groups (see section 1.g.). During the year the security situation remained unstable in some areas, due to: regular raids and attacks by ISIS and their affiliated cells, particularly in remote areas; sporadic fighting between the ISF and ISIS holdouts in remote areas; the presence of militias not fully under the control of the government, including certain PMF units, in many liberated areas; and sectarian, ethnic, and financially motivated violence. From January 1 to August 31, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported more than 700 civilians killed in the country.
Government security forces reportedly committed extrajudicial killings. The government rarely made public its identification and prosecution of specific perpetrators of abuses and atrocities. Human rights organizations reported that both Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense personnel tortured detainees to death. For example, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in August that at least three individuals died from torture in the Mosul police station and Faisaliya Prison in east Mosul. The August report details the experiences of “Mahmoud,” who reportedly was detained and tortured at Faisaliya Prison from January to May and who recounted the death of a cousin of another detainee named “Ammar.” “Mahmoud” reportedly heard screams as prison officers beat “Ammar’s” cousin unconscious on two consecutive nights. After the second night, “Mahmoud” recounted taking off the man’s clothes to care for him, finding he had two big bruises to his waist on either side, green bruises on his arms, and a long red burn down the length of his penis.
Security forces fired upon and beat demonstrators protesting unemployment and poor public services related to water and electricity in Basrah Governorate and elsewhere in southern Iraq between July and September. HRW reported that the security forces, largely from the Ministry of Interior, used excessive and unnecessary lethal force in controlling protests that at times turned violent. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media reported at least eight deaths related to the protests in July. On September 5, at least seven died in clashes with security forces during protests in Basrah. Some demonstrators also turned to violence and set fire to government buildings, the Iranian Consulate, and the offices of pro-Iran militias and political parties. Local and international human rights organizations accused ISF, including Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) PMF units, of using excessive force, including live ammunition, against the protesters and called for the government to conduct an investigation into the deaths and violence during the protests.
In response to the protests, Prime Minister Abadi dismissed the head of Basrah’s military operations. As of October, the government had not reported any progress in investigating the killing of the protesters.
In 2017 the Office of the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a committee to investigate allegations of ISF abuse during the operation to retake Mosul from ISIS. It stated the government had arrested, and planned to prosecute, several ISF officers. HRW reported in April that the government disposed of evidence of a potential war crime committed against members of ISIS, removing an estimated 80 bodies from a damaged house in Mosul and burning the house. HRW added that at least one of the bodies appeared to have its legs bound, that there was no indication that the government was collecting evidence, and that government officials refused to tell its researchers where they were taking the bodies. As of October the government had not published specific information on judicial proceedings against any members of the security forces.
Human rights organizations reported that Iran-aligned PMF militia groups engaged in killing, kidnapping, and extortion throughout the country, particularly in ethnically and religiously mixed governorates. Media reported that in April members of the Peace Brigades PMF militia and Federal Police killed Brigadier General Shareef Ismaeel al-Murshidi, a brigade commander whose forces were tasked with protecting the prime minister and Baghdad’s Green Zone, as well as two of his guards at a PMF checkpoint in Samarra, Salah al-Din Governorate. Media reported in August that members of the Banu al-Khazraj tribe in Dujail, Salah al-Din Governorate, alleged that AAH kidnapped and killed three tribal sheikhs in August the week after clashes between the two groups.
Civil society activists said Iran-aligned militias, specifically AAH, were also responsible for several attacks against prominent women. Human rights organizations reported that militia groups and their supporters posted threats on social media against specific female activists participating in protests in Basrah in September, and on September 25, activist Suad al-Ali was shot and killed in Basrah. Human rights activists stated they believed AAH was responsible, although police were also investigating the woman’s former husband. On September 27, armed gunmen shot and killed Iraqi social media star and model Tara Fares in Baghdad. Civil society groups said they believed an Iran-aligned militia, most likely AAH, killed Fares as well as the owners of three beauty centers in August and October (see section 6, Women).
Terrorist violence continued throughout the year, including ISIS attacks (see section 1.g.).
Unlawful killings by unidentified gunmen and politically motivated violence frequently occurred throughout the country. For example, in May police reported two unknown masked gunmen killed three people in a drive-by shooting in Basrah, and unidentified attackers shot and killed the mayor of Hammam al-Alil, near Mosul, as he left his home.
Ethnic and sectarian-based fighting continued in mixed governorates, although at lower rates than in 2017. While minority advocacy groups reported threats and attacks targeting their communities, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as based solely on ethnic or religious identity because religion, politics, and ethnicity were often closely linked.
On July 23, three gunmen, whom KRG authorities said had links to a terrorist group, forcibly entered a government building in central Erbil and killed a Christian employee. Authorities stated they believed the attackers, whom police eventually killed, targeted the victim because of his religion.
There were frequent reports of enforced disappearances by or on behalf of government forces, including ISF, Federal Police, PMF, Peshmerga, and Asayish, as well as by nongovernment militias and criminal groups. ISIS, however, was responsible for most attributable disappearances. The International Commission on Missing Persons estimated 250,000 to a million persons remained missing from decades of conflict and human rights abuses.
Many suspected members of ISIS and individuals close to them were among those subject to forced disappearance. In April Amnesty International alleged that government forces (both central government and KRG) were responsible for the forced disappearance of thousands of men and boys since 2014. Amnesty reported that, in and around Mosul, the majority of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances originated at screening sites near battle front lines overseen by government forces, including the ISF, PMF, and Peshmerga, and lacked safeguards and due process. A September HRW report documented 74 specific cases of men and four additional cases of boys reportedly forcibly disappeared by government forces between April 2014 and October 2017. HRW attributed responsibility for 28 disappearances to the Iran-aligned terrorist PMF group Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), 14 to the “Prime Minister’s Special Forces,” and 12 to the National Security Service (NSS).
In its September report, HRW detailed a case in which a man from al-Qaim said his sons’ wives told him that KH detained his sons at al-Razzazza checkpoint in Karbala Governorate in 2016 as they were traveling with their families to Baghdad. The man said KH released the women but provided no reason for detaining the two men, who remained missing.
Individuals, militias, and organized criminal groups carried out abductions and kidnappings for personal gain or for political or sectarian reasons. Media reported that on June 8, unknown gunmen reportedly abducted a retired army officer who was working in the market in Mahaweel, Babil Governorate.
Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, neither defines the types of conduct that constitute torture, and the law gives judges full discretion to determine whether a defendant’s confession is admissible. There were numerous reports that government officials employed torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and that courts routinely accepted forced confessions as evidence, which was often the only evidence in ISIS-related counterterrorism cases.
As in previous years, there were credible reports that government forces, including Federal Police, NSS, PMF, and Asayish, abused and tortured individuals–particularly Sunni Arabs–during arrest, pretrial detention, and after conviction. Former prisoners, detainees, and international human rights organizations documented cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in Ministry of Interior-run facilities and to a lesser extent in Ministry of Defense-run detention facilities, as well as in facilities under KRG control.
In an August report, HRW documented details of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees in custody in facilities run by the Ministry of Interior in the Mosul area. These included the Mosul police office and the Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism Office’s Faisaliya Prison in east Mosul as well as Qayyarah Prison, which reportedly consisted of a group of three abandoned and dilapidated houses south of Mosul. According to HRW, one interviewee reportedly witnessed or experienced repeated torture during interrogations at Faisaliya Prison from January to May, including: hanging from the hands bound behind the back; beatings with plastic and metal pipes and cables, including on the soles of the feet; burning of the penis and testicles with a hot metal ruler; hanging by a hook and tying a one-quart water bottle to the penis; and kneeling with the hands tied together behind the back. The May report also cited a man who reportedly saw other men returning from interrogations with physical signs of abuse during his year in detention at Qayyarah and Faisaliya Prisons. HRW stated the government’s failure to investigate the reports properly led to a culture of impunity among security forces. In September the government reported it had started an investigation committee to look into the accusations.
Denial of access to medical treatment was also a problem. Local human rights organizations reported that government forces in Basrah Governorate prevented hospitals from treating people injured in protests against the government in September.
In May a video circulated among local human rights civil society organizations (CSOs) in which Rayan al-Kildani, leader of the Iran-aligned Babylon Brigade PMF group, cut off the ear of a handcuffed detainee.
Instances of abusive interrogation also reportedly occurred in some detention facilities of the KRG’s Asayish internal security unit and the intelligence services of the major political parties–the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) Parastin, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK) Zanyari. According to local and international human rights organizations, mistreatment of prisoners and detainees in the KRG typically occurred before their arrival at official detention facilities.
The Independent Human Rights Commission of the Kurdistan Region (IHRCKR) reported in September that the KRG held 56 boys in an Erbil juvenile detention facility on ISIS-related accusations, of whom 42 were convicted of crimes and 14 were still awaiting trial. Most of the boys alleged both PMF and KRG security forces subjected them to various forms of abuse, including beatings. In August, HRW reported that virtually all of the abuse alleged by these boys occurred between their arrest and their arrival at long-term detention facilities, rather than at the detention facilities themselves.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in government-run prisons was a systemic problem exacerbated by an increase in the number of alleged ISIS members detained during the year. In addition three of the 24 correctional facilities managed by the Iraqi Corrections Service, the government entity with legal authority to hold persons after conviction, were not operational due to the security situation.
Al-Nasiriyah Central Prison, also known as al-Hoot Prison, in Dhi Qar Governorate, was designed to hold 2,400 prisoners, but Iraq High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) observers reported in July that the prison held approximately 9,000 prisoners.
Overcrowding exacerbated corruption among some police officers and prison administrators, who reportedly took bribes to reduce or drop charges, cut sentences, or release prisoners early.
Authorities separated detainees from convicts in most cases. Prisoners facing terrorism charges were isolated from the general detainee population and were more likely to remain in Ministry of Interior or Ministry of Defense detention for longer periods.
Although the government held most juvenile pretrial detainees and convicts in facilities operated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, there were reports that Ministry of Justice-administered prisons, Ministry of Interior police stations, and other Ministry of Interior detention facilities held some juveniles in separate facilities or mixed with adult prisoners.
The Ministry of Justice reported there were no accommodations for inmates with disabilities, and a previously announced ministry initiative to establish facilities for such detainees was not fully implemented as of August.
Inmates in government-run prisons and detention centers often lacked adequate food, potable water, sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and medical care. Some detention facilities did not have an onsite pharmacy or infirmary, and authorities reported that even when they existed, pharmacies were often undersupplied and government officers reportedly withheld medication or medical care from prisoners and detainees. Women’s prisons often lacked adequate child-care facilities for inmates’ children, whom the law permits to remain with their mothers until age four. Limited and aging infrastructure worsened sanitation, limited access to potable water, and led to preparation of poor-quality food in many prison facilities. Authorities reportedly kept prisoners confined in their cells for long periods without an opportunity for exercise or use of showers or sanitary facilities.
HRW reported in July that NSS admitted detaining more than 400 individuals (many unlawfully) in a secret detention facility in east Mosul. The facility was a two-story house next to the NSS office in al-Shurta neighborhood. There appeared to be no legal mandate for this facility, and its existence previously was denied. After being detained there in April, Faisel Jeber told HRW that he was one of almost 80 detainees in a room 13 feet by 16 and a half feet with one window and a small ventilator. According to Jeber, half the prisoners were standing and the other half sitting because there was not enough room for everyone to sit at the same time. Jeber said that on his first night, someone died from torture and another had an epileptic seizure but received no medical attention. Some bribed guards to communicate with their families indirectly, but reportedly no one was allowed a family visit even after two years in detention. HRW reported conditions in al-Shurta were similar to facilities in Qayyarah and Hammam al-Alil, facilities HRW visited in 2017.
According to UNAMI the KRG’s newer detention facilities in major cities were well maintained, although conditions remained poor in many smaller detention centers operated by the KRG Ministry of Interior. In some KRG Asayish detention centers and police-run jails, KRG authorities occasionally held juveniles in the same cells as adults. An IHRCKR report stated that authorities housed more than 40 minors, with ages ranging from six months to 12 years, in Erbil prisons with their convicted mothers, as of November. UNICEF funded a separate annex to the prison for these minors, but they continued to lack access to education. After reports of poor quality food in prisons, the mayor of Erbil replaced the companies contracted to provide food services in Erbil prisons and ensured new contracts included strict quality standards.
Administration: The central government reported it took steps to address allegations of mistreatment in central government facilities, but the extent of these steps was not known. Several human rights organizations stated that the country’s judges frequently failed to investigate credible allegations that security forces tortured terrorism suspects and often convicted defendants based (often solely) on allegedly coerced confessions.
Prison and detention center authorities reportedly sometimes delayed the release of exonerated detainees or inmates due to lack of prisoner registration or other bureaucratic issues, or they extorted bribes from prisoners for release at the end of their sentence. International and local human rights groups reported that authorities in numerous instances denied family visits to detainees and convicts. Guards allegedly often demanded bribes or beat detainees when detainees asked to call their relatives or legal counsel. A Ninewa Governorate official said PMF released arrestees and detainees suspected of having ISIS ties after they paid bribes.
The KRG had no uniform policy for addressing allegations of abuse by KRG Ministry of Interior officers or the Asayish. In a March report on prison conditions across the IKR, the IHRCKR stated some prisons failed to maintain basic standards and to safeguard the human rights of prisoners. The report emphasized the need for new buildings and for laws to protect the rights and safety of inmates, such as separating drug dealers and drug users. In May, seven inmates were killed and 18 injured in a fire set during a riot inside Zarka Prison in Duhok Governorate.
Independent Monitoring: Iraqi Corrections Service prisons allowed regular visits by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported the Ministries of Justice, Interior, Defense, and Labor and Social Affairs largely permitted them access to prisons and detention facilities. Authorities also granted UNAMI access to Ministry of Justice prisons and detention facilities in Baghdad. There were reports of some institutional interference in prison visits, and in some cases institutions required advance notification to wardens and prison officials for outside monitor visits. The government denied the existence of some secret detention centers but admitted the existence of an NSS detention center in al-Shurta, east Mosul, despite previous denials, and permitted monitoring of a replacement facility.
The KRG generally allowed international human rights NGOs and intergovernmental organizations to visit convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees, but occasionally authorities delayed or denied access to some individuals, usually in cases involving terrorism. The United Nations and the ICRC had regular access to IKR prisons and detention facilities. Local CSO Kurdistan Human Rights Watch (KHRW) reported that, although they were previously able to access any IKR prison without notice, they increasingly had to request permission in advance to gain access. They usually received permission, but typically at a higher rate and more quickly at Ministry of Social Affairs prisons than those run by the Asayish. KHRW also stated the Asayish sometimes denied holding prisoners to avoid granting independent organizations access to them. KHRW stated in July they had evidence that two Kurdish youth arrested in March on suspicion of drug trafficking remained in Asayish custody without trial, but Asayish authorities denied any knowledge of their cases.
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. Despite such protections, there were numerous reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions, predominantly of Sunni Arabs, including IDPs.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Numerous domestic security forces operated throughout the country. The regular armed forces and domestic law enforcement bodies maintained order within the country. The PMF, a state-sponsored umbrella military organization composed of approximately 60 militia groups, operated throughout the country. Some PMF groups, however, such as AAH and KH, often appeared to operate independently from Iraqi authorities and answer to Iranian authorities. They sometimes undertook operations independent of political leaders or military commanders and discounted the authority of commanders during sanctioned operations. Most PMF units were Shia Arab, reflecting the demographics of the country. Shia Arab militia operated across the country, while Sunni Arab, Yezidi, Christian, and other minority PMF units generally operated within or near their home regions. The Peshmerga, including militias of the KDP and PUK, maintained order in the IKR.
The ISF consists of security forces administratively organized within the Ministries of Interior and Defense, the PMF, and the Counterterrorism Service. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for domestic law enforcement and maintenance of order; it oversees the Federal Police, Provincial Police, Facilities Protection Service, Civil Defense, and Department of Border Enforcement. Energy police, under the Ministry of Oil, are responsible for providing infrastructure protection. Conventional military forces under the Ministry of Defense are responsible for the defense of the country but also carry out counterterrorism and internal security operations in conjunction with the Ministry of Interior. The Counterterrorism Service reports directly to the prime minister and oversees the Counterterrorism Command, an organization that includes three brigades of special operations forces. The NSS intelligence agency also reports directly to the prime minister.
In March the prime minister issued a decree formalizing inclusion of the PMF in the security forces, granting them equivalent salaries and subjecting them to military service laws. While limited by law to operations in the country, in some cases units reportedly supported the Assad regime in Syria, acting independently of the Iraqi government’s authority. The government did not recognize these fighters as PMF even if their organizations were part of the PMF. All PMF units officially report to the national security advisor and are under the authority of the prime minister, but several units in practice were also responsive to Iran and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The prime minister, national security advisor, and ISF did not demonstrate consistent command and control over all PMF activities, particularly units aligned with Iran. Actions by disparate PMF units exacerbated security challenges and sectarian tensions, especially in diverse areas of the country such as Ninewa and Kirkuk Governorates.
The two main Kurdish political parties, the KDP and the PUK, each maintained an independent security apparatus. Under the federal constitution, the KRG has the right to maintain internal security forces, but the PUK and KDP separately controlled additional Peshmerga units. The KDP and PUK likewise maintained separate Asayish internal security services and separate intelligence services, nominally under the KRG Ministry of Interior.
KRG forces detained suspects in areas the regional government controlled. Poorly defined administrative boundaries and disputed territories between the IKR and the rest of the country led to confusion over the jurisdiction of security forces and the courts.
Government forces made limited efforts to prevent or respond to societal violence, including ethnosectarian violence that continued to flare in Kirkuk and Ninewa Governorates during the year.
Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over some elements of the security forces, particularly certain Iran-aligned PMF units. Impunity was a problem. There were reports of torture and abuse throughout the country in facilities used by the Ministries of Interior and Defense, as well as PMF groups and the NSS. According to international human rights organizations, abuse took place primarily during detainee interrogations while in pretrial detention. Other problems persisted, including corruption, within the country’s provincial police forces. The military and Federal Police recruited and deployed soldiers and police officers on a nationwide basis, leading to complaints from local communities that members of the army and police were abusive because of ethnosectarian differences.
Investigators in the Ministry of Interior’s office of the inspector general were responsible for conducting investigations into human rights abuses by security forces, with a preliminary report due within 30 days. The minister of interior or the prime minister can also order investigations into high-profile allegations of human rights abuses, as occurred following reports of ISF abuses during September protests in Basrah. The government rarely made the results of investigations public or punished those responsible for human rights abuses.
The IHRCKR routinely notified the Kurdistan Ministry of Interior when it received credible reports of police human rights violations. The KRG High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports reviewed charges of Peshmerga abuses, largely against IDPs, and exculpated them in public reports, but human rights organizations questioned the credibility of those investigations.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law prohibits the arrest or remand of individuals, except by order of a competent judge or court or as established by the code of criminal procedures. The law requires authorities to register the detainee’s name, place of detention, reason for detention, and legal basis for detention within 24 hours of the detention–a period that may be extended to a maximum of 72 hours in most cases. For offenses punishable by death, authorities may legally detain the defendant as long as necessary to complete the judicial process. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for updating and managing these registers. The law requires the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the NSS to establish guidelines for commanders in battlefield situations to register detainees’ details in this central register. The law also prohibits any entity, other than legally competent authorities, to detain any person.
Human rights organizations reported that government forces, including the ISF, Federal Police, NSS, PMF, Peshmerga, and Asayish, frequently ignored the law. Local media and human rights groups reported that authorities arrested suspects in security sweeps without warrants, particularly under the antiterrorism law, and frequently held such detainees for prolonged periods without charge or registration. The government periodically released detainees, usually after concluding that it lacked sufficient evidence for the courts to convict them, but many others remained in detention pending review of other outstanding charges. In July HRW reported that the NSS admitted detaining more than 400 individuals (many arbitrarily or unlawfully) for prolonged periods up to two years, despite not having a legal mandate to do so (see section 1.c.).
According to NGOs, detainees and prisoners whom the judiciary ordered released sometimes faced delays from the Ministry of Interior or other ministries to clear their record of other pending charges and release them from prison.
The law allows release on bond for criminal (but not security) detainees. Authorities rarely released detainees on bail. The law provides for judges to appoint paid counsel for the indigent. Attorneys appointed to represent detainees frequently complained that insufficient access to their clients hampered adequate attorney-client consultation. In many cases, detainees were not able to meet their attorneys until their scheduled trial date. There were numerous reports that defendants did not have access to legal representation during the investigation phase, appointed lawyers lacked sufficient time to prepare a defense, and that courts failed to investigate claims of torture while in detention.
In a July report, private defense attorneys told HRW that in terrorism cases they never seek permission to represent their clients at the initial investigative hearing out of concern that security forces and judges at the investigative court would label them “ISIS lawyers,” subjecting them to arrest. They instead wait for the court to appoint a lawyer and only step in after the case is transferred to the felony court, where the risk of harassment and threats is significantly lower. Private defense attorneys did not represent any of the terrorism defendants in the 18 felony trials HRW observed in Baghdad and Ninewa, and the state-appointed defense attorneys reportedly did not actively mount a defense or seek investigations into torture claims. A member of Iraq’s Bar Association in Baghdad told HRW that the government pays state-appointed defense attorneys 25,000 Iraqi dinars ($21) per case, regardless of the amount of time they spend, giving lawyers no incentive to meet their client before the investigative hearing, study the case file, or continue to represent them in subsequent hearings. Lawyers said this lack of representation leaves defendants more vulnerable to abuse.
Government forces held many terrorism-related suspects incommunicado without an arrest warrant and transported detainees to undisclosed detention facilities (see section 1.b.).
Arbitrary Arrest: There were numerous reports of arbitrary or unlawful detention by government forces, including ISF, Federal Police, NSS, PMF, Peshmerga, and Asayish. There were no reliable statistics available regarding the number of such acts or the length of detentions. Authorities often failed to notify family members of the arrest or location of detention, resulting in incommunicado detention if not enforced disappearance (see section 1.b.). Humanitarian organizations also reported that, in many instances, central government forces did not inform detainees of the reasons for their detention or the charges against them. Most reports of arbitrary or unlawful detention involved suspected members or supporters of ISIS and their associates and family members. Individuals arbitrarily or unlawfully detained were predominantly Sunni Arabs, including IDPs. There were reports of Iran-aligned PMF groups also arbitrarily or unlawfully detaining Kurds and Turkmen in Kirkuk and Christians and other minorities in western Ninewa and the Ninewa Plain. A Ninewa-based CSO reported that the proliferation of intelligence, police, and security agencies, including the PMF, making arrests in Mosul complicated the ability of detainees’ families to determine which agencies held their relatives. There were also reports that security forces beat suspects, destroyed their houses, and confiscated property and food rations during operations to detain those with tenuous family ties to ISIS.
A September HRW report detailed the experiences of a man who reportedly was arbitrarily detained by KH for four months in 2014 and whose son remained missing. The man said that he, his son, and their taxi driver were arrested by KH at a checkpoint in Hilla and held for three days in a nearby house used as an unofficial detention center. KH reportedly released the driver but accused the man and his son of being sympathetic to ISIS. The man described how KH frequently beat him and his son with sticks, metal cables, and their hands. KH reportedly moved the two men to a larger unofficial detention facility where they met 64 other detainees, most belonging to the same tribe. After more than four months in squalid conditions, the man said KH dumped him and two older men on a Baghdad highway after a doctor who visited them told KH the men would likely die. The man stated that, as far as he knows, the same facility still held his son.
Pretrial Detention: The Ministries of Justice, Defense, Interior, and Labor and Social Affairs are authorized by law to hold pretrial detainees, as is the NSS in limited circumstances for a brief period. Lengthy pretrial detentions without due process or judicial action were a systemic problem, particularly for those accused of having ties to ISIS. There were no independently verified statistics, however, concerning the number of pretrial detainees in central government facilities, the approximate percentage of the prison and detainee population in pretrial detention, or the average length of time held.
The lack of judicial review resulted from several factors, including a large number of detainees, undocumented detentions, slow processing of criminal investigations, an insufficient number of judges and trained judicial personnel, authorities’ inability or reluctance to use bail or other conditions of release, lack of information sharing, bribery, and corruption. Overcrowding of pretrial detainees remained a problem in many detention centers.
Lengthy pretrial detentions were particularly common in areas liberated from ISIS, where the large number of ISIS-related detainees and use of makeshift facilities led to significant overcrowding and inadequate services. There were reports of both detention beyond judicial release dates and unlawful releases. The destruction of official detention facilities in the war against ISIS led to the use of temporary facilities; for example, the Ministry of Interior reportedly held detainees in homes rented from local residents in Ninewa Governorate.
The government did not publish comprehensive statistics on the status of the more than 1,400 non-Iraqi women and children it detained during military operations in Tal Afar, Ninewa Governorate, in August 2017. In February and June HRW reported problems relating to the detention and trial of those foreign women and children.
Authorities reportedly held numerous detainees without trial for months or years after arrest, particularly those detained under the antiterrorism law. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado, without access to defense counsel, presentation before a judge, or arraignment on formal charges within the legally mandated period. Authorities reportedly detained spouses and other family members of fugitives–mostly Sunni Arabs wanted on terrorism charges–to compel their surrender.
KRG authorities also reportedly held detainees for extensive periods in pretrial detention. According to IKR judicial officials, IKR law permits extension of pretrial detention of up to six months under court supervision. According to local CSOs and the IHRCKR, however, some detainees were held more than six months without trial, and the IHRCKR was tracking the cases of four detainees held for at least four years.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and law grant detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination on the legality of their detention and the right to prompt release. Despite the 2016 reform law concerning rights of detainees, NGOs widely reported that detainees had limited ability to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court and that a bribe was often necessary to get charges dropped unlawfully or gain release from arbitrary detention. While a constitutional right, the law does not allow for compensation for a person found to have been unlawfully detained.
Amnesty: In December 2017 the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament (IKP) issued an amnesty reducing the sentence of prisoners on death row to 15 years in prison, except in cases of terrorism, threatening national security, or killing women in so-called honor killings. While some NGOs protested that such a crosscutting amnesty undermined the justice system, the IHRCKR said that the IKP consulted them and incorporated all of the commission’s recommendations for the law.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but certain articles of law restricted judicial independence and impartiality. The country’s security situation and political history left the judiciary weak and dependent on other parts of the government. The Federal Supreme Court rules on issues related to federalism and constitutionality, and a separate Higher Judicial Council manages and supervises the court system, including disciplinary matters.
Corruption or intimidation reportedly influenced some judges in criminal cases at the trial level and on appeal at the Court of Cassation.
Numerous threats and killings by sectarian, tribal, extremist, and criminal elements impaired judicial independence. Judges, lawyers, and their family members frequently faced death threats and attacks. For example, in April a group of armed individuals shot and wounded a judge in Maysan Governorate. The judge reportedly was overseeing the investigation of several official corruption complaints. Also in April, media reported that an IED killed the vice president of Diyala Governorate’s Court of Appeals.
Lawyers participated in protests demanding better protection from the government against threats and violence. In July a group of lawyers in Basrah Governorate protested the killing of a fellow lawyer who had been defending people involved in demonstrations demanding clean water and electricity. The lawyers demanded the government provide them better protection. In September, HRW reported that government forces threatened and arrested lawyers working in and around Mosul, Ninewa Governorate, whom the government forces perceived to be providing legal assistance to suspected members or supporters of ISIS and their associates and family members.
HRW reported in February and June that the government conducted rushed trials of foreign women and children on charges of illegal entry into the country and membership in or assistance to ISIS. Defense attorneys stated they rarely had access to their clients before hearings and were threatened for defending them. HRW alleged that judicial officials did not sufficiently take into account the individual circumstances in each case or guarantee the defendants a fair trial. Many of the foreign women received the death penalty or were sentenced to life in prison, and children older than age eight in some cases received sentences of up to five years in prison for ISIS membership and up to 15 years in prison for participating in violent acts. As of August at least 23 non-Iraqi women–including 17 from Turkey, two from Kyrgyzstan, two from Azerbaijan, and two from Germany–had received death sentences during the year for violating the counterterrorism law.
The Kurdistan Judicial Council is legally, financially, and administratively independent from the KRG Ministry of Justice, but the KRG executive reportedly influenced politically sensitive cases.
The constitution and law provide all citizens the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not enforce this right for all defendants. Some government officials, the United Nations, and CSOs reported trial proceedings fell short of international standards.
By law accused persons are innocent until proven guilty. Judges in ISIS-related cases, however, sometimes reportedly presumed defendants’ guilt based upon presence or geographic proximity to activities of the terrorist group, or upon a spousal or filial relationship to another defendant, as indicated by international NGOs throughout the year. The law requires detainees to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and of their right to a fair, timely, and public trial. Nonetheless, officials routinely failed to inform defendants promptly or in detail of charges against them. Trials were public, except in some national security cases. Numerous defendants experienced undue delays in reaching trial.
Defendants’ rights under law include the right to be present at their trial and the right to a privately retained or court-appointed counsel, at public expense, if needed. Defendants’ insufficient access to defense attorneys was a serious defect in investigative, trial, and appellate proceedings. Many defendants met their lawyers for the first time during the initial hearing and had limited to no access to legal counsel during pretrial detention. This was particularly true in counterterrorism courts, where judicial officials reportedly sought to complete convictions and sentencing for thousands of suspected ISIS members quickly, including through mass trials.
Defendants also had the right, under law, to free assistance of an interpreter, if needed. The qualifications of interpreters reportedly varied greatly. Sometimes foreign consulates provided translators when their nationals were on trial, HRW reported in June; in other cases, the court found an ad hoc solution, for instance by asking a journalist in attendance to interpret for a defendant from Trinidad and Tobago. When no translator was available, judges reportedly postponed proceedings and sent the foreign defendants back to jail.
Judges assemble evidence and adjudicate guilt or innocence. Defendants and their attorneys have the right, under law, to confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Nevertheless, defendants and their attorneys were not always granted access to evidence, or government officials demanded a bribe in exchange for access to the case files. In numerous cases judges reportedly relied on forced or coerced confessions as the primary or sole source of evidence in convictions, without the corroboration of forensic evidence or independent witness testimony.
In a July report, HRW described how judges routinely failed to investigate and punish security forces alleged to have tortured suspects, particularly those accused of terrorism and affiliation with ISIS. Instead, judges frequently ignored allegations of torture and reportedly convicted defendants based on forced or coerced confessions. In some cases judges convicted defendants without a retrial even after medical examinations revealed signs of torture. Legal experts noted that investigative judges’ and police investigators’ lack of expertise in forensics and evidence management also contributed to their reliance on confessions.
The law provides the right to appeal, although there is a statute of limitations for referral; the Court of Cassation reviews criminal cases on appeal. The law provides for retrials of detainees convicted due to forced or coerced confessions or evidence provided by secret informants, and the Ministry of Justice reported authorities released almost 7,900 detainees from government custody between the law’s enactment in 2016 and July 31. Appellate courts sometimes upheld convictions reportedly based solely or primarily on forced or coerced confessions.
KRG officials noted that prosecutors and defense attorneys frequently encountered obstacles in carrying out their work and that prisoners’ trials were unnecessarily delayed for administrative reasons. According to the IHRCKR, detainees have remained in KRG internal security service facilities for extended periods even after court orders for their release. Lawyers provided by an international NGO continued to have access to and provide representation to any juvenile without a court-appointed attorney.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The government did not consider any incarcerated persons to be political prisoners or detainees and stated that all individuals in prison or detention centers had been either convicted or charged under criminal law or were detained and awaiting trial while under investigation. It was difficult to assess these claims due to lack of government transparency; prevalence of corruption in arrest procedures; slow case processing; and extremely limited access to detainees, especially those held in counterterrorism, intelligence, and military facilities. Political opponents of the government alleged the government imprisoned individuals for political activities or beliefs under the pretense of criminal charges ranging from corruption to terrorism and murder.
There were isolated reports of political prisoners or detainees in the KRG. According to a human rights CSO in the IKR, in May KDP-aligned Asayish arrested and held for three months a former Peshmerga commander and prominent KDP member who had defected to an opposition party. In July the former mayor of Alqosh, Ninewa Governorate, claimed the Asayish detained, beat, threatened, and then released him to prevent him from reporting to work.
Niaz Aziz Saleh, convicted in 2012 of leaking KDP party information related to electoral fraud, remained in a KRG prison, despite the completion of his sentence in 2014.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for, or cessation of, human rights violations through domestic courts. Administrative remedies also exist. The government did not effectively implement civil or administrative remedies for human rights violations due in part to the overwhelming security focus of the executive branch, coupled with an understaffed judiciary dependent on the executive.
Unlike federal law, KRG law provides for compensation to persons subject to unlawful arrest or detention; the KRG Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs handles such cases. The IHRCKR reported that, while approximately 5,000 cases (many historical) received approval for compensation consisting of a piece of land, 10 years’ salary, and college tuition for one family member, the government could not pay compensation due to budget constraints. The ministry stated there were 13,000 unlawful arrests pending compensation decisions.
The constitution and law prohibit the expropriation of property, except for the public benefit and in return for just compensation. Some government forces and officials, however, forced suspected ISIS members and supporters from their homes in several governorates, confiscating homes and property without due process or restitution.
HRW reported in April that some police and judicial officials in Ninewa Governorate believed the counterterrorism law allowed legal expropriation and transfer of a home or property if it is registered in the name of an individual ISIS member. The compensation commission of Mosul, Ninewa Governorate, stated that families of ISIS members could receive compensation if they obtain a security clearance to return home from the NSS, but HRW reported that all families of ISIS suspects were being denied clearance. According to the April report, there were 16 expropriations of homes registered to ISIS suspects or their relatives in Mosul, Ninewa Governorate, by PMF, Federal Police, or local police, or other families; in each case, the owners or their relatives were unable to retake the property, even when they sought judicial redress. Several local officials in Ninewa Governorate admitted that government forces were occupying or confiscating homes illegally in this manner.
Some home and property confiscations appeared to have ethnic or sectarian motives. For example, the 30th Shabak Brigade, an Iran-aligned PMF group operating east of Mosul, reportedly detained and harassed Christians and Kaka’i, including a Kaka’i man who was detained in July until he agreed to sell his house to a PMF leader. NGOs reported that judges and local officials often took bribes to settle such property disputes.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were numerous reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Government forces often entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.
There were numerous reports that government forces and local authorities punished family members of suspected ISIS members and supporters. In some instances local community leaders reportedly threatened to evict these family members from their homes forcibly, bulldoze the homes, and either injure or kill these relatives. International NGOs stated that PMF groups forcibly displaced hundreds of families, destroyed or confiscated some of their homes, forced some parents to leave their children, stole livestock, and beat some of the displaced persons. There were also regular reports of government forces, particularly the PMF but also the Federal Police and local police, refusing to allow IDPs to return to their homes, sometimes despite the IDPs having the necessary security clearances from the government allowing them to do so.
Killings: From January 1 to August 31, UNAMI reported more than 700 civilians killed and almost 1,300 injured, a decrease from approximately 2,800 killed and more than 3,700 injured during the same period in 2017. It was unclear how many were intentionally targeted.
Despite its territorial defeat in December 2017, ISIS remained the major perpetrator of abuses and atrocities. These abuses were particularly evident in Anbar, Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din Governorates, where ISIS routinely killed and abducted civilians and attacked security forces. Throughout the year ISIS detonated vehicle-borne IEDs and suicide bombs.
On January 15, ISIS carried out a pair of suicide bomb attacks that killed at least 27 persons in Tayaran Square, an area in Baghdad where laborers gather to find work. ISIS also claimed responsibility for a May 23 suicide attack in Baghdad that killed at least four individuals and wounded 15. In August, ISIS suicide bombers attacked an al-Hal political party building in Heet, Anbar, killing three ISF and wounding nine civilians, including a female electoral candidate. On September 12, a suicide bomber killed at least six persons and injured 42 others at a restaurant near Tikrit, Salah al-Din; security personnel believed ISIS to be responsible. In addition, IEDs reportedly left by ISIS before its territorial defeat and other explosive remnants of war continued to cause civilian casualties.
In May the UN secretary-general appointed Karim Khan as special adviser and head of the Investigative Team for the Accountability of Daesh (ISIS), established pursuant to UN Security Council resolution 2379 to support domestic efforts to hold ISIS accountable. The Investigative Team–which was tasked with collecting, preserving, and storing evidence in Iraq of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by ISIS–formally began its work in August.
Abductions: There were frequent reports of enforced disappearances by or on behalf of government forces, including ISF, Federal Police, PMF, Peshmerga, and Asayish, as well as by nongovernment militias and criminal groups. ISIS was responsible for most attributable disappearances and abductions, and frequently targeted government forces. The Mosul Police reported approximately 11,000 civilians were still missing in the city from the time of ISIS occupation and liberation.
ISIS claimed responsibility for a March 20 attack at a fake checkpoint on the highway between Baghdad and Kirkuk in Sarha District, Diyala Governorate, in which the attackers abducted eight Federal Police officers. ISIS published a video of their execution several days later.
As of September authorities reported more than 3,200 Yezidis, mainly women and children, remained in ISIS captivity in and outside the country, where they were subject to sexual slavery and exploitation, forced marriage, and other abuses. According to the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, as of October more than 3,300 additional Yezidis had escaped, been rescued, or were released from ISIS captivity. As of August the KRG Yezidi Rescue Office, established by KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, had spent more than $10 million since 2014 to rescue captive Yezidis from ISIS.
In July the New York Times reported that a 16-year-old Yezidi girl named Souhayla had recently escaped from three years of ISIS imprisonment and sexual slavery in Iraq after an airstrike killed her captor.
IKR-based CSOs reported ISIS and organized criminal gangs had trafficked some captured Yezidi women and children internationally, primarily to Syria and Turkey, but also to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Europe, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia’s Chechen Republic. This reportedly included organ trafficking as well.
The IHCHR reported in August that 600 Turkmen kidnapped by ISIS, including more than 120 children, remained missing, while a Turkmen CSO reported more than 1,300 Turkmen were still missing. The CSO claimed to have evidence that ISIS had trafficked Turkmen women to Turkey, Syria, and Russia’s Chechen Republic.
The KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs also reported in October that 250 Christians had escaped, been rescued, or were released by ISIS, leaving an estimated 150 missing. According to the KRG Ministry of Peshmerga, more than 60 Peshmerga taken hostage during the fighting with ISIS remained missing.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Reports from international human rights groups stated that government forces, including Federal Police, National Security Service, PMF, and Asayish, abused prisoners and detainees, particularly Sunni Arabs. Followings its territorial defeat in December 2017, ISIS’ ability to capture prisoners was dramatically reduced.
Child Soldiers: There were no reports that the central government’s Ministries of Interior or Defense conscripted or recruited children to serve in the security services. The government and Shia religious leaders expressly forbid children younger than age 18 from serving in combat. Unlike in previous years, there was no evidence on social media of children serving in combat positions. The central government faced challenges, however, in exercising complete control over certain units of the PMF, limiting its ability to address and prevent the recruitment and use of children by these groups, including some units of the Iran-aligned AAH, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN), and KH militias. In May the UN Task Force on Children and Armed Conflict reported concerns that in 2017 the government failed to prevent PMF units in southern Iraq, including Najaf and al-Qadisiyah Governorates, from engaging in child recruitment and sponsoring military training camps for high school students, which included some children younger than age 18. The UN Task Force on Children and Armed Conflict verified 10 incidents affecting 19 boys throughout the country during the first quarter of the year, which included five recruitments in Ninewa Governorate, four killings, and 10 other injuries resulting from explosive materials in Ninewa, Kirkuk, and Salah al-Din Governorates. Antitrafficking in persons NGOs reported that some PMF groups, including AAH and HHN, continued recruiting males younger than age 18 to fight in Syria and Yemen.
As of early 2018, multiple sources reported the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) People’s Defense Forces (HPG) and Shingal Resistance Units (YBS) Yezidi militia, operating in Sinjar, Ninewa Governorate, and the IKR, continued to recruit and use children. According to Yezidi NGO Yazda, of approximately 400 Yezidi children younger than age 18 recruited as child soldiers by PKK and YBS militias, an estimated 100 remained with the militias as of November, with many of the rest having subsequently returned to their families.
In previous years ISIS was known to recruit and use children. Due in part to ISIS’ territorial defeat in 2017, little information was available on its use of children in the country during the year.
In February the Washington Post reported the experience of one boy in Ninewa Governorate who was recruited by ISIS at age 17 to cook for fighters. A few months later, an uncle in the PMF reportedly recruited him to spy on ISIS and offered him three million Iraqi dinars ($2,514). ISIS reportedly imprisoned the boy after catching him taking photographs. The boy eventually escaped, only to be caught by KRG forces and reportedly sentenced to detention in a juvenile reformatory, where he remained.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Conflict disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of persons throughout the country, particularly in Baghdad, Anbar, and Ninewa Governorates.
Government forces, including the ISF, PMF, and Peshmerga, established or maintained roadblocks that impeded the flow of humanitarian assistance to communities in need, particularly in disputed territories such as Sinjar, Ninewa Governorate. The KRG, specifically KDP-run checkpoints, also restricted the transport of food, medicines and medical supplies, and other goods into some areas.
ISIS reportedly targeted civilian infrastructure, including several attacks on electricity and water infrastructure in Kirkuk and other governorates.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Despite public assurances that it would do so, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) has not released a public report on its June 2017 antiterrorism operation in the vicinity of Aarsal. During the operation, the LAF–in search of suspected ISIS and Fatah al-Sham terrorists who had seized the area in 2014–detained more than 350 Syrian men after five terrorists detonated suicide bombs, killing a young girl and wounding seven soldiers. Four of the detainees died in custody. The LAF concluded its investigation in July 2017, and LAF leadership publically conceded the detainees experienced “some mistreatment,” but the LAF maintained they died of natural causes. Family members of three of the men released photographs of their bodies returned by the LAF, which they alleged showed signs of torture.
Closing arguments in the principal case, concerning the 2005 attack that killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other individuals, took place in September at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
There were no confirmed reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The penal code prohibits using acts of violence to obtain a confession or information about a crime, but the judiciary rarely investigated or prosecuted allegations of such acts. In September 2017 parliament approved a revised law against torture designed to align the country’s antitorture legislation better with the UN Convention Against Torture. The law prohibits all forms of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged that security officials mistreated detainees.
Human rights organizations reported that incidents of abuse occurred in certain police stations. The government denied the systematic use of torture, although authorities acknowledged violent abuse sometimes occurred during preliminary investigations at police stations or military installations where officials interrogated suspects without an attorney present.
In a July 15 report released by the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), local actor Ziad Itani alleged that officers from the General Directorate of State Security (GDSS) detained him incommunicado for six days in November 2017 and subjected him to torture until he confessed to collaborating with an Israeli agent. According to the report, Itani claimed that GDSS officers held him in a room designed for torture in an unknown location where they repeatedly beat and kicked him, hung him in a stress position, and used electrical cables to beat him, including on his exposed genitals. GDSS officers also allegedly threatened Itani and his family with rape and physical violence. The report claimed that Itani reported the torture to the Military Court during his first hearing in December 2017, but the judge failed to investigate the allegations as required by law. On May 29, the presiding judge dismissed the case against Itani after concluding the evidence against him appeared to be fabricated. Authorities subsequently charged a high-ranking police official for conspiring to fabricate evidence against Itani. After his release Itani visited Prime Minister Hariri who declared his arrest was based on “wrong information.” There were no reports that officials launched an investigation of the GDSS officers involved.
Although human rights and LGBTI organizations acknowledged some improvements in detainee treatment during the year, these organizations and former detainees continued to report that Internal Security Forces (ISF) officers mistreated drug users, persons involved in prostitution, and LGBTI individuals in custody, particularly through forced HIV testing, threats of prolonged detention, and threats to expose their status to family or friends.
One civilian employee of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was accused of sexual exploitation in March 2017. The incident was alleged to have taken place in 2014 or 2015. According to the United Nations, the accused individual resigned after being placed on administrative leave without pay. An Office of Internal Oversight Services investigation substantiated the allegation in late 2017, and the United Nations placed a note of the outcome in the subject’s Official Status File.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions were often overcrowded, and prisoners sometimes lacked access to basic sanitation. As was true for most buildings in the country, prison facilities were inadequately equipped for persons with disabilities.
Physical Conditions: As of October there were approximately 9,000 prisoners and detainees, including pretrial detainees and remanded prisoners, in facilities built to hold 3,500 inmates. Roumieh Prison, with a designed capacity of 1,500, held approximately 3,250 persons. Authorities often held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. ISF statistics indicated that the prisons incarcerated more than 1,000 minors and approximately 300 women. The ISF incarcerated women at four dedicated women’s prisons (Baabda, Beirut, Zahle, and Tripoli).
Conditions in overcrowded prisons were poor. According to a government official, most prisons lacked adequate sanitation, ventilation, and lighting, and authorities did not regulate temperatures consistently. Prisoners lacked consistent access to potable water. Roumieh prisoners often slept 10 in a room originally built to accommodate two prisoners. Although better medical equipment and training were available at Roumieh, basic medical care suffered from inadequate staffing, poor working conditions, and extremely overcrowded medical facilities. Some NGOs complained of authorities’ negligence and failure to provide appropriate medical care to prisoners, which may have contributed to some deaths. The ISF reported that none died of police abuse, and there were no cases of rape in prisons during the year. During the year 12 prisoners died of natural causes and one prisoner died of a drug overdose.
There were reports that some prison officials engaged in sexual exploitation of female prisoners in which authorities exchanged favorable treatment such as improved handling of cases, improved cell conditions, or small luxuries like cigarettes or additional food to women willing to have sex with officials.
Administration: The ISF’s Committee to Monitor Against the Use of Torture and Other Inhuman Practices in Prisons and Detention Centers conducted 110 prison visits as of October. Parliament’s Human Rights Committee was responsible for monitoring the Ministry of Defense detention center. The minister of interior assigned a general-rank official as the commander of the inspection unit and a major-rank official as the commander of the human rights unit. The minister instructed the units to investigate every complaint. After completing an investigation, authorities transferred the case to the inspector general for action in the case of a disciplinary act or to a military investigative judge for additional investigation. If investigators found physical abuse, the military investigator assigned a medical team to confirm the abuse and the judge ruled at the conclusion of the review. As of October there were no complaints reported to the ISF committee. According to the ISF Human Rights Unit, in the course of its own investigations, the ISF took disciplinary action against officers it found responsible for abuse or mistreatment, including dismissals, but it did not publicize this action.
During the year authorities arrested an ISF prison officer on charges of sexual abuse against an inmate. The case was ongoing as of October.
Families of prisoners normally contacted the Ministry of Interior to report complaints, although prison directors could also initiate investigations. According to a government official, prison directors often protected officers under investigation. Prisoners and detainees also have the ability to report abuse directly to the ISF Human Rights Unit.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison and detention conditions by local and international human rights groups and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and such monitoring took place. The ICRC regularly visited 23 prisons and detention centers.
Nongovernmental entities, such as the FTO Hizballah and Palestinian nonstate militias, also reportedly operated unofficial detention facilities. On August 19, local media published leaked photos purportedly showing entrances to several secret, Hizballah-run prisons in Beirut’s southern suburbs where Hizballah allegedly held, interrogated, and tortured detainees.
Improvements: ISF training and corrections staff continued to institutionalize best practices to protect human rights through developing and implementing standard operating procedures, and modifying hiring practices and training programs to improve professionalization among new officers.
On June 25, the country’s State Prosecutor ordered judges to cease prosecution of drug users before providing them the opportunity to participate in a treatment program; NGOs and international organizations cited the prosecution of drug users as a factor contributing to extended pretrial detention and overcrowding in prisons and detention centers.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. The law requires judicial warrants before arrests except in cases of active pursuit. Nonetheless, NGOs and civil society groups alleged some incidents of the government arbitrarily arresting and detaining individuals, particularly refugees and migrant workers. Typically, these detentions were for short periods and related to administrative questions associated with the residency or work status of these populations, often lasting between several hours to one or more days.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the ISF and the Directorate of General Security (DGS), and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The ISF, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for law enforcement, while the DGS, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for border control. The LAF, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security but authorized to arrest and detain suspects on national security grounds; it also arrested alleged drug traffickers. The GDSS, reporting to the prime minister through the Higher Defense Council, is responsible for investigating espionage and other national security issues.
Each security apparatus has its own internal mechanisms to investigate cases of abuse and misconduct. The ISF code of conduct defines the obligations of ISF members and the legal and ethical standards by which they must abide in performing their duties. NGOs and human rights advocates alleged that officers in various security forces enjoyed a degree of implicit impunity for violations, particularly because the Military Court typically hears cases against them. NGOs argued this practice contradicts the antitorture law. Some agencies, however, stated they took steps to increase accountability. For example, according to government officials and legal advocacy organizations, the ISF Inspector General investigated officials suspected of official wrongdoing, subjecting them to arrest and disciplinary measures ranging from suspensions and reassignments to criminal prosecution, although it has not made case details public.
The Ministry of Interior has a human rights unit to enhance and raise awareness about human right issues within the ISF, train police officers on human right standards, and monitor and improve prison conditions. The Ministry staffed the department with four officers, including the department’s head, and 15 noncommissioned officers. The department and its leadership maintained high standards of professionalism.
The ISF administers a complaint mechanism allowing citizens to track complaints and receive notification of investigation results. Citizens may file formal complaints against any ISF officer in person at a police station, through a lawyer, by mail, or online through the ISF website. At the time an individual files a complaint, the filer receives a tracking number that may be used to check the status of the complaint throughout the investigation. The complaint mechanism provides the ISF the ability to notify those filing complaints of the results of its investigation.
The ISF human rights unit continued its collaboration with NGOs, civil society, and other stakeholders to improve and advise on human rights procedures and policies and to increase accountability.
The LAF has a human rights unit that engaged in human rights training through various international organizations. The unit worked to assure that the LAF operated in accordance with major international human rights conventions and coordinated human rights training in LAF training academies. The LAF human rights unit also worked with international NGOs to coordinate human rights training and policies, and it requested the creation of legal advisor positions to embed with LAF combat units and advise commanders on human rights and international law during operations. The unit also has responsibility for coordinating the LAF’s efforts to combat trafficking in persons.
During the year 60 LAF officers participated in intensive human rights-focused training. The LAF Directorate of Humanitarian Law and Human Rights produced a card with applicable human rights and law of armed conflict guidance, requiring soldiers to carry it to strengthen compliance with LAF human rights policies and procedures.
UN Security Resolutions 425 and 426 established UNIFIL in 1978 to confirm the Israeli withdrawal from the southern region of the country, restore peace and security, and assist the government in restoring its authority over its territory. UN Security Resolution 1701 stated UNIFIL was to monitor cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizballah after their 2006 war, accompany the LAF in deploying to the South Litani Sector, assist in providing humanitarian access to civilians, or the safe return of displaced, as well as assist the government in securing its borders.
Despite the presence of Lebanese and UN security forces, Hizballah retained significant influence over parts of the country. Neither the LAF nor the ISF controlled or attempted to control the interiors of 11 of 12 Palestinian camps in the country. The LAF, however, maintained positions around the camps and monitored movements into and out of them (except Nahr el-Bared camp). Joint committees of armed Palestinian factions provided collectively for their internal security, and there was coordination with the government and the LAF.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law generally requires a warrant for arrest and provides the right to a medical examination and referral to a prosecutor within 48 hours of arrest. The law requires that officials promptly inform individuals of the charges against them, and authorities generally adhered to this requirement. If authorities hold a detainee longer than 48 hours without formal charges, the arrest is considered arbitrary, and authorities must release the detainee or request a formal extension. The code of criminal procedures provides that a person may be held in police custody for investigation for 48 hours, unless the investigation requires additional time, in which case the period of custody may be renewed for another 48 hours.
The law requires authorities to inform detainees of the charges filed against them. A suspect caught in the act of committing a crime must be referred to an examining judge, who decides whether to issue an indictment or order the release of the suspect. By law bail is available in all cases regardless of the charges, although the amounts required may be prohibitively high.
The code of criminal procedures states that from the moment of arrest a suspect or the subject of a complaint has the right to contact a member of his family, his employer, an advocate of his choosing, an acquaintance, or an interpreter, and undergo a medical examination on the approval of the general prosecutor. It does not, however, mention whether a lawyer may attend preliminary questioning with the judicial police. In practical terms the lawyer may not attend the preliminary questioning with judicial police. Under the framework of the law, it is possible to hold a suspect at a police station for hours before allowing the individual to exercise the right to contact an attorney. If the suspect lacks the resources to obtain legal counsel, authorities must provide free legal aid. The law does not require the judicial police to inform an individual who lacks legal counsel that one may be assigned through the Bar Association, whether in Beirut or Tripoli.
The law does not require authorities to inform individuals they have the right to remain silent. Many provisions of the law simply state that if the individuals being questioned refuse to make a statement or remain silent, this should be recorded and that the detainees may not be “coerced to speak or to undergo questioning, on pain of nullity of their statements.”
The law excludes from this protection suspects accused of homicide, drug crimes, endangerment of state security, violent crimes, crimes involving terrorism, and those with a previous criminal conviction.
Authorities may prosecute officials responsible for prolonged arrest on charges of depriving personal freedom, but they have rarely filed charges.
Authorities failed to observe many provisions of the law, and government security forces, as well as extralegal armed groups such as Hizballah, continued the practice of extrajudicial arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention. Additionally, the law permits military intelligence personnel to make arrests without warrants in cases involving military personnel or involving civilians suspected of espionage, treason, weapons possession, or terrorism.
Arbitrary Arrest: According to local NGOs, cases of arbitrary detention occurred, but most victims chose not to report violations against them to the authorities. NGOs reported that most cases involved vulnerable groups such as refugees, drug users, LGBTI individuals, and migrant workers. Civil society groups reported authorities frequently detained foreign nationals arbitrarily.
Pretrial Detention: The law states the period of detention for a misdemeanor may not exceed two months. Officials may extend this period by a maximum of two additional months. The initial period of custody may not exceed six months for a felony, but the detention may be renewed. Due to judicial backlogs, pretrial detention periods for felonies may last for months or years.
Pretrial detention periods were often lengthy due to delays in due process. The ISF did not report the number of prisoners in pretrial detention. As of October there were approximately 9,000 detainees, between sentenced offenders and those awaiting trial. In August 2017 the ISF reported more than 4,000 pretrial detainees. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about arbitrary pretrial detention without access to legal representation. Some pretrial detention periods equaled or exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. According to a study by the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, detainees spent one year on average in pretrial detention prior to sentencing. Individuals accused of murder spent on average 3.5 years in pretrial detention. Some Lebanese Sunni militants, detained after returning from fighting in Syria, have remained in pretrial detention for more than five years.
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, authorities subjected the judiciary to political pressure, particularly in the appointment of key prosecutors and investigating magistrates. Persons involved in routine civil and criminal proceedings sometimes solicited the assistance of prominent individuals to influence the outcome of their cases.
The constitution and the law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally sought to enforce this right.
Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and have the right to be promptly informed of the charges against them. Trials are generally public, but judges have the discretion to order a closed court session. Defendants have the right to be present at trial, to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and to question witnesses against them. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right to free interpretation; however, interpreters were rarely available. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; they have the right of appeal.
The Military Court has a permanent tribunal and a cassation tribunal. The latter, composed of civilian judges, hears appeals from the former. The Military Court has jurisdiction over cases involving the military and police, as well as those involving civilians accused of espionage, treason, weapons possession, and draft evasion. It also may try civilians on security charges or for violations of the military code of justice, which also applies to civilians. Defendants on trial under the military tribunal have the same procedural rights as defendants in ordinary courts. While civilian courts may try military personnel, the Military Court often hears these cases, including for charges unrelated to official military duty. Human rights activists raised concerns that such proceedings created the potential for impunity. Although the military and civilian courts follow the same appellate procedures, human rights groups expressed concerns that Military Court proceedings were opaque, lacked sufficient due process assurances, and afforded inadequate review of court decisions.
Governance and justice in the Palestinian camps varied greatly, with most camps under the control of joint Palestinian security forces representing multiple factions, while local militia strongmen heavily influenced others. Essentially, Palestinian groups in refugee camps operated an autonomous system of justice mostly invisible to outsiders and beyond the control of the state. For example, local popular committees in the camps attempted to resolve disputes through informal mediation methods but occasionally transferred those accused of more serious offenses (for example, murder and terrorism) to state authorities for trial.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but plaintiffs seldom submitted civil lawsuits seeking damages for government human rights violations to it. During the year there were no examples of a civil court awarding a person compensation for such violations. There is no regional mechanism to appeal adverse domestic human rights decisions. The country has reservations on individual complaints under any human rights treaty, body, or special procedure. Appeals to international human rights bodies are accessible only after exhausting all domestic remedies.
The law prohibits such actions, but authorities interfered with the privacy of persons regarded as enemies of the government. There were reports that security services monitored private email and other digital correspondence. On January 8, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and mobile security firm Lookout reported a spyware campaign operating from servers they identified as belonging to DGS. According to the report, since 2012 the campaign targeted the communications and activities of users in several countries, including Lebanese journalists and activists, by installing malware from fake versions of secure Android apps such as WhatsApp.
The law provides for the interception of telephone calls with prior authorization from the prime minister at the request of the minister of interior or minister of defense.
Militias and non-Lebanese forces operating outside the area of central government authority also frequently violated citizens’ privacy rights. Various nonstate actors, such as Hizballah, used informer networks, telephone, and electronic monitoring to obtain information regarding their perceived adversaries.
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 GNA-aligned armed groups, nonstate actors, LNA units, Chadian and Sudanese rebel groups, tribal groups, ISIS fighters, and other terrorist groups committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.). Alliances, sometimes temporary, among elements of the government, non-state actors, and former or active officers in the armed forces participating in extralegal campaigns made it difficult to ascertain the role of the government in attacks by armed groups.
Reports indicated terrorist organizations, criminal gangs, and militias played a prominent role in targeted killings and suicide bombings perpetrated against both government officials and civilians. Criminal groups or armed elements affiliated with both the government and its opponents may have carried out other such attacks. Shelling, gunfire, airstrikes, and unexploded ordinances killed scores of persons during the year, including in the capital, Tripoli. In the absence of an effective judicial and security apparatus, perpetrators remained unidentified, and most of these crimes remained unpunished.
Between January and October, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) documented the deaths of more than 177 civilians. Shelling injured or killed the largest number of victims.
GNA-aligned forces and armed groups acting outside GNA control committed an unknown number of forced disappearances (see section 1.g.). The GNA made few effective efforts to prevent, investigate, or penalize forced disappearances.
Kidnappings were common throughout the year, typically carried out by criminal gangs or trafficking groups that exploited the country’s ungoverned spaces and ransomed victims for money.
On April 20, Salem Mohamed Beitelmal, a professor at the University of Tripoli, was driving to work when local militias abducted him on the outskirts of western Tripoli. On June 6, his captors released him.
Many disappearances that occurred during the Qadhafi regime, the 2011 revolution, and the post-revolutionary period remained unresolved. Due to the continuing conflict, weak judicial system, legal ambiguity regarding amnesty for revolutionary forces, and the slow progress of the National Fact-finding and Reconciliation Commission, law enforcement authorities and the judiciary made no appreciable progress in resolving high-profile cases.
While the Constitutional Declaration and post-revolutionary legislation prohibit such practices, credible sources indicated personnel operating both government and extralegal detention centers tortured prisoners (see section 1.g.). While judicial police controlled many facilities, the GNA continued to rely primarily on armed groups to manage prisons and detention facilities. Furthermore, armed groups, not police, initiated arrests in most instances. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), armed groups held detainees at their discretion prior to placing them in official detention facilities. Treatment varied from facility to facility and typically was worst at the time of arrest. National Committee for Human Rights in Libya (NCHRL) reported abuses included beatings with belts, sticks, hoses, and rifles; administration of electric shocks; burns inflicted by boiling water, heated metal, or cigarettes; mock executions; suspension from metal bars; and rape.
On November 14, Director of the Patrol Department of the Public Security Service under the Qadhafi regime, Brigadier General Nuri al-Jalawawi, died after being tortured in Al-Hadhba prison in Tripoli, according to human rights activists and press reports. Nuri was arrested after the 2011 revolution and held in Al-Hadhba prison, which is under the control of the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigades (TRB). In 2015 the Tripoli Appellate Court suspended the case against him and ordered his transfer to Al-Razi Psychiatric Hospital in Gargaresh; however, he was never transferred or released.
According to the testimony of former detainees held in Mitiga Prison, Special Deterrence Force (SDF) prison administrators subjected detainees to torture. Former Mitiga detainees reported suspension from their shoulders for many hours leading to dislocations; beatings that lasted up to five hours; beatings with PPV tubes; beatings of their feet in a torture device called the “al-Falqa” cage; and broken noses and teeth. SDF leaders Khalid al-Hishri Abuti, Moadh Eshabat, Hamza al-Bouti Edhaoui, Ziad Najim, Nazih Ahmed Tabtaba, as well as SDF head Abdulrauf Kara and prison directors Usama Najim and Mahmoud Hamza supervised the prison according to a former detainee in the facility.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prisons and detention facilities are often overcrowded, harsh, and life threatening, falling well short of international standards. Many prisons and detention centers were outside government control see section 1.g.).
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), migrant detention centers, operated by the GNA Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Irregular Migration, also suffered from massive overcrowding, extremely poor sanitation conditions, lack of access to medical care, and significant disregard for the protection of the detainees. According to press reports, detainees experienced discrimination on the basis of their religion. IOM did not, however, receive complaints during the year about migrants prevented from engaging in religious observances while detained.
Physical Conditions: In the absence of an effective judicial system or release of prisoners, overcrowding and limited access to health care reportedly continued during the year. Many prison facilities need infrastructural repairs. Accurate numbers of those incarcerated, including a breakdown by holding agency, were not available.
Detention conditions were sometimes substantially different for types of detainees; according to reports by the NCHRL, ISIS detainees and other terrorist suspects were detained in less crowded conditions due to security concerns.
A large number of detainees were foreigners, mostly migrants. Facilities that held irregular migrants generally were of poorer quality than other facilities. The Libyan Young Lawyer’s Association (LYLA) reported poor conditions at the government detention center in Zawiya. According to UNHCR, as of September, there were between 8,000 and 9,000 migrants and refugees housed in the 20 active official detention center’s run by the GNA’s Department for Combatting Irregular Migration (Ministry of Interior), down from 20,000 in late 2017. A large number of additional migrant detainees were reportedly held in nongovernment centers, although numbers were unknown. Officials, local militias, and criminal gangs moved migrants through a network of detention centers with little monitoring by the government or international organizations.
There were reportedly no functioning juvenile facilities in the country, and authorities held juveniles in adult prisons, although sometimes in separate sections. There were separate facilities for men and women.
There were reports of killings and deaths in detention centers. Due to security conditions that limited monitoring, the exact number of those killed in prisons, jails, pretrial detention, or other detention centers was unknown.
Makeshift detention facilities existed throughout the country. Conditions at these facilities varied widely, but reports indicated the conditions in most were below international standards. Consistent problems included overcrowding, poor ventilation, and the lack of basic necessities.
Administration: The Judicial Police Authority, tasked by the GNA Ministry of Justice to run the prison system, operates from its headquarters in Tripoli. It remained administratively split, however, with a second headquarters in al-Bayda that reports to a separate, rival, eastern Ministry of Justice that provides oversight to prisons in eastern Libya and Zintan. During the year the ratio of detainees and prisoners to guards varied significantly. Monitoring and training of prison staff by international organizations remained largely suspended, although training of judicial police continued during the year.
Independent Monitoring: The GNA permitted some independent monitoring and permitted IOM and UNHCR increased access to transit facilities. Nevertheless, the lack of clarity regarding who ran each facility and the sheer number of facilities made it impossible to gain a comprehensive view of the system.
Reports also questioned the capability and professionalism of local human rights organizations charged with overseeing prisons and detention centers.
Due to the volatile security situation, few international organizations were present in the country monitoring human rights. UNSMIL monitored the situation through local human rights defenders, members of the judiciary, and judicial police. The absence of a sustained international presence on the ground made oversight problematic; however, UNSMIL relocated most of its staff to Tripoli by the end of the year to engage in more effective monitoring of Libyan human rights developments. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) did undertake efforts to monitor conditions of detention facilities.
Nonstate actors detained and held persons arbitrarily in authorized and unauthorized facilities, including unknown locations, for extended periods and without legal charges or legal authority.
The prerevolutionary criminal code remains in effect. It establishes procedures for pretrial detention and prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but these procedures were often not enforced. Throughout the year the government had weak control over police and GNA-aligned armed groups providing internal security, and some armed groups carried out illegal and arbitrary detentions unimpeded. The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of arbitrary detainees.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Government agencies had limited control over the national police and other elements of the security apparatus. The national police force, which reports to the GNA Ministry of Interior, has official responsibility for internal security. The military under the GNA Ministry of Defense, led by Prime Minister al-Sarraj in an acting capacity since July, has as its primary mission the defense of the country from external threats, but it also supported Ministry of Interior forces on internal security matters. The situation varied widely from municipality to municipality contingent upon whether police organizational structures from Qadhafi-era Libya remained intact. In some areas, such as Tobruk, police functioned, but in others, such as Sebha, they existed in name only. Civilian authorities had only nominal control of police and the security apparatus, and security-related police work generally fell to disparate armed groups, which received salaries from the Libyan government and exercised law enforcement functions without formal training or supervision and with varying degrees of accountability.
Impunity was a serious problem. The government’s lack of control led to impunity for armed groups on all sides of the conflict. There were no known mechanisms to investigate effectively and punish abuses of authority, abuses of human rights, and corruption by police and security forces. Unclear chains of command led to confusion regarding responsibility for the actions of armed groups, including those nominally under GNA control. In these circumstances police and other security forces were usually ineffective in preventing or responding to violence perpetrated by armed groups.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law stipulates an arrest warrant is required, but authorities may detain persons without charge for as long as six days and may renew detention for up to three months, provided there is “reasonable evidence.” The law also specifies authorities must inform detainees of the charges against them and have a detainee appear before a judicial authority every 30 days to renew a detention order. The law gives the government power to detain persons for up to two months if considered a “threat to public security or stability” based on their “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”
Although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right to counsel, the vast majority of detainees did not have access to bail or a lawyer. Government authorities and armed groups held detainees incommunicado for unlimited periods in official and unofficial detention centers.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities frequently ignored or were unable to enforce the provisions of the criminal code prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention. Various armed groups arbitrarily arrested and detained persons throughout the year. According to HRW and local human rights organizations, including the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR), prison authorities and militias held thousands of detainees without charges or due process.
Pretrial Detention: While authorities must order detention for a specific period not exceeding 90 days, the law in practice results in extended pretrial detention. An ambiguity in the language of the law allows judges to renew the detention period if the suspect is of “interest to the investigation.” Additionally, limited resources and court capacity resulted in a severe backlog of cases. According to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), there were numerous inmates held in GNA-controlled prisons in pretrial detention for periods longer than the sentences for the minor crimes they allegedly committed; however, the GNA Ministry of Justice is working to improve practices by training the judicial police on international standards for pretrial detention. Some individuals detained during the 2011 revolution remained in custody, mostly in facilities in the west.
Armed groups held most of their detainees without charge and outside the government’s authority. With control of the security environment diffused among various armed groups and a largely nonfunctioning judiciary, circumstances prevented most detainees from accessing a review process. According to AOHR and NCHRL, individuals affiliated with armed groups were routinely able to avoid detention or judicial penalty.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law allows a detained suspect to challenge pretrial detention before the prosecutor and a magistrate judge. If the prosecutor does not order release, the detained person may appeal to the magistrate judge. If the magistrate judge orders continued detention following review of the prosecutor’s request, and despite the detainee’s challenge, there is no further right to appeal the assigned detention order. A breakdown in the court system and difficulties securely transporting prisoners to the courts limited detainee access to the courts.
Amnesty: The GNA did not clarify whether it believed there was a blanket legal amnesty for revolutionaries’ actions performed to promote or protect the 2011 revolution.
The Constitutional Declaration provides for an independent judiciary and stipulates every person has a right of recourse to the judicial system. Nonetheless, thousands of detainees lacked access to lawyers and information concerning the charges against them. Judges and prosecutors contended with threats, intimidation, violence, and under-resourced courts and thus struggled to deal with complex cases. Judges and prosecutors in various parts of the country cited concerns regarding the overall lack of security in and around the courts, further hindering the rule of law. Some courts, including in Tripoli and in the east, continued to operate during the year. Throughout the rest of the country, however, courts operated sporadically depending on local security conditions.
The Constitutional Declaration provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent. During the year GNA-affiliated and nonstate actors did not respect these standards, according to LYLA. There were multiple reports of individuals denied fair and public trials, choice of attorney, language interpretation, the ability to confront plaintiff witnesses, protection against forced testimony or confessions, and the right to appeal.
According to reports from international and local NGOs, arbitrary detention and torture by armed groups, including those operating nominally under government oversight, contributed to a climate of lawlessness that made fair trials elusive. Armed groups and families of the victims or the accused regularly threatened lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.
Amid threats, intimidation, and violence against the judiciary, the GNA did not take steps to screen detainees systematically for prosecution or release; however, the GNA made efforts during the year to release individuals convicted of petty crimes due to lack of prison capacity. In September the GNA announced the release of 83 nonsecurity inmates from the over-crowded Mitiga prison facility in Tripoli. The courts were more prone to process civil cases, which were less likely to invite retaliation, although capacity was limited due to a lack of judges and administrators.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
Armed groups, some of which were nominally under GNA authority, held persons on political grounds, particularly former Qadhafi regime officials and others accused of subverting the 2011 revolution, in a variety of temporary facilities.
The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The Constitutional Declaration provides for the right of citizens to have recourse to the judiciary. The judicial system did not have the capacity to provide citizens with access to civil remedies for human rights violations. The Law of Transitional Justice provided for fact-finding, accountability, and reparations for victims, but the judicial system has not implemented it in practice. Courts did process civil, administrative, family, commercial, and land and property law matters. Lack of security, intimidation of armed groups, and intimidation from outside sources challenged the ability of authorities to enforce judgements.
Impunity for the state and for armed groups also exists in law. Even if a court acquits a person detained by an armed group, that person has no right to initiate a criminal or civil complaint against the state or the armed group unless “fabricated or mendacious” allegations caused the detention.
The Constitutional Declaration considers correspondence, telephone conversations, and other forms of communication inviolable unless authorized by a court order. Reports in the news and on social media indicated armed groups, terrorist groups, and GNA-affiliated actors violated these prohibitions by entering homes without judicial authorization, monitoring communications and private movements, and using informants.
Invasion of privacy left citizens vulnerable to targeted attacks based on political affiliation, ideology, and identity. Extrajudicial punishment extended to targets’ family members and tribes. Armed groups arbitrarily entered, seized, or destroyed private property with impunity.
Civil society and media reports documented abuses by GNA forces, GNA-aligned armed groups, as well as nonstate actors not aligned with the GNA, including terrorist groups. Human rights abuses committed by all categories of armed groups included indiscriminate attacks on civilians, kidnapping, torture, burning houses, and forced expulsions based on political belief or tribal affiliation. Forces involved included GNA-aligned forces including TRB, SDF, the al-Nawasi Brigade, armed groups in the west not aligned with the GNA including the al-Samoud militias, LNA units, Salafist armed groups, salafist militias as well as terrorist groups, including ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Killings: There were numerous reports that GNA-aligned armed groups and nonstate actors committed arbitrary and unlawful killings of civilians (see section 1.a.). Primary targets of killings included political opponents; members of police, internal security apparatus, and military intelligence; and judges, political activists, members of civil society, journalists, religious leaders, tribal leaders, and former Qadhafi-era officials and soldiers.
On June 14, the SDF attacked the house of Mahmoud al-Awili, located in Al-Farnaj area in Tripoli, during a late-night raid, killing Al-Awili and his pregnant wife, Najah al-Nuaimi.
UNSMIL reported that fighting parties to the conflict in Tripoli in late August between the Seventh Brigade (also known as the al-Kaniyat Militia) and the TRB resulted in at least 19 civilian deaths and injuries. These groups endangered civilians through their use of rockets, tanks, and other artillery in densely populated residential areas. A mother, her four-year-old daughter, and two-year-old son sustained fatal shrapnel injuries when their home was indiscriminately shelled by artillery fire on August 28.
UNSMIL reported that late September fighting in Tripoli between the TRB, Seventh Brigade (also known as al-Kaniyat Brigade), and al-Soumoud militia led to the deaths of 15 civilians. Parties to the conflict used weapons with a wide area of impact and engaged in indiscriminate firing tactics.
On November 26, two prominent commanders of the GNA-aligned TRB, Abdulhadi Awinat and Osama Awdetch, were killed after passing through immigration upon arrival at Mitiga International Airport. Their deaths followed a failed, extralegal arrest attempt from which two additional militiamen escaped. The killing was allegedly carried out by the SDF, a GNA-aligned armed group nominally under the leadership of the Ministry of Interior and functionally under the leadership of Abdulrauf Kara (see section 1.c.), allegedly in coordination with TRB leader Haitham Tajouri, who also was also present at Mitiga Airport during the killing.
The LNA, under Khalifa Haftar, continued attacks by ground and air forces against opponents in Derna, including terrorists belonging to or affiliated with ISIS. While casualty numbers were uncertain, reports from media and NGOs estimated that the LNA’s campaigns resulted in hundreds of dead and thousands injured, including civilians, since it began in 2014.
On January 24, the commander of LNA Special Forces, Major Mahmoud Werfalli, carried out extrajudicial executions of 10 individuals suspected to be responsible for a terrorist attack on a Benghazi mosque. The executed individuals were in the custody of the LNA General Command’s Saiqa Battalion and the execution was recorded and circulated online. The LNA did not reveal the identity of the executed prisoners. In 2017 the ICC issued a warrant for Werfalli’s arrest. Werfalli continued to serve with LNA forces and reportedly committed another extrajudicial killing in January.
In May UNSMIL reported that clashes in Sabha between forces affiliated with the Awlad Suleiman tribe, including the LNA’s 6th Brigade, and forces affiliated with the Tebu tribe resulted in the deaths of five civilians.
In October 2017 36 bodies with signs of torture were discovered in al-Abyar in an area controlled by the LNA. The LNA reportedly initiated an investigation, but no charges were filed at year’s end.
Although exact figures were impossible to obtain, bombings and killings carried out by terrorist organizations, such as ISIS, Ansar al-Sharia, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and their affiliates, resulted in civilian casualties.
On December 25, three terrorists attacked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, killing three. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack.
On September 10, six terrorists carried out an attack on the National Oil Corporation, killing at least two staff members and injuring 25. ISIS claimed responsibility for both attacks.
On January 23, ISIS-affiliates detonated two car bombs in front of the Bayat al-Radwan Mosque in the Salmani neighborhood of Benghazi, killing 34 persons and injuring 90. According to a hospital spokesman, the majority of the casualties were civilians, including three children.
There were reports of killings by unexploded ordinance. In separate incidents in June, unexploded ordinance killed two men in Benghazi in the area of Qawarsha.
Abductions: Forces aligned with both the GNA and its opponents were responsible for the disappearance of civilians in conflict areas, although few details were known (see section 1.b.). Campaigns of killings, kidnappings, and intimidation targeted activists, journalists, former government officials, and the security forces. Kidnappings-for-ransom remained a daily occurrence in many cities.
On January 1, elements of the LNA’s Operations Room in Benghazi, a military command center led by Ali al-Amrouni, allegedly kidnapped human rights activist Jamal al-Falah. The LNA provided no legal basis for his arbitrary detention. Al-Falah was held for one month before being released.
On May 30, the GNA-aligned TRB kidnapped activist Mohammad al-Boa in front of his home in the Ras Hassan district in the center of Tripoli. Al-Boa is a Tripoli-based leader of the Libyan Movement for the Voice of the People, a political action group (see section 2.b.). TRB deputy Mohammed Bakbakhad–later reportedly killed in intramilitia violence in Tripoli in October–had threatened al-Boa’s life in May because of his political activism, but al-Boa was released in June.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Jailers at both government and extralegal detention centers reportedly tortured prisoners. The lack of full government control over detention facilities limited information available on conditions within these facilities (see section 1.c.).
Terrorist groups and armed groups reportedly physically abused detainees. Individuals who expressed controversial opinions, such as journalists, suffered from violence. L,NCHR and AOHR reported that the “Awlia el-Dam” (Blood Heirs) Battalion, a Salafist armed group, reportedly kidnapped individuals in the east for violating their interpretation of Islamic law (sharia) and subjected them to torture. Activists described an incident in which the battalion brought an individual to a beach outside Benghazi and threatened to kill the victim unless he promised to adopt a publicly religious lifestyle.
Child Soldiers: There were reports of minors joining armed groups. Although government policy required proof recruits were at least age 18, nonstate armed groups did not have formal policies prohibiting the practice. There were multiple reports of under-age militia enlistees; these included reports by NCHRL that the TRB, the Kikli Battalion, and the Seventh Brigade were recruiting children as young as 14. The GNA did not make efforts to investigate or punish recruitment or use of child soldiers.
According to unconfirmed media reports, ISIS claimed to have trained children in the country for operations including suicide attacks, firing weapons, and making improvised explosive devices.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Additional abuses stemming from conflict included restrictions on travel, deliberate attacks on health-care facilities, and the forceful displacement of civilians.
Media reported that LNA targeted members of the Awagir tribe in Benghazi to retaliate against criticism by tribe members of the lack of media freedom areas under LNA control. The tribe also reported threats and acts of verbal and physical intimidation against its members following the decision of LNA officer, Faraj al-Qa’im, to defect from the LNA to accept the GNA’s offer of the position of deputy interior minister.
During the year the LNA continued its siege of the city of Derna in an effort to defeat ISIS terrorists based there. Some observers alleged the blockade limited medical and humanitarian organizations’ access to civilians in the city.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Security forces reportedly committed extrajudicial killings in connection with conflicts throughout the country (see section 1.g.).
On January 13, police in Karachi (Sindh) shot and killed a Pashtun man, Naqeebullah Mehsud, in what Karachi police authorities initially claimed was a counterterror operation. According to Mehsud’s family, he had been detained 10 days earlier. Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights–an independent government body charged with investigating alleged human rights abuses–concluded police staged a fake raid in order to carry out Mehsud’s extrajudicial killing. Furthermore, the report linked then-Senior Superintendent of Police for Karachi’s Malir District, Rao Anwar, to the deaths of at least 444 individuals in similar staged police encounters. The Supreme Court ordered Sindh’s Police Inspector General to conduct an immediate inquiry into the killing and Anwar’s role. Authorities removed Anwar from his position. He fled and was eventually arrested. He was subsequently released on bail, and his trial was ongoing as of December 3.
Physical abuse while in official custody allegedly caused the death of some criminal suspects. Lengthy trial delays and failure to discipline and prosecute those responsible for killings contributed to a culture of impunity. In February police officers in Rawalpindi reportedly entered a home without a warrant, detained a resident, and beat him to death while in custody at a police station. The four officers who entered the young man’s home without a warrant were suspended from duty pending an investigation of the incident, but it was unclear as of November whether any further action was taken in the case.
On January 10, police in Kasur (Punjab) reportedly fired live rounds into a crowd that stormed a police station in protest against a series of unsolved rapes and killings of children in the district. Two civilians died and one was wounded in the incident. Police officials claimed protesters shot first at police.
There were numerous reports of fatal attacks against police. On January 9, a vehicle rammed a police checkpoint outside the Balochistan Provincial Assembly, killing five police officers in the resulting explosion. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility, saying the police–not the Assembly–were the intended targets. In March, three police officers were killed when an improvised explosive device (IED) targeted a police convoy in Punjab province. On April 24, 10 police officers died in three separate suicide attacks in Balochistan. Hizbul Ahrar, a TTP splinter group, claimed responsibility for all three attacks. In August, two terrorists attacked a police checkpoint in the Gilgit Baltistan region, killing three police officers.
Militants and terrorist groups killed hundreds and injured thousands with bombs, suicide attacks, and other violence (see section 1.g.).
There were kidnappings and forced disappearances of persons in nearly all areas of the country. The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances received an increased number of complaints compared with 2017. The commission had received 899 cases as of October 31, while there were a total 868 complaints in 2017. Some officials from intelligence agencies, police, and other security forces reportedly held prisoners incommunicado and refused to disclose their location.
On February 15, in Badin, Sindh, plainclothes security reportedly abducted Rafaqat Ali Jarwar, a senior journalist with Daily Koshish. According to media reports, Jarwar was formerly associated with a Sindhi nationalist group.
On June 6, prominent journalist and opinion writer Gul Bukhari was abducted in Lahore by unidentified assailants. Bukhari was released hours later, after news reports highlighted her disappearance and the case received significant attention on social media. She is known as a prominent critic of the military and security services, and was listed by the military as a social media threat to the state two days before her brief abduction. Bukhari did not identify her captors.
Media reported that in December 2017 civil society activist Raza Khan disappeared after cohosting a small public event in Lahore to discuss the government’s capitulation to the demands of a hardline religious group, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), in the wake of TLP’s weeks-long, highly disruptive protest in Islamabad. Khan reportedly returned home in July.
Human rights organizations reported many Pashtun rights activists, and Sindhi and Baloch nationalists, disappeared or were arrested without cause or warrant. For example, in April the Progressive Youth Alliance alleged that 11 of its members were abducted following a series of Pashtun rights rallies in Karachi. Nationalist parties in Sindh also alleged that law enforcement agencies and security agencies kidnapped and killed Sindhi political activists.
Throughout the first half of the year, Pashtun rights activists used social media to highlight the arrests, enforced disappearances, and other forms of harassment by security agencies against members of the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement, or PTM. Most of those detained were rank-and-file supporters of the group. Unofficial estimates, however, suggest that the military released up to 300 individuals who had been detained without charge–in some cases for several years–in response to PTM’s protest campaign against enforced disappearances. Observers believed authorities released detainees in response to activist demands, but it gave rise to further allegations that authorities had mistreated those in custody, and fueled calls for an end to enforced disappearances and for a more transparent legal process to formally charge or release those still in detention.
The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, headed by Supreme Court justice Javed Iqbal and retired law enforcement official Muhammad Sharif Virk, received 5,507 missing persons cases between 2011 and October 31. The commission had closed 3,633 of those inquiries, while 1,874 remained open.
Although the constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, the criminal code has no specific section against torture. There were reports that security forces, including the intelligence services, tortured and abused individuals in custody.
According to the Committee against Torture of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in 2017 there were reports that state officials and forces practiced torture on a widespread scale. Human rights organizations noted the government’s lack of serious efforts to curb the use of torture and claimed that perpetrators–mostly police, military, and intelligence agency members–operated with impunity. In August, however, authorities did dismiss two constables after a video surfaced showing the officers torturing girls accused of partaking in obscene activity.
There were reports police personnel employed cruel and degrading treatment and punishment. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that police committed “excesses” in at least 52 cases as of May 6, compared with 127 total cases in 2017. Multiple sources reported that police excesses sometimes resulted in death or serious injury and was often underreported. On October 16, police reportedly arrested a man in Sargodha (Punjab) on robbery charges. He died later that day, and his grandmother stated in a police report that his death was the result of police brutality while in custody.
Some police agencies took steps to curb abuses. For example, in 2017 the Inspector General of the Islamabad Capital Territory Police appointed human rights officers in all 22 Islamabad police stations in an effort to prevent violations. Multiple police agencies include human rights in training curricula. More than 50,000 police countrywide have received human rights related training since 2011.
While the passage of the 25th Amendment to the country’s constitution formally merged the Federally and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (FATA and PATA) and ended the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901, the FATA Interim Governance Regulation (FIGR) that replaced it preserves the most draconian criminal justice elements of the FCR. For example, authorities may still apply collective punishment without regard to individual rights. Collective punishment is imposed incrementally, starting with the first immediate male family members, followed by the subtribe, and continuing outward. Human rights NGOs expressed concern about the concept of collective responsibility, as authorities used it to detain members of fugitives’ tribes, demolish their homes, confiscate or destroy their property, or lay siege to their villages pending surrender or punishment of the fugitives by their own tribes in accordance with local tradition.
As of November 30, the country had 5,339 troops and police performing peacekeeping duties around the world. During the year, the United Nations reported one possible new case of sexual exploitation and abuse implicating a Pakistani peacekeeper. The case involved allegations of transactional sex that occurred in 2017. An investigation into an alleged exploitative sexual relationship that began in June 2011 and continued until an unspecified date in 2012 was pending additional information as of December 28. Investigations into three reports were closed due to lack of evidence: one involved a 2016 report that a Pakistani deployed in Cote d’Ivoire raped a minor in 2014; one was related to a 2017 report of attempted sexual assault that allegedly occurred in September 2016; and the third involved allegations that Pakistani peacekeepers engaged in transactional sex from August 2015 to March 2016.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in some civilian prisons and military detention centers were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate food and medical care, and unsanitary conditions.
Physical Conditions: Prison conditions often were extremely poor. Overcrowding remained a serious problem, largely due to structural issues in the criminal justice system that led to a high rate of pretrial detention. According to a May, Cursor of Development and Education Pakistan study, conducted in cooperation with Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Agency and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the total nationwide prison population stood at 84,287 in 112 prisons across the country as of October 1, 2017. The official capacity of these prisons is approximately 54,000, putting the occupancy rate of the civilian prison system at approximately 150 percent.
Provincial governments were the primary managers of civilian prisons and detention centers.
Although quality and quantity of prison food improved, inadequate food and medical care in prisons continued to cause chronic health problems. Malnutrition remained a problem, especially among inmates unable to supplement their diets with help from family or friends. In many facilities sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and access to potable water were inadequate. Most prison facilities were antiquated and had no means to control indoor temperatures. A system existed for basic and emergency medical care, but bureaucratic procedures slowed access. Prisoners with disabilities usually lacked adequate care. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported 20 deaths due to violence in prisons as of May 20. According to an April report on Dunya News TV, in 2017 at least 145 prisoners died in Punjab province prisons of natural causes, including diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis. One former prisoner who spent 15 years in a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province jail petitioned the Peshawar High Court to direct medical testing of the province’s inmate population, claiming 12 inmates at the jail in which he was incarcerated were HIV positive, and approximately 50 had hepatitis. The former prisoner also petitioned for disclosure of the province’s prison capacity and actual population, claiming the institution in which he was incarcerated had a capacity of 125 and a population of 640.
Representatives of Christian and Ahmadiyya Muslim communities claimed their members were often subjected to abuse in prison and violence at the hands of fellow inmates. Civil society organizations reported prisoners accused of blasphemy violations were frequently subjected to poor prison conditions. NGOs reported that many individuals accused of blasphemy remained in solitary confinement for extended periods, sometimes for more than a year. The government asserted this treatment was for the individual’s safety, given the likelihood that prisoners accused of blasphemy would face threats from the general prison population.
Authorities held female prisoners separately from men. Nevertheless, NGOs reported transgender women were held with men and faced harassment. Balochistan had no women’s prison, but authorities housed detained women in separate barracks.
Due to lack of infrastructure, police often did not segregate detainees from convicted criminals, although Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces were in the process of constructing new prisons focused on modern segregation mechanisms to address this issue, as well as overcrowding.
Prison officials kept juvenile offenders in barracks separate from adults. Juveniles and adults were in close proximity when waiting for transport but were kept under careful supervision at this time. According to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, prisoners and prison staff subjected children to abuse, rape, and other forms of violence.
Administration: There was an ombudsman for detainees, with a central office in Islamabad and offices in each province. Inspectors General of prisons irregularly visited prisons and detention facilities to monitor conditions and handle complaints.
By law, prison authorities must permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhumane conditions. There were reports, however, that prisoners refrained from submitting complaints to avoid retaliation from jail authorities. The law also provides for visitation privileges, but overcrowding and lack of adequate visitor facilities in some prisons restricted detainees’ ability to receive visits. In most cases, authorities allowed prisoners to observe their religious traditions.
Independent Monitoring: International organizations responsible for monitoring prisons reported difficulty accessing some detention sites, in particular those holding security-related detainees. Authorities did not allow international organizations access to detention centers most affected by violence in KP, FATA, and Balochistan. Authorities at the local, provincial, and national levels permitted some human rights groups and journalists to monitor prison conditions of juveniles and female inmates.
Improvements: Infrastructure improvements and new policies in existing prisons, along with the construction of new facilities, increased the frequency with which pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were separated. In July the government broke ground on a project to construct a new training facility for the Sindh Prisons Department, to enable a larger training program in prison management. Digitized prison management information systems were installed in 48 Punjab and Sindh province prisons, up from 20 Punjab prisons in 2017. The government, in collaboration with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, worked to expand its use of computerized databases to more securely and accurately track prisoners.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but authorities did not always observe these requirements. Corruption and impunity compounded this problem.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Police have primary domestic security responsibility for most of the country. Local police are under the jurisdiction of provincial governments. Police resources and effectiveness varied by district, ranging from well-funded and effective to poorly resourced and ineffective. Paramilitary organizations–including the Frontier Corps, which operates in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the former FATA; and the Rangers, which operates in Sindh and Punjab–provide security services under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. The Frontier Corps reports to the Ministry of Interior in peacetime and the army in times of conflict. The military is responsible for external security but continues to play a role in domestic security.
The mid-year passage of the 25th Amendment to the country’s constitution formally merged the Federally and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (FATA and PATA) into KP province, bringing the tribal areas into the country’s political and constitutional mainstream. The FATA Interim Governance Regulation (FIGR) replaced the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) in mid-year as the framework for law and order in the former FATA. Similar to the FCR, the FIGR is implemented through appointed deputy commissioners (formerly known as “political agents”) who report to the KP governor. The 25th Amendment gives the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court jurisdiction in the former FATA, but this new system had not been fully implemented by year’s end. Under the FIGR, trial by a Council of Elders (known as a “jirga,” or assembly of community leaders that makes decisions by consensus) does not allow tribal residents legal representation. If the accused is an adult man, he appears before the Council of Elders in person to defend his case. Parents normally represent their minor children, and men normally represent their female relatives. Observers criticized both the FCR and the FIGR for their harsh provisions.
Following its merger in KP province, police began to operate alongside paramilitary forces in the former FATA. Paramilitary forces present in the former FATA included the Frontier Corps, the Frontier Constabulary, “Khasadars” (hereditary tribal police), and the FATA Levies Force, which reported to deputy commissioners (the appointed administrative heads of each tribal agency). Tribal leaders convened “lashkars” (tribal militias) to deal with temporary law and order disturbances, but these operated as private militias and not as formal law enforcement entities. The KP provincial police force was in the process of recruiting and training additional personnel in order to extend its remit fully into the former FATA.
Civilian authorities’ failure to punish abuses contributed to a climate of impunity throughout the country. According to civil society sources, police and prison officials frequently used the threat of abuse to extort money from prisoners and their families. The inspectors general, district police, district nazims (chief elected officials of local governments), provincial interior or chief ministers, federal interior minister, prime minister, or courts can order internal investigations into abuses and order administrative sanctions. Executive branch and police officials have authority to recommend, and the courts may order, criminal prosecution.
The court system remained the only means available to investigate abuses by security forces. The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), established in 2015, may not inquire into any complaints against intelligence agencies and must refer such complaints to the concerned competent authority. The NCHR may seek a report from the national government on any complaint made against the armed forces, and after receipt of a report, can either end the process or forward recommendations for further action to the national government.
During the year the federal government continued to use military and paramilitary organizations to augment domestic security. Paramilitary forces, including Rangers and the Frontier Constabulary, provided security to some areas of Islamabad and continued active operations in Karachi. The military-led Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad employed civilian and paramilitary cooperation against militants throughout the country.
In January 2015, in response to the December 2014 attack on the Peshawar Army Public School, Parliament approved a constitutional amendment allowing military courts to try civilians on terrorism, militancy, sectarian violence, and other charges. The military courts’ mandate to try civilians was set to expire in January 2017, but Parliament extended it until January 2019. Civil society members expressed concerns about the use of military courts for trying civilian suspects, citing lack of transparency and redundancy with the civilian judicial system.
Police often failed to protect members of religious minorities–including Ahmadiyya Muslims, Christians, Shia Muslims, and Hindus–from attacks. Activists from Christian, Sikh, Parsi, and Hindu communities reported widespread distrust of law enforcement within their communities. They explained that community members frequently refrained from reporting crimes, because they believed the police would not act. They also accused law enforcement of treating minorities particularly harshly when they are accused of crimes, and described how police meted out collective punishment on the Christian residents of a Karachi neighborhood in May, after a Christian committed a crime against an intelligence officer. Police carried out unauthorized searches of people and property, arrested Christians at random, and threatened physical and legal retributions against the community at large unless community members brought forward the perpetrator.
Police agencies continued to professionalize and modernize through training, including on human rights. Some local authorities demonstrated the ability and willingness to protect minorities from discrimination and mob lynching, at great risk to their personal safety.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
A first information report (FIR) is the legal basis for any arrest, initiated when police receive information about the commission of a “cognizable” offense. A third party usually initiates a FIR, but police can file FIRs on their own initiative. A FIR allows police to detain a suspect for 24 hours, after which a magistrate may order detention for an additional 14 days if police show detention is necessary to obtain evidence material to the investigation. Some authorities did not observe these limits on detention. Authorities reportedly filed FIRs without supporting evidence in order to harass or intimidate detainees or did not file them when adequate evidence was provided unless the complainant paid a bribe. There were reports of persons arrested without judicial authorization and of individuals paying bribes to visit prisoners.
The Ministry of Interior did not routinely provide notification of the arrest of foreigners to embassies or consulates. In 2015 the government began requiring that foreign missions request access to their arrested citizens 20 days in advance. Many foreign missions reported that requests for access to arrested citizens were unanswered for weeks or months. Foreign prisoners often remained in prison long after completion of their sentences because they were unable to pay for deportation to their home countries.
There was a functioning bail system. Human rights groups noted, however, that judges sometimes denied bail until payment of bribes. NGOs reported authorities sometimes denied bail in blasphemy cases on the grounds that defendants who faced the death penalty were likely to flee or were at risk from public vigilantism. Defendants facing lower-order blasphemy charges were often simultaneously charged with terrorism offenses, which are nonbailable. NGOs also reported that lawyers representing individuals accused of blasphemy often asked that their clients remain in custody to protect them from vigilante violence. Bail is not available in antiterrorism courts or in the military courts established under the 2015 amendment to the constitution.
The government provided state-funded legal counsel to prisoners facing the death penalty, but it did not regularly provide legal representation in other cases. The constitution recognizes the right of habeas corpus and allows the high courts to demand that a person accused of a crime be present in court. The law allows citizens to submit habeas corpus petitions to the courts. In many cases involving forced disappearances, authorities failed to present detainees according to judges’ orders.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports police arbitrarily detained individuals to extort bribes for their release or detained relatives of wanted individuals to compel suspects to surrender. Ethnic Rohingya in Karachi who lacked official identification documents reported arbitrary arrests and harassment by police authorities. They reported police, including officers from the Federal Investigation Agency, made the arrests to extract bribes.
Pretrial Detention: According to Cursor for Development and Education (CODE) Pakistan reports published in May, 66 percent of prisoners were either awaiting or undergoing trial as of October 1, 2017. CODE notes that Pakistani prison authorities did not differentiate between pretrial detainees and under-trial prisoners when collecting prison data. Police sometimes held persons in investigative detention without seeking a magistrate’s approval and often held detainees without charge until a court challenged the detention. Magistrates generally approved investigative detention at the request of police without requiring justification. When police did not develop sufficient evidence to try a suspect within the 14-day period, they generally requested that magistrates issue new FIRs, thereby further extending the suspect’s detention.
By law detainees must be brought to trial within 30 days of arrest. There were exceptions: a district coordination officer has authority to recommend preventive detention on the grounds of “maintenance of public order” for up to 90 days and may–with approval of the Home Department–extend it for an additional 90 days.
In some cases trials did not start until six months after a FIR, and at times individuals remained in pretrial detention for periods longer than the maximum sentence for the crime with which they were charged. Authorities seldom informed detainees promptly of charges against them.
Special rules apply to cases brought to court by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which investigates and prosecutes corruption cases. The NAB may detain suspects for 15 days without charge (renewable with judicial concurrence) and deny access to counsel prior to charging. Offenses under the NAB are not bailable, and only the NAB chairperson has the power to decide whether to release detainees.
Under the FIGR in the former FATA, the deputy commissioner has legal authority to preventively detain individuals on a variety of grounds and may require bonds to prevent undesired activities. Indefinite detention is not allowed, and detained persons may appeal to a tribunal. Prisoners have the right to compensation for wrongful punishment. Cases must be decided within a specified period, and authorities may release arrested persons on bail. Regulations require prisoners to be brought before FIGR authorities within 24 hours of detention, which curtails the ability of deputy commissioners to arbitrarily arrest and hold persons for up to three years. The accused have the right of appeal under a two-tiered system: the first appeal is to a commissioner or additional commissioner, and the second is referred to the Peshawar High Court, which is the highest appellate forum under the FIGR.
In KP (including the former FATA), security forces may restrict the activities of terrorism suspects, seize their assets for up to 48 hours, and detain them for as long as one year without charges. Human rights and international organizations reported that security forces held an unknown number of individuals allegedly affiliated with terrorist organizations indefinitely in preventive detention, where they were often tortured and abused. In many cases authorities held prisoners incommunicado, denying them prompt access to a lawyer of their choice. Family members often were not allowed prompt access to detainees.
The 2011 Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulation (retroactive to 2008) provides the military legal authority to detain suspected terrorists in the former FATA and PATA when called upon by the civilian government. Critics stated the regulation violates the constitution because of its broad provisions expanding military authority and circumventing legal due process. Under the regulation, detainee transfers to internment centers continued on a regular basis.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There were reports of persons arrested or detained who were not allowed to challenge in court the legal basis or nature of their detention, obtain relief, or receive compensation.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but according to NGOs and legal experts, the judiciary often was subject to external influences, such as fear of reprisal from extremist elements in terrorism or blasphemy cases and public politicization of high-profile cases. Civil society organizations reported judges were reluctant to exonerate individuals accused of blasphemy, fearing vigilante violence. The media and the public generally considered the high courts and the Supreme Court credible.
Extensive case backlogs in the lower and superior courts undermined the right to effective remedy and to a fair and public hearing. Antiquated procedural rules, unfilled judgeships, poor case management, and weak legal education caused delays in civil and criminal cases. The Lahore High Court took steps to improve judicial efficiency. In 2017 the court’s chief justice introduced legal reforms intended to reduce strikes and formalized an alternate dispute resolution (ADR) system. ADR centers received 16,010 cases as of October 12, and had resolved 4,885.
The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the high courts does not extend to several areas that operated under separate judicial systems. For example, Azad Kashmir area (AK) has its own elected president, prime minister, legislature, and court system. Gilgit-Baltistan also has a separate judicial system.
Many lower courts remained corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from wealthy persons and influential religious or political figures.
There were incidents of unknown persons threatening or killing witnesses, prosecutors, or investigating police officers in high-level cases. On April 14, three Balochistan police officials were arrested for pressuring a rape victim to withdraw her allegations, after a medical examination corroborated the victim’s allegations.
The use of informal justice systems that lacked institutionalized legal protections continued, especially in rural areas, and often resulted in human rights abuses. Large landholders and other community leaders in Sindh and Punjab and tribal leaders in Pashtun and Baloch areas sometimes held local council meetings (panchayats or jirgas) outside the established legal system. Such councils settled feuds and imposed tribal penalties, including fines, imprisonment, and sometimes the death penalty. These councils often sentenced women to violent punishment or death for so-called honor-related crimes. In the former FATA, such councils were held under FIGR or FCR guidelines. Assistant commissioners (previously known as assistant political agents), supported by tribal elders of their choosing, are legally responsible for justice in the former FATA and conducted hearings according to their interpretation of Islamic law and tribal custom.
The civil, criminal, and family court systems provide for a fair trial and due process, presumption of innocence, cross-examination, and appeal. There are no trials by jury. Although defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney, courts must appoint attorneys for indigents only in capital cases. Defendants generally bear the cost of legal representation in lower courts, but a lawyer may be provided at public expense in appellate courts. Defendants may confront or question prosecution witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Due to the limited number of judges, a heavy backlog of cases, lengthy court procedures, frequent adjournment, and political pressure, cases routinely lasted for years, and defendants made frequent court appearances.
The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child noted that police lacked training to properly handle child delinquency, and cited reports of police brutality against juveniles. Many juveniles spent long periods behind bars because they could not afford bail.
In May, Parliament passed the Juvenile Justice System Act, replacing the 2000 Juvenile Justice System Ordinance. The new law mandates the creation of juvenile courts and “juvenile justice committees,” intended to expedite the administration of justice for minors by resolving cases that involve minor offenses without resorting to formal judicial proceedings. Despite a directive that these courts and committees be established within three months of the law’s passage, as of November 28, the government had not done so.
Both the new law and the previous 2000 Juvenile Justice System Ordinance ban the use of the death penalty for minors, yet children were sentenced to death under the Antiterrorism Act. Furthermore, lack of documentation made determining the ages of possible minors problematic.
There were instances of lack of transparency in court cases, particularly if the case involved high-profile or sensitive issues such as blasphemy. NGOs reported the government often located such trials in jails due to concerns for the safety of defendants, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and witnesses. Although these safety concerns were well-founded, NGOs expressed concerns about both transparency issues and the lack of privacy for defendants to consult with their lawyers during jail trials.
The Antiterrorism Act allows the government to use special, streamlined antiterrorism courts (ATCs) to try persons charged with terrorist activities and sectarian violence. In other courts, suspects must appear within seven working days of their arrest, but ATCs are free to extend that period. Human rights activists criticized this parallel system, charging it was more vulnerable to political manipulation. According to a February report by the Research Society of International Law, when authorities were under political and media pressure to expedite cases they often referred them ATCs, even if they had no terrorism nexus. The frequent use of ATCs for nonterrorism cases led to significant backlogs, and despite being comparatively faster than the regular court system, ATCs often failed to meet speedy trial standards.
The government continued to utilize military courts to try civilians on terrorism and related charges. Trials in military courts are not public (see section 1.d.).
The Federal Shariat Court typically reviewed cases prosecuted under the Hudood Ordinance, a law enacted in 1979 by military leader Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq to implement a strict interpretation of Islamic law by punishing extramarital sex, false accusations of extramarital sex, theft, and alcohol consumption. Should a provincial high court decide to hear an appeal in a Hudood case, the Shariat Court lacks authority to review the provincial high court’s decision. The Supreme Court may bypass the Shariat Appellate Bench and assume jurisdiction in such appellate cases. The Federal Shariat Court may overturn legislation judged inconsistent with Islamic tenets, but such decisions may be appealed to the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court and ultimately may be heard by the full bench of the Supreme Court.
Courts routinely failed to protect the rights of religious minorities. Courts discriminatorily used laws prohibiting blasphemy against Shia, Christians, Ahmadis, and members of other religious minority groups. Lower courts often did not require adequate evidence in blasphemy cases, and some convicted persons spent years in jail before higher courts eventually overturned their convictions or ordered their release.
In a landmark case, On October 31, the Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010. In the wake of widespread protests by antiblasphemy groups following the decision, the government agreed not to oppose a petition seeking additional review of her case, further postponing final resolution of the case. Bibi was released from prison, but as of December 3 was widely believed to remain in government custody for her own protection, and the judicial review was pending.
In some cases, police arrested individuals after acts of vigilantism related to blasphemy or religious discrimination. In February an ATC convicted 31 individuals for their role in the 2017 mob lynching of university student Mashal Khan for allegedly committing blasphemy. The ATC sentenced the primary shooter to death, sentenced five others to life in prison, and 25 individuals to four years’ imprisonment, although the Peshawar High Court later suspended the sentences and released on bail the 25 individuals.
Also see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
Some Sindhi and Baloch nationalist groups claimed that authorities detained their members based on political affiliation or beliefs. Under the 2009 Aghaz-e-Haqooq (“beginning of the rights”) Balochistan legislative package of reforms (intended to address the province’s political, social, and economic problems), the government announced a general amnesty for all Baloch political prisoners, leaders, and activists in exile as well as those allegedly involved in “antistate” activities. In 2015 the federal and Balochistan provincial governments jointly announced a new peace package called “Pur Aman Balochistan” (“peaceful Balochistan”), intended to offer cash and other incentives for “militants” who wished to rejoin mainstream society. Despite the amnesty offers, illegal detention of Baloch leaders and the disappearance of private Baloch citizens continued. During an August 15 National Assembly session Akhtar Mengal, leader of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal, raised the issue of disappearances in Balochistan, claiming there were five thousand missing citizens in his province.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals may petition the courts to seek redress for various human rights violations, and courts often took such actions. Individuals may seek redress in civil courts against government officials, including on grounds of denial of human rights. Observers reported that civil courts seldom issued official judgments in such cases, and most cases were settled out of court. Although there were no official procedures for administrative redress, informal reparations were common. Individuals and organizations could not appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, although some NGOs submitted human rights “shadow reports” to the United Nations and other international actors.
The law requires court-issued warrants for property searches. Police sometimes ignored this requirement and on occasion reportedly stole items during searches. Authorities seldom punished police for illegal entry. Police at times detained family members to induce a suspect to surrender. In cases pursued under the Antiterrorism Act, law enforcement agencies have additional powers, including that of search and seizure without a warrant of property related to a case.
Several domestic intelligence services monitored politicians, political activists, suspected terrorists, NGOs, employees of foreign entities, and media professionals. These services included the Inter-Services Intelligence, Police Special Branch, the Intelligence Bureau, and Military Intelligence. There were credible reports authorities routinely used wiretaps, monitored cell phone calls, intercepted electronic correspondence, and opened mail without court approval.
The military and paramilitary organizations conducted multiple counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations to eradicate militant safe havens. The military’s Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, launched in February 2017, continued throughout the year. Radd-ul-Fasaad is a nationwide counterterrorism campaign aimed at consolidating the gains of the 2014-2017 Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which countered foreign and domestic terrorists in the former FATA. Law enforcement agencies also acted to weaken terrorist groups, arresting suspected terrorists and gang members who allegedly provided logistical support to militants. In raids throughout the country, police confiscated caches of weapons, suicide vests, and planning materials. Police expanded their presence into formerly ungoverned areas, particularly in Balochistan.
Poor security, intimidation by both security forces and militants, and control by government and security forces over access by nonresidents to Balochistan and the former FATA impeded the efforts of human rights organizations to provide relief to victims of military abuses and of journalists to report on any such abuses.
On August 24, security forces fired on residents protesting military search operations in Hamzoni, North Waziristan district, killing two and injuring 11. The incident followed the imposition of a curfew in the aftermath of an IED attack targeting military personnel in the area on the previous day. Although the shooting occurred in a relatively remote area, Pashtun rights activists shared news of the protest through social media, culminating in a strongly worded Twitter exchange between the military’s official spokesman and a recently elected Member of the National Assembly from North Waziristan (who is also a leader of the nascent Pashtun rights movement).
Militant and terrorist activity continued, and there were suicide and bomb attacks in all four provinces, the former FATA, and Gilgit Baltistan. Militants and terrorist groups, including the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and the Islamic State Khorasan Province targeted civilians, journalists, community leaders, security forces, law enforcement agents, and schools, killing and injuring hundreds with bombs, suicide attacks, and other forms of violence. Militant and terrorist groups often attacked religious minorities. A low-intensity separatist insurgency continued in Balochistan. Security forces reportedly committed extrajudicial killings in the fight against militant groups.
Militants carried out numerous attacks on political party offices, candidates, and campaign rallies leading up to the July 25 general elections. On July 10, a suicide bomber killed Awami National Party politician Haroon Bilour and 21 others at a campaign rally in Peshawar. On July 13, at an election rally in Mastung, Balochistan, a suicide bombing killed more than 130 persons. On July 22, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Dera Ismail Khan district, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf provincial assembly candidate Kramullah Gadapur was killed in a suicide attack on his vehicle. A third suicide attack at a Quetta polling station on election day killed 31 individuals.
Political, sectarian, criminal, and ethnic violence in Karachi continued, although violence declined and gang wars were less prevalent than before security operations in the city. On March 13, however, gang members armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades attacked Sindh Rangers patrolling Karachi’s Lyari neighborhood. One Ranger was killed and four injured, while five gang members died in the firefight.
Killings: There were reports that government security forces caused civilian casualties and engaged in extrajudicial killings during operations against suspected militants throughout the country. There were numerous media reports of police and security forces killing terrorist suspects in “police encounters.” One prominent case involved the January 13 Karachi Police killing of a young Pashtun man, Naqibullah Mehsud, which both National Commission for Human Rights and Sindh Police investigations determined was an extrajudicial killing perpetrated in a staged counterterror operation. The senior police officer accused of ordering the operation was suspended and detained, but subsequently was released on bail. His trial was ongoing as of November 28.
Sectarian violence decreased significantly across the country, although some attacks continued, including a November 23 bombing of a Shia mosque in Hangu (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) that killed at least 33 individuals and marked the first major sectarian attack of the year. Targeted killings of religious minorities continued. There were reports of targeted killings of Shia individuals, including the custodian of a Shia congregation hall, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Dera Ismail Khan, a historically Shia area that in recent years absorbed an influx of Sunni households displaced by military operations. The Supreme Court ordered police to take additional steps to curb sectarian killings in the area. In April, six Shia Hazaras were killed in four targeted drive-by shooting incidents in Quetta, Balochistan. The rash of killings sparked sustained protest by Quetta’s ethnic Hazara community. Charan Jeet Singh, an interfaith activist and leader of the Sikh community in Peshawar, was killed in a targeted shooting on May 29. Unknown gunmen killed an Ahmadi man in his home on June 25, in what appeared to be a targeted killing due to his faith.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Nonstate militant groups targeted noncombatants and killed civilians in various incidents across the country.
Child Soldiers: Nonstate militant groups recruited children as young as 12 to spy, fight, or die as suicide bombers. The militants sometimes offered parents money, often sexually and physically abused the children, and used psychological coercion to convince the children the acts they committed were justified. The government operated a center in Swat (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) to rehabilitate, educate, and reintegrate former child soldiers.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: The terrorist groups TTP, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and related factions bombed government buildings and attacked and killed female teachers and polio vaccination workers. On January 18, unknown assailants killed a female health worker and her daughter as the two administered polio vaccinations to patients outside Quetta. In another incident just outside Quetta, in Yaro, a Frontier Corps was wounded on April 11 when a man opened fire on health workers administering polio vaccines. On April 23, two assailants attacked a female health worker with knives; she survived the attack. The TTP particularly targeted girls’ schools to demonstrate its opposition to girls’ education but also destroyed boys’ schools. Military operations created hardships for the local civilian population when militants closed key access roads and tunnels and attacked communications and energy networks, disrupting commerce and the distribution of food and water.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
The government or its agents engaged in arbitrary or unlawful killings. On October 2, Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist who lived abroad in “self-exile,” was killed by government agents during a visit to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The government initially claimed he had left the consulate in good health but changed its story as facts came to light. On November 15, the PPO announced the indictment of 11 suspects in Khashoggi’s killing and that it would seek the death penalty for five of them charged with murder. The PPO added that an additional 10 suspects were under investigation in connection with the case. The PPO did not name the suspects. Previously, on October 19, the government announced the dismissal of five senior officials, including Royal Court advisor Saud al-Qahtani and Deputy Chief of the General Intelligence Presidency Ahmad al-Asiri, in connection with Khashoggi’s killing. In 2016 authorities reportedly banned Khashoggi from writing, appearing on television, and attending conferences due to remarks he made that were interpreted as critical of foreign and Saudi government officials, according to multiple media sources.
On March 12, the New York Times reported that unnamed sources said 17 detainees–among them princes, businessmen, and former and current government officials–held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh in November 2017 had required hospitalization for physical abuse and that one had died in custody.
Under the country’s interpretation and practice of sharia (Islamic law), capital punishment may be imposed for a range of nonviolent offenses, including apostasy, sorcery, and adultery, although in practice death sentences for such offenses were rare and often reduced on appeal. The government, however, frequently implemented capital punishment for nonviolent drug trafficking offenses. According to the governmental Saudi Press Agency, the country carried out 145 executions as of December 19, 57 of which were for drug-related offenses. Three of those executions were carried out in public.
Since the country lacks a comprehensive written penal code listing criminal offenses and the associated penalties for them (see section 1.e.), punishment–including the imposition of capital punishment–is subject to considerable judicial discretion. Defendants are able to appeal their sentences. The law requires a five-judge appellate court to affirm a death sentence, which a five-judge panel of the Supreme Court must unanimously affirm. Appellate courts may recommend changes to a sentence, including increasing a lesser sentence to the death penalty.
Defendants possess the right under the law to seek commutation of a death sentence for some crimes and may receive a royal pardon under specific circumstances (see section 1.d.).
Many of those executed during the year had been convicted in trials that did not meet international minimum fair trial standards, according to NGOs such as Amnesty International. Amnesty noted that “those sentenced to death are often convicted solely on the basis of ‘confessions’ obtained under torture and other mistreatment, denied legal representation in trials which are held in secret, and are not kept informed of the progress of the legal proceedings in their case.”
In August the public prosecutor charged six Eastern Province activists with offenses that potentially could lead to death sentences based on the sharia principle of ta’zir, or “discretionary” punishments, according to HRW. The judge has discretion over the definition of what constitutes a crime and the sentence. The activists had initial hearings before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), set up in 2008 to try terrorism cases, on charges including “participating in violent protests” in the Qatif area of Eastern Province. Local and international human rights organizations noted the hearings before the SCC lacked transparency and did not adhere to minimum fair trial standards.
On March 15, seven UN experts issued a statement expressing concern over the pending death sentence of Abbas Haiji al-Hassan and 14 others, whom the SCC convicted of spying for Iran, financing terrorism, and illegally proselytizing in 2016. The experts called on the government to annul the death sentences, which had been upheld by further court rulings in July and December 2017. Al-Hassan was later transferred to the State Security Presidency (SSP), and his sentence was, at year’s end, subject to ratification by the king. The UN report commented: “We are concerned that these individuals were subjected to torture during their interrogation to obtain confessions and that the death sentences may be based on evidence obtained under these conditions.”
The government also imposed death sentences for crimes committed by minors. According to the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR), at year’s end eight individuals on death row were minors when detained, or at the time they committed offenses. The new Juvenile Law (approved by Royal Decree No. M/113, dated August 1, 2018), however, sets the legal age at 18 based on the Hijri calendar and in some cases permits detention of minors in a juvenile facility for up to 15 years if the crime is otherwise punishable by death.
At year’s end the government had not carried out the execution of Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, sentenced to death in 2014 for crimes he allegedly committed when he was 17. Al-Nimr was charged with protesting, aiding and abetting fugitives, attacking security vehicles, and various violent crimes. Human rights organizations reported due process concerns relating to minimum fair trial standards for his case. Al-Nimr was the nephew of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, executed in 2016.
There were terrorist attacks in the country during the year. A police officer, a Bangladeshi national, and two attackers were killed in a terrorist attack claimed by ISIS that targeted a security checkpoint in Buraidah, Qassim Province, on July 8.
There were reports of disappearances carried out by or on behalf of government authorities.
On May 29 and June 13, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Liz Throssell and HRW, respectively, urged authorities to disclose the whereabouts of Nawaf al-Rasheed, a citizen with dual Qatari nationality, whom Kuwait authorities stated had been deported to Saudi Arabia on May 12 at the kingdom’s request.
The law prohibits torture and makes officers, who are responsible for criminal investigations, liable for any abuse of authority. Sharia, as interpreted in the country, prohibits judges from accepting confessions obtained under duress. Statutory law provides that public investigators shall not subject accused persons to coercive measures to influence their testimony.
Multiple human rights organizations, the United Nations, and independent third parties noted numerous reports of torture and mistreatment of detainees by law enforcement officers. In November HRW and Amnesty International reported that some female right-to-drive activists arrested in May and June were subjected to torture and sexual harassment while in detention at Dhahban Prison near Jeddah. Human rights organizations and Western media outlets reported the women had been subjected to electric shocks, whipping, and forced kissing.
In a September SCC hearing attended by diplomatic representatives, three defendants reported their confessions had been forced after they were subject to abuse including beatings, sleep deprivation, being forced to stand for long periods, and food deprivation. In a June report, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson called on authorities to investigate allegations of the torture of detainees. While noting the country had “suffered numerous terrorist acts” and had a duty to protect its citizens, Emmerson said he had “well-documented reports” of torture and mistreatment by law enforcement officials against individuals accused of terrorism, as well as the use of coerced confessions. Emmerson also said authorities had widened their use of the broad antiterrorism law since his visit in April-May 2017. Authorities denied officials committed torture and stated they afforded all detainees due process and properly investigated credible complaints of mistreatment or torture.
On March 11, The New York Times reported that businessmen and princes arrested and detained during the government’s November 2017 anticorruption campaign were required to wear ankle bracelets that tracked their movements after their release. It added that at least 17 detainees were hospitalized for physical abuse, and one later died in custody with his body bearing signs of torture.
Amnesty, HRW, and other organizations also reported cases in which the SCC based its decisions on confessions allegedly obtained through torture and then admitted as evidence.
Former detainees in facilities run by the General Investigations Directorate (the country’s internal security forces, also known as Mabahith) alleged that abuse included beatings, sleep deprivation, and long periods of solitary confinement for nonviolent detainees.
Officials from the Ministry of Interior, PPO, and Human Rights Commission (HRC) claimed that rules prohibiting torture prevented such practices from occurring in the penal system. The ministry said it installed surveillance cameras to record interrogations of suspects in some criminal investigation offices, police stations, and prisons where such interrogations regularly occurred, such as the General Investigations Directorate/Mabahith prison facilities. There were reports that defendants who requested copies of video footage from the ministry’s surveillance system to provide as evidence of torture did not receive it.
Courts continued to sentence individuals to corporal punishment, usually in the form of floggings, whippings, or lashings, a common punishment that government officials defended as punishment dictated by sharia. According to human rights activists, police conducted the floggings according to a set of guidelines determined by local interpretation of sharia. The police official administering the punishment must place a copy of the Quran under his arm that prevents raising the hand above the head, limiting the ability to inflict pain or injury on the person subjected to the punishment, and instructions forbid police from breaking the skin or causing scarring when administering the lashes. Human rights organizations disputed that officials implemented floggings according to these guidelines for all prisoners and characterized flogging as a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
There were no reported cases of judicially administered amputation during the year.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions varied, and some did not meet international standards; reported problems included overcrowding and inadequate conditions.
Physical Conditions: In May the HRC reported that the most common problems observed during prison visits conducted in 2017 included overcrowding as well as insufficient facilities for inmates with disabilities.
Juveniles constituted less than 1 percent of detainees and were held in separate facilities from adults, according to available information.
Violations listed in National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) reports following prison visits documented shortages of properly trained wardens and lack of prompt access to medical treatment and services, including medication, when requested. Some prisoners alleged prison authorities maintained cold temperatures in prison facilities and deliberately kept lights on 24 hours a day to make prisoners uncomfortable.
Human rights activists reported that deaths in prisons, jails, or pretrial detention centers were infrequent (see section 1.a.).
Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. They separated persons suspected or convicted of terrorism offenses from the general population but held them in similar facilities. Activists alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals in the same cells as individuals with mental disabilities as a form of punishment and indicated that authorities mistreated persons with disabilities.
Administration: There were multiple legal authorities for prisons and detention centers. The General Directorate of Prisons administered approximately 91 detention centers, prisons, and jails, while the General Investigations Directorate/Mabahith administered approximately 20 regional prisons and detention centers for security prisoners. Article 37 of the law of criminal procedure gives members of the PPO the authority to conduct official visits of prisons and detention facilities “within their jurisdictional areas to ensure that no person is unlawfully imprisoned or detained” (see section 1.d., Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees).
No ombudsmen were available to register or investigate complaints made by prisoners, although prisoners could and did submit complaints to the HRC and the NSHR for follow up. Article 38 of the law of criminal procedure provides that “any prisoner or detainee shall have the right to submit, at any time, a written or verbal complaint to the prison or detention center officer and request that he communicate it to a member of the [former] Bureau of Investigations and Public Prosecution [renamed the PPO].” Under the law there is no right to submit complaints directly to judicial authorities or to challenge the legality of an individual’s detention before a court of law (habeas corpus). There was no information available on whether prisoners were able to submit complaints to prison or prosecutorial authorities without censorship, or whether authorities responded or acted upon complaints.
On December 17, the Wall Street Journal reported the HRC was investigating alleged abused of detained women’s rights activists.
On July 6, security authorities arrested human rights defender Khaled al-Omair after he had filed a complaint with the Royal Court against an officer of the General Directorate of Investigation who allegedly tortured him during a prior imprisonment, according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). Al-Omair was previously released in April 2017 after serving an eight-year sentence for inciting demonstrations and calling for them via the internet, according to the GCHR.
Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate; there were reports authorities held prisoners after they had completed their sentences.
A Ministry of Interior-run website (Nafetha) provided detainees and their relatives access to a database containing information about the legal status of the detainee, including any scheduled trial dates. Activists said the website did not provide information about all detainees.
Authorities differentiated between violent and nonviolent prisoners, sometimes pardoning nonviolent prisoners to reduce the prison population. Certain prisoners convicted on terrorism-related charges were required to participate in government-sponsored rehabilitation programs before consideration of their release.
Authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners twice a week, although certain prisons limited visitation to once every 15 days. There were reports that prison, security, or law enforcement officials denied this privilege in some instances, often during investigations. The families of detainees could access the Nafetha website for applications for prison visits, temporary leave from prison (generally approved around post-Ramadan Eid holidays), and release on bail (for pretrial detainees). Some family members of detained persons under investigation said family visits were typically not allowed, while others said allowed visits or calls were extremely brief (less than five minutes). Some family members of prisoners complained authorities canceled scheduled visits with relatives without reason.
Authorities generally permitted Muslim detainees and prisoners to perform religious observances such as prayers.
Independent Monitoring: Independent institutions were not permitted to conduct regular, unannounced visits to places of detention, according to the UN Committee against Torture. During the year the government permitted some foreign diplomats to visit some prison facilities to view general conditions in nonconsular cases. In a limited number of cases, foreign diplomats visited individuals in detention, but the visits took place in a separate visitors’ center where conditions may have differed from those in the detention facilities holding the prisoners.
The government permitted the HRC and domestic quasi-governmental organizations, such as the NSHR, to monitor prison conditions. The organizations stated they visited prisons throughout the country and reported on prison conditions. In December the HRC reported it had conducted more than 1,200 prison visits in 2017, including visits to Mabahith prisons, criminal investigation prisons, and some military prisons, as well as “social surveillance centers” and girls’ welfare institutions. The NSHR reportedly monitored health care in prisons and brought deficiencies to the attention of the PPO.
The law provides that no entity may restrict a person’s actions or imprison a person, except under the provisions of the law. The law of criminal procedure provides that authorities may not detain a person for more than 24 hours, except pursuant to a written order from a public investigator. Authorities must inform the detained person of the reasons for detention. Regardless, the Ministry of Interior and the SSP, to which the majority of forces with arrest powers reported, maintained broad authority to arrest and detain persons indefinitely without judicial oversight, notification of charges, or effective access to legal counsel or family. Authorities held persons for months and sometimes years without charge or trial and reportedly failed to advise them promptly of their rights, including their legal right to be represented by an attorney. Under the law of criminal procedure, detentions can be extended administratively for up to six months at the discretion of the PPO.
The Supreme Anti-Corruption Committee, formed by Royal Order No. (A/38) in November 2017, was granted broad powers, including the authority to issue arrest warrants and travel bans, freeze accounts and portfolios, and take whatever measures deemed necessary to deal with those involved in public corruption cases.
In January the public prosecutor stated the committee summoned 381 persons for questioning, of whom 56 suspects were still held on graft charges. On April 8, the public prosecutor began investigations and opening arguments for the remaining 56 suspects. In an October 5 interview with Bloomberg News, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman declared only eight suspects remained.
The PPO may order the detention of any person accused of a crime under the 2017 counterterrorism law for up to 30 days, or successive periods not exceeding 30 days each, and in total not more than 12 months. The SCC must authorize periods of detention of more than 12 months. In practice the United Nations and international human rights organizations documented numerous cases of detention that reportedly exceeded the maximum allowable period under the law.
By law defendants accused of any crime cited in the law are entitled to hire a practicing lawyer to defend themselves before the court “within an adequate period of time to be decided by the investigatory body.”
Since May 15, authorities arrested at least 30 prominent activists, and imposed travel bans on others, in connection with these activists’ advocacy for the right of women to drive. On June 1, Public Prosecutor Sheikh Saud al-Mu’jab stated authorities temporarily released eight of the detainees (five women and three men). An additional activist was released in December.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
In July 2017 King Salman issued a royal decree that established the State Security Presidency (SSP), a new entity reporting directly to the king, to consolidate “the counterterrorism and domestic intelligence services” and “all matters related to state security, … combatting terrorism, and financial investigations,” according to the official Saudi Press Agency. The royal decree moved the General Directorate of Investigation (Mabahith), Special Security Forces, Special Emergency Forces, General Security Aviation Command, General Directorate of Technical Affairs, and the National Information Center from the Ministry of Interior to the SSP. Police, traffic authorities, and the General Directorate of Passports remained under the Ministry of Interior, according to the Ministry of Information’s website.
The king, SSP, and Ministries of Defense, Interior, and National Guard are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The SSP and Ministry of Interior exercise primary control over internal security and police forces. The civil police and the internal security police have authority to arrest and detain individuals. Ministry of Interior and SSP police and security forces were generally able to maintain order.
The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), which monitors public behavior to enforce strict adherence to official interpretation of Islamic norms, reports to the king via the Royal Diwan (royal court) and to the Ministry of Interior. In 2016 the cabinet issued regulations severely curtailing the CPVPV’s enforcement powers. The new regulations prohibit CPVPV officers from investigating, detaining or arresting, or requesting the identification of any individual. The regulations also limit their activities to providing counseling and reporting individuals suspected of violating the law to police or other authorities. Evidence available since the end of 2017 indicated that CPVPV officers were less visibly present and active after implementation of the new strictures. Mabahith officers also have broad authorities to investigate, detain, and forward “national security” cases to judicial authorities–which ranged from terrorism cases to dissident and human rights activist cases–separate from the PPO.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Military and security courts investigated abuses of authority and security force killings. The Board of Grievances (“Diwan al-Mazalim”), a high-level administrative judicial body that hears cases against government entities and reports directly to the king, is the primary mechanism to seek redress for claims of abuse. Citizens may report abuses by security forces at any police station or to the HRC or NSHR. The HRC and NSHR maintained records of complaints and outcomes, but privacy laws protected information about individual cases, and information was not publicly available. The HRC said in February that it received 2,646 human rights-related complaints during fiscal year 2016-17. During the year the Board of Grievances held hearings and adjudicated claims of wrongdoing, but there were no reported prosecutions of security force members for human rights violations.
The HRC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, provided materials and training to police, other security forces, the Ministry of Defense, and the CPVPV on protecting human rights.
The Supreme Anti-Corruption Committee, established in November 2017, the National Anticorruption Commission (Nazaha), the PPO, and the Control and Investigation Board are units of the government with authority to investigate reports of criminal activity, corruption, and “disciplinary cases” involving government employees. These bodies are responsible for investigating potential cases and referring them to the administrative courts. Legal authorities for investigation and public prosecution of criminal offenses are consolidated within the PPO; the Control and Investigation Board is responsible for investigation and prosecution of noncriminal cases. Financial audit and control functions are vested in the General Auditing Board.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
In June 2017 King Salman issued two royal decrees that created the Public Prosecutor’s Office, (formerly the Bureau of Investigations and Public Prosecution or BIPP), establishing Saud bin Abdullah bin Mubarak al-Mu’jab as its head attorney general. The decrees directed the newly named agency to report directly to the king (rather than the Ministry of Interior, to which the BIPP had reported). Officials stated these changes would increase the independence and effectiveness of the lead prosecutorial office.
According to the law of criminal procedure, “no person shall be arrested, searched, detained, or imprisoned except in cases provided by law, and any accused person shall have the right to seek the assistance of a lawyer or a representative to defend him during the investigation and trial stages.” By law authorities may summon any person for investigation and may issue an arrest warrant based on evidence. In practice authorities frequently did not use warrants, and warrants were not required under the law in all cases.
The law requires authorities to file charges within 72 hours of arrest and hold a trial within six months, subject to exceptions specified by amendments to the law of criminal procedure and the counterterrorism law (see section 2.a.). Authorities may not legally detain a person under arrest for more than 24 hours, except pursuant to a written order from a public investigator. Authorities reportedly often failed to observe these legal protections, and there was no requirement to advise suspects of their rights. There were also reports that authorities did not allow legal counsel access to detainees who were under investigation in pretrial detention. Judicial proceedings begin after authorities complete a full investigation, which in some cases took years.
The law of criminal procedure specifies procedures required for extending the detention period of an accused person beyond the initial five days. Authorities may approve official detentions in excess of six months in “exceptional circumstances,” effectively allowing individuals to be held in pretrial detention indefinitely. Authorities may also extend from three months to six months the deadline for the PPO to gather evidence against the accused and issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest, summons, or detention.
There is a functioning bail system for less serious criminal charges. Detainees generally did not have the right to obtain a lawyer of their choice. The government provided lawyers to defendants who made a formal application to the Ministry of Justice to receive a court-appointed lawyer and prove their inability to pay for their legal representation. The law contains no provision regarding the right to be informed of the protections guaranteed under the law.
Incommunicado detention was a problem. Authorities reportedly did not always respect a detainees’ right to contact family members following detention, and the counterterrorism law allows the investigatory body to hold a defendant for up to 90 days in detention without access to family members or legal counsel (and the SCC may extend such restrictions beyond this period). Security and some other types of prisoners sometimes remained in prolonged solitary detention before family members or associates received information of their whereabouts, particularly for detainees in Mabahith-run facilities.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. During the year authorities detained security suspects, persons who publicly criticized the government, Shia religious leaders, and persons who violated religious standards, without charge.
On January 2, a group of UN human rights experts deplored what they said was “a worrying pattern of widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests and detention” following the arrests of religious figures, writers, journalists, academics, and civic activists, along with members of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) since September 2017. The experts denounced the use of the 2014 Counterterrorism Law (as amended in 2017) and other security-related laws against human rights defenders, urging the government to end repression and release those detained for peacefully exercising their rights. In September the SCC opened trials against some of the clerics, academics, and media figures arrested in September 2017. The SCC saw a significant increase in the number of cases and judicial rulings between September 2017 and March 2018, compared with the same period in the previous 12-month period. On April 22, local media reported an increase of 132 percent in the number of cases referred to the SCC and a 182 percent increase in the number of defendants.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem.
In August 2017 the PPO found during inspections of prisons and detention centers across the country that more than 2,000 individuals remained in detention without charge or trial since 2014. The attorney general ordered the cases immediately examined, and the majority of detainees were reportedly released on bail. The attorney general also asked the courts to find an appropriate legal remedy for the affected individuals.
Nonetheless, in a May 6 statement, HRW noted that authorities had detained thousands of persons for more than six months, in some cases for more than a decade, without referring them to courts for criminal proceedings, and that the number held for excessively long periods had apparently increased dramatically in recent years.
There was no current information available on the percentage of the prison population in pretrial detention or the average length of time held. Local human rights activists and diplomatic representatives reportedly received regular reports from families claiming authorities held their relatives arbitrarily or without notification of charges.
During the year the SSP stated it had detained numerous individuals for terrorist acts. On May 9, local media reported there were 5,342 detainees in five intelligence prisons across the country, of whom 83 percent were Saudis.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Under the law detainees are not entitled to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court. In the case of wrongful detention, the law of criminal procedure, as well as provisions of the counterterrorism law, provide for the right to compensation if detainees are found to have been held unlawfully.
Amnesty: The law of criminal procedure stipulates that the king may issue a pardon “on pardonable matters” for public crimes only. The law of criminal procedure also states that a victim’s heirs may grant a pardon for private crimes. The Ministry of Interior publishes the conditions for royal pardons annually, and these generally exclude specific crime categories such as murder or drug smuggling, or those convicted of crimes involving state security. Under the country’s interpretation of sharia, there are three broad categories of offenses: (1) huddud or “boundary” crimes, which are explicitly enumerated in the Quran and whose corresponding punishments are also prescribed; these are considered crimes against God and thus not pardonable; (2) qisas or “legal retribution crimes,” which involve murder or intentional bodily harm and give the victim’s family or legal heirs the private right to legal retribution; the victim’s family or legal heirs may grant a pardon in exchange for financial compensation (diya or “blood money,); and (3) crimes that do not reach the level of huddud or qisas and which are left to the discretion of the state (judge). Ta’zir or “discretionary” punishments are issued for crimes against public rights; this is the most frequently used basis for conviction.
The king continued the tradition of commuting some judicial punishments. Royal pardons sometimes set aside a conviction and sometimes reduced or eliminated corporal punishment. The remaining sentence could be added to a new sentence if the pardoned prisoner committed a crime subsequent to release.
Authorities did not detain some individuals who had received prison sentences. The counterterrorism law allows the PPO to stop proceedings against an individual who cooperates with investigations or helps thwart a planned terrorist attack. The law authorizes the SSP to release individuals already convicted.
The law provides that judges are independent and not subject to any authority other than the provisions of sharia and the laws in force. Nevertheless, the judiciary, PPO, and SSP were not independent entities, as they were required to coordinate their decisions with executive authorities, with the king and crown prince as arbiters. Although public allegations of interference with judicial independence were rare, the judiciary reportedly was subject to influence, particularly in the case of legal decisions rendered by specialized judicial bodies, such as the SCC, which rarely acquitted suspects. Human rights activists reported that SCC judges received implicit instructions to issue harsh sentences against human rights activists, reformers, journalists, and dissidents not engaged in violent activities. Activists also reported that judicial and prosecutorial authorities ignored due process-related complaints, including lack of access by lawyers to their clients at critical stages of the judicial process, particularly during the pretrial/investigation phase.
In the judicial system, there traditionally was no published case law on criminal matters, no uniform criminal code, no presumption of innocence, and no doctrine of stare decisis that binds judges to follow legal precedent. The Justice Ministry is expanding a project first started in 2007 to encapsulate and distribute model judicial decisions to ensure more uniformity of legal application. The law states that defendants should be treated equally in accordance with sharia. The Council of Senior Scholars (CSS), or the ulema, an autonomous advisory body, issues religious opinions (fatwas) that guide how judges interpret sharia.
In the absence of a formalized penal code that details all criminal offenses and punishments, judges in the courts determine many of these penalties through their interpretations of sharia, which varied according to the judge and the circumstances of the case. Because judges have considerable discretion in decision making, rulings and sentences diverged widely from case to case.
Several laws, however, provide sentencing requirements for crimes including terrorism, cybercrimes, trafficking in persons, and domestic abuse. In 2016 the Ministry of Justice issued its first compilation of previous decisions that judges could refer to as a point of reference in making rulings and assigning sentences.
Appeals courts cannot independently reverse lower court judgments; they are limited to affirming judgments or returning them to a lower court for modification. Even when judges did not affirm judgments, appeals judges in some cases remanded the judgment to the judge who originally authored the opinion. This procedure sometimes made it difficult for parties to receive a ruling that differed from the original judgment in cases where judges hesitated to admit error. While judges may base their decisions on any of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, all of which are represented in the CSS, the Hanbali school predominates and forms the basis for the country’s law and legal interpretations of sharia. Shia citizens use their legal traditions to adjudicate family law cases between Shia parties, although either party can decide to adjudicate a case in state courts, which apply Sunni legal traditions.
While the law states that court hearings shall be public, courts may be closed at the judge’s discretion. As a result, many trials during the year were closed. Through mid-October foreign diplomatic missions were able to obtain permission to attend some nonconsular court proceedings (cases to which neither the host country nor any of its nationals were a party; diplomatic missions are generally allowed to attend consular proceedings of their own nationals). To attend, authorities required diplomats to obtain advance written approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In October, however, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs suspended diplomatic access to court proceedings. Authorities sometimes did not permit entry to such trials to individuals other than diplomats who were not the legal agents or family members of the accused. SCC officials sometimes banned female relatives or diplomats from attending due to the absence of women officers to conduct security inspections of the women upon entry to the courtroom. According to the Ministry of Justice, authorities may close a trial depending on the sensitivity of the case to national security, the reputation of the defendant, or the safety of witnesses. Representatives of the HRC sometimes attended trials at the SCC.
Amendments to the law of criminal procedure in 2013 strengthened provisions stating that authorities will offer defendants a lawyer at government expense. In August 2017 the Ministry of Justice stated that defendants “enjoy all judicial guarantees they are entitled to, including the right to seek the assistance of lawyers of their choosing to defend them, while the ministry pays the lawyer’s fees when the accused is not able to settle them.” Activists, however, reported the process for applying for a court-appointed lawyer was difficult and cumbersome. Many said they were not able or allowed to retain an attorney or consult with their attorneys during critical stages of the investigatory and trial proceedings. Detained human rights activists often did not trust the courts to appoint lawyers for them due to concerns of lawyer bias.
The law provides defendants the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney during the trial. The counterterrorism law, however, authorizes the attorney general to limit the right of defendants accused of terrorism to access legal representation while under investigation “whenever the interests of the investigation so require.” There is no right to discovery, nor can defendants view their own file or the minutes from their interrogation. Defendants have the right to call and cross-examine witnesses under the law; however, activists reported SCC judges could decide to restrict this right in “the interests of the case.” The law provides that a PPO-appointed investigator questions the witnesses called by the defendant during the investigation phase before the initiation of a trial. The investigator may also hear testimony of additional witnesses he deems necessary to determine the facts. Authorities may not subject a defendant to any coercive measures or compel the taking of an oath. The court must inform convicted persons of their right to appeal rulings.
The law does not provide for a right against self-incrimination.
The law does not provide free interpretation services, although services were often provided in practice. The law of criminal procedure provides that “the court should seek the assistance of interpreters,” but it does not obligate the court to do so from the moment the defendant is charged, nor does the law specify that the state will bear the costs of such services.
While sharia as interpreted by the government applies to all citizens and noncitizens, the law in practice discriminates against women, noncitizens, nonpracticing Sunni, Shia, and persons of other religions. Although exceptions exist, a woman’s testimony before a court counts as only half that of a man’s. Judges may discount the testimony of nonpracticing Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, or persons of other religions; sources reported judges sometimes completely disregarded or refused to hear testimony by Shia.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The government maintained there were no political prisoners, including detainees who reportedly remained in prolonged detention without charge, while local activists and human rights organizations claimed there were “hundreds” or “thousands.” Credible reporting by advocacy groups and press suggested that authorities detained persons for peaceful activism or political opposition, including nonviolent religious figures, imams deemed to have strayed from the official religious line, Shia activists, women’s rights defenders, other activists, and bloggers who the government claimed posted offensive or antigovernment comments on websites.
In many cases it was impossible to determine the legal basis for incarceration and whether the detention complied with international norms and standards. Those who remained imprisoned after trial, including persons who were political activists openly critical of the government, were often convicted of terrorism-related crimes. During the year the SCC tried political and human rights activists for nonviolent actions unrelated to terrorism, violence, or espionage against the state.
International NGOs, the United Nations, and others criticized the government for abusing its antiterrorism prerogatives to detain or arrest some dissidents or critics of the government or royal family on security-related grounds who had not espoused or committed violence. Authorities restricted attorneys’ access to all detainees, and no international humanitarian organizations had access to them.
On May 25, authorities arrested ACPRA founding member Mohammed al-Bajadi, along with almost a dozen women rights defenders, some of whom were later released. Al-Bajadi was previously released from prison in 2016 after serving a four-year prison sentence on charges stemming from his work with ACPRA. Among other rights defenders arrested in May was lawyer Ibrahim al-Mudaimeegh, who previously represented activists including Waleed Abu al-Khair and Lujain al-Hathloul. Al-Mudaimeegh was reportedly released on December 21.
At least 120 persons remained in detention for activism, criticism of government leaders, impugning Islam or religious leaders, or “offensive” internet postings, including prominent activists such as Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Hatoon al-Fassi, Raif Badawi, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Loujain al-Hathloul, and Samar Badawi, and clerics including former Grand Mosque Imam Salih al-Talib, Sahwa movement figures Safar al-Hawali, Nasser al-Omar, and others.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Complainants claiming human rights violations generally sought assistance from the HRC or the NSHR, which either advocated on their behalf or provided courts with opinions on their cases. The HRC generally responded to complaints and could refer cases to the PPO; domestic violence cases were the most common. Individuals or organizations may petition directly for damages or government action to end human rights violations before the Board of Grievances, except in compensation cases related to state security, where the SCC handles remediation. The counterterrorism law contains a provision allowing detainees in Mabahith-run prisons to request financial compensation from the Ministry of Interior/SSP for wrongful detention beyond their prison terms. In some cases the government did not carry out judicially ordered compensation for unlawful detentions in a timely manner.
In August 2017 the Ministry of Justice issued a press release stating that “…the accused enjoy all judicial guarantees they are entitled to, including the right to seek the assistance of lawyers of their choosing to defend them, while the Ministry [of Justice] pays the lawyer’s fees when the accused is not able to settle them.” Security detainees held in accordance with the 2017 Counterterrorism Law are entitled “to seek the assistance of a lawyer or legal agent,” but the Public Prosecutor may restrict this right during the investigation “whenever the interests of the investigation so require.” The United Nations and international NGOs reported security detainees were denied access to legal counsel during pretrial detention during the year.
The law prohibits unlawful intrusions into the privacy of persons, their homes, places of work, and vehicles. Criminal investigation officers are required to maintain records of all searches conducted; these records should contain the name of the officer conducting the search, the text of the search warrant (or an explanation of the urgency that necessitated the search without a warrant), and the names and signatures of the persons who were present at the time of search. While the law also provides for the privacy of all mail, telegrams, telephone conversations, and other means of communication, the government did not respect the privacy of correspondence or communications and used the considerable latitude provided by law to monitor activities legally and intervene where it deemed necessary.
There were reports from human rights activists of governmental monitoring or blocking of mobile telephone or internet usage. The government strictly monitored politically related activities and took punitive actions, including arrest and detention, against persons engaged in certain political activities, such as calling for a constitutional monarchy, publicly criticizing senior members of the royal family by name, forming a political party, or organizing a demonstration (see section 2.a.). Customs officials reportedly routinely opened mail and shipments to search for contraband. In some areas Ministry of Interior/SSP informants allegedly reported “seditious ideas,” “antigovernment activity,” or “behavior contrary to Islam” in their neighborhoods.
The 2017 Counterterrorism Law allows the Ministry of Interior/SSP to access a terrorism suspect’s private communications as well as banking information in a manner inconsistent with the legal protections provided by the law of criminal procedure.
The CPVPV monitored and regulated public interaction between members of the opposite sex, though in practice CPVPV authorities were greatly curtailed and mixed-gender events this year.
In 2015 Saudi officials announced the formation of a coalition to counter the 2014 attempted overthrow of the Yemeni government by militias of the Ansar Allah movement (also known colloquially as “Houthis”) and forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Membership in the coalition included the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, and Senegal. The Saudi-led coalition continued conducting air and ground operations in Yemen, actions initiated in 2015.
Killings: The United Nations, NGOs, media, and humanitarian and other international organizations reported what they characterized as disproportionate use of force by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, including the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that between March 26, 2015, and August 9, 2018, an estimated 6,592 civilians had been killed, including more than 1,200 children, and 10,470 injured as result of the war in Yemen.
Saudi-led coalition airstrikes reportedly resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on multiple occasions. According to NGO and press reports, two coalition airstrikes on August 9 and August 23 led to more than 70 civilian deaths, many of whom were children.
The government established the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) in 2016 to identify lessons and corrective actions and to implement national accountability mechanisms, as appropriate. The Riyadh-based group consisted of military and civilian members from coalition member states who investigated allegations of civilian casualties as well as claims by international organizations that humanitarian aid convoys and infrastructure were targeted by the coalition.
On September 1, JIAT spokesperson Mansour Ahmed al-Mansour stated the August 9 attack on Dahyan market in Saada was “unjustified.” JIAT findings admitted “mistakes” were made and recommended individuals be held accountable; however, no official actions against those individuals were known to have occurred. The JIAT publicly announced the results of numerous investigations during the year, largely absolving the coalition of responsibility in civilian deaths in the incidents reviewed.
On July 10, King Salman issued a royal pardon for all Saudi soldiers deployed in Yemen, lifting any “military and disciplinary” penalties for “military men” taking part in “Operation Restoring Hope.” This pardon does not apply, however, to crimes against international humanitarian law, according to coalition spokesperson Turki al-Malki.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Yemeni rebels conducted cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia, including launching more than 66,000 projectiles into Saudi territory since 2015, which reportedly destroyed hospitals, schools, homes, and other infrastructure and killed at least eight Saudis. In November 2017 Houthi militias launched ballistic missiles from Yemen that reached Riyadh. In its initial response, the Saudi-led coalition blocked all imports, including humanitarian aid, at all Yemeni air and seaports and land border crossings. On November 25, 2017, the coalition began opening some ports and all land border crossings to allow access to aid supplies. In December 2017 the coalition announced it would allow the entry of ships carrying humanitarian and commercial cargo, including food and fuel vessels, to the key rebel-held port of Hudaydah. Subsequently, the coalition sought to minimize disruptions of humanitarian assistance delivery through improved coordination with donor organizations via its Evacuation and Humanitarian Operations Committee. Commercial imports, however, had not improved to preblockade levels as of year’s end, due to low shipper confidence about the ports remaining open and insecurity in the area. In addition, Sana’a International Airport remained closed throughout the year to commercial traffic.
For additional details, including additional information on the Saudi-led coalition’s operations in Yemen, see the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights for Yemen.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Security forces used lethal excessive force against civilians, demonstrators, and detainees, including in conflict zones (see section 1.g.). On January 6, in El Geneina, West Darfur, Rapid Support Forces (RSF) used live ammunition against a large group of high school and university students protesting poor economic conditions in front of the regional governor’s office. Several students were severely wounded and 19-year-old student Alzubair Ahmed Alsukairan died from a gunshot wound to the chest. The governor promised the police would investigate the student’s death. As of year’s end, no information on the investigation had been made public.
In response to protests that broke out on December 19 and spread throughout the country, security forces fired live ammunition in Gadaref city, Atbara city, and the Al haj Youssef neighborhood in Khartoum, resulting in credible reports of at least 30 deaths (see sections 1.c., 1.d., and 2.a.).
There were multiple reports during the year of deaths resulting from torture, including of a student who disappeared in January when participating in protests (see section 1.b.).
There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. As in prior years, this included disappearances in both nonconflict and conflict areas. Security forces detained political opponents incommunicado and without charge. NISS held some political detainees in isolation cells in regular prisons, and many were held without access to family or medical treatment and reportedly suffered physical abuse. Human rights activists asserted NISS ran “ghost houses” where it detained opposition and human rights figures without acknowledging they were being held. Such detentions were prolonged at times.
According to the government, NISS maintained public information offices to address inquiries about missing or detained family members. Families of missing or detained persons reported such inquiries often went unanswered.
The body of a 23-year-old Darfuri student was found in Barabar, River Nile State, on January 22. The student was reportedly last seen being arrested by NISS on January 16 upon his return to Wadi Alnil University in Barabar from Khartoum, where he participated in and documented protests against commodity price hikes. Local police confirmed that his body was found on the banks of the Nile River on January 22. Human rights activists reported that the student was killed in NISS custody and that his body showed signs of torture.
Peaceful protesters were regularly detained. In January and February, hundreds of demonstrators at largely peaceful protests against commodity price increases were arrested. While many protestors were released on the day of arrest, security services detained opposition and human rights leaders for longer periods. At least 150 human rights defenders faced prolonged detentions, usually in unknown NISS facilities and without access to family visits or legal counsel for various periods up to five months.
Government forces, armed opposition groups, and armed criminal elements were responsible for the disappearance of civilians in conflict areas (see section 1.g.).
The 2005 Interim National Constitution prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, but security forces reportedly tortured, beat, and harassed suspected political opponents, rebel supporters, and others.
In accordance with the government’s interpretation of sharia (Islamic law), the penal code provides for physical punishments, including flogging, amputation, stoning, and the public display of a body after execution, despite the constitution’s prohibitions. Courts routinely imposed flogging, especially as punishment for indecent dress and the production or consumption of alcohol.
The law requires police and the attorney general to investigate deaths on police premises, regardless of suspected cause. Reports of suspicious deaths in police custody were sometimes investigated but not prosecuted. On January 12, a pharmacist at Gireida Hospital in South Darfur died in police custody after spending two days in detention. He was arrested along with five colleagues for alleged involvement in the black market trade of prescription medications. The pharmacist’s colleagues were released after one night’s detention; all five showed signs of physical abuse. After the pharmacist’s death, his family demanded an autopsy. A forensic doctor from Khartoum conducted the autopsy and reported that the deceased’s body showed signs of severe torture, including a ruptured kidney, missing fingernails, and a cut in the spinal cord. Following his burial, a forensic doctor connected with the hospital in which he was treated issued a second report stating that the pharmacist died of natural causes. The deceased’s family attempted to file a complaint, but local police reportedly refused to accept it. A committee chaired by the Gireida legislative council speaker and commissioner then publicly encouraged the family to accept government compensation in the amount of 300,000 SDG ($6,380).
In May the Sudan News agency reported that Akasha Mohamed Ahmed, a businessman who was in NISS custody on corruption charges, committed suicide in prison. Ahmed, a known member of the NCP, was called into NISS’ economic department after a dispute with the party. NISS said Ahmed made a confession and that the police were informed of this prior to his alleged suicide. His body was delivered to his family. There was no known investigation into Ahmed’s death by year’s end.
Civil society activists in Khartoum, former detainees, and NGOs all reported that government security forces (including police, NISS, SAF Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) personnel, and the RSF) tortured persons in detention, including members of the political opposition, civil society, and journalists. Reported forms of torture and other mistreatment included prolonged isolation, exposure to extreme temperature variations, electric shock, and the use of stress positions.
On February 5, Nasreldin Mukhtar Mohammed, a student at Omdurman’s Holy Koran University and former head of the Darfur Students Association, was released from NISS custody. Mohammed had spent six months in solitary confinement in an unknown NISS facility. NISS arrested him in August 2017 for alleged involvement in protests at his university. During his detention, Mohammed’s family, the Darfur Bar Association, and the Darfuri Students Association issued numerous statements expressing concern for Mohammed’s prolonged detention without regular access to family visits or legal counsel.
Government authorities detained other members of the Darfur Students Association during the year. Upon release, many showed visible signs of severe physical abuse and reported they had been tortured. Darfuri students also reported being attacked by NCP student-wing members during protests. There were no known repercussions for the NCP youth that participated in violence against Darfuri students. There were numerous reports of violence against student activists’ family members. At years end, the trial of nine Darfuri students from Bakht al Rida University in White Nile State accused of murdering two police officers during violent clashes between police officers and protesting students in May 2017 continued. The students were held for almost a year before the trial began.
Human rights groups alleged that NISS regularly harassed and sexually assaulted many of its female detainees.
The law prohibits indecent dress and punishes it with a maximum of 40 lashes, a fine, or both. The law does not specify what constitutes indecent dress. Officials acknowledged authorities applied these laws more frequently against women than men and applied them to Muslims and non-Muslims. Most women were released following payment of fines.
In February human rights activist and journalist Wini Nawal Omer was arrested with three friends at a private residence in Khartoum and charged with attempting to commit an offense, possessing alcohol, and prostitution. At year’s end their trial was ongoing. Omer was previously arrested in December 2017 for indecent dress after she attended a high profile public order hearing for 24 women arrested in December 2017 at a private residence for indecent dress.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
The Ministry of Interior generally does not release information on physical conditions in prisons. Information about the number of juvenile and female prisoners was unavailable.
Physical Conditions: Prison conditions throughout the country remained harsh and life threatening; overcrowding was a major problem. The Prisons and Reform Directorate, a branch of the national police that reports to the Ministry of Interior, oversees prisons. According to human rights activists and released detainees, RSF and DMI officials also detained civilians on military installations, especially in conflict areas.
Overall conditions, including food, sanitation, and living conditions, were reportedly better in women’s detention facilities and prisons, such as the Federal Prison for Women in Omdurman, than at equivalent facilities for men, such as the main prison in Khartoum, Kober, or Omdurman Prisons. In Khartoum juveniles were not held in adult prisons or jails, but they were reportedly held with adults elsewhere. During the year there was an unconfirmed report of a child dying in detention.
Authorities generally provided food, water, and sanitation, although the quality of all three was basic. Prison health care, heating, ventilation, and lighting were often inadequate, but varied from facility to facility. Some prisoners did not have access to medications or physical examinations. While prisoners previously relied on family or friends for food, during the year policy changed and families were no longer allowed to provide food or other items to family members. Most prisoners did not have beds. Former detainees reported needing to purchase foam mattresses.
There were reports of deaths due to negligence in prisons and pretrial detention centers, but comprehensive figures were not available. Local press reported deaths resulting from suspected torture by police (see section 1.a.). Human rights advocates reported that deaths resulted from harsh conditions at military detention facilities, such as extreme heat and lack of water.
Some former detainees reported security forces held them incommunicado; beat them; deprived them of food, water, and toilets; and forced them to sleep on cold floors. Released detainees also reported witnessing rapes of detainees by guards.
Political prisoners were held in separate sections of prisons. Kober Prison contained separate sections for political prisoners, those convicted of financial crimes, and those convicted of violent crimes. NISS holding cells in Khartoum North prisons were known to local activists as “the fridges” due to the extremely cold temperatures and the lack of windows and sunlight.
Political detainees reported facing harsher treatment, although many prominent political detainees reported being exempt from abuse in detention. Numerous high profile political detainees reported being held next to rooms used by security services to torture individuals.
Administration: Authorities rarely conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.
While police allowed some visitors, including lawyers and family members, while prisoners were in custody and during judicial hearings, political detainees and others held in NISS custody were seldom allowed visits. Authorities also regularly denied foreign prisoners held in NISS facilities visits from foreign government representatives.
Christian clergy held services in prisons. Access varied across prisons. In Omdurman Women’s Prison, church services were held six times a week, but regularity of services in other prisons was not verified. Sunni imams were granted access to facilitate Friday prayers. Shia imams were not allowed to enter prisons to conduct prayers. Detained Shia Muslims were permitted to join prayers led by Sunni imams.
The police inspector general, the minister of justice, and the judiciary are authorized to inspect prisons.
Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit unrestricted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC was not allowed to visit prisons during the year.
Diplomatic missions were allowed limited monitoring access to prisons during the year. A group of representatives from diplomatic missions in Khartoum visited a prison in Abyei during an official trip to the area. The diplomats observed harsh treatment of detainees and prisoners.
The Ministry of Justice occasionally granted UNAMID access to government prisons in Darfur, but with restrictions. The government in most cases denied access to specific files, records, and prisoners. Consequently, UNAMID was unable to verify the presence or status of inmates who reportedly were held illegally as political prisoners. The human rights section had physical access to general prisons (excepting NISS and DMI detention centers) in South, North, East, and West Darfur, but in Central Darfur (where most of the conflict occurred during the year) UNAMID had no access to any prison or detention center.
The UN Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in the Sudan (IE) was allowed access to Alshala Prison in El Fasher, North Darfur during the IE’s April trip to the country.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Several government entities have responsibility for internal security, including the Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police agencies; the Ministry of Defense; and NISS. Ministry of Interior police agencies include the security police, Special Forces police, traffic police, and the combat-trained Central Reserve police. There was a police presence throughout the country.
The government attempted to respond to some interethnic fighting and, in a few instances, was effective in mediating peaceful solutions. The government had a poor record, however, in preventing societal violence. Numerous residents in Darfur, for example, routinely complained of a lack of governing presence or authority that could prevent or deter violent crime.
The law provides NISS officials with legal protection from criminal or civil suits for acts committed in their official capacity; the government reported NISS maintained an internal court system to address internal discipline and investigate and prosecute violations of the National Security Act, including abuse of power. Penalties included up to 10 years in prison, a fine, or both for NISS officers found in violation of the act. During the year the government provided more information about how many cases it had closed. A key national dialogue recommendation was to rescind unilateral additions to the constitution that exempt NISS from the national judicial system. Despite promises to implement all national dialogue recommendations, the government did not include NISS reforms as part of the national dialogue package of laws it presented to the National Assembly.
In February President Bashir appointed Salah Abdallah Mohamed Saleh, known as Salah “Gosh,” as the head of NISS. His first major act was to release about 80 political detainees arrested for supporting protests against the deteriorating economic situation, following a directive from President Bashir.
NISS is responsible for internal security and most intelligence matters. It functions independently of any ministry. Constitutional amendments passed in 2015 expanded NISS’s mandate to include authorities traditionally reserved for the military and judiciary. Under the amendments NISS may establish courts and is allowed greater latitude than other security services in making arrests.
The Ministry of Defense oversees all elements of the SAF, including the RSF, Border Guards, and DMI units.
The RSF is only nominally under the SAF; in fact it reports directly to the president. The RSF continued to play a significant role in government campaigns against rebel movements and was implicated in the majority of reports of human rights violations against civilians. The government tightly controlled information about the RSF, and public criticism of the RSF often resulted in arrest or detention (see section 2.a.).
On February 12, the RSF killed Khidir Mohamed, a businessman, in front of his home in Kassala City. The incident reportedly occurred after RSF soldiers took the personal belongings of a group of young men and then chased the young men into Kassala, where they ran into the home owned by Mohamed. Mohamed reportedly died immediately. Later in the month, citizens of Eastern Sudan put out a petition demanding the immediate withdrawal of RSF soldiers from Red Sea, Kassala, and Gedaref states. They cited the Mohamed case and warned that the RSF were jeopardizing the regions’ prospects of peace and development. The RSF has been present in Eastern Sudan since December 2017.
Impunity remained a serious problem throughout the security forces, although crimes involving child victims were prosecuted more regularly. Aside from the inconsistent use of NISS’ special courts (see above), the government rarely lifted police immunity or pressed charges against SAF officers. The government also generally failed to investigate violations committed by any branch of the security forces.
The Interim National Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and requires that individuals be notified of the charges against them when they are arrested. Arbitrary arrests and detentions, however, remained common under the law, which allows for arrest by the NISS without warrants and detention without charge for up to four and one-half months. Authorities often released detainees when their initial detention periods expired but took them into custody the next day for an additional period. Authorities, especially NISS, arbitrarily detained political opponents and those believed to sympathize with the opposition (see section 1.e.). The law does not provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Under the National Security Act warrants are not required for an arrest. The law permits the police to detain individuals for three days for the purpose of inquiry. A magistrate can renew detention without charge for up to two weeks during investigation. A superior magistrate may renew detentions for up to six months for a person who is charged.
The law allows NISS to detain individuals for up to 45 days before bringing charges. The NISS director may refer certain cases to the Security Council and request an extension of up to three months, allowing detentions of up to four and one-half months without charge. Authorities often released detainees when their detentions expired and rearrested them soon after for a new detention period, so that detainees were held for several months without charge and without official extensions.
The constitution and law provide for an individual to be informed in detail of charges at the time of arrest, with interpretation as needed, and for judicial determination without undue delay, but these provisions were rarely followed. Individuals accused of threatening national security routinely were charged under the national security law, rather than the criminal code, and frequently detained without charge.
The law allows for bail, except for those accused of crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment. There was a functioning bail system; however, persons released on bail often awaited action on their cases indefinitely.
Suspects in common criminal cases, such as theft, as well as in political cases were often compelled to confess guilt while in police custody through physical abuse and police intimidation of family members.
The law provides for access to legal representation, but security forces often held persons incommunicado for long periods in unknown locations. By law any person may request legal assistance and must be informed of the right to counsel in cases potentially involving the death penalty, imprisonment lasting longer than 10 years, or amputation. Accused persons may also request assistance through the legal aid department at the Ministry of Justice or the Sudanese Bar Association. The government was not always able to provide legal assistance, and legal aid organizations and lawyers partially filled the gap.
Arbitrary Arrest: NISS, police, and the DMI arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Authorities often detained persons for a few days before releasing them without charge, but many persons were held much longer. The government often targeted political opponents and suspected rebel supporters (see section 1.e.).
NISS officials frequently denied holding individuals in their custody or refused to confirm their place of detention. In lieu of formal detention, NISS increasingly called individuals to report to NISS offices for long hours on a daily basis without a stated purpose. Many human rights observers considered this a tactic to harass, intimidate, and disrupt the lives of opposition members and activists, prevent “opposition” activities, and avoid the recording of formal detentions.
In response to mid-December protests, the government detained hundreds of persons, including students, Darfuris, opposition members, and journalists (see sections 1.a. and 2.a.).
The government sometimes sought the repatriation of Sudanese citizens living abroad who actively criticized the government online. Saudi Arabian security services arrested Sudanese human rights defender Hisham Ali at his home in Jeddah at the request of Sudanese security services and deported him to Khartoum on May 29. Ali had a large social media following under his pseudonym Wad Galiba; he used social media to write posts critical of the Sudanese government. Ali was also a founding member of the November 27th Movement, a loosely affiliated Sudanese civil society group. Upon arriving in Khartoum, Ali was held incommunicado and denied access to family visits or legal counsel. On July 15, Ali was charged with four crimes against the state: undermining the constitution, waging war against the state, espionage, and entering and photographing military areas and works. No trial date had been announced by year’s end.
Unlike in prior years, no local NGOs reported that women were detained because of their association with men suspected of being supporters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) (see section 1.g.).
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was common. The large number of detainees and judicial inefficiency resulted in trial delays.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, were not entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and, therefore, were not able to obtain prompt release or compensation if unlawfully detained.
Although the constitution and relevant laws provide for an independent judiciary, courts were largely subordinate to government officials and the security forces, particularly in cases of alleged crimes against the state. On occasion courts displayed a degree of independence. Political interference with the courts, however, was commonplace, and some high-ranking members of the judiciary held positions in the Ministry of Interior or other ministries.
The judiciary was inefficient and subject to corruption. In Darfur and other remote areas, judges were often absent from their posts, delaying trials.
States of emergency continued in Darfur, Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan, North Kordofan, West Kordofan, and Kassala to facilitate the national arms collection campaigns. The states of emergency allowed for the arrest and detention of individuals without trial.
The constitution and law provide for a fair and public trial as well as a presumption of innocence; however, this provision was rarely respected. Trials are open to the public at the discretion of the judge. In cases of national security and offenses against the state, trials are usually closed. The law stipulates that the government is obligated to provide a lawyer for indigents in cases in which punishment might exceed 10 years’ imprisonment or include execution or amputation.
By law criminal defendants must be informed promptly of the charges against them at the time of their arrest and charged in detail and with interpretation as needed. Individuals arrested by NISS often were not informed of the reasons for their arrest.
Defendants generally have the right to present evidence and witnesses, be present in court, confront accusers, and have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Some defendants reportedly did not receive legal counsel, and counsel in some cases could only advise the defendant and not address the court. Persons in remote areas and in areas of conflict generally did not have access to legal counsel. The government sometimes did not allow defense witnesses to testify.
Defendants have the right to appeal, except in military trials. Defendants were sometimes permitted time and facilities to prepare their defense, although in more political cases, charges could be disclosed with little warning and could change as the trial proceeded.
Lawyers wishing to practice are required to maintain membership in the government-controlled Sudanese Bar Association. The government continued to arrest and harass lawyers whom it considered political opponents.
Military trials, which sometimes were secret and brief, lacked procedural safeguards. The lawsubjects any civilians in SAF-controlled areas believed to be rebels or members of a paramilitary group to military trials. NISS and military intelligence officers applied this amendment to detainees in the conflict areas.
Three-person security courts deal with violations of constitutional decrees, emergency regulations, and some sections of the penal code, including drug and currency offenses. Special courts composed primarily of civilian judges handled most security-related cases. Defendants had limited opportunities to meet with counsel and were not always allowed to present witnesses during trial.
Due to long distances between court facilities and police stations in conflict areas, local mediation was often the first resort to try to resolve disputes. In some instances tribal courts operating outside the official legal system decided cases. Such courts did not provide the same protections as regular courts.
Sharia strongly influenced the law, and sharia in some cases was applied to Christians against their wishes in civil domestic matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The government continued to hold political prisoners and detainees, including protesters. Due to lack of access, the numbers of political prisoners and detainees could not be confirmed. Government authorities detained Darfuri students and political opponents, including opposition members, throughout the year, often reportedly subjecting them to torture. The government severely restricted international humanitarian organizations’ and human rights monitors’ access to political detainees.
Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested in the waves of protests against commodity price hikes in January and February. The government initiated two major releases of political detainees in connection with the protests. On February 18, following a directive from President Bashir, NISS announced that “all political detainees” held for supporting protests would be released. In reality, an estimated 80 detainees were released and the government followed up with an announcement that the release of the remaining political detainees, who were mainly from the larger opposition parties, would be contingent upon the “good behavior” of the opposition parties. On April 11, President Bashir issued another decree ordering the release of “all” political detainees. Since then the government has maintained that it does not hold political prisoners. Human rights groups continued, however, to regularly report the arrests of activists and opposition members for political reasons.
During the start of the price hike protests in January, security services placed some opposition leaders under what human rights groups called “preventative detention” following their parties’ calls for civil disobedience. Between January 7 and 18, security services arrested four Sudan Congress Party leaders, four Communist Party leaders, and one Baath Party leader. None of the party leaders had attended protests. Human rights groups allege that the government arrested them due to concern they would be influential in calling for protests. Their arrests occurred in addition to arrests of demonstrators.
On July 17, security services arrested Ahmed Aldai Bushara at his Khartoum home two days after Bushara posted a video on Facebook criticizing the bad economic situation and showing a long line of people waiting to purchase bread in his neighborhood. Bushara had a large social media following and was arrested two previous times. On August 25, Bushara began a hunger strike to protest his prolonged detention without charge. He was released on September 17. No charges were ever formally brought against him.
On August 13, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of Asim Omer for killing a police officer during 2016 protests at Khartoum University, and ordered a retrial, which began on September 18. Human rights groups alleged that the charges were due to Omer’s activism on behalf of Darfuri students’ right to education and his membership in an opposition party.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Persons seeking damages for human rights violations had access to domestic and international courts. The domestic judiciary, however, was not independent. There were problems enforcing domestic and international court orders. According to the law, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. Some individuals, however, reported they feared reprisal (see section 2.d.).
The Interim National Constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government routinely violated these rights. Emergency laws in Darfur, Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan, North Kordofan, West Kordofan, and Kassala States legalize interference in privacy, family, home, and correspondence for purposes of maintaining national security.
Security forces frequently searched and targeted persons suspected of political crimes. NISS often confiscated personal computers and other private property. Security forces conducted multiple raids on Darfuri students’ housing throughout the year. During the raids NISS confiscated students’ belongings, including laptops, school supplies, and backpacks. As of year’s end, the students’ belongings had not been returned.
The government monitored private communications, individuals’ movements, and organizations without due legal process. A wide network of government informants conducted surveillance in schools, universities, markets, workplaces, and neighborhoods.
The government continued to renew a COH in conflict areas. Antigovernment armed movements respected the COH with the exception of SLA/AW. Armed clashes broke out between the government and SLA/AW in Jebel Marra, a mountain range that crosses four states in Darfur and is partially controlled by SLA/AW, between March and June.
Killings: During the year military personnel, paramilitary forces, and tribal groups committed killings in Darfur and the Two Areas. Most reports were difficult to verify due to continued prohibited access to conflict areas, particularly Jebel Marra in Central Darfur and SPLM-N-controlled areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States. Humanitarian access to Jebel Marra, however, increased compared to past years.
Between January 20th and 22nd, clashes occurred between internally displaced persons (IDPs) and Arab Beni Galba tribesmen in the IDP Hassahissa Camp near Zalingi in Central Darfur. On January 20, tribesmen attacked a group of IDPs protesting inside the camp.the tribesmen set fire to the water tanks in the camp, causing more protests. Seven IDPs were confirmed killed and 86 persons wounded.
Clashes between government forces and SLA/AW began on March 10 in East Jebel Marra, resulting in two dead SAF soldiers and one dead rebel. On March 11, SLA/AW forces reportedly ambushed a government convoy, resulting in three more SAF casualties and two SLA/AW casualties. Clashes continued into May, as the government launched an offensive against SLA/AW in South and Central Darfur. During the period at least two civilians were killed, 12 wounded, several SAF soldiers and rebels dies, and at least 16 villages were attacked. Humanitarian organizations reported widespread population displacements to central Jebel Marra.
From June 13 to 16, government forces attacked SLA/AW positions in the southern Jebel Marra area; 16 soldiers three SLA/AW fighters died. UNAMID received reports of villages being burned and civilian deaths and injuries, but could not verify the extent of the damage or number of civilian casualties, nor who caused the damage.
Government forces attacked the main SLA/AW stronghold of Boulay in northern Jebel Marra on June 28. On July 29 and 30 SLA/AW attacked Golol, which was captured by the government. The next day UNAMID received reports of SAF and the RSF targeting civilians alleged to sympathize with SLA/AW in villages in southern Jebel Marra.
Human rights monitors reported that the government’s national arms collection campaign was incomplete and directed at certain groups, while exempting some Arab groups. IDPs in Darfur also reported that they could not return to their original lands despite government claims the situation was secure, because their lands were being occupied by Arab nomads, who were not disarmed and could attack returnees.
Clashes also occurred between IDPs and government security services in Darfur. For example, between May 21 and 23, there were clashes at three camps around Zalingi: Khamsa Dagaig, Ardayba, and Jedda. Several IDPs were reportedly killed.
Nomadic militas also attacked civilians in the conflict areas. On June 4, Arab nomads attacked the village market of Hijeir Tono, South Darfur, resulting in nine deaths. The attack was reportedly in retaliation for the killing of two Arab nomads in the same village in February. Local villages blocked security services from transporting the bodies to Nyala for burial.
Abductions: There were numerous reports of abductions by rebel and tribal groups in Darfur. International organizations were largely unable to verify reports of disappearances. For example, on September 11, two IDP returnees were reported to have been kidnapped from Sortony IDP gathering site in North Darfur. Local sources reported that the abducted men were spies for SAF and were abducted by SLA/AW members.
There were also numerous criminal incidents similar to the following: In February four armed Arab tribesmen kidnapped two male Fur IDPs from a gathering site in Sortony, North Darfur. The victims were assaulted and robbed of their cash, donkeys, and personal belongings, and released the following day.
UNAMID reported that abduction remained a lucrative method adopted by various tribes in Darfur to coerce the payment of diya (“blood money” ransom) claimed from other communities.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Government forces abused persons detained in connection with armed conflict as well as IDPs suspected of having links to rebel groups. There were continuing reports that government security forces, progovernment and antigovernment militias, and other armed persons raped women and children. Rebel groups in Darfur and the Two Areas reportedly detained persons in isolated locations in prison-like detention centers.
On August 11, the Sudan Liberation Army/Transitional Council released a statement announcing the death of four of its prisoners of war inside Al Huda Prison in Omdurman. They alleged the detainees died as a result of torture and negligence. They expressed concern for the fate of 11 other detainees in the prison.
The extent to which rebel groups committed new human rights abuses could not be accurately estimated, largely due to limited access to conflict areas. The state of detention facilities administered by SLA/AW and SPLM-N in their respective rebel-controlled areas could not be verified due to lack of access.
Human rights groups continued to report that government forces and militias raped, detained, tortured, and arbitrarily killed civilians in the five states of Darfur and government-controlled areas of Blue Nile.
Unexploded ordnance killed and injured civilians in the conflict zones. UNAMID reported four incidients and one person injured.
Child Soldiers: The law prohibits the recruitment of children and provides criminal penalties for perpetrators. The government made substantial efforts to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers by implementing the National Action Plan to Prevent the Recruitment and Use of Children in Armed Conflict, and there were no confirmed reports of recruitment or use of children by government security forces.
During the year the United Nations delisted the government and progovernment militias from its list of countries that actively recruit and use child soldiers. UNICEF noted that the country increased the transparency of its reporting and allowed UNICEF to conduct numerous monitoring and verification visits to SAF and RSF facilities in the past year; improved the effectiveness of its identification and provision of care to child soldiers from antigovernment groups; and increased antitrafficking training for law enforcement and judicial officials; among other improvements.
Allegations persisted, however, that armed rebel movements and government-aligned militias had child soldiers within their ranks. Many children continued to lack documents verifying their age. Children’s rights organizations believed armed groups exploited this lack of documentation to recruit or retain children. Due to access problems, particularly in conflict zones, reports of the use of child soldiers among armed groups were limited and often difficult to verify.
Representatives of armed groups reported they did not actively recruit child soldiers. They did not, however, prevent children who volunteered from joining their movements. The armed groups stated the children were stationed primarily in training camps and were not used in combat.
There were reports of the use of child soldiers by the SPLM-N, but numbers could not be verified, in part due to lack of access to SPLM-N-controlled territories.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Although humanitarian access improved for UN and NGO staff considerably during the year, there were still incidents of restrictions on UN and NGO travel in some parts of North Darfur and East Jebel Marra based on what the government described as insecurity. The Humanitarian Aid Commission guidelines to ease restrictions on movement of humanitarian workers were not consistently implemented during the year.
From May to July, Sudanese Military Intelligence denied access to eastern Jebel Marra to UNAMID convoys approaching from Kass due to fighting between SLA/AW and government forces. UNAMID was therefore unable to verify civilian displacement and respond to immediate humanitarian needs.
The government continued periodically to use bureaucratic impediments to restrict the actions of humanitarian organizations, delaying the release of food and necessary equipment to UNAMID for prolonged periods. The resulting shortages hampered the ability of UNAMID troops to communicate, conduct robust patrols, and protect civilians; they incurred demurrage charges and additional costs for troop- and police-contributing countries and the United Nations.
In July heavy rains and floods in West Kordofan destroyed approximately 5,000 houses in residential neighborhoods; more than 7,000 families were displaced without access to shelter. Government authorities prevented humanitarian actors from conducting rapid assessments and providing services and supplies to the affected families.
UNAMID continued to report that criminality was the greatest threat to security in Darfur. Common crimes included rape, armed robbery, abduction, ambush, livestock theft, assault/harassment, arson, and burglary and were allegedly carried out primarily by Arab militias, but government forces, unknown assailants, and rebel elements also carried out attacks.
Humanitarian actors in Darfur continued to report that victims of sexual and gender-based violence faced obstructions in attempts to report crimes and access health care.
Although the government made public statements encouraging the return of IDPs to their homes and the closure of camps in Darfur since “peace” had come to Darfur, IDPs expressed reluctance to return due to lack of security and justice in their home areas.
Government forces at times harassed NGOs that received international assistance. The government sometimes restricted or denied permission for humanitarian assessments, refused to approve technical agreements, changed operational procedures, copied NGO files, confiscated NGO property, questioned humanitarian workers at length and monitored their personal correspondence, restricted travel, and publicly accused humanitarian workers of aiding rebel groups. There were no reports of humanitarian workers being targeted for kidnapping and ransom.
The UN secretary-general stated that the number of attacks against UN agencies and humanitarian organizations continued to decline.
Government restrictions in Sudan-administered Abyei limited NGOs’ activities, especially in the northern parts of Abyei. Additional problems included delays in the issuance of travel permits.
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 the government and its agents, as well as other armed actors, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in relation to the conflict (see section 1.g.).
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), the conflict had killed at least 222,000 civilians from 2011 until September, including almost 6,400 civilians from January through October. The government continued its use of helicopters and airplanes to conduct aerial bombardment and shelling. The government continued to torture and kill persons in detention facilities. The UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) reported that the government assault on eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, killed hundreds of persons, with the SNHR reporting that more than 2,600 civilians died in eastern Ghouta in February and March. In June government and progovernment forces attacked the southwest Daraa governorate, with multiple sources reporting more than 230 civilian deaths.
Government and progovernment forces reportedly attacked civilians in hospitals, residential areas, schools, and settlements for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugee camps; these attacks included bombardment with improvised explosive devices, commonly referred to as “barrel bombs,” in addition to the use of chemical weapons. It used the massacre of civilians, as well as their forced displacement, rape, starvation, and protracted sieges that occasionally forced local surrenders, as military tactics.
Other actors in the conflict also were implicated in extrajudicial killings (see section 1.g.).
On November 23, unidentified gunmen assassinated activists and journalists, Raed Faris and Hamud Junaid, in Idlib Province. Faris and Junaid were prominent civilian leaders of the peaceful revolution that began in 2011. They spoke out against the abuses of the government and of the extremist elements of the opposition. As of late November, no group had taken responsibility for the assassinations, although media reports suggested an extremist group was responsible.
There were numerous reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The UN COI reported the number of forced disappearances remained high. Human rights groups’ estimates of the number of disappearances since 2011 varied widely, but all estimates pointed to disappearances as a common practice. In August the SNHR attributed 86 percent of the estimated 95,000 forced disappearances from 2011 until August to the government. The government reportedly targeted critics, specifically journalists, medical personnel, antigovernment protesters, their families, and associates. The majority of disappearances reported by activists, human rights observers, and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) appeared to be politically motivated, and a number of prominent political prisoners remained missing (see section 1.e.).
In July the government began publishing notifications of thousands of deaths of detainees in government detention facilities. The SNHR reported the number of detainees certified as dead was unknown but estimated it to be in the thousands. The government did not announce publication of notifications on updated state registers. According to media reports, many families were unaware of the status of their detained family members and discovered relatives they believed to be alive had died months or years earlier.
For example, in 2011 the Air Force Security Branch detained Yahya Shurbaji, an activist known for his promotion of nonviolent protest. Shurbaji’s health and whereabouts remained unknown until July when his family received confirmation that he died at Sednaya Prison in 2013. The government claimed Shurbaji died of natural causes, but he shared the same date of death with at least three other detainees at Sednaya Prison, the subject of numerous reports of torture and extrajudicial killings since 2011.
The COI reported that fears of arbitrary arrests and detention prevented IDPs from returning to their homes in areas retaken by government forces. The COI noted that the families of disappeared persons often feared to approach authorities to inquire about the locations of their relatives; those who did so had to pay large bribes to learn the locations of relatives or faced systematic refusal by authorities to disclose information about the fate of disappeared individuals.
Armed groups not affiliated with the government also reportedly abducted individuals, targeting religious leaders, aid workers, suspected government affiliates, journalists, and activists (see section 1.g.).
The government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such actions.
The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and provides up to three years’ imprisonment for violations. Human rights activists, the COI, and local NGOs, however, reported thousands of credible cases of government authorities engaging in frequent torture and abuse to punish perceived opponents, including during interrogations. Observers reported most cases of torture or mistreatment occurred in detention centers operated by each of the government’s security service branches. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the COI reported regular use of torture against perceived government opponents at checkpoints and government facilities run by the Air Force, Political Security Division, General Security Directorate, and Military Intelligence Directorate. They identified specific detention facilities where torture occurred, including: the Mezzeh airport detention facility; Military Security Branches 215, 227, 235, 248, and 291; Adra and Sednaya Prisons; the Harasta Air Force Intelligence Branch; Harasta Military Hospital; Mezzeh Military Hospital 601; and Tishreen Military Hospital.
The COI also reported that the Counterterrorism Court (CTC) and courts-martial relied on forced confessions and information acquired through torture to obtain convictions. A large number of torture victims reportedly died in custody. The SNHR reported that more than 14,000 individuals died due to torture between 2011 and September and attributed approximately 99 percent of these cases to government forces (see section 1.a.). The SNHR attributed to the government more than 930 deaths due to torture in the first nine months of the year. Activists maintained that many instances of abuse went unreported. Some declined to allow reporting of their names or details of their cases due to fear of government reprisal.
The COI noted torture methods remained consistent. These included beatings on the head, bodies, and soles of feet (falaqua) with wooden and metal sticks, hoses, cables, belts, whips, and wires. Authorities also reportedly sexually assaulted detainees; administered electric shocks, including to their genitals; burned detainees with cigarettes; and placed them in stress positions for prolonged periods of time. A substantial number of detainees reported being handcuffed and then suspended from the ceiling or a wall by their wrists for hours.
Other reported methods of physical torture included removing nails and hair, stabbings, and cutting off body parts, including ears and genitals. Numerous human rights organizations reported other forms of torture, including forcing objects into the rectum and vagina, hyperextending the spine, and putting the victim onto the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts. Additionally, officers reportedly continued the practice of shabeh, in which they stripped detainees naked, hung them for prolonged periods from the ceiling, and administered electrical shocks. In August Deutsche Welle reported the experiences of Mizyed Khalid Tahad, a regime prisoner who detailed his torture during detention at Sednaya during 2012-13, including electric shock, shabeh, beatings, lashings with a pipe, being squeezed into a tire, and malnourishment. During the year NGOs, including (Amnesty International) AI, Urnammu for Justice and Human Rights (Urnammu), and Save the Rest continued to report that large numbers of detainees at Sednaya Military Prison died after repeated torture and deprivation of food, water, ventilation, medicine, and medical care.
There is no indication government use of psychological torture decreased. One commonly reported practice was detention of victims overnight in cells with corpses of previous victims. The SNHR reported psychological torture methods included forcing prisoners to witness the rape of other prisoners, threatening the rape of family members (in particular female family members), forcing prisoners to undress, and insulting prisoners’ beliefs. For example, in March the COI reported a 2014 incident in which a government officer in Damascus took two girls, held their faces down on the desk, and raped them in turn. The girls reportedly tried to resist. The officer then reportedly told a male detainee, “You see what I am doing to them? I will do this to your wife and daughter.”
The COI and various NGOs, including HRW, AI, and the SNHR, continued to report widespread instances of rape and sexual abuse, including of minors. In March the COI reported government forces and affiliated militias raped and sexually abused women and girls, as well as men occasionally, during ground operations, house raids, and at checkpoints. One such example in the March COI report is that of a survivor of the al-Houla (Homs) massacre in 2012, who described how government forces entered her home and raped her daughter in front of her and her husband before shooting both her daughter and husband. Two soldiers then reportedly raped the mother.
The COI stated that government authorities subjected women and girls in detention to rape and gang rape in 20 government political and military institutions, while authorities raped men and boys and sometimes mutilated their genitals in 15 such branches. The March COI report detailed how in one such case at Branch 215 in 2012, an 18-year-old man from Daraa was severely beaten, threatened with the rape of his sisters, and then gang raped by five officers. One of the officers reportedly raped the detainee five more times over a month before authorities transferred the detainee to another detention facility. In another case the March COI report detailed how, over 10 consecutive days at the Hama State Security Branch in 2012, two officers, one of whom was a lieutenant colonel, raped two female detainees next to one another. On one occasion the same two officers reportedly raped the women in front of two naked male detainees whose hands and feet were tied in the shabeh position. In March the COI reported cases in 2012 in which perpetrators exploited blood relations by forcing male relatives to have intercourse with one another at the Damascus Political Intelligence Branch.
There were widespread reports that government security forces engaged in abuse and inhuman treatment of prisoners. According to the COI, most were civilians initially held at checkpoints or taken prisoner during military incursions. While the majority of accounts concerned male detainees, there were increased reports of female detainees suffering abuse in government custody. The COI assessed in March that the frequency, duration, and severity of the reported abuse suggested victims’ sustained long-term psychological and physical damage.
The COI reported that, beginning in 2011 and continuing throughout the conflict, security forces subjected detainees to mistreatment in military hospitals, often obstructing medical care or exacerbating existing injuries as a technique in abuse and interrogation. There were numerous reports of deaths in custody at the Mezzeh airport detention facility, Military Security Branches 215 and 235, and Sednaya Prison. Authorities consistently directed families of detainees seeking information to the Qaboun Military Police and Tishreen Military Hospital. In most cases authorities reportedly did not return the bodies of deceased detainees to their families. In July the government confirmed the death of activist Islam Dabbas in 2013 in Sednaya Prison, but they did not return his body.
There continued to be a significant number of reports of abuse of children by the government. The COI noted regular reports of detention and torture of children younger than age 13, in some cases as young as 11, in government detention facilities. Officials reportedly targeted and tortured children because of their familial relations, or assumed relationships, with political dissidents, members of the armed opposition, and activist groups. In March the UN Human Rights Council held a high-level panel discussion on human rights violations against children in Syria at which NGOs presented evidence of such abuses. The UN special representative for children and armed conflict reported that child detainees, largely boys, suffered similar or identical methods of torture practiced on adults. A May report from Urnammu, a NGO that focuses on the Syrian conflict, on abuses against children described usage of a torture wheel, shabeh, lynchings, beatings, rape, and forced sexual acts among children, among other abuses. For example, a May report from Urnammu detailed the experiences of Hamed, who was 15 years old when detained in 2014 in the Political Security branch in Latakia. Hamed described being tied to a torture wheel and being forced to confess to hiding weapons and tunneling, then being transferred to the Criminal Security branch where he reportedly was beaten and threatened with being shot. According to reliable witnesses, authorities continued to hold a number of children to compel parents and other relatives associated with opposition fighters to surrender to authorities.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and in many instances were life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical and psychological abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: Prison facilities were grossly overcrowded. Authorities commonly held juveniles, adults, pretrial detainees, and convicted prisoners together in inadequate spaces. The COI reported in March that authorities continued to hold children in prison with adults. In a report released in May, Urnammu documented the detention of more than 2,400 children, while the SNHR reported the regime detained more than 7,000 children from the start of the conflict in 2011 until March and more than 200 children during the first half of the year.
According to the COI, government detention facilities lacked food, water, space, hygiene, and medical care. Poor conditions were so consistent that the COI concluded they reflected state policy.
According to local and international NGOs, the government held prisoners and detainees in severely cramped quarters with little or no access to toilets, hygiene, medical supplies, or adequate food. In March the COI reported detainees in government detention facilities subsisted in severely inhuman conditions. A February COI report stated that authorities kept detainees in government facilities in overcrowded cells, lacking adequate sanitation, and suffering from lice infestations. In August CNN reported that malnourishment and denial of medical treatment continued to lead to the deaths of detainees.
Reports from multiple international NGO sources continued to suggest there were also many informal detention sites and that authorities held thousands of prisoners in converted military bases and in civilian infrastructure, such as schools and stadiums, and in unknown locations. Activists asserted the government also housed arrested protesters in factories and vacant warehouses that were overcrowded and lacked adequate sanitary facilities.
In some cases authorities transferred detainees from unofficial holding areas to intelligence services facilities. Detention conditions at security and intelligence service facilities continued to be the harshest, especially for political or national security prisoners. Facilities lacked proper ventilation, lighting, access to potable water or adequate food, medical staff and equipment, and sufficient sleeping quarters.
Inside prisons and detention centers, the prevalence of death from disease remained high due to unsanitary conditions and the withholding of food, medical care, and medication. Local NGOs and medical professionals reported authorities denied medical care to prisoners with pre-existing health needs, such as diabetes, asthma, and breast cancer, and denied pregnant women any medical care. Authorities retaliated against prisoners who requested attention for the sick. Released prisoners commonly reported sickness and injury resulting from such conditions. The May report from Urnammu included the example of Ali, a 14-year-old from Aleppo, who was arrested in 2014 and held incommunicado for 10 months. Ali described the abuse of a fellow child detainee, “B.K.” from Kafer Yabos, who authorities tortured until he could no longer control his bodily functions. Ali said B.K.’s entire body was infected and that the other young detainees cared for him, fed him, and cleaned him and his wounds until he died.
Information on conditions and care for prisoners with disabilities was unavailable.
Conditions in detention centers operated by various opposition groups were not well known, but the COI and local NGOs reported accounts of arbitrary detention, torture, inhuman treatment, and abuse. According to the COI, conditions in detention center run by nonstate actors such as HTS and ISIS violated international law (see section 1.g.).
Administration: There were no credible mechanisms or avenues for prisoners to complain or submit grievances, and authorities routinely failed to investigate allegations or document complaints or grievances. Activists reported there was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. The law provides for prompt access to family members, but NGOs and families reported inconsistent application of the law, with some families waiting years to see relatives. The government continued to detain thousands of prisoners without charge and incommunicado in unknown locations.
In areas where government control was weak or nonexistent, localized corrections structures emerged. Reports of control and oversight varied, and both civilian and religious leaders were in charge of facility administration. Former police forces or members of armed opposition groups operated facilities in areas under the control of opposition forces. Nonstate actors often did not understand due process and lacked sufficient training to run facilities.
Independent Monitoring: The government prohibited independent monitoring of prison or detention center conditions, and diplomatic and consular officials had no greater access than in previous years. AI, for example, has attempted with little success to engage Syrian authorities on human rights concerns, including torture and other mistreatment, enforced disappearances, and deaths in custody, through various means since 2011. For example, in January 2017 AI sent a letter to authorities requesting clarifications regarding the numerous allegations documented in their report “Human Slaughter House,” and in February 2017 the government denied the claims.
Some opposition forces invited the COI to visit facilities they administered and allowed some international human rights groups, including HRW, to visit. The International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent continued to negotiate with all parties, except ISIS, to gain access to detention centers across the country but was unable to gain access to any government-controlled facilities during the year.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but a 2011 decree allows the government to detain suspects for up to 60 days without charge if suspected of “terrorism” and related offenses. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not observe this requirement.
Arbitrary arrests continued according to local news sources, and several human rights organizations reported arbitrary detentions in the tens of thousands. The SNHR reported government forces and progovernment militias were responsible for more than 3,200 cases of arbitrary arrest in the first half of the year. Between the start of the conflict in 2011 and March, the SNHR reported almost 119,000 arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances; it attributed almost 90 percent of such cases to the government. A March COI report stated that government forces and affiliated militias continued to detain tens of thousands of persons arbitrarily or unlawfully in official and makeshift detention facilities. Government authorities held the vast majority without due process or access to legal representation or to their families. Victims endured brutal torture, and many died in detention or authorities summarily executed them. The COI report also concluded, “acts amounted to the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, and imprisonment in the context of its widespread and systematic detentions. They have also amounted to the war crimes of murder, cruel treatment, torture, rape, sexual violence, and outrages upon personal dignity.”
HRW reported the government continued to use counterterrorism law to arrest and convict nonviolent activists on charges of aiding terrorists in trials that violated basic due process rights. Although authorities reportedly brought charges under the guise of countering violent militancy, allegations included peaceful acts such as distributing humanitarian aid, participating in protests, and documenting human rights abuses.
Government security forces failed to respond to or protect large regions of the country from violence. In February the COI reported some armed opposition groups maintained makeshift detention sites to hold civilians. The COI reported the SDF claimed to have detained nearly 1,400 terrorist fighters, the majority of whom were ISIS members but also included women and children associated with ISIS (see section 1.g.).
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The government’s multiple security branches traditionally operated autonomously with no defined boundaries between their areas of jurisdiction. Military Intelligence and Air Force Intelligence reported to the Ministry of Defense, the Political Security Directorate reported to the Ministry of Interior, and the General Intelligence Directorate reported directly to the Office of the President. The Interior Ministry controlled the four separate divisions of police: emergency police, traffic police, neighborhood police, and riot police. Government-affiliated militia, such as the National Defense Forces (NDF), integrated with other government-affiliated forces and performed similar roles without defined jurisdiction.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the uniformed military, police, and state security forces, but did not maintain effective control over foreign and domestic military or paramilitary organizations. These included Russian armed forces, Hizballah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and nonuniformed progovernment militias, such as the NDF. Impunity continued to be a widespread problem. The General Command of the Army and Armed Forces may issue arrest warrants for crimes committed by military officers, members of the internal security forces, or customs police during their normal duties; military courts must try such cases. Nevertheless, security forces operated independently and generally outside the control of the legal system. There were no known prosecutions or convictions of security force personnel for abuse or corruption and no reported government actions to increase respect for human rights by the security forces.
Opposition forces established irregularly constituted courts and detention facilities in areas under their control, which varied greatly in organization and adherence to the rule of law. Some groups upheld the country’s law, while others followed a 1996 draft Arab League Unified Penal Code based on sharia or implemented a mix of customary law and sharia. The experience, expertise, and credentialing of opposition judges and religious scholars also varied widely, and dominant armed militias in the area often subjected them to their orders.
ISIS claimed that it based administration of justice in the territory it controlled on sharia. As detailed by the New York Times, ISIS reportedly authorized its police forces, known as “Hisbah,” to administer summary punishment for violations of ISIS’ morality code.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law generally requires a warrant for arrest in criminal cases, but police often cited emergency or national security justifications for acting without a warrant, which was permitted under the law. Police usually brought arrested individuals to a police station for processing and detention until a trial date was set. The law limits the length of time authorities may hold a person without charge to 60 days, but according to various NGOs, activists, and former detainees, police held many individuals for longer periods or indefinitely. Civil and criminal defendants have the right to bail hearings and possible release from pretrial detention on their own recognizance, but the government applied the law inconsistently. At the initial court hearing, which can be months or years after the arrest, the accused may retain an attorney at personal expense or the court may appoint an attorney, although authorities did not assure lawyers access to their clients before trial. According to local human rights organizations, denial of access to a lawyer was common.
In cases involving political or national security offenses, authorities reportedly often made arrests in secret, with cases assigned in an apparently arbitrary manner to the CTC, courts-martial, or criminal courts. The government reportedly detained suspects incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge or trial and denied them the right to a judicial determination of their pretrial detention. In most cases authorities reportedly did not inform detainees of charges against them until their arraignment, often months or years after their arrest. Security detainees did not have access to lawyers before or during questioning, or throughout preparation and presentation of their defense.
The government often reportedly failed to notify foreign governments when it arrested, detained, released, or deported their citizens, especially when the case involved political or national security charges. The government also failed to provide consular access to foreign citizens known to be in its prisons and, on numerous occasions, claimed these individuals were not in its custody or even in the country.
Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces continued previous practices of arbitrary arrests, and detainees had inconsistent legal redress. Reports continued of security services arresting relatives of wanted persons to pressure individuals to surrender. Police rarely issued or presented warrants or court orders before an arrest. According to reports, the security branches secretly ordered many arrests and detentions. Activists and international humanitarian organizations stated that government forces continued to conduct security raids in response to antigovernment protests. In areas under government control, security forces engaged in arbitrary arrests. For example, the SNHR reported that on June 21, government forces raided a residence in the Jaloub al Mal’ab neighborhood of Hama, arrested 11 civilians, including two women and three children, and took them to an undisclosed location. The COI reported in March that authorities continued to arrest men and boys arbitrarily at some checkpoints. Often authorities cited no reason for arresting civilians.
Checkpoints operated by the government were a commonly reported location for arbitrary arrests, sometimes resulting in transfer to a long-term detention facility or disappearance. Government military and security forces reportedly arrested men at checkpoints solely for being of military age. According to the COI, there continued to be frequent accounts of enforced disappearances following arrest at checkpoints.
Multiple reports from local and international NGOs stated that the government prevented the majority of those detained from contacting their relatives or obtaining a lawyer. When authorities occasionally released detainees, it was often without any formal judicial procedures. Hundreds of detainees interviewed by human rights groups stated they had been arrested, detained, questioned, often tortured, and released after months or years of detention without seeing a judge or being sentenced.
There also were instances of nonstate armed groups reportedly engaging in arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention (see section 1.g.).
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Authorities reportedly held thousands of detainees incommunicado for months or years before releasing them without charge or bringing them to trial. A shortage of available courts and lack of legal provisions for speedy trial or plea bargaining contributed to lengthy pretrial detentions. In previous years there were numerous reported instances when the length of detention exceeded the sentence for the crime. Percentages for prison/detainee population held in pretrial detention and the length of time held were not available during the year. Syrian human rights groups continued to highlight the plight of detainees and advocate for their release.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and any delay in obtaining judicial process. If the court finds that authorities detained persons unlawfully, they are entitled to prompt release or compensation or both. Few detainees, however, had the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or obtain prompt release and compensation for unlawful detention.
Amnesty: In October the government granted amnesty to army deserters and civilians who avoided military duty, provided they reported for duty within four months if inside Syria and within six months if outside the country. The amnesty does not cover fighting against the government or joining the opposition, regarded by the government as terrorists. Media reported that refugees were skeptical, fearing forced conscription and imprisonment. Limited releases of detainees occurred within the framework of localized settlement agreements with the government. During the year there were increasing reports of government forces violating prior amnesty agreements by conducting raids and arrest campaigns concentrated against civilians and former affiliates of armed opposition factions in areas that previously signed settlement agreements with the government. For example, the SNHR reported that on August 14, government forces arrested 80 civilians in the al Lajat suburbs of Daraa.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities regularly subjected courts to political influence and prosecutors and defense attorneys to intimidation and abuse. Outcomes of cases with political context appeared predetermined, and defendants could sometimes bribe judicial officials and prosecutors. Government authorities detained without access to fair public trial tens of thousands of individuals, including those associated with NGOs, human rights activists, journalists, relief workers, religious figures, and medical providers.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial but not necessarily a public trial. The judiciary generally did not enforce this right, and the government did not respect judicial independence.
The constitution presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty, but numerous reports indicated that the CTC or courts-martial did not respect this right. Defendants have the right to prompt, detailed notification of the charges against them with interpretation as necessary, although authorities did not verifiably enforce this right, and a number of detainees and their families reported that the accused were unaware of the charges against them. Trials involving juveniles or sexual offenses, or those referred to the CTC or courts-martial, are held in camera. The law entitles defendants representation of their choice, but it does not permit legal representation for defendants accused of spying; the courts appoint lawyers for indigents. Defense attorneys often lacked adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, as the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) and other NGOs reported authorities arbitrarily assigned defense attorneys to many defendants at the courthouse on the day of trial. Human rights lawyers reported that in some politically charged cases, the government provided prosecution case files to defense lawyers that did not include any evidence, if they provided anything at all. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence and confront the prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, but authorities often did not respect this right. Defendants may not legally be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but family members and NGOs routinely reported that judges accepted confessions of guilt elicited through torture or intimidation, as described in a March report by the COI and a May report by Urnammu. Convicted persons may appeal verdicts to a provincial appeals court and ultimately to the Court of Cassation.
The COI, AI, ILAC, and others have reported the lack of due process in the CTC and courts-martial. In trials reportedly lasting between one and three minutes, judges reportedly used coerced confessions obtained through torture as often the only evidence to sentence prisoners to summary execution. Multiple sources alleged the government killed as many as 50 detainees per day at Sednaya Prison, since 2011. AI reported in 2017 that at Sednaya Prison an execution panel including the director of Sednaya, the military prosecutor of the court-martial, and a representative from the intelligence agencies met prisoners sentenced to death by one of two courts-martial in the al-Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus, and then prison guards immediately hanged the prisoners. Although the government denied using a crematorium to dispose of prisoners, the government failed to return the bodies of thousands of deceased prisoners after releasing death notices during the year.
Not all citizens enjoyed these rights equally, in part because interpretations of religious law provide the basis for elements of family and criminal law and discriminate against women. Some personal status laws apply sharia regardless of the religion of those involved. Additionally, media and NGO reports suggested the government denied some, and in certain cases all, of these protections to those accused of political crimes, violence against the government, or providing humanitarian assistance to civilians in opposition-held areas. Sentences for persons accused of antigovernment activity tended to be harsh, if they reached trial, with violent and nonviolent offenders receiving similar punishments. For example, the government arrested internet activist Bassel Khartabil in March 2012. He was held for nine months of incommunicado detention, then subsequently moved to Adra Prison in Damascus, where his family was allowed to visit him. In October 2015 authorities moved Bassel to an unknown destination where he was later sentenced to death. According to the SNHR, the majority of those tried received five- to 20-year prison sentences. The government did not permit defendants before the CTC to have effective legal representation. Although activists reported individuals charged under the counterterrorism law could retain attorneys to move their trial date, according to the ILAC, authorities did not allow them to speak during proceedings or retain copies of documents on the court’s file.
In opposition-controlled areas, legal or trial procedures varied by locale and the armed group in control. Local human rights organizations reported that local governing structures assumed these responsibilities. HRW reported that civilians administered these processes employing customary sharia laws in some cases and national laws in others. Sentencing by opposition sharia councils sometimes resulted in public executions, without an appeals process or visits by family members.
According to local NGOs, opposition-run sharia councils continued to discriminate against women, not allowing them to serve as judges or lawyers or to visit detainees.
In the territories they controlled, Kurdish authorities created a legal code based on the “Social Charter.” Reports described the Social Charter as a mix of Syrian criminal and civil law with laws concerning divorce, marriage, weapons ownership, and tax evasion drawn from EU law, but without certain fair trial standards–such as the prohibition on arbitrary detention, the right to judicial review, and the right to appoint a lawyer–that are customary in western judicial systems. The justice system consisted of courts, legal committees, and investigative bodies. In May Urnammu reported arbitrary arrests increased and that some opponents of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and their families were forcibly disappeared (see section 1.g.).
In March and August, the COI reported that HTS reportedly denied those arrested the opportunity to challenge in its sharia courts the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, permitted confessions obtained through torture, and executed or forcibly disappeared perceived opponents and their families.
In the decreasing amount of territory it controlled, ISIS reportedly established courts to preside over its interpretation of sharia headed by judges with varied credentials. In February the COI reported that ISIS detained civilians in areas under its control accused of violating its rules or suspected of cooperating with enemy forces, members of minority religious groups, journalists, and activists accused of reporting on violations by the group, and frequently conducted public executions without proper judicial proceedings.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were numerous reports of political prisoners and detainees.
AI and other NGOs reported the systematic arrest of tens of thousands of citizens since 2011. At greatest risk were those perceived to oppose the government, including peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, and political dissidents and their families. The four government intelligence agencies–Air Force Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Political Security, and General Intelligence–were responsible for most such arrests and detentions.
AI reported that the total number of political prisoners and detainees was difficult to determine in view of the lack of government information and absence of government transparency. Authorities continued to refuse to divulge information regarding numbers or names of persons detained on political or security-related charges, but they did release thousands of death notices of detainees during the year.
According to the Washington Post, lawyers familiar with the process said the Defense Ministry sent the names of detainees to civil registry offices across the country throughout the year and instructed that these prisoners be registered as dead. The deaths were registered across the provinces of Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Latakia.
The civil registry offices issued notices that were essentially executive summaries, reportedly listing few details about the deceased. Military hospitals issued other death notices, formal certificates, and medical reports. These routinely listed the cause of death as heart attack or stroke.
In March the SNHR reported that more than 104,000 persons remained in detention for reasons related to the conflict, including women and children, as well as doctors, humanitarian aid providers, human rights defenders, and journalists.
Prison conditions for political or national security prisoners, especially accused opposition members, reportedly continued to be much worse than those for common criminals. According to local NGOs, authorities deliberately placed political prisoners in crowded cells with convicted and alleged felons and subjected them to verbal and physical threats and abuse. Political prisoners also reported they often slept on the ground due to lack of beds and faced frequent searches. According to reports from families, particularly the Families for Freedom collective, authorities refused many political prisoners access to family and counsel. Some former detainees and human rights observers reported the government denied political prisoners access to reading materials, including the Quran, and prohibited them from praying in their cells.
Many prominent civilian activists and journalists detained or forcibly disappeared following the 2011 protests reportedly remained in detention. While the government released thousands of detainee death notices during the year, there were no known developments in the majority of cases of reported disappearances from prior years, including the following persons believed forcibly disappeared by government forces: nonviolent protester Abdel Aziz Kamal al-Rihawi; Alawite opposition figure Abdel Aziz al-Khair; Kurdish activist Berazani Karro; Yassin Ziadeh, brother of dissident Radwan Ziadeh; human rights lawyer Khalil Ma’touq and his assistant, Mohamed Zaza; human rights activist Adel Barazi; and peace activist and theater director Zaki Kordillo and his son, Mihyar Kordillo.
HRW reported that courts continued to detain activists under the counterterrorism law, referring detainees arbitrarily to the CTC, courts-martial, or criminal courts, if at all. Authorities continued to re-arrest many of those released under earlier amnesties and those who previously signed settlement agreements with the government.
There were few updates in the kidnappings of many persons believed abducted by ISIS, armed opposition, or unidentified armed groups. As of March 2017, the SNHR attributed several thousand arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances to armed opposition groups (see section 1.g.).
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Government civil remedies for human rights violations were functionally nonexistent. In areas under their control, opposition groups did not organize consistent civil judicial procedures. ISIS and other extremist groups had no known civil judicial mechanisms in the territories they controlled.
In the Kurdish-administered parts of northeastern Syria, civilian peace and reconciliation committees reportedly resolved civil disputes before elevating them to a court.
Government security forces routinely seized detainees’ property, personal items, and electronics. The law also provides for the confiscation of movable and immovable property of persons convicted of terrorism, a common charge for political opponents and other detainees since 2012. Security forces did not catalog these items in accordance with the law and, although detained individuals had the right to retrieve their confiscated belongings after release, authorities often did not return the property. According to media reports and activists, government forces also seized property left by refugees and IDPs. The CTC can try to convict cases in the absence of the defendant, thus providing legal cover for confiscation of such property left by refugees and IDPs. The situation was further complicated due to the destruction of court records and property registries in opposition-held areas in the years following the 2011 uprising.
Law No. 10, passed on April 2, allows the government to create “redevelopment zones” to be slated for reconstruction. Property owners are notified to provide documentary proof of property ownership or risk losing ownership to the state. If an individual does not claim ownership successfully during the one-year period, as amended by Law No. 42, the property reverts to the local government. An individual can prove ownership in person or through designated proxies.
In May HRW reported that the government’s adoption of Law No. 10 will lead to confiscation of property without due process or compensation and will create a major obstacle for refugees and IDPs to return home. HRW said that it will be nearly impossible for thousands of refugees and IDPs to claim their property and that the procedural requirement of the law, coupled with the political context, created significant potential for abuse and discrimination, particularly toward the Sunni population. Subsequently, in an October report, HRW detailed how the government began preventing displaced residents from former antigovernment-held areas in Darayya and Qaboun from returning to their properties, including by demolishing their properties with no warning and without providing alternative housing or compensation. The government amended the law on November 7 to add an appeals process, but NGOs continued to express serious concern the law would be implemented in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary searches, but the government routinely failed to respect these prohibitions. Police and other security services frequently bypassed search warrant requirements in criminal cases by citing security reasons or emergency grounds for entry into private property. Arbitrary home raids occurred in large cities and towns of most governorates where the government maintained a presence, usually following antigovernment protests, opposition attacks against government targets, or resumption of government control.
The government continued to open mail addressed to both citizens and foreign residents and routinely monitored internet communications, including email (see section 2.a.).
As described in the February and March COI reports and the May Urnammu report, the government employed informer systems against political opponents and perceived national security threats.
The government continued to bar membership in some political organizations, including Islamist parties and often arrested their members (see section 3).
The government reportedly punished large numbers of family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives, as indicated in the March COI report. In May a report by Urnammu included the example of a fighter from Idlib; government forces arrested his mother (Bahia) in 2012, as well as his sister (Misa) and 15-year-old nephew (Salim) in 2015, to pressure him to surrender; the three family members remained in detention as of May.
The government, nongovernment militias such as the National Defense Forces, opposition groups, the SDF, and extremist groups such as HTS and ISIS continued to participate in armed combat throughout the year. The government of Turkey participated in armed combat in the northwest of the country. The governments of Russia and Iran, as well as Hizballah, supported government forces across the country. The most egregious human rights violations and abuses stemmed from the government’s systemic disregard for the safety and well-being of its people. These abuses manifested themselves in a complete denial of citizens’ ability to choose their government peacefully, a breakdown in the ability of law enforcement authorities to protect the majority of individuals from state and nonstate violence, and the use of violence against civilians and civilian institutions. Numerous reports such as those by the COI in February and March indicated that the government arbitrarily and unlawfully killed, tortured, and detained persons on a large scale. Attacks against schools, hospitals, places of worship, water and electrical stations, bakeries, markets, civil defense force centers, densely populated residential areas, and houses were common throughout the country. In May the COI concluded that the methods employed in Syria to carry out sieges, as documented by the COI since 2012, amounted to egregious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law and, in some instances, to war crimes.
As of October there were more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in neighboring countries and 5.9 million IDPs. The government frequently blocked access for humanitarian assistance and removed items such as medical supplies from convoys headed to civilian areas, particularly areas held by opposition groups.
Media sources and human rights groups varied in their estimates of how many persons have been killed since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) documented almost 365,000 conflict-related deaths and estimated 522,000 total conflict-related deaths from 2011 until September, while the SNHR estimated more than 220,000 civilians were killed during the same time. The SNHR attributed 89 percent of civilian deaths to government forces and Iranian militias.
Killings: The government reportedly committed the majority of killings throughout the year (see section 1.a.).
Reports from NGOs, including reports cited by the United Nations, indicated that the government siege and recapture of eastern Ghouta resulted in mass civilian casualties. The SNHR compiled a list of almost 1,500 civilians killed in the offensive. The COI reported in February, May, and August that government and progovernment forces attacked civilian infrastructure, including temporary shelters, and both makeshift and formal hospitals. Media and NGOs widely reported aerial bombardments that they characterized as indiscriminate, including with “barrel bombs.”
The COI concluded in an August report that progovernment militias committed war crimes on April 8 and 23 by launching attacks killing six civilians near Makramiyah village and the Dhahabiyah IDP site.
The COI also reported in February and August that armed rebel groups launched counterattacks from eastern Ghouta; these counterattacks, in the view of the COI, were not directed against military objectives. For example, in February the COI concluded that Jaysh al-Islam and Faylaq ar-Rahman committed a war crime by launching what it described as indiscriminate attacks against Damascus city with unguided mortars that killed dozens of civilians. The SNHR attributed 30 civilian deaths to armed opposition groups in the first half of the year.
In August the COI concluded that on January 18, Kurdish forces committed a war crime by launching an attack it characterized as indiscriminate by shelling a psychiatric hospital in Azaz and killing a woman. The SNHR attributed more than 110 civilian deaths to the Kurdish forces (mainly YPG) in the first half of the year.
Lebanese Hezbollah (LHZ) reportedly committed numerous abuses and violations throughout the conflict. For example, according to multiple news outlets, during government-led military operations to capture Daraa, LHZ field officer Major Wassim Hourur executed 23 soldiers from the Ninth Armored Division in the Zanamin area after they refused his order to board vehicles and deploy to Daraa.
Violent extremist and terrorist groups HTS and ISIS reportedly committed abuses and violations.
The SNHR attributed 23 civilian deaths to the HTS in the first half of the year. The COI concluded in August that Faylaq ar-Rahman and/or the HTS and Ahrar al-Sham were responsible for war crimes as well as intending to spread terror among civilians with mortar attacks it characterized as indiscriminate and which killed civilians in Damascus on January 22, February 1, and February 6.
Media outlets reported that ISIS killed more than 250 persons in July in Sweida Province, killing persons in their homes and killing others with two suicide-bombing attacks in the Druze-majority Sweida city. Media and HRW reported ISIS kidnapped at least 27 persons during these attacks and cited reports from local media that two of those kidnapped died, including one by beheading. In November government forces negotiated the release of the remaining 19 hostages in Palmyra.
Foreign powers also were implicated in deaths reportedly resulting from indiscriminate use of force.
The SNHR attributed almost 400 civilian deaths to Russia in the first half of the year and more than 6,200 since entry into the conflict. In its February report, the COI implicated Russian forces in a continued pattern of attacks affecting crowded marketplaces. For example, the February COI report detailed how in November 2017, minutes after 2 p.m., a series of airstrikes hit the main market, surrounding houses, and the Free Syrian police station in a densely civilian-populated area of Atarib, Aleppo, killing at least 84 persons, including six women and five children. The COI reported that all information available indicated that a Russian fixed-wing aircraft conducted the strikes and concluded that the attack may amount to a war crime.
There were reports Turkish armed forces killed civilians during the capture of Afrin. For example, in August the COI reported that on March 16, the Turkish air force and affiliated Free Syrian Army (FSA) units continued to escalate bombardments over Afrin city. Witnesses observed fighter jets circling above the Al-Mahmoudiyah neighborhood and described an attack launched opposite a cattle market, where dozens of civilians reportedly had queued in vehicles, waiting to leave the city. The strike reportedly killed at least 20 civilians, including women, children, and elderly persons. The COI assessed that, in conducting airstrikes beginning on January 20, the Turkish air force may have failed to take all feasible precautions prior to launching certain attacks, which it asserted was a violation of international humanitarian law.
Abductions: Government and progovernment forces reportedly were responsible for the vast majority of disappearances during the year (see section 1.b.). In August the SNHR reported approximately 95,000 forcibly disappeared since 2011, asserting that the government disappeared 86 percent of them.
Armed groups not affiliated with the government also reportedly abducted individuals, targeting religious leaders, aid workers, suspected government affiliates, journalists, and activists. As of March the SNHR attributed more than 2,400 ongoing arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances to Kurdish forces (mainly YPG), more than 2,500 to other armed opposition groups, almost 1,700 to HTS, and more than 8,100 to ISIS.
In March the COI reported that members of armed groups detained women and girls belonging to minority religious groups to use them as bargaining chips for initiating prisoner swaps with commanders detained by government forces. The March COI report described a 2013 raid in which Jaysh al-Islam, Ainad al-Sham, and other armed groups took hostage numerous Alawite families and some Ismaili, Shia, Druze, and Christian families from Adra al-Omaliyah, Damascus, and moved them to Douma. The Atlantic reported that government forces secured the release of 200 Alawite hostages from Jaysh al-Islam during the recapture of Douma in April. The COI relayed in August that residents in Afrin reported patterns of arbitrary arrests and detention, beatings, and kidnappings by armed groups affiliated with the FSA beginning with their takeover of certain areas. For example, the COI reported the arrest and disappearance of 29 young men in the villages of Maidanu and Sotio by armed groups. According to the COI, hundreds of members of religious minority groups, primarily women and girls, remained in the captivity of armed groups as of March, waiting to be exchanged for government prisoners.
Local media sources and human rights groups such as Syrians for Truth and Justice reported isolated instances of fighters associated with the YPG detaining some journalists, human rights activists, opposition party members, and persons who refused to cooperate with Kurdish armed groups. In some instances the location of the detainees remained unknown. In February the COI reported that elements associated with the SDF detained several relatives of wanted activists in territories under its control for periods of up to six weeks to obtain information about their whereabouts and pressure the activists to surrender. The SDF also arrested relatives of members of the FSA and ISIS for interrogation and alleged links to terrorist activity. According to the COI, several of those detained were women and children, including a 16-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy. In March the COI reported that elements associated with the SDF and Asayish (Kurdish internal security forces) increased detentions of men for attempting to evade conscription. The COI also reported that some Kurdish forces continued to detain civilians supporting competing political parties or individuals perceived to be insufficiently loyal. The COI reported instances of torture of political opponents by elements associated with the SDF and YPG. In May Urnammu reported detentions in Kurdish-controlled territories increased and that at least two opponents of the PYD and their families had been abducted–a trend also noted by a September HRW report.
The location and status of Khalil Arfu and Sukfan Amin Hamza from Derek, al-Hasakah Governorate, and members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party reportedly abducted by Asayish associated with the rival PYD party in 2014, remained unknown.
According to the COI and NGOs, the HTS detained political opponents, perceived government supporters and their families, journalists, activists, and humanitarian workers critical of HTS or perceived as affiliated with other rebel groups at odds with the HTS in Idlib. For example, the March COI report described how in July 2017 HTS forces dragged two women from their apartment and down the stairs of their building in Atareb, Aleppo, because they were the mother and wife of a man wanted by the HTS for stealing one of their vehicles; the women remained in an HTS prison as of March.
Terrorist groups conducted kidnappings, particularly in the southwest where ISIS continued to target members of the Druze community and other religious minority groups. According to multiple media reports, in July ISIS kidnapped at least 20 women and 16 children, mostly belonging to the Druze community, one of whom ISIS later executed. The abductions came after a series of suicide bombings that reportedly killed nearly 200 Druze.
In 2014 ISIS abducted an estimated 6,000 women and children, mainly Yezidis, during attacks against northern Iraq and reportedly brought thousands of them to Syria, where they were sold as sex slaves, forced into nominal marriage to ISIS fighters, or given as “gifts” to ISIS commanders. NGOs and activists, such as Yazda and the Free Yezidi Foundation, reported that while more than 2,000 Yezidi women and children have since escaped, been liberated in SDF military operations, or been released from captivity, such returns dwindled during the year, and an estimated 3,000 remained missing. In March the COI reported that in 2016 ISIS began to allow its members who “owned” Yezidis to sell the Yezidi children separately, resulting in the separation of children from their mothers and subsequent sale of young boys as house servants and girls, as young as nine years old, as sex slaves. ISIS reportedly then gave such children Muslim names; consequently, identifying their ancestry remains difficult. Thousands of abducted girls and women, however, remained missing.
There were no updates in the kidnappings of the following persons believed to have been abducted by ISIS, armed opposition, or unidentified armed groups: activists Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hamada, Samira Khalil, and Nazim Hamadi; religious leaders Bolous Yazigi and Yohanna Ibrahim; and peace activist Paulo Dall’Oglio. Terrorist group HTS released Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda in October after three years’ captivity. These individuals were among the estimated thousands of disappearances reported by activists and media.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to the United Nations and reliable NGO reports, the government and its affiliated militias consistently engaged in physical abuse, punishment, and torture of opposition fighters and civilians (see sections 1.c. and 1.d.). The SNHR reported more than 14,000 individuals died due to torture between 2011 and September and that approximately 99 percent of these deaths were attributable to government forces. The SNHR attributed to the government more than 930 deaths due to torture in the first nine months of the year.
With regard to sexual and gender-based violence, such as rape or assault, as a tactic of war, the COI explained in its March report that during the earlier stages of the conflict, ground operations and house raids gave a greater range of scenarios for government forces to commit sexual and gender-based abuses. As armed groups proliferated and acquired heavy weaponry, government forces began to prioritize airstrikes, thus decreasing interaction between government forces and the wider population. As the conflict progressed, most sexual and gender-based abuses by government forces, therefore, occurred at checkpoints or in detention. When the number of former detainees crossing into neighboring countries decreased, so did the opportunity to establish a comprehensive picture of sexual and gender-based abuses occurring in government detention in 2016 and 2017. The COI added that persons in areas retaken by government forces, often using Shia militias, remained reluctant to discuss events occurring in these areas due to fear of reprisals.
Government forces reportedly continued to use prohibited chemical weapons and cluster munitions in densely populated areas and attacks against civilian and protected objects, including schools and hospitals. In its February and August reports, the COI included evidence that it determined indicated use of weaponized chlorine gas and organophosphorous pesticides. For example, the August COI report and a May report of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) described an alleged chemical weapons attack on Saraqeb. On February 4, at approximately 9 p.m., government helicopters reportedly dropped at least two barrels carrying chlorine in the Taleel area of Saraqeb. Victims reportedly described symptoms consistent with the use of chlorine, including shortness of breath, a burning throat, coughing, dilated pupils, and chest pain, and recalled a smell similar to household detergents. The attack reportedly injured at least 11 men, including three first responders. In its August report, the COI stated that documentary and material evidence confirmed the presence of helicopters in the area and the use of two yellow gas cylinders. Examining similar attacks in Douma, eastern Ghouta, on January 22 and February 1, the COI concluded that government forces, affiliated militias, or both committed war crimes by using prohibited weapons and launching attacks, which it characterized as indiscriminate, in civilian populated areas.
Numerous sources, including first responders from the Syria Civil Defense, reported signs of chemical weapons use in Douma on April 7. The COI reported that a gas cylinder containing a chlorine payload delivered by a government helicopter struck a multistory residential apartment building located near the southwest of Shohada Square. The COI, along with various human rights organizations, reported at least 49 confirmed deaths.
In a September report, the BBC determined there was enough evidence to be confident that at least eight chemical attacks occurred in the country during the year (seven in eastern Ghouta) and 106 since September 2013, when the Syrian president signed the international Chemical Weapons Convention and agreed to destroy the country’s chemical weapons stockpile. The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria and the now-disbanded OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) concluded that 37 incidents between September 2013 and April have involved or were likely to have involved the use of chemical weapons. The COI and other UN-affiliated bodies concluded there were reasonable grounds to believe that chemical weapons were used in 18 other cases. The JIM concluded that ISIS carried out two attacks involving sulphur mustard, and the BBC reported that evidence suggested ISIS carried out three other reported attacks. The JIM and OPCW have so far not concluded that any armed opposition groups other than ISIS have carried out a chemical attack, and the BBC’s investigation found no credible evidence to suggest otherwise. Rather, the BBC accused the government of routinely employing chemical weapons as a tactic of war, including in at least 51 air-launched chemical weapon attacks, and likely responsible in the vast majority of the 106 cases since 2013.
In addition to chemical weapons, the government also reportedly employed prohibited cluster munitions. In its February report, the COI stated that progovernment forces continued to use cluster munitions, including in densely populated civilian areas on at least three occasions in November 2017 in eastern Ghouta. For example, in one incident three weapons struck a residential area in Hammourieh, eastern Ghouta. When rescuers were arriving at the hospital with those injured by the first weapon, a second weapon reportedly released numerous bomblets hitting the vicinity of the hospital, which was located in a residential area. The second incident killed one man and injured at least 25 persons, including three children. Images of weapons remnants taken at the scene reportedly show components of cluster bombs that Syrian and Russian forces possess. The COI concluded that, in such cases, the progovernment forces committed a war crime by launching attacks in a civilian populated area that it characterized as indiscriminate.
There were also instances of armed opposition groups reportedly engaging in unlawful detention, physical abuse, punishment, and treatment equivalent to torture, primarily targeting suspected government agents and collaborators, progovernment militias, and rival armed groups. Between 2011 and September, the SNHR attributed more than 40 deaths due to torture to armed opposition groups, more than 20 to HTS, and more than 30 to ISIS, including a child and 13 women. The SNHR attributed 35 deaths from torture to Kurdish forces. The COI, SNHR, and other NGOs acknowledged difficulties in obtaining accurate reporting on abuses committed by ISIS, creating an artificial reduction in ISIS abuses. In an August report, the COI stated that significant challenges continued to arise, including: how ISIS prevented civilians from documenting attacks as a matter of policy; how chaos often left victims and witnesses unable to identify whether a given attack was carried out by aerial or ground operations; and how ISIS terrorists embedded themselves and their military installations in numerous civilian infrastructures, including hospitals, thus significantly complicating investigations. In a May report, Urnammu stated that due to the severe restrictions imposed by ISIS on the use of the internet and telephones and the killing of anyone suspected of opposing the organization, it was very difficult to document the number of children kidnapped. Urnammu ceased communicating with activists in their areas after ISIS killed Samer (Abu Jaafar al-Diri), reportedly one of the most important activists interested in documenting detainees and exposing violations.
The COI reported in February that in November 2017 the Nour al-Din al-Zenki armed group detained three civilians, including a member of the Free Education Directorate, in Darat Izza. The detentions took place during clashes with HTS in Aleppo Governorate. During a month of detention, at least two of the detainees reportedly were beaten, kept in solitary confinement, and forced to fingerprint a false confession. Two of the detainees were released in December 2017 after being brought before a “military” judge of the armed group, but the fate of the third detainee was unclear.
Unspecified elements of Kurdish forces also were implicated in at least one instance of abuse. For example, the SNHR reported that Kurdish forces arrested Saleh Ahmad al Yasin from the pharmacy where he worked in Jazrat al Bo Hamid, Deir al-Zour, in April, and that on June 7, his family received his body after he reportedly died of torture and negligent health care inside a detention center.
In March the COI reported deaths in detention centers run by terrorist groups such as HTS and ISIS. There were numerous reports of torture as well as reports the detainees received inadequate food and, in cases of religious minorities, were forced to pray or convert to Islam or both. The COI also noted instances in which the HTS and ISIS detained and tortured individuals passing through checkpoints.
In the territory it controlled, HTS imposed its interpretation of sharia, which the COI reported in March had negatively affected women and religious minorities. Employing sharia courts, the HTS reportedly denied those arrested the opportunity to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, permitted confessions obtained through torture, and executed or forcibly disappeared perceived opponents and their families. For example, in March the COI reported that in 2016 Jabhat Fatah al-Sham stoned to death a woman from Heish village in Idlib after members of the terrorist group accused her of having engaged in extramarital relations. Authorities reportedly apprehended the woman in the home of the unmarried man with whom she was involved and immediately executed her as an honor killing. The unmarried male reportedly was summarily shot and killed immediately upon being detained.
The March COI report also detailed instances of what it described as torture by the HTS and its constituent armed groups. For example, in 2013 in Zabdean Deir al-Asafir, south of Damascus, a male detainee reportedly was tortured and interrogated for more than 10 days, after which he was stripped naked and a man with a Libyan accent made the detainee kneel on all fours and sodomized him with a stick.
In May a Urnammu report detailed the experiences of Shadi, who reportedly was 15 years old when he was accused by the HTS of working for the Coalition. Shadi was arrested, held incommunicado, and transferred to three different prisons, including Al-Aqab prison, during four months’ detention. The Urnammu report described Al-Aqab as small caves at a depth of approximately six feet and height of four and a half feet, from which detainees only emerged for interrogation and torture. Shadi reported being tortured and interrogated for several days at Al-Aqab, including by a method reportedly unique to Jabhat al-Nusra called “the coffin.”
There were numerous reports that the HTS and its constituent armed groups forced members of religious minorities to convert to Islam and adopt Sunni customs, contributing to minority flight from HTS territories. The March COI report described how in 2015 HTS predecessor Jabhat al-Nusra: stormed Druze villages in Idlib; forced community members to convert to Islam; forced all men to shave their mustaches and abandon their religious dress code; forced the women to wear the niqab; urged Druze women to marry the groups’ fighters; and urged Druze men to marry non-Druze women; all of which were forbidden under the Druze religion and customs.
There were widespread reports that ISIS also engaged in abuses and brutality against those it captured in or near the shrinking territories it controlled. ISIS frequently punished victims publicly and forced residents, including children, to watch unlawful killings and amputations, as detailed by the New York Times, a March report by the COI, and a May report by Urnammu. The March COI report described how males, including boys raped by older men, were killed for allegedly engaging in sodomy, and videos of the killings were widely circulated to terrorize populations under ISIS control.
Activists, NGOs, and media reported numerous accounts of women in ISIS-held territory facing severe punishments, including killing by stoning. For example, the March COI report includes an eyewitness account of a 2013 stoning in Deir al-Zour in which Hisbah police made a woman kneel on the ground, threw a cement block at the woman’s head, then threw a succession of smaller stones until she collapsed and her brain matter was visible on the floor.
ISIS also regularly committed abuses against captured FSA and YPG fighters. ISIS fighters reportedly beat captives (including with cables) during interrogations and tortured and killed those held in its detention centers.
ISIS also beat persons because of their dress; several sources reported ISIS members beat women for not covering their faces. One example in the March COI report was that of a woman seven months’ pregnant who, in 2015, Hisbah arrested in Raqqa for talking to a seller while buying gloves. She was interrogated and beaten with a wooden stick while in detention. ISIS justified its use of corporal punishment, including amputations and lashings, under its interpretation of sharia. Because ISIS perceived unmarried women and girls older than the age of puberty as a threat to its ideology and enforced social order, the March COI report detailed a trend beginning in 2014 to marry forcibly Sunni girls and women living in areas under its control. Many Sunni women reportedly were passed among multiple ISIS fighters, some as many as six or seven times within two years.
The May Urnammu report detailed the experiences of Akram, a 16-year-old who, according to his mother, ISIS detained three times on charges such as smoking or not being in the mosque at the time of prayer. Akram reportedly was detained for four months at Jarablis Prison and subsequently at al-Bab Prison outside Aleppo, where he was tortured, indoctrinated in a sharia course, and was not heard from again.
Child Soldiers: Several sources documented the continued unlawful recruitment and use of children in combat. The UN General Assembly’s annual Children and Armed Conflict report to the secretary-general reported a 13 percent increase in the recruitment of child soldiers in Syria in 2017 compared with 2016, with almost 1,000 cases verified. According to the report, 90 percent of the children served in combat roles and 26 percent were below the age of 15. The report attributed almost 300 verified cases to ISIS; almost 250 to FSA-affiliated groups; almost 225 to SDF-affiliated groups; almost 75 to government forces and progovernment militias; more than 50 to Ahrar al-Sham; more than 40 to HTS; and almost 40 to Jaysh al-Islam.
The COI reported that progovernment militias enlisted children as young as age 13. The COI reported the government sometimes paid children between the ages of six and 13 to be informants, exposing them to danger. In the earlier years of the conflict, most of the children recruited by armed forces and groups were boys ages 15 to 17 and served primarily in support roles away from the front lines.
HRW reported armed opposition forces used children younger than age 18 as fighters. According to HRW and the COI, numerous groups and factions failed to prevent the enlistment of minors, while elements affiliated with the SDF, as well as ISIS and HTS actively recruited children as fighters. The COI reported that armed groups, “recruited, trained, and used children in active combat roles.”
In February the COI reported that elements of the SDF continued to conscript and train children as young as age 13 for military service. The COI report referenced reporting that elements of the SDF forcibly conscripted men in IDP camps and arrested some men for refusing to join the SDF. For example, the February COI report detailed that in July 2017 two boys, 15 and 16 years old, enlisted with the SDF in Tabaqah, Raqqa, with the younger subsequently sustaining an arm injury in combat. Although a less frequent occurrence, girls reportedly were also recruited; the February COI report included a teenage girl who was recruited by elements of the SDF in Raqqa in October 2017. In May Urnammu similarly reported the SDF detained and recruited 200 children younger than age 15 since the beginning of 2017. In August HRW reported that elements of the YPG have been recruiting children and using some in hostilities despite pledging to stop the practice.
In September the SDF issued an order banning the recruitment and use in combat of anyone younger than age 18, ordering the military records office to verify the ages of those currently enlisted, requiring the release of any conscripted children to their families or to educational authorities in northeast Syria, and ending salary payments. The SDF order also prohibits using children for spying, to act as guards, or to deliver supplies to combatants. The order makes military commanders responsible for appointing ombudsmen to receive complaints of child recruitment, and ordered punitive measures against commanders who failed to comply with the ban on child recruitment. This action followed a June report by the NGO Geneva Call that the Kurdish YPG/YPJ took measures to address infringements of the Deed of Commitment they signed in 2014 protecting children in armed conflict. The Kurdish forces reportedly admitted their conduct, reiterated their full commitment to the Deed of Commitment, and announced implementation of new measures to their internal code of conduct. These included a new internal investigations mechanism and opening a special office to receive complaints about child recruitment or use in combat. In October Geneva Call trained more than 200 SDF officers in their military academy on the prohibition to recruit children and on the law of armed conflict, and agreed to extend the training to all new groups of officers coming to the academy. In early December the SDF and Geneva Call reported the SDF had released 56 boys younger than age 18 to their families.
According to the COI and Urnammu, ISIS recruited and enlisted children as young as age 10. ISIS propaganda videos depict juvenile executioners from its “Cubs of the Caliphate” unit shooting prisoners at close range. A May Urnammu report describes how ISIS: abducted 153 Kurdish children in 2014; detained the children at a school in Manbai, Aleppo; showed them videos of beheadings and attacks; subjected them to five months of training on ISIS combat ideology; and informed them they would be released if they completed religious training and spread the ISIS vision among their Kurdish communities.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: The COI stated in February that siege warfare affected civilians more than any other tactic employed by the warring parties. In a May report, the COI stated that Syrian civilians in besieged areas countrywide were encircled, trapped, and prevented from leaving; indiscriminately bombed and killed; starved, and routinely denied medical evacuations, the delivery of vital foodstuffs, health items, and other essential supplies–in an effort to compel the surrender of those in control of the areas in which they lived. Acute restrictions on food and medicine reportedly caused malnutrition-related deaths, increased maternal-fetal complications, as well as outbreaks of hepatitis, cutaneous leishmaniosis, typhoid, and dysentery. According to reports by the COI, AI, and other NGOs such as PAX, government and progovernment forces were responsible for most siege activity.
All remaining sieges ended during the year, including the government and progovernment sieges in eastern Ghouta (under siege from 2013 until April) and Yarmouk Camp, Damascus (under siege from 2013 until May), as well as the much smaller HTS sieges of Foua and Kefraya villages in Idlib (under siege from 2015 until July). According to PAX the devastation of eastern Ghouta played a decisive role in the surrender of the remaining besieged enclaves in northern Homs and southern Damascus to government and progovernment forces. As with many other government sieges, the COI reported in August that the aerial and ground operations against Yarmouk Camp were carried out by the Syrian army, affiliated militias, including Palestinian militias and the National Defense Forces, and the Russian Air Force.
De-escalation zone agreements reached under the auspices of Iran, Russia, and Turkey called for improved humanitarian access, but as of September government and progovernment forces had retaken all but one de-escalation zone (Idlib). Government and progovernment forces remained prepared for an assault on Idlib, occupied by three million civilians and the last armed opposition forces and HTS, should a Russian and Turkish-monitored demilitarization agreement fail.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, half of all health facilities were closed or partially functioning and the conflict has killed hundreds of health-care workers. NGO observers and international aid organizations reported that government and progovernment forces specifically targeted health-care workers, medical facilities, ambulances, and patients, and restricted access to medical facilities and services to civilians and prisoners, particularly in Russian-backed government assaults on eastern Ghouta, Daraa, and Idlib. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) reported that, from 2011 to September, combatants attacked almost 500 medical facilities, killing almost 850 medical personnel throughout the country. For example, in September PHR reported that government forces attacked three hospitals, two civil defense centers, and an ambulance system in Idlib as government and progovernment forces increased shelling of the last opposition-controlled governorate. The COI reported in August that on April 29, at approximately 10:25 a.m. and again at 10:30 a.m., progovernment forces launched airstrikes against the surgical hospital in Zafarana, Homs. The COI concluded the attacks by progovernment forces constituted a war crime.
February, May, and August reports by the COI, as well as a July report by AI, reported the government deliberately obstructed the efforts of sick and injured persons to obtain help, and many such individuals elected not to seek medical assistance in hospitals due to fear of arrest, detention, torture, or death. The COI found that the government detained many Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) volunteers and medical staff on the pretext of “having supported terrorists.” According to the COI, the law effectively criminalized medical aid to the opposition, and the COI reported in May that government intelligence and law enforcement agencies forcibly disappeared medical personnel providing treatment to perceived opposition supporters.
In May the COI reported that in some instances between 2013 and this year, besieged armed groups allegedly prevented civilians from leaving besieged areas and used them as human shields against assault by government forces, the Russian Air Force, and other progovernment forces.
In its February report, the COI assessed that ISIS used civilians as human shields in 2017 in Raqqa and Deir al-Zour. The COI reported that in Raqqa ISIS ordered the civilians to move to areas it controlled and actively prevented them from leaving by sniping those who fled and by laying landmines. The COI determined that ISIS deliberately placed civilians in areas where they were exposed to combat operations to render those areas immune from SDF and Coalition attack. Similarly, the COI described how ISIS employed Hisbah street patrols, checkpoints, fines, and corporal punishment to prevent civilians from leaving Deir al-Zour. ISIS reportedly took these actions to render the areas immune to attack from government forces, the Russian Air Force, and other progovernment forces. The COI concluded that ISIS thereby committed a war crime by what it characterized as the use of human shields.
The government and its allies continued forcibly displacing civilians for reasons other than military necessity (see section 2.d.). As detailed by the COI in its May and August reports, government and progovernment forces reportedly offered to evacuate suffering civilian residents from besieged areas only after armed groups surrendered. For example, after reaching local truces in eastern Ghouta in April, evacuations were carried out from the largest remaining opposition-held pocket of Douma. The COI reported that more than 40,000 of those displaced were relocated to overcrowded IDP sites in the Damascus suburbs, while up to 50,000 others were evacuated to Idlib and Aleppo Governorates, where humanitarian response remained critically insufficient. Similarly, a majority of the 10,000 civilians who remained trapped inside Yarmouk Camp until its recapture in May reportedly were forcibly displaced pursuant to an “evacuation agreement.” The August COI report detailed how Russian military police supervised the transportation of approximately 35,000 men, women, and children, on government buses and vehicles from villages in northern Homs primarily to Idlib and Jarablus, Aleppo, in May.
The May COI report further detailed a practice in which, after hostilities ceased and local truces were implemented, government and progovernment forces required certain individuals from the previously besieged areas to undergo a reconciliation process as a condition to remain in their homes. The option to reconcile reportedly often was not offered to health-care personnel, local council members, relief workers, activists, dissidents, and family members of fighters. In effect, the COI assessed that the “reconciliation process” induced displacement in the form of organized evacuations of those deemed insufficiently loyal to the government and served as a government strategy for punishing those individuals. Additionally, various sources reported cases in which the government targeted Syrians who agreed to reconciliation agreements. For example, upon returning to Da’el, Daraa, pursuant to a reconciliation agreement, a former opposition police commander was reportedly arrested by air force security and later found dead with multiple gunshot wounds.
The COI and NGOs such as the Arab Center for Human Rights indicated that–taken together with steps such as the enactment of Presidential Decree No. 10 on the confiscation of unregistered properties–the forcible displacements may fit into a wider plan to strip the displaced of their property rights, transfer populations, and enrich the government and its closest allies (see section 1.e.).
Turkish-backed opposition armed groups reportedly engaged in forcible displacement of civilians and related abuses in Afrin. According to the August COI report, a June HRW report, and NGOs such as the Free Yezidi Foundation and Yazda, numerous residents of Afrin reported widespread looting and appropriation of civilian homes, hospitals, churches, and a Yezidi shrine by members of armed opposition groups and citizens when the armed opposition groups entered Afrin city in March. Witnesses stated that Turkish troops were on occasion present in the vicinity where lootings took place but had not acted to prevent them. Residents reported having to purchase back cars stolen by the armed groups for between one million and 2.5 million Syrian pounds ($2,000 and $5,000).
The COI noted the destruction of Yazidi religious sites appeared to have sectarian undertones, while house appropriations targeted mainly Kurdish owners who had fled clashes. Victims reported cases of looting to a newly established “military police,” which mainly consisted of former FSA fighters, or to committees established by armed groups, both of which reportedly failed to offer any tangible restitution. Turkish-backed armed opposition groups reportedly barred returnees from their properties and informed them that their real or presumed support for the YPG precluded them from living in the area; confiscated homes were marked with graffiti and then used by armed groups for military purposes or as housing for fighters and their families, who arrived from eastern Ghouta via Idlib after its evacuation. If any armed group members were shown to be acting under the effective command and control of Turkish forces, the COI assessed that violations committed may be attributable to Turkish military commanders who knew or should have known about the violations (see section 2.d.).
International media reported widely on government and nongovernment forces attacking and destroying religious as well as UNESCO-listed world heritage sites. The American Academy for the Advancement of Science noted many instances of visible damage to cultural heritage sites. Government and nongovernment forces also pillaged and destroyed property, including homes, farms, and businesses of their perceived opponents.
According to AI and other human rights NGOs, there were instances of property confiscation by the YPG in Kurdish-controlled territories.
According to humanitarian aid workers, ISIS seized property from international and local aid workers at checkpoints that ISIS controlled throughout the country. An ISIS fatwa functioning as law in ISIS-held territories validated expropriation of agricultural businesses from persons ISIS deemed as apostates and laid out rules for distributing the confiscated property to recruits. ISIS and HTS were widely reported to have interfered with the enjoyment of privacy, family, home, and correspondence.
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 current or former members of the security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Politically motivated killings by non-state actors, including Houthi forces and terrorist and insurgent groups claiming affiliation with AQAP or ISIS, also increased significantly during the year (see section 1.g.).
As many as 27 clerics were killed in Aden and nearby areas. On May 9, an unknown gunman killed cleric Safwan al-Sharjabi as he walked along a crowded road in Aden. Many of the assassinated clerics, including Sharjabi, were members of Yemen’s influential Islamist political party, known as Islah. Brig. Gen. Shalal Ali Shaiya, head of Aden’s security and a top leader of the secessionist Southern Transitional Council, denied speculation that his forces were behind the killings. He blamed Islamist extremists. Secessionist officials said the Islah party was responsible for the clerics’ assassinations. These officials alleged Islah was killing the moderate clerics to replace them with more extreme voices. No group claimed responsibility for any of the assassinations, and no perpetrators were arrested.
Following their assassination of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in December 2017, Houthis actively targeted members of his political party, the General People’s Congress (GPC). Press reported that during the year Houthis either abducted or executed hundreds of GPC members in a crackdown on Saleh loyalists.
There were reports of politically motivated disappearances and kidnappings of individuals associated with political parties, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media outlets critical of government security forces and the Houthi movement (see section 1.g.). Houthis and their allies sometimes detained civilian family members of government security officials. Non-state actors targeted and detained foreigners, including those believed to be working for foreign diplomatic missions.
The government’s National Commission to Investigate Alleged Violations to Human Rights (NCIAVHR) documented 3,697 cases of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearance committed by parties to the armed conflict from February 1 to July 31. Of these, 3,036 cases were committed by Houthi militias and 661 cases were committed by the ROYG and Coalition forces.
An Associated Press (AP) investigation in June alleged that 18 United Arab Emirates (UAE)-administered clandestine detention centers operated by Yemeni guards in eastern Yemen held hundreds of prisoners suspected of terrorism without charge or trial. The ROYG stated it had no control over the alleged UAE-run prisons. Several dozen detainees were reportedly released in the days following publication of the AP report.
The Baha’i International Community reported armed soldiers linked to the Houthis in Sana’a seized Abdullah Al-Olofi, the spokesperson for the Yemeni Baha’i community, on October 11 and took him to an unknown location. He was released several days later.
The constitution prohibits torture and other such abuses. Although the law lacks a comprehensive definition of torture, there are provisions allowing prison terms of up to 10 years for acts of torture.
According to multiple NGO and press reports, Yemeni guards working at detention centers allegedly administered by forces aligned with the UAE (see section 1.b.) used sexual torture and humiliation to “break” inmates. In a letter to Human Rights Watch (HRW) in April, the ROYG acknowledged that some security forces were not fully under their control, and confirmed they had issued an order to close one facility and terminate the employment of its director. President Hadi ordered an investigation into the reports of torture. The UAE denied any involvement in torture of prisoners.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) reported that Security Belt Forces (SBF), part of the ROYG yet reportedly funded and directed by the UAE, committed rape and other forms of serious sexual violence targeting foreign migrants, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and other vulnerable groups. The SBF have since 2017 controlled the Al Basateen area of the Dar Saad district of Aden, which hosts a population of at least 40,000 refugees and IDPs. Residents reported that SBF regularly abducted and raped, or threatened to rape, women to extort money from their families and communities. The authorities did not conduct investigations or make arrests in relation to these violations, which were still being reported in May.
During the year UNOHCHR continued to receive information concerning ill-treatment and torture of detainees at the Political Security Organization (PSO) and the National Security Bureau (NSB), as well as the Criminal Investigation Department and in the Habrah and al-Thawra prisons in Sana’a, as well as other facilities under Houthi control.
Torture and other forms of mistreatment were common in Houthi detention facilities and by Houthis, according to NCIAVHR, international NGOs, and media reporting. An HRW report released in September documented 16 cases in which Houthis treated detainees brutally after arbitrarily arresting them, often in ways that amounted to torture, including whippings and hanging on walls with arms shackled behind the back. A December 7 AP report documented numerous cases of torture, including hanging prisoners by their genitals and burning them with acid. In some cases, Houthi minders would torture detainees to obtain information or confessions. An advocacy group associated with families of detainees alleged that 126 individuals died from torture in Houthi detention since 2014.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening and did not meet international standards. The ROYG exercised limited control over prison facilities. In past years, government officials and NGOs identified overcrowding, lack of professional training for corrections officials, poor sanitation, inadequate access to justice, intermingling of pretrial and convicted inmates, lack of effective case management, lack of funding, and deteriorating infrastructure as problems within the 18 central prisons and 25 reserve prisons (also known as pretrial detention centers). Without special accommodations, authorities held prisoners with physical or mental disabilities with the general population. The UNOHCHR reported during the year that conditions of detention facilities deteriorated, including overcrowding, damaged buildings, and shortages of food and medicine.
Media and international NGO reporting during the year found squalid conditions in Houthi detention facilities, including food infested with cockroaches, widespread torture, and absence of any medical care. According to the UNOHCHR, Houthi-affiliated tribal militias, known locally as popular committees, operated at least eight detention facilities in Sana’a, including Habra in the al-Shu’aub District, Hataresh in the Bani Hashaysh District, and al-Thawra and the House of Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar in Haddah.
Tribes in rural areas operated unauthorized “private” detention centers based on traditional tribal justice. Tribal leaders sometimes placed “problem” tribesmen in private jails, sometimes simply rooms in a sheikh’s house, to punish them for noncriminal actions. Tribal authorities often detained persons for personal or tribal reasons without trial or judicial sentencing.
Physical Conditions: The continuing armed conflict negatively affected the condition of prisons. Observers described most prisons, particularly in rural areas, as overcrowded with poor sanitary conditions, inadequate food and access to potable water, and inadequate medical care. Limited information was available on prison populations during the year.
Prior to the outbreak of the conflict, local NGOs reported that prison authorities held juveniles with adults in some rural and women’s prisons as well as in some prisons in the capital. By custom, young children and infants born in prison remained in custody with their mothers until age nine. Prison authorities performed pregnancy tests on all female prisoners upon entry into a facility.
Political prisoners reportedly faced torture, abuse, and other forms of mistreatment, while all prisoners experienced harsh physical conditions.
In a report released by HRW in September, individuals formerly detained by the Houthis claimed prison guards beat them and described poor hygiene, limited access to toilets, and lack of food and health care. They said many formal and all informal detention facilities refused access to family members. There was no defined process for detainees to challenge their detention or report mistreatment. In many instances, Houthi guards moved detainees between facilities without notifying family members.
No credible statistics were available on the number of inmate deaths during the year (see section 1.a.).
Administration: Limited information was available on prison administration since the Houthi takeover in 2014. Poor recordkeeping and a lack of communication between prisons and the government made it difficult for authorities to estimate accurately the size of the prison population.
There was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Under past practice, prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities; according to NGO reports, authorities largely ignored such complaints. Authorities generally allowed visitors to see prisoners and detainees when family members knew a detainee’s location but granted limited access to family members of those accused of security offenses. They generally allowed prisoners and detainees to engage in religious observances.
Independent Monitoring: The continuing conflict prevented substantial prison monitoring by independent human rights observers. International monitors were granted limited access to some facilities allegedly administered by UAE-aligned forces.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both continued to occur. The law prohibits arrests or serving subpoenas between sundown and dawn, but local NGOs reported that authorities took some persons suspected of crimes from their homes at night without warrants. Ministry of Interior security forces remained largely under the control of Houthis at year’s end.
Amnesty International (AI) reported that professor and political figure Mustafa al-Mutawakel was arbitrarily arrested by ROYG forces in Marib in April 2017. At year’s end, he remained in detention without charge.
In August the Houthis detained and continued to hold Kamal Al-Shawish, a co-founder of NGO Mwatana. Mwatana has been an outspoken critic of human rights conditions in the country.
AI reported that Houthis continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain scores of critics and opponents in areas under their control. Detained individuals included journalists, private individuals, human rights defenders and members of the Baha’i community.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The primary state security and intelligence-gathering entities, the PSO and the NSB, came under Houthi control in 2014, although their structure and operations appeared to remain the same. The Yemeni government, however, maintained its own appointments to the PSO and NSB in the parts of the country under government control. By law the PSO and NSB report first to the interior minister and then to the president. The relationship and coordination efforts between the PSO and NSB were unclear. The law charges the PSO with identifying and combating political crimes and acts of sabotage. There was no clear definition of many of the NSB’s duties.
The Criminal Investigation Division reports to the Ministry of Interior and conducted most criminal investigations and arrests. The ministry’s paramilitary Special Security Forces, often responsible for crowd control, was under the direct authority of the interior minister, as was the counterterrorism unit. The Ministry of Defense also employed units under its formal supervision to quell domestic unrest and to participate in internal armed conflicts.
Impunity for security officials remained a problem, in part because the Yemeni government exercised limited authority and in part due to the lack of effective mechanisms to investigate and prosecute abuse and corruption. The SSF, the Yemen Special Operations Forces, the Presidential Guard (formerly the Republican Guard), the NSB, and other security organizations ostensibly reported to civilian authorities in the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and Office of the President. Civilian control of these agencies continued to deteriorate, however, as regional efforts to promote national reconciliation stalled. Exacerbating the problem of impunity, interest groups–including former president Saleh’s family and other tribal and party entities–expanded their influence over security agencies, often through unofficial channels rather than through the formal command structure.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Since its relocation in 2015 the ROYG lost control over much of the court and prison systems, and both deteriorated. The law provides that authorities cannot arrest individuals unless they are apprehended while committing a criminal act or being served with a summons. In addition, authorities must arraign a detainee within 24 hours or release him. The judge or prosecuting attorney, who decides whether detention is required, must inform the accused of the basis for the arrest. The law stipulates authorities may not hold a detainee longer than seven days without a court order. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, provides detainees the right to inform their families of their arrest, and allows detainees to decline to answer questions without an attorney present. The law states the government must provide attorneys for indigent detainees. United Nations, NGO, and media reporting concluded that these stipulations were frequently ignored by all parties to the conflict during the year. The law contains provisions for bail, and Houthi authorities in particular were accused of allowing bail only if they received a bribe. Tribal mediators commonly settled rural cases without reference to the formal court system.
Detainees often did not know which investigating agency arrested them, and the agencies frequently complicated matters by unofficially transferring custody of individuals between entities. Prior to the Houthi takeover, security forces routinely detained relatives of fugitives as hostages until the fugitive was located. Authorities stated they detained relatives only when the relatives obstructed justice, but human rights organizations rejected this claim.
Arbitrary Arrest: Prior to the outbreak of conflict, authorities did not record many detainees’ names, did not transfer some detainees to official detention centers, and arrested and released many detainees multiple times during the year. In September the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen reported their investigations confirmed widespread arbitrary detention throughout the country, with most detainees receiving no information of the reasons for their arrests or the charges against them, denial of access to lawyers or a judge and held incommunicado for prolonged or indefinite periods. The UN Group of Eminent Experts further reported that parties to the conflict were using undeclared detention facilities in an apparent attempt to put detainees outside the reach of the law.
Between October 2016 and April, Coalition forces arrested 148 fishermen, who were reportedly taken to detention facilities in Saudi Arabia and were held incommunicado. Most were released, but 18 fishermen, all held for more than one year, remained missing.
In many areas, Houthi forces and their allies arbitrarily detained persons and kept them in temporary prisons, including at military sites. Other non-state actors also arbitrarily detained persons. NGOs reported that Houthi forces denied detainees family visits or legal representation. In an HRW report released in September (see section 1.c.), former detainees recounted instances where Houthis held individuals unlawfully to extort money from relatives or to exchange them for those held by opposing forces. The report documented dozens of such cases since 2014.
The UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen concluded the Houthis had “committed acts that may amount to war crimes, including cruel treatment and torture [and] outrages upon personal dignity.” The experts documented the Houthis detaining students, human rights defenders, journalists, perceived political opponents and members of the Baha’i community.
Pretrial Detention: Limited information was available on pretrial detention practices during the year, but prolonged detentions without charge or, if charged, without a public preliminary judicial hearing within a reasonable time were believed to be common practices despite their prohibition by law. Staff shortages, judicial inefficiency, and corruption caused trial delays.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Information was limited on whether persons arrested or detained were entitled to challenge the legal basis of their detention in court. The law provides that authorities must arraign a detainee within 24 hours or release him. It also provides that the judge or prosecuting attorney must inform the accused of the basis for the arrest. The ROYG, however, lacked the capacity to enforce the law.
UNOHCHR reported that in Aden and Mukalla, areas controlled by the Hadi-government, detainees carried out hunger strikes protesting the absence of due process. HRW noted that in several cases in which individuals disappeared into detention centers allegedly run by UAE-supervised forces in the South, the Aden prosecutor’s office issued release orders that were not respected.
Mwatana claimed that those detained by the Houthis were often not informed of the charges against them. In some cases, detainees who were issued release orders from the Houthi-controlled courts had yet to be released.
The UNOHCHR reported the criminal justice system had become largely defunct in the areas where progovernment forces reclaimed control, with Coalition-backed forces filling the void. In most cases, as documented by the UNOHCHR, detainees were not informed of the reasons for their arrest, were not charged, were denied access to lawyers or a judge, and were held incommunicado for prolonged or indefinite periods.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but under Houthi control, the judiciary was weak and hampered by corruption, political interference, and lack of proper legal training. Judges’ social and political affiliations and occasional bribery influenced verdicts. The government’s lack of capacity and reluctance at times to enforce court orders, especially outside of cities, undermined the credibility of the judiciary. Criminals threatened and harassed members of the judiciary to influence cases.
Houthi authorities sentenced Hamed Kamal bin Haydara, a Baha’i, to public execution on January 2 after detaining him since 2013 without trial. The NSB claimed he was guilty of apostasy, proselytizing, and spying for Israel. Bin Haydara reported authorities tortured him during the first 45 days of his detention. After their takeover, Houthis kept him imprisoned and continued court proceedings against him. Bin Haydara remained in prison awaiting execution.
The Baha’i International Community and AI reported that more than 20 Baha’is, including national-level leaders, were indicted in a September 15 Sana’a court hearing without being notified of the trial. The Houthi-controlled court accused them of apostasy and espionage. Only the judge, prosecutor, and other court officials were present at the beginning of the hearing. In a subsequent hearing on September 29, the judge asked the prosecutor to publish the names of the accused in a newspaper and ordered their properties frozen until the court reached a verdict.
The law considers defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials were generally public, but all courts may conduct closed sessions “for reasons of public security or morals.” Judges, who play an active role in questioning witnesses and the accused, adjudicate criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants can confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. The law provides for the government to furnish attorneys for indigent defendants in serious criminal cases; in the past, the government did not always provide counsel in such cases. The law allows defense attorneys to counsel their clients, address the court, and examine witnesses and any relevant evidence. Defendants have the right to appeal and could not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. There was limited information available regarding respect for due process.
A court of limited jurisdiction considers security cases. A specialized criminal court, the State Security Court, operated under different procedures in closed sessions and did not provide defendants the same rights provided in the regular courts. Defense lawyers reportedly did not have full access to their clients’ charges or court files. The lack of birth registration compounded difficulties in proving age, which reportedly led courts to sentence juveniles as adults, including for crimes eligible for death sentences (see section 6, Children).
In addition to established courts, there is a tribal justice system for noncriminal issues. Tribal judges, usually respected sheikhs, often also adjudicated criminal cases under tribal law, which usually involved public accusation without the formal filing of charges. Tribal mediation often emphasized social cohesion more than punishment. The public often respected the outcomes of tribal processes more than the formal court system, which was viewed by many as corrupt and lacking independence.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were numerous reports of political prisoners and detainees.
An AI report stated the UAE and Yemeni militias aligned with it detained 51 men between 2016 and May in five provinces in the southern portion of the country. Of the 51, 19 were missing at year’s end. Many of those taken into custody were arrested on unfounded terrorism-related charges, activists say. AI added that many of the arrests were based on “unfounded suspicions” of being members of al-Qaida or the Islamic State. Rather, AI reported, those detained included critics of the coalition and its allies, including activists and journalists and members of Islah, a political party that is the country’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Following their takeover of state institutions, Houthis detained activists, journalists, demonstration leaders, and other political figures representing various political groups and organizations opposed to the Houthis. They did not charge detainees publicly, and severely restricted or barred information to and access by local or international human rights organizations. NGOs claimed that, absent public charges, it was often difficult to determine whether authorities held detainees for criminal or political activity.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The law provides a limited ability to pursue civil remedies for human rights violations as tort claims against private persons. There were no reports of such efforts during the year. Citizens cannot sue the government directly but may petition the public prosecutor to initiate an investigation.
The law prohibits these actions, but authorities continued such interference. According to human rights NGOs, Houthi security actors searched homes and private offices, monitored telephone calls, read personal mail and email, and otherwise intruded into personal matters without legally issued warrants or judicial supervision.
The law required that the attorney general personally authorize telephone call monitoring and reading of personal mail and email, but there was no indication the law was followed in practice.
Citizens may not marry a foreigner without permission from the Ministry of Interior, the NSB, and, in some instances, the PSO, under a regulation authorities enforced arbitrarily. The ministry typically approved marriages to foreigners if they provided a letter from their embassy stating that the government of the non-Yemeni spouse had no objection to the marriage and presented a marriage contract signed by a judge. Bribes frequently facilitated approval. There was no available information on current practice.
In 2014 Houthis took control of the capital and occupied many government offices, precipitating the relocation of President Hadi and his government in 2015. The ensuing conflict continued as of year’s end. The UN-led peace process included attempts to re-establish a cessation of hostilities at intervals throughout the year, the most recent in December. These efforts made some progress, although the conflict continues. Throughout the year, the Saudi-led Coalition continued military operations against Houthis, including an active military role by the UAE.
The Yemeni government re-established a presence in Aden and additional areas in the South in 2016. On October 18, Abdulmalik Maeen Saeed replaced Ahmed Bin Dagher as prime minister of Yemen. Part of the cabinet remained in Aden with Saeed, with some cabinet members also present in Marib. President Hadi remained abroad in Saudi Arabia.
Throughout the year, clashes occurred as warring parties lost and regained territory. The military’s loyalty was divided among numerous local actors. Armed clashes expanded to several areas of the country among Houthis, supporters of the Islah Party (Sunni Islamist) and the Rashad Party (Salafi), armed separatists affiliated with the southern separatist movement Hirak tribal forces, progovernment resistance forces, and Saudi-led coalition ground forces, with participation by elements of the ROYG’s armed forces. Terrorist groups, including AQAP, carried out many deadly attacks against government representatives and installations, Houthi combatants, members of Hirak, and other actors accused of behavior violating sharia law.
In June the Coalition began a ground offensive on Hudaydah led by the UAE and Yemeni forces. The Coalition captured the airport in the south of the city and eventually Kilos 16 and 10, effectively restricting movement and travel for individuals and goods to Sana’a.
International observers criticized all parties to the conflict for civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure resulting from shelling and airstrikes.
As a result of the fighting, the humanitarian situation in the country deteriorated significantly, with 8.4 million individuals at potential risk for famine and a reported 80 percent of the country’s population requiring humanitarian assistance by year’s end, according to the United Nations. An estimated 2.3 million citizens remained internally displaced during the year. The United Nations estimated that only 55 percent of health facilities remained functional.
The country experienced a cholera outbreak in 2016 and a second, larger surge in April 2017 that the United Nations reported was the largest outbreak worldwide, with more than one million suspected cases. The World Health Organization reported more than 79,500 suspected cases and 166 associated deaths between July 15 and September 22.
Killings: The United Nations, NGOs, media outlets, and humanitarian and international organizations reported what they characterized as disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by all parties to the continuing conflict.
Per UNOHCHR, from March 2015 to June, there were at least 16,706 civilian casualties, with 6,475 killed and 10,231 injured in the conflict. According to their data, Coalition air strikes caused most of the documented civilian casualties. UNOHCHR’s Group of Experts reviewed 60 instances where air strikes hit residential areas, killing more than 500 civilians, and 29 incidents where air strikes hit public spaces, killing more than 300 civilians. For example, on August 9, a Coalition airstrike hit a school bus in Sa’ada governorate, killing at least 40 and wounding 79, including a significant proportion of schoolchildren. The Coalition later determined the school bus incident was “unjustified.”
Media and NGOs also reported civilian casualties also resulted resulting from indiscriminate shelling by Houthis and their affiliated popular committees. In an August 17 report, the UN Group of Eminent Experts cited instances of women and children hit by shelling and sniper fire by Houthi forces around Taiz while in their homes or outside acquiring water or food. On August 8, fragments from a missile fired into Saudi Arabia by Houthi forces killed one civilian and injured 11, according to Saudi media reports.
Following a visit to Aden early in the year, HRW reported in an April statement that Houthi forces used land mines in six governorates, including in residential areas, which appear to have killed and maimed hundreds of civilians since the conflict began. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, mines laid by Houthi forces killed 222 civilians since 2016. A March report by Conflict Armament Research found that roadside bombs in Yemen were similar to bombs used by Hezbollah and Iran-linked insurgents in Iraq and Bahrain. In August Coalition demining teams reported decommissioning more than 300,000 mines explosive remnants of war (ERW) over the past two years. Additionally, internationally funded ERW clearance operations carried out by the United Nations Development Programme cleared 5.1 million square meters and more than 136,000 explosive hazards in 2017.
Other deaths resulted from attacks and killings by armed groups, including AQAP and ISIS.
The Guardian newspaper reported that fighting between both sides within the densely populated city of Hudaydah killed at least 150 individuals in the second two weeks of November and led more than 445,000 to flee since the summer.
The UNOHCHR recorded at least 32 instances where Coalition missiles struck humanitarian sites, despite their designation on a no-strike list. On June 11, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported that an air strike hit a new cholera treatment center in the Abs district of Hajjah Governorate. MSF indicated that the facility’s coordinates were shared with the Coalition on 12 separate occasions.
The Coalition has conducted investigations of civilian casualties, acknowledged mistakes, and committed to reviewing targeting procedures. The Coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT), based in Riyadh and consisting of 14 military and civilian members from coalition member states, investigated some incidents of airstrikes that reportedly resulted in civilian casualties. The UNOHCHR and others asserted the Coalition’s JIAT investigations did not provide sufficient transparency on the targeting process for strikes and HRW stated that the JIAT’s public conclusions raised serious questions regarding the ways in which the JIAT conducted investigations and applied international humanitarian law.
Abductions: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) documented the abduction of seven Akhbar al-Youm staff on March 1, whom Security Belt forces held for a month. Fathi bin Lazraq, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Aden al-Ghad, told CPJ the Emergency Battalion in Aden detained him for eight hours on July 1. Lazraq said that the Emergency Battalion operated under the umbrella of the Security Belt forces. Lazraq was eventually released the same day by order of the commander of anti-terror forces.
HRW reported that the Houthi-controlled Political Security Office kidnapped individuals for ransom, sometimes letting months pass before informing relatives they were detained. A woman interviewed by HRW claimed she had paid 1.5 million Yemeni riyals ($6,000) to Houthi officials over the last three years to free her husband, who remained in Houthi custody. The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen found that Political Security Office members were “profiting from detentions.”
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: An August HRW report alleged more than 49 persons died as a result of torture administered by Yemeni guards in UAE-operated clandestine detention centers. AI investigated the cases of 51 men detained by Security Belt and Elite Forces between March 2016 and May 2018 in Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Hadramawt, and Shabwa governorates. Current and former detainees and families gave Amnesty accounts of abuse including beatings, use of electric shocks, and sexual violence. One detainee told Amnesty he saw a fellow detainee carried away in a body bag after being repeatedly tortured. Another former detainee said UAE soldiers at a coalition base in Aden repeatedly inserted an object into his anus until he bled. He said he was also kept in a hole in the ground with only his head above the surface and left to defecate and urinate on himself in that position.
HRW reported Houthi forces frequently detained hostages for extortion and profiteering. While detained by the Houthis, detainees described being beaten, whipped, shackled to walls, caned, and threatened with rape or rape of their family members by Houthi officers. Detainees were refused medical assistance or treatment after their abuse and many released suffered from physical and psychological health complications.
Following a visit to Aden early in the year, HRW reported in an April statement that Houthi forces used land mines in six governorates, including in residential areas, which appear to have killed and maimed hundreds of civilians since the conflict began. In August Coalition demining teams reported decommissioning more than 300,000 mines explosive remnants of war (ERW) over the past two years. Additionally, internationally funded ERW clearance operations carried out by the United Nations Development Programme cleared 5.1 million square meters and more than 136,000 explosive hazards in 2017.
Child Soldiers: Although Yemeni law and ROYG policy expressly forbid the practice, children younger than age of 18 participated in armed conflict for government, tribal, Houthi, and militant forces. The ROYG military strongly denied it recruited child soldiers. Nearly one-third of the combatants in the country were younger than 18, by some estimates. The lack of a consistent system for birth registration compounded difficulties in proving age, which at times contributed to the recruitment of minors into the military.
The UNOHCR Secretary-General reported 842 verified cases of recruitment and use of boys as young as 11 years old in 2017. Nearly two thirds of these cases were attributed to the Houthi Forces, with a substantial increase in the number attributed to the Security Belt Forces and the Yemen Armed Forces as compared with 2016. The United Nations also documented the deprivation of liberty of boys by armed forces and groups for their alleged association with opposing parties.
Tribes, primarily affiliated with the Houthis and including some armed and financed by the government to fight alongside the regular army, used underage recruits in combat zones, according to reports by international NGOs, such as Save the Children. The UNOHCHR investigation found information indicating government, Coalition-backed forces, and Houthi forces all conscripted or enlisted children into armed forces or groups and used them to participate actively in hostilities. These reports were strongly denied by the ROYG. Houthis also routinely used children to staff checkpoints, act as human shields, or serve as suicide bombers. Combatants reportedly involved married boys between the ages of 12 and 15 in fighting in the northern tribal areas; tribal custom considered married boys as adults who owe allegiance to the tribe. As a result, according to international and local human rights NGOs, one-half of tribal fighters were youths younger than age 18. Other observers noted that tribes rarely placed boys in harm’s way but used them as guards rather than fighters.
During the year the Houthis and other armed groups, including tribal and Islamist militias and AQAP, increased their recruitment, training, and deployment of children as participants in the conflict. According to a February AI report, Houthi representatives ran local centers where young boys and men were encouraged to fight. One source said the Houthis imposed recruitment quotas on local representatives. UNOHCHR reported Houthi forces also forcibly recruited children in schools, hospitals, and door-to-door or used appeals to patriotism and financial incentives.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: All parties to the conflict routinely imposed severe restrictions on movements of people, goods, and humanitarian assistance. Food insecurity, fuel shortages, damage to local infrastructure, and lack of access for humanitarian organizations to vulnerable populations contributed to the deteriorating humanitarian situation.
The government, the Coalition, or both delayed or denied clearance permits for some humanitarian and commercial aid shipments bound for rebel-held Red Sea ports and government-controlled ports. The Coalition continued to place restrictions on certain cargoes and its secondary clearance process led to uncertainty and delays experienced by vessels approved by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen.
The Houthi militias’ forceful takeover and misadministration of government institutions led to dire economic consequences–nonpayment of workers’ wages and allegations of widespread corruption, including at checkpoints controlled by Houthi militias–that severely affected the timely and efficient distribution of food aid and exacerbated food insecurity.
Militias held trucks containing food, medical supplies, and aid equipment at checkpoints and prevented or delayed them from entering major cities.
There were reports of attacks on health-care facilities and health-care workers. Physicians for Human Rights confirmed 12 armed attacks against healthcare facilities and personnel, including two attacks on ambulances. On February 24, Al-Thawra Hospital in Taizz closed in protest after masked gunmen kidnapped a doctor at its front gate. On May 6, dozens of armed fighters invaded the hospital’s emergency and operating rooms, threatening doctors and shooting a patient. Physicians for Human Rights reported several instances of mortar shells hitting hospitals in Taizz and al-Hudaydah in March, April, and May.
There were reports of the use of civilians to shield combatants. Houthi forces reportedly used captives as human shields at military encampments and ammunition depots under threat of coalition airstrikes.