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Fiji

Executive Summary

Fiji is a constitutional republic. In 2018 the country held general elections, which international observers deemed free, transparent, and credible. Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama’s Fiji First party won 27 of 51 seats in parliament, and he began a second four-year term as prime minister.

The Fiji Police Force maintains internal security. The Republic of Fiji Military Force is responsible for external security but may also have some domestic security responsibilities in specific circumstances. Both report to the Ministry of Defense, National Security, and Policing. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, in some cases leading to death; restrictions on free expression, such as substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; and trafficking in persons.

The government investigated some security force officials who committed abuses and prosecuted or punished officials who committed abuses elsewhere in the government; however, impunity was a problem in cases with political implications.

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

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

In April, four corrections officers at the Lautoka Corrections Center allegedly murdered one remand prisoner and assaulted two others. The officers were arrested and charged; on September 15, a court granted the officers bail. As of year’s end, the trial had not yet opened.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture, forced medical treatment, and degrading treatment or punishment. The Public Order Act (POA, see section 1.d.), however, authorizes the government to use whatever force it deems necessary to enforce public order. There were reports security forces abused persons.

The police Ethical Standards Unit is responsible for investigating complaints of police misconduct. As of July, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions charged 38 officers for police misconduct.

On March 26, eight police officers allegedly assaulted two suspects in Tavua. The officers were arrested and charged; their first court appearance was September 3.

In April, four police officers allegedly assaulted a 32-year-old man and threw him off a bridge in Naqia village on Tailevu. The man allegedly broke COVID-19 curfew rules. The four were suspended from work, arrested, charged, and granted bail at a June court hearing. In August, the four, together with a fifth officer charged with obstruction of justice, appeared in court for plea hearings.

In September authorities investigated assault allegations by two inmates who claimed corrections officers assaulted them during a strip search and took pictures of them while the inmates were naked. The investigation continued as of November.

Impunity remained a problem in the security forces in some politically connected cases. The constitution and POA provide immunity from prosecution for members of the security forces for any deaths or injuries arising from the use of force deemed necessary to enforce public order. The constitution provides immunity for the president, prime minister, members of the cabinet, and security forces for actions taken relating to the 2000 suppression of a mutiny at military headquarters, the 2006 coup, and the 2009 abrogation of the 1997 constitution.

A 2016 Amnesty International report concluded that there is no independent oversight mechanism for the security forces. In brief, the legal framework means that no investigation can be initiated or disciplinary action taken against a police officer without the consent or approval of the police commissioner. Authorized investigations were usually conducted by the Internal Affairs Unit, which reports to the police commissioner, who decides the outcome of the complaint. Information about the number of complaints, investigatory findings, and disciplinary action taken is not publicly available.

Slow judicial processes contribute to an impression of impunity, especially in police abuse cases. For example, trials have yet to begin for the alleged July 2019 police beating of Pelasio Tamanikoula or for the alleged November 2019 police beating of prisoner Manasa Rayasidamu, The three officers accused in the Manasa Rayasidamu case were suspended and brought to court on November 22 and charged with causing grievous harm. Other unresolved cases date back as far as 2017.

To increase respect for human rights by security forces, the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (FHRADC), international organizations, and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) conducted a number of human rights training courses with law enforcers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The national prison system remained overcrowded, with deteriorating infrastructure and complaints about inadequate essential services.

Physical Conditions: Prisons were overcrowded. In September 2018, according to an Asian and Pacific Conference of Correctional Administrators report, prisons in the country had a capacity of 1,916 and a population of 2,643. There were insufficient beds, inadequate sanitation, and a shortage of other necessities. Some prison facilities reportedly were unsuitable for aged inmates or those with physical and mental disabilities (see Improvements below).

Authorities generally separated pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners at shared facilities, although in some cases authorities held them together.

Administration: Prisoners may submit complaints to the FHRADC or judicial authorities, which investigated several complaints during the year. Although the law prohibits authorities from reviewing, censoring, or seizing prisoner letters to the judiciary and the commission, authorities routinely reviewed such letters and, in most cases, seized them. Authorities did not investigate or document credible allegations of inhumane conditions in a publicly accessible manner.

Detainees have the right to observe their religion but may not change religions or belief without consultation with prison staff.

Independent Monitoring: The Fiji Red Cross and other NGOs visited official detention facilities and interviewed inmates; prison authorities permitted such visits (with restrictions aligned to COVID-19 guidelines) without third parties present.

Improvements: In October the Corrections Services completed the new Lautoka Corrections Center, which contained facilities designed to cater to and house “elderly, disabled, and bedridden prisoners.”

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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, unless the person is detained under the POA. The government generally observed these requirements. The law details procedures for lawful arrest. The minister of defense and national security must authorize detention without charge exceeding 48 hours.

The POA allows authorities to suspend normal due process protections where “necessary to enforce public order.” Persons detained under the provisions of the POA can be held for up to 16 days without being charged, and the POA explicitly disallows any judicial recourse (including habeas corpus) for harms suffered when the government is acting under its provisions. There are also provisions that allow for warrantless searches, restriction of movement (specifically international travel, immigration, or emigration), and permit requirements for political meetings. Authorities have used the POA’s wide provisions to restrict freedom of expression and of association.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution provides that detained persons be charged and brought to court within 48 hours of arrest or as soon as practicable thereafter, and that right was generally respected. Police officers may arrest persons without a warrant.

Police also conduct arrests in response to warrants issued by magistrates and judges. Persons held under the POA must be charged or released after 16 days. There is no legal requirement to bring to court persons detained under provisions of the POA for judicial review of the grounds for their detention, unless authorities charge them with an offense.

The law provides for bail. Under the law both police and the courts may grant bail. Although there is a legal presumption in favor of granting bail, the prosecution may object, and often did so in cases where the accused was appealing a conviction or had previously breached bail conditions. An individual must apply for bail by a motion and affidavit that require the services of a lawyer.

Authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to counsel and family members. The Legal Aid Commission provided counsel to some indigent defendants in criminal cases, a service supplemented by voluntary services from private attorneys. The “First Hour Procedure” requires police to provide every suspect with legal aid assistance within the first hour of arrest. In addition, police are required to record the “caution interview” with each suspect before questioning, to confirm police informed all suspects of their constitutional rights, and to confirm whether suspects suffered any abuse by police prior to questioning.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees made up 24 percent of the prison population, which resulted from a continuing pattern of courts refusing bail and resource shortages. A shortage of prosecutors and judges contributed to slow processing of cases. Consequently, some defendants faced lengthy pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was subject to intimidation.

On April 16, Acting Chief Justice Kamal Kumar set aside a decision by Nadi magistrate Siromi Turaga, who acquitted two men charged under the public health law for breaking curfew hours set by a directive from the prime minister to protect the public from COVID-19. Magistrate Turaga stated the charges were unlawful because the prime minister lacked the power to impose movement restrictions under the public health law. There were credible claims that Acting Chief Justice Kumar acted in response to statements from the attorney general criticizing Turaga’s ruling.

On May 19, Acting Chief Justice Kumar overturned a high court ruling by Justice Salesi Temo that dismissed convictions of civilians caught violating the national curfew, and directed magistrates not to follow Temo’s ruling.

The president appoints or removes from office the judges of the Supreme Court, justices of appeal, and judges of the high court on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission in consultation with the attorney general. The commission, following consultations with the attorney general, may appoint magistrates, masters of the high court, the chief registrar, and other judicial officers. The constitution and law provide for a variety of restrictions on the jurisdiction of the courts. For example, the courts may not hear challenges to government decisions on judicial restructuring, terms and conditions of remuneration for the judiciary, and terminated court cases. Various other decrees contain similar clauses limiting the jurisdiction of the courts on decisions made by the cabinet, ministers, or government departments.

Trial Procedures

In most cases defendants have the right to a fair public trial, and the court system generally enforced this right.

Defendants are generally presumed innocent; they may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They may present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf and confront witnesses against them. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and be present at their trial, with free interpretation if necessary, through all appeals. Authorities also must accord them adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to counsel, but some reportedly were unaware of their rights when detained or interviewed and, therefore, did not ask for legal counsel. The Legal Aid Commission, supplemented by voluntary services of private attorneys, provided free counsel to some indigent defendants in criminal cases. The right of appeal exists, but procedural delays often hampered this right. The constitution allows for limitations on the right to public trial, although it also stipulates that trials should “begin and conclude without unreasonable delay.” They were not always timely.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, but the POA permits military personnel to search persons and premises without a warrant from a court and to take photographs, fingerprints, and measurements of any person. Police and military officers also may enter private premises to break up any meeting considered unlawful. In September, for example, police broke up a meeting held by the then opposition leader Sitiveni Rabuka in a private residence in Rakiraki.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but it grants the government authority to restrict these rights for a broad array of reasons. These include preventing hate speech and insurrection; maintaining national security, public order, public safety, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections; protecting the reputation, privacy, dignity, and rights of other persons; enforcing media standards; and regulating the conduct of media organizations. The POA also gives the government power to detain persons on suspicion of “endangering public safety” and to “preserve the peace.” The authorities continued to use broad provisions in this law to restrict freedom of expression.

Freedom of Speech: The law includes criticism of the government in its definition of the crime of sedition. This includes statements made in other countries by any person.

In late April police arrested opposition Member of Parliament and National Federation Party leader Pio Tikoduadua after he posted allegations that police had thrown a man off a bridge in Naqia village (see section 1.c.). He was quickly released, and the public prosecutions office announced there was insufficient evidence to charge Tikoduadua.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were somewhat active; however, journalists practiced self-censorship on sensitive political or communal topics because of restrictions in the law and monitoring by the Media Industry Development Authority. The law on media prohibits “irresponsible reporting” and provides for government censorship of media. The opposition and other critics of the government accused the government of using state power to silence critics.

Unlike in previous years, there were no known cases of legal action directed at media.

Violence and Harassment: Unlike in previous years, there were no known cases of harassment directed at media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The media law authorizes the government to censor all news stories before broadcast or publication. Although the government ceased prior censorship in 2012, the law remains on the books, and journalists and media organizations continued to practice varying degrees of self-censorship citing a fear of prosecution. Despite this, media published opinion articles by academics and commentators critical of the government.

By law directors and 90 percent of shareholders in local publicly held media firms must be citizens and permanently reside in the country. The Media Industry Development Authority is responsible for enforcing these provisions and has the power to investigate media outlets for alleged violations and to search facilities and seize equipment.

A media code of ethics established in law requires that media publish and television broadcast balanced material. It obligates media to give any individual or organization an opportunity to reply to comments or provide materials for publication. Journalists reported this requirement did not restrict reporting as much as in past years.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, and defamation are treated as civil matters under the law. The constitution, however, includes protecting the reputation of persons as a permissible limitation to freedom of expression, including by media. By law some of these conditions also apply to the internet.

In July lawyer Aman Ravindra Singh, sued for defamation by the prime minister and attorney general in 2018, was ordered to pay damages of almost Fiji $150,000 ($74,000) plus court costs. The court found Singh made unsubstantiated online allegations about the prime minister’s and attorney general’s involvement in the 2000 coup.

A second lawsuit by the supervisor of elections, also dating to 2018, charging opposition critics with posting defamatory remarks on social media, remained pending at year’s end.

On October 13, a court rejected a defamation case brought by state broadcaster, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited, against opposition member of parliament Niko Nawaikula for defamatory comments against it on social media. The court also denied the broadcaster’s request for a permanent injunction restricting Nawaikula from further posting, circulating, or distributing statements about it or its chief executive officer.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; unlike in previous years, there were no reports the government monitored private online communications without legal authority.

The law on online safety penalizes offenders with a substantial maximum fine and a maximum five years’ imprisonment for posting an electronic communication that causes harm to a person. Critics, including rights groups and youth and women’s organizations, maintain the law is a potential Trojan horse for internet censorship and punishment of online dissent.

After enacting the law in 2018, the government filed several defamation lawsuits (although none during the year) against political opponents for posting comments critical of the government on social media.

In many cases, authorities used the POA to charge critics and “rumormongers” in the days before the government released the COVID-19 budget on March 27. Eight persons, including opposition member of parliament Lynda Tabuya, were arrested for “spreading fake news or reports to create public anxiety” about COVID-19. Tabuya was arrested on March 26 for Facebook posts about COVID-19 that allegedly breached the POA, as “malicious writings of false news or reports tending to create or foster public alarm and anxiety.” Tabuya was detained for four days and appeared in court on March 30 charged with one count of a malicious act contrary to the POA. The court ordered that she surrender travel documents, report weekly to a local police station, and deactivate her Facebook account for the duration of her court case. The case ended on August 17 when the prosecution withdrew the charges against her.

Others arrested on similar charges included: three women arrested on March 26 for their Facebook posts about the virus; Nemani Bainivalu, a former Fiji First Party candidate, arrested on March 27 and released on bail two days later; and a 24-year-old female radio announcer from Fiji Broadcasting charged on April 11 with one count of a malicious act for social media posts that called on individuals to stone vehicles during curfew hours.

All telephone and internet users must register their personal details with telephone and internet providers, including name, birth date, home address, left thumbprint, and photographic identification. The law imposes a moderate maximum fine on providers who continued to provide services to unregistered users and a substantial maximum fine on users who did not update their registration information as required.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The constitution provides for academic freedom. Contract regulations of the University of the South Pacific effectively restricted most university employees from running for or holding public office or holding an official position with any political party. Persons who enter the country on tourist visas to conduct research must notify and seek permission from the government.

On June 8, police entered a University of the South Pacific campus and dismissed students who had staged a protest march in support of Vice Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia, suspended for his alleged role in exposing mismanagement of funds and cronyism at the university. On June 12, police searched and confiscated photos of the protesters from the Fiji Times newspaper office and questioned university staff, focusing on possible breaches of COVID-19 rules by participating in a peaceful protest.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; however, the government restricted these freedoms in some cases.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution allows the government to limit this right in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections. The constitution also allows the government to limit freedom of assembly to protect the rights of others and imposes restrictions on public officials’ rights to freedom of assembly.

The POA allows authorities to use whatever force necessary to prohibit or disperse public and private meetings after “due warning,” in order to preserve public order.

Freedom of Association

The constitution limits this right in the interests of national security, public order, and morality and also for the orderly conduct of elections. The government generally did not restrict membership in NGOs, professional associations, and other private organizations, but in September it did stop a meeting by then opposition leader Sitiveni Rabuka.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

Under the POA, to enforce public order, the government may restrict freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

In-country Movement: The government restricted in-country movement in certain locations and implemented a nationwide curfew as part of preventative measures against COVID-19.

Exile: The government used re-entry bans as a de facto means of exiling critics. As in past years, opposition parties called on the government to lift re-entry bans on all present and former citizens, including notably historian and former citizen Brij Lal, a critic of the government living in Australia. The Immigration Department stated Lal could reapply for re-entry into the country; however, the ban reportedly remained in place as of November. Lal was deported in 2009 for activities “prejudicial to the peace, defense, and public security of the Government of Fiji.” Lal’s wife, Padma, also an academic, was stopped from re-entering the country in 2010.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR assisted officials in refugee status determination procedures.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 voters elected 51 members of parliament. The governing Fiji First party won 27 seats, and Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama was sworn in as prime minister for a second four-year term. In presenting its conclusions, the Australian- and Indonesian-led Multinational Observer Group stated: “Conditions supported Fijians exercising their right to vote freely. The 2018 process was transparent and credible overall, and the outcome broadly represented the will of Fijian voters.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for the right to form and join political parties, to campaign for political parties or a cause, to register as a voter, to vote by secret ballot in elections or referendums, to run for public office, and to hold that office. The government may prescribe eligibility requirements for voters, candidates, political party officials, and holders of public office. A requirement that new political parties present signatures from 5,000 paid-up members across the country’s four divisions was a potentially burdensome hurdle. Civil service members and trade union officials are required to resign their offices if they seek to run for political office. The law allows deregistration of political parties for any election offense.

The POA requires permits for political meetings in both public and private venues, and these were granted in an open, nonpartisan, fair way.

The electoral law restricts any person, entity, or organization from receiving funding from foreign governments, government-recognized intergovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and forbids multilateral agencies such as the World Bank from conducting or participating in any campaign, including meetings, debates, panel discussions, interviews, publication of materials, or any public forum discussing the elections. Maximum penalties for violations of the law include 10 years’ imprisonment, a substantial fine, or both. The law allows universities to hold panel discussions and organize inclusive public forums.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural attitudes about gender roles restricted political participation by most indigenous women. Despite holding six of 13 cabinet minister positions and six of 10 assistant minister positions, Indo-Fijians, who accounted for 36 percent of the population, were generally underrepresented in government and the military.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption.

Corruption: The Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption (hereafter “corruption commission”) reports directly to the president and investigates public agencies and officials, including police. Government measures to combat corruption within the bureaucracy, including corruption commission public service announcements encouraging citizens to report corrupt government activities, had some effect on systemic corruption. Media published articles on corruption commission investigations of abuse of office, and anonymous blogs reported on some government corruption.

The government adequately funded the corruption commission, but some observers questioned its independence and viewed some of its high-profile prosecutions as politically motivated.

In August the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions charged Talib Khan, director of the police internal affairs division, with abuse of office. Khan allegedly directed the unlawful arrest of an unnamed person in 2017. In June a policewoman was charged with witness tampering in the case of the four officers suspected of throwing a curfew violator from a bridge (see section 1.c.).

Corruption cases often proceeded slowly. In June the appeals trial of former corrections chief Lieutenant Colonel Ifereimi Vasu began. Authorities dismissed him in 2015 for abuse of office related to his alleged misuse of a prison minimart. The prosecution appealed his 2019 acquittal.

Financial Disclosure: No law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials. The law, however, requires financial disclosure by party officials and candidates running for office.

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

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

The law constrained NGO operations in several ways. For example, the law includes criticism of the government in its definition of sedition.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution establishes the FHRADC, and it continued to receive reports of human rights violations lodged by citizens. The constitution prohibits the commission from investigating cases filed by individuals and organizations relating to the 2006 coup and the 2009 abrogation of the 1997 constitution. While the commission routinely worked with the government to improve certain human rights matters (such as prisoner treatment), observers reported it generally declined to address politically sensitive human rights matters and typically took the government’s side in public statements, leading observers to assess the FHRADC as progovernment.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law recognizes rape, including spousal rape, as a crime and provides for a maximum punishment of life imprisonment for rape. The law recognizes spousal rape as a specific offense. Rape (including spousal rape), domestic abuse, incest, and sexual harassment were significant problems. As of June the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center recorded 299 domestic violence cases. This was an increase over previous years, attributed to a new national toll-free help line via which victims found it easier to report abuse and to COVID-19 movement restrictions that confined victims with their abusers. The center reported that eight women died in domestic violence incidents as of September.

The law defines domestic violence as a specific offense. Police practice a “no-drop” policy, whereby they are required to pursue investigations of domestic violence cases even if a victim later withdraws the accusation. Nonetheless, women’s organizations reported police did not consistently follow this policy. Courts dismissed some cases of domestic abuse and incest or gave perpetrators light sentences. Traditional and religious practices of reconciliation between aggrieved parties in both indigenous and Indo-Fijian communities were sometimes utilized to mitigate sentences for domestic violence. In some cases, authorities released offenders without a conviction on condition they maintained good behavior.

In May the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre warned of a spike in domestic violence during the enforced COVID-19 lockdown and curfew, and Minister for Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation Mereseini Vuniwaqa stated calls to the government helpline had risen from 87 in February to 187 in March and more than 500 in April. At a five-day police training program on gender-based violence training in November, Vuniwaqa lamented that when victims went to police to lodge a complaint, they were treated like suspects. Women’s Crisis Centre Coordinator Shamima Ali reported that almost two in three women in an intimate relationship had experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government used criminal law against “indecent assaults on females,” which prohibits offending the modesty of women, to prosecute sexual harassment cases. Sexual harassment was a significant problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to have the information and means to do so; and to manage their reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The government provided family planning services, and women had access to contraceptives free of charge at public hospitals and clinics, and for a nominal fee if prescribed by a private physician. Nevertheless, NGOs reported some women faced societal and family pressure against obtaining contraceptives. The government provided sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors.

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

Discrimination: Women have full rights of inheritance and property ownership by law, but local authorities often excluded them from the decision-making process on disposition of indigenous communal land, which constituted more than 80 percent of all land. Women have the right to a share in the distribution of indigenous land-lease proceeds, but authorities seldom recognized this right. Women have the same rights and status as men under family law and in the judicial system. Nonetheless, women and children had difficulty obtaining protection orders, and police enforcement of them, in domestic violence cases.

Although the law prohibits gender-based discrimination and requires equal pay for equal work, employers generally paid women less than men for similar work (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both from birth within the country and through one’s parents. Parents generally registered births promptly.

Education: Education is compulsory until age 15, but the law does not provide for free education. The government nonetheless as a matter of policy provides for free education, although students must pay nontuition costs, such as for uniforms.

Child Abuse: Corporal punishment was common in schools, despite a Ministry of Education policy forbidding it in the classroom. Increasing urbanization, overcrowding, and the breakdown of traditional community and extended family structures put children at risk of abuse and appeared to contribute to a child’s chance of exploitation for commercial sex. Reports indicated the number of child abuse cases in the country increased (there were 309 reported cases from February to April) and that more children sought shelter at state-funded homes. In most cases, however, these facilities were overburdened and unable to assist all victims. The government continued its public-awareness campaign against child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Some NGOs reported that, especially in rural areas, girls often married before 18, preventing them from completing their secondary school education. In ethnic Fijian villages, pregnant girls younger than 18 could live as common-law wives with the child’s father after the man presented a traditional apology to the girl’s family, thereby avoiding the filing of a complaint with police by the girl’s family. The girls frequently married the fathers as soon as legally permissible.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children continued. It is an offense for any person to buy or hire a child younger than age 18 for sex, exploitation in prostitution, or other unlawful purpose; the offense is punishable by a maximum 12 years’ imprisonment. No prosecutions or convictions for trafficking of children occurred.

It is an offense for a householder or innkeeper to allow commercial sexual exploitation of children on his or her premises. There were no known prosecutions or convictions for such offenses.

Some high school-age children and homeless and jobless youth were subjected to sex trafficking, and there were reports of child sex tourism in tourist centers, such as Nadi and Savusavu. Child sex trafficking was perpetrated by family members, taxi drivers, foreign tourists, businessmen, and crew members on foreign fishing vessels. The NGO Pacific Dialogue and the International Labor Organization claimed to have received reports of children exploited in organized prostitution, including being advertised online.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The court of appeals has ruled that 10 years is the minimum appropriate sentence for child rape, but police often charged defendants with “defilement” rather than rape because defilement was easier to prove in court. Defilement or unlawful carnal knowledge of a child younger than age 13 has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment; the maximum penalty for defilement of a child ages 13 to 15, or of a person with intellectual disabilities, is 10 years’ imprisonment.

Child pornography is illegal. The maximum penalty is 14 years in prison, a substantial fine, or both for a first offense; and life imprisonment, a larger fine, or both for a repeat offense, plus the confiscation of any equipment used in the commission of the crime.

The law requires mandatory reporting to police by teachers, health-care, and social welfare workers of any incident of child abuse.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a small Jewish community composed primarily of foreign residents. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Discrimination against persons with disabilities is illegal. The Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons, a government-funded statutory body, worked to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The constitution or laws address the right of persons with disabilities to reasonable access to all places, public transport, and information, as well as the rights to use braille or sign language and to reasonable access to accommodations, including materials and devices related to the disability. The constitution, however, provides that the law may limit these rights “as necessary,” and the law does not define “reasonable.” Public health regulations provide penalties for noncompliance, but there was minimal enabling legislation on accessibility, and there was little or no enforcement of laws protecting persons with disabilities.

Building regulations require new public buildings to be accessible to all, but only a few met this requirement.

Persons with disabilities continued to face employment discrimination (see section 7.d.).

There were no government programs to improve access to information and communications for persons with disabilities, in particular the deaf and blind. Parliament televised its sessions in sign language to improve access for the deaf.

There were a number of separate public schools offering primary education for persons with physical, intellectual, and sensory disabilities; however, cost and location limited access. Some students attended mainstream primary schools, and the nongovernmental Early Intervention Center monitored them. Opportunities were very limited for secondary school or higher education for persons with disabilities.

The law stipulates that the community, public health, and general health systems treat persons with mental and intellectual disabilities, although families generally supported such persons at home. Institutionalization of persons with more significant mental disabilities was in a single, underfunded public facility in Suva.

The Fijian Elections Office continued to maintain a website accessible to the disability community, including text-to-speech capability, large type, and an inverted color scheme. The office implemented new procedures to facilitate the voting process for the November 2018 election for voters with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Tension between ethnic Fijians and the Indo-Fijian minority was a longstanding problem. Ethnic Fijians comprised approximately 58 percent of the population, Indo-Fijians 36 percent, and the remaining 6 percent was composed of Europeans, Chinese, Rotumans, and other Pacific Islander communities. The government publicly stated its opposition to policies that provide “paramountcy” to the interests of ethnic Fijians and Rotumans, which it characterized as racist, and called for the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices that favor one race over another. Indo-Fijians dominated the commercial sector, ethnic Fijians the security forces.

Land tenure remained highly sensitive and politicized. Ethnic Fijians communally held approximately 87 percent of all land; the government, 4 percent; and the remainder was freehold land held by private individuals or companies. Most cash-crop farmers were Indo-Fijians, the majority of whom were descendants of indentured laborers who came to the country during the British colonial era. Almost all Indo-Fijian farmers must lease land from ethnic Fijian landowners. Many Indo-Fijians believed that their dependence on leased land constituted de facto discrimination against them. Many ethnic Fijians believed the rental formulas prescribed in national land tenure legislation discriminated against them as the resource owners.

By law all ethnic Fijians are automatically registered upon birth into an official register of native landowners, the Vola ni Kawa Bula. The register also verifies access for those in it to indigenous communally owned lands and confirms titleholders within indigenous communities.

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

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity and expression. The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. Nevertheless, the FHRADC reported complaints of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons in employment, housing, access to health care, and other fields.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides all workers the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike.

The law prohibits some forms of antiunion discrimination, including victimizing workers or firing a worker for union membership. The law prohibits employers from using violence, intimidation, or stalking or hindering the work of an employee who has exercised any legal right under the labor code.

The law limits who may be an officer of a trade union, prohibiting noncitizens, for example, from serving as officers. The constitution prohibits union officers from becoming members of parliament. The law also limits the ability of union officers to form or join political parties and exercise other political rights.

All unions must register with the government, which has discretionary power to refuse to register any union with a name that is “offensive or racially or ethnically discriminatory.” By law the government may cancel registration of existing unions in exceptional cases.

By law any trade union with seven or more members in an industry not designated as essential may enter into collective bargaining with an employer. The law requires that parties negotiate in good faith and outlines the basic requirements of collective bargaining.

Unions may conduct secret strike ballots after giving 21 days’ notice to the Registrar of Trade Unions, and the strike may begin after the registrar supervises a secret ballot in which 50 percent of all members entitled to vote approve the strike. Workers in essential services may strike but must also notify the Arbitration Court and provide the category of workers who propose to strike, the starting date, and location of the strike. The law designates “essential service and industries” to include corporations engaged in finance, telecommunications, public sector employees, mining, transport, and the airline industry. The definition of essential services and industries also includes all state-owned enterprises, statutory authorities, and local government authorities.

The law permits the minister of employment to declare a strike unlawful and refer the dispute to the Arbitration Court. If authorities refer the matter to the court, workers and strike leaders could face criminal charges if they persist in strike action.

The government did not enforce these rights. Penalties under law for violations of freedom of association and of collective bargaining agreements include fines and imprisonment. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights. Individuals, employers, and unions (on behalf of their members) may submit employment disputes and grievances alleging discrimination, unfair dismissal, sexual harassment, or certain other unfair labor practices to the Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations (hereafter the employment ministry).

Relations between the government and the two trade union umbrella bodies, the Fiji Trades Union Congress and the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions, remained strained. In May 2019, police arrested several workers of the Water Authority of Fiji for breaching the POA when they protested the firing of many employees. Trades Union Congress general secretary Felix Anthony, the secretaries of the Fijian Teachers Association and the nurses’ union, and an officer of the National Union of Workers were also arrested. Anthony was held for 48 hours under the POA for organizing “unlawful gatherings”; in June 2019, police again arrested Anthony, charging him with breach of the POA for false statements about the expiration of water authority employment contracts and other infractions. Anthony was later released on bail, but charges remained pending, and his case has not yet been heard by the courts.

In previous years trade unions reported additional antiunion action, including unilateral voiding of collective bargaining agreements with civil servants, lockouts and threats of retaliation to prevent unions from voting on industrial action, dismissal of union members, and a pattern of systematic harassment and intimidation. There were no reports of such problems during the year, due in part to COVID-19 restrictions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The Office of Labor Inspectorate, police, and Department of Immigration are responsible for enforcing the law, depending on the circumstances of the case. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law prescribes penalties that were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping.

There were reports forced labor occurred, including by children (see section 7.c.). Forced labor of adults and children occurred in the field of domestic work. Southeast Asians were subject to forced labor in manufacturing, agriculture, and fishing.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. Education is compulsory until age 15; the law specifies that children ages 13 to 15 may be employed on a daily wage basis in nonindustrial “light” work not involving machinery, provided they return to their parents or guardian every night. The law sets a limit of eight hours per day on child labor but does not include a list of permissible activities. Children ages 15 to 17 may work, but must have specified hours and rest breaks. They may not be employed in hazardous occupations and activities, including those involving heavy machinery, hazardous materials, mining, or heavy physical labor, the care of children, or work within security services.

The government effectively enforced child labor law, and penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. The employment ministry deployed inspectors countrywide to enforce compliance with child labor laws. The law provides for imprisonment, fines, or both, for companies that violate these provisions. The employment ministry maintains a database on child labor.

Poverty caused children to migrate to urban areas for work, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation in work as casual laborers, often with no safeguards against abuse or injury. Child labor continued in the informal sector and in hazardous work, for example, as wheelbarrow boys and casual laborers. Children engaged in hazardous work in agriculture and fishing. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). Some children worked in relatives’ homes and were vulnerable to involuntary domestic servitude or forced to engage in sexual activity in exchange for food, clothing, shelter, or school fees.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin, color, place of origin, gender, sexual orientation, birth, primary language, economic status, age, disability, HIV/AIDS status, social class, marital status (including living in a relationship in the nature of a marriage), employment status, family status, opinion, religion, or belief.

The law also stipulates that every employer pay male and female workers equal pay for work of equal value. The law prohibits women working underground but places no other legal limitations on the employment of women. Workers may file legal complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The government did not provide data on the enforcement of antidiscrimination provisions. Penalties for employment discrimination include fines and imprisonment and were commensurate with those for laws related to civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and wages occurred against women and persons with disabilities. Women generally received less pay than men for similar work. The nongovernmental Fiji Disabled People’s Association reported most persons with disabilities were unemployed due in significant part to discrimination by employers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There was no official poverty-level income figure, but the minimum wage did not typically provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The regulations stipulate all employers must display a written national minimum wage notice in their workplace to inform employees of their rights.

The employment ministry’s Office of Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, but the inspectorate lacked capacity to enforce the law effectively. The Employment Relations Tribunal and the Employment Court adjudicate cases of violations of minimum wage orders. The law provides for 48 hours for a six-day workweek or 45 hours for a five-day workweek. This does not apply to managerial or executive workers. There is no legal limit for overtime hours. Convictions for a breach of the minimum wage law result in a fine, imprisonment, or both. Penalties are commensurate with those for similar crimes such as fraud.

The government establishes appropriate workplace safety laws and regulations and places responsibility for identifying unsafe situations with experts, not workers. The Occupational Health and Safety Inspectorate monitored workplaces and equipment and investigated complaints from workers. The number of inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced visits but cannot enter without consent and must inform the employer of his or her presence. When inspectors believe informing the employer of their presence would prejudice the inspection, they may forgo this requirement. Obstruction of an inspection can lead to a fine. Inspectors can suspend businesses deemed to pose an immediate health or safety threat or risk. Penalties are commensurate with those for similar crimes like negligence. Government enforcement of safety standards suffered from a lack of trained personnel. Delays in compensation hearings and rulings were common.

Although the law excludes mines from general workplace health and safety laws, the director of mines is responsible for inspecting all mines to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of employees. The Employment Relations Tribunal and the Employment Court decide compensation claims filed by the inspectorate on behalf of workers.

Unions generally monitored safety standards in organized workplaces, but many work areas did not meet standards, and the ministry did not monitor all workplaces for compliance. Workers in some industries, notably security, transportation, and shipping, worked excessive hours.

There were no statistics available on the frequency or type of workplace accidents. The Ministry of Employment, however, reported in mid-February that it had 1,426 workplace injury and 247 workplace death cases pending compensation adjudication. Media reported on workplace death cases. For example, in August, Rajnesh Narayn died in an accident reported at the lumber mill where he had worked for 20 years. In another case, a worker died when crushed while moving equipment in a storage yard. The employer undertook to assist local investigators.

Finland

Executive Summary

The Republic of Finland is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral parliament (Eduskunta). The prime minister heads a five-party coalition government approved by parliament and appointed by the president in December 2019. The parliamentary election in April 2019 and the presidential election in 2018 were considered free and fair.

The national police maintain internal security. Both Finnish Customs and the Border Guard have law enforcement responsibilities related to their fields of responsibility. The Border Guard has additional law enforcement powers to maintain public order when it operates in joint patrols and under police command. The Defense Forces are responsible for safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity and providing military training. The Defense Forces also have some domestic security responsibilities, such as assisting the national police in maintaining law and order in crises. The national police and Border Guard report to the Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for police oversight, law enforcement, and maintenance of order; the Ministry of Defense oversees the Defense Forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. If police in one municipality kill a person, police in another municipality investigate whether the killing was justified. The director of investigation serves as the prosecutor in such cases.

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers. From September 7 to 18, a delegation from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture visited the country. The report on the visit was not yet published by year’s end.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires police to have a warrant issued by a prosecutor to make an arrest. Police must obtain a warrant within three days if an individual is arrested while committing a crime. Arrested persons must receive a court hearing within three days of arrest, and police must promptly inform detainees of the charges against them. Authorities respected most of these rights. Before trial most defendants awaiting trial are eligible for conditional release on personal recognizance. Detainees generally have access to a lawyer promptly after arrest. Persons detained for “minor” criminal offenses, however, do not have a right to an attorney from the outset of detention or prior to interrogation. The government must provide lawyers for the indigent.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Trials are fair and public, and take place without undue delay. Defendants have a right to be present at their trial and to consult an attorney of their choice in a timely manner before trial. The government provides attorneys at public expense if defendants cannot afford counsel. Authorities give defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants are provided free interpretation as necessary from the moment an individual is charged through all appeals. They may confront and question witnesses for the prosecution and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right of appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies through domestic courts for human rights violations. After they exhaust all avenues of appeal in national courts, persons and organizations may appeal court decisions involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Property Restitution

The government reports Finland did not confiscate property belonging to Jews during the Holocaust era, that Holocaust-era restitution has not been an issue, and that no litigation or restitution claims were pending before authorities regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration, which the government endorsed.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: Public speech intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group is a crime. Hate speech is not a separate criminal offense but may constitute grounds for an aggravated sentence for other offenses.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The distribution of hate material intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group in print or broadcast media, books, or online newspapers or journals is a crime.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with little restriction.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists who covered sensitive topics, including immigration, far-right organizations, and terrorism, reported harassment by private entities, including being targeted for defamation.

On January 10, the Helsinki District Court denied journalist Jessikka Aro’s application for a restraining order against Panu Huuhtanen and Tiina Keskimaki, whom she accused of harassment. Aro alleged that since 2018 the individuals harassed her online following her reporting on Russian disinformation activities, causing her fear and anxiety. The court acknowledged that the behavior of the individuals caused Aro fear but reasoned that the actual threat posed to Aro during speaking and other public engagements was not serious enough to warrant abridging the free speech rights of the two individuals. Previously Aro had been the target of a sustained, intense harassment campaign because of her work for which two other persons were convicted.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government continued to accept returned asylum seekers who had first entered in the country but then moved on to other European countries according to the Dublin Regulation. Transfers were suspended between March and May during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Human Rights Center stated that the government communicated poorly during the COVID-19 pandemic by issuing strongly worded recommendations concerning internal and cross-border travel that were broadly interpreted as legally binding rules. Under existing law the government may only recommend travel limitations for Finnish citizens.

Between March 28 and April 15, the government closed the borders of the Uusimaa region and blocked exit and entry with police officers. The parliamentary ombudsman investigated border controls and found police issued 117 fines, 159 warnings, and turned away 4,383 persons. The report concluded that police issued several unjustified fines for attempts to cross the regional border since, according to the law, attempts to violate movement restrictions are not punishable.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Refoulement: In November 2019 the ECHR ruled that the government violated the European Convention on Human Rights when it deported an Iraqi man to his country of origin, where he was allegedly killed three weeks later. Based on information subsequently received from Iraqi authorities, police believe he faked his own death after returning to Iraq.

The number of Russian-origin members of Jehovah’s Witnesses applying for asylum based on alleged religious persecution declined significantly. The Finnish Immigration Service rejected most of the claims by members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and unofficial reports indicated that asylum adjudicators did not consider membership in the church alone to be sufficient basis for an asylum claim. Over 50 cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses asylum applicants were pending before the Supreme Administrative Court. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses applicants whose appeals have been denied have already returned to Russia voluntarily.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Parliament sets an annual quota for refugee admissions, and the government decides its allocation. Asylum seekers have the right to free legal representation throughout their application procedure. According to civil society organizations, asylum seekers continued to lack adequate access to legal assistance during the initial stages of the asylum application process and during subsequent appeals. The Human Rights Center, a public institution affiliated with the parliamentary ombudsman, stated that minor improvements in legal assistance to asylum applicants were made during the year, including greater incentives for lawyers to represent applicants and quality controls instituted by the Finnish Immigration Service in the handling of asylum applications.

On July 8, 24 unaccompanied children arrived from Greece. They were being processed as unaccompanied asylum seekers.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation that establishes which EU member state is responsible for examining an asylum application.

Durable Solutions: According to the Finnish Immigration Service, in addition to the parliamentary quota, the government accepted 750 refugees for resettlement in 2019 under the EU’s refugee relocation program. The government also assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants to their home countries.

Temporary Protection: From January to August, the government provided temporary protection to 289 individuals who did not qualify as refugees but who were deemed to qualify for subsidiary protection. During the same period, the government also offered protection to 125 individuals based on “other grounds,” including medical and compassionate grounds.

g. Stateless Persons

According to the UNHCR, 2,801 stateless persons resided in the country at the end of 2019. Involuntarily stateless persons and certain other special groups, such as refugees, have a shorter residency requirement–four years instead of six–than other persons before they are eligible to apply for citizenship. A child may obtain citizenship from either the mother or father regardless of the child’s place of birth and may also acquire citizenship if the child is born in the country and would otherwise be stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country’s national parliamentary election in April 2019 and the presidential election in 2018 were considered free and fair. In January 2019 an evaluation by the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found evidence that preparations for the election were sufficiently transparent that the ODIHR did not recommend deploying any observers for the April election itself, although it noted a need to review campaign finance limits, self-reporting of financing, and access to the polls for persons with disabilities. The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman issued a similar call for greater accessibility at polling sites.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Financial Disclosure: By law, appointed and elected officials must each year declare their income, assets, and other private interests that could overlap with their official duties. Officials must make their initial declaration within two months of assuming office and declare any potential conflicts of interest that arise during their tenure. The law does not provide for specific criminal penalties for nondisclosure. By law income and asset information from the tax forms of all citizens must be made public each year.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliamentary ombudsman enjoyed the government’s cooperation, operated without government or party interference, and had adequate resources. The parliamentary ombudsman investigates complaints that a public authority or official failed to observe the law, fulfill a duty, or appropriately implement fundamental human rights protections.

The Human Rights Center operates as part of the parliamentary ombudsman’s office. The center’s functions include promoting human rights, reporting on the implementation of human rights obligations, and cooperating with European and international bodies on human rights matters. The center does not have authority to investigate individual human rights abuses. A delegation of representatives from civil society who participated in promoting and safeguarding human rights frequently cooperated with the center.

The parliamentary Constitutional Law Committee analyzes proposed legislation for consistency with international human rights conventions. The committee deals with legislation relating to criminal and procedural law, the courts, and the prison system.

The law requires the ombudsman for children, the nondiscrimination ombudsman, and the ombudsman for equality impartially to advance the status and legal protection of their respective reference groups. These ombudsmen operate under the Ministry of Justice. Responsibility for investigating employment discrimination rests solely with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

Responsibility for developing antidiscrimination policies and legislation as well as for the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations resides with the Ministry of Justice’s Unit for Democracy, Language Affairs, and Fundamental Rights. The Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations advocates for policy changes to improve integration.

The nondiscrimination ombudsman also operated as an independent government-oversight body that investigates discrimination complaints and promotes equal treatment within the government. The nondiscrimination ombudsman also acted as the national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings and supervised the government’s removal of foreign nationals from the country.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of persons of both sexes, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. Rape is punishable by up to six years’ imprisonment. If the offender used violence, the offense is considered aggravated, and the penalty may be more severe. The maximum penalties are six years’ imprisonment for rape and 10 years for aggravated rape. All sexual offenses against adults, except sexual harassment, are subject to public prosecution. Sexual offenses against a defenseless person (such as because of unconsciousness, intoxication or a disability) are considered as severe as rape.

Authorities may prosecute domestic abuse under various criminal laws, including laws prohibiting rape, assault and battery, harassment, and disturbing the peace. The penalty for physical domestic violence ranges from a minimum of six months to a maximum of 10 years in prison.

The current legal definition of rape emphasizes intentional violence, which civil society organizations alleged leads courts to find assailants not guilty in cases where the coercion was less explicit. In addition police must inquire about a party’s willingness to participate in reconciliation, which is usually engaged in before the case proceeds to the prosecutor. Reconciliation may be grounds for the prosecutor not to press charges, but even reconciliation where a mutual agreement has been reached does not prevent the prosecutor from pressing charges.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, continued to be a problem. The Finnish branch of Amnesty International estimated that more than 100,000 persons experienced violence annually in the country and that 76 percent of the victims were women. According to Amnesty International, only 10 percent of these incidents were reported to authorities and most of those reported did not lead to prosecution. While police are obligated to investigate domestic violence cases, most of the cases are referred to a mediator after which point the police do not closely track the cases. The situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in incidents of domestic violence, and the economic pressures the pandemic placed on the government led to a proposed 33-percent reduction in funding for civil society groups engaged with domestic violence and social health in the most recent government budget proposal. The ombudsman for equality at the Ministry of Justice highlighted problems with access to domestic violence shelters in remote rural areas.

The government funds shelters specifically for victims of domestic violence. The number of shelters increased to 29 from 28 in 2019 and the number of places available in shelters throughout the country increased to 211 from 179 in 2018. The number of clients assisted by shelters increased by 6 percent compared with 2018. The Finnish branch of Amnesty International highlighted the need for additional shelters for victims of intimate partner violence, stating that 550 places were needed to support the number of victims properly and that some rural areas had very few shelters and insufficient space in those shelters. The Human Rights Center, a national human rights institution affiliated with the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, acknowledged the problem.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is treated as aggravated assault under the law and may be punished with imprisonment or deportation. Taking a girl living in the country abroad for FGM/C is also considered a crime. The government generally enforced the law. A school health survey released by the Department of Health and Welfare (THL) in June found that 0.2 percent of girls attending high school or vocational school had undergone FGM/C and that at least 10 girls who answered the questionnaire were mutilated in Finland. The population that most reported having undergone FGM/C were Somali-born residents of the country. THL experts believed that the practice decreased over recent years among the country’s residents.

Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment as a specific, punishable offense with penalties ranging from fines to up to six months’ imprisonment. Employers who fail to protect employees from workplace harassment are subject to the same penalties. The prosecutor general is responsible for investigating sexual harassment complaints. The government generally enforced the law.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The government enforced the law effectively. The ombudsman for equality at the Ministry of Justice highlighted problems with workplace discrimination against pregnant women.

Children

Birth Registration: A child generally acquires citizenship at birth through one or both parents. A child may also acquire citizenship at birth if the child is born in the country and meets certain other criteria, such as if the parents have refugee status in the country or if the child is not eligible for any other country’s citizenship. A local registration office records all births immediately.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, defining children as individuals younger than age 16. Child negligence and physical or psychological violence carry penalties of up to six months in prison and up to two years in prison, respectively. Sexual abuse of a child carries a minimum penalty of four months imprisonment and a maximum of six years. The law defines rape of a minor (younger than 18) as aggravated rape. Rape of a child carries a minimum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a maximum of 10 years. Aggravated rape of a child carries a minimum penalty of four years imprisonment and a maximum of 12 years.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 18; the law disallows marriage of individuals under that age. An increase in the number of forced marriages continued. In the first half of the year, the Victims of Trafficking Assistance System reported 23 new cases of forced marriage (no gender breakdown provided). In 2019 the National Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking assisted 52 individuals (50 women/girls and two men/boys), more than double the number from 2018, considered to have been subjected to forced marriage. Many of these marriages occurred when the victim was underage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The country prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography and the sale, offering, or procuring of children for prostitution. The law prohibits purchase of sexual services from minors and covers “grooming” (enticement of a child), including in a virtual environment or through mobile telephone contacts. Authorities enforced the law effectively.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The law regards a person whose age cannot be determined, but who may reasonably be assumed to be younger than 18, as a child.

From January to July, there were 980 reported cases of child exploitation, compared with 1,000 cases during the same period in 2019. In June police passed to prosecutors a case involving a man suspected of multiple counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, aggravated child rape, and the possession and dissemination of indecent images of children. All of the more than 30 victims identified as of September were girls between ages eight and 14.

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

Anti-Semitism

Government statistics and Jewish leaders place the size of the Jewish population between 1,500 and 2,500 individuals, most living in the Helsinki area.

On January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the neo-Nazi group Towards Freedom! (Kohti Vapautta! in Finnish) claimed to burn an Israeli flag during a rally in Tampere. Police from the Central Finland Police Department subsequently announced that they were considering the flag burning a case of illegal ethnic agitation. On the same day, the synagogue in Turku was defaced with red paint. Police were investigating the incident as a property damage case but have made no arrests. President Sauli Niinisto and other government officials denounced the incidents in official statements.

On January 31, vandals defaced the building housing, inter alia, the Embassy of Israel with stickers of the banned Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM). The same night similar stickers were also placed on the synagogue of Helsinki’s Jewish Congregation. Similar incidents have happened numerous times in the past two years; police made no arrests in these incidents. The government provided funding for the security of the Helsinki synagogue. Representatives of the Jewish community reported feeling under threat and specifically targeted due to their beliefs.

The public broadcaster YLE reported that in April in Hamina, one tombstone was overturned and swastika painted on a second in a cemetery for Jewish officers of the Russian military in the 1800’s. On May 1, in nearby Kotka, a statue of Vladimir Lenin was vandalized with graffiti of the Star of David and the words “Mass murderer.” Police arrested a single suspect for both acts but released him for lack of evidence.

On September 21, the Supreme Court affirmed in a final decision the police’s banning of the NRM. The court found the organization’s activities were contrary to the constitution and laws. After an investigation, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) concluded that nine of the NRM’s members appeared in a new group Toward Freedom!. The NRM’s Finnish-language website came back into operation during the year and was still active at year’s end. Public displays of the NRM’s symbol decreased in frequency, although members continued to spray graffiti. These individuals held events in multiple cities and recruited new members for the Towards Freedom! group.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in all fields, including the provision of government services. The government effectively monitored compliance with these laws and implemented enforcement actions. The parliamentary ombudsman received more than 700 complaints over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which concerned access to disability services.

According to civil society groups, municipalities frequently break the law on the provision of disability services and in many cases do not budget enough money to provide such services. Allegedly municipalities routinely provided only the minimum services required by legislation regardless of the actual need for services. Sometimes services were denied, and the person with disabilities was instructed to appeal the decision, since an appeal lengthens the process of granting services. Representatives for the Association of Finnish municipalities claimed that many of these problems were due to labor shortages in municipal government and not due to intentional bias.

An expert from a civil society group asserted that legislation and practices surrounding mentally disabled persons’ labor and daily activities needed comprehensive reform. Conflicts between social welfare legislation and labor legislation created conditions where businesses could employ persons with disabilities for rehabilitative work without pay. The system does not take into consideration that individuals with intellectual disabilities are often capable of full- or part-time wage-labor on the same basis as others. Social welfare legislation defines labor activities as maintaining and improving capabilities, and a municipality may grant tax-free pay of between zero and 12 euros ($14.40) an hour for such activities. If the work requires guidance, it is seen as a daily activity rather than labor, meaning an employee may not receive even food in exchange for hours of work. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has acknowledged that too many persons with intellectual disabilities are not paid for their work.

In June parliament passed legislation requiring assisted-living facilities to have 0.7 caretakers per resident. The change will take place incrementally, starting with 0.5 caretakers per resident by October and coming fully into effect by April 2023. The legislative change followed findings that many such facilities were understaffed and unable to assist residents adequately during the night.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The law specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of origin and nationality. In June the ombudsman for equality reported that 80 percent of respondents with an African background experienced discrimination because of their skin color, 67 percent encountered discrimination or harassment in education, 60 percent encountered discrimination in the workplace, and 27 percent also experienced physical violence. Over one-half of the respondents answering the survey said they had not reported the discrimination to authorities due to their belief that reporting harassment would not accomplish anything.

Roma continued to face discrimination in all social sectors and were often targeted by law enforcement and security officials. The chief inspector of the ombudsman for equality confirmed in June that security officials, including police, have been observed profiling and discriminating against people based on ethnicity. The statement confirmed the key finding of a 2018 study that found that police officers, security guards, border agents, and customs officers targeted minorities due to ethnic background or skin color.

According to the Program for International Student Assessment of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an immigrant background disproportionally influenced educational results for students. According to a university researcher, students are often placed in Finnish-as-a-second-language classes regardless of their Finnish proficiency if their native language on record is something other than Finnish or if they have a “non-Finnish” name.

The nondiscrimination ombudsman is responsible for responding to complaints of discrimination and regularly mediated between business owners, government agencies, and public service providers regrading treatment of customers and clients. The Ministry of Justice also responds to complaints of discrimination.

The government strongly encouraged tolerance and respect for minority groups, sought to address racial discrimination, and assisted victims.

Indigenous People

The constitution provides for the protection of the Sami language and culture, and the government financially supported these efforts. The Sami, who constituted less than 0.1 percent of the population, have full political and civil rights as citizens as well as a measure of autonomy in their civil and administrative affairs. A 21-member Sami parliament (Samediggi), popularly elected by the Sami, is responsible for the group’s language, culture, and matters concerning their status as an indigenous people. It may adopt legally binding resolutions, propose initiatives, and provide policy guidance.

A report issued by the Sami parliament in February found that the linguistic rights of the Sami are not realized in the way intended by the constitution and the Sami Language Law. Deficiencies related to the number of Sami language personnel, accessibility of services, and the fact that, against the provisions of the Sami Language Law, Sami people must still separately invoke their linguistic rights for them to be recognized. Speakers of Inari Sami and Skolt Sami are in the most vulnerable positions, according to the report. In addition, as services are moved online and to centralized service telephone lines, authorities did not take into consideration the possibility of accessing these services in the Sami language. The funds appropriated for Sami language social and health care have not been indexed to inflation since 2004, and there were fears that social and health-care reform could further deplete services. There was also poor availability of Sami language pre-Kindergarten personnel, and the funding of Sami language pre-Kindergarten programs was inadequate.

The ombudsman for gender equality stated that Sami victims of domestic violence were at a disadvantage in accessing public shelters due to the long distances between population centers in the northern part of the country.

Sami objected to plans to develop an Arctic railway running from Helsinki to the northern border, citing the railway’s potential impact on natural resources critical for their livelihoods, including reindeer-herding land and Arctic nature tourism. The proposed railway remained on the zoning map released by the Regional Council of Lapland.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services, and the government enforced the law.

The law requires that a transgender person present a medical statement affirming the individual’s gender identity and a certificate of infertility before the government may legally recognize their gender identity. In addition to the requirement that an individual submit to sterilization, activists criticized the duration of the legal process, stating it may take up to three years to obtain identity documents with the new gender markers. Trafficking authorities and civil society stated they have no specialized services for transgender victims of trafficking and are unaware of their status among the trafficking-victim population.

While the law prohibits “conversion therapy” in medical settings, it continued to be practiced privately, most commonly in religious associations. The media reported that the Christian organization Journey Finland continued to practice conversion therapy.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

On September 11, the NBI arrested two men with links to far-right groups on suspicion of the attempted murder of the Finns Party election manager for Central Finland, Pekka Kataja. Kataja was attacked at his home on July 17 and suffered a fractured skull, cerebral hemorrhage, and broken ribs and fingers, told the press that he suspected far-right involvement in his attack because he had enemies in far-right groups. According to press reports, the detained men, Teemu Torssonen, a Jyvaskyla city council and city board member, and self-proclaimed ethno-nationalist Tero Ala-Tuuhonen, both had links to far-right groups, including the NRM. Kataja said he prevented Torssonen from running as a Finns Party parliamentary candidate in 2019 and in May expelled him from the party because of his extremism. Ala-Tuuhonen was also reportedly a leading figure in the far-right group Soldiers of Odin.

In February, Oulu city councilor Junes Lokka was fined for two counts of ethnic agitation. The city’s district court found that two online videos Lokka had posted in 2016 violated laws on human dignity and religious freedom by depicting Muslims and other immigrants as being inferior to others. One of the videos was a recording of a demonstration in Helsinki featuring anti-immigrant and Islamophobic speech. The second agitation charge was related to another video defaming immigrants and Muslims. Lokka had a previous conviction for ethnic agitation.

In November the Pirkanmaa District Court convicted and fined for ethnic agitation two members of the Finns Party’s youth wing, Toni Jalonen, the former deputy chairman of the Finns Party youth arm, and Johannes Sipola, chairman of the Finns Party’s Lapland chapter during the 2019 European election campaign. During that campaign, they published on Twitter a picture of a dark-skinned family with the text “Vote for the Finns Party so that Finland’s future won’t look like this.” A Facebook post during the same campaign included two figures dressed in black burkas with the accompanying text “Do you want our country to look like this? Don’t stay sleeping. Vote.” The court found that images and text published by the organization constituted incitement to ethnic hatred and were not acceptable as political speech. The tweet led the Ministry of Education and Culture to cancel and move to recover state funding granted to the organization. The youth organization appealed that decision in the administrative courts but filed for bankruptcy in June.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government effectively enforced all applicable laws regarding the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Workers without permanent residence may not be eligible to join voluntary unemployment insurance funds. Employers who violate the rights of employees to organize and retain employee representatives may face administrative measures, legal proceedings, and fines. The penalties were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes. Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and there were no reports of violations. All workers, regardless of sector union membership, or nationality, are entitled to the same wages negotiated between employers and trade unions via generally applicable collective agreements.

The law does not permit public-sector employees who provide “essential services,” including police officers, firefighters, medical professionals, and border guards, to strike. An official dispute board may make nonbinding recommendations to the cabinet on ending or limiting the duration of strikes when they threaten national security. Employees prohibited from striking may use arbitration to provide for due process in the resolution of their concerns.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for forced or compulsory labor depend on the severity of the crime and were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes. Despite strong penalties for violations, some cases of persons subjected to conditions of forced labor in the country were reported during the year.

Men and women working in the restaurant, cleaning, construction, and agriculture industries were the most likely to face conditions of forced labor. The sexual services sector, legal in certain circumstances, also saw incidences of trafficking and forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor but allows persons between ages 15 and 18 to enter into a valid employment contract as long as the work does not interrupt compulsory education. It provides that workers ages 15 to 18 may not work after 10 p.m. or under conditions that risk their health and safety, which the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health defines as working with mechanical, chemical, physical, or biological hazards or bodily strain that may result from lifting heavy loads.

Penalties for violations of child labor regulations are commensurate with those for other similar crimes. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment effectively enforced child labor regulations. There were no reports of children engaged in work outside the parameters established by law.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law broadly prohibits employment discrimination. Penalties for violations are commensurate with those for other similar crimes. The government effectively enforced applicable laws against employment discrimination.

The Occupational Safety Administration (OSHA) received 500 reports of workplace discrimination in 2019. Of the 180 reports that resulted in further inspection, 9 percent concerned ethnicity, nationality, language, or religion, a number similar to previous years, 9 percent concerned age discrimination, and 4 percent concerned disability.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

While there is no national minimum wage law, the law requires all employers, including nonunionized employers, to pay the minimum wages stipulated in collective bargaining agreements. Authorities adequately enforced wage laws.

The standard workweek established by law is no more than 40 hours of work per week with eight hours work per day. Because the law does not include a provision regarding a five-day workweek, regular work hours may, at least in principle, span six days. The regular weekly work hours may also be arranged so that the average is 40 hours during a period of no more than 52 weeks. Certain occupations, such as seamen, household workers, road transport workers, and workers in bakeries, are subject to separate workweek regulations. The law entitles employees working shifts or during the weekend to one 24-hour rest period per week. The law limits a worker to 250 hours of overtime per year and 138 overtime hours in any four-month period.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is responsible for labor policy and implementation, drafting labor legislation, improving the viability of working life and its quality, and promoting employment. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for enforcement of labor laws and regulations. In addition OSHA enforces appropriate safety and health standards and conducts inspections at workplaces. Individuals who commit work safety or working hours’ offenses are subject to penalties commensurate with similar crimes. The center informs employers of inspections in advance unless a surprise inspection is necessary for enforcement purposes. A subsequent inspection report gives employers written advice on how to remedy minor defects. In the case of serious violations, the inspector issues an improvement notice and monitors the employer’s compliance. When necessary, OSHA may issue a binding decision and impose a fine. If a hazardous situation involved a risk to life, an inspector could halt work on the site or issue a prohibition notice concerning the source of risk. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Authorities adequately enforced wage and overtime laws. Government resources, inspections, and penalties were adequate to deter most violations.

The law requires employees to report any hazards or risks they discover in working conditions, including in machinery, equipment, or work methods. The law also requires employees, where possible, to correct dangerous conditions that come to their attention. Such corrective measures must be reported to the employer.

France

Executive Summary

France is a multiparty constitutional democracy. Voters directly elect the president of the republic to a five-year term. President Emmanuel Macron was elected in 2017. An electoral college elects members of the bicameral parliament’s upper house (Senate), and voters directly elect members of the lower house (National Assembly). Observers considered the 2017 presidential and separate National Assembly elections to have been free and fair.

Under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior, a civilian national police force and gendarmerie units maintain internal security. In conjunction with specific gendarmerie units used for military operations, the army is responsible for external security under the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: violence against journalists; criminal defamation laws; and societal acts of violence and threats of violence against Jews, migrants and members of ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity was not widespread.

Note: The country includes 11 overseas administrative divisions covered in this report. Five overseas territories, in French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and La Reunion, have the same political status as the 13 regions and 96 departments on the mainland. Five divisions are overseas collectivities: French Polynesia, Saint-Barthelemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna. New Caledonia is a special overseas collectivity with a unique, semiautonomous status between that of an independent country and an overseas department. Citizens of these territories periodically elect deputies and senators to represent them in parliament, like the mainland regions and departments.

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. Mechanisms to investigate security force killings and pursue prosecutions include the police disciplinary body, the Inspector General of the National Police (IGPN), the Gendarmerie police disciplinary body, the Inspector General of the National Gendarmerie (IGGN), and a separate and independent magistrate that can investigate police abuses.

As of November 20, the country had experienced seven terrorist attacks during the year in Paris, Metz, the southeastern town of Romans-sur-Isere, Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, and Nice. A total of seven persons were killed and 12 injured. Each attack was carried out by a single individual. Police killed three attackers, injured one, and arrested three others for the attacks. In one of the attacks on January 3, for example, a man stabbed several persons in the Parisian suburb of Villejuif while reportedly yelling “Allahu akbar.” He killed one person and injured two others before police killed him. The national antiterrorist prosecutor’s office (PNAT) took jurisdiction of the investigation due to the suspect’s evident radicalization and planning for the attack. On October 29, a Tunisian terrorist killed three Christian worshippers in a church in Nice.

b. Disappearance

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

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were a number of accusations that security and military personnel committed abuses.

On March 24, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published a report on its 2018 visit to examine the treatment and conditions of persons detained under immigration and asylum law. In each of the five administrative detention centers visited, a small number of persons claimed to have been physically abused by border police officials, most often in the context of verbal altercations. Several persons also reported insults, in particular of a racist nature, and disrespectful remarks on the part of border police officials, in the detention centers and in the waiting area (terminals and ZAPI 3) of the Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport.

During the year there were reports that police used excessive force during regular antigovernment demonstrations by “Yellow Vest” protesters over perceived social inequality and loss of purchasing power, demonstrations against pension reforms in late 2019 and at the beginning of the year, and protests against alleged police racism and brutality. The annual report of the Inspector General of the National Police (IGPN), published on June 8, found that the number of investigations carried out by the inspectorate increased by nearly a quarter, compared with the same period in 2019. More than half of the 1,460 investigations pertained to “willful violence” by officers, a 41 percent increase from 2018, while nearly 39 percent of the cases of alleged police use of force pertained to public demonstrations. The report noted that the Yellow Vest protests had led to “an overload for the IGPN” with 310 related complaints.

On July 16, judicial sources announced three police officers were charged with manslaughter after the January death of a Paris delivery driver from asphyxia during his arrest by police. A fourth police officer was under investigation but had not been charged. The victim, Cedric Chouviat, was stopped by police close to the Eiffel Tower on January 3 in a routine traffic stop. In a video acquired by investigators, Chouviat was heard saying, “I’m suffocating,” seven times in 22 seconds as police held him down, allegedly in a chokehold.

Following several protests across the country against police violence and racism, on June 8, then interior minister Castaner announced adoption of new measures, including banning police use of chokeholds, improving and continuing training, requiring law enforcement officers to make their police identification number visible, increasing the use of body cameras, suspending officers under investigation for racism, and strengthening the IGPN to make it more “coherent” and independent.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

While prisons and detention centers met international standards, credible NGOs and government officials reported overcrowding and unhygienic conditions in prisons.

Physical Conditions: As of July 1, the overall occupancy rate in the country’s prisons stood at 97 percent (58,695 prisoners for 60,592 spaces), with the rate at some facilities reaching 150 percent. Due to COVID-19 prevention measures, the number of prisoners hit a record low, the first time in decades the overall prison population was below capacity.

On May 20, the Ministry of Justice released an internal memo directing its prosecutors and judges to apply fully a March 25 legal reform that limits new prison entries and ensures the prison population remains within capacity. The internal memo requires “sustained mobilization in favor of penalty adjustment,” which in practice leads to curtailing some sentences as they near completion and limits courts’ ability to apply short prison sentences.

NGOs agreed that detention conditions for women were often better than for men because overcrowding was less common.

The CPT visited five administrative detention centers, four waiting areas, and the Franco-Italian border to examine the situation of persons not admitted to French territory. In its March 24 report, the CPT expressed concern regarding the austerity of the facilities, the absence of activities for detainees, and the lack of contact with staff. The visit to the “sheltering” premises at a police station in Menton-Pont-Saint-Louis for detained migrants revealed substandard physical conditions. A small number of detainees also claimed to have been subjected to violence by codetainees.

Overcrowding in overseas territories tracked the national trends. The Ministry of Justice reported in July that the occupancy rate for all prisons in overseas territories was 100 percent and reached 149 percent at the Faa’a Nuutania prison in French Polynesia.

On January 30, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the state violated protections in the European Convention on Human Rights against inhuman and degrading treatment by allowing overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in its prisons after it heard complaints from 32 inmates held in prisons in Nice, Nimes, and Fresnes as well as the overseas territories of Martinique and French Polynesia. In response to the decision, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on July 8 that allows judges to release prisoners when they determine detention conditions to be degrading. The Supreme Court reversed case law, ruling that it was up to the judge to ensure adequate detention conditions and that if conditions violating human dignity could not be remedied, the judge should order the prisoner’s immediate release.

Administration: Authorities generally conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, both local and foreign. In addition to periodic visits by the CPT, the UN Committee against Torture regularly examined prisons. On July 6-10, a CPT delegation carried out an ad hoc visit to assess the situation of persons deprived of their liberty in Alsace, a region particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The delegation visited various detention facilities and examined measures taken to protect both detainees and staff before, during, and after the two-month COVID-19 lockdown imposed by authorities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements, but lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires police to obtain warrants based on sufficient evidence prior to detaining suspects, but police may immediately arrest suspects caught committing an illegal act. While in police custody, a person has the right to know the legal basis and expected duration of the detention, to remain silent, to have representation by counsel, to inform someone such as a family member or friend, and to be examined by a medical professional. Defense lawyers have the right to ask questions throughout an interrogation. Authorities generally respected these rights.

The law allows authorities to detain a person up to 24 hours if police have a plausible reason to suspect such person is committing or has committed a crime. A district prosecutor has the authority to extend a detention by 24 hours. A special judge, however, has the authority to extend detention by 24-hour periods up to six days in complex cases, such as those involving drug trafficking, organized crime, and acts of terrorism. A system of bail exists, and authorities made use of it.

Detainees generally have access to a lawyer, and the government provides legal counsel to indigent detainees. The law also requires medical examiners to respect and maintain professional confidentiality. The law forbids complete strip searches except in cases where authorities suspect the accused of hiding dangerous items or drugs.

Pretrial Detention: Long delays in bringing cases to trial and lengthy pretrial detention were problems. Although standard practice allowed pretrial detention only in cases involving possible sentences of more than three years in prison, some suspects spent many years in detention before trial. As of July pretrial detainees made up 34 percent of the prison population.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary. The government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality, although delays in bringing cases to trial were a problem. The country does not have an independent military court; the Paris Tribunal of Grand Instance (roughly equivalent to a district court) tries any military personnel alleged to have committed crimes outside the country.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The usual length of time between charging and trial was approximately three years. Defendants enjoyed a presumption of innocence, and authorities informed defendants of the charges against them at the time of arrest. Except for those involving minors, trials were public. Trials were held before a judge or tribunal of judges, except in cases where the potential punishment exceeded 10 years’ imprisonment. In such cases a panel of professional and lay judges heard the case. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Authorities provided an attorney at public expense if needed when defendants faced serious criminal charges. Defendants were able to question the testimony of prosecution witnesses and present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Authorities allowed defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to remain silent and to appeal. Defendants who do not understand French are provided with an interpreter.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters and access to a court to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Individuals may file complaints with the European Court of Human Rights for alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the government once they have exhausted avenues for appeal through the domestic courts.

Property Restitution

France endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. The government has laws and mechanisms in place for property restitution, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. The country has restitution and reparation measures in place covering all three types of immovable property: private, communal, and heirless.

In 2014 France and the United States signed the bilateral Agreement on Compensation for Certain Victims of Holocaust-Related Deportation from France Who Are Not Covered by French Programs. The agreement provides an exclusive mechanism to compensate persons who survived deportation from France (or their spouse or other designee) but did not benefit from the pension program established by the government for French nationals or from international agreements concluded by the government to address Holocaust deportation claims. Pursuant to the agreement, the government of France transferred $60 million to the United States, which the United States used to make payments to claimants that it determined to be eligible under the agreement.

France endorsed the 1998 Washington Principles on Nazi-confiscated Art and set up a commission to address the restitution of and/or compensation, primarily providing compensation to individual victims or their heirs. As of year’s end, few artworks had been returned, in part because France had not yet passed a law permitting state museums to deaccession objects in their collections. Critics contend that restitution was haphazard and that French museums were slow or even loathe to return Nazi-looted art.

The country’s government launched an official mission in 2019 for the discovery and restitution of Nazi-looted art held in French museums. A newly dedicated office within the Ministry of Culture, the Mission for Research and Restitution of Stolen Cultural Property, employed a five-person staff and a 200,000 euro ($240,000) annual budget to seek out the rightful owners or heirs of artworks, including those in museums and galleries, stolen or sold under duress during the country’s occupation. The office coordinated research and investigated claims submitted to the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation (CIVS). It also mobilized museum experts, supported university-level research, and aided in the appointment of in-house specialists at art institutions. As of April 2019, the Ministry of Culture did not have the final say on restitution; the authority for final decisions on restitution rests with the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation under the Office of the Prime Minister. The separation of authority seeks to address criticisms that museum officials would be reluctant to hand over valuable artwork. The office worked closely with counterparts in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, in addition to museums and universities. The Ministry of Culture also stated it would take a more active role in the search and restitution of stolen properties.

On July 1, in a final and definitive ruling, the Supreme Court upheld a decision to restore a Camille Pissarro painting to the descendants of a Jewish family who owned the artwork before it was seized during World War II. “The Picking of Peas,” painted in 1887 and stolen in 1943, reappeared in Paris in 2017. A foreign couple claimed to own it, but several courts ruled the work belonged to the descendants of Jewish collector Simon Bauer and ordered its restitution.

On September 30, a Paris appeals court ordered the French state to return three pieces of art to the heirs of a Jewish collector who died in a German concentration camp in 1945. The artworks by Andre Derain were housed at the modern art museum in Troyes and the Cantini museum in Marseille. They had initially been in the collection of Parisian gallery owner Rene Gimpel, who was denounced by a rival dealer after joining the resistance. The works were expropriated when he was arrested. In the ruling, the court overturned the judgment of a lower court that in 2019 rejected a bid for the artworks’ restitution to Gimpel’s heirs. The lower court had found there were doubts regarding the authenticity of the paintings, but appeals judges stated there were “accurate, serious and consistent indications” that the works were the same ones taken from Gimpel.

On September 25, the Council of State–the country’s top administrative court–rejected two travelers’ associations’ claims for restitution of goods looted during World War II. The UDAF and FLV associations asked the Council of State to annul or expand provisions of a 1999 decree that provides compensation for “victims of looting under the anti-Semitic laws.” But in a ruling that closely followed prior decisions, the court found it legal to differentiate between victim groups, because only Jews were subject to a “policy of systematic extermination” under the Nazi occupation and laws.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The constitution and law prohibit interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and there were no reports of government failure to respect these prohibitions.

The government continued implementing amendments to the law passed in 2015 that allow specialized intelligence agencies to conduct without approval from a judge real-time surveillance on both networks and individuals for information or documents regarding a person identified as posing a terrorist threat. Following passage of the amendments, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court that hears cases in first and last instance and is both advisor to the government and the Supreme Administrative Court, issued three implementing decrees designating the agencies that may engage in such surveillance, including using devices to establish geolocation.

To prevent acts of terrorism, the law permits authorities to restrict and monitor the movement of individuals, conduct administrative searches and seizures, close religious institutions for disseminating violent extremist ideas, implement enhanced security measures at public events, and expand identity checks near the country’s borders. The core provisions of the antiterrorism law were to expire at the end of the year unless renewed by parliament.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: While individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, there were some limitations on freedom of speech. Strict antidefamation laws prohibit racially or religiously motivated verbal and physical abuse. Written or oral speech that incites racial or ethnic hatred and denies the Holocaust or crimes against humanity is illegal. Authorities may deport a noncitizen for publicly using “hate speech” or speech constituting a threat of terrorism.

On June 18, the Constitutional Council invalidated core provisions of the new law against online hate speech, adopted by parliament on May 13. The so-called Avia Law required online platforms to remove within 24 hours the following: hateful content based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and religion; language trivializing genocide or crimes against humanity; and content deemed sexual harassment. Content related to terrorism and child pornography had to be removed within one hour of being flagged by a user. Social media companies faced fines up to 1.25 million euros ($1.75 million) if they failed to remove the content within the required timeframes. The Constitutional Council ruled that these provisions of the law infringed on freedom of speech and were “not appropriate, necessary, and proportionate.”

On June 19, the Constitutional Court found unconstitutional the law against downloading and possessing files that condone or justify terrorism. The judges found it violated freedoms of expression and communication and stated it was duplicative of existing antiterrorist laws. Introduced following the 2015 wave of terrorist attacks, the law was intended to “prevent the indoctrination of individuals susceptible to commit such acts.”

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals were subject to the same antidefamation and hate-speech laws that limited freedom of expression.

The law provides protection to journalists who may be compelled to reveal sources only in cases where serious crimes occurred and access to a journalist’s sources was required to complete an official investigation.

Violence and Harassment: In 2019 the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) noted growing hatred directed at reporters in the country and an “unprecedented” level of violence from both protesters and riot police directed at journalists during Yellow Vest protests between 2018 and May 2019. The RSF, which reported dozens of cases of police violence and excessive firing of flash-ball rounds at reporters, filed a complaint with the Paris public prosecutor’s office in December 2019. As of year’s end, the investigations were ongoing.

On September 17, Interior Minister Darmanin introduced a new national law-enforcement doctrine aimed at reducing injuries by law enforcement personnel during demonstrations. Certain provisions, including the designation of a referent officer responsible for engaging credentialed members of the press aroused concern from human rights and press organizations, who argued the rules could be used to restrict press access. On September 22, the RSF and 40 media companies requested clarification from Interior Minister Darmanin.

UNESCO’s September report, Safety of Journalists Covering ProtestsPreserving Freedom of the Press During Times of Civil Unrest, pointed to the use of flash ball ammunition by French law enforcement agencies as an example of disproportionate use of force. Several journalists were injured by flash balls in 2018, including Boris Kharlamoff, a journalist for the audio press agency A2PRL, who claimed he was hit in the side even though he presented a press badge, and Liberation reporter Nicolas Descottes, who was struck in the face.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, although it does not carry the possibility of imprisonment as punishment. The law distinguishes between defamation, which consists of the accusation of a particular fact, and insult, which does not.

National Security: The Committee to Protect Journalists raised concerns about police and prosecutors questioning reporters on national security grounds.

Nongovernmental impact: On September 2, to mark the start of the trial of the January 2015 attacks against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the magazine reprinted on its front page the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that led terrorists to target its headquarters. The reprinted cover provoked condemnation from several Muslim countries and threats from al Qaeda. After receiving death threats, Charlie Hebdo senior staffer Marika Bret required police assistance to be exfiltrated from her home on September 14. On September 23, more than 100 news outlets signed an open letter calling for public support of Charlie Hebdo.

Internet Freedom

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

Under the law intelligence services have the power to monitor suspected threats to public order and detect future terrorists. The law also provides a legal framework for the intelligence services’ activities. Laws against hate speech apply to the internet.

In a May 28 report, the Central Office on the Fight against Crimes Linked to Information and Communication Technology announced it had ordered the removal of 4,332 terrorist-related online contents from February to the end of December, 2019, a 57 percent decrease compared with the previous year. Of 30,883 URLs that internet users flagged to authorities, the report noted it assessed 14,327 (46 percent) of them to be illegal, including 656 URLs related to terrorism–a 63 percent decrease from 2018. The office attributed the drop in terrorist-related content to less online publication by terrorist organizations and to successful EUROPOL efforts in countering and preventing terrorist propaganda online. The majority of illegal content the office found related to child pornography.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, subject to certain security conditions, and the government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government enacted security legislation in 2019 that gave security forces greater powers at demonstrations, including the power to search bags and cars in and around demonstrations. It also approved making it a criminal offense for protesters to conceal their faces at demonstrations, punishable by one year in prison and 15,000 euros ($18,000) in fines.

In 2019, 210 persons were detained under a new ban on wearing face coverings to protests, which many did to protect themselves from police tear gas In a report released on September 29, Amnesty International accused authorities of using “vague laws” to crack down on antigovernment protesters and deter others from exercising their right to demonstrate. The report said many peaceful demonstrators had been fined, arrested, and prosecuted. According to Amnesty, more than 40,000 persons were convicted in 2018 and 2019 “on the basis of vague laws” for crimes including “contempt of public officials,” “participation in a group with a view to committing violent acts,” and “organizing a protest without complying with notification requirements.”

On January 27, then interior minister Christophe Castaner announced police would stop using GLI-F4 grenades, tear gas grenades containing 26 grams of TNT, that reportedly injured numerous protesters at demonstrations.

On September 17, the government enacted legislation establishing a new doctrine for maintaining order at demonstrations that was intended to be “more protective for the demonstrators” and “reduce the number of injured during demonstrations.” Among the changes are replacing the hand grenade model that is in service with a new model deemed less dangerous, putting in place stricter supervision of defense ball launchers, and implementing the widespread presence of a “supervisor” who assists the shooters to “assess the overall situation and the movements of the demonstrators.”

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The law permits the government to cancel and seize passports and identification cards of French nationals in some circumstances, such as when there are serious reasons to believe that they plan to travel abroad to join a terrorist group or engage in terrorist activities.

On March 16, President Macron announced nationwide lock-down measures aimed at curbing the COVID 19 pandemic outbreak. Residents were asked to stay at home except to buy groceries, travel to work, exercise, or seek medical care. Approximately 100,000 police and gendarmes were mobilized throughout the country to enforce the measures, including with the help of drones and helicopters in some regions. Violators faced fines of 135 euros ($162) for first-time offenders, increasing to 3,700 euros ($4,440) for multiple offenses with maximum punishment of up to six months in prison for more than four offenses in a single month.

The Ministry of the Interior announced that police executed 20.7 million interventions, resulting in 1.1 million fines and 570 trials. Several cities and municipalities, including Nice and Cannes, introduced curfews. The country never completely closed its borders, but travel became heavily restricted beginning in April. Persons travelling from within Europe were allowed in for essential reasons only and needed to present travel permits at the border. After eight weeks, the government lifted lockdown measures on May 11. On June 15, the government lifted coronavirus restrictions on movement at its European borders (land, air, and sea) for EU members and a few other countries.

On October 14, President Macron announced a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in areas most impacted by COVID-19, which included Paris and the Ile-de-France region, Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Aix-Marseille, Montpellier, Rouen, Saint-Etienne, and Toulouse. On October 22, Prime Minister Castex announced the extension of the curfew to an additional 38 departments in France, bringing the total number of persons who must adhere to the restrictive measures to 46 million (two-thirds of population) in 54 departments.

On October 28, President Macron announced a second wave of nationwide lock-down measures aimed at curbing the COVID 19 pandemic outbreak. French citizens were required to stay at home except to buy groceries, go to school, travel to work, exercise, or seek medical care.

In-country Movement: The law requires persons engaged in itinerant activities with a fixed domicile to obtain a license that is renewable every four years. Itinerant persons without a fixed abode must possess travel documents.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Calais continued to be a gathering point for migrants from the Middle East and Africa trying to reach the United Kingdom. As of September authorities estimated that approximately 1,000 migrants and refugees lived around Calais, while support groups said the number was closer to 1,500.

On July 21, several human rights groups warned in a letter to Interior Minister Darmanin that hundreds of migrants in the Calais area “no longer had access to drinking water, showers, [and] food.” The regional prefect claimed that two meal distribution sites were functioning and had the capacity to distribute 1,000 meals per day. He stated, “We also have shuttles bringing people to showers, and demand has been consistent for several weeks with about 150 showers per day.” In a September 24 statement issued following a two-day visit to Calais, however, the defender of rights denounced the “degrading and inhumane” living conditions of migrants living in the city. On September 25, the Council of State refused to suspend the order issued by the region’s prefect banning feeding migrants in the center of Calais. On September 29, police dismantled a camp of an estimated 800 migrants and refugees there. According to the prefect, it was the largest dismantling of a Calais camp since the “Jungle” was cleared of approximately 9,000 migrants in 2015 and 2016. The Pas-de-Calais prefecture asserted that conditions in the 500 tents at the site posed “serious problems of security, health, and order,” particularly for staff and patients of a nearby health center. The evacuated migrants were brought to shelters in Pas-de-Calais, other departments in the north, and other regions of the country.

On July 7, the Aix-en-Provence Court of Appeals upheld the May 7 conviction of two police officers for the illegal arrest in April of a legally documented Afghan refugee. The officers drove the man 18 miles from the point of arrest and abandoned him; he also claimed they beat him. One officer received a three-year prison sentence (one year suspended), and the other 18 months (six months suspended), a reduction of their original sentences. The officers were prohibited from police work, one permanently and one for three years.

On July 2, the European Court of Human Rights convicted France for violating protections against inhuman and degrading conditions, prohibited by the European Convention on Human Rights, in the 2013 case of three adult male asylum seekers. The court awarded the victims a total of 32,000 euros ($38,400). The court noted the individuals had to wait between 90 and 131 days before being able to register their asylum claims, rather than the 15 days France required at the time. After registering, the men still could not access lodging and the temporary allowance for asylum seekers, forcing them to live on the streets for months.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including English, Albanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Tamil, and Arabic. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance. Applications for asylum must be made on French territory or at a French border-crossing point. Asylum seekers outside of the country may request from a French embassy or consulate a special visa for the purpose of seeking asylum. After arrival in France, the visa holder must follow the same procedure as other asylum seekers in France; however, the visa holder is authorized to work while his or her asylum application is processed and evaluated, unlike other applicants. Asylum seekers may appeal decisions of OFPRA to the National Court on Asylum Law.

In 2018 parliament adopted an asylum and immigration bill intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shorten from 120 to 90 days the period asylum seekers have to make an application. It also includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention, extend from 45 to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention, and from 16 to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The law extends the duration of residence permits for persons granted subsidiary protection and for stateless refugees from one year to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to strengthen the protection of girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons cannot be considered “safe,” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence. By law unaccompanied migrant children are taken into the care of the child protection system.

OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture.

On September 29, the Anafe migrant assistance group alleged rights violations on the country’s borders, including officials preventing new arrivals from filing asylum claims. “France violates daily the international conventions it has ratified, European law, and its own internal legislation,” Anafe claimed. The report claimed authorities engaged in illegal practices, abuse of procedures, and violations of fundamental rights.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 16 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary protection that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, Ghana, India, Kosovo, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Senegal, and Serbia.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners pending deportation. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days, except in cases related to terrorism. There were 23 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories, with a total capacity of 1,970 persons.

On September 22, six refugee and migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, the Inter-Movement Committee for Aid of Evacuees (Cimade), Ordre de Malte, and Solidarite Mayotte) released a joint annual report that estimated 54,000 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2019, representing a 20 percent increase from 45,000 persons in such centers in 2018.

According to the associations’ annual report, the government detained 3,380 children, including 3,101 in Mayotte. The report noted, however, that in 80 percent of the cases, the duration of detentions did not exceed 24 hours. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the provision of the 2018 asylum and immigration bill that doubled the maximum detention time for foreigners subject to deportation to up to 90 days. In 2019 the government did not report uniformly screening migrants in Mayotte for trafficking indicators prior to their deportation. The government did not report taking steps to address the 3,000 to 4,000 unaccompanied Comorian minors at risk for sex and labor trafficking in the French department of Mayotte by offering protection services such as medical, shelter, or education.

Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2018, the latest year for which statistics were available, the government voluntarily repatriated 10,678 undocumented migrants, including 2,709 minors, to their countries of origin. As of April the government offered an allowance of 650 euros ($780) per person (adults and children) for voluntary return for all asylum seekers coming from countries whose citizens need a visa for France and 300 euros ($360) per person (adults and children) coming from countries whose citizens do not need a visa for France and citizens coming from Kosovo.

A parliamentary report released on September 23 found that despite recognizing significant progress since 2018, progress remained to be made in the integration of refugees and asylum seekers in the country. The report stressed the need to improve access to French learning and employment. It recommended the creation of counselors specialized in accompanying refugees to facilitate access to employment.

Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and may extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2019, the most recent year for which information was available.

g. Stateless Persons

OFPRA reported there were 1,493 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2019. It attributed statelessness to various factors, including contradictions among differing national laws, government stripping of nationality, and lack of birth registration. As the agency responsible for the implementation of international conventions on refugees and stateless persons, OFPRA provided benefits to stateless persons. OFPRA’s annual report stated that it made 364 stateless status requests in 2019 and granted stateless status to 56 persons in 2019. The government provided a one-year residence permit marked “private and family life” to persons deemed stateless that allowed them to work. After two permit renewals, stateless persons could apply for and obtain a 10-year residence permit.

The law affords persons the opportunity to gain citizenship. A person may qualify to acquire citizenship if: either of the person’s parents is a citizen, the person was legally adopted by a citizen, the person was born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child, or the person marries a citizen. A person who has reached the legal age of majority (18) may apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years of habitual residence in the country. Applicants for citizenship must have good knowledge of both the French language and civics.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the 2017 presidential and separate parliamentary (National Assembly) elections to have been free and fair.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: On November 23, former president Nicolas Sarkozy stood trial on corruption charges for trying to obtain classified information through his lawyer from a judge. Prosecutors claimed he offered to help the judge obtain a well paid post in Monaco in exchange for the information, leading to charges of corruption and influence peddling.

On May 27, the former mayor of Levallois-Perret, Patrick Balkany, and his wife, Isabelle, lost their appeal of a money laundering and tax fraud conviction. They were sentenced to prison terms of five and four years respectively. They remained free, however, pending an appeal to the country’s highest court. In March the two lost an appeal against tax fraud convictions after they were found guilty of using offshore accounts to hide at least 13 million euros ($15.6 million) in assets. The appeals court upheld the seizure of assets fine of one million euros ($1.2 million) in damages, declaring the couple had implemented a system of “persistent fraud.” The couple was also sentenced to 10 years’ political ineligibility and fined 100,000 euros ($120,000) each.

On June 26, the inspector general of the National Police placed six officers from a Paris unit into custody on charges of theft, drug possession, and extorting money from drug dealers. In July, four of them were formally charged. The officers were part of the Security and Intervention Unit (CSI 93) in the Seine-Saint-Denis department, one of the poorest in the country. CSI 93, tasked with addressing urban violence and crime, had 17 preliminary investigations open against its officers for violations. On September 22, the inspector general placed four other officers in custody on violence and forgery charges.

Financial Disclosure: The president, members of parliament and the European Parliament, ministers, regional and departmental council heads, mayors of larger communities, and directors of government-owned companies (post office, railway, and telephone) are required to declare their personal assets to the Commission for the Financial Transparency of Political Life at the beginning and end of their terms. The commission issued and made available to the public periodic reports on officials’ financial holdings on a discretionary basis at least once every three years. Officials who fail to comply are subject to sanctions.

The Central Office for Combating Corruption and Financial and Tax Crimes investigated offenses including tax fraud, influence peddling, and failure of elected officials to make financial disclosures or report their own violations of the law.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights organizations generally operated, investigated, and published their findings on human rights cases without government restrictions. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) advised the government on human rights and produced an annual report on racism and xenophobia. Domestic and international human rights organizations considered the CNCDH independent and effective. Observers considered the Defender of Rights independent and effective, with access to all necessary resources.

Following the spring protests against police violence and racism, on September 8, the National Assembly established an investigative committee to assess the ethics of police actions, practices, and law and order doctrine.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. The penalty for rape is 15 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased. The government and NGOs provided shelters, counseling, and hotlines for rape survivors.

The law prohibits domestic violence against women and men, including spousal abuse, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. The penalty for domestic violence against either gender varies from three years to 20 years in prison and a substantial fine.

In November 2019 the government’s Interministerial Agency for the Protection of Women against Violence and Combatting Human Trafficking published data showing that in 2018 approximately 213,000 women older than 18 declared they had been victims of physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner or former partner. The agency reported that, over the same period, 94,000 women declared they had been victims of rape or attempted rape.

In December 2019 the National Observatory of Crime and Criminal Justice, an independent public body, and the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) published a joint study showing that the number of persons who considered themselves victims of sexual violence committed by a person who did not live with them declined from 265,000 in 2017 to 185,000 in 2018. In 2017 there was a sharp increase in the number of estimated victims, so despite this decline the 2018 estimate reflected the second-highest level since the organizations began collecting data in 2008.

The government sponsored and funded programs for women victims of violence, including shelters, counseling, hotlines, free mobile phones, and a media campaign. The government also supported the work of 25 associations and NGOs dedicated to addressing domestic violence.

In September 2019 the government launched a national forum (grenelle) on domestic violence and brought together dozens of ministers, judges, police officers, victims’ relatives and feminist groups. Approximately 100 conferences took place across the country from September to November 2019. At the closure of the series of consultations in November 2019, the international day for the prevention of violence against women, then prime minister Philippe announced 43 measures aimed at preventing domestic violence against women, focusing on three areas: education (educating children on gender equality); protection (ensuring the immediate safety of victims and their children); and restriction (preventing further violence from the perpetrators). Among concrete measures announced were the creation of 1,000 new places in shelters for survivors and improved training for those who work with survivors of domestic violence. On November 25, the government reported that among the 43 measures announced, 23 of them had been implemented and that 1,000 places in shelters were available to women who had to get away from their homes.

On October 9, the High Council for Equality issued a report assessing the results of its commission on domestic violence. The high council noted persistent failures in caring for victims and called for a sixth interministerial plan, to include annual assessments of implementation. The report called for funding “at the level of need,” citing the estimated annual, societal cost of domestic violence of 3.6 billion euros ($4.3 billion). The high council issued 44 recommendations to “better protect women” and “put an end to the impunity of attackers.”

On July 21, parliament adopted a bill to protect domestic violence victims that authorizes doctors to waive medical confidentiality and report to police if a patient’s life is in “immediate danger.” The law reinforces harassment penalties and includes a 10-year prison sentence in cases where violence led to a victim’s suicide. The law also makes it possible to suspend parental authority in cases of domestic violence.

Starting on September 25, judges in five courts (Bobigny, Pontoise, Douai, Angouleme, and Aix-en-Provence) may order domestic violence offenders to wear electronic tracking bracelets. A GPS monitor alerts victims and police if known abusers come within a certain distance of their victims. Judges may order GPS trackers for men charged with assault, even if not yet convicted, provided sufficient grounds are met and the suspect accepts. If a suspect refuses, the judge may order prosecutors to open a criminal inquiry. Victims will be given a warning device, and alleged offenders must submit to restraining orders as defined by judges.

The government estimated more than 200,000 women were victims of marital violence each year, with many cases never reported. Official statistics showed that 149 women were killed in domestic violence cases in 2019, up from 121 in 2018. On November 16, the Ministry of Interior reported 142,310 individuals, both men and women, reported being victims of domestic violence in 2019, representing a 16 percent increase from the previous year. Women represented 88 percent of the victims, while men represented 12 percent. Three percent of the crimes reported concerned rape or sexual assault, with women being the victims in 98 percent of cases. On March 26, then interior minister Castaner stated reports of domestic violence across the country had jumped by more than 30 percent since the COVID-19 lockdown began on March 17. The sharp rise in the numbers prompted the government to establish temporary support centers outside supermarkets and provide pharmacists with guidelines to advise domestic abuse victims who sought help. The government agreed to pay for 20,000 overnight stays in hotels and shelters for survivors who left their partners during the lockdown. The feminist collective Nous Toutes reported that, as of September 29, 69 women had been killed by their partners or former partners since the beginning of the year.

On March 16, a Paris court found the State guilty of negligence for police failure to prevent a woman’s former partner from murdering her and ordered payment of 100,000 euros ($120,000) to her family. A woman whose sister and parents were murdered by the sister’s former partner asked a court to find the state responsible for their deaths, again citing failure to protect.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was practiced in the country, particularly within diaspora communities. Various laws prohibit FGM/C and include extraterritorial jurisdiction, allowing authorities to prosecute FGM/C, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, even if it is committed outside the country, and up to 30 years if the FGM/C leads to the death of the victim. The government provided reconstructive surgery and counseling for FGM/C victims.

According to the latest statistics available from the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination, between 40,000 and 60,000 FGM/C survivors resided in the country. The majority were recent immigrants from sub-Saharan African countries where FGM/C was prevalent and where the procedure was performed. According to the Group against Sexual Mutilation, 350 excisions were performed in the country each year. In June 2019 then junior minister of gender equality and the fight against discrimination, Marlene Schiappa, launched a national action plan to combat FGM/C, focusing on identifying risks, preventing FGM/C, and supporting female victims.

In 2019 the National Public Health Agency estimated the number of victims of FGM/C rose from 62,000 in the early 2000s to 124,355 in the middle 2010s.

On February 6, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilations, then junior minister of gender equality Schiappa announced the allocation of 60,000 euros ($72,000) to implement a key provision of the 2019 national action plan to eradicate FGM/C. The funds were to support initial trials of a system to study the prevalence of FGM/C in France.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits gender-based harassment of both men and women in the workplace. Sexual harassment is defined as “subjecting an individual to repeated acts, comments, or any other conduct of a sexual nature that are detrimental to a person’s dignity because of their degrading or humiliating character, thereby creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.” The government enforced the law.

The law provides for on-the-spot fines for persons who sexually harass others on the street (including wolf whistling), and substantial fines if there are aggravating circumstances. The law covers sexual or sexist comments and behavior that is degrading, humiliating, intimidating, hostile, or offensive and provides for increased sanctions for cyberstalking and prohibits taking pictures or videos under someone’s clothes without consent, which is punishable by up to one year in prison and a substantial fine. On October 13, Junior Minister for Citizenship Schiappa reported that authorities fined 2,005 men for harassing women in public spaces since the introduction of the law in 2018, including 694 during the year.

On May 20, a labor court convicted National Assembly member Stephane Trompille of sexual harassment of his female staffer and ordered him to pay a substantial amount in damages. In its ruling, the court specified that “under the guise of sexist and crude jokes,” Stephane Trompille adopted “conduct detrimental to the health” of the staffer, the only woman on the team, who then suffered “health consequences.”

On May 28, then gender equality minister Marlene Schiappa unveiled a plan to fast-track court proceedings for street sex offenders and a campaign to keep women safe on the streets. The measures are part of a “cat-calling law,” which already allows for on-the-spot fines. The new provisions tighten enforcement for street harassment against women, allowing prosecutors to hear cases immediately. The plan, backed by the UN, allows women who feel in danger “to know where they can find refuge if there are no police officers at hand to take their statement.” Refuge shelters can be bars, restaurants, pharmacies, or any business willing to take part in the program. Women will be able to recognize participating locations by a label displayed outside the business.

On September 24, a young man in Mulhouse received a two-month suspended jail sentence under the fast-track procedure for harassing two women, chastising them for their choice of attire. The man was ordered to perform 75 hours of community service and attend citizenship classes.

According to the latest statistics released by the Interior Ministry in January 2019, reported cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence surged in 2018, with 28,900 complaints registered by police, up 20 percent over the previous year.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, and violence and had both the information and means to do so. There was easy access to contraception and skilled attendance during childbirth. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

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

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based job discrimination and harassment of subordinates by superiors, but this prohibition does not apply to relationships between peers. The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, employment, property, nationality, and inheritance laws, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property in line with the Department’s commitments under the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Diversity, the Fight against Discrimination and Equal Opportunities is responsible for protecting the legal rights of women. The constitution and law provide for equal access to professional and social positions, and the government generally enforced the laws.

There was discrimination against women with respect to employment and occupation, and women were underrepresented in most levels of government leadership.

Children

Birth Registration: The law confers nationality to a child born to at least one parent with citizenship or to a child born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child. Parents must register births of children regardless of citizenship within three days at the local city hall. Parents who do not register within this period are subject to legal action.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, including against rape, sexual assault, corruption of a minor, kidnapping, child pornography, and human trafficking, including both child sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The government actively worked to combat child abuse. Penalties were generally severe.

The Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) report found courts rarely applied legislative mechanisms to prioritize children’s safety in custody disputes and thus did not sufficiently incorporate children’s risk of exposure to violence in custody and visitation decisions. The report also found a lack of support and assistance for children who had witnessed violence.

In November 2019 the government presented a three-year plan to end violence against children. The junior secretary for children, Adrien Taquet, presented 22 measures “to end once and for all violence against children.” New measures include 400,000 euros ($480,000) in additional funding for responses to the “child in danger” emergency hotline and strengthened implementation of background checks for those working in contact with children. Of the 22 points, approximately one-third had been implemented before the end of the year and the rest were still in progress.

On June 4, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the state had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to protect an eight-year-old girl from abuse by her parents. She died in 2009 despite teachers repeatedly reporting abuse to authorities and despite the girl spending a month in the hospital due to the abuse. The court ordered the state to pay a token amount of one euro ($1.20) in damages to the association Innocence en Danger that brought the case in addition to a substantial amount in costs.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Early marriage was a problem mainly for communities from the Maghreb, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. The law provides for the prosecution of forced marriage cases, even when the marriage occurred abroad. Penalties for violations are up to three years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine. Women and girls could seek refuge at shelters if their parents or guardians threatened them with forced marriage. The government offered educational programs to inform young women of their rights.

On September 8, a Nimes court sentenced a father and his partner to 18-month suspended prison sentences for compelling the father’s daughter to leave France and forcing her to get married in Morocco.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children. The minimum age of consent is 15, and sexual relations with a minor age 15 to 18 are illegal when the adult is in a position of authority over the minor. For rape of a minor younger than 15, the penalty is 20 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased in the event of aggravating circumstances. Other sexual abuse of a minor under 15 is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a substantial fine. The law provides that underage rape victims may file complaints up to 30 years after they turn 18.

The government enforced these laws effectively but faced criticism from NGOs such as Coup de Pouce, Acting against Child Prostitution, and the French Council of Associations for the Rights of the Child that asserted children cannot provide legal consent regardless of circumstance. On November 20, the government released estimates that 130,000 girls and 35,000 boys annually suffered rape or attempted rape and that 140,000 children were exposed to domestic violence. According to an IPSOS poll released in October 2019 conducted with victims of childhood sexual abuse, the victims’ average age was 10 and 83 percent of victims were girls. Victims filed a lawsuit in only 25 percent of the cases.

On October 5 and 6, police arrested 61 persons for involvement in a vast child pornography network, including at least three individuals who raped children on camera. Several suspects’ professions put them in regular contact with children. They were arrested in coordinated operations in 30 regions across the country, following months of investigation of child pornography shared on peer-to-peer networks online.

The law also criminalizes child sex trafficking with a minimum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine. The law prohibits child pornography; the maximum penalty for its use and distribution is five years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine.

Displaced Children: By law unaccompanied migrant children are taken into the care of the country’s child protection system. The defender of rights again assessed that border police summarily returned unaccompanied migrant children attempting to enter from Italy, rather than referring them to the child protection system. In a July 22 decision, the defender of rights issued recommendations to improve the reception and care of unaccompanied minors in Paris, especially through improved coordination.

In an October 5 report, several associations, including Doctors of the World, Amnesty International, Cimade, Doctors without Borders, and Catholic Relief of France (Le Secours-Caritas France), found France failed to protect isolated minors at its borders. The report highlighted dysfunctions observed at the borders with Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The government did not report taking steps to address the 3,000 to 4,000 unaccompanied Comorian minors who were at risk for sex and labor trafficking in the French department of Mayotte by offering them medical, shelter, education, or other protection services. Traffickers exploited the large influx of unaccompanied minors who entered the country in recent years. Roma and unaccompanied minors were at risk for forced begging and forced theft.

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

Anti-Semitism

NGO and government observers reported numerous anti-Semitic incidents, including physical and verbal assaults on individuals and attacks on synagogues, cemeteries, and memorials, particularly in the Alsace-Lorraine region. The number of anti-Semitic acts increased by 27 percent (687 acts total) in 2019, according to government statistics, while the number of violent attacks against individuals decreased by 44 percent in 2019.

According to the latest statistics released by the Defense Ministry in August, the government deployed 7,000 military personnel throughout the country to patrol sensitive sites, including vulnerable Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim sites and other places of worship. This number could go up to 10,000 personnel at times of high threat. Some Jewish leaders requested the government also provide static armed guards at Jewish places of worship.

Many anti-Semitic threats of violence singled out public spaces and figures. A 38-year-old man was charged for extortion with aggravated circumstances following an August 26 anti-Semitic incident in Strasbourg. A young artist who was hired by the city to decorate a public building was assaulted by a group of individuals for wearing a T-shirt with “Israel” printed on it. After ordering the artist to leave the site, one of the assailants added, “Jews and bitches forbidden” graffiti on the sidewalk. Both the victim and a local Jewish association filed a complaint.

On August 6, a man was attacked by two persons who shouted anti-Semitic insults, stole his watch, and beat him unconscious in the hallway of his parents’ apartment building in Paris. Justice Minister Dupond-Moretti tweeted, “I know the immense emotion that besets the entire Jewish community. It is the emotion of the whole nation and of course mine.” Two men were charged with violent theft motivated by religious reasons and placed in pretrial detention on August 28.

Anti-Semitic vandalism targeted Jewish sites, including Holocaust memorials and cemeteries. On January 5, a Jewish cemetery was vandalized in Bayonne, resulting in damage to several headstones, vaults, and a memorial to a young child deported to Auschwitz during World War II. The cemetery, the oldest of its kind in the country, contained Jewish burial sites dating to the late-17th century. The president of the Bayonne/Biarritz Jewish community condemned the desecrations, noting that “when it comes to attacking the dead, I don’t think there is anything more cowardly.”

On May 18, the hashtag #sijetaitunjuif (If I were a Jew) trended on Twitter France before the company took it down following condemnation by French officials and Jewish and antihate organizations. The hashtag originated with six coordinated, individual users and was then amplified by others who added anti-Semitic smears and references to the Holocaust. Twitter France took the hashtag off its list of trending topics for violating the company’s hate-speech rules.

On August 3, Facebook confirmed it had banned the notorious comedian Dieudonne M’Bala from its platforms for repeatedly violating its policies by posting anti-Semitic comments and for “organized hatred.” Dieudonne was also banned from YouTube in June. He had more than one million followers on Facebook and 36,000 on Instagram before being banned from both platforms. Dieudonne has been convicted multiple times for hate speech, including anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, his loyal followers continued to defend his right to free speech and continued to attend his “shows.” During the COVID-19 second wave, on October 10, he illegally organized a performance before 200-300 persons in Strasbourg.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. Adults with disabilities received a 900 euro ($1,080) allowance per month from the government. The government did not always enforce these provisions effectively. According to official statistics, disability affected 12 million citizens.

An estimated 350,000 persons with intellectual or mental disabilities were deprived of the right to vote. The law allows a judge to deny the right to vote to individuals who are assigned guardians to make decisions on their behalf, which mainly affected persons with disabilities.

While the law requires companies with more than 20 workers to hire persons with disabilities, many such companies failed to do so and paid penalties.

The law requires that buildings, education, and employment be accessible to persons with disabilities. According to the latest government estimates available, 40 percent of establishments in the country were accessible. In 2015 parliament extended the deadline for owners to make their buildings and facilities accessible by three to nine years. In 2016 then president Hollande announced that 500,000 public buildings across the country were undergoing major renovation to improve accessibility. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (now called the Ministry for Solidarity and Health) reported in 2016 that only 300,000 of one million establishments open to the public were fully accessible. Public transport is not accessible, or is only partially accessible, in Paris and Marseille, the two largest cities in the country.

According to statistics released November 23 by the Education Ministry, in 2019, 408,000 children with disabilities attended schools in the country, a little more than 80,000 in hospitals or medicosocial establishments and nearly 337,800 in “ordinary” schools.

On March 10, the National Agency of Public Health reported that as of 2017, 119,206 persons were identified as autistic in the country, representing 0.18 percent of the population. On the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, President Macron announced autistic persons were exempted from COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, enabling them to visit reassuring places to counter anxiety.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Societal violence and discrimination against immigrants of North African origin, Roma, and other ethnic minorities remained a problem. Many observers, including the Defender of Rights and the CNCDH, expressed concern that discriminatory hiring practices in both the public and private sectors deprived minorities from sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb, the Middle East, and Asia of equal access to employment.

On June 8, the defender of rights, a constitutionally created, independent civil rights watchdog, reported registering 1,957 complaints against the security forces’ intervention methods in 2019. The defender of rights noted a 29 percent increase in complaints related to the “ethics of security” in 2019 compared with the previous year. While only 10.7 percent of cases investigated revealed a fault by security agents, the defender of rights stated the complaints revealed a “crisis of confidence” in the security forces. In his annual report, the defender of rights also found that individuals in the country perceived as black or Arab were 20 times more likely to be stopped by police than those perceived as white. In addition blacks and Arabs were more likely to be treated with a lack of professionalism by police. According to Jacques Toubon, the defender of rights at the time, the results of the study indicated a “degraded relationship between security forces and [minority] groups.”

In a June 24 report, Policing the Pandemic: Human Rights Violations in the Enforcement of COVID-19 Measures in Europe, Amnesty International asserted that enforcement of COVID-19 lock-down measures in the country had a disproportionate impact on members of racial and ethnic minorities. According to the report, “The COVID-19 pandemic further revealed the heavy policing and the recurrent unlawful use of force in urban areas in France with high rates of poverty and where a large proportion of the population are of North African or other minority ethnic origin.”

On January 26, the Ministry of Interior announced the government registered 1,142 racist and xenophobic hate crimes involving threats or violence in 2019, a 132 percent increase from the number recorded in 2018 with 496 acts. The ministry reported 687 anti-Semitic acts, up 27 percent from 2018. The ministry also registered 154 anti-Muslim acts, up 54 percent from 2018. The Ministry of Justice reported it reviewed 6,603 cases related to racism in 2019 (compared with 6,122 in 2018) and 393 racist offenses were punished with convictions.

Government observers and NGOs, including the French Council for the Muslim Religion and the Collective against Islamophobia, reported a number of anti-Muslim incidents during the year, including slurs against Muslims, attacks on mosques, and physical assaults. The number of registered violent acts of racism against Muslims slightly increased from eight in 2018 to nine in 2019. Over the same period, threats against the Muslim community increased by 65 percent, while total anti-Muslim acts increased by 54 percent, from 100 to 154.

Under the counterterrorism law, prefects have authority to close places of worship “in which statements are made, ideas or theories are disseminated, or activities take place that lead to violence, hatred or discrimination, provoke the commission of acts of terrorism, or make apologies for such acts.” On October 2, President Macron stated that since 2018, the Interior Ministry had closed 15 places of worship in the “fight against radicalization.” In October 2019 the Prime Minister’s Office announced that since November 2017, 370 foreigners flagged for radicalization and living illegally in the country had been deported.

On August 7, the Omar Mosque in Bron, a suburb of Lyon, was set on fire. The president of the regional Council of the Muslim Faith denounced the fire, while regional and religious leaders expressed solidarity with the Muslim community and lamented the country was experiencing “rising hatred.” On August 12, a fire broke out at the Essalam Mosque in the city of Lyon. The mayor of Lyon’s Second Arrondissement, Pierre Oliver, strongly condemned the suspected arson.

Societal hostility against Roma, including Romani migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, continued to be a problem. There were reports of anti-Roma violence by private citizens. Romani individuals, including migrants, experienced discrimination in employment. Government data estimated there were 20,000 Roma in the country.

On June 18, the CNCDH highlighted in its annual report that intolerance of Roma remained particularly stark and had changed little since 2016. The CNCDH 2019 report had called hatred towards Roma the “most commonplace form of racism that arouses the least reprobation.” This form of hatred is “underestimated by the media and in public opinion,” the report went on, which “contributes to maintaining stereotypes” of Roma. Roma and unaccompanied minors in France were at risk for forced begging and forced theft.

Authorities continued to dismantle camps and makeshift homes inhabited by Roma. According to the Observatory for Collective Expulsions from Informal Living Places, authorities evicted persons from 1,159 places between November 2018 and October 31, 2019. Among those expelled, the Observatory identified 15,400 persons “mainly coming from Eastern Europe, (who were) Romani or perceived as such.”

On May 14, the European Court of Human Rights ordered France to pay more than 40,000 euros ($48,000) in compensation to six Roma who were evicted from their caravans on municipal land in La Courneuve in 2013. The court emphasized the litigants belonged to “an underprivileged social group” and that authorities failed to take their particular needs into account. The court ruled that authorities had violated their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

On May 25, a Versailles administrative appeals court ruled that separate classes for Romani children in Ris-Orangis denied the children equal access to education. The court rejected the appeal of the municipality of Ris-Orangis and upheld a 2017 ruling that found separate classes for Romani children to be illegal.

Citizens, asylum seekers, and migrants may report cases of discrimination based on national origin and ethnicity to the defender of rights. According to the most recent data available, the office received 5,448 discrimination claims in 2019, 14.5 percent of which concerned discrimination based on ethnic origin.

The government attempted to combat racism and discrimination through programs that promoted public awareness and brought together local officials, police, and citizens. Some public school systems also managed antidiscrimination education programs.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services. Authorities pursued and punished perpetrators of violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The statute of limitations is 12 months for offenses related to sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The government announced April 24 an emergency plan to help LGBTI persons during COVID-19 lock-downs, including authorizing 300,000 euros ($360,000) to fund 6,000 hotel nights for young persons facing homophobic violence at home. Then gender-equality minister Schiappa also confirmed LGBTI individuals could notify police at pharmacies or text a hotline, which was also possible for victims of domestic violence. The government reopened the SOS Homophobia association’s LGBTI hotline, which had been suspended due to technical difficulties. It also funded a mobile application, FLAG!, that was launched on April 24 by the LGBTI police and gendarme association to report acts of violence.

The associations Stop Homophobia and Mousse took legal action against the Lyon daily newspaper Le Progres for “homophobic defamation” following its April 18 publication of an inflammatory article that implied members of the gay community did not respect COVID-19 lock-down rules, accusing them of risky sexual encounters and drug parties.

Homophobic violence and hate speech increased 36 percent in 2019, with 1,870 acts compared to 1,380 in 2018, according to Interior Ministry statistics released May 16. Insults constituted 33 percent of the offenses, while physical and sexual violence made up 28 percent. Victims were mainly men (75 percent) and young persons (62 percent were under 35). The ministry noted “these figures testify to the deep anchoring of homophobia and transphobia in society.” The ministry categorized homophobic hatred within the broader increase in “hate acts and identity extremism.”

On August 31, a couple sitting on a bench in Lyon was attacked and harassed with homophobic comments. The victims notified the police, who arrested two individuals the following day and took them into police custody. The prefecture reacted on social networks stating, “homophobia and hatred have no place in our Republic.”

On September 15, blogger Bassem Braiki appeared before Lyon criminal court for a homophobic Snapchat comment equating suicide with a “cure” for homosexuality. Three advocacy organizations fighting homophobia filed a complaint against him. The prosecutor called for eight months in prison and a substantial fine. On October 20, the court sentenced him to an eight-month suspended prison sentence and to a 2,500 euros ($3,000) fine.

According to a BVA survey of 1,001 individuals conducted in September and published on October 5, approximately 65 percent of the population said they had heard homophobic or transphobic comments in public: 51 percent reported multiple instances, while 31 percent reported witnessing a homosexual or transgender person being insulted. The same poll found that 39 percent of the population believed the way society accepted homosexual, transgender, and transidentity persons had improved over the past three years. Nearly 50 percent of the population believed the state was not sufficiently involved in this area, while 37 percent believed public authorities were doing enough.

On October 14, Junior Minister of Gender Equality Elisabeth Moreno unveiled a three-year national plan to combat hatred and discrimination against LGBTI persons. Moreno told media the plan emphasizes the importance of inclusive education in stamping out homophobia and aims to make members of the LGBTI community “citizens in their own right.” It comprises 42 measures designed to tackle homophobia or transphobia in the home, school, university, work, health care, and sports, and will be “amplified” between now and 2023. The plan also aims to act against conversion therapy, which Moreno stated constitutes “abject and medieval practices”; “we (the country) want to ban them outright.”

Human rights organizations such as Inter-LGBTI criticized the government for continuing to require transgender persons to go to court to obtain legal recognition of their gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and labor law provide workers the right to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for the right to bargain collectively and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Workers, except those in certain essential services, such as police and the armed forces, have the right to strike unless the strike threatens public safety. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids removing a candidate from a recruitment procedure for asking about union membership or trade union activities. The Ministry of Labor treats such discrimination as a criminal offense and prosecutes cases of discrimination by both individuals and companies. Penalties for violations were commensurate to those under other laws related to the denial of civil rights, although union representatives noted antiunion discrimination occasionally occurred, particularly in small companies.

Public-sector workers must declare their intention to strike at least 48 hours before the strike commences. In addition a notification of intent to strike is permissible only after negotiations between trade unions and employers have broken down. Workers are not entitled to receive pay while striking. Wages, however, may be paid retroactively. Health-care workers are required to provide a minimum level of service during strikes. In the public transportation (buses, metro) and rail sectors, the law requires the continuity of public services at minimum levels during strikes. This minimum service level is defined through collective bargaining between the employer and labor unions for each transportation system. For road transportation strikes, the law on minimum service provides for wages to be calculated proportionally to time worked while striking. Transportation users must also receive clear and reliable information on the services that would be available in the event of a disruption. Authorities effectively enforced laws and regulations, including those prohibiting retaliation against strikers.

Workers freely exercised their rights to form and join unions and choose their employee representatives, conduct union activities, and bargain collectively. Most workers’ organizations stressed their independence vis-a-vis political parties. Some union leaders, however, did not conceal their political affiliations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, firms were required to consult labor unions before implementing organizational change in the workplace, including health and safety measures related to the sanitary crisis. Unions successfully sued firms they believed did not properly consult them. The government specifically requested proposals from labor unions on how to improve health and safety measures, optimize work schedules, and leverage teleworking capabilities. Also, labor unions were instrumental in formulating health and safety guidelines for the Labor Ministry.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The government also provided financial support to NGOs that assist victims.

Men, women, and children, mainly from Eastern Europe, West Africa, and Asia, were subjected to forced labor, including domestic servitude (also see section 7.c.). There were no government estimates of the extent of forced labor among domestic workers. In 2019 the NGO Committee against Modern Slavery assisted 200 victims of forced labor, 74 percent of whom were women.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16, with exceptions for persons enrolled in certain apprenticeship programs or working in the entertainment industry, who are subject to further labor regulations for minors. The law generally prohibits persons younger than 18 from performing work considered arduous or dangerous, such as working with dangerous chemicals, high temperatures, heavy machinery, electrical wiring, metallurgy, dangerous animals, working at heights, or work that exposes minors to acts or representations of a pornographic or violent nature. Persons younger than 18 are prohibited from working on Sunday, except as apprentices in certain sectors, including hotels, cafes, caterers, and restaurants. Youth are prohibited from working between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are younger than 16 and between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are between 16 and 18.

The government effectively enforced labor laws, although some children were exploited in the worst forms of child labor, including child sex trafficking (also see section 6, Children) and labor trafficking through forced criminal activity. Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor investigated workplaces to enforce compliance with all labor statutes. To prohibit violations of child labor statutes, inspectors may place employers under observation or refer them for criminal prosecution. Penalties for the use of child labor were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/  for information on the French overseas collective of Wallis and Futuna.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination based upon an individual’s national origin; sex; customs; sexual orientation; gender identity; age; family situation or pregnancy; genetic characteristics; particularly vulnerability resulting from an economic situation that is apparent or known to the author of the discrimination; real or perceived ethnicity, nationality, or race; political opinions; trade union or mutual association activities; religious beliefs; physical appearance; family name; place of residence or location of a person’s bank; state of health; loss of autonomy or disability; and ability to express oneself in a language other than French. Authorities generally enforced this prohibition, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those under other laws related to civil rights.

Employment discrimination based on sex, gender, disability, and national origin occurred. The country’s Romani community faced employment discrimination.

A gender equality law provides measures to reinforce equality in the workplace as well as sanctions against companies whose noncompliance could prevent women from bidding for public contracts. The law also requires employers to conduct yearly negotiations with employees on professional and pay equity between women and men in companies with more than 50 employees. The companies must publish on their company websites an estimate of salary disparities between men and women. The law requires that women receive equal pay for equal work. The economic statistics institute INSEE indicated that women working the equivalent of full time earned 18.5 percent less than men in 2015, the most recent year for which data were available.

A June report on the employment and unemployment of persons with disabilities from the Fund Management Organization for the Professional Integration of People with Disabilities (AGEFIPH) showed a 4 percent decrease in the unemployment of persons with disabilities, compared with the same period in 2019, and represented 8.6 percent unemployment for the general population. Job seekers with disabilities were out of work for 853 days on average, compared with 650 days for the general population. They were also older, on average, than the general population: an estimated 5 percent of job seekers with disabilities were 50 or older, although they constituted just 26 percent of all job seekers.

The law requires at least 6 percent of the workforce in companies with more than 20 employees to be persons with disabilities. Noncompliant companies must contribute to a fund managed by AGEFIPH. The funds go to financial support for persons with disabilities seeking employment or firms employing persons with disabilities, research and analysis on disability employment issues, and support for employment retention of persons with disabilities. Approximately 51 percent of private-sector enterprises met the workforce requirement in 2018, while the companies that did not complete the requirement contributed to a 400 million euro ($480 million) fund and a small number (mostly large corporations) received an exemption from the government based on a negotiated action plan, according to AGEFIPH. Since January 1, new companies have five years to comply with the 6 percent requirement, instead of the previous 3 percent. Furthermore, under the government’s recovery plan, companies hiring workers with disabilities for a fulltime contract of at least three months between September 1 and February 28, 2021 are entitled to a yearly 4,000-euro ($4,800) bonus.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage adequately met the poverty-line income level, which employers in the formal sector generally adhered to.

The official workweek is 35 hours, although companies may negotiate exceptions with employees. The maximum number of working days for workers is 235 days per year. Maximum hours of work are set at 10 hours per day, 48 hours per week, and an average of 44 hours per week during a 12-week work period. Workdays and overtime hours are fixed by a convention or an agreement in each sector in accordance with the labor code. Under an executive order signed in 2017, companies with fewer than 50 employees may negotiate working conditions directly with employees without involvement of labor unions.

The law gives employees the “right to disconnect” digitally from their work. Companies with 50 or more employees must negotiate the use of digital tools with employees or their collective bargaining units and publish clear rules on “the right to disconnect” from email, text messages, and other electronic communications after working hours.

Employees are entitled to a daily rest period of at least 11 hours and a weekly break of at least 24 hours. Employers are required to give workers a 20-minute break during a six-hour workday. Premium pay of 25 percent is mandatory for overtime and work on weekends and holidays; the law grants each worker five weeks of paid leave per year for a full year of work performed. The standard amount of paid leave is five weeks per year (2.5 weekdays per month, equivalent to 30 weekdays per year). Some companies also allowed other compensatory days for work in excess of 35 hours to 39 hours per week, called “spare-time account.” Work in excess of 39 hours per week was generally remunerated.

The government effectively enforced wage and overtime laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards in addition to those set by the EU. Government standards cover all employees and sectors. Individual workers could report work hazards to labor inspectors, unions, or their company health committee (for companies with more than 50 employees). Workers have a right to remove themselves without fear of reprisal from a situation presenting grave and imminent danger.

The Ministry of Labor enforced the law governing work conditions and performed this responsibility effectively, in both the formal and the informal economy. The government permitted salaries below the minimum wage for specific categories of employment, such as subsidized jobs and internships, must conform to separate and clearly defined standards. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance with the labor laws. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Disciplinary sanctions at work are strictly governed by the labor code to protect employees from abuse of power by their employers. Employees may pursue appeals in a special labor court up to the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court). Sanctions depend on the loss sustained by the victim and were usually applied on a case-by-case basis.

Penalties for occupational safety and health violations depend on the status of the accused and generally were commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

Immigrants were more likely to face hazardous work, generally because of their concentration in sectors such as agriculture, seasonal employment, construction, and hospitality services. In 2019, 1,098 major industrial accidents occurred, according to the Ministry of Ecological Transition, causing death or serious injury to workers.

Gabon

Executive Summary

Gabon is a republic with a presidential form of government dominated by the Gabonese Democratic Party and headed by President Ali Bongo Ondimba, whose family has held power since 1967. Bongo Ondimba was declared winner of the 2016 presidential election. Observers noted numerous irregularities, including a questionable vote count in Bongo Ondimba’s home province. The government forcibly dispersed violent demonstrations that followed the election. In the 2018 legislative elections, the Gabonese Democratic Party won 100 of 143 National Assembly seats. The African Union observer mission did not comment on whether the elections were free and fair but noted some irregularities. Some opposition parties boycotted the elections; however, fewer did so than in the 2011 legislative elections.

The National Police Forces, under the Ministry of Interior, and the National Gendarmerie, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for law enforcement and public security. Elements of the armed forces and the Republican Guard, an elite unit that protects the president under his direct authority, sometimes performed internal security functions. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, and the government had mechanisms to investigate, prosecute, and punish those found responsible for abuses and corruption. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by government authorities and Gabonese peacekeepers deployed to UN missions; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners and detainees; interference with freedom of peaceful assembly and serious restrictions on freedom of movement because of COVID-19 mitigation measures; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took some steps to identify, investigate, and prosecute officials and punish those convicted of human rights abuses; however, impunity remained a problem.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There was one report of a disappearance during the year. On August 16, two Omar Bongo University students active in the Human Rights League were reported missing. They remained missing at year’s end.

In 2017 the government reported to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances that, despite opposition allegations of disappearances, no official complaints were filed after the 2016 elections. The committee called on the government to conduct an exhaustive inquiry into postelection violence and to update the law to comply with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The government National Committee of Human Rights opened an inquiry during the year that was scheduled for completion in 2021.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices. There were reports of torture in prisons where unidentified personnel employed torture. For example, on January 29, the attorney of Patrichi Christian Tanasa, the former director of the Gabon Oil Company, stated in a press conference that his client was tortured by three hooded men who beat and sexually molested him at the Libreville Central Prison.

Impunity was a problem in the security forces. Nevertheless, the government took some steps to identify, investigate, and prosecute officials and punish human rights abusers. In April authorities established a national hotline to report abuses by security force members.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were 12 allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Gabonese peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. For those allegations, the number of cases and the years the incidents reportedly occurred, or ended, are: three in 2020, one in 2019, two in 2018, two in 2016, and four in 2015. There were eight open allegations from previous years. The minister of defense and the minister of justice stated that investigations of the allegations continued and the Gabonese judicial process was being followed. The current open allegations include 17 against individuals involving: an exploitative relationship with an adult (eight cases), transactional sex an adult (four cases), solicitation of transactional sex with an adult (one case), and rape of a child (four cases); one case against two individuals for transactional sex with three adults; and two cases against individuals and groups with multiple offenses. In the first of the last two cases: one individual was involved in exploitative relationships with 17 adults and the rape of a child; two individuals were involved in rape of two unknown victims, and 15 were in exploitative relationships with 17 adults. The final case involved 19 individuals accused of rape of 27 adults, 36 children, and five unknown victims.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to low-quality food, inadequate sanitation, lack of ventilation, gross overcrowding, and poor medical care. Conditions in jails and detention centers mirrored those in prisons. There were no specific accommodations for persons with disabilities in prisons.

Physical Conditions: Libreville’s central prison was severely overcrowded; it was built to hold 500 inmates but held approximately 4,000 inmates. There were also reports of overcrowding in other prisons.

Authorities did not provide data on the number of deaths in prisons, jails, and pretrial detention or other detention centers attributed to physical conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities.

Media reported one attempted suicide related to solitary confinement. Media reported three deaths during the year at the Libreville Central Prison attributed to inmate mistreatment. In May an inmate who attempted escape was beaten to death and another suspected of being a drug dealer was reportedly denied food and tortured. On July 24, a detainee arrested on July 16 died of an internal hemorrhage attributed to beatings.

Some prisoners and detainees were kept in solitary confinement for several months without access to exercise or use of showers and other sanitary facilities.

In some cases authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and men with women. Authorities separated juvenile prisoners from adults in Libreville and Franceville prisons. There were separate holding areas within prisons for men and women, but access to each area was not fully secured or restricted. Prisoners had only limited access to food, lighting, sanitation, potable water, and exercise areas. On-site nurses were available to provide basic medical care, but prison clinics often lacked sufficient medication. For serious illnesses or injury, authorities transferred prisoners to public hospitals. Management of the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, was inadequate.

There were no reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence or authorities’ failure to maintain control.

Administration: Prisoners filed few complaints. Observers believed the low incidence of complaints was due to ignorance of, or lack of faith in, the process, or fear of retribution. There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority available to respond to prisoner complaints. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities significantly reduced prison visits. Prisoners were limited to contacting their families through telephone calls and written correspondence.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted human rights organizations to conduct independent monitoring of prison conditions. A prominent attorney stated that beginning in March authorities cited COVID-19 policies to deny attorneys’ access to all prisoners. Except for COVID-19 limitations, representatives of several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)–Malachie, the Lions Club, and the Voice of the Forgotten–visited and reported having access to prisons.

Improvements: On December 10, an addition to the central prison was opened that reduced overcrowding. In order to reduce further overcrowding, authorities undertook a review of inmate cases with the goal of identifying those eligible for release. The minister of justice stated improvement of prison conditions throughout the country was a government priority.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention in court; however, the government did not always respect these provisions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Although the law requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official to make arrests, security forces in some cases disregarded these provisions. The law allows authorities to detain a suspect up to 48 hours without charge, after which it requires the suspect be charged before a judge. Police often failed to respect this time limit.

Once a person is charged, the law provides for conditional release if further investigation is required. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees did not always have prompt access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. The law requires the government to provide indigent detainees with lawyers, but this was not always possible, often because the government could not find lawyers willing to accept the terms of payment offered for taking such cases. Arrests required warrants issued by a judge or prosecutor based on evidence.

Arbitrary Arrest: On August 19, agents from the General Directorate for Investigation of the National Gendarmerie arrested the Dynamique Unitaire Trade Union Confederation leader Jean Bosco Boungoumou without a warrant. Accused of broadcasting a video jeopardizing public order, he was detained without charge for longer than the law allows and not permitted prompt access to a lawyer. On August 24, he was charged with terrorism and conspiracy. He remained in prison pending trial at year’s end.

In 2017 authorities arrested Frederic Massavala-Maboumba, the spokesperson for the opposition Coalition for the New Republic, and Deputy Secretary General Pascal Oyougou of the Heritage and Modernity Party, and charged them with “provocation and instigation of acts likely to provoke demonstrations against the authority of the State.” In June 2019 Massavala-Maboumba was released after 20 months’ imprisonment; however, Oyougou remained in detention with no trial date set at year’s end.

Pretrial Detention: Approximately two-thirds of prison inmates were held in pretrial detention that sometimes lasted up to three years. There were instances in which the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. Prolonged pretrial detention was common due to overburdened dockets and an inefficient judicial system. The law limits pretrial detention to six months on a misdemeanor charge and one year on a felony charge, with six-month extensions if authorized by the examining magistrate. The law provides for a commission to deal with cases of abusive or excessive detention and provides for compensation to victims, but the government had yet to establish such a commission. Detainees generally lacked knowledge of their rights and the procedure for submitting complaints and may not have submitted complaints due to fear of retribution.

On April 10, the Ministry of Justice announced the release of 680 persons from the Central Prison of Libreville, including a significant number who were long-term pretrial detainees who, had they been tried and convicted, would have been released based on time served in most cases.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention. The law also provides for compensation if a court rules detention unlawful. Authorities did not always respect these rights.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary demonstrated only partial independence and only in some cases. The judiciary was inefficient and remained susceptible to government influence. The president appoints and may dismiss judges through the Ministry of Justice, to which the judiciary is accountable. Corruption was a problem. For example, individuals charged with offenses reportedly paid bribes to influence the judicial process, avoid facing trial, or both.

Authorities generally respected court orders.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial and to legal counsel, and the judiciary generally respected these rights. Trial dates were often delayed.

Criminal defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges when booked at a police station. A panel of three judges tries defendants, who enjoy the right to be present at their trial, to communicate with an attorney of choice, and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Indigent defendants in both civil and criminal cases have the right to have an attorney provided at state expense, but the government often failed to provide attorneys because private attorneys refused to accept the terms of payment the government offered for such cases. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals when staff members with the required language skills are available. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses or evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal convictions.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

In September the prime minister stated there were no political prisoners in the country. According to one civil society group, however, there were six individuals it considered political prisoners. Of an estimated 60 protesters detained in 2017, opposition leader Pascal Oyougou remained in pretrial detention (see section 1.d.). According to multiple domestic and international news reports, opposition leader Landry Washington and former Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) deputy Bertrand Zibi were incarcerated for almost three years before they were tried. In April 2019 Washington was convicted of insulting the president and attempting to incite popular revolt. He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and required to pay a substantial monetary fine. He was due for release in April 2019 based on time held, but the government appealed the sentence as being too lenient, and he was held for an additional eight months. On January 7, Washington was released. In July 2019 Zibi was convicted of inciting violence and possession of a firearm and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. Zibi remained in prison at year’s end.

Prior to COVID restrictions, routine consular and NGO access was permitted. According to the minister of justice, subject to health-screening measures, access continued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Persons or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through domestic courts or through administrative or other mechanisms established by law, although this seldom occurred.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government did not always respect these prohibitions. As part of criminal investigations, police requested and easily obtained search warrants from judges, sometimes after the fact. Security forces conducted warrantless searches for irregular immigrants and criminal suspects. Authorities reportedly monitored private telephone conversations, personal mail, and the movement of citizens.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. According to the revised penal code, conviction of contempt of the president or of any government official “committed anywhere, on any occasion, or by any means,” is punishable by six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and monetary fines. Employing its authority under the communications code, the High Authority of Communication (HAC) suspended eight print, radio, and online media outlets for libel and slander, including the radio station Radio Generation Nouvelle.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active, but authorities occasionally used libel and slander laws to restrict media criticism of the government. The country’s sole daily newspaper, LUnion, was progovernment. All newspapers, including government-affiliated ones, criticized the government and political leaders of both opposition and progovernment parties. The country had both progovernment and opposition-affiliated broadcast media.

Violence and Harassment: There were no cases of journalists being harassed or intimidated, although some journalists reported they received anonymous instructions or calls from persons suspected of being connected with the government not to report on certain issues.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most newspaper owners had either a progovernment or a pro-opposition political bias. Print journalists practiced occasional self-censorship to placate progovernment owners. In April HAC suspended the online daily Gabon Media Time for three months because it published an article authorities considered libelous.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander may be treated as either criminal or civil offenses. Editors and authors of articles ruled libelous in a court of law may be jailed for two to six months and required to pay substantial fines. Penalties for conviction of libel, disrupting public order, and other offenses also include a one- to three-month publishing suspension for a first offense and three- to six-month suspension for repeat offenses.

There was evidence that in several cases libel laws were applied to discourage or punish critical coverage of the government. For example, on January 16, HAC banned distribution of all copies of an edition of the newspaper Moutouki that included criticism of the coordinator of presidential affairs. On August 19, HAC suspended the online Kongossa News for one month for commentary it deemed critical of the president’s independence day celebration speech.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; however, the law places restrictions on freedom of assembly. The government limited freedom of peaceful assembly but not freedom of association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Some civil society activists stated they did not submit requests to hold public meetings because they expected the government would deny them. They added that authorities prevented opposition gatherings by routinely refusing to approve permits or by blocking access to planned meeting spaces. For example, on February 5, authorities prevented Dynamique Unitaire union leaders from holding a meeting at their headquarters. Some civil society activists stated that while authorities prevented opposition groups from hosting meetings due to COVID-19 restrictions, it did not prevent progovernment groups from meeting. According to pastor and civil society activist Georges Bruno Ngoussi, he was arrested, and his passport withheld for three months, for hosting a meeting that authorities asserted was in violation of COVID-19 restrictions, despite the fact that all COVID-19 provisions had been met. Ngoussi stated that the intended purpose of the meeting was to plan a protest demonstration against the government’s decision to decriminalize same-sex sexual conduct.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Nevertheless, in 2018 and 2019, the government prevented opposition leader Jean Ping from traveling abroad by court order and following expiration of the order, prevented travel during the year by refusing to renew his passport. In January authorities prevented trade union activists from Dynamique Unitaire and the Transportation and Aviation Workers Union from leaving the country under the pretext they were plaintiffs in a judicial proceeding. The law does not restrict foreign travel by plaintiffs in judicial proceedings.

In-country Movement: Although there were no legal restrictions on freedom of internal movement, military and police personnel and gendarmes stopped travelers at checkpoints to check identity, residence, or registration documents and on some occasions to solicit bribes. As a COVID-19 mitigation measure, authorities required travelers to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the preceding 14 days of internal travel. Refugees required a travel document endorsed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and government authorities to circulate freely within the country.

Foreign Travel: The law requires a married woman to have her husband’s permission to obtain a passport and to travel abroad. The law prohibits individuals under criminal investigation from leaving the country. Refugees and most holders of a residence permit need an exit visa to leave from and return to the country. Exit visas were not always issued promptly, which impeded persons’ ability to depart. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities required persons departing the country to provide a negative COVID-19 test result.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Despite efforts by the government and UNHCR to reduce discrimination, refugees complained of harassment and extortion by security force members. Some security force members harassed asylum seekers or refugees working as merchants, service-sector employees, and manual laborers and, in order to extort bribes, refused to recognize valid documents held by refugees and asylum seekers.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees equal access to public services, although there were reports that in some cases school and hospital employees improperly required refugees to pay additional fees. Most refugees were not registered to receive services from the National Health Insurance and Social Welfare Fund.

Durable Solutions: The nationality code allows refugees to apply for naturalization; however, the process is long and expensive. At age 18 children born in the country of refugee parents may apply for citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage; however, international monitors of the 2016 presidential election observed anomalies. The governing party has dominated all levels of government for five decades. Citizens participated in presidential, legislative, and municipal elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In early 2018 the Constitutional Court dissolved the National Assembly. The Senate assumed National Assembly responsibilities, and a caretaker government was installed. In late 2018 legislative elections were held. Both rounds of legislative elections were calm, with a voter turnout of 43 percent in the first round. The PDG won 100 of 143 National Assembly seats. Opposition leaders alleged irregularities such as ballot stuffing, vote buying, polling stations opening without the presence of opposition representatives, and unfair treatment of the opposition by the Gabonese Elections Center. Domestic and international organizations were not authorized to observe the elections. A limited African Union observer mission did not comment on whether the elections were free and fair but noted some irregularities.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PDG has dominated the government since creation of the party by former president Omar Bongo in 1968. PDG membership conferred advantages in obtaining government positions. Opposition party members complained of unfair drawing of voter districts, alleging the president’s home province received disproportionately more parliamentary seats than other provinces. They also stated the PDG had greater access to government resources for campaign purposes than did other parties.

Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of restrictions on the formation of political parties.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The president of the Senate and prime minister were women. Nevertheless, cultural and traditional factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men. As of July women held 11 of 31 ministerial positions–an increase of nine from 2019–but women held only 23 of 143 National Assembly seats and 19 of 102 Senate seats.

Although members of all major ethnic groups occupied prominent government civilian and security force positions, members of indigenous populations rarely participated in the political process (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. According to media and NGOs, officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Some police were inefficient and corrupt. There were reports of police, gendarmes, and military members seeking bribes to supplement their salaries, often while stopping vehicles at legal roadblocks to check vehicle registration and identity documents. In July taxi drivers demonstrated to protest police harassment, including exacting bribes.

According to reports from the African immigrant community, in order to exact bribes, police and other security force members often detained and falsely accused noncitizen Africans of lacking valid resident permits or identification documents.

In 2016 the government launched an anticorruption campaign. A number of former officials, including a vice president, ministers, and agency directors, were arrested on corruption charges. The former minister of economy and presidential advisor Magloire Ngambia and former minister of petroleum and hydrocarbons Etienne Dieudonne Ngoubou were arrested and charged with corruption. In 2018 Ngoubou was released on bail; he had yet to be tried by year’s end. On September 24, Ngambia was convicted of embezzlement of public funds. He was fined and sentenced to time served in pretrial detention.

Corruption: There were numerous reports of corruption by government officials during the year. For example, in September Mayor Leandre Nzue of Libreville and several city officials were arrested and charged with embezzlement and money laundering. Other government officials charged with corruption included former presidential chief of staff Brice Laccruche, several former ministers, and the director general of the Merchant Marine. None had been tried by year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires executive-level civil servants and civil servants who manage budgets to disclose their financial assets to the National Commission against Illicit Enrichment within three months of assuming office. Most officials complied, but some attempted to withhold information. The government did not make these declarations available to the public. There are administrative sanctions for noncompliance, but authorities did not provide information regarding enforcement.

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

A number of domestic human rights groups operated, albeit with government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Several human rights NGOs reported governmental intimidation and a general lack of responsiveness to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice coordinates government efforts to improve respect for human rights, organize human rights training for government officials, and address major human rights problems. The National Human Rights Commission, composed of representatives from civil society, media, religious groups, and the judiciary, had a degree of independence. Commission members provided basic human rights training to police and in past years inspected detention conditions at police stations in Libreville; however, it did not conduct inspections during the year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and convicted rapists face penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Nevertheless, authorities seldom prosecuted rape cases. The law addresses spousal and intimate partner rape regardless of gender. There were no reliable statistics on the prevalence of rape, but a women’s advocacy NGO estimated it to be a frequent occurrence. Discussing rape remained taboo, and women often opted not to report it due to shame or fear of reprisal.

Although the law prohibits domestic violence, NGOs reported it was common. Penalties for conviction range from two months’ to 15 years’ imprisonment. Women rarely filed complaints, due to shame or fear of reprisal, although the government operated a counseling group to provide support for abuse victims. The government provided in-kind support to an NGO center to assist victims of domestic violence, and through the center’s work, police intervened in response to incidents of domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: NGOs reported sexual harassment of women continued to be pervasive. In June the National Assembly and the Senate enacted a revised penal code prohibiting sexual harassment. It states sexual harassment, “constitutes an offense against morals (and includes) any behavior, attitude or repeated assiduous or suggestive words, directly or indirectly attributable to a person who, abusing the authority or influence conferred on him by his functions or its social rank, aims to obtain sexual favors from an individual of one or the other sex.” Conviction of sexual harassment is punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. However, abortion is illegal except in limited circumstances. Therapeutic termination of a pregnancy is permitted if recommended by a doctor and if the fetus has serious and irreversible physical impairments; the pregnancy seriously endangers the life of the mother; the pregnancy is a result of incest or rape; or the mother is an underage girl in a state of serious distress as defined by law.

The Ministry of Health provided guiding recommendations based on family-planning best practices to health facilities throughout the country. Sexual and reproductive health services were available to survivors of sexual violence at government and private medical facilities, and local NGOs provided support to sexual violence survivors.

The World Health Organization estimated the maternal mortality rate in 2017 at 252 deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the 2012 Gabon Demographic and Health Survey, girls and women between ages 15 and 19 were among the most affected, representing 34 percent of maternal deaths. The main causes of maternal death were hemorrhages during childbirth, high blood pressure, and infections.

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

Discrimination: Although the law does not generally distinguish between the legal status and rights of women and men, it requires a married woman to obtain her husband’s permission to receive a passport and to travel abroad. The law provides for equal treatment regarding property, nationality, and inheritance. No specific law requires equal pay for equal work. Women faced considerable societal discrimination, including in obtaining loans and credit and, for married women, opening bank accounts without their husbands’ permission and administering jointly owned assets, especially in rural areas.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through one’s parents and not by birth in the country. At least one parent must be a citizen to transmit citizenship. Registration of all births is mandatory, and children without birth certificates may not attend school or participate in most government-sponsored programs. Many mothers could not obtain birth certificates for their children due to isolation in remote areas of the country or lack of awareness of the requirements of the law.

Education: Although education is compulsory to age 16 and tuition-free through completion of high school, it often was unavailable after sixth grade in rural areas. There was no significant difference in the rates of enrollment between boys and girls; however, due to high rates of early pregnancy, girls were less likely to complete school than boys.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal, with penalties for conviction of up to life in prison, a substantial monetary fine, or both. According to NGOs, child abuse occurred, and the law was not always enforced.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for consensual sex and marriage is 15 for girls and 18 for boys. According to the UN Population Fund, 6 percent of women between ages of 20 and 24 married before age 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities generally enforced the law. Perpetrators convicted of procuring a child for prostitution or a child pornography-related offense may be sentenced to between two and five years’ imprisonment. Under the revised penal code, sex trafficking is considered to be aggravated child trafficking, for which conviction is punishable by life imprisonment and substantial monetary fines. Conviction of possession of child pornography is punishable by imprisonment of six months to one year and a substantial monetary fine.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with “physical, mental, congenital, and accidental” disabilities and requires they have access to buildings and services, including voter access to election polling centers. Most public buildings, however, did not provide adequate access and accommodation for persons with disabilities, hindering their ability to obtain state services and take part in the judicial system. The law subsumes sensory disabilities under congenital and “accidental” disabilities but does not recognize the concept of intellectual disability. The law provides for the rights of persons with disabilities to education, health care, and transportation. Enforcement of these rights was limited–there were no government programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities generally attended school at all levels, including mainstream schools. There was accommodation for persons with disabilities in air travel but not for ground transportation.

Persons with physical disabilities faced barriers in obtaining employment, such as gaining access to human resources offices to apply for jobs, because public buildings did not include features to facilitate access for persons with physical disabilities. The inaccessibility of buses and taxis complicated seeking jobs or getting to places of employment for those without their own means of transportation.

Indigenous People

The Babongo, Baghama, Baka, Bakoya, and Barimba ethnic groups are the earliest known inhabitants of the country. The law grants members of indigenous ethnic groups the same civil rights as other citizens, but they experienced societal discrimination. They remained largely outside of formal authority, keeping their own traditions, independent communities, and local decision-making structures, and did not have ready access to public services. Discrimination in employment also occurred. Indigenous persons had little recourse if mistreated by persons from the majority Bantu population, and there were no specific government programs or policies to assist them.

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

During the year parliament reversed the July 2019 revised penal code that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. On June 23, the National Assembly  approved a government bill decriminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; on June 29, the Senate approved the criminalization reversal; and on July 7, the president signed it into law. The law does not limit freedom of speech or peaceful assembly rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There are no specific antidiscrimination or hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms designed to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes. There were reports from civil society organizations and media of LGBTI persons being targeted for abuse. Such incidents were rarely reported to police, however. A case that drew attention during the year, however, was that of a gay couple who were arrested and charged after their marriage ceremony for violating “the good morals of society” and for failing to obtain legal authority to be married. Societal discrimination in employment and housing were problems, particularly for openly LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Local NGOs reported discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Such persons encountered difficulties obtaining loans and finding employment in at least some sectors. NGOs worked closely with the Ministry of Health to combat both the associated stigma and the spread of the disease.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Ritual killings in which persons were killed and their limbs, genitals, or other organs removed were reported. In July 2019 the human trafficking provisions of the revised penal code criminalized ritual killing and organ harvesting. During the year authorities made no arrests of persons accused of ritual killing. The local NGO Association to Fight Ritual Crimes reported six victims of ritual killings and 14 disappearances from January to October. It stated that the actual number of victims was higher because many ritual killings were not reported or were incorrectly characterized. Additionally, authorities discouraged journalists from reporting ritual crimes, and most cases occurred in rural areas where media lacked access. In January mobs incited by social media reports of kidnappings of children for ritual crimes killed at least two suspected perpetrators. On January 24, a mob attacked Patrick Eyeghe as he was picking up his children from school in the Venez-voir neighborhood of Libreville. He was mistaken for a kidnapper. Eyeghe was taken to the hospital, where he later died of wounds inflicted during the attack.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law protects the rights of workers to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. The law provides for the right to strike, with restrictions. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, and the law provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activities. Unions must register with the government to obtain official recognition, and the government routinely grants registration. Agreements negotiated by unions also applied to nonunion workers.

Strikes may be called only after eight days’ advance notification and only after mandatory arbitration fails. Public-sector employees’ right to strike could be restricted where the government determines it poses a threat to public safety. The law does not define the essential-services sectors in which strikes are prohibited; however, armed services are prohibited from unionizing and striking. The law prohibits government action against strikers who abide by the notification and arbitration provisions and excludes no groups from this protection. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the country’s two export-processing zones.

The government generally enforced applicable laws. Resources to protect the right to form unions, bargain collectively, and strike were adequate. Penalties for violations of these rights are compensatory, determined on a case-by-case basis, and commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes delayed.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. Some unions were politically active, and the government accused them of siding with opposition parties. The government sometimes restricted strikes.

Employers created and controlled some unions. Although antiunion discrimination is illegal, some trade unionists in both the public and private sectors complained of occasional discrimination, including the blacklisting of union members, unfair dismissals, and threats to workers who unionized. Trade union representatives complained they experienced hurdles accessing educational establishments during their efforts to represent and defend their members’ interests. Labor union leaders reported the majority of labor violations stemmed from illegal dismissals, including of workers on strike, leaving them without social security and insurance benefits.

In 2017 the Port-Gentil Court of Appeal upheld a judge’s ruling that ordered the revocation of a strike declaration by the National Organization of Oil Industry Employees (ONEP); the judge found ONEP failed to establish minimum service and that the strike constituted an unlawful disturbance. According to a government report submitted to the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2019, ONEP did not seek review of the appeal ruling and legal proceedings were closed. The ILO responded with a request that the government open an independent investigation to establish the facts regarding ONEP’s allegations police and other security force members dispersed striking workers in 2017 using violent means that produced multiple injuries among striking workers. According to ONEP representatives, ONEP did not press the government on the matter during the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On September 1, gendarmes, using teargas, dispersed and reportedly beat Ministry of Water and Forestry members of the National Union of Water and Forestry Professionals (Synapef), causing severe injuries among the striking workers. During the two-month strike, the Synapef president was arrested, held for 24 hours, and released without charge.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes trafficking for the purposes of servitude or slavery. The government enforced the law more actively to combat forced labor of children. Penalties reflect the serious nature of the offense and were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. The lack of sufficient vehicles, budget, and personnel impeded the ability of labor inspectors to investigate allegations of forced labor. Additionally, labor inspectors found it difficult to access family-owned commercial farms and private households due to inadequate roads. The government provided trafficking-in-persons training to law enforcement officers.

Boys were subject to forced labor as mechanics, as well as in work in handicraft shops and sand quarries. Boys and men were subject to forced labor in agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, and mining. Girls and women were exploited in domestic servitude, market vending, restaurants, and commercial sexual exploitation. Conditions included very low pay and long forced hours. Migrants were especially vulnerable to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

Limited reporting suggested that illegal and unregulated foreign fishing trawlers may have engaged in the forced labor of boys. Widespread poverty resulted in the increased risk of exploitation in the country, but the small scale of artisanal fishing suggested that trafficking was limited to foreign fishing operations. The industrial fishing fleet operating in Gabonese territorial waters was composed mostly of illegal, primarily Chinese, industrial-scale fish trawlers, with unknown status of workers on board.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Child labor remained a problem. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 16 without the expressed consent of the Ministry of Employment, Public Administration, Labor, and Professional Training; the Ministry of Education; and the Ministry of Health. By law children younger than age 16 may perform light work with parental permission, but the law does not define the activities considered light work, establish a minimum age for light work, or set hour limits. The law provides for penalties commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes but does not cover children in informal employment.

The Ministry of Employment, Public Administration, Labor, and Professional Training is responsible for receiving, investigating, and addressing child labor complaints through inspectors. The Interministerial Committee for the Fight against Child Trafficking is responsible for filing and responding to complaints, but it was inactive during the year. Children were sometimes subject to forced and exploitive labor in markets, restaurants, and handicraft shops, as well as on farms and in sand quarries. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as of October the government had not organized the repatriation of any foreign children exploited in trafficking.

Noncitizen children were more likely than were children of citizens to work in informal and illegal sectors of the economy, where laws against child labor were seldom enforced. An unknown number of children, primarily noncitizens, worked in marketplaces or performed domestic labor. Many of these children were the victims of child trafficking (see section 7.b.). According to NGOs, some citizen children, particularly street children, also worked in the informal sector.

Child laborers generally did not attend school, received only limited medical attention, and often experienced exploitation by employers or foster families. In an effort to curb the problem, police often fined the parents of children who were not in school. Laws forbidding child labor covered these children, but abuses often were not reported.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and work conditions based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, disability, national origin or citizenship, or social background. It does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or language. The government did not effectively enforce the law. No specific law requires equal pay for equal work, and women’s pay lagged behind that of men. Employment discrimination occurred with respect to indigenous persons, persons with disabilities, persons with HIV/AIDS, and LGBTI persons. There were reports of labor exploitation of indigenous persons by their Bantu neighbors, who paid them much less than the minimum wage. Undocumented foreign workers frequently experienced wage discrimination and poor working conditions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government established a national monthly minimum wage that was above the official poverty line. Authorities did not enforce wage laws adequately, although workers could file suit if they received less than the minimum wage. Labor inspections were infrequent. Minimum wage laws were not enforced in the informal sector, which accounted for the vast majority of workers.

The labor code stipulates a 40-hour workweek with a minimum rest period of 48 consecutive hours. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. Employers must compensate workers for overtime work as determined by collective agreements or government regulations. By law the daily limit for compulsory overtime may be extended from 30 minutes to two hours to perform specified preparatory or complementary work, such as starting machines in a factory or supervising a workplace. It also may be extended for urgent work to prevent or repair damage from accidents. The daily limit does not apply to establishments in which work is continuous or to establishments providing retail, transport, dock work, hotel and catering services, housekeeping, security services, medical establishments, domestic work, and journalism.

The Ministry of Health establishes occupational safety and health standards. The Ministry of Employment, Public Administration, Labor, and Professional Training is responsible for enforcing minimum wage, overtime, and safety and health standards in the formal sector. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance and COVID-19-mitigation measures further limited enforcement action. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and recommend that sanctions be imposed. Employers generally respected minimum wage standards. Formal-sector employees could submit complaints regarding overtime or health and safety standards, and the ministry’s labor inspectors investigated such complaints. The government penalized violations with a range of fines that were commensurate with those for similar crimes. In the formal sector, workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

The government did not enforce labor code provisions in the informal economy or in sectors where the majority of the labor force was foreign, such as in the mining and timber sectors and domestic work. Employers obliged foreign workers to work under substandard conditions, dismissed them without notice or recourse, and often physically mistreated them. Employers frequently paid noncitizens less than they paid citizens for the same work and required them to work longer hours, often hiring them on a short-term, casual basis to avoid paying taxes, social security contributions, and other benefits.

The government does not provide data on industrial accidents; however, several accidents occurred during the year, including train derailments that resulted in four deaths and many serious injuries.

Gambia

Executive Summary

The Gambia’s constitution enumerates a full range of provisions and assurances for a multiparty democratic republic. In 2016 Adama Barrow, the consensus candidate of a coalition of seven opposition political parties, defeated incumbent president Yahya Jammeh in what international observers deemed a peaceful and credible election. Barrow was initially sworn into office in January 2017 in Dakar, Senegal, during a six-week political impasse when Jammeh refused to cede power. President Barrow was sworn into office again in The Gambia the following month after a peaceful regional and international intervention, led by Economic Community of West African States member countries, resulted in the former president departing for exile. In the 2017 parliamentary elections, the United Democratic Party won 31 of the 53 seats contested. International and domestic observers considered these elections to be free and fair.

The Gambia Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the minister of interior. The Gambia Armed Forces consist of four branches: the Gambia National Army, the Gambia Navy, the Republican National Guard, and the Gambia Air Force. The Gambia Armed Forces’ principal responsibilities are to defend the territorial integrity of the country, to aid civil authorities in emergencies, and to provide natural disaster relief assistance in agriculture, engineering, health, and education. The chief of the defense staff administers the Gambia Armed Forces and reports through the minister of defense to the president as commander in chief. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; trafficking in persons; and existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was rarely enforced.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise hold accountable some officials who committed abuses. Nevertheless, impunity and a lack of consistent enforcement continued to occur.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

Families of individuals detained during the Jammeh regime continued to demand information on their missing relatives and that those responsible for killings, disappearances, and other serious crimes be held accountable. In July and August 2019, the general location of the remains of U.S.-Gambian dual nationals Alhagie Ceesay and Ebrima Jobe–kidnapped by government agents in 2013–was revealed during public testimony by members of former president Jammeh’s “Junglers” hit squad at the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Commission (TRRC). The TRRC was established in 2017 to address human rights abuses during the 22-year rule (1994-2016) of former president Jammeh. According to TRRC testimonies, Ceesay and Jobe are buried at the former president’s expansive farm near Kanilai. The government officially requested and received international forensics assistance to locate and identify their remains, assistance that at year’s end continued to be provided.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such practices. There was one report of inhuman and degrading treatment by a police officer of a detainee during the year. The incident was investigated and the officer sanctioned.

According to the online newspaper Gainako, on July 25, Commander Gorgi Mboob of the Police Anti-Crime Unit struck the genitals of detainee Ebrima Sanneh with a hoe at the unit’s prison farm in Bijilo. Sanneh was hospitalized due to genital bleeding. Although police initially refuted media reports of the incident as “false, and intended to mislead the public,” on July 25, he Ministry of Interior ordered an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission and placed Mboob on administrative leave. On October 8, the commission determined that Mboob had assaulted and wounded Sanneh and recommended disciplinary measures be taken against him, his removal from the Anti-Crime Unit, and monetary compensation for Sanneh.

According to the online portal Conduct in UN Field Missions, there is one open allegation (submitted in 2018) of sexual exploitation and abuse by a Gambian peacekeeper deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult in 2013-15. The United Nations completed its investigation and is awaiting additional information from the government. At year’s end authorities had yet to provide the additional information or accountability measures taken.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem, particularly in the remand wing of the state central prison, Mile 2 Prison in Banjul, where detainees were held pending trial. According to the NGO World Prison Brief, authorities in 2019 held 691 prisoners in facilities designed for 650. Food quality and access to potable water, sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and medical care remained inadequate. There were credible reports teenagers as young as age 15 were held with adults in pretrial detention facilities.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).

Independent Monitoring: The government granted unrestricted access to all prisons to the Office of the Ombudsman, the TRRC, and local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements; there were no reports of arbitrary arrest during the year.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires authorities to obtain a warrant before arresting a person, but police officers often arrested individuals without a warrant. Military decrees enacted prior to the adoption of the constitution in 1997 give the National Intelligence Agency and the interior minister broad powers to detain individuals indefinitely without charge “in the interest of national security.” Although these detention decrees are inconsistent with the constitution, they were not legally challenged. The government claimed it no longer enforced the decrees.

Periods of detention before being brought before and judicial official and charged generally ranged from two to 72 hours, the legal limit after which authorities are required by law to charge or release detainees; however, there were numerous instances of detentions exceeding the 72-hour limit. There was a functioning bail system; however, two guarantors and advance remittance were generally required to obtain bail.

Officials in some cases did not allow detainees prompt access to a lawyer or family members. The judiciary provided lawyers at public expense only to indigent persons charged with capital crimes such as murder, for which a conviction includes the death penalty. Suspects were not detained incommunicado.

Pretrial Detention: Backlogs and inefficiency in the justice system resulted in lengthy pretrial detentions. Many inmates in the remand wing of Mile 2 Prison awaited trail, in some instances for several years. According to the Gambia Prison Services, approximately one-half of the prison population was in pretrial detention. The introduction of virtual courts, created in June in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was part of the government’s effort to reduce overcrowding, particularly among the remand population.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants were presumed innocent until proven guilty. Officials did not always promptly inform defendants of the charges against them. The law provides for a fair, timely, and public trial without undue delay; however, case backlogs hampered the right to a timely trial. Defendants enjoyed the right to be present at trial and to communicate with an attorney of their choice or if indigent and charged with a capital crime to have a lawyer at public expense. Defendants had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Officials provided free interpretation in defendants’ local languages as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants and their lawyers had the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They may appeal verdicts to a higher court.

On May 3, the Gambia Bar Association and the National Agency for Legal Aid signed a memorandum of understanding to provide free legal services to prisoners. By year’s end it was providing legal services to defendants incarcerated in the country’s three prisons and to remand and juvenile inmates.

The judicial system also recognizes customary law and sharia (Islamic law).

Customary law covers marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, inheritance, land tenure, tribal and clan leadership, and other traditional and social relations. District chiefs preside over local tribunals that administer customary law at the district level. Customary law recognizes the rights of all citizens regardless of age, gender, and religion.

For persons of Muslim faith, sharia applies in domestic matters, including marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Qadi courts (traditional Muslim courts that settle issues of divorce and inheritance) and district tribunals do not involve standard legal representation because lawyers are not trained in Islamic or customary law.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The High Court hears civil and human rights cases. Individuals may also seek assistance concerning violations of human rights law from the Office of the Ombudsman, which has a mandate to investigate such cases and recommend remedies for judicial consideration.

Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Nevertheless, on January 26, police closed local radio stations King and Home Digital FM. Police arrested and charged the stations’ owners and managers with broadcasting incendiary messages and inciting violence, and police held them for more than 48 hours before their release on bail. Ministry of Justice prosecutors found no factual basis on which to support the charges and dismissed them. The stations’ broadcasting licenses were suspended for one month.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected the right of peaceful association. Nevertheless, there were restrictions placed on the right of peaceful assembly.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

By law the Gambia Police Force must grant a permit for all public meetings and gatherings. The inspector general of police has the authority to approve or disapprove permits and is required to communicate his decision to the requester in writing. Requests are generally approved unless there is concern regarding the peaceful nature of a proposed protest. Due to training provided by the government of France, security forces’ capability to employ effective, nonviolent crowd-control techniques improved during the year.

Media reported that on January 26, police arrested 137 demonstrators during a protest organized by the Three Years Jotna Movement that began peacefully but turned violent. A total of 131 police and protesters were injured. The Three Years Jotna Movement called for the president to honor the commitment he made during his 2016 campaign to step down after three years, with some persons affiliated with the movement advocating violence to forcibly remove the president from office. Violence erupted when a group of protesters allegedly deviated from the negotiated area approved by authorities for the protest and police moved to disperse protesters. Police used tear gas against stone throwing protesters, a small group of whom set fire to a bus-stop shelter. Most injuries suffered by protesters were respiratory due to tear gas; however, some protesters and police sustained serious lacerations from thrown rocks and debris. On January 26, protest organizers Abdou Njie, Ebrima Kitim Jarju, Sheriff Sonko, Hagi Suwaneh, Fanta Mballow, Karim Touray, Yankuba Darboe, and Muctarr Ceesay were charged with unlawful assembly and rioting. On February 24, the protest organizers were released on bail. At year’s end they had yet to be tried.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: Police and immigration personnel frequently set up security checkpoints. Individuals found to be without proper identification documentation were subject to detention or forced to pay bribes.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The Gambia Commission for Refugees worked with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on protection of refugees.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election in 2016, in which Adama Barrow, the candidate of an opposition coalition, defeated Yahya Jammeh, the incumbent. The election was largely peaceful and considered credible. The defeated incumbent initially accepted the results before declaring them “null and void,” alleging irregularities in the process. This led to a six-week political impasse before Jammeh dropped his claims and went into exile in Equatorial Guinea, bowing to regional and international pressure and the threat of military force from the Economic Community of West African States, the member states of which had massed soldiers on the country’s borders.

The country also held legislative elections in 2017 that were described by domestic and international observers as mostly free and fair. Mama Kandeh, leader of the Gambia Democratic Congress, rejected the results, claiming to have evidence that would expose the unfairness of the entire process. Kandeh, however, did not provide any evidence to substantiate his claim.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Evidence suggested cultural constraints limited women’s participation in the political process; men greatly outnumbered women in the cabinet and parliament. Only five women hold seats in the 58-member National Assembly.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, and the government generally implemented the law.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure statements from both appointed and elected public officials; however, it does not stipulate sanctions for noncompliance. No government agency is mandated to monitor and verify financial disclosures. Declarations are not released to the public.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Among these were the #Jammeh2Justice campaign to have the Ghanaian and Gambian governments try former president Jammeh for the 2005 killings of irregular migrants–among them 44 Ghanaians–and the Victims Center that supports the TRRC and assists victims of Jammeh-era human rights abuses.

Government officials were usually cooperative and responsive to human rights issues raised by human rights groups during the year. The law continues to require NGOs to register with the National Advisory Council that has the authority to deny, suspend, or cancel the right of any NGO (including international NGOs) to operate in the country. The council did not take actions against any NGO during the year.

In September the TRRC resumed hearings after a six-month suspension from March to September due to COVID-19 restrictions. TRRC witnesses testified to multiple instances of human rights abuses by the Jammeh government, including killings, torture, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, and forced disappearances. Witnesses included members of the Junglers hit squad who admitted to committing gross human rights abuses.

The National Human Rights Commission was active in addressing and investigating human rights abuses, and publicly called for government actions to address human rights issues such as the continued criminalization of homosexuality.

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

The constitution and law provide for equality of all persons; no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner because of race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. Legal provisions against discrimination do not apply to adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and inheritance of property. The law prohibits discrimination in employment, access to credit, owning and managing a business, or in housing or education.

There were no reports the government failed to enforce the law.

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes the rape of individuals–without reference to gender–and domestic violence. The penalty for conviction of rape is life imprisonment. The maximum penalty for conviction of attempted rape is seven years’ imprisonment. Spousal and intimate-partner rape was widespread and not illegal; police officers generally considered it a domestic issue outside of their jurisdiction. Rape and domestic violence were widespread problems that often went unreported due to victims’ fear of reprisal, unequal power relationships, stigma, discrimination, and pressure from family and friends not to report abuses. Conviction of domestic violence carries a sentence of two years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Children, and Social Welfare operates a shelter and cooperates with UN agencies and civil society organizations to address sexual- and gender-based violence. In November a campaign of inclusive events was conducted to address issues of sexual- and gender-based violence in the country. The vice president led a march to raise awareness of the problem and to encourage victims of sexual- and gender-based violence to report abuse in order for perpetrators to be charged and prosecuted.

FGM/C is a deeply rooted practice in society. FGM/C cases are very seldom reported, either because individuals do not agree with the law or because they are uncomfortable reporting family or community members engaged in the practice to authorities. According to UNICEF and NGOs, 76 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 had been subjected to FGM/C. NGOs, including the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, Wassu Gambia Kafo, Safe Hands for Girls, and Think Young Women, were at the forefront of combatting FGM/C in the country.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a one-year mandatory prison sentence for conviction. Sexual harassment was prevalent but not commonly reported due to discrimination, social stigma, and unwillingness to challenge the offenders due to unequal power relationships and fear of reprisal.

Reproductive Rights: By law couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. They had access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Abortion is illegal and criminalized, including in cases of rape. According to the UN Population Fund, 41 percent of married or in-union girls and women ages 15 to 49 made their own decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health, including deciding on their health care, the use of contraception, and whether to have sex. According to UNICEF, 88 percent of births were attended by a skilled health-care professional.

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

According to the World Health Organization, the country’s maternal mortality rate in 2020 was 597 per 100,000 live births. It identified hemorrhage, anemia, early pregnancy, and obstructed labor as the main causes of maternal mortality. FGM/C negatively impacted reproductive and maternal morbidity.

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

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equality of all persons, including with regard to race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, and birth. The law prohibits discrimination in employment, access to credit, owning and managing a business, or in housing or education. Nevertheless, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women regarding adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and inheritance of property. During the year there were no reports the government failed to enforce the law effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the country’s territory or through either parent. Not all parents registered births, but this did not preclude their children from receiving public health and education services. Birth certificates were easily obtained in most cases.

Education: The constitution and law mandate compulsory, tuition-free primary- and lower-secondary-level education. Families often must pay fees for books, uniforms, lunches, school fund contributions, and examination fees. An estimated 75 percent of primary school-age children enrolled in primary schools. Girls comprised approximately one-half of primary school students but only one-third of high school students.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: By law children younger than age 18 may not marry; however under customary or sharia, 34.2 percent of girls younger than 18 were married, and 9.5 percent younger than 15 were married. Government sensitization campaigns in several areas of the country, particularly in remote villages, sought to create awareness of the law.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The penalties for conviction of sex trafficking are 50 years’ to life imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine. The law provides for 10 to 14 years’ imprisonment for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children, depending on the type of offense, 10 years’ imprisonment for conviction of procurement of a child for prostitution, and five years’ imprisonment for conviction of child pornography.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against or exploitation of persons with disabilities, although it does not stipulate the kinds of disabilities protected, particularly regarding access to health services, education, and employment. There are no explicit legal provisions that require access to transportation, buildings, and information or communications for persons with disabilities.

There are three separate schools for students with visual, hearing, or learning disabilities. Other students with physical disabilities may attend mainstream schools, but there are no programs or facilities to address specific needs. Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a lower rate than other children.

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

Citing more pressing priorities, the president dismissed homosexuality as a nonissue in the country. In 2018 the country’s delegation to the UN Human Rights Council stated the government did not plan to reverse or change the law. Although the law was rarely enforced, on July 1, local media reported that a Senegalese national was arrested in Kotu for engaging in same-sex relations with another adult. He was initially reported to police for stealing a cell phone of a Gambian man with whom he had sexual relations.

The law does not address discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals (LGBTI) persons in essential goods and services such as housing, employment, and access to government services such as health care. There was strong societal discrimination against LGBTI individuals.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although there were no reports to authorities of HIV-related stigma and discrimination in employment, housing, or access to education or health care, it existed. Societal discrimination against persons infected with HIV/AIDS and fear of rejection by partners and relatives sometimes hindered identification and treatment of persons with the disease. The government’s Gambia National Health Strategic Plan 2014-2020 provides for the care, treatment, and support of persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS. The multisectoral plan includes HIV-prevention programs for high-risk populations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that workers, except for civil servants, domestic workers, court officers and certain other categories of workers, are free to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. A broad range of essential service employees, including in the military, police, health, ambulance, prison, water and electricity services, and radio and telecommunication services sectors, are prohibited from forming unions or going on strike. Additionally, the law authorizes the minister responsible for labor matters to exclude any other category of workers from the protection of the law. Unions must register to be recognized. The law requires a minimum membership of 50 workers for the registration of a trade union, a threshold few workplaces could meet. The law also provides that the registrar of unions may examine without because the financial accounts of workers’ associations.

The law restricts the right to strike by requiring unions to give the commissioner of labor written notice 14 days before beginning an industrial action (28 days for actions involving essential services). Police and military personnel had access to a complaints unit, and civil servants could take union complaints to the public service commission or the government’s personnel management office. An employer may apply for a court injunction to prohibit industrial action deemed to be in pursuit of a political objective. The court also may forbid action judged to be in breach of a collectively agreed procedure for settlement of industrial disputes. The law prohibits retribution against strikers who comply with the law regulating strikes. Employers may not fire or discriminate against members of registered unions for engaging in legal union activities, and the law provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law also sets minimum contract standards for hiring, training, and terms of employment and provides that contracts may not prohibit union membership.

The government did not effectively enforce the law; however, there were no official reports of persistent abuses of workers’ right of freedom of association. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations and were rarely applied. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Although trade unions were small and fragmented, collective bargaining took place. Union members were able to negotiate without government interference; however, they lacked experience, organization, and professionalism and often turned to the government for assistance in negotiations. The Department of Labor registered most collective agreements, which remained valid for three years and were renewable.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including that of children, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law sets forth general employment protections, including contractual rights, freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and disciplinary procedures in the workplace, among other important labor regulations. Domestic laborers were not protected under the national labor law, however, which rendered them vulnerable to exploitation. The penalties for forced labor were commensurate with those for other serious crimes but were seldom applied.

Military service members may be compelled to undertake work that is not purely military in character, including in agriculture, engineering, health, and education. Women and children were subjected to forced labor primarily for domestic labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Contrary to International Labor Organization conventions, the law permits compulsory labor for prisoners convicted of possession of prohibited publications, seditious statements or writings, and publishing rumors or false statements.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The constitution prohibits economic exploitation of children younger than age 16, and regulations prohibit children younger than 18 from engaging in exploitive labor or hazardous employment, including mining and quarrying, going to sea, carrying heavy loads, operating heavy machinery, and working in establishments serving alcohol. The law sets the minimum age at 16 for light work but allows children as young as 12 to apprentice in the informal sector.

The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and conventions on the worst forms of child labor, but it did not effectively do so. The government took few actions to prevent or combat child labor during the year. The penalties for conviction of child labor laws were commensurate with those for similar serious crimes but were seldom applied. The labor commissioner registered employee labor cards, which include a person’s age; the law authorizes the commissioner to enforce child labor laws. Enforcement inspections rarely took place and when they took place, no one was prosecuted.

Child labor occurred primarily in the informal sector and was largely unregulated. Rising school fees combined with stagnating incomes prevented some families from sending their children to school, contributing to the vulnerability of children to child labor. Additionally, many children completed nine years of compulsory schooling at age 14, rendering them vulnerable to child labor. In urban areas some children worked as street vendors, domestic laborers, or taxi and bus assistants. There were instances of children begging on the streets, including cases of forced begging. Children between ages 14 and 17 also worked in carpentry, masonry, plumbing, tailoring, and auto repair. Children in rural areas worked on family farms, often under hazardous conditions.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, disability, sex, property, or birth. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS status, sexual orientation, or gender identity but prohibits discrimination based on other status. The law defines the criteria that prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, and the government enforced the law inconsistently, applying it in the formal sector but not in the large informal sector. Penalties were commensurate with those for other similar violations.

Employment in the formal sector was open to women at the same salary rates as men, and no statutory discrimination existed in other kinds of employment; however, societal discrimination lingered, and women generally worked in such low-wage pursuits as food vending and subsistence farming. The law also prohibits discrimination in private companies certified by the Department of Labor.

During the year the government did not report any cases of discriminatory practices with respect to employment or occupation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Collective bargaining, arbitration, or agreements reached between unions and management determined union members’ wages, and the minimum wage was generally less than the World Bank’s international poverty line, although it was above the government’s national poverty baseline. Employers paid most workers above the minimum wage. Most citizens did not live on a single worker’s earnings and shared resources within extended families. The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for wage and hour violations were rarely enforced. Most workers were employed in the private sector or were self-employed, often in agriculture and other informal sectors where labor laws were not enforced.

The basic legal workweek is 48 hours within a period not to exceed six consecutive days. The government’s workweek consists of four eight-hour workdays Monday through Thursday and a four-hour workday on Friday. The private sector typically operates from Monday through Saturday. Regulations mandate a 30-minute lunch break. Regulations entitle government employees to one month of paid annual leave after one year of service. The government does not pay most government employees overtime compensation. Government workers holding temporary positions and private-sector workers, however, receive overtime pay calculated at time and a half per hour. There is no exception for foreign or migrant workers.

The law specifies appropriate safety equipment an employer must provide to employees working in designated occupations. The law also authorizes the Department of Labor to regulate factory health and safety, accident prevention, and dangerous trades and to appoint inspectors to conduct unannounced inspections, identify unsafe conditions, and issue sanctions to enforce compliance. Workers may demand protective equipment and clothing for hazardous workplaces and have recourse to the Labor Department for violations of occupational safety and health standards. Workers could not remove themselves from unsafe conditions without possible jeopardy to their jobs. The law protects foreign workers employed by the government; however, it provides protection for privately employed foreigners only if they have valid work permits.

The government did not effectively enforce the law on occupational health and safety. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations and were seldom applied. Court remedies were lengthy, expensive, and generally ineffective. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Wage and safety standards were not enforced in the informal sector, which included most workers.

Violations of health and safety standards were common in the service, construction, agricultural, and domestic labor sectors. According to Forbes’ 2020 report, The Worlds Most Dangerous Countries for Workers, 64 percent of Gambian workers stated they had been injured on the job. In February, two sanitation workers died inside a sanitation sewer at a local restaurant.

Georgia

Executive Summary

Georgia’s constitution provides for an executive branch that reports to the prime minister, a unicameral parliament, and a separate judiciary. The government is accountable to parliament. The president is the head of state and commander in chief. Under the constitution that came into force after December 2018, future presidents are not elected by popular vote, but by members of parliament. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe deployed a limited number of observers for the October 31 parliamentary elections due to COVID-19; in a preliminary assessment, the observers stated the first round of the elections was competitive and, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected, but “pervasive allegations of pressure on voters and blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state reduced public confidence in some aspects of the process.”

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service of Georgia have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of public order. The ministry is the primary law enforcement organization and includes the national police force, the border security force, and the Georgian Coast Guard. The State Security Service of Georgia is the internal intelligence service responsible for counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and anticorruption efforts. There were indications that at times civilian authorities did not maintain effective control of domestic security forces. Members of the security forces allegedly committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: serious problems with the independence of the judiciary along with detentions, investigations and prosecutions widely considered to be politically motivated; unlawful interference with privacy; limited respect for freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and crimes involving violence or threats targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

The government took steps to investigate some officials for human rights abuses, but impunity remained a problem, including a lack of accountability for the inappropriate police force used against journalists and protesters during June 2019 demonstrations and the 2017 abduction and rendition from Georgia of Azerbaijani journalist and activist Afgan Mukhtarli.

Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained outside central-government control and de facto authorities were supported by Russian forces. The 2008 ceasefire remained in effect, but Russian guards restricted the movement of local populations. Significant human rights issues in the regions included: unlawful killing, including in South Ossetia; unlawful detentions; restrictions on movement, especially of ethnic Georgians; restrictions on voting or otherwise participating in the political process; and restrictions on the ability of ethnic Georgians to own property or register businesses. While there was little official information on the human rights and humanitarian situation in South Ossetia, de facto authorities refused to permit most ethnic Georgians driven out by the 2008 conflict to return to their homes in South Ossetia. De facto authorities did not allow most international organizations regular access to South Ossetia to provide humanitarian assistance. Russian “borderization” of the administrative boundary lines increased, further restricting movement and separating residents from their communities and livelihoods. Russian and de facto authorities in both regions committed abuses with impunity.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The State Inspector’s Service investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and pursues prosecutions. There was at least one report that de facto authorities in the Russian-occupied regions of the country committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing.

On July 7, Rustavi City Court convicted three Internal Affairs Ministry police officers, Mikheil Ghubianuri, Dimitri Dughashvili, and Davit Mirotadze, for deprivation of liberty and sentenced Dughashvili to nine years in prison and Mirotadze and Ghubianuri to a maximum of 10 years in prison. The convictions followed the October 2019 discovery of the body of David Mumladze, who disappeared earlier that month. Authorities arrested the three officers and charged them with illegally detaining Mumladze. The officers allegedly delivered Mumladze to members of a criminal group, who stabbed him and threw his body into a river.

On January 25, the Prosecutor General’s Office terminated its investigation into the 2018 death of 18-year-old Temirlan Machalikashvili from gunshot wounds inflicted by security forces during a 2017 counterterrorism raid in the Pankisi Gorge. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the investigation was terminated due to the absence of a crime. In her annual report covering 2019, released on April 2, the public defender stated that after reviewing the case file in February, she had asked the prosecutor general to reopen the investigation. She considered it “imperative” to reopen the investigation as “several important investigative actions” had not been conducted. Machalikashvili’s father, Malkhaz, alleged the killing was unjustified. The Public Defender’s Office emphasized the importance of a transparent, objective, and timely investigation; nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the subsequent investigation as lacking integrity. In August 2019 Malkhaz Machalikashvili began a nationwide campaign to collect signatures to force parliament to establish a fact-finding commission. In 2019 the public defender asked parliament to question the Prosecutor General’s Office regarding the investigation, stating this would “demonstrate systemic problems” in the office. In October 2019 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) opened discussion of the case.

The trial for the 2008 death of Badri Patarkatsishvili continued as of August. The trial began in March 2019, following an investigation begun in 2018 by the Prosecutor General’s Office (then known as the Chief Prosecutor’s Office) after releasing audio tapes dating back to 2007 in which former government officials were heard discussing methods of killing Patarkatsishvili that would make death appear natural. A former official of the Internal Affairs Ministry’s Constitutional Security Department, Giorgi Merebashvili, was charged with participating in planning the killing. In November 2019 authorities charged four former officials of the department–Gia Dgebuadze, David Kokiashvili, Ilia Gamgebeli, and Levan Kargadava–with abuse of power and illegal detention for allegedly arranging the arrest of Jemal Shamatava, an Ureki police chief, after Shamatava warned Patarkatsishvili of a potential attack in 2006. On July 27, the Tbilisi City Court found the four defendants guilty. Levan Kargadava and Gia Dgebuadze each received seven years and six months’ imprisonment, and David Kokiashvili and Ilia Gamgebeli entered a plea agreement and received 18 months’ imprisonment.

In November 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office charged former justice minister Zurab Adeishvili and the leader of opposition party Victorious Georgia, Irakli Okruashvili, with abuse of power in connection with the 2004 killing of Amiran (Buta) Robakidze. The trial at Tbilisi City Court–which began later that month–continued as of December. On December 2, hearings in the cases of Okruashvili and several other high-profile defendants were postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19 safety concerns.

There was at least one report that de facto authorities in the Russian-occupied regions of the country committed an unlawful killing. On August 28, Inal Jabiev, age 28, reportedly died in the custody of de facto South Ossetian police and was allegedly tortured to death. He was detained on August 26 on charges of attempting to assault de facto “minister of internal affairs” Igor Naniev on August 17. No one was injured during the incident. Jabiev’s reported death sparked widespread protests in occupied South Ossetia leading to the removal of Naniev, the resignation of the de facto “prime minister,” and the dissolution of the “government” by the de facto “president.”

b. Disappearance

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

The government’s investigation into the reported abduction and forced rendition of Azerbaijani freelance journalist and activist Afgan Mukhtarli from Georgia to Azerbaijan by government officials, begun in 2017, remained stalled. During the year the Public Defender’s Office, local and international NGOs, and the international community continued to express concerns regarding impunity for government officials in connection with the Mukhtarli case. Following Mukhtarli’s March 17 release from Azerbaijani prison and arrival in Germany where his family resided in exile, the Prosecutor General’s Office sought German approval to interview Mukhtarli. On October 1, the Prosecutor General’s Office received the results of a July 27 German police interview, and the investigation continued as of December. In her April report, the public defender noted that after Mukhtarli’s release from prison, he attributed his abduction to an agreement between senior Azerbaijani and Georgian government officials. Concerns of government involvement in Mukhtarli’s disappearance from Tbilisi and arrest on the Azerbaijan-Georgia border therefore continued.

More than 2,300 individuals remained missing following the 1992-93 war in Abkhazia and the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). During the year the government did not make significant progress on investigating the disappearances of ethnic Ossetians Alan Khachirov, Alan Khugaev, and Soltan Pliev, who disappeared in 2008.

In October 2019 the government created the Interagency Commission on Missing Persons in line with ICRC recommendations. The government convened the first meeting of the commission but suspended subsequent sessions due to COVID-19.

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports government officials employed them. In her July 9 report to the United Nations in advance of Georgia’s Universal Periodic Review, the public defender described effective investigation into alleged mistreatment as “a systemic problem.” She reported that of 107 requests for investigation her office sent to the Prosecutor’s Office between 2013 and 2019, the responsible person was not identified in any of the cases.

As of December the Public Defender’s Office asked the State Inspector’s Service to investigate 40 alleged cases of human rights violations in government institutions, 19 of which concerned violations allegedly committed by Internal Affairs Ministry personnel, 18 involved alleged crimes committed by penitentiary department staff, and one allegedly involved Justice Ministry staff. In two of the 40 requests, the responsible agency was not clear. The State Inspector’s Service opened investigations into 256 cases. Eleven investigations were in response to the Public Defenders Office’s request. The State Inspector’s Service directed five investigations to other investigative agencies and did not identify elements of a crime in four cases. An investigation of one case continued at year’s end.

As of October the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) reported it consulted on six allegations and submitted one complaint of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in prisons or by law enforcement agencies to the Prosecutor General’s Office for investigation, compared with 25 for 2019.

Trials against three police officers stemming from the June 2019 protests were underway at year’s end. The officers were charged with exceeding authority by using violence or weapons, which is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment and deprivation of the right to hold public office for up to three years (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly).

The trial of Detective Investigator Konstantine Kochishvili for allegedly physically assaulting a minor by spitting in his face and beating him in February 2019 continued as of December. During the course of the beating, Kochishvili reportedly broke the minor’s arm. In May 2019 authorities arrested Kochishvili and charged him with degrading and inhuman treatment. On February 26, the Rustavi City Court released the defendant on bail of 5,000 lari ($1,500).

As of year’s end, several former officials remained on trial at Tbilisi City Court in various cases of torture and other crimes allegedly committed under the former government. The officials included the former deputy chief of the general staff, Giorgi Kalandadze; the former deputy culture minister, Giorgi Udesiani; and the former director of Gldani No. 8 prison, Aleksandre Mukhadze (see section 1.d.).

On September 7, police officer Mariana Choloiani was convicted in the Tbilisi City Court of obtaining testimony under duress during a December 2019 interrogation and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Choloiani used threats and intimidation to extract self-incriminating testimony from 15-year-old Luka Siradze regarding vandalism of a school. After his interrogation, Siradze committed suicide.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

While overall prison and detention facility conditions were adequate, conditions in some older facilities lacked sufficient ventilation, natural light, minimum living space, and adequate health care. Prison conditions in Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia were reported to be chronically substandard.

Physical Conditions: The public defender’s 2019 report, released in April, noted overcrowding remained a problem in some prison facilities, especially prisons 2, 8, 14, 15, and 17.

In previous years’ reports, NGOs expressed serious concern regarding a tendency of prisons visited to place prisoners in “de-escalation rooms” for up to 72 hours or shorter time intervals over a number of days. The same problem was highlighted in multiple “prison visit” reports and an annual report of the public defender’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). According to the Public Defender’s Office, “de-escalation rooms” were used as punishment, and their use was considered mistreatment of inmates.

While physical conditions in temporary detention isolators were “on the whole acceptable,” the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) on its 2018 visit to the country also highlighted several other deficiencies, including minimum living space, and the placement of remand prisoners with inmates at large facilities (prisons 2 and 8). Inmate-on-inmate violence, criminal subcultures, and informal management by selected prisoners remained persistent problems.

The Public Defender’s Office reported an increase in inmate-on-inmate violence, which in most cases was underreported and never investigated.

The NPM’s annual report identified informal management by “strong inmates” (“watchers”), as one of the most concerning issues. Some members of prison management acknowledged the problem. The Public Defender’s Office raised the issue and requested assistance from the administration at public hearings. Subsequently, the Special Penitentiary Service began restricting the public defender’s staff’s access to prisons. According to the public defender and NGOs, the Ministry of Justice refused to acknowledge the “watchers” and the danger they represented to inmates and the outside world upon release. The Public Defender’s Office reported such informal control “often leads to interprisoner violence and bullying,” and “watchers” controlled prisoners’ access to clothing, food, medicine, and packages sent from their families. Some prisoner victims of “watchers” requested transfer to high-risk prisons or self-isolation to escape, increasing risks of mental health issues among the prison population. In December members of the Public Defender’s Office reported being verbally and physically harassed by a “watcher” in prison number 8. Although number 8 was a “closed” prison, “watchers” roamed freely outside their cells.

The Public Defender’s Office 2019 annual report, released in April, stated cell toilets for detainees generally were only partially screened, and criminal suspects had limited access to a shower, outdoor exercise, as well as no family contacts or telephone calls. Lack of fresh air and activities were problematic at closed institutions. Inmates in “closed” prisons (2 and 8) were locked up for 23 hours a day with limited or no access to rehabilitation and resocialization services; this was especially problematic for inmates with mental health issues.

While the Ministry of Justice maintained a special medical unit for prisoners with disabilities, the Public Defender’s Office reported prisons and temporary detention centers did not take into account the needs of persons with disabilities, including for medical services. The office also noted the majority of institutions failed to compile data on and register the needs of persons with disabilities. According to the Special Penitentiary Service, some facilities began to adapt their infrastructure to accommodate persons with disabilities (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).

Mental health care remained inadequate within the penitentiary system. There was no national strategy for treating prisoners with mental disabilities. Initial screening of prisoners’ mental health using a specialized instrument occurred only at prisons 2 and 8; multiple screenings did not happen at any institution. The system lacked qualified social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and ward-based staff.

In its 2018 visit to three psychiatric hospitals, the CPT found many patients lived in “woefully dilapidated and sometimes overcrowded dormitories, which lacked privacy and failed to ensure patients’ dignity.” The CPT also reported a shortage of psychiatrists and ward-based staff. There were no significant changes or improvements reported since this assessment.

Administration: The Public Defender’s Office noted there was only one ombudsperson authorized to respond to complaints by prisoners and reported that obstacles, such as a lack of information on their rights, fear of intimidation, distrust of the outcome, and lack of confidentiality, could deter prisoners from filing complaints with judicial authorities. According to the NPM’s 2019 annual report, the number of complaints from semiopen prisons decreased, which may be explained by the informal “watcher” system. Staffing levels of one security officer to more than 100 inmates were inadequate at semiopen facilities and created an insecure environment for both inmates and administration. According to the office, records on registering and distributing detainees in temporary detention centers were often incomplete or erroneous.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by international prison monitoring organizations, including the CPT, the International Corrections Management Training Center, and some local and international human rights groups. The NPM had access to penitentiaries, conducted planned and unscheduled visits, and was allowed to take photographs during monitoring visits. NPM members, however, did not have unimpeded access to video recordings of developments in penitentiaries and inmate medical files, as well as some disciplinary proceedings for inmates.

The law prohibits video or audio surveillance of meetings between the Public Defender’s Office and prison inmates. Within hours of Public Defender Nino Lomjaria’s January 21 special report on prisons, however, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani released a video recording of a Public Defender’s Office representative’s prison visit. The public defender and NGOs questioned how the Justice Ministry acquired the recording, given the prohibition on surveillance of the office’s representatives’ meetings with inmates. The Justice Ministry’s Special Penitentiary Service also informed journalists the public defender met with three named prisoners, including two former senior opposition figures, on January 23. The public defender asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate, but the office refused to do so.

The ICRC had full access to prisons and detention facilities in undisputed Georgian territory and some access to facilities in South Ossetia. The ICRC originally did not have access to Zaza Gakheladze, who was detained July 11 by Russian “border guards” along the South Ossetia administrative boundary line, but the ICRC reported access multiple times as of year’s end. Gakheladze suffered a leg wound during detention and was hospitalized. On July 27, de facto authorities transferred him to a pretrial detention facility in occupied South Ossetia. The ICRC generally did not have access to prisons and detention facilities in Abkhazia. The ICRC reported it had an ad hoc visit to one detainee in Abkhazia during the year.

Improvements: An October 2019 report supported by the UN Development Program on Georgia’s implementation of the National Strategy for the Protection of Human Rights 2014-2020 noted there was “significant improvement” in resolving prison overcrowding during this period.

The role of social work significantly increased following the July 2018 merger of the penitentiary system into the Ministry of Justice. Recent reforms clearly defined the terms of reference for case managers (professional social workers responsible for risks and needs assessment of inmates and provision of relevant interventions/services) and case administrators (responsible for technical assistance and coordination of low-risk cases). The goal of separating the two functions was to promote professional social work and stop employing representatives of other professions as “social workers” with multiple job functions.

The penitentiary system revised its risk and needs assessment with the support of the EU-funded Penitentiary and Probation Support Project. The assessment was piloted in penitentiary establishments and probation bureaus and was fully implemented in prisons 5, 11, and 16 by mid-December.

During the year the Ministry of Justice replaced its Prison and Probation Training Center with the new Vocational and Educational Center for Offenders, which focused on creating “out of cell” activities for inmates, helping inmates develop necessary skills to find jobs in prisons and outside, and working with the private sector to introduce prison industries into the penitentiary system. The penitentiary service also established a new escort unit to provide safe and secure transportation of inmates within the country.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government’s observance of these prohibitions was uneven, and reports of arbitrary arrests continued.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Law enforcement officers must have a warrant to make an arrest except in limited cases. The criminal procedure code provides that an arrest warrant may be obtained only where probable cause is shown that a person committed a crime for which conviction is punishable by imprisonment and that the individual may abscond or fail to appear in court, destroy evidence, or commit another crime. GYLA noted the law did not explicitly specify the role and powers of a judge in reviewing the lawfulness of arrests and that courts often failed to examine the factual circumstances of the detention.

Upon arrest a detainee must be advised of his or her legal rights. Any statement made after arrest but before a detainee is advised of his or her rights is inadmissible in court. The arresting officer must immediately take a detainee to the nearest police station and record the arrest, providing a copy to the detainee and his or her attorney. The Public Defender’s Office reported, however, maintenance of police station logbooks was haphazard and that in a number of cases the logbooks did not establish the date and time of an arrest.

Detainees must be indicted within 48 hours and taken to court within 72 hours. Anyone taken into custody on administrative grounds has the right to be heard in court within 12 hours after detention. Violating these time limits results in the immediate release of the person.

The law permits alternatives to detention. NGOs and court observers reported the judiciary failed to use alternative measures adequately. The government also lacked a monitoring mechanism for defendants not in custody.

Detainees have the right to request immediate access to a lawyer of their choice and the right to refuse to make a statement in the absence of counsel. An indigent defendant charged with a crime has the right to counsel appointed at public expense. As a result of government income requirements, however, many low-income defendants were ineligible for government aid but could not afford counsel during critical stages of criminal proceedings.

Detainees facing possible criminal charges have the right to have their families notified by the prosecutor or the investigator within three hours of arrest; persons charged with administrative offenses have the right to notify family upon request. The public defender’s 2018 report noted improvement in the observance of this right: families were notified within three hours of arrest in 82 percent of cases examined in 2018, compared with 71 percent of cases in 2017. The law requires the case prosecutor to approve requests by persons in pretrial detention to contact their family.

Witnesses have the right to refuse to be interviewed by law enforcement officials for certain criminal offenses. In such instances prosecutors and investigators may petition the court to compel a witness to be interviewed if they have proof that the witness has “necessary information.” The Public Defender’s Office reported that police continued to summon individuals as “witnesses” and later arrested them. According to the defender’s office, police used “involuntary interviews” of subjects, often in police cars or at police stations. The public defender’s annual report for 2019 noted that police regularly failed to advise interviewees of their rights prior to initiating interviews and failed to maintain records of individuals interviewed in police stations or vehicles.

Concerns persisted regarding authorities’ use of administrative detention to detain individuals for up to 15 days without the right to an effective defense, defined standards of proof, and the right to a meaningful appeal.

Arbitrary Arrest: Reports of arbitrary detentions continued. In one example, on October 7, authorities arrested two former members of the government Commission on Delimitation and Demarcation, Iveri Melashvili and Natalia Ilychova. The Prosecutor General’s Office charged them with attempting to violate the country’s territorial integrity during the commission’s work in 2005-07 on the state border with Azerbaijan. On October 8, they were remanded to two months of pretrial detention. Georgian NGOs and political opposition contacts described the “cartographers’ case” as politically motivated, highlighting the timing of the investigation in the pretrial period. Partisan statements by senior ruling party officials linking the case to the elections reinforced these concerns. On November 30, the Tbilisi City Court upheld the pretrial detention sentence, which the defendants’ attorneys said they would appeal. The case occurred during the violent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh, increasing tension in the country’s already destabilized border region.

The Public Defender’s Office and local NGOs issued reports describing unsubstantiated detentions of demonstrators in connection with the June 2019 protests (see section 2.b.). For example, in the annual report covering 2019 released in April, the public defender stated the majority of protesters who were arrested were charged with violations of the code of administrative offenses; the public defender described the contents of the violations and arrest reports as “mostly identical and…formulaic.” On June 24, the Human Rights Center reported the court agreed to the pretrial detention of “all accused protesters based on banal, abstract, and often identical solicitations of the prosecutors.”

As of year’s end, the trial of former justice minister Zurab Adeishvili continued in the Tbilisi City Court. In 2016 the Chief Prosecutor’s Office charged Adeishvili in absentia in connection with the alleged illegal detention and kidnapping of a former opposition leader, Koba Davitashvili, in 2007.

There were frequent reports of detentions of Georgians along the administrative boundary lines of both the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. For example, de facto South Ossetian authorities unlawfully detained Genadi Bestaev in November 2019, Khvicha Mghebrishvili on July 3, and Zaza Gakheladze on July 11. Khvicha Mghebrishvili was released on September 25, but Bestaev and Gakheladze remained in custody as of December 31.

Pretrial Detention: According to Supreme Court statistics, during the first nine months of the year, of 7,507 defendants presented to the court for pretrial detention, trial courts applied pretrial detention in 47.9 percent of cases, compared with 48.3 percent for the same period in 2019.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There is no meaningful judicial review provided by the code of administrative violations for an administrative detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, there remained indications of interference in judicial independence and impartiality. Judges were vulnerable to political pressure from within and outside the judiciary.

The Public Defender’s Office, the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, and the international community continued to raise concerns regarding a lack of judicial independence. During the year they highlighted problems, including the influence of a group of judges primarily consisting of High Council of Justice members and court chairs that allegedly stifled critical opinions within the judiciary and obstructed proposals to strengthen judicial independence. NGOs referred to this group of influential and nonreformist judges as the “clan.” Other problems they highlighted included the impact of the High Council’s powers on the independence of individual judges, manipulation of the case distribution system, a lack of transparency in the High Council’s activities, and shortcomings in the High Council’s appointments of judges and court chairpersons.

The Public Defender’s Office, the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, and the international community continued to highlight shortcomings in the 2017 legislative package informally known as the “third wave of judicial reform.” They pointed to problems in the laws’ implementation and highlighted challenges to judicial independence, including flawed processes for selecting judges at all court levels, many to lifetime appointments, which left the judiciary vulnerable to political influence.

In December 2019 parliament passed a “fourth wave” of judicial reform. The legislation incorporated several key provisions, based on best international practices, that aim to create greater transparency, accountability, and independence in the judiciary, in areas such as judicial discipline, appointment, and caseload management. The package, however, left the authority to select individual court chairs with the High Council of Justice; NGOs warned this power would allow the High Council to continue to influence individual judges. NGOs reported one of the levers court chairs used to influence the outcomes of cases was creating narrowly specialized chambers in larger courts to manipulate the randomized case assignment process. At their sole discretion, court chairpersons assigned judges to narrowly specialized chambers without any clear rules or pre-established criteria. A court chairperson could at any time reshuffle the composition of narrowly specialized chambers and change the specialization of a judge. Chairpersons were not legally required to substantiate such a decision.

The long-standing practice of transferring judges from one court to another also remained a problem. The decisions regarding transfers were made by the High Council of Justice; however, these decisions were unsubstantiated. NGOs warned of transfers of judges without competition to the administrative chambers and boards two months prior to the October 31 parliamentary elections in the three most strategic and overcrowded courts, the Tbilisi and Kutaisi Courts of Appeal and the Tbilisi City Court.

Administrative chambers adjudicate election disputes. Most of the judges transferred to administrative chambers panels were affiliated with the “clan,” and almost all of them were associated with high-profile cases.

NGOs reported the courts did not serve as an effective check over election administration bodies following the October 31 parliamentary elections while reviewing appeals against decisions made by the Precinct and District Election Commission. According to statistics published on November 12 by the High Court of Justice, 96 election disputes reached the court system. The courts sustained only 16 percent of them.

In one case, Bolnisi Court, followed by the Tbilisi Court of Appeals, declined to annul the votes in a precinct or order a repeat vote after video evidence showed that one person illegally voted in the same precinct several times in Bolnisi.

NGOs alleged the High Council of Justice purposefully failed to address the problematic caseload backlog in courts in order to maintain a powerful lever for influencing judges. Because of the backlog, the vast majority of judges failed to comply with statutory terms for case review, which can be subject to judicial discipline. According to the Office of the Inspector for Judicial Discipline under the High Council of Justice, 40 of 60 complaints reported in the first quarter of the year concerned case delays.

Despite these “waves” of reforms, on June 23, the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary stated, “During almost 30 years since the declaration of Georgia’s independence, the country still has not managed to build an independent judiciary. Regrettably, we are still talking about political influences and corruption in the courts. The latter still do not manage to restrain and control the other branches of government, while judicial decisions do not essentially comply with human rights standards and fairness.” The coalition blamed what it described as “clan-based governance” within the judiciary for the failure of the “waves” of reforms to alter the court system significantly.

According to the law, the Conference of Judges is a judicial self-governing body composed of all judges in the country’s courts. During a convocation of the body that convened on October 30, participants elected two new judge-members and a secretary of the High Court of Justice. The Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary criticized the decision to hold the session a day before the parliamentary elections and select two new members and a secretary, stating the timing raised concerns regarding “the judicial clan’s” intention to occupy strategically important and influential positions in the court system with an aim to ensure the four-year presence of members loyal and acceptable to the clan in the High Council of Justice.

In May 2019 parliament adopted amendments regulating the selection of Supreme Court judges. In September 2019 the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) released a report critical of the amendments and the High Council’s Supreme Court judge selection process. The ODIHR concluded the amendments fell short of providing for an open, transparent, and merit-based selection system and were not fully in line with international standards. The ODIHR identified several shortcomings in the High Council of Justice’s selection process and criticized its interviews of Supreme Court nominees as “highly dysfunctional and unprofessional.” It also noted the lack of transparency in the process could violate Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides basic provisions for an independent and impartial tribunal.

Following a lengthy process of public hearings, during which a number of candidates had difficulty demonstrating expertise or independence, in December 2019 parliament appointed 14 of the High Council’s 20 nominees to lifetime appointments on the Supreme Court. The Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary described the 14 appointed judges as “loyal to the clan.”

In a case submitted to the Constitutional Court in November 2019, the Public Defender’s Office challenged the constitutionality of the amendments regulating the Supreme Court selection process, arguing they violated the right to a fair trial. On July 30, by a split vote of four to four, the Constitutional Court Plenum rejected the office’s claim and ruled the High Council’s selection process was constitutional. The Public Defender’s Office responded that the decision violated the principle of transparency and further eroded trust in the judiciary. On September 16, the independent media outlet Civil.ge reported, “The July 30 ruling confirmed yet again the nearly complete takeover of all instances and branches of the Georgian judicial system by the ruling Georgian Dream party.” On October 23, Transparency International (TI) Georgia reported the judiciary had become fully controlled by a group of judges referred to as the “clan.”

During the period from April to May, the Supreme Court Plenum appointed two controversial judges to the Constitutional Court. NGOs criticized the opaque process and noted the selection decisions took place behind closed doors, candidate information was not shared prior to appointment, and the public did not have a chance to comment about candidates’ fitness for the job.

Several NGOs noted public confidence in the appointments required open processes that allowed for public comment. The Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary expressed “serious concerns” about the qualifications and integrity of the two judges and attributed their appointment to their “loyalty to the clan.”

In June the High Council of Justice announced an open competition for 99 vacant judicial positions. The High Council had not used open competition to fill trial court and Court of Appeals vacancies since 2018. On November 18, the High Council of Justice concluded the competition by filling only 36 judicial vacancies. As a result of the competition, 24 new judges, who were High School of Justice graduates, entered the system. Moreover, the High Council of Justice reappointed four sitting and eight former judges. Three candidates were appointed in appellate courts, leaving 10 positions vacant, and 33 candidates were appointed in the courts of the first instance, leaving 53 vacancies. Under the “fourth wave” of judicial reform legislation, the High Council of Justice is required to provide reasoning for the appointment or rejection of judicial candidates. By year’s end it had not done so.

On September 30, parliament amended the Law on Common Courts to improve the controversial selection process for Supreme Court judges by requiring the High Council of Justice to provide justification at several stages of the selection process, while also providing the right to appeal High Council decisions. Parliament’s Georgian Dream ruling party had requested a Venice Commission opinion on the amendments but approved the amendments rather than wait for the commission’s opinion. An EU representative described the parliament’s vote as a missed opportunity to foster public confidence in the selection process. The amended law went into effect on October 5.

Access to court decisions was restricted. Despite a June 2019 constitutional ruling that obliged parliament to provide public access to court decisions by the standards established by the Constitutional Court, parliament failed to comply with the obligation. Courts stopped publishing decisions on May 1.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial. The Public Defender’s Office reported numerous violations of the right to a fair trial, and NGOs noted this right was not enforced in some high-profile, politically sensitive cases (see Political Prisoners and Detainees below). NGOs reported courts were inconsistent in their approaches to closing hearings to the public and at times did not provide an explanation for holding a closed hearing.

Defendants are presumed innocent and must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have a right to be present at their trial and to have a public trial except where national security, privacy, or protection of a juvenile is involved.

The law allows for trial in absentia in certain cases where the defendant has left the country. The code on administrative offenses does not provide the necessary due process provisions, especially when dealing with violations that could result in a defendant’s loss of liberty.

On March 21, the president declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the state of emergency, remote court hearings via electronic means of communication were possible. In May parliament amended the criminal procedure code (CPC) to permit remote criminal court hearings until July 15. In July amendments were made to permit remote criminal hearings until January 2021. December amendments permitted remote criminal hearings until July 1, 2021. The use of remote litigation was not consistently applied. Some judges and court users opposed any form of video conferencing in court proceedings. The low quality of voice and image transmission during video conferences, an insufficient number of properly equipped courtrooms, and the small number of video rooms in places of detention made remote proceedings difficult. During this time NGO representatives, who were largely barred from monitoring court proceedings, and legal professionals expressed concerns that remote litigation posed challenges for the right of the accused to a public hearing and impeded secure, confidential communication with defendants and access to evidence. They also noted remote litigation caused delays due to technical difficulties and witness intimidation when witnesses were physically present in a police station.

The law does not prescribe a maximum period for investigation of cases but stipulates a maximum period, nine months, for pretrial detention. If courts do not complete a case within this period, defendants must be released from pretrial detention pending completion of the trial. The criminal procedure code requires trial courts to issue a verdict within 24 months of completing a pretrial hearing.

In its report covering March 2019 through February, GYLA noted unreasonable delays in cases and court hearings were a serious factor in limiting the right to timely justice. The requirement of a continuous trial was met only in jury trial cases. GYLA also reported weak reasoning in court judgments and judges’ inability to maintain order in many cases. In its annual report for 2019 released in April, the Public Defender’s Office highlighted consideration of criminal cases was often delayed, going unreasonably beyond the terms determined by legislation, particularly in appeals courts and in administrative cases appealed by prisoners. The office also highlighted unreasonable delays–sometimes for five months–in courts’ handing decisions to parties and shortcomings in the examination of civil and administrative cases by appellate courts within the statutory time limit.

Examples of delayed proceedings included the cases of Temur Barabadze and founding Millennium Challenge Fund Georgia CEO Lasha Shanidze and his father, Shalva. The Shanidzes were convicted of embezzlement in 2011 after Barabadze testified against them. Barabadze later recanted his testimony, but a judicial review of the Shanidzes’ case continued to await the resolution of Barabadze’s case, also on charges of embezzlement. Hearings for Barabadze, however, did not begin until 2017. The trial court acquitted him in 2018, but the appellate court convicted him on the less serious charge of abuse of power following an appeal. In April 2019 prosecutors appealed the Tbilisi Appellate Court decision convicting Barabadze on lesser charges to the Supreme Court. The case was awaiting a Supreme Court decision as of year’s end.

Defendants have the right to meet with an attorney of their choice without hindrance, supervision, or undue restriction. Defendants enjoy the right to have an attorney provided at public expense if they are indigent, but many defendants and their attorneys did not always have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. In April the Public Defender’s Office reported positive changes made by the state in 2019 resulted in more frequent involvement of a lawyer in a case within the first 24 hours.

GYLA monitored online criminal trials during the March-June period. According to GYLA’s report, plea agreement court hearings, as well as pretrial and merits hearings, showed the defense was unable to establish effective communication with defendants remanded in penitentiary institutions due to emergency state restrictions. During virtual court hearings, several lawyers requested permission to have a conversation with the accused privately, yet the secretary of the session explained he or she would not be able to ensure the confidentiality of the conversation with the accused.

In criminal proceedings defendants and their attorneys have the right of access to prosecution evidence relevant to their cases no later than five days before the pretrial hearing and may make copies. Defendants have the right to question and confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf at trial. Defendants have the right to refuse to testify or incriminate themselves.

The Public Defender’s Office, civil society, and the international community recognized the administrative code lacked some due process provisions, since the law allows for those found guilty of administrative offenses to be punished with imprisonment without the due process provisions afforded to defendants charged under the criminal code.

Although a defendant generally has the right to appeal a conviction, making an effective appeal under the administrative code is difficult. By law defendants have 30 days to file an appeal once they receive the court’s written and reasoned judgment. Administrative sentences that entail incarceration must be appealed within 48 hours and other sentences within 10 days.

On May 22, parliament amended the code of administrative offenses to conform with standards set by the Constitutional Court. The amendments made it easier to appeal administrative penalties, including appeals of 15-day administrative detentions. These amendments followed a previous round of November 2019 administrative code amendments in response to an April 2019 Constitutional Court ruling which stated that requiring a defendant to appeal a court decision within 10 days after the issuance of that decision was unconstitutional. Parliament accordingly amended the code of administrative offenses by permitting an appeal within 10 days of the defendant’s receipt of the court’s decision containing the reasoning for the ruling. The amendments also introduced a new rule that if the circumstances do not allow the court decision to be handed to the defendant, it will be made public and will be considered to have been submitted to the defendant on the third day of its publication.

By law a court must certify that a plea bargain was reached without violence, intimidation, deception, or illegal promise and that the accused had the opportunity to obtain legal assistance. Plea bargaining provisions in the criminal procedure code provide safeguards for due process. The evidentiary standard for plea agreements stipulates that evidence must be sufficient to find a defendant guilty without a full trial of a case and must satisfy an objective person that the defendant committed the crime. In a report covering March 2019 through February, GYLA stated its monitors attended 527 plea agreement court hearings against 558 defendants. In four cases only, the court did not grant the motion submitted by the Prosecutor General’s Office on a plea agreement. In 190 (34 percent) of the observed court hearings, judges did not fully inform the defendants of their rights relating to the plea agreement. In 52 (10 percent) of the cases, the judge did not ask the accused whether he had been subjected to torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment by law enforcement officials.

Based on the monitoring of criminal cases related to the June 2019 protests outside parliament, on June 24, the Human Rights Center reported defendants accepted unfair plea deals and often admitted guilt only to avoid a lengthy and delayed criminal process against them. This often happened when defendants were placed in pretrial detention. When making a decision on the plea agreement, the court is required to examine whether the accusation is substantiated, whether the requested punishment is just, and whether there is valid evidence to prove the guilt of the defendant. According to the Human Rights Center, however, these requirements were not met in the criminal cases related to the June 2019 protests.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

In a joint September 2019 statement, 16 local NGOs expressed alarm concerning what they termed an “increased number of politically motivated criminal investigations and prosecutions.” They cited as examples the criminal case against the two founders of TBC Bank (see section 4), the criminal cases against the former director of the television station Rustavi 2 and against the father of the owner of TV Pirveli (see section 2.a.), and some cases of incarceration of those who in June 2019 protested Russia’s occupation of parts of the country’s territory, including opposition party leader Irakli Okruashvili (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly).

Opposition party members and family members of prisoners stated the government held political prisoners. On May 15, President Salome Zourabichvili pardoned and released from incarceration European Georgia leader Gigi Ugulava and Victorious Georgia founder Irakli Okruashvili. Opposition parties had demanded their release based on a March 8 pre-election agreement with the ruling Georgian Dream party. Opposition parties and the international community welcomed the pardons.

The opposition continued to urge the release of opposition figure Giorgi Rurua, characterizing him as a political prisoner whose release was envisioned under the March 8 political agreement between ruling and opposition parties. In addition to election system changes, the agreement contained a provision that the government would address the appearance of political interference in the judicial system. On July 30, Rurua was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment on two charges. On August 4, nine NGOs expressed concerns the case against Rurua was politically motivated and stated, “Prosecution on political grounds has recently become a weapon to influence political opponents or critical media outlets.”

The government permitted international and domestic organizations to visit persons claiming to be political prisoners or detainees, and several international organizations did so.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, but there were concerns regarding the process of assigning civil judges to narrow specializations, based on their loyalty to certain influential judges or others, and transparency of rulings. The constitution and law stipulate that a person who suffers damages resulting from arbitrary detention or other unlawful or arbitrary acts, including human rights violations, is entitled to submit a civil action. Individuals have the right to appeal court decisions involving alleged violation of the European Convention on Human Rights by the state to the ECHR after they have exhausted domestic avenues of appeal.

There were reports of lack of due process and respect for rule of law in a number of property rights cases. NGOs also reported several cases in which groups claimed the government improperly used tax liens to pressure organizations. For example, prior to its July 2019 change in ownership, the then opposition-oriented Rustavi 2 television station claimed it was unfairly targeted for its failure to pay taxes, while progovernment media did not experience similar scrutiny.

Since 2012 the government made it a priority to reduce the national caseload in the docket of the ECHR. The Justice Ministry reported that as of July, 52 cases were filed against Georgia at the ECHR, compared with 131 cases in all of 2019. According to the ministry, since 2012 a total of 86 cases were resolved with a settlement between parties, and 43 were resolved with the government’s acknowledgement of a violation.

Courts continued to suffer from excessive caseload and failed to dispose of civil cases within the fixed statutory terms. According to the civil procedure code, courts are required to hear civil cases within two months after receiving an application. A court that hears a particularly complex case may extend this term by up to five months, except for claims involving maintenance payments, compensation of damages incurred as a result of injury or other bodily harm or the death of a breadwinner, labor relations, and use of residences, which must be reviewed within one month.

The backlogs worsened during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Courts heard a small number of civil cases remotely. According to NGOs monitoring the courts, the fact that the respondent rarely agreed to electronic proceedings prevented systematic use of remote hearings in civil cases.

Property Restitution

In Russian-occupied Abkhazia, the de facto legal system prohibits property claims by ethnic Georgians who left Abkhazia before, during, or after the 1992-93 war, thereby depriving internally displaced persons of their property rights. In April 2019 the de facto parliament of Abkhazia passed “legislation” that also deprived family members of those “who fought against the sovereignty of Abkhazia, participated in the hostilities against Abkhazia, or assisted occupational forces” of the right of inheritance.

In a June 29 report on human rights, Abkhaz “ombudsperson” Asida Shakryl addressed rights violations of the ethnic Georgian population residing in occupied Abkhazia. She particularly highlighted that the law neglects the rights of the “indigenous” population. For example, persons permanently residing in the Gali district, whose ancestors were born in Abkhazia and own property, have no right to elect members of, or be elected to “local government” bodies. They also have no right to sell or buy real estate.

In a 2010 decree, de facto South Ossetian authorities invalidated all real estate documents issued by the Georgian government between 1991 and 2008 relating to property in the Akhalgori Region. The decree also declared all property in Akhalgori belongs to the de facto authorities until a “citizen’s” right to that property is established in accordance with the de facto “law,” effectively stripping ethnic Georgians displaced in 2008 of their right to regain property in the region.

On November 27, the Georgian Democracy Research Institute (DRI) reported de facto South Ossetian authorities were using a “family reunification program” to relocate residents of South Ossetia to live with family members in Tbilisi-administered territory. Persons accepted to the “program” reportedly received “exit documents” from the de facto authorities, according to which they would not be allowed to return and reclaim property in South Ossetia. DRI raised particular concerns about the long-term effects of this program on residents of Akhalgori.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions without court approval or legal necessity and prohibit police from searching a residence or conducting nonconsensual electronic surveillance or monitoring operations without a warrant. NGOs, media, and others asserted the government did not respect these prohibitions. For example, there were widespread reports that the government monitored the political opposition. Local and international NGOs also reported government officials monitored independent Azerbaijani journalists and activists residing in the country. TI Georgia and the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center continued to raise concerns regarding the State Security Service of Georgia’s secret surveillance system and its lack of political neutrality and weak oversight.

During the year the Constitutional Court continued to review a case submitted by Member of Parliament Eka Beselia regarding the January 2019 release of a secretly recorded videotape of her private life. At the time of the videotape’s release, Beselia had been a Georgian Dream member of parliament advocating the strengthening of judicial independence. The president, the Public Defender’s Office, NGOs, and others urged law enforcement officials to prevent illegal surveillance and hold accountable those responsible for circulating such recordings. In January 2019 the Public Defender’s Office and the nongovernmental “This Affects You Too” campaign separately noted such recordings had been previously released with impunity and emphasized the practice mainly targeted politically active women. The campaign stated in part, “It is very alarming that the timing of the circulation of illegal recordings coincides with the critical statements of Eka Beselia in relation to the processes in the judiciary. It is of deep concern if certain individuals used the illegal recordings as a means to stall reforms in the judiciary and protect the interests of the clan of judges that wield significant power within the judiciary.” The videotape’s release occurred in the context of contentious parliamentary debate concerning draft legislation regulating the process for selecting Supreme Court justices. As of year’s end, two new Constitutional Court judges were studying the case file.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and citizens generally were free to exercise this right, although there were allegations the government at times did not adequately safeguard that freedom. During the year journalists, NGOs, and the international community raised serious concerns regarding the environment for media pluralism. In addition to raising such concerns, the Public Defender’s Office noted in its April parliamentary report covering 2019 that the country continued to lack proper statistics on offenses committed against journalists.

Freedom of Speech: NGOs accused the justice minister of attempting to restrict freedom of speech by suspending notary Bachana Shengelia from office on June 19 for comments he posted on Facebook regarding the controversial 2018 death of his mother, school principal Ia Kerzaia (see the 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights for Georgia, section 3). GYLA described the suspension as a restriction on freedom of expression and submitted a case on Shengelia’s behalf to the Constitutional Court on July 6.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were very active and expressed a wide variety of views. NGOs continued to express concern regarding the close relationship between the heads of the Georgian Public Broadcaster and Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) and the ruling party, the public broadcaster’s editorial bias in favor of the ruling party, decreased media pluralism, and a number of criminal prosecutions against owners of media outlets that appeared politically motivated.

In June parliament appointed Bondo Mdzinarishivli as a member of the nine-member Georgian Public Broadcaster Board of Trustees. Many media watchers expressed concern about Mdzinarishvili’s appointment, as he was known for his homophobic rhetoric at TV Obiektivi.

Some media outlets, watchdog groups, and NGOs continued to express concern regarding decreased media pluralism and continuing political influence in media. Concerns also persisted regarding government interference with some media outlets. Persistent allegations of political pressure on public broadcasters remained. During the year civil society groups alleged the ruling party continued to attempt to gain undue influence over Adjara Public Broadcaster following the controversial dismissal of Natia Kapanadze, the former director of Adjara Television, in April 2019. Kapanadze appealed the decision in court but lost. After several attempts, in November 2019 the Adjara Public Broadcaster Advisory Council elected a new director, Giorgi Kokhreidze, who fired and harassed dozens of employees who were vocally critical of the management.

On February 2, Natia Zoidze, deputy director of the Georgian Public Broadcaster, resigned as a result of what Reporters without Borders termed “political pressure.” Approximately one-third of the station’s employees (100) founded an alternative trade union to protect their rights. Solidarity rallies were held in several cities, including Batumi, Kutaisi, and Tbilisi, in support of Adjara Public Broadcaster’s employees and editorial policy. In March the public defender expressed concern regarding the possible negative effect the developments might have on freedom of expression, as did Reporters without Borders; Harlem Desir, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media; and 33 local NGOs. Former employees of Adjara Public Broadcaster and their respective trade unions filed several lawsuits and applied to the Prosecutor’s Office alleging harassment, interference with journalistic activities, and unlawful termination by Giorgi Kokhreidze.

Concerns continued regarding decreased media pluralism and an increase in the concentration of media outlets in favor of the ruling party following the July 2019 ECHR ruling in favor of a former owner of Rustavi 2, Kibar Khalvashi. Whereas the previous owner had been affiliated with the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party, Khalvashi was affiliated with the ruling party. During the year some journalists who had been fired due to changes of management and staff sought to defend their labor rights in court. Many media watchers expressed concern and called upon international watchdog groups to monitor thoroughly developments around the station. As of December, Rustavi 2’s reporting critical of the government had softened, particularly in the pre-election period. Rustavi 2’s former general director, Nika Gvaramia, and many journalists who formerly worked for Rustavi 2 moved to media outlet Mtavari Arkhi, which was established in September 2019 and was aligned with the opposition UNM party and one of the harshest critics of the ruling party. Other journalists who had worked at Rustavi 2 joined Formula TV, launched in August 2019, or TV Pirveli.

The Public Defender’s Office, some media watchers, NGOs, and opposition parties expressed suspicion that a number of criminal prosecutions against critical media outlets or their owners were politically motivated. On July 9, for example, the public defender stated that multiple criminal cases against owners of independent television companies raised questions about “attempts to persecute independent and critical media in the country.” On August 4, nine NGOs questioned the legality of the July 30 Tbilisi City Court criminal conviction of Giorgi Rurua, a shareholder of Mtavari Arkhi, and four-year prison sentence on charges related to the illegal purchase, storage, and carrying of firearms and ammunition. They also stated they saw reason to suspect the case was politically motivated. Several rights groups and opposition parties attributed the criminal proceedings against Rurua, and the verdict against him, to his activism during the June 2019 protest rallies (see Section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly) and his acquisition of a share in the opposition television station.

On December 1, Mtavari Arkhi’s general director Nika Gvaramia was notified a court case against him would resume on December 7. The opposition perceived this as the ruling party’s retribution for Mtavari Arkhi’s favorable coverage of the UNM. The case involved allegations that Nika Gvaramia exchanged advertising for two vehicles from Porsche Center Tbilisi. In summer 2019 Gvaramia was charged with abuse of power, misappropriation of property, and commercial bribery. The public defender stated that holding a company director civilly liable for the company’s decision should apply only in exceptional circumstances and that criminal liability should be even rarer. Gvaramia and a number of media advocacy groups disputed the charges, claiming they were politically motivated. Earlier in the year, Gvaramia claimed to have been physically assaulted and his family surveilled. His trial date remained postponed at year’s end.

In early January journalists from a business program at Maestro, a member of Imedi Media Holding, alleged censorship and political interference from Imedi TV’s director shortly before the program was shut down in March. The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics (GCJE) described the case as a violation of the charter’s principle providing noninterference with journalists’ work.

Media rights groups alleged the GNCC sought to restrict freedom of the broadcast media through controversial amendments passed by parliament to the electronic communication law. The amendments, which were adopted on July 17, allow the GNCC to appoint special “media managers” to telecommunications companies–which include a number of broadcasters that operate as electronic communication companies through multiplexes–to enforce GNCC decisions. Local telecommunication companies also criticized the amendments, as did Reporters without Borders, which characterized the amendments as a government attempt to control radio stations and television channels.

Passage of the July amendments occurred in the context of concerns the GNCC sought to restrict freedom of expression through its online platform, Media Critic, created in December 2019. The platform was designed to examine and guide media content, and many media watchers voiced concern that the GNCC had overstepped its operational mandate. Mediachecker, a self-regulatory media monitoring platform, asserted Media Critic’s main activity was to criticize independent media outlets.

On November 1, the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission reported that during the parliamentary election campaign the diverse and pluralistic media were highly polarized, and there was little analytical reporting and policy-based discussion, detracting from the voters’ ability to make a fully informed choice. The November 9 monitoring report on parliamentary elections by the GCJE stated the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s newscasts dedicated the largest portion of the time to the ruling party and that the government enjoyed the highest indicators of positive coverage.

By law media outlets are obligated to disclose information concerning their owners.

Violence and Harassment: There were attacks on journalists during the October election campaign allegedly by political party representatives. The GCJE, in a statement released in November, complained of verbal and physical abuse against media on Election Day by unknown assailants. On one occasion at a voting precinct, a journalist from online Publika.ge was assaulted and injured and his camera was broken. A criminal investigation was underway. In addition, a TV Pirveli journalist was hit in the face, and an On.ge reporter’s camera was damaged.

The GCJE also reported disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials at a rally near the Central Election Commission. According to media reports, police injured four journalists and damaged their equipment. The GCJE alleged police intentionally targeted the media representatives with water cannons.

Throughout the year the Prosecutor General’s Office repeatedly claimed it continued to investigate attacks on journalists by law enforcement officers during the June 2019 protests in which several journalists were injured. Some journalists and NGOs claimed these injuries occurred as a result of the deliberate targeting of journalists. For example, GYLA stated law enforcement officers “deliberately fired rubber bullets” at media representatives, despite their identification badges. According to the Charter of Journalistic Ethics, 39 journalists were among the 240 injured, and GYLA and TI Georgia asserted they should be recognized as victims. The Prosecutor General’s Office questioned several journalists as witnesses. As of year’s end, the Prosecutor General’s investigation continued.

On June 12, the State Security Service of Georgia arrested a Russian citizen suspected in an alleged plot to kill Giorgi Gabunia, a Mtavari Arkhi journalist who in July 2019 insulted President Putin on a live show. The station’s general director and local media said the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, ordered the killing. The latter denied his involvement. The Media Advocacy Coalition and Reporters without Borders urged the government to investigate the incident in a timely manner. On November 27, Gabunia received victim status. As of year’s end, the investigation continued.

There were some reports of harassment against media. For example, NGOs considered the State Security Service of Georgia’s investigation of Mtavari Arkhi for a report it broadcast to constitute harassment. On June 20, a number of media observers announced they considered the investigation gross interference in the editorial independence of the media, creating a risk of self-censorship. TI Georgia and the Media Advocacy Coalition advised the government to use the GCJE or a self-regulatory body operating at the television channel instead of opening a criminal investigation. The investigation was opened under the charge of discrediting the government, inflaming mistrust toward the authorities, which is punishable under the criminal code.

On June 24, the general secretary of the ruling party, Mayor Kakha Kaladze, posted to Facebook a photograph depicting three opposition-leaning media outlets (Mtavari Arkhi, Formula TV, and TV Pirveli) as generators of lies. The page referred to “Mtavari (main) Lie,” “Formula of the Lie,” and “Pirveli (first) Lie.” The post advertised a new initiative from the mayor of Tbilisi’s office, “Truth Punch,” a Facebook live series that was intended to combat disinformation in the media. On June 25, the Media Advocacy Coalition along with 11 member rights groups characterized the mayor’s post as an attempt “to use his political power to intensify attacks on media.” The mayor’s office took down the Truth Punch platform after two live streams, attributing the move to the summer season and criticism by media experts.

On October 21, a few days before parliamentary elections, Avtandil Tsereteli, father of the TV Pirveli owner, stated his life was threatened by some unknown persons if he did not change the station’s editorial policy.

Some watchdog groups, such as TI Georgia, expressed concern that law enforcement bodies summoned journalists for questioning and asked them to identify their sources. The law allows journalists to maintain the anonymity of their sources and not to be compelled to testify as a witness.

Nongovernmental Impact: Media observers, NGO representatives, and opposition politicians alleged Georgian Dream party chair and former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili continued to exert a powerful influence over the government and judiciary, including in government actions against the owner of TV Pirveli and the general director of Mtavari Arkhi.

On May 5, Facebook removed a network of pages, groups, and accounts linked to news agency Espersona, a media organization owned by a former Georgian Dream public relations consultant, claiming these were “fake news” pages. At the same time, Facebook took down a set of assets connected to the UNM party. Both parties denied any connection to the pages in question.

While there was a relatively greater diversity of media in Abkhazia than in South Ossetia, media in both Russian-occupied regions remained restricted by Russian and de facto authorities.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but concerns remained regarding unauthorized surveillance. Insufficient information was available regarding general internet freedom in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In February a number of governments criticized Russia for launching disruptive cyberattacks in Georgia in October 2019. The cyberattacks directly affected the population, several thousand government and privately run websites, and interrupted the broadcast of at least two major television stations. In October, according to the Georgian Public Broadcaster website, a “cyberattack” caused it to stop broadcasting in the early evening on election day. It resumed broadcasting shortly after polls closed.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

On August 25, the Board of Appeals held a hearing on terminating the authorization of the Shota Rustaveli School-Lyceum. The board upheld a March decision citing numerous academic, managerial, and facility violations. The school’s representative appealed, highlighting ethnic Azeri children who would be deprived of education and the disproportional nature of the decision compared to similar cases. In March government education officials had terminated the authorization of the school, which was alleged to be affiliated with exiled Turkish Islamic scholar and cleric Fethullah Gulen, without giving the school time to redress shortcomings. The school’s authorization had been valid until 2023. A monitoring team from the Education Ministry’s National Center for Education Quality Development, however, visited the school in February and in March released a report asserting the school did not meet one of three standards required by law. The Authorization Board of General Education Institutions used the report as grounds immediately to terminate the school’s authorization without allowing school representatives to respond to and resolve the cited shortcomings. The board had given other schools a deadline for resolving deficiencies rather than issuing an immediate revocation of authorization. According to civil.ge, the school was the third alleged Gulen-affiliated educational institution closed by the Ministry of Education since 2017.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; government respect for those rights was uneven.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of assembly. Human rights organizations expressed concern, however, regarding provisions in the law, including the requirement that political parties and other organizations give five days’ notice to local authorities to assemble in a public area, thereby precluding spontaneous demonstrations. The Public Defender’s Office and NGOs reported that police sometimes restricted, or ineffectively managed, freedom of assembly.

To combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the government instituted a state of emergency from March 21 through May 22. In the context of this state of emergency, on March 21, the president issued a decree restricting freedom of assembly. On May 22, parliament passed amendments to the Law on Public Health giving the government power to restrict movement and gatherings, and to implement other measures without a state of emergency to prevent the spread of COVID-19 until July 15. On July 14, parliament extended the amendments until the end of the year. On December 29, parliament extended the amendments to the Law on Public Health for six months, allowing the government to restrict rights without declaring a state of emergency and parliamentary oversight until July 1, 2021. There were no significant reports that the government abused its powers under the state of emergency.

While a number of protests took place during the year, there were reports that police restricted freedom of assembly at times. For example, the public defender and NGOs criticized police use of water cannons to disperse protesters outside of the Central Election Commission on November 8, after protesters tried to breach a metal fence around the commission. The public defender and the Georgian Democracy Initiative characterized this use of force as disproportionate. GYLA called it illegitimate and cited film footage showing that in some cases water cannons were directly targeted against peaceful protesters, resulting in injuries.

There were reports police continued to employ the administrative offenses code to restrict freedom of assembly. For example, in its December 10 report, Georgian Democracy Initiative stated authorities engaged in arbitrary administrative detention at a November 28 rally. In its June 19 report, GYLA stated police used the code to engage in the mass arrest of protesters in June 2019. The association described this as “unjustifiably restricting the right to peaceful assembly and demonstration.”

During the year the Public Defender’s Office and NGOs continued to report on the police response to the June 2019 protests outside parliament and the lack of accountability for police abuses. The protests proceeded peacefully until some protesters attempted to force their way into the parliament building. Police then used rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons without warning to break up the protests, injuring more than 200 persons, according to the Public Defender’s Office.

In its annual report on 2019 released in April, and on June 20, the Public Defender’s Office stated the force used in dispersing the rally could not be considered proportionate. The office also highlighted police failure to warn the protesters as required by law and give them adequate time to leave the area prior to the use of force and special equipment, such as rubber bullets. There also were widespread accusations by NGOs that police used disproportionate and excessive force. In a June report, GYLA concluded the events of June 2019 remained uninvestigated by authorities and accused the Internal Affairs Ministry of having used “mostly illegal and disproportionate force” to disperse protesters and “excessive and unnecessary force” against individuals in police custody. The association reported that police subjected some individuals to mistreatment during and after their detention.

Following the events of June 2019, the Special Tasks Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs abandoned the use of rubber bullets in its less-lethal munitions arsenal.

In connection with the June 2019 events, the Prosecutor General’s Office filed charges against one Internal Affairs Ministry Special Tasks Department officer for intentionally targeting nonviolent protesters and two criminal police officers for abuse of power–one officer was accused of beating a prisoner while arresting him, and another of beating a protester held in a detention facility. The Tbilisi City Court was trying the three cases separately. The three defendants were charged with exceeding authority by using violence or weapons, a crime punishable by five to eight years of imprisonment and deprivation of the right to hold public office for up to three years. All three defendants were released on bail, and their trials continued as of year’s end.

In a special March 31 interim report, the Public Defender’s Office stated the prosecutor’s investigation of law enforcement actions in dispersing the protests was “still far from establishing the truth.” The office particularly faulted the Prosecutor General’s Office for the investigation’s lack of timeliness and thoroughness, including failing to provide a systemic legal analysis of events, failing to objectively or fully assess the responsibility of senior officials, and not fully implementing the Public Defender Office’s recommendations.

Three law enforcement officials were prosecuted in connection with the June 2019 events. As of June authorities had charged 17 activists with engaging in violence during the protests. Noting a substantially higher number of activists than police officers were injured, GYLA and the Human Rights Center raised concerns regarding the impartiality of the Prosecutor’s Office and termed the disparity in prosecutions “selective” in their June reports.

In its June 24 report, the Human Rights Center highlighted problems in the prosecution of a number of criminal cases against activists, including Morris Machalikashvili (also see section 1.e.). Machalikashvili, a nephew of Malkhaz Machalikashvili (see section 1.a.), was arrested following the June 20 protests and charged with “participation in group acts of violence against government officers.” He was previously detained in July 2019. Although investigators published video purporting to show Morris pushing police officers, the Human Rights Center reported the video did not show him engaging in violence against police. Malkhaz Machalikashvili and the Human Rights Center claimed Morris was only trying to exit the crowd and alleged the government was using Morris’ arrest to pressure Malkhaz Machalikashvili to drop his campaign for an investigation into his son’s death. On February 6, the court approved a plea agreement with Morris Machalikashvili that provided for a two-year conditional sentence.

The public defender reported violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, whether in the family or in public spaces, was a serious problem to which the government had not appropriately responded. As an example, she cited the government’s failure to take adequate measures to prevent homophobic groups from violently restricting the freedom of assembly of peaceful LGBTI activists in 2019. In October the Public Defender’s Office held a meeting with members of Tbilisi Pride and governmental offices to discuss the numerous vandalism attacks on Tbilisi Pride’s office over the summer. Civil society representatives at the meeting claimed police were not doing enough to prevent the attacks from happening and not investigating persons they believed were directing these attacks.

Freedom of Association

There were reports that some government representatives and supporters of the ruling party pressured political opposition figures and supporters (see sections 1.d. and 1.e.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation of citizens, but de facto authorities and Russian occupying forces limited this freedom in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In-country Movement: There were substantial impediments to internal movement due to a lack of access to the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The majority of the approximately 290,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Abkhazia and South Ossetia wished to return to their areas of origin but lacked adequate security provisions and political, human, economic, and movement protections absent a political resolution to the conflicts.

Foreigners were restricted from moving in and out of Russian-occupied South Ossetia but could access Russian-occupied Abkhazia with approval from the de facto authorities. The law prohibits entry into and exit from the Russian-occupied regions through the territory of neighboring states (i.e., Russia). There were reports in 2018 that Russia prohibited citizens of Commonwealth of Independent States countries from entering Abkhazia except from Russia, which violated Georgian law. These citizens, however, were at times able to enter from Tbilisi-administered territory if they were staff members of international organizations or if there was a request from an international organization such as the United Nations.

Russia and de facto Abkhaz authorities limited international organizations’ ability to operate in Abkhazia. Russia and de facto South Ossetian authorities limited access of international organizations, including humanitarian organizations, to South Ossetia. Before COVID-19, the cochairs of the Geneva International Discussions (GID)–representing the United Nations, the OSCE, and the EU–visited South Ossetia and Abkhazia approximately quarterly prior to most rounds of the GID. The ICRC office in Tskhinvali was the only international organization represented in South Ossetia.

De facto authorities and Russian forces in the Russian-occupied territories also restricted the movement of the local population across the administrative boundary lines. Although they showed some flexibility for travel for medical care, pension services, religious services, and education, in several instances during the year, de facto authorities hindered access to medical care in Tbilisi-administered territory for residents in the occupied territories. On July 7, media outlets reported the death of Akhalgori resident Gela Gariev at the Tskhinvali hospital after several failed attempts to cross the South Ossetia administrative boundary line to receive medical treatment in Tbilisi-administered territory. By year’s end 16 persons reportedly died in occupied South Ossetia due to inability to cross into Tbilisi-administered territory to receive higher quality medical care. The last person was Onise Gatenashvili, who died on November 14 during ICRC-administered medical evacuation to Tbilisi-administered territory. The reason of death was determined to be delayed treatment.

In September 2019 de facto South Ossetian authorities closed all but one checkpoint along the South Ossetia administrative boundary line, claiming it was necessary for “national security.” The GID cochairs and other international actors expressed concern that prolonged crossing closures would undermine livelihoods; prevent local residents from getting the pensions, food, and medicine they needed; and potentially cause a new wave of displacement. As of year’s end, all crossing points remained closed.

Since 2017, when de facto authorities closed two of the four remaining Abkhazia administrative boundary line crossing points, crossings stayed open only at the Enguri Bridge and Saberio-Pakhulani. On March 14, asserting preventive measures were needed to avoid the spread of COVID-19, de facto authorities closed the Enguri and Saberio-Pakhulani crossing points as well. According to reliable sources, the closures particularly affected ethnic Georgian Gali residents, who became practically unable to collect their pensions and allowances or to receive scheduled (nonemergency) medical treatment in Tbilisi-administered territory. The Gali clinics were also said to be largely ignored by de facto Abkhaz authorities in terms of receiving international humanitarian medical assistance.

As of December, however, de facto Abkhaz authorities briefly opened the Enguri crossing point seven times during the year to allow the return of residents who received medical treatment in Tbilisi-administered territory. Also, starting in mid-October, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) facilitated Georgian-Abkhaz cooperation to establish a “humanitarian corridor” at the Enguri crossing point, which enabled ethnic Georgian residents of Abkhazia to access life-saving medicines and pensions from the government.

Regarding travel documents, residents of Abkhazia who had Georgian citizenship could not use their Georgian passports to cross the Abkhazia administrative boundary line to or from Tbilisi-administered territory. Since 2018 de facto authorities prohibited older Soviet-era passports, used by thousands of ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia for crossing, threatening the livelihood of many residents. De facto authorities claimed residents without valid crossing documents were allowed to apply for residence permits (reserved for “foreign” residents) that would enable them to cross but would strip them of voting, property, and other rights. During the year only holders of new Abkhaz “passports,” permanent residence permits, and temporary identification documents known as Form No. 9 were allowed to cross. Form No. 9 identification was given to any resident who applied for a residence permit and was valid until that person received the permit or for six months maximum. There were still some residents of Abkhazia without valid documentation.

Georgian passport holders not resident in Abkhazia could cross a checkpoint if they possessed invitation letters cleared by the de facto state security services allowing them to enter Abkhazia. The latter did not consistently provide permission to cross and limited movement to specific areas. Crossing permits issued by de facto South Ossetian authorities were the only document that allowed movement across the South Ossetia administrative boundary line to or from Tbilisi-administered territory.

De facto Abkhaz authorities prohibited Georgian Orthodox Church clergy from entering the occupied territory.

Villagers who approached the administrative boundary lines or crossings risked detention by members of the Russian Federal Border Service (referred to hereinafter as “Russian guards”). Russian guards along the Abkhazia administrative boundary line typically enforced the boundary-crossing rules imposed by de facto authorities through detentions and fines. Along the South Ossetia administrative boundary line, Russian guards frequently transferred individuals to de facto authorities. The State Security Service of Georgia reported detentions by de facto authorities typically lasted two to three days until the detainee paid “fines” set by the de facto “court,” although some sentences for “violations of the state border” carried considerably longer terms.

As of December 31, the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) was aware of eight individuals detained along the administrative boundary line with Abkhazia and 56 detained along the administrative boundary line with South Ossetia. There were credible reports based on local sources that on several occasions de facto security actors or Russian guards crossed into Tbilisi-administered territory to detain an individual. Most often, the arrested individuals were accused of violating the “state border.” According to EUMM, many detainees were obliged to sign documents in Russian that they did not understand.

De facto authorities continued to expand and reinforce fencing and other physical barriers along the administrative boundary line between Tbilisi-administered territory and South Ossetia. This expansion of the Russian “borderization” policy further restricted movement, creating physical barriers and obstructing access to agricultural land, water supplies, and cemeteries.

In an illustrative example of the effects of the Russian “borderization” policy, as a result of barbed wire installed by Russian guards in 2012, the house of 80-year-old Data Vanishvili was on the occupied South Ossetian side, while his plot of land, which he had been tilling all his life, remained on Tbilisi-administered territory. Since then Datishvili has been unable to go to Tbilisi-administered territory to collect his Georgian pension or go in the direction of Tskhinvali to buy foodstuffs and other essential goods, since he refused to relinquish his Georgian passport. On April 17, the de facto regime detained Datishvili’s grandson, Malkhaz Kurtaev, and his wife, Tatia Adikashvili, who were staying with him, reportedly after a short trip to Tbilisi-administered territory. De facto authorities released both shortly afterwards.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

According to UNHCR, as of December there were approximately 290,000 IDPs from the 1992-93 and 2008 conflicts. UNHCR estimated 240,000 persons were IDPs, with the remaining 50,000 in “IDP-like” situations in need of protection and humanitarian assistance. This number included individuals who returned to Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as those displaced in the 2008 conflict, who subsequently were relocated or obtained housing or cash compensation. Governmental responsibilities for IDPs are divided among the Ministries of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health, and Social Affairs; the State Ministry for Reconciliation and Civic Equality; and the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure. As of year’s end, a long-planned IDP social allowance reform to change the assistance from status-based to needs-based had not been implemented.

Most persons displaced in 2008 received formal IDP status in accordance with national legislation, although some individuals who were not displaced by the 2008 conflict and lived close to the administrative boundary line were officially described as being in an “IDP-like situation.” The government provided monthly allowances to persons recognized as IDPs, promoted their socioeconomic integration, and sought to create conditions for their return in safety and dignity.

Despite their 1994 agreement with Georgia, Russia, and UNHCR that called for the safe, secure, and voluntary return of IDPs who fled during the 1992-93 war, de facto Abkhaz authorities continued to prevent the return of those displaced by the war. Between 45,000 and 60,000 IDPs had returned since that time to the Gali, Ochamchire, and Tkvarcheli regions of eastern Abkhazia, but de facto Abkhaz authorities refused to allow the return of IDPs to other regions. De facto authorities prevented IDPs living elsewhere in the country from reclaiming homes in Abkhazia based on a “law” that expropriated all “abandoned property” from the 1992-93 war. IDPs who returned and managed to obtain Abkhaz “passports” were allowed to buy and sell property.

Ethnic Georgians living in Russian-occupied Abkhazia lacked fundamental rights and confronted onerous registration requirements that threatened their continued status. De facto authorities continued to pressure ethnic Georgians to acquire a “foreign residency permit” that allows the holder to cross the administrative boundary line and remain in Abkhazia for a period of five years. An applicant must, however, accept the status of an alien (i.e., a Georgian living as a foreigner in Abkhazia), may not purchase property, may not transfer residency rights of property to children born in de facto controlled territory, may not vote, and must accept a lack of other basic rights. In 2019 de facto Abkhaz authorities required additional permits and threatened to discontinue administrative boundary line crossing with a Form No. 9 administrative pass. During the year, before the pandemic closures, Form No. 9 was reportedly allowed sporadically for crossing after new de facto president Aslan Bzhania came to power.

Since 2015 UNHCR reported a widening documentation gap in Russian-occupied Abkhazia, noting fewer residents of Gali district held valid documents due to the expiration and nonrenewal of documentation by de facto authorities there. The solution offered by de facto authorities, i.e., to issue permanent residence permits, did not provide the full scope of rights and was not welcomed by the majority of Gali district residents who did not wish to declare themselves foreigners living in their ancestral land.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Refoulement: In 2019 UNHCR learned of a few cases of asylum seekers who were denied access to the territory (and consequently the asylum procedure) at the border and whose return may have amounted to indirect refoulement. During 2019, but also in 2020, the penalization for irregular entry for individuals accepted into the asylum procedures remained a problem.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Public Defender’s Office and NGOs, however, alleged executive and judicial authorities made politically motivated decisions in response to asylum requests by some Turkish citizens and a number of Azerbaijani citizens, although they reported the situation had improved since 2018. UNHCR reported concerns regarding applications from citizens of Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen being rejected automatically on national security grounds, without a thorough examination on a case-by-case basis of the threat posed by the individual applicants. Rejected asylum seekers from those countries were rarely deported, nor were they detained, which brought into question whether they posed a security threat.

The law distinguishes among three types of protection: refugee status (as per the 1951 Refugee Convention), protected humanitarian status (complementary protection), and temporary protection. In July 2018 the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Refugees, and Accommodation was dismantled and its asylum portfolio transferred to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

In 2019 the number of asylum seekers increased. By December 2019 the overall recognition rate increased to 16 percent, compared with 14.5 percent in 2018. The overall recognition rate, however, dropped to 3 percent in the first half of the year.

The overall protection situation became more complicated for persons in need of asylum or refugee status. Gaps remained between asylum seekers’ access to the country’s territory and the fairness and efficiency of the refugee status determination procedures, the provision of assistance by national authorities, including free legal aid at the administrative stage of the asylum procedure, the need to adjust the reception capacities to the needs of asylum seekers, and effectively engaging the judiciary in the substantive review of asylum decisions.

UNHCR raised concerns regarding the trend since the end of 2019 of the government not issuing or not extending identification cards for newly registered asylum seekers or asylum seekers already in process and not extending residence documents for recognized refugees and humanitarian status holders, for reasons not provided to them, as required by law. The lack of identification hindered the access of asylum seekers to all the rights provided by law, leaving them vulnerable to deportation or refoulement.

Employment: Persons under international protection have legal access to the labor market. Foreigners, including persons under international protection, may register in the Worknet state program for vocational training and skills development. The program, however, is available only in the Georgian language.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided limited assistance to persons with protected status. The government supported an integration center to provide structured integration programs for such persons and a reception center that had adequate services for asylum seekers and capacity for approximately 150 persons.

The law enables refugees to receive a temporary residence permit during the entirety of their asylum procedure as well as documentation necessary to open a bank account and register a business or property. Refugees receive a renewable temporary residence permit for three years, while protected humanitarian status holders receive a permit for one year, renewable upon a positive assessment of the need for continued protection. Access to education remained a problem due to the language barrier, notwithstanding the government’s provision of Georgian language classes.

Durable Solutions: The government offered a path to naturalization for refugees residing on its territory that includes required language and history tests. Authorities purportedly denied naturalization to some applicants based on national security concerns.

Temporary Protection: The law on the legal status of aliens and stateless persons provides avenues for temporary stay permits for those individuals who were rejected for international protection but cannot be returned to their countries of origin due to the reasons stated in the law. The Ministry of Internal Affairs may grant temporary stay permits to individuals who meet the criteria for refugee status or humanitarian protection but who were rejected on national security grounds.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In December 2018 a new constitution went into effect that eliminates direct election of the president and establishes a fully proportional electoral system for the 2024 parliamentary elections, among other provisions. Parliament adopted a series of constitutional amendments and electoral reforms aimed at strengthening electoral processes and transitioning to a more proportional electoral system for the October 31 parliamentary elections. The measures included a prohibition on teachers campaigning during work hours, third-party financing regulations, and a mandatory gender quota aimed at increasing women’s participation in parliament.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held parliamentary elections on October 31 and second-round runoff elections in 17 of 30 electoral districts on November 21. The OSCE deployed a limited number of observers for the October 31 elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its November 1 preliminary statement, the OSCE mission assessed the October 31 elections were competitive and, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected, but stated “pervasive allegations of pressure on voters and blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state” reduced public confidence in some aspects of the process. The mission particularly highlighted concerns about ruling party dominance in election commissions. It also reported continuing shortcomings in the complaints and appeals process, noting that during the pre-election period, of more than 300 complaints, the majority were rejected, “many without due consideration, undermining the right to effective legal remedy.”

Credible domestic civil society organizations deployed approximately 3,000 election observers across the country. They alleged misuse of administrative resources by the ruling party, voter intimidation, vote buying, violations of ballot secrecy, obstruction of journalists and domestic election observers, and inaccurate and altered vote tabulation at the precinct and district level. Domestic organizations submitted hundreds of electoral complaints and were highly critical of the Central Election Commission’s management of the elections. On November 4, a total of 26 domestic NGOs issued a statement describing the conduct of the October 31 elections as the worst held under Georgian Dream. In addition, opposition parties alleged the number of missing ballots in certain precincts indicated there was widespread “carousel voting.” Leading domestic nonpartisan election monitors reported the majority of their postelection complaints were rejected by the election administration and courts, undermining public confidence in the electoral process and the outcome of the election.

As a result of the alleged violations leading up to and on election day, opposition parties boycotted the runoff elections on November 21 and refused to take their seats in parliament. On December 11, the new parliament was sworn in, but only the ruling Georgian Dream members of parliament took their seats (Georgian Dream won 90 of 150 seats). The OSCE did not observe the November 21 runoff elections, and most domestic observer groups significantly scaled back their observation efforts or did not observe because of the boycott. Despite the boycott, domestic election monitoring organizations raised concerns regarding electoral violations on election day.

Throughout November and December, foreign embassies facilitated a series of negotiations between the ruling Georgian Dream party and opposition parties, at the request of the parties. Negotiations continued at year’s end.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Reports of political violence continued. For example, in its November 2 election report, the international NGO National Democratic Institute stated that parties, civil society organizations, and media outlets reported “multiple incidents of violence and intimidation during the campaign period.” Altercations between supporters of competing political parties in September, including violent street fights in Marneuli and Bolnisi, left several persons injured. On November 16, the office of a UNM candidate was reportedly firebombed with Molotov cocktails. On December 24, TI Georgia reported the Ministry of Internal Affairs had commenced investigations into all election-related violence and arrested several individuals. Citing the Ministry of Internal Affairs, TI Georgia noted that, as of October 20, police had opened investigations into 59 cases of election-related violence, of which six were terminated. In nine of the remaining 53 cases, prosecutions were underway. TI observed, however, that the Internal Affairs Ministry had not released updated statistics on investigations underway since October 20.

Following a 2018 assault by the then mayor of Marneuli, Temur Abazov, on a citizen whom he forced to apologize to “41” (the Georgian Dream party’s ballot number) and whose face he allegedly smeared with his own urine, the Prosecutor General’s Office opened an investigation into those involved, including the mayor, UNM member of parliament Azer Suleymanov, and a Georgian Dream member of the Marneuli city council, Ramin Allahverdiyev. The mayor was charged with degrading and inhuman treatment and faced five to 10 years in prison if convicted. The Rustavi City Court acquitted Abazov on February 12. The Prosecutor General’s Office appealed the case to the Tbilisi Appellate Court; at year’s end the case was pending.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides for a gender quota for candidates for seats in parliament. The law aims to increase the number of women in the electoral process by 2024 and requires that every third candidate on a party list be a woman by 2028.

De facto authorities in Abkhazia stripped ethnic Georgians of their Abkhaz “citizenship” in 2014, preventing them from participating in de facto elections. Ethnic Georgians willing to apply for Abkhaz “passports” generally did not receive them in time to participate in de facto elections due to extensive delays. Ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia were also required to accept a South Ossetian “passport” and “citizenship” to participate in political life. International actors, including the OSCE Group of Friends of Georgia, did not recognize the legitimacy of de facto “elections.”

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for officials convicted of corruption. While the government implemented the law effectively against low-level corruption, NGOs continued to cite weak checks and balances and a lack of independence of law enforcement agencies among the factors contributing to allegations of high-level corruption. NGOs assessed there were no effective mechanisms for preventing corruption in state-owned enterprises and independent regulatory bodies. While noting that petty bribery was extremely rare, TI Georgia stated the country failed to pursue a “result-oriented anticorruption policy that would make it possible to investigate cases of corruption, especially those at high levels of government.” In June, TI Georgia, in its National Integrity System Assessment for Georgia, noted enforcement of the law was inadequate with respect to preventing conflicts of interest and corruption in the public sector. The country also lacked an independent anticorruption agency to combat high-level corruption.

The Anticorruption Coordination Council included government officials, legal professionals, business representatives, civil society, and international organizations. In October 2019 the minister of justice announced the government had approved its 2019-21 anticorruption strategy.

TI Georgia in its October report, Corruption and Anti-Corruption Policy in Georgia: 2016-2020, noted the government annually approves national action plans to combat corruption. It reported some shortcomings, however, including ineffective investigations of cases of alleged high-level corruption. Although the law restricts gifts to public officials to a maximum of 5 percent of their annual salary, a loophole allowing unlimited gifts to public officials from their family members continued to be a source of concern for anticorruption watchdogs.

Corruption: In a high-profile case, the head of the Omega Group, a large conglomerate including independent Iberia TV, alleged in 2018 that current and former high-level officials had demanded bribes and engaged in violent racketeering, to include the physical abuse of a former minister. During the year there were no developments in the case. In a separate case involving Iberia TV, on March 5, the Tbilisi City Court convicted former prosecutor general Zurab Adeishvili and former deputy prosecutor general Giorgi Latsabidze of exceeding official powers in 2004-07 by illegally seizing the broadcasting license of Iberia TV so the television station could be controlled by the Saakashvili government. The Tbilisi City Court sentenced Adeishvili to two years’ imprisonment. The length of sentence was reduced by 25 percent under the amnesty law; as a result, he was sentenced to imprisonment for 18 months. Latsabidze was fined 40,000 lari ($12,000). In the same ruling, the court restricted Adeishvili and Latsabidze from holding any position in public sector.

As of August, 13 sitting or former public servants had been charged with corruption since January.

In 2018 authorities questioned the former ministers of infrastructure and economy in connection with a high-profile corruption case. Some observers considered the investigations politically motivated. The investigations continued at year’s end but lacked transparency, and authorities did not update the public on their progress.

As of year’s end, the Anticorruption Agency of the State Security Service of Georgia had detained nine public servants at the local and central levels for taking bribes, including the mayor of Borjomi, Levan Lipartia, and the chair of the city council, Giorgi Gogichaishvli. NGOs continued to call for an independent anticorruption agency outside the authority of the State Security Service, alleging its officials were abusing its functions.

The trial of TBC Bank cofounders Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, which began in December 2019, continued during the year. The case stemmed from bank transactions in 2008 when TBC Bank issued a $16.7 million loan to Avtandil Tsereteli’s companies Samgori Trade and Samgori M. Within seconds of receiving the loan, the companies transferred the same amount to Khazaradze and Japaridze. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, TBC Bank released Tsereteli’s companies from financial liabilities in 2012 despite their failure to repay the loans. In a March 2019 interview with Imedi TV, Georgian Dream party chair Bidzina Ivanishvili accused Khazaradze of directing an assault against the government. July 2019 charges by the Prosecutor General’s Office came just weeks after Khazaradze’s announcement of his intent to establish a civil movement. Khazaradze established the movement “Lelo” and in December launched the movement as a political party. Tsereteli’s son was the owner of TV Pirveli, an independent media outlet that accused the government of attempting to interfere with its operations (see section 2.a.). In August 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office charged Avtandil Tsereteli with providing support to Khazaradze and Japaridze in the alleged money-laundering scheme. A group of 20 NGOs, including TI Georgia, the Open Society Fund Georgia, the Atlantic Council of Georgia, and the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, considered the charges against all three men to be politically motivated, given the amount of time that had transpired. In April the public defender’s annual report for 2019 stated there was no evidence in the case files for the July 2019 charge of money laundering in 2008. On May 14, TI Georgia released an assessment by an international expert that there was no proof that Mamuka Khazaradze, Badri Japaridze, or Avtandil Tsereteli committed a money-laundering offense, either individually or as coconspirators.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to submit annual declarations of their income and property for tax inspection; these were posted online. Declarations were not subject to verification, and TI Georgia estimated six members of parliament had undeclared assets in 2019. The Civil Service Bureau received annual financial declarations from public officials and published them in mid-January.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups in most instances operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat responsive to their views.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: While there was little official information on the human rights situation in the Russian-occupied regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia due to limited access, allegations of abuse persisted. De facto authorities in the occupied territories continued to deny unimpeded access to the United Nations and other international bodies.

Government Human Rights Bodies: NGOs viewed the Public Defender’s Office, which has a mandate to monitor human rights and investigate allegations of abuse and discrimination, as the most objective of the government’s human rights bodies. The constitution limits the public defender to one six-year term in office.

The Public Defender’s Office lacks authority to initiate prosecutions or other legal actions, but it may recommend action, and the government must respond. While the office generally operated without government interference and was considered effective, the office reported government offices at times responded partially or not at all to inquiries and recommendations, despite a requirement to respond to information requests within 10 days and initiate follow-up action within 20 days.

The Public Defender’s Office retains the right to make nonbinding recommendations to law enforcement agencies to investigate individual human rights cases. The office must submit an annual report on the human rights situation for the calendar year but may also make periodic reports. The office may not report allegations of torture unless the victim gives clear consent or a monitor from the office witnessed the torture.

By law the Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The human rights unit of the office monitors government prosecutions overall and supervises compliance with national and international human rights obligations and standards. The unit reviews statistical and analytical activities related to the Prosecutor General’s Office or the justice system at large, and it is responsible for examining and responding to recommendations of national and international institutions involving human rights.

The Prosecutor General’s Office is required to investigate high-profile cases and other criminal offenses. The office may take control of any investigation if it determines that doing so is in the best interest of justice (e.g., in cases of conflict of interest and police abuse cases). In certain politically sensitive cases investigated by the office–including the case of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli and instances of political violence–impunity remained a problem. During the year local NGOs expressed alarm regarding what they considered politically motivated investigations and prosecutions (see section 1.e.).

In the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Human Rights Department is in charge of ensuring prompt response and quality of investigations of domestic violence, hate crime, violence against women, human trafficking, crimes committed by or toward minors, and crimes based on discrimination. The ministry’s General Inspection Department investigates cases of human rights abuses by police officers. The human rights unit of the Prosecutor General’s Office has a mandate to monitor and investigate allegations of abuse and discrimination. The Prosecutor General’s Office continued training prosecutors on proper standards for prosecuting cases of alleged mistreatment by public officials.

The effectiveness of government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse by law enforcement officials and security forces was limited, and domestic and international concern regarding impunity remained high. As of November the Investigative Department of the State Inspector’s Service had commenced 256 criminal investigations; four of 256 cases investigated by the State Inspector’s Service were prosecuted, and convictions were obtained in three cases.

The Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM), which was designed to cover Abkhazia and South Ossetia and includes security actors from the government, Russia, and de facto authorities of the Russian-occupied regions, considered human rights abuses reported in the occupied territories and along the administrative boundary line. Due to a dispute regarding agenda items, however, IPRM meetings in Gali (Abkhazia) had been suspended since 2018. Regular IPRM meetings in Ergneti (South Ossetia) had also been suspended, although IPRM meetings took place in Ergneti on July 30 and September 24. In August 2019 South Ossetian participants walked out of an IPRM meeting in Ergneti. De facto authorities in the occupied territories did not grant representatives of the Public Defender’s Office access. The government fully supported and participated actively in IPRM meetings.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, but criminal law does not specifically address spousal rape. A convicted first-time offender may be imprisoned for up to eight years. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

At the end of 2019, the head of the Sapari women’s organization, Baia Pataraia, alleged the enforcement of the law on sexual crimes was problematic. Investigative authorities lacked training on effective procedures on case handling and evidence collection. Victims were often told to focus on physical violence as proof of sexual violence. GYLA reported sexual violence was prevalent and underreported. In only a small number of reported cases were perpetrators convicted. Prosecutors applied overly burdensome evidence requirements for bringing charges against perpetrators of sexual violence, while overwhelmingly strict requirements for convictions of sexual violence crimes were applied by judges.

During the year a study by the Public Defender’s Office into cases of sexual violence revealed a number of serious legislative shortcomings in regulation of crimes involving sexual violence, as well as in investigation, criminal prosecution, and court hearing of such crimes, falling short of the standards of Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) and international human rights. The analysis of the cases showed that in the cases of rape and other sexual violence, the court did not consider the absence of a victim’s consent an integral part of the definition of crime. Furthermore, the legislation does not consider a broad spectrum of circumstances that may affect the victim’s will and provides for a disproportionately lenient punishment for a crime committed in certain conditions.

The law criminalizes domestic violence. In cases that do not result in injury, penalties for conviction of domestic violence include 80 to 150 hours of community service or imprisonment for up to one year. Domestic and gender-based violence remained a significant problem that the government took several steps to combat. The Ministry of Internal Affairs had a risk assessment tool that enables a police officer to decide whether to issue a restraining order based on a questionnaire available in the restraining order protocol, the data assessment, and risk analysis. In addition, if there is a high risk of recurrence of violence, a system of electronic surveillance allows the Ministry of Internal Affairs permanently to monitor abusers 24 hours a day. The high rate of domestic violence showed reporting of incidents increased in the country and that police were responding. Shortcomings, however, remained. In one example, in October 2019 an employee of the Tbilisi City Council accused councilmember Ilia Jishkariani of sexual assault and beating. The Prosecutor’s Office charged Jishkariani with sexual and other violence; however, the trial at Tbilisi City Court had not begun as of year’s end.

The Public Defender’s Office highlighted a shortage of measures to prevent violence against women and to empower survivors of domestic violence. The office analyzed gender-based killings (femicides) and concluded they demonstrated an absence of mechanisms to prevent violence against women in the country.

As of year’s end, the Ministry of Internal Affairs opened 90 investigations into allegations of rape and the Prosecutor General’s Office prosecuted 44 individuals on rape charges, compared with 29 in 2019.

During the year and in 2019, parliament approved amendments to the Law on Violence against Women and Domestic Violence that eliminated shortcomings in the law concerning the detection of domestic violence in minors by crisis and shelter staff. The law also promotes a prevention-oriented approach to correct abusers’ behavior and reduce recidivism. Overall, the Public Defender’s Office and women’s rights NGOs welcomed the new legislation but emphasized the need for the government to improve coordination between government agencies working on the issue.

NGOs and the government expanded the services provided to survivors of domestic violence in recent years. GYLA reported that considering the increase of domestic violence cases by one-third worldwide during the pandemic, the official statistics on domestic violence and violence against women did not change significantly, which indicated a possible underreporting of domestic violence incidents by victims.

Domestic violence laws mandate the provision of temporary protective measures, including shelter and restraining orders that prohibit an abuser from coming within 330 feet of the survivor and from using common property, such as a residence or vehicle, for six months.

Local NGOs and the government jointly operated a 24-hour hotline and shelters for abused women and their minor children, although space in the shelters was limited and only four of the country’s 10 regions had facilities.

In 2019 UN Women conducted a population-level survey and a study on gender-based violence, according to which women’s biggest risk in Abkhazia was violence from intimate partners, with 15 percent of respondents having experienced physical abuse, 30 percent emotional abuse, and 8 percent sexual violence in their lifetime, while 5 percent experienced physical abuse, 14 percent emotional abuse and 7 percent sexual violence in the last 12 months. This risk was more pronounced in rural areas, where 22 percent experienced physical violence, 32 percent emotional violence, and 15 percent sexual violence in their lifetime. Violence by nonpartners was also a problem, with 15 percent of the women surveyed reporting at least one form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime by a nonpartner.

Authorities worked to combat domestic and gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. In cooperation with the NGO Women’s Information Center, short text messages were sent to the population on April 14-15 in Georgian, Azerbaijani, and Armenian, explaining the mechanisms and forms of reporting domestic violence to police. The short text message had a built-in link that allowed the user to download an emergency services application and, if necessary, use the silent alarm button to send a message. After sending the text message, up to 5,000 users downloaded the application. The government also produced a video with information on legal instruments and services available in the country against domestic violence and gender-based violence that was shown on both public and commercial television channels.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Kidnapping women for marriage occurred in remote areas and ethnic minority communities but was rare. The Public Defender’s Office reported some cases of kidnapping for forced marriage and early marriage in its 2019 report. The practice of early marriage and engagement remained a significant challenge. Similar to previous years, the lack of coordination among law enforcement agencies, social services, and establishments of secondary education concerning early marriage and engagement was problematic. There was no effective referral mechanism to identify and prevent incidents of early marriage and engagement. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that in the first half of the year, the Human Rights Protection and Investigation Quality Monitoring Department held a number of meetings and participated in various activities to eliminate child marriage crimes and raise public awareness about the problem as well as provide timely reporting to police.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal under the code of administrative offenses but is not criminalized; it remained a problem in the workplace. Under the law sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination and is defined as an unwanted physical, verbal, or nonverbal action of a sexual nature that aims to or results in the degradation of a person or creation of a hostile environment for that person. Based on amendments to laws on sexual harassment in 2019, the public defender analyzes the case and provides recommendations on the case to authorized persons at the institution where the violation took place. During the year the Public Defender’s Officer examined eight allegations of sexual harassment and identified violations in five instances. For example, in June the public defender found evidence of sexual harassment committed by a doctor against a woman in quarantine. Under May 2019 amendments to the code of administrative offenses, sexual harassment victims may file complaints with police. If found guilty, a person can be fined 300 lari ($90); repeated violations result in a fine of 500 lari ($150) or correctional work for up to one month. Repeated violations in the case of a minor, a pregnant woman, a person unable to resist due to physical or mental helplessness, a person with a disability, or in the presence of a minor with prior knowledge leads to a fine of 800 to 1,000 lari ($240 to $300), correctional labor for up to one month, or administrative detention for up to 10 days.

The public defender considered especially problematic a selective approach applied by the state to instances of violence against women and domestic violence involving influential persons as abusers. In such cases, the approach of the state changed and response was delayed, leaving the impression that preference was given not to victims’ rights but to abusers’ interests. Victims often had to go public to prompt action by relevant authorities.

Reproductive Rights: The law does not regulate the number, spacing, or timing of children for single people or couples. The country regulated the use of surrogacy services, and only heterosexual couples have a right to surrogacy services. In August the Ministry of Justice amended the decree regulating civil acts, restricting the right to surrogacy to heterosexual couples who have been married or living together for more than one year. Women and LGBTI rights organizations considered this a violation of the rights of single women and LGBTI persons who wanted to have a child. The law requires gender confirmation surgery for legal gender-identity change and does not provide transgender individuals who do not wish to undergo confirmation surgery the legal ability to change their gender identity.

The UNFPA reported that women from minority communities, women from rural areas, and poor women faced barriers in accessing information related to their reproductive health.

There were no legal, social, or cultural barriers to access contraception, and contraceptives were available in pharmacies or by prescription, with a prescription exemption for emergency contraceptives. The UNFPA reported, however, that financial barriers limited access to customized contraceptive options for many women.

According to the Public Defender’s Office, limited access to information about contraceptives remained a challenge for girls and women of childbearing age. The office stated human sexuality education was not fully integrated into school curriculums. Programs in schools failed to provide information to teenagers about safe sexual relations. The lack of comprehensive education prevented girls from defending themselves from early marriage and early pregnancy. According to a UNFPA 2020 report, during 2019 there were 29 births per 1,000 girls 15 to 19 years of age.

The Public Defender’s Office stated in 2019 that poor funding and lack of information limited the use of contraceptives and resulted in unplanned pregnancies for women of childbearing age. Women in rural areas, especially remote mountain villages, lacked regular access to family planning services and clinics. Women often had to travel to larger towns for these services, causing additional financial burden.

There were no barriers to receiving skilled personal medical attention during pregnancy and childbirth. During the year, however, the use of maternal health

services decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both due to fear of infection and movement restrictions.

The Public Defender’s Office reported a lack of post-partum care needed for the prevention of maternal mortality and for maintaining women’s mental and physical well-being. Maternal health services were somewhat limited for women who spoke languages other than Georgian.

The Agency for Social Care, under the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health and Social Affairs, provided medical, psychological, legal, and other kinds of help to survivors of sexual violence. The agency operated two shelters for survivors and their minor children.

The UNFPA reported that the state funded services for victims of sexual violence based on a 2018 decree. The decree stipulates the state budget will fund certain services, including, but not limited to, emergency contraceptives and postexposure prophylaxis. Regulations, however, require victims of sexual assault–who may hesitate to come forward–to notify police to receive these services, which can be a barrier for victims and health specialists. Victims of trafficking in persons and domestic violence do not need to cooperate with police to receive services.

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

Discrimination: Civil society organizations continued to report discrimination against women in the workplace. The Public Defender’s Office monitored gender equality complaints, in particular those involving domestic violence and workplace harassment, and stated that gender equality remained a problem, despite a number of steps taken in the past few years to enhance legislative and institutional mechanisms. The office considered the small number of government projects, programs, and initiatives designed to empower women to be inadequate to achieve gender equality.

In August the Ministry of Justice passed amendments to the decree regulating the procedure for approving the registration of civil acts. As of September 1, only couples who are officially married for at least one year or can prove they have lived together for at least one year have the right to hire a surrogate and have a child. Women’s rights organizations considered this a violation of the rights of single women who are not officially married and want to have a child. The Ministry of Justice’s stated goal was to decrease trafficking risks, but the decision affected single women and men who cannot have children and planned to use surrogacy services. The legislation gives the right to become a parent with surrogacy help only to couples.

Children

Birth Registration: By law citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory; children born to stateless parents in the country are citizens. According to UNICEF, 99 percent of children were registered before reaching the age of five.

While IDP returnees were in principle able to register their children’s births with de facto authorities, they reportedly preferred to have their births registered with Georgian authorities.

Education: Children of noncitizens often lacked documentation to enroll in school. The level of school attendance was low for children belonging to disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as street children and children with disabilities or in foster care.

According to a multiple indicator cluster survey conducted in 2018 by the national statistics office GEOstat and the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health with UNICEF support, total enrollment of preschool children between the ages three and five was 81.8 percent. Enrollment rates were lower for children of ethnic minorities (the rate for Azeri children was 28.8 percent, while the rate for Armenian children was 68.8 percent) as well as children from socially vulnerable groups (poor or large families, single parent families, IDPs, families with persons with disabilities) (63.6 percent) and rural communities (70.2 percent). In 2019 the Public Defender’s Office reported that in spite of efforts by municipalities, availability of preschool care and education remained problems. Kindergarten infrastructure, classroom overcrowding, and sanitary compliance with official standards were particularly problematic.

The school dropout rate remained high. Identifying the reasons for the high rate and adopting effective measures to reduce dropouts remained significant problems. The public defender emphasized the problem in several reports, highlighting the impact of early marriage, child poverty, and child labor on the ability of children to access education. In 2019, more than 14,000 minors dropped out of school, compared with 10,433 in 2018. In 2019 the public defender reported schools had no uniform mechanism to process statistical data of school dropouts or to indicate the grounds for dropping out.

According to a UNICEF study released in 2018, the majority of street children did not have access to either education or medical services beyond emergency care.

Child Abuse: Conviction of various forms of child abuse, including trafficking, forced labor, or forced begging, is punishable by a spectrum of prison terms and fines. Conviction of domestic violence against minors is punishable by imprisonment for one to three years, and conviction for trafficking minors is punishable by eight to 20 years’ imprisonment, depending on the circumstance. The Public Defender’s Office reported general education institutions and preschools lack qualified professionals who could detect and respond to signs of violence against children in a timely manner.

Authorities referred children who suffered abuse to the relevant community and government services in coordination with stakeholders, including police, schools, and social service agencies. In 2019 there were 3,881 alleged cases of violence against children reported to the government’s Social Service Agency, 87 of which involved allegations of domestic violence. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in 2019 courts issued 740 restraining orders in domestic violence cases involving victims who were minors.

On September 1, the Code on the Rights of Children, adopted in 2019, entered into force. The code is based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its protocols and recognizes child-specific needs and rights, including the right to dignity, life, survival, and development, and prohibits discrimination.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both men and women is 18. Conviction of forced marriage of an individual younger than 18 is punishable by two to four years’ imprisonment. During the year the Public Defender’s Office reported the practice of early marriage and engagement remained problematic. The lack of coordination among law enforcement agencies, social services, and establishments of secondary education concerning early marriage and engagement also remained a problem. Due to COVID-19, home-based learning made it more difficult for social workers to detect cases and intervene promptly. The Public Defender’s Office noted that the social service agency did not have guidelines for case management and their response to child marriages was often superficial and fragmented. The Ministry of Internal Affairs launched an information campaign against the practice. The ministry’s Human Rights Protection and Investigation Quality Monitoring Department participated in various activities to eliminate child marriage crimes and raise public awareness about the issue, as well as provide timely reporting to police. Reports of child marriages continued throughout the year. A 2019 report by the public defender indicated child marriages occurred more frequently among certain ethnic and religious groups. Further, immediate and adequate response to unlawful imprisonment and forced marriage remained a problem, often due to preconceptions and stereotyped attitudes about ethnic minorities. Inadequate response to such incidents encouraged this type of crime, according to the public defender, because it emboldened potential offenders who believed they would not be held responsible for their crimes. According to the report, male elders (aqsaqals) decided the fate of girls in cases of early marriage in the Kvemo Kartli region . The response of the state entities in such cases was belated and unproductive, according to the report, potentially because authorities may have been reluctant to enter into conflict with influential locals.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Conviction for commercial sexual exploitation of children or possession of child pornography is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. Authorities enforced the law. Street children and children living in orphanages were reportedly particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The law considers sexual intercourse with a juvenile as rape, provided the perpetrator is proven to be aware of the victim’s age. The penalty for conviction for rape is up to nine years’ imprisonment; the government generally enforced the law. Conviction of other sexual crimes carried increased levels of punishment if the victim was a juvenile.

In 2019 the public defender described children living and working in the street as a vulnerable social group that faced a high risk of domestic and sexual violence. They lacked protections from labor and sexual exploitation and had limited access to health care and education. The government’s detection, outreach, and actions to protect and assist street children were limited, and access to services for them and their families remained inadequate.

Due to their homelessness and lack of sanitation, street children had a higher risk of COVID-19 infection. The Public Defender’s Office reported, based on information received from the A-TIPFUND, that a quarantine area where children were placed was opened in Tbilisi. Mobile groups working under the state subprogram, if necessary, placed street children in this quarantine area as well.

Displaced Children: The Public Defender’s Office reported a lack of information regarding street children and noted the inadequacy of resources devoted to them. It was unclear how many children were geographically displaced, and a significant portion belonged to families that migrate seasonally to Georgia from Azerbaijan. In 2019 the office reported that stereotypical public attitudes toward children living or working in the street and their families posed a problem. The population of street children was diverse, consisting of ethnic Georgians, members of two Romani language groups, Kurds from Azerbaijan, children of Armenian refugees, and children of IDPs from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Law enforcement officers and labor inspectors began to take enforcement action, but more work was needed to protect children from being trafficked or being exploited through illicit work and forced labor.

Institutionalized Children: The government continued replacing large-scale orphanages with alternative arrangements. The government provided grants for higher education for institutionalized and foster-care children, including full coverage of tuition and a stipend, and provided emergency assistance to foster families.

The government continued to transfer children, including those with disabilities, who are institutionalized in large-scale orphanages to family and family-type services (small group homes for specialized care). The government increased the pool of foster parents and specialized foster parents available to receive children from orphanages and avoid an inflow of new cases to orphanages.

The Public Defender’s Office reported protection of minors in state care remained a problem. The protection of children in state care from violence, care for their mental health, protection of right to education, preparation for independent life, improvement of care-taking personnel, and allocation of sufficient human and financial resources posed a challenge. Teachers in small family-type homes as well as foster parents lacked the knowledge and skills to handle children with behavioral problems or children victims of violence. This resulted in children being moved between different types of care, creating additional stress and worsening their situation. Minors with disabilities presented a particular challenge for protection, preparation for independent living, and the right to education because programs were not oriented for individual need. The trend of placement of children with behavioral problems or mental health problems together was also problematic, which further aggravated their situation.

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

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the Jewish community to be no more than 6,000 persons.

As of December an appeals court decision was pending in the 2018 killing in Tbilisi of human rights activist Vitali Safarov, who had Jewish and Yezidi roots. Human rights NGOs alleged the two men responsible for the killing were members of a neo-Nazi group, and a key witness at the trial testified that Safarov was killed because he was Jewish. In 2018 the Prosecutor General’s Office added the charge of “premeditated murder due to racial, religious, national, or ethnic intolerance due to his nationality and profession.” In June 2019 the Tbilisi City Court convicted the two men of killing Safarov but dismissed qualifying the killing as a hate crime. In November 2019 the prosecutor appealed the court’s decision not to classify the killing as a hate crime.

On December 20, Metropolitan Ioane Gamrekeli of the Georgian Orthodox Church delivered a sermon that included a number of traditional anti-Semitic tropes, including references to Jews as “the crucifiers of the Christ” and “the persecutors of Christians.” Metropolitan Gamrekeli went on to say, “This is not defined by ethnicity–this is a battle of the lineage of infidels against the Church.” The sermon was criticized as anti-Semitic by prominent religious freedom NGOs and civil activists. In response to this criticism, the Georgian ambassador to Israel defended the metropolitan’s statement, saying his words were misinterpreted, as the story was simply the retelling of a historical parable. Church officials subsequently issued a statement condemning anti-Semitism.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and right to a fair trial, and the provision of other government or private-sector services, the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The Public Defender’s Office reported persons with disabilities continued to encounter barriers to participating fully in public life. Many families with children with disabilities considered themselves stigmatized and kept their children from public view. The office reported that violence, especially sexual violence, was a significant problem for persons with disabilities. Discrimination in employment was also a problem.

The country operated several orphanages for children with disabilities, although the number of residents decreased with the increased use of alternatives, such as specialized foster parents and family-type services.

The government continued operations of state-run institutions for adults with disabilities. Despite some improvements in these institutions, they lacked infrastructure, trained staff, psychosocial services, and opportunities for patients to have contact with the outside world and families. The Public Defender’s Office’s May report, Situation of Womens Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Psychiatric and Public Care Institutions, found shortcomings in meeting the reproductive health needs of women with disabilities at state institutions. The report revealed frequent cases of violence among patients subjected to prolonged hospitalization and at boarding houses for persons with disabilities. Efforts to prevent, identify, and respond to cases were insufficient.

On July 14, parliament adopted the Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The law establishes principles to guide the government’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and clarifies the government’s roles and responsibilities to ensure persons with disabilities fully and effectively participate in society. The new law mandates all agencies employ the principles of universal design, reasonable accommodation, and independent living; recognizes Georgian sign language as an official state language; authorizes special plaintiff organizations to represent persons with disabilities in court; requires municipalities to provide services to support independent living for persons with disabilities; and mandates that relevant state agencies ensure all new and old buildings and services will be accessible for persons with disabilities within 15 years. The new law requires the education system to elevate the status of special education teachers and introduce social workers at schools to work on the inclusion of children with disabilities.

In 2019 only 98 of the 10,099 persons with disabilities registered on the public employment portal (Worknet) were employed, compared with 99 of the 6,073 in 2018. Provisions of the law that disqualify a person with disabilities working in the public sector from receiving state disability assistance was seen as a disincentive to such work, although in January the government passed legislation that would maintain social benefits for one year in cases a person with disabilities finds public-sector employment. The Public Defender’s Office reported persons with disabilities employed in the public sector, unlike those in the private sector, cannot receive social benefits (with the exception of those with severe disabilities or visual impairments).

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The Public Defender’s Office and NGOs reported some instances of discrimination against minority communities. As of November 30, the office had received 12 claims of discrimination based on nationality or ethnic origin. When the government declared the Bolnisi-Marneuli region a quarantine zone, for example, one public official encouraged discrimination against ethnic Azeris on their personal Facebook pages. The Public Defender’s Office received several other complaints alleging racial discrimination by law-enforcement bodies. In one case, a police officer purportedly commented on the skin color of an individual while on duty. Several claims came from prisons. In one case, the claimant alleged poor treatment by the prison administration because he was ethnically Armenian.

In 2019 two of the 15 cases of alleged discrimination received by the Public Defender’s Office involved commercial banks refusing to provide services to individuals from Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria. As of November 30, the courts had not determined whether any had suffered discrimination. According to the office, authorities had not taken steps to address discrimination in the provision of commercial financial services. NGOs noted that victims of such discrimination rarely registered claims due to a lack of knowledge about their rights and criticized authorities for not raising greater awareness in minority communities.

During the year the Prosecutor General’s Office charged six individuals with committing a crime on the basis of nationality, race, or ethnicity.

Media outlets reported numerous cases of hate speech targeting minority groups during the year.

On May 24, during a weekly Sunday service, the bishop of Marneuli and Hujabi Eparchy, Giorgi Jamdeliani, criticized the mayor of Marneuli, Zaur Durgali, for renovating the statue of Nariman Narimanov, an ethnic Azerbaijani Bolshevik writer and revolutionary born in Georgia and active in Baku and Moscow, and threatened to dismantle the statue. Far-right nationalist radical groups, such as Georgian March, publicly endorsed the bishop’s statements and began an aggressive social media campaign. Although the bishop later commented that his criticism was prompted by Narimanov’s personality rather than his ethnicity, many local residents perceived his statements as xenophobic.

On May 30, the State Security Service of Georgia initiated an investigation of the events surrounding the Narimanov statue controversy under the law on racial discrimination. Civil society organizations noted the aims of the investigation were not made clear to the public. On July 16, Bishop Giorgi Jamdeliani, Primakov Georgian-Russian Public Center head Dimitri Lordkipanidze, and other nationalist leaders affiliated with Georgian March held a protest rally in Marneuli with the same demands. Press reports suggested the protest was followed by a spontaneous counterrally by young Azerbaijani residents. Police were present to ensure security.

In addition to political, civic, economic, and cultural obstacles, weak Georgian-language skills remained the main impediment to integration for members of the country’s ethnic minorities. Some minorities asserted the law requiring “adequate command of the official language” to work as a civil servant excluded them from participating in government. The Public Defender’s Office reported that involving ethnic minorities in national decision-making processes remained a problem due to the small number of representatives of ethnic minorities in the central government.

The government continued its “1+4” program for ethnic minorities to study the Georgian language for one year prior to their university studies. Under a quota system, the government assigned 12 percent of all bachelor or higher certificate-level placements to students with ethnic minority backgrounds. Of these reserved slots, ethnic Armenian and Azeri communities each received 40 percent (5 percent of the total), while Ossetian and Abkhaz communities received 10 percent each (1 percent of the total).

The law permits the repatriation of Muslim Meskhetians deported in 1944. The government, however, closed its review of repatriation applications in 2017.

De facto Abkhaz authorities enacted policies that threatened the legal status of ethnic minorities, including Georgians, Armenians, Greeks, Roma, and Syrians, living in the Gali district of Abkhazia. They closed village schools and did not provide ethnic Georgians opportunities for education in their native language. De facto authorities dismissed ethnic Georgian teachers in Abkhazia deemed to have insufficient knowledge of Russian. The language of instruction for students in first through fourth grades in Lower Gali was Russian. Russian was the only instructional language in the Tkvarcheli and Ochamchire zones, and the de facto authorities prohibited Georgian-language instruction there.

The Public Defender’s Office noted that in the Gali, Ochamchire, and Tkvarcheli districts, ethnic Georgian students and teachers had poor command of Russian, and therefore Russian-only instruction had significantly affected the quality of their education. Local communities had to either pay for teachers, arrange for teachers to cross from Tbilisi-administered territory to teach, or send their children across the administrative boundary line for Georgian-language lessons. According to the EUMM, some Gali students faced difficulties in crossing the administrative boundary line to take university entrance examinations. In autumn 2019 the EUMM noted a small increase in the number of schoolchildren crossing the administrative boundary line, and there were more reports of barriers to studying in their mother tongue. During the year, as de facto authorities fully closed the line, purportedly because of the pandemic, prospective students residing in the occupied territories were unable to take the national examinations for university enrollment. The government subsequently decided to enroll all of the applicants without the exams.

De facto South Ossetian authorities also required ethnic Georgians of all ages to study in Russian.

The government continued to report discrimination against ethnic Georgians in the Russian-occupied territories. The Public Defender’s Office noted the case of Tamar Mearakishvili, an activist in South Ossetia who alleged persecution by the de facto authorities because of her Georgian ethnicity. In July 2019 de facto authorities in Akhalgori cleared Mearakishvili of all charges and lifted all restrictions imposed on her, including the restriction on leaving South Ossetia. The de facto “prosecutor” appealed the decision in September 2019; in October 2019 the court dismissed all charges. The “prosecutor” appealed the decision; on January 17, the de facto “supreme court” partly satisfied the “prosecutor’s” appeal, returning one case to the trial court. At the same time, on February 25, the “prosecutor” filed the same charges against Mearakishvili in the other case in which the “supreme court” had acquitted Mearakishvili. In September, Mearakishvili reported she had been without electricity since September 16, in what she characterized as an act of retribution by Akhalgori “prosecutor” Alan Kulumbegov. Prior to the cut-off of her electricity, she reportedly complained to the de facto “prosecutor general’s office” that Kulumbegov repeatedly sought to blackmail her.

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

The law makes acting on the basis of prejudice because of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity an aggravating factor for all crimes. According to NGOs, however, the government rarely enforced the law. The Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs trained officers on hate crimes.

The Public Defender’s Office reported LGBTI individuals continued to experience systemic violence, oppression, abuse, intolerance, and discrimination. LGBTI rights organizations reported several instances of violence against LGBTI individuals during the year. Authorities opened investigations into several of the cases. The office reported that violence against LGBTI individuals, whether in the family or in public spaces, was a serious problem and that the government was unable to respond to this challenge.

LGBTI organizations, NGOs, and the Public Defender’s Office reported the government’s ineffective antidiscrimination policy reduced the LGBTI community’s trust in state institutions, and they pointed to homophobic statements by politicians and public officials as furthering hatred and intolerance against the LGBTI community.

Starting in May and continuing through the summer, there were numerous vandalism attacks and anti-LGBTI demonstrations at the Tbilisi Pride office. On May 26, a flag was stolen from the office of Tbilisi Pride. As of year’s end, an investigation was underway. On June 7, black paint and eggs were thrown at the Tbilisi Pride’s office and at the flag displayed on the office’s balcony. The Tbilisi City Court found four persons in violation of the administrative law; three were verbally warned, and one received a fine of 500 lari ($150). On July 21-22, painted eggs were thrown at the flag displayed on the office’s balcony and into the building’s entrance. The investigation continued at year’s end. On August 3, painted eggs were again thrown at the pride flag on the office’s balcony. The case was pending at year’s end. During an October meeting with the Public Defender’s Office, LGBTI organizations expressed frustration that only the attackers were investigated and none of the organizers behind the attacks had been investigated or charged. LGBTI organizations claimed that persons who were charged were only pawns organized and paid by Levan Vasadze and other prominent anti-LGBTI figures.

As of December the Public Defender’s Office had received six complaints of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. One of the complaints was from a transgender woman in prison who claimed she was unable to receive the medication required for her hormonal treatment. In another case, the claimant alleged being threatened due to the claimant’s sexual orientation but police did not respond appropriately. In the third case, the claimant alleged being physically attacked and injured on the head by a man not known to the victim. An NGO lawyer told the Ministry of Internal Affairs that, due to the low trust among LGBTI individuals in local law enforcement organizations, the victim appealed to the Public Defender’s Office to monitor the investigation process.

In June 2019 the Ministry of Internal Affairs charged one person for making death threats on the basis of sexual orientation after he threatened an individual who made public statements against homophobia on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia. As of year’s end, the case remained on trial at Batumi City Court.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS were major barriers to HIV/AIDS prevention and service utilization. NGOs reported that social stigma caused individuals to avoid testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS. Some health-care providers, particularly dentists, refused to provide services to HIV-positive persons. Individuals often concealed their HIV/AIDS status from employers due to fear of losing their jobs.

As of December the Public Defender’s Office had received one claim involving discrimination against HIV/AIDS-positive persons. The claimant alleged that a representative of the Patriarchy of the Georgian Orthodox Church encouraged discrimination by providing incorrect information on the spread of HIV/AIDS on television.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law generally provides for the right of most workers, including government employees, to form and join independent unions, to legally strike, and to bargain collectively. According to the law, if a trade union or a group of employees initiates negotiations for the conclusion of a collective agreement, employers shall negotiate in good faith. The parties should provide each other with information relevant to the issues being discussed during negotiations.

Although the law provides for the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, employers did not always negotiate in good faith. Employers’ obligations to participate in mediation are not clearly defined by law or practice. This was illustrated by a collective bargaining process that deadlocked at the Adjara Public Broadcaster. On March 2, an alternative trade union established within the company notified the broadcaster that it was commencing a collective labor dispute for the purposes of safeguarding the editorial independence and labor rights of the employees. Among other procedural problems, the ineffectiveness of mediation was due to the fact that the employer effectively refused to participate in the process.

While strikes are not limited in length, the law limits lockouts to 90 days. A court may determine the legality of a strike, and violators of strike rules may face up to two years in prison. Although the law prohibits employers from discriminating against union members or union-organizing activities in general terms, it does not explicitly require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

Certain categories of workers involved in “human life and health,” as defined by the government, were not allowed to strike. The International Labor Organization noted the government’s list of such services included some it did not believe constituted essential businesses and services, such as municipal cleaning departments; natural gas transportation and distribution facilities; and oil and gas production, preparation, refining and processing facilities.

The government did not effectively enforce laws that protect freedom of association and prohibit antiunion discrimination. Penalties were not commensurate with those under other laws involving the denial of other civil rights. Remedies to address arbitrary dismissal and legal disputes regarding labor rights were subject to lengthy delays. Employees who believe they were wrongfully terminated must file a complaint in a local court within one month of their termination.

Labor organizations reported employers’ obligations to participate in mediation were unclear, and some refused to participate. On March 2, an alternative trade union of workers at Adjara Public Broadcaster formally sought mediation to safeguard their editorial independence and other issues. The employer effectively refused to participate in the process, preventing the employees from addressing their concerns by these means.

In September parliament adopted amendments to the labor code to protect labor and employee rights and a new law on labor inspection that defines basic principles, authority, and power of inspection and the rights and obligations of the Labor Inspection Service.

Workers generally exercised their right to strike in accordance with the law but at times faced management retribution. In November, Georgian House Ltd (Delisia) fired approximately 20 employees and docked the pay of others following their participation in a strike demanding unpaid wages. Some employers interfered with unions. The Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) reported the influence of employer-sponsored “yellow” unions in the Georgian Post and Georgian Railways impeded the ability of independent unions to operate. GTUC also reported widespread instances of harassment in both the public and private sectors based on union affiliation, notably in the railway and postal services.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government’s enforcement of the laws was not always effective. Forced labor is a criminal offense with penalties commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The low number of investigations into forced or compulsory labor, however, offset the effect of strong penalties.

The Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health, and Social Affairs reported it found no cases of forced or compulsory labor during the year, although GTUC claimed this was because the Labor Inspectorate lacked enough inspectors to cover the country effectively. The law permits the ministry’s inspection department to make unannounced visits to businesses suspected of employing forced labor or human trafficking. The Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and International Organization for Migration provided training on forced labor and human trafficking for inspectors.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum legal age for employment is generally 16, although in exceptional cases, children may work with parental consent at 14. Children younger than 18 may not engage in unhealthy, underground, or hazardous work; children who are 16 to 18 are also subject to reduced workhours and prohibited from working at night. The law permits employment agreements with persons younger than 14 in sports, the arts, and cultural and advertising activities.

The law prohibits children from engaging in harmful activities, such as employment in hazardous work, and forms of exploitation of children, including forced child labor and commercial sexual exploitation. The Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health, and Social Affairs reported that it found one case of child labor law violations during the year, and two other cases were referred to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The government effectively enforced the law, but some child labor persisted undetected. Experts reported minors were employed in the service, construction, agriculture, and tourism sectors. The penalties for violations of child labor laws were commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

According to the National Child Labor Study for 2016, the latest year for which data were available, the majority of working children (an estimated 83 percent) were employed in agriculture, mainly helping self-employed family members in a family enterprise or farm. In older age groups, children became increasingly involved in other industries. In most cases, authorities did not consider this work as abusive or categorize it as child labor. In some ethnic minority areas, family farm obligations interfered with school attendance and school participation by ethnic minority children was especially low. Some families in rural Kvemo Kartli (an ethnic Azeri region) and Kakheti (where there was also a significant ethnic Azeri population) worked in distant pastures for six to nine months a year, so their children seldom attended school. Estimates of the number of children affected were not available.

Street begging remained the most visible form of child labor, especially in Tbilisi. In 2018 UNICEF reported that children of street families and unaccompanied children moved following the agricultural and tourist seasons, including to tourist sites along the Black Sea during the summer. Such children were vulnerable to violence and did not have access to either education or medical services beyond emergency care.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination in employment due to race; skin color; language, ethnicity, or social status; nationality, origin, or position; place of residence; age; sex, sexual orientation, or marital status; disability; religious, public, political or other affiliation, including affiliation with trade unions; political or other opinions; or other reasons. It does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on HIV or other communicable disease status or social origin. The law further stipulates that discrimination be considered “direct or indirect oppression of a person that aims to or causes the creation of a frightening, hostile, disgraceful, dishonorable, and insulting environment.”

The law requires that the principle of equal treatment should apply to labor and precontractual relations. In May 2019 parliament amended the law to define sexual harassment as a form of discrimination and strengthen regulations against it. By law a person may report sexual harassment in a public space to police for investigation. Cases of sexual harassment in the workplace are submitted to the public defender for investigation.

In July parliament passed a law on supporting employment that prohibits all forms of discrimination in the process of supporting employment, unless unequal treatment serves to equalize the employment opportunities of jobseekers and is a proportionate and necessary means of achieving that goal.

The government only sometimes effectively enforced these laws, due to the lack of a fully functioning labor inspectorate. Penalties, when enforced, were not commensurate with those provided by similar laws related to civil rights.

Discrimination in the workplace was widespread. GTUC reported cases of discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, and union affiliation. Companies and public workplaces frequently reorganized staff to dismiss employees who had reached the qualifying age to receive a pension. At job interviews women often were asked specific questions on marital status, family planning, and household responsibilities. Women were frequently paid less than men for the same work and were less likely to receive promotion opportunities. In addition, vacancy announcements often included age requirements as preconditions to apply for a particular position, despite laws that prohibit discriminatory wording in job announcements. Through August, seven cases were referred to the public defender.

While the law provides for equality in the labor market, NGOs and the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health, and Social Affairs agreed that discrimination against women in the workplace existed and was underreported. Although some observers noted continuing improvement in women’s access to the labor market, women were overrepresented in low-paying, low-skilled positions, regardless of their professional and academic qualifications, and salaries for women lagged behind those for men.

There was some evidence of discrimination in employment based on disability. There were also reports of informal discrimination against members of Romani, Azeri, and Kurdish populations in the labor market.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for both state- and private-sector employees was below the official subsistence income level. Employers did not apply the official minimum wage, however, since the lowest-paid jobs in the private sector were typically significantly higher than the minimum wage.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek and a weekly 24-hour rest period unless otherwise determined by a labor contract. Overtime is defined as work by an adult employee in excess of the regular 40-hour workweek, based on an agreement between the parties. An executive order establishes essential services in which overtime pay may not be approved until employees work more than 48 hours a week. Pregnant women or women who have recently given birth may not be required to work overtime without their consent. Minors between ages 16 and 18 may not work in excess of 36 hours per week. Minors who are 14 or 15 may not work in excess of 24 hours per week. Overtime is only required to “be reimbursed at an increased rate of the normal hourly wage…defined by agreement between the parties.” The law does not explicitly prohibit excessive overtime. Inspectors did not have the ability to inspect workplaces or levy fines or other penalties on employers for overtime or wage violations. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other similar crimes, although they were set to increase under legislation scheduled to go into force on January 1, 2021.

Under the law the Labor Inspectorate has a mandate to inspect for occupational safety and health in all sectors of the economy and may make unannounced inspections and initiate penalties. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar crimes, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance fully. During the year the inspectorate was responsible for reviewing and enforcing compliance with COVID-19 safety regulations, and most of its inspections were to enforce those regulations.

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected employment and labor relations. According to GTUC, pandemic restrictions had a significant economic impact on the tourism, retail, and transport sectors and also affected the construction, real estate, leisure, and entertainment sectors.

Employer abuses of workers’ rights persisted, and it was difficult for workers to remove themselves from hazardous situations without jeopardizing their employment. Workers hired on fixed-term contracts frequently feared that calling employers’ attention to situations that endangered their health or safety would be cause for the employers not to renew their contracts. The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center reported that, considering the difficulty of finding a new job as well as a lack of adequate social protection mechanisms in the country, workers were reluctant to be vocal about improper and even hazardous working conditions due to fear they would lose their jobs. This situation was particularly acute in some industrial towns where the local population was dependent on a single business operation. The COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the situation, putting employees in precarious positions due to their social insecurity and inability to demand adequate working conditions.

Conditions for migrant workers were generally unregulated. While the government did not keep specific statistics on migrant laborers in the country, the Public Services Development Agency may issue up to 5,000 residence permits annually to migrant workers.

More than 35 percent of nonagricultural workers worked in the informal sector. Labor laws do not cover workers performing work outside of “organized labor conditions,” as most informal employment arrangements do not include employment contracts and thus many informal workers were not protected by the law. NGOs reported informal-sector workers were vulnerable to exploitation. These workers also tended to be the most affected by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Human Rights Watch reported that, according to the Georgian Trade Union Confederation, 22 workers died and 110 were injured in work-related accidents through September. The mining and construction sectors remained especially dangerous, with reports of injuries, sleep deprivation, and unregulated work hours.

Germany

Executive Summary

Germany is a constitutional democracy. Citizens choose their representatives periodically in free and fair multiparty elections. The lower chamber of the federal parliament (Bundestag) elects the chancellor as head of the federal government. The second legislative chamber, the Federal Council (Bundesrat), represents the 16 states at the federal level and is composed of members of the state governments. The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy, including over law enforcement and education. Observers considered the national elections for the Bundestag in 2017 to have been free and fair, as were state elections in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Responsibility for internal and border security is shared by the police forces of the 16 states, the Federal Criminal Police Office, and the federal police. The states’ police forces report to their respective interior ministries; the federal police forces report to the Federal Ministry of the Interior. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the state offices for the protection of the constitution are responsible for gathering intelligence on threats to domestic order and other security functions. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution reports to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, and the state offices for the same function report to their respective ministries of the interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed few abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: crimes involving violence motivated by anti-Semitism and crimes involving violence targeting members of ethnic or religious minority groups motivated by Islamophobia or other forms of right-wing extremism.

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

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In the event of a killing by security forces, police begin an internal investigation under the leadership of the state prosecutor.

The trial against two right-wing extremist suspects for the June 2019 killing of local Hesse politician Walter Luebcke began June 16. The crime was widely viewed as a politically motivated killing of a known prorefugee state official. The main defendant, Stephan Ernst, was also accused of the 2016 homicide of an Iraqi asylum seeker, and prosecutors believed he committed both acts out of ethnonationalist and racist motivations. On August 5, Ernst confessed in court to having shot Luebcke but blamed codefendant Markus Hartmann for incitement. The Hesse state parliament launched a committee to investigate the failure of Hesse’s domestic security service to identify Stephan Ernst as a danger to society. Frankfurt prosecutors are investigating 72 persons for having threatened Luebcke on the internet following his 2015 prorefugee remarks. Trials against three of these defendants–for defamation and endorsement of murder, public incitement of criminal acts, and incitement of bodily harm–ended with small fines in August.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, but there were a few reports that government officials employed them. According to some human rights groups, authorities did not effectively investigate allegations of mistreatment by police and failed to establish an independent mechanism to investigate such allegations. The 2019 interim report of a continuing study by researchers at the University of Bochum estimated police used excessive force in 12,000 cases annually, of which authorities investigated approximately 2,000. Investigations were discontinued in 90 percent of the cases, and officers were formally charged in approximately 2 percent of the cases. Less than 1 percent of the cases resulted in conviction of the accused officer.

In July, two police officers in Thuringia were sentenced to two years and three months’ incarceration for the sexual abuse of a woman while the officers were on duty in September 2019. After checking a Polish couple’s identity papers and determining they were fake, the officers drove the woman to her apartment, where they sexually abused her. Due to a lack of evidence, the court reduced the charge from rape to sexual abuse while exploiting an official position, because the woman could not be located to testify at trial. Both the prosecution and defense appealed the sentence, with the prosecution hoping the woman could be found so that rape charges could be reintroduced and the defense arguing that without new evidence, no additional charges should be brought. The appeals process was still in progress as of July.

In July 2019 Cologne police shot an unarmed man, 19-year-old Alexander Dellis, when he fled arrest. Dellis filed a complaint against police regarding the proportionality of the response, and the public prosecutor was investigating.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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, and the government generally observed these requirements.

Between 2017 and 2019, several state parliaments expanded police powers. The new state laws enable police to take preventive action against an “impending danger.” Critics argued that this provision expands police’s surveillance power, which had been reserved for the country’s intelligence services. As of September cases against new laws in Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg were pending at the Federal Constitutional Court, as was a separate case at the Saxony Constitutional Court regarding that state’s law.

While several states required police to wear identity badges, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Amnesty International Germany criticized the lack of a nationwide requirement to do so.

In February a 29-year-old man was acquitted a third time of charges of resisting police officers, causing bodily harm, and insulting an officer in Cologne. The Cologne District Court judge in the man’s April 2019 second trial dismissed the charges as unfounded and apologized to the defendant. Nonetheless, the public prosecutor filed a second appeal. The officers were themselves placed under investigation in 2019, and those investigations continued in November.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Authorities must have a warrant issued by a judicial authority to arrest an individual. Police may also arrest individuals they apprehend in the act of committing a crime, or if they have strong reason to suspect the individual intends to commit a crime. The constitution requires authorities to bring a suspect before a judicial officer before the end of the day following the arrest. The judge must inform the suspect of the reasons for his or her detention and provide the suspect with an opportunity to object. The court must then either issue an arrest warrant stating the grounds for continued detention or order the individual’s release. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Although bail exists, judges usually released individuals awaiting trial without requiring bail. Bail is only required in cases where a court determines the suspect poses a flight risk. In such cases authorities may deny bail and hold detainees for the duration of the investigation and subsequent trial, subject to judicial review.

Detainees have the right to consult with an attorney of their choice; the government provides an attorney at public expense if detainees demonstrate financial need. The law entitles a detainee to request access to a lawyer at any time, including prior to any police questioning. Authorities must inform suspects of their right to consult an attorney before questioning begins.

Pretrial Detention: In June the NGO World Prison Brief reported 20.6 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention. In 2019 the Ministry of Justice reported that the median stay in pretrial detention was between four and six months. The courts credit time spent in pretrial custody toward any eventual sentence. If a court acquits an incarcerated defendant, the government must compensate the defendant for financial losses as well as for “moral prejudice” due to his or her incarceration.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The trial shall be fair, public, and held without undue delay. The law requires defendants be present at their trials. Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney of their choice, and the government provides an attorney at public expense if defendants demonstrate financial need, as stated above. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The government provides an interpreter to any defendant who cannot understand or speak German and does so free of charge if the defendant demonstrates financial need or is acquitted. Defendants have access to all court-held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants may question the prosecution’s witnesses and may introduce their own witnesses and evidence in support of their case. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal.

The law does not allow courts to punish a person twice for the same crime. A court may, however, order an offender convicted of rape, homicide, or manslaughter to spend additional time in “subsequent preventive detention” after completing a sentence. The court can only order preventive detention if it determines that the offender suffers from a mental disorder or represents a continuing serious danger to the public. The law permits the imposition of such detention for an indefinite period, subject to periodic review.

Because the law does not regard such detention as punishment, authorities are legally required to keep those in preventive detention in separate buildings or in special prison sections with better conditions than those of the general prisons. Authorities must also provide detainees with a range of social and psychological therapy programs. According to the Federal Statistics Office, 551 offenders were held under preventive detention at the end of March 2019.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens may file complaints about abuses of their human rights with petition committees and commissioners for citizens’ affairs. Citizens usually referred to these points of contact as “ombudsmen.” Additionally, an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters provides court access for lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights abuse. Persons who exhaust domestic legal remedies may appeal cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.

Property Restitution

The government has laws and mechanisms in place, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported it made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. Since the end of World War II through 2019, according to the Federal Ministry of Finance, the government paid approximately 77.8 billion euros ($93.4 billion) in Holocaust restitution and compensation. The country has also supported numerous public and private international reparation and social welfare initiatives to benefit Holocaust survivors and their families.

After World War II, the government adopted legislation to resolve compensation claims stemming from Nazi atrocities and Holocaust-era property confiscation. In 1952 the government designated the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference or JCC) as its principal partner in handling restitution and compensation claims made by Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.

Before German reunification in 1990, in accordance with the Federal Restitution Law, West German authorities provided property restitution and compensation payments for properties and businesses that were confiscated or transferred during the Holocaust era. The JCC assumed ownership of and auctioned off heirless properties, using the proceeds to fund the organization’s efforts to support Holocaust survivors and fund Holocaust education. For confiscated Jewish property located in what was formerly East Germany, the JCC filed additional claims under the 1990 Property Law, enacted after reunification. Since 1990 authorities have approved and granted restitution in 4,500 cases and provided compensation in approximately 12,000 cases. There were approximately 5,000 cases involving fixed assets pending processing at the Federal Office for Central Services and Unsettled Property Issues, including land, real estate, and company shares.

Regular negotiations between the JCC and the country’s federal government have expanded existing programs and introduced additional ones. In the September negotiations, the government agreed to increase the total funding level for 2021 by 30.5 million euro ($36.6 million) for home-care services for frail and aging Holocaust survivors. This brought the total global allocation to 554.5 million euro ($665.4 million). In addition, survivors who received previous one-time payments under a hardship fund are scheduled to receive additional payments of $1,400 in 2020 and 2021.

In 2015 the federal government established the German Lost Art Foundation (DZK) to promote provenance research. The DZK maintains an online “Lost Art” database. The database documents objects suspected or proven to be confiscated by the Nazis. In January the DZK launched an additional research database, presenting the results of research projects funded by the foundation and linked with other databases to support provenance research by documenting historical information. The DZK also created a help desk as a contact and information point for victims and their heirs to assist in conducting research by finding the right institutions and contacts.

In January, Minister of State for Culture Monika Gruetters presented three pieces of Nazi-looted art to the rightful heirs from France. Two of the paintings were from the Gurlitt Collection of approximately 1,500 pieces of looted art.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released on July 29, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were assertions the government failed in some cases to respect these prohibitions.

The federal and state offices for the protection of the constitution (OPCs) continued to monitor political groups deemed to be potentially undermining the constitution, including left-wing extremist groups inside the Left party and right-wing extremist groups inside the Alternative for Germany (AfD), both of which have seats in the Bundestag, as well as the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party. Monitoring requires the approval of state or federal interior ministries and is subject to review by state or federal parliamentary intelligence committees.

On March 12, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (FOPC) announced it would formally surveil “the Wing,” a loose network consisting of far-right AfD party members. The FOPC took this step because the Wing aimed “at the exclusion, disparagement, and extensive deprivation of rights” of minorities and violated “the guarantee of human dignity as well as the principles of democracy and the rule of law.” At the end of April, in reaction to this announcement, the board members of “the Wing” dissolved their network.

On March 12, the state-level OPC in Thuringia announced it would monitor the AfD in Thuringia due to the party’s “general contempt” of migrants, its attempts to limit religious freedom through its concept of “de-Islamization,” and its maintenance of “personal links to extremist groups.”

On June 15, the Brandenburg OPC followed suit, announcing it would begin monitoring the state chapter of the AfD. State Interior Minister Stuebgen stated the Brandenburg AfD had grown increasingly radical since its founding and was “clearly directed against our free democratic basic order.”

In July the OPC in Saxony announced it would delete all of the information it had collected on members of the AfD who were members of state, federal, and European parliaments, because the constitutional prerequisite for data collection had not been met. The OPC could only collect elected officials’ information where the OPC had evidence the targeted officials were pursuing anticonstitutional goals. The Saxony OPC retracted the announcement a week later, stating that it was verifying whether this legal criterion had, in fact, been met. As of August the verification process was still in progress.

All OPC activities may be contested in court, including the Federal Constitutional Court. Following a 2014 Constitutional Court ruling, the government stated the FOPC would no longer monitor Bundestag members.

In 2018 approximately 30 politicians, journalists, and media figures (mostly women or minorities) reported having received threatening letters, often signed “NSU 2.0.” In at least two cases, the letters contained nonpublic information accessed from computers at Hesse police stations. One of the recipients was a lawyer who had defended victims’ families in the 2013-18 trials related to the right-wing terrorist organization National Socialist Underground. Investigators found that a police officer in Frankfurt had conducted an unauthorized search for her address; the officer also took part in a group chat with four other Frankfurt officers in which they shared right-wing extremist images and messages. The Hesse State Office for Criminal Investigation eventually identified 70 suspects within Hesse’s police force, of whom six were dismissed from office, while others have since been exonerated. Thirty individual investigations continued as of September, but the investigation has been unsuccessful in finding those responsible for sending the letters.

In 2018 Hamburg Data Protection Officer Johannes Caspar ordered Hamburg police to cease collecting facial recognition templates from cameras in public areas. Caspar stated the police database containing these templates was illegal because it continually collected images of innocent citizens. In May, Caspar confirmed that police had deleted the database. During the year Caspar also began legal action against Clearview, a New York-based firm, after a Hamburg man complained the company had violated his privacy when it obtained his image through data crawling.

In May the Gelsenkirchen administrative court ruled the Dortmund police may not use video cameras to monitor a street inhabited by suspected neo-Nazis. Four residents who are members of the Dortmund neo-Nazi scene sued to stop the recording.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned a number of individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism). An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.

Freedom of Speech: In July the city of Wiesbaden outlawed the wearing of symbols resembling the Jewish yellow badge with the inscription “unvaccinated.” Some protesters and antivaccination activists had been wearing such symbols during demonstrations against coronavirus regulations. Wiesbaden mayor Oliver Franz called the symbols an “unacceptable comparison” that would trivialize the Holocaust.

In February state governments in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hamburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein announced they would ban school students from wearing full-face veils. Baden-Wuerttemberg implemented the ban in July.

In August the Federal Labor Court rejected an appeal by Berlin against a regional labor court’s 2018 judgment that a general ban on teachers wearing religious symbols in schools was discriminatory. The federal court found the Berlin ban violated teachers’ freedom of religion.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.

Violence and Harassment: On May 1, an estimated 20 to 25 men attacked a seven-member camera team in Berlin filming a demonstration against the COVID restrictions, hospitalizing six of the camera team. Berlin’s police chief Barbara Slowik announced the state security service was investigating the matter, but on May 2, six suspects were released from custody, and no arrest warrants were issued.

In August the German Union of Journalists and the German Federation of Journalists criticized Berlin police for failing to protect journalists covering COVID protests. The two unions reported police failed to intervene when protesters repeatedly insulted, threatened, and attacked photographers and film crews, forcing some of the journalists to stop covering the August 1 protests.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, with one exception, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The exception is that the law permits the government to take down websites that belong to banned organizations or include speech that incites racial hatred, endorses Nazism, or denies the Holocaust. Authorities worked directly with internet service providers and online media companies to monitor and remove such content. Authorities monitored websites, social media accounts, messenger services, and streaming platforms associated with right-wing extremists. The state-level project Prosecution Rather Than Deletion in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) received 771 offense reports, primarily for incitement.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events supporting extreme right-wing neo-Nazism.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

While the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, the government restricted these freedoms in some instances.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Groups seeking to hold open-air public rallies and marches must obtain permits, and state and local officials may deny permits when public safety concerns arise or when the applicant is from a prohibited organization, mainly right-wing extremist groups. Authorities allowed nonprohibited right-wing extremist or neo-Nazi groups to hold public rallies or marches when they did so in accordance with the law.

In an attempt to limit the COVID-19 outbreak in March, state governments temporarily banned political demonstrations. Some protests took place nonetheless, including protests against the COVID-related restrictions. Beginning in late April, restrictions on demonstrations were gradually relaxed as long as protesters observed social distancing rules to limit the spread of COVID-19. Police broke up demonstrations where they deemed protesters violated these rules.

It is illegal to block officially registered demonstrations. Many anti-Nazi activists refused to accept such restrictions and attempted to block neo-Nazi demonstrations or to hold counterdemonstrations, resulting in clashes between police and anti-Nazi demonstrators.

Police detained known or suspected activists when they believed such individuals intended to participate in illegal or unauthorized demonstrations. The length of detention varied from state to state.

Freedom of Association

The government restricted freedom of association in some instances. The law permits authorities to prohibit organizations whose activities the Constitutional Court or federal or state governments determine to be opposed to the constitutional democratic order or otherwise illegal. While only the Federal Constitutional Court may prohibit political parties on these grounds, both federal and state governments may prohibit or restrict other organizations, including groups that authorities classify as extremist or criminal in nature. Organizations have the right to appeal such prohibitions or restrictions.

The federal and state OPCs monitored several hundred organizations. Monitoring consisted of collecting information from public sources, written materials, and firsthand accounts, but it also included intrusive methods, such as the use of undercover agents who were subject to legal oversight. The federal and state OPCs published lists of monitored organizations, including left- and right-wing political parties. Although the law stipulates surveillance must not interfere with an organization’s legitimate activities, representatives of some monitored groups, such as Scientologists, complained that the publication of the organizations’ names contributed to prejudice against them.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: Authorities issued three types of travel documents to stateless individuals: those with refugee or asylum status, and foreigners without travel documents. Stateless individuals received a “travel document for the stateless.” Those with recognized refugee and asylum status received a “travel document for refugees.” Foreigners from non-EU countries received a “travel document for foreigners”if theydid not have a passport or identity document and could not obtain a passport from their country of origin.

A 2016 federal government law requires refugees with recognized asylum status who received social benefits to live within the state that handled their asylum request for a period of three years, and several states implemented the residence rule. States themselves can add other residence restrictions, such as assigning a refugee to a specific city. Local authorities who supported the rule stated that it facilitated integration and enabled authorities to plan for increased infrastructure needs, such as schools.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous municipalities and state governments imposed a variety of strict temporary restrictions on freedom of movement to prevent the spread of the virus, including stay-at-home requirements throughout the country and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s entry ban on visitors from out of state. Citizens challenged many of these restrictions in court, with varying results. For example, while Saarland’s state Constitutional Court suspended on April 28 the state ban on leaving one’s home without a “good reason,” The Bavarian Administrative Court ruled on April 28 that the state’s similar restriction was valid on the basis that there were in fact many good reasons to leave one’s home. While most restrictions were lifted in the summer, as of November the government had instituted a nationwide ban on overnight accommodations in an attempt to restrict in-country travel.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Assaults on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants continued, as did attacks on government-provided asylum homes. On August 1, prosecutors charged three private security guards at a government-run reception center for asylum seekers in Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt with causing bodily harm after a video appeared online in April 2019 showing guards beating an asylum seeker. The trial continued as of November.

On May 16, a group of 15-20 youths attacked four asylum seekers in Guben, Brandenburg. Two were able to flee, but the other two were beaten, kicked, and racially insulted. A 16-year-old Guinean and a 19-year-old Moroccan were injured and had to be treated in the hospital. Investigations continued as of September.

On April 22, the Administrative Court of Leipzig ruled an asylum seeker could leave the holding center where he was staying because it was too crowded to respect COVID-19 distancing rules. The man had to share a room of 43 square feet with another person and had to share toilets, showers, and a kitchen with 49 other residents. The state of Saxony declared it would appeal the decision, and the case continued as of September.

In May, Bundestag members Filiz Polat and Luise Amtsberg (both Green Party) accused the federal government of a systemic failure in its dealing with refugees amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. They criticized that refugees were confined together in cramped living conditions where the coronavirus could easily spread. They also faulted the federal government for ending many legal forms of immigration in light of COVID-19 while still enabling thousands of seasonal workers to enter the country in disregard of infection protection measures.

Refoulement: In 2018 the government lifted its deportation ban for Afghanistan, with 107 refugees deported to that country during the first three months of the year. Previous federal policy permitted deportations only of convicted criminals and those deemed a security risk. NGOs including Amnesty International criticized the policy as a breach of the principle of refoulement. On March 30, the Ministry of the Interior announced a temporary ban on deportations to Afghanistan due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country faced the task of integrating approximately 1.3 million asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who arrived between 2015 and 2017. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) reported 165,938 asylum requests in 2019 and 74,429 requests in the first eight months of the year (see also section 6, Displaced Children).

BAMF reported 962 persons from China requested asylum in the country in 2019, more than doubling the previous year’s figures. Of the total of 962, 193 applicants were Uyghurs, nearly triple the figure from 2018; 96 percent of Uyghur asylum requests were granted.

The NGO Pro Asyl criticized the “airport procedure” for asylum seekers who arrive at the country’s airports. Authorities stated the airport procedure was used only in less complex cases and that more complex asylum cases were referred for processing through regular BAMF channels. Authorities maintained that only persons coming from countries the government identified as “safe” (see below) and those without valid identification documents could be considered via the “fast track procedure.” The “fast track procedure” enabled BAMF to decide on asylum applications within a two-day period, during which asylum applicants were detained at the airport. If authorities denied the application, the applicant had the right to appeal. Appeals were processed within two weeks, during which the applicant was detained at the airport. If the appeal was denied, authorities deported the applicant. The NGO Fluechtlingsrat Berlin criticized a similar “fast track” or “direct” procedure applied to some asylum seekers in Berlin. The organization claimed asylum applicants were not provided with sufficient time and access to legal counsel.

In 2018 BAMF suspended the head of its Bremen branch, Ulrike Bremermann, amid allegations she improperly approved up to 1,200 asylum applications. In April 2019, however, a BAMF review concluded that just 145 of 18,000 positively approved Bremen asylum decisions since 2006 that were reviewed by a special commission (0.81 percent) should be subject to legal review–a proportion below the national average of 1.2 percent. In September 2019 a Bremen prosecutor brought charges against Bremermann and two private lawyers. They are accused of 121 criminal offenses–mainly asylum law violations, but also falsifying documents and violating official secrets. In November the Bremen Regional Court rejected 100 of the charges, including all of the charges related to violations of the asylum and residence laws, asserting there was “no criminal offense committed.” As of November the trial for the remaining 21 minor charges had not begun.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation that permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered the country through “safe countries of transit,” which include the EU member states, and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. “Safe countries of origin” also include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, and Serbia. The government did not return asylum seekers to Syria. Pro Asyl pointed out that asylum seekers who under the Dublin III regulation fell into another EU state’s responsibility but could not be returned to that country often remained in a legal gray zone. They were not allowed to work or participate in integration measures, including German-language classes.

Freedom of Movement: Under a 2019 law addressing deportation, all asylum seekers must remain in initial reception facilities until the end of their asylum procedure, up to 18 months. Rejected asylum seekers who do not cooperate sufficiently in obtaining travel documents can be obliged to stay in the institutions for longer than 18 months. Authorities can arrest without a court order persons who are obliged to leave the country. Persons obliged to leave the country who do not attend an embassy appointment to establish their identity can be placed in detention for 14 days. The law indicates that persons detained under “deportation detention”–including families and children–would be held in regular prisons. Refugees deemed to be flight risks can be taken into preventive detention. Officials who pass on information regarding a planned deportation are liable to prosecution. Legal scholars stress the regulations are legally problematic because both the German constitution and the EU Return Directive pose high hurdles for deportation detention. The law also provides for the withdrawal after two weeks of all social benefits from those recognized as asylum seekers in other EU states. As of January no federal state had made use of the law.

Authorities issued 11,081 expulsion orders in 2019, considerably more than the 7,408 expelled in 2018. Persons originating from Ukraine (1,252 cases), Albania (1,220), and Serbia (828) were subject to the highest number of expulsions, which are orders to leave the country, often due to criminal activity. Bundestag member Ulla Jelpke (Left Party) called for an abolition of the practice, arguing that some of the expellees had been living in the country for decades.

Employment: Persons with recognized asylum status were able to access the labor market without restriction; asylum seekers whose applications were pending were generally not allowed to work during their first three months after applying for asylum. According to the Federal Employment Agency, approximately 270,000 refugees were unemployed as of August. Migration experts estimated 40-45 percent of refugees who arrived in 2015 were employed at the end of 2019. Refugees and asylum seekers faced several hurdles in obtaining employment, including lengthy review times for previous qualifications, lack of official certificates and degrees, and limited German language skills.

The law excludes some asylum seekers from access to certain refugee integration measures, such as language courses and employment opportunities. This applies to asylum seekers from countries considered “safe countries of origin” and unsuccessful asylum seekers who cannot be returned to the country through which they first entered the area covered by the Dublin III regulation. The government did not permit rejected asylum seekers or persons with temporary protected status who are themselves responsible for obstacles to deportation to work, nor asylum seekers from safe countries of origin if they applied for asylum after 2015.

Access to Basic Services: State officials retain decision-making authority on how to house asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants and whether to provide allowances or other benefits.

Several states provided medical insurance cards for asylum seekers. The insurance cards allow asylum seekers to visit any doctor of their choice without prior approval by authorities. In other states, asylum seekers received a card only after 15 months, and community authorities had to grant permits to asylum seekers before they could consult a doctor. The welfare organization Diakonie criticized the medical insurance card system, which only enabled asylum seekers to obtain emergency treatment. Local communities and private groups sometimes provided supplemental health care.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted for resettlement and facilitated the local integration (including naturalization) of refugees who had fled their countries of origin, particularly for refugees belonging to vulnerable groups. Such groups included women with children, refugees with disabilities, victims of trafficking in persons, and victims of torture or rape. Authorities granted residence permits to long-term migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who could not return to their countries of origin.

The government assisted asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants with the safe and voluntary return to their countries. In the first half of the year, authorities provided financial assistance of 300 to 500 euros ($360 to $600) to approximately 1,691 individuals to facilitate voluntary returns to their country of origin. Beneficiaries were either rejected asylum seekers or foreigners without valid identification. The largest group of program applicants came from Iraq.

Temporary Protection: The government provides two forms of temporary protection–subsidiary and humanitarian–for individuals who do not qualify as refugees. In the first eight months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to 12,267 persons. This status is usually granted if a person does not qualify for refugee or asylum status but might face severe danger in his or her country of origin due to war or conflict. During the same period, 3,816 individuals were granted humanitarian protection. Humanitarian protection is granted if a person does not qualify for any form of protected status, but there are other humanitarian reasons the person cannot return to his or her country of origin (for example, unavailability of medical treatment in their country of origin for an existing health condition). Both forms of temporary protection are granted for one year and may be extended. After five years, a person under subsidiary or humanitarian protection can apply for an unlimited residency status if he or she earns enough money to be independent of public assistance and has a good command of German.

g. Stateless Persons

UNHCR reported 14,947 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2019. Some of these persons lost their previous citizenship when the Soviet Union collapsed or Yugoslavia disintegrated. Others were Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria.

Laws and policies provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain citizenship on a nondiscriminatory basis. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship after six years of residence. Producing sufficient evidence to establish statelessness could often be difficult, however, because the burden of proof is on the applicant. Authorities generally protected stateless persons from deportation to their country of origin or usual residence if they faced a threat of political persecution there.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and 45 parliamentarians from 25 countries observed the country’s federal elections in September 2017 and considered them well run, free, and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties generally operated without restriction or outside interference unless authorities deemed them a threat to the federal constitution. When federal authorities perceive such a threat, they may petition the Federal Constitutional Court to ban the party.

Under the law each political party receives federal public funding commensurate with the party’s election results in state, national, and European elections. Under the constitution, however, extremist parties who seek to undermine the constitution are not eligible for public funding. In July 2019 the Bundesrat, Bundestag, and federal government filed a joint claim with the Federal Constitutional Court to exclude the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD) from receiving state party financing, arguing that the NPD seeks to undermine the democratic order in the country. The case was pending as of September.

In December 2019 the NRW State Constitutional Court declared the abolition of the run-off election rule in local elections unconstitutional. A run-off vote is generally held two weeks after the election if no candidate for the office of lord mayor, mayor, or district administrator achieves an absolute majority of votes. The opposition in the state parliament had filed suit against the abolition, arguing it would result in the election of local officials who had received as little as 25 percent of the vote.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The head of the government, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, is a woman; within the Federal Cabinet, six of 16 ministers are women, including the ministers of defense and justice. In the parliament approximately 30 percent of the members are women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Financial Disclosure: Members of state and federal parliaments are subject to financial disclosure laws that require them to publish their earnings from outside employment. Sanctions for noncompliance range from an administrative fine to as much as half of a parliamentarian’s annual salary. Appointed officials are subject to the public disclosure rules for civil servants, who must disclose outside activities and earnings. If the remuneration exceeds certain limits, which vary by grade, the employee must transfer the excess to the employing agency. Under the federal disciplinary law, sanctions for noncomplying officials include financial penalties, reprimand, or dismissal.

In September 2018, Bundestag member Philipp Amthor of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) lobbied on behalf of a U.S. firm, securing meetings between company representatives and Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU), without disclosing he had received stock options and a seat on the company’s board of directors. Following the June disclosure of his actions, Amthor ended his cooperation with the company and returned the stock options. The Berlin public prosecutor’s office announced in July it would not initiate an official investigation for bribery. Free Democratic Party, Green Party, and Left Party Bundestag members accused the governing CDU/Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) coalition of delaying the introduction of a lobbying register, which they stated would prevent such potential conflicts of interest by increasing transparency in politics.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: A number of government bodies worked independently and effectively to protect human rights. The Bundestag has a Committee for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid and one for Petitions. The Petitions Committee fields complaints from the public, including human rights concerns. The German Institute for Human Rights has responsibility for monitoring the country’s implementation of its international human rights commitments, including treaties and conventions. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA) is a semi-independent body that studies discrimination and assists victims of discrimination. The Office of the Federal Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities has specific responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Justice Ministry’s commissioner for human rights oversees implementation of court rulings related to human rights protections.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, of men and women, and provides penalties of up to 15 years in prison. Without a court order, officials may temporarily deny access to their household to those accused of abuse, or they may impose a restraining order. In severe cases of rape and domestic violence, authorities can prosecute individuals for assault or rape and require them to pay damages. Penalties depend on the nature of the case. The government enforced the laws effectively.

In 2018 an off-duty police officer in Berlin raped a 24-year-old woman. The Berlin public prosecutor’s office emphasized that the officer was off-duty and his status had no bearing on the alleged crime. In February the officer was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.

In February a Cologne judge dismissed sexual assault proceedings against a defendant who allegedly grabbed a woman under her skirt in November 2019. The judge argued the alleged assault was minor and took place at the start of the carnival season. A local advocacy group against sexual violence criticized the decision in a public letter and protested in front of the court.

In June Rhineland-Palatinate became the first state to open a contact point for victims of sex-based discrimination and sexual harassment within the state government administration. The contact point is operated by the NGO Pro Familia.

The federal government, the states, and NGOs supported numerous projects to prevent and respond to cases of gender-based violence, including providing victims with greater access to medical care and legal assistance. Approximately 340 women’s shelters offering a total of 6,700 beds operated throughout the country. The NGO Central Information Agency of Autonomous Women’s Homes (ZIF) reported accessibility problems, especially in bigger cities, because women who found refuge in a shelter tended to stay there longer due to a lack of available and affordable housing. ZIF also stated refugee women are particularly vulnerable, since they are required to maintain residence in a single district for three years and many live in districts in which there are no women’s shelters. Multiple NGOs expressed concern the COVID-19 lockdown constrained opportunities for women to escape violent domestic situations. ZIF called for additional government funding to place women and children in hotels if quarantine rendered its shelters inaccessible.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C of women and gir