Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. In 2014 voters elected Juan Manuel Santos president in elections that observers considered free and fair.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.
The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial and unlawful killings; reports of torture and arbitrary detention; corruption; rape and abuse of women and children by illegal armed groups; forced abortion carried out by illegal armed groups; and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons. Violence against and forced displacement of Afro-Colombian and indigenous persons persisted, as did illegal child labor and killings and other violence against trade unionists.
The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, including judges, mayors, and other local authorities.
The government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), formerly the country’s largest guerrilla insurgency group, continued to implement the November 2016 peace accord. The agreement provides for the creation of a Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition, including the establishment of a Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP, or JEP in Spanish) designed to investigate and ensure accountability for serious conflict-related crimes. The FARC completed its disarmament on August 15, and former members reincorporated as a political party on September 1. The government and a smaller guerrilla force, the National Liberation Army (ELN), announced on September 4 a temporary, bilateral ceasefire (the first-ever such agreement during the 50-year conflict with the ELN), which began on October 1 while peace talks continued. There were reports the ELN violated the agreement during the year. The ELN perpetrated armed attacks across the country for much of the year, mostly prior to the temporary ceasefire. In September the government received an offer from the Gulf Clan (formerly known as Clan Usuga or Los Urabenos), the country’s largest criminal organization, to demobilize through a surrender (“sometimiento”) process, or submission to justice. Illegal armed groups and drug trafficking gangs continued to operate, with approximately 2,900 members nationwide. Illegal armed groups, as well as narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of human rights abuses and violent crimes and committed acts of extrajudicial and unlawful killings, political killings, extortion, kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, bombings and use of landmines, restriction on freedom of movement, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and intimidation of journalists, women, and human rights defenders.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, and related investigations and prosecutions proceeded slowly (see section 1.g.).
For example, on October 5, at least seven persons, including two members of the Awa indigenous people, were killed and another 20 injured in the southwestern municipality of Tumaco, Narino Department, during a protest against government coca eradication operations, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Some eyewitnesses alleged that members of the antinarcotics police force fired their weapons into the crowd, while others alleged FARC dissidents first attacked the protesters and authorities, and that the security forces acted in self-defense. On October 10, the Minister of Defense announced the government would transfer 102 police officers out of Tumaco in an effort to restore public trust. Media reported the government suspended four police officers. The president ordered a prompt and thorough investigation. The vice president traveled to the region to oversee the investigation and the government response to community concerns. The IACHR urged authorities to investigate the events thoroughly and “to ensure the safety and integrity of the campesino, indigenous, and Afro-descendant communities.”
Nongovernmental monitors reported a decrease in extrajudicial killings and an overall reduction in violence. According to the National Police, between January 1 and October 25, there were 9,380 homicides and 69 terrorist attacks, compared with 9,850 homicides and 138 terrorist attacks over the same period in 2016, a decrease they attributed to the implementation of the peace accord between the government and the FARC (see section 1.g.).
From January 1 through July, the Attorney General’s Office registered three new cases of alleged aggravated homicides by state agents. During the same period, authorities formally accused 19 members of the security forces and arrested three for aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian, 16 of them for crimes that occurred prior to 2016. The Attorney General’s Office registered the arrest of eight members of the security forces in connection with homicides.
There were developments in efforts to hold officials accountable in false positive extrajudicial killings, in which thousands of civilians were killed and falsely presented as guerrilla combatants in the late 1990s to late 2000s. As of March 15, the Attorney General’s Office reported 455 open investigations, 836 cases in the prosecution phase, and 238 cases in the sentencing phase related to false positive killings. The Attorney General’s Office reported that from 2008 through 2016, it had reached convictions in 1,414 false positive cases, with defendants ranging up to the rank of colonel.
On April 3, Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel Rincon Amado and 20 soldiers under his command were convicted for their role in “false positive” killings in Soacha in 2008 and received sentences ranging from 38 to 52 years in prison.
The Attorney General’s Office reported that as of June, there were open investigations against 18 retired and active duty generals related to false positive killings, although no new investigations were opened in 2016 or 2017. The Attorney General’s Office reported investigations against two other generals were closed in 2016 and 2017.
The Attorney General’s Office reported that the case against retired general William Henry Torres Escalante involving false positive killings was transferred to the special investigations unit in 2016, after a court upheld his indictment. Torres Escalante was granted conditional liberty on August 4 under the transitional justice mechanism of the peace accord. According to media reports, in December the Superior Court of Yopal revoked Torres Escalante’s conditional liberty and ordered that he be rearrested. The court held that conditional liberty could only be granted once the Special Jurisdiction for Peace was operational. Media reported that retired general Mario Montoya Uribe was scheduled to appear before a judge to face charges related to false positive killings in 2016, but the hearing was postponed. The Attorney General’s Office reported the investigation of Montoya Uribe was in the preliminary investigation and inquiry phase as of June.
On November 14, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a public statement alleging five army officers recommended for promotion were “credibly linked” to false positive killings. HRW stated two of the five officers in question–Brigadier General Francisco Javier Cruz Ricci, the then commander of the army’s Sixth Division, and Colonel Miguel Eduardo David Bastidas–were under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office for alleged involvement in false positive cases. According to HRW, General Cruz Ricci was under investigation for the killing of two civilians in July 2004, when he commanded the Ninth Special Energy and Roads Plans Battalion of the 27th Brigade. HRW’s statement further alleged that Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan, former commander of the armed forces, was under investigation for false positive extrajudicial killings allegedly committed under his command.
Subsequently, media reported David Bastidas’ name was removed from the promotion list after prosecutors sought his arrest in connection with the false positive extrajudicial killings of Uber Esneider Giraldo, Disney Villegas, and 30 other persons, as well as other crimes allegedly committed when he was second-in-command of the Fourth Artillery Battalion “Jorge Eduardo Sanchez.” The Senate voted to approve the remaining promotions on December 5.
On September 13, an International Criminal Court (ICC) delegation, including Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, visited Bogota in the context of the ICC’s preliminary examination of the situation in Colombia. According to a public statement, the delegation sought to obtain information concerning the status of national proceedings related to false positive killings, as well as information about aspects of the future SJP, sexual and gender-based crimes, and forced displacement.
On April 18, the then commander of the army General Alberto Jose Mejia Ferrero honored Sergeant Carlos Mora, a whistleblower in the false positives scandal. Mejia urged the army’s leaders to hold themselves and their units to the highest standards of transparency and to respect human rights and international humanitarian law. In December the president elevated General Mejia to serve as armed forces commander, replacing Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan, who retired.
Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized criminal gangs, which included some former paramilitary members.
Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly. The Attorney General’s Office reported that through July, it obtained three new convictions of security force members in cases involving homicide of a “protected person” (i.e., civilians and others accorded such status under international humanitarian law), four new convictions in cases involving aggravated homicide, and 11 new convictions in cases involving “simple homicide” committed by security force members. Of these sentences, 15 corresponded to cases that took place before 2017.
Illegal armed groups, including the ELN and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed unlawful killings (see section 1.g.).
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported 73 social leaders were killed between January and December 20. For example, on June 7, Bernardo Cuero Bravo, a prominent human rights activist and Afro-Colombian community leader, was shot and killed in his home in Villa Esperanza, Atlantico. Bravo worked as an attorney for the National Association of Displaced Afrodescendants (AFRODES). The president addressed the attacks on social leaders at the one-year anniversary of the peace accord saying, “Every murder, every attack, every threat hurts us,” and pledging to “protect [social] leaders and to capture those responsible.”
The IACHR held a public hearing at the request of the government on “Investigation of Attacks on Human Rights Defenders in Colombia” during its 161st Period of Sessions in March. Civil society organizations that participated urged the government to investigate and address the root causes of violence against social and ethnic leaders. The deputy attorney general provided updates on progress in cases of human rights defenders killed in 2016 and 2017, stating that, of 74 individuals that had been linked to the killings, 58 persons had been arrested, four had been sentenced, and six were on trial. According to the Attorney General’s Office, of 118 cases in 2016 and 2017, 59 showed procedural advances. The Attorney General’s Office Special Investigation Unit provided for in the peace accord was established. The focus of the unit was on investigating and prosecuting criminal organizations and their support networks.
On November 30, the Minister of Defense attributed the delay in investigating and prosecuting killings of social leaders to difficulty in determining motive and delays in reaching the remote crime scenes. He announced a rapid response mechanism that he stated would ensure a combined security force/Attorney General’s Office response within two hours to any attack on a social leader, anywhere in the country.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. From January 1 through the end of July, however, a total of 3,957 persons were registered as missing, including 79 persons believed to be victims of forced disappearances. The National Institute of Forensic Medicine and Forensic Science reported that from 1938 to 2016, a total of 120,104 cases of disappearances were registered, including 25,102 cases of forced disappearances. The government did not provide information on the number of victims of forced disappearances who were located nor a disaggregation of the number found alive or dead.
The Attorney General’s Office indicated that between January 1 and July 31, there were no new convictions of members of the security forces involved in forced disappearances cases.
As part of a peace process confidence-building measure, the FARC agreed in 2015 to search for those missing in the conflict. The government agreed to accelerate the identification of anonymous victims killed in security operations and extrajudicial killings and to turn over their remains to family members. The parties also agreed to create a new search unit for the missing, which was established in April by presidential decree 589 and would receive technical support from the international community.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law prohibits such practices, under articles 137 and 178 of the criminal code, there were reports government officials committed abuses. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP) reported that through June 30, security forces were allegedly involved in 17 cases of torture, four committed by the National Prison Institute (INPEC) and 13 by the National Police. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts.
Between January 1 and July 31, the Attorney General’s Office charged five members of the police force with torture; all the cases occurred prior to 2017. During the same period, the Attorney General’s Office reported four convictions of members of the security forces and one conviction of a member of an illegal armed group in a case of torture.
CINEP reported criminal bands were responsible for five documented cases of torture through June 30. In 11 other documented cases, CINEP was not able to identify the party responsible for the abuses.
According to NGOs monitoring prison conditions, there were numerous allegations of sexual and physical violence committed by guards and other inmates.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
With the exception of new facilities, prisons and detention centers were overcrowded, lacked adequate sanitation, and provided poor health care and other basic services. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.
Physical Conditions: INPEC, which operated the national prisons and oversaw the jails, estimated there were 115,950 persons incarcerated in 136 prisons across the country, of whom 19,167 were in pretrial detention. Overcrowding existed in men’s as well as in women’s prisons. INPEC cited several prisons in Cali, Santa Marta, Valledupar, Itagui, and Apartado that were more than 200 percent overcrowded. INPEC reported 48 percent of federal prisons were overcrowded.
The law prohibits holding pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although this sometimes occurred. The Superior Judiciary Council stated the maximum time that a person may remain in judicial detention facilities is three days. The same rules apply to jails located inside police stations. These regulations were often violated.
The practice of preventive detention, in combination with inefficiencies in the judicial system, continued to exacerbate overcrowding. In July the government began to implement new procedures that provide for the immediate release of some pretrial detainees, including many accused of serious crimes such as aggravated robbery and sexual assault.
The Inspector General’s Office continued to investigate allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally. No further information was available at year’s end regarding the status of the 54 investigations opened in 2016.
Many prisoners continued to face difficulties receiving adequate medical care. Nutrition and water quality were deficient and contributed to the overall poor health of many inmates. Inmates claimed authorities routinely rationed water in many facilities.
INPEC’s physical structures were in generally poor repair. The Inspector General’s Office noted some facilities had poor ventilation and overtaxed sanitary systems. Prisoners in some high-altitude facilities complained of inadequate blankets and clothing, while prisoners in tropical facilities complained that overcrowding and insufficient ventilation contributed to high temperatures in prison cells. Some prisoners slept on floors without mattresses, while others shared cots in overcrowded cells.
Administration: Prisoners generally could submit complaints to judicial authorities, request investigations of inhuman conditions, and request that third parties from local NGOs or government entities, such as the Ombudsman’s Office, represent them in legal matters and aid them in seeking an investigation of prison conditions. Authorities investigated prisoner complaints of inhuman conditions, including complaints of prison guards soliciting bribes from inmates, but some prisoners asserted the investigations were slow and the results were not accessible to the public.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups. INPEC required a three-day notice before granting consular access. Some NGOs complained that authorities, without adequate explanation, denied them access to visit prisoners.
Improvements: During the year the Attorney General’s Office assigned 27 additional prosecutors to units aimed at preventing noncriminal cases from entering the criminal justice system, including prisons, thereby freeing up both prosecutors and judges to focus on genuine criminal cases.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention; however, there were allegations that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. CINEP reported 45 cases of arbitrary detention committed by state security forces through June 30.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Colombian National Police (CNP) is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The Migration Directorate, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the immigration authority. The CNP shares law enforcement investigatory duties with the Technical Investigation Body. In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. The government continued to expand education and training of the armed forces in human rights and international humanitarian law.
Some NGOs complained that military investigators, not members of the Attorney General’s Office, were sometimes the first responders in cases of deaths resulting from actions of security forces and might make decisions about possible foul play. By law the Attorney General’s Office is the main entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by security forces. The government made improvements in investigating and trying abuses, but claims of impunity for security force members continued. This was due in some cases to obstruction of justice, opacity in the process by which cases are investigated and prosecuted in the military justice system, and a lack of resources for investigations. Inadequate protection of witnesses and investigators, delay tactics by defense attorneys, the judiciary’s failure to exert appropriate controls over dockets and case progress, and inadequate coordination among government entities that sometimes allowed statutes of limitations to expire–resulting in a defendant’s release from jail before trial–were also significant obstacles.
The military functions under both the old inquisitorial and a newer accusatory system. The military had not trained its criminal justice actors to operate under the accusatory system, which they were to begin to implement during the year. The military also had not developed an interinstitutional strategy for recruiting, hiring, or training investigators, crime scene technicians, or forensic specialists, which is required under the accusatory system. As such the military justice system did not exercise criminal investigative authority; all new criminal investigations duties are conducted by judicial police investigators from the CNP and Corps of Technical Investigators.
The Attorney General’s Office reported open investigations into 18 retired and active duty generals for alleged involvement in false positive extrajudicial killings (see section 1.a.).
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Authorities must bring detained persons before a judge within 36 hours to determine the validity of the detention, bring formal charges within 30 days, and start a trial within 90 days of the initial detention. Public defenders contracted by the Office of the Ombudsman assisted indigent defendants. Detainees received prompt access to legal counsel and family members as provided for by law. Authorities generally respected these rights.
Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, this requirement was not always respected. NGOs characterized some arrests as arbitrary detention: arrests allegedly based on tips from informants about persons linked to guerrilla activities, detentions by members of the security forces without a judicial order, detentions based on administrative authority, detentions during military operations or at roadblocks, large-scale detentions, and detentions of persons while they were “exercising their fundamental rights.”
Pretrial Detention: The judicial process moved slowly, and the civilian judicial system suffered from a significant backlog of cases, which led to large numbers of pretrial detainees. The failure of many local military commanders and jail supervisors to keep mandatory detention records or follow notification procedures made accounting for all detainees difficult. INPEC estimated that 19,167 prisoners, or 17 percent of the country’s prison inmates, were being held in pretrial detention. In some cases detainees were released without a trial because they had already served more than one-third of the maximum sentence for their charges.
Civil society groups complained that authorities subjected some community leaders to extended pretrial detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Much of the judicial system was overburdened and inefficient, however, and subornation, corruption, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered judicial functioning.
The government continued efforts to investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of abuses, including public officials and members of the security services. Despite governmental improvements, the system struggled to close out cases quickly and efficiently.
The Inspector General’s Office conducts disciplinary investigations into allegations of misconduct by public employees, including members of government security forces. In addition to conducting its own investigations, the Inspector General’s Office referred all cases of human rights violations it received to the attorney general’s Human Rights Unit for separate criminal proceedings. No further information was available at year’s end regarding the status of disciplinary processes against members of the armed forces and police for alleged offenses.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. While the government began implementing an accusatory system of justice in 2008, the use of delay tactics by defense lawyers to slow or impede proceedings, prosecutors’ heavy caseloads, and other factors diminished the anticipated increased efficiencies and other benefits of adopting the adversarial model. Under the existing criminal procedure code, the prosecutor presents an accusation and evidence before an impartial judge at an oral, public trial. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and have the right to confront the trial evidence and witnesses against them, present their own evidence, and communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense). Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal their proceedings. Although defendants have the right to an interpreter, the court system lacked interpreters for less commonly encountered languages. Crimes committed before 2008 are processed under the prior written inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor is a magistrate who investigates, determines evidence, and makes a finding of guilt or innocence. In those cases the trial consists of the presentation of evidence and finding of guilt or innocence to a judge for ratification or rejection.
In the military justice system, military judges preside over courts-martial. Counsel may represent the accused and call witnesses, but most fact finding takes place during the investigative stage. Military trial judges issue rulings within eight days of a court-martial hearing. Representatives of the civilian Inspector General’s Office are required to be present at courts-martial.
Criminal procedure within the military justice system includes elements of the inquisitorial and accusatory systems. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to timely consultation with counsel.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The government declared that it did not hold political prisoners; nevertheless, authorities held some members of human rights advocacy groups on charges of conspiracy, rebellion, or terrorism, which the groups described as government harassment against human rights advocates. According to INPEC, the government held a total of 427 pretrial and 545 convicted detainees on charges of rebellion or of aiding and promoting insurgency. The government provided the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regular access to these prisoners.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Citizens may sue a government agent or entity in the Administrative Court of Litigation for damages resulting from a human rights violation. Although critics complained of delays in the process, the court generally was considered impartial and effective. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the IACHR, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured.
The 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law) continued to provide a legal basis for assistance and reparations to persons, including victims of government abuses, but the government admitted that the pace of restitution was slow. The Administrative Department for Social Prosperity (DPS) handles problems related to victims, poverty, consolidation, historical memory, and protection of children and adolescents. Through July 31, a total of 8,504,127 victims registered with the Victims’ Unit of the DPS. Of these, 7,243,838 were victims of forced displacement, with 360,325 registered during 2016, the latest date for which information was available. The government did not provide information on the number of those registered who received some form of assistance. Both individual and collective reparations are mandated by the Victims’ Law; however, the original budget for implementation of the law contemplated only 4.5 million victims. The Land Restitution Unit, a semiautonomous entity in the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for returning land to displaced victims of conflict.
The Land Restitution Unit reported that it reviewed 148 requests for collective restitution of ethnic territories and 106,833 individual restitution claims, of which 8,551 were awaiting final judicial decision. The claims encompassed more than 12 million acres benefitting 52,017 families. Of the 106,833 individual cases received through July 3, a total of 3,285 belonged to individuals who self-identified as Afro-Colombian, 1,992 belonged to individuals who self-identified as indigenous, and 654 belonged to individuals who self-identified as belonging to other ethnic groups.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, but there were allegations that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Government authorities generally need a judicial order to intercept mail or email or to monitor telephone conversations, including in prisons. Government intelligence agencies investigating terrorist organizations sometimes monitored telephone conversations without judicial authorization; the law bars evidence obtained this way from being used in court.
On September 11, Jorge Aurelio Noguera, the former director of the dismantled Administrative Department of Security (DAS), was sentenced to seven years in prison for engaging in illegal monitoring activities against human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society organizations during former president Uribe’s administration.
As of July the Attorney General’s Office initiated one new criminal investigation of government agents for illegal monitoring activities.
The Inspector General’s investigation continued into journalist Vicky Davila’s accusations that police had been monitoring her communications, including trailing and wiretapping her and her reporting team, since 2014.
An investigation continued into abuses by the Army Intelligence Unit, known by its code name “Andromeda.” In 2016 Semana magazine alleged the unit illegally wiretapped personal telephones of peace negotiators belonging to both the government and FARC negotiating teams. General Mauricio Forero, former head of the military’s intelligence center, left the army in 2016 due to alleged connections to Andromeda. As of 2016 he had not been charged or arrested in connection with these allegations.
There were no developments regarding the case of Martha Ines Leal, former DAS director of operations; Jorge Lagos, former DAS intelligence director; and Fernando Tabares, former DAS counterintelligence director, who submitted to the IACHR allegations that the Attorney General’s Office placed undue pressure on them in order to coerce them into testifying in the DAS illegal surveillance case. DAS allegedly engaged in illegal surveillance of high-court magistrates, journalists, human rights organizations and activists, opposition leaders, and the vice presidency.
In its annual report published in March, the OHCHR registered 72 complaints of illegal surveillance and robbery of information of human rights defenders and social activists in 2016. While statistics for 2017 were unavailable as of year’s end, NGOs continued to accuse domestic intelligence or security entities of spying on lawyers and human rights defenders, threatening them, and breaking into their homes or offices to steal information.
The government continued to use voluntary civilian informants to identify terrorists, report terrorist activities, and gather information on criminal gangs. Some national and international human rights groups criticized this practice as subject to abuse and a threat to privacy and other civil liberties. The government maintained that the practice was in accordance with the “principle of solidarity” outlined in the constitution and that the Comptroller General’s Office strictly regulated payments to such informants.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Violence and harassment, as well as the criminalization of libel, inhibited freedom of the press, and the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
Violence and Harassment: According to the domestic NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), through December 11, there were 302 incidents of violence and harassment against journalists, including the killing of one journalist, although FLIP noted many other incidents might have gone unreported in the most dangerous areas of the country. During the same period, FLIP reported 128 threats, some aimed simultaneously at more than one journalist. FLIP also reported six journalists were illegally detained, 43 journalists were physically attacked, and 14 were stigmatized or harassed due to their work. According to FLIP, the justice sector brought to trial eight persons involved in four cases of violence against journalists, although investigations continued.
As of July the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 46 active cases of crimes against journalists. Eight cases were in the trial stage, and one person was convicted for such crimes.
On September 8, in the case of journalist Flor Alba Nunez Vargas, Juan Camilo Ortiz was sentenced to 47 years in prison, while Ortiz’s alleged accomplice, Jaumeth Albeiro Florez, known by the alias “Chori,” remained at large. The intellectual authors of the crime were unknown.
As of June 30, the National Protection Unit (NPU) provided protection services to 15 journalists. The NPU’s Protocol for Attention to Cases of Journalists and/or Social Communicators, issued in September 2016, aimed to provide more robust risk studies and meet the particular needs of this group. Some NGOs raised concerns about perceived shortcomings in the NPU, such as delays in protection being granted and in the appropriateness of measures to specific threats.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: FLIP alleged that some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of being sued under libel laws or of being physically attacked, mostly by nongovernment actors. FLIP argued that the high degree of impunity for those who committed aggressions against journalists was also a factor.
Libel/Slander Laws: By law slander and libel are crimes. There is no specific law against slandering public officials, and the government did not use prosecution to prevent media from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, publicly threatened to sue journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported no new cases were filed against journalists for libel or slander as of August 18, although 27 prosecutions of journalists for libel or slander continued from 2013.
Nongovernmental Impact: Members of illegal armed groups sought to inhibit freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups.
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. Due to the general climate of violence and impunity, self-censorship occurred both online and offline, particularly within communities at risk in rural areas.
The 2016 investigation continued into past abuses by the Army Intelligence Unit known as “Andromeda” (see section 1.f.).
The International Telecommunication Union estimated 58 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The law provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Some NGOs alleged that riot police used excessive force to break up demonstrations. During a three-week strike in Buenaventura that began May 16 and concluded with the signing of an accord with the government on June 6, local social and human rights organizations accused the armed forces and National Police Anti-Riot Squad of using excessive force and alleged that at least 1,300 demonstrators were injured.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The law provides for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Freedom of association was limited by threats and acts of violence committed by illegal armed groups against NGOs, indigenous groups, and labor unions.
Although the government does not prohibit membership in most political organizations, membership in organizations that engaged in rebellion against the government, espoused violence, or carried out acts of violence, such as FARC dissidents, the ELN, and other illegal armed groups, was against the law.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although there were exceptions. Military operations and armed conflict in certain rural areas restricted freedom of movement.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
In-country Movement: There were no government restrictions on movement within the country. Organized criminal gangs, ELN guerrillas, and other illegal armed groups continued to establish illegal checkpoints on rural roads.
International organizations also reported that illegal armed groups confined rural communities through roadblocks, curfews, car bombs at egress routes, and IEDs in areas where narcotics cultivation and trafficking persisted. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), between January and October, more than 105,000 persons faced mobility restrictions that limited their access to essential goods and services due to armed incidents and geographical factors. This reflected a 54 percent increase compared with 2016. Additionally, OCHA identified 25 events where humanitarian actors faced restrictions in access to communities by armed groups.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
The armed conflict, especially in remote areas, was the major cause of internal displacement. The government, international organizations, and civil society identified various factors driving displacement, including threats, extortion, and physical, psychological, and sexual violence by illegal armed groups against civilian populations, particularly women and girls. Competition and armed confrontation between and within illegal armed groups for resources and territorial control and confrontations between security forces, guerrillas, and organized criminal gangs, in addition to forced recruitment of children or threats of forced recruitment, were also drivers of displacement. Some NGOs asserted that counternarcotics efforts, illegal mining, and large-scale commercial ventures in rural areas also contributed to displacement.
The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) reported 12,346 persons displaced from January through July 31. The NGO indicated the departments with the highest numbers of IDPs from mass displacements in the year were Choco (22 displacements), Antioquia (12 displacements), Norte de Santander (10 displacements), and Narino (11 displacements). CODHES also reported six land-rights leaders were killed and five land-rights claimants were killed from January 1 through July 30.
As of July the NPU was providing protection services to 344 land-restitution leaders.
As of November 1, the government reported the Victims’ Unit listed 8,250,270 displaced in the Single Victims Registry, with registrants dating back to 1985. Victims’ Unit statistics showed new displacements occurred primarily in areas where narcotics cultivation and trafficking persisted, especially where guerrilla groups and organized criminal gangs were present.
The Victims’ Unit maintained the Single Victims Registry as mandated by law. Despite improvements in the government registration system, IDPs experienced delays in receiving responses to their displacement claims because of a large backlog of claims built up during several months. Government policy provides for an appeals process in the case of refusals.
The ELN and organized criminal gangs continued to use force, intimidation, and disinformation to discourage IDPs from registering with the government. Guerrilla agents sometimes forced local leaders and community members to demonstrate against government efforts to eradicate illicit crops and forced communities to displace as a form of coerced protest against eradication. International organizations and civil society expressed concern over urban displacement caused by violence stemming from territorial disputes between criminal gangs, some of which had links to larger criminal and narcotics trafficking groups.
The Victims’ Unit cited extortion, recruitment by illegal armed groups, homicides, and physical and sexual violence as the primary causes of intra-urban displacement. UNHCR reported that in some departments displacement disproportionately affected indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups.
The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia estimated the number of displaced indigenous persons to be much higher than indicated by government reports, since many indigenous persons did not have adequate access to registration locations due to geographic remoteness, language barriers, or unfamiliarity with the national registration system.
The NGO AFRODES stated that threats and violence against Afro-Colombian leaders and communities continued to cause high levels of forced displacement, especially in the Pacific Coast region. AFRODES and other local NGOs repeatedly expressed concern that large-scale economic projects, such as agriculture and mining, contributed to displacement in their communities.
Fifty-two government agencies are responsible by law for assisting registered IDPs. International organizations and NGOs maintained that the quality of programs providing emergency assistance, shelter, and income generation needed strengthening. Emergency response capacity at the local level was weak, and IDPs continued to experience prolonged periods of vulnerability while waiting for assistance.
A specialized unit of the Attorney General’s Office–established through an agreement with the government’s former social agency, Social Action (which the DPS replaced), the Attorney General’s Office, and the CNP–investigated cases of forced displacement and disappearances.
Dozens of international organizations, international NGOs, and domestic nonprofit groups, including UNHCR, International Organization for Migration, World Food Program, ICRC, and Colombian Red Cross, coordinated with the government to provide emergency relief and long-term assistance to displaced populations.
The Victim’s Unit was unable to provide humanitarian assistance for recent displacements until August due to contracting delays. International organizations and NGOs remained concerned about the slow and insufficient institutional response to displacement. As a result, NGOs took responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to recently displaced individuals. International organizations and civil society reported that a continuing lack of local capacity to accept registrations in high-displacement areas often delayed by several weeks or months assistance to persons displaced individually or in smaller groups. Humanitarian organizations attributed the delays to a variety of factors, including the lack of personnel, funding, declaration forms, and training. Insecurity in communities affected by the conflict, including areas in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Choco, and Narino, sometimes delayed national and international aid organizations from reaching newly displaced populations.
Despite several government initiatives to enhance IDP access to services and awareness of their rights, in many parts of the country, municipalities did not have the resources or capacity to respond to new displacements and provide humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Many IDPs continued to live in poverty in unhygienic conditions and with limited access to health care, education, and employment.
Displaced persons also sought protection across international borders. UNHCR stated that Colombia was the country of origin for 360,000 refugees and persons in a refugee-like situation, the majority in Ecuador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Panama. UNHCR estimated that between 400 and 500 Colombians crossed into Ecuador every month. The governments of Colombia and Ecuador continued to meet throughout the year regarding the situation of Colombian refugees in Ecuador, and the Colombian government offered a program to assist Colombian refugees in Ecuador who returned to Colombia.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to the government, it had approved 50 applications for refugee status since 2009. Between January 1 and October 2, the government reported it received 400 new applications for refugee status, none of which was approved during the year. Venezuelans represented 85 to 90 percent of applications during the year. Authorities stated that the asylum process took at least one year, during which solicitants were given a permit to stay in the country but were not allowed to work.
Responding to increased migration flows, the government introduced in February registration for border mobility cards that allow Venezuelans the right to enter Colombia temporarily for family or business purposes. The cards do not afford bearers the right to travel beyond border areas, to work, or to reside in Colombia. As of October 31, more than 1.2 million border cards had been issued to Venezuelans. In addition, the government established a “Special Residency Permit” (PEP) to allow Venezuelans who had legally entered Colombia before July 28 to regularize their status and receive work authorization. As of October 31, the last day to register for the PEP, approximately 79,000 PEPs had been issued.
The government reported a continuing rise in the smuggling of migrants from outside the region through Colombia en route to the United States and Canada. According to INTERPOL, as many as 34,000 migrants were detected in the country during the year. INTERPOL and migration officials reported most of the undocumented migrants were Haitians (20,366) and Cubans (8,167), followed by Africans and Asians, and that most entered through Ecuador, Venezuela, and Brazil. While the government generally provided access to the asylum process for persons who requested international protection, many abandoned their applications and continued on the migration route.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal suffrage. Active-duty members of the armed forces and police may neither vote nor participate in the political process. Civilian public employees are eligible to vote, although they may participate in partisan politics only during the four months immediately preceding a national election.
As part of the peace accord, the government and the FARC agreed to take steps to register a political party comprised of former FARC members. The accord, which requires implementing legislation, guaranteed 10 seats for FARC representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives in the 2018 and 2022 elections. It also provided for security guarantees for the new political party, state financing for the new party’s 2018 and 2022 Senate and presidential campaigns, and access to media under the same conditions as other parties. On September 1, the FARC officially relaunched as a political party under the name People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Comun), maintaining the same acronym.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2015 the country held departmental and local elections, involving 110,000 candidates running to be one of the country’s 32 governors, 1,100 mayors, and more than 12,000 local council members. According to the NGO Foundation of Peace and Reconciliation, during the election period, seven candidates were killed, four were attacked, and 28 were threatened. The Electoral Observation Mission (MOE), an independent electoral monitoring NGO, reported that in the first seven months of the year, 49 public officials and political and social leaders were killed, 21 were victims of attacks, two were kidnapped, and 57 received death threats, for a total of 129 incidents of “political and social violence.”
According to the MOE, electoral fraud remained a serious concern. The NGO Foundation of Peace and Reconciliation reported that in 2015 parties paid voters to register and vote in municipalities in which they were not resident. In advance of the 2018 elections, the MOE estimated that the areas with the highest proportion of irregular voters were Meta, Vichada, and Vaupes. The government continued the use of a new finance tool to provide transparency of campaign funds, disqualified candidates with pending criminal investigations, and canceled the national identification cards of voters who could not demonstrate residence or employment in the municipality where they were registered to vote.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Organized criminal gangs and the ELN threatened and killed government officials (see section 1.g.). As of August 22, the NPU, under the Ministry of Interior, provided protection to 1,891 persons, including members of departmental assemblies, council members, judges, municipal human rights officers, and other officials related to national human rights policies. By decree the CNP’s protection program and the NPU assume shared responsibility for protecting municipal and district mayors.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices without punishment. The World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators reflected that government corruption was a serious problem. Revenues from transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking, exacerbated corruption.
Corruption: In June the top anticorruption official, Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivero, was arrested for alleged corruption. According to media reports, Moreno allegedly accepted a bribe from former Cordoba governor Alejandro Lyons, who was also facing charges related to alleged embezzlement of public funds during his time as governor. Related reporting linked Moreno to bribery cases involving members of the Supreme Court, including former court president Leonidas Bustos. On September 19, Francisco Ricaurte, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Justice, was arrested for his alleged role in corruption. Investigations in the cases continued at year’s end.
A special investigative unit of the Supreme Court of Justice, charged with investigating members of congress and senior government officials, reported that since January 1, the unit opened 56 investigations against former governors and 38 against sitting governors, and it reported one conviction in these cases.
The Attorney General’s Office reported that for the year through July 31, it had investigated 17 inspectors, six comptrollers, and 593 other senior government officials. In addition, as of July 31, the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 922 cases of corruption against 735 public servants, of which seven were in the preliminary investigation phase and two had been brought to trial.
Financial Disclosure: By law public officials must file annual financial disclosure forms with the tax authority. The information is not made public. The law states that persons who intend to hold public office or work as contractors for the government for more than three months shall submit a statement of assets and income, as well as information on their private economic activity. The Administrative Department of Public Service is in charge of preparing the required forms, and the human resources chief in each entity is responsible for verifying the information submitted. Congress maintained a website on which members could voluntarily post their financial information.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were typically cooperative and willing to listen to local human rights groups’ concerns.
In a communique issued on December 20, the OHCHR reported 73 social leaders were killed between January and December (see section 1.a.). Several NGOs reported receiving threats in the form of email, mail, telephone calls, false obituaries, and objects related to death, such as coffins and funeral bouquets. The government condemned the threats and called on the Attorney General’s Office to investigate them. Some activists claimed the government did not take the threats seriously.
Through July 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported 34 active investigations and no convictions in cases of threats against human rights defenders.
As of June 30, the NPU’s 480 billion Colombian pesos (COP) ($160 million) protection program provided protection to a total of 6,067 individuals. Among the NPU’s protected persons were 575 human rights activists.
To help monitor and verify that human rights were respected throughout implementation of the peace accord, the government formally renewed the mandate of the OHCHR in 2016 for a period of three years. The accord requests that the OHCHR include a “special chapter on implementation of the agreements from the standpoint of human rights” in its annual reports.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman is independent, submits an annual report to the House of Representatives, and has responsibility for providing for the promotion and exercise of human rights. Ombudsman Carlos Alfonso Negret Mosquera was elected to serve a four-year term ending in August 2020. According to human rights groups, underfunding of the Ombudsman’s Office limited its ability to monitor violations effectively. The ombudsman, as well as members of his regional offices, reported threats from illegal armed groups issued through pamphlets, email, and violent actions.
The National System for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law–led by a commission of 11 senior government officials and the vice president–designs, implements, and evaluates the government’s policies on human rights and international humanitarian law. The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights coordinates national human rights policy and actions taken by government entities to promote or protect human rights.
Both the Senate and House of Representatives have human rights committees that served as forums for discussion of human rights problems.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. The law provides for sentences ranging from eight to 30 years’ imprisonment for violent sexual assault. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates prison sentences of six months to two years. By law femicide is punishable with penalties of 21 to 50 years in prison, longer than the minimum sentence of 13 years for homicide.
Violence against women, and impunity for perpetrators, continued to be a problem. Members of illegal armed groups, including former paramilitary members, and guerrillas also continued to rape and abuse women and children sexually.
The government continued to employ the Elite Sexual Assault Investigative Unit interagency unit in Bogota, which was dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases. Through the end of July, the Attorney General’s Office opened 14,249 investigations for sexual abuses.
The law requires the government to provide victims of domestic violence immediate protection from further physical or psychological abuse.
The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its protocol for managing cases of sexual violence and harassment involving members of the military.
The law augments both jail time and fines if a crime causes “transitory or permanent physical disfigurement,” such as acid attacks.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but isolated incidents were reported in several indigenous communities.
Sexual Harassment: The law provides measures to deter and punish harassment in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse or derision, aggression, and discrimination, which carries a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual harassment remained a pervasive and underreported problem.
Coercion in Population Control: Coerced abortion was not permitted under the law, although the government reported illegal armed groups carried out forced abortions. Forced surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases is legal.
Through July 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported it opened 400 investigations related to cases of forced abortion, 13 of which had occurred during the year. A two-year Attorney General’s Office investigation that concluded in 2016 documented 214 cases of girls who were subjected to rape, forced sterilization, forced abortion, and other forms of sexual violence by the FARC. In January, Spain extradited a Colombian man–Hector Albeidis Arboleda, known as “the Nurse”–who was accused of performing up to 500 forced abortions for the FARC between 1998 and 2003. According to media reports, Arboleda was to be tried on various charges, including torture, homicide, attempted homicide, and forced abortion.
Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
Discrimination: Although women have the same legal rights as men, serious discrimination against women persisted. The Office of the Advisor for the Equality of Women has primary responsibility for combating discrimination against women, but advocacy groups reported that the office remained seriously underfunded. The government continued its national public policy for gender equity.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory. Most births were registered immediately. If a birth is not registered within one month, parents may be fined and denied public services.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem. The ICBF reported 6,157 cases of sexual abuse against children in the first seven months of the year.
Early and Forced Marriage: Marriage is legal at age 18. Boys older than 14 and girls older than 12 may marry with the consent of their parents.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children remained a problem. Sexual exploitation of a minor or facilitating the sexual exploitation of a minor carries a penalty of 14 to 25 years in prison, with aggravated penalties for perpetrators who are family members of the victim and for cases of sexual tourism, forced marriage, or sexual exploitation by illegal armed groups. The law prohibits pornography using children under age 18 and stipulates a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for sexual activity with a child under 14 ranges from nine to 13 years in prison. According to the ICBF, in 2016 through July, there were 206 reported cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Since 2009 the NGO Renacer Foundation certified 300 tourism-related businesses as committed to the fight against the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. In cooperation with the government, Renacer trained 20,823 employees of these businesses in how to identify and fight sexual exploitation.
Displaced Children: The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement estimated in 2016 that 31 percent of persons registered as displaced since 1985 were minors at the time they were displaced (see also section 2.d.).
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish community, which had an estimated 5,000 members, continued to report instances of anti-Israeli rhetoric connected to events in the Middle East, accompanied by anti-Semitic graffiti near synagogues, as well as demonstrations in front of the Israeli embassy that were sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic comments on social media. In particular, the Colombian Confederation of Jewish Communities expressed concern over the presence of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Colombia, which aggressively promotes the boycott of Israeli products, culture, and travel and does not actively counter the conflation of anti-Israeli policies with anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities but not sensory or intellectual disabilities. No law mandates access to information and telecommunications for persons with disabilities. A 2015 law punishes those who arbitrarily restrict the full exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities or harass persons with disabilities.
The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights under the High Counselor for Post-Conflict, Public Security, and Human Rights, along with the Human Rights Directorate at the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders) and other NGOs, these laws were seldom enforced.
Although children with disabilities attended school at all levels, advocates noted the vast majority of teachers and schools were neither trained nor equipped to educate children with disabilities successfully. Advocacy groups also stated children with disabilities entered the education system later than children without disabilities and dropped out at higher rates. Persons with disabilities were unemployed at a much higher rate than the general population.
Forced surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases is legal.
In 2013 the State Council ordered all public offices to make facilities accessible to persons with disabilities and asked public officials to include requirements for accessibility when granting licenses for construction and occupancy. The State Council also asked every municipality to enforce rules that would make all public offices accessible to persons with disabilities “in a short amount of time.”
According to the most recent (2005) national census, approximately 4.5 million persons, or 10 percent of the country’s population, described themselves as being of African descent. A 2011 UN report estimated Afro-Colombians made up 15 to 20 percent of the population, while human rights groups and Afro-Colombian organizations estimated the proportion to be 20 to 25 percent.
Afro-Colombians are entitled to all constitutional rights and protections, but they faced significant economic and social discrimination. According to a 2016 UN report, 32 percent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, but in Choco, the department with the highest percentage of Afro-Colombian residents, 79 percent of residents lived below the poverty line.
In 2010 the government approved a policy to promote equal opportunity for black, Afro-Colombian, Palenquera, and Raizal populations. (Palenquera populations inhabit some parts of the Caribbean coast, Raizal populations live in the San Andres archipelago, and Blacks and Afro-Colombians are Colombians of African descent who self-identify slightly differently based on their unique linguistic and cultural heritages.) The Ministry of Interior continued to provide technical advice and funding for social projects presented by Afro-Colombian communities.
The National Autonomous Congress of Afro-Colombian Community Councils and Ethnic Organizations for Blacks, Afro-Colombians, Raizales, and Palenqueras, consisting of 108 representatives, continued to meet with government representatives on problems that affected their communities.
The constitution and law give special recognition to the fundamental rights of indigenous persons, who make up approximately 3.4 percent of the population (1,392,623 indigenous), and require the government to consult beforehand with indigenous groups regarding governmental actions that could affect them.
The law accords indigenous groups perpetual rights to their ancestral lands, but indigenous groups, neighboring landowners, and the government often disputed the demarcation of those lands. Traditional indigenous groups operated 710 reservations, accounting for approximately 28 percent of the country’s territory. Illegal armed groups often violently contested indigenous land ownership and recruited indigenous children to join their ranks.
The law provides for special criminal and civil jurisdictions within indigenous territories based on traditional community laws. Legal proceedings in these jurisdictions were subject to manipulation and often rendered punishments more lenient than those imposed by regular civilian courts.
Some indigenous groups continued to assert that they were not able to participate adequately in decisions affecting their lands. The constitution provides for this “prior consultation” mechanism for indigenous communities, but it does not require the government to obtain the consent of those communities in all cases.
The government stated that for security reasons it could not provide advance notice of most military operations, especially when in pursuit of enemy combatants, and added that it consulted with indigenous leaders when possible before entering land held by the communities.
Despite special legal protections and government assistance programs, indigenous persons continued to suffer discrimination and often lived on the margins of society. They belonged to the country’s poorest population and had the highest age-specific mortality rates. As of the end of July, the Attorney General’s Office reported there were 17 active investigations of military members and members of the CNP accused of violating the rights, culture, or customs of indigenous groups.
Killings of members and leaders of indigenous groups remained a problem. Through September 1, the NGO National Indigenous Organization of Colombia reported 30 indigenous persons were killed. For example, on October 24, the ELN shot and killed indigenous governor Aulio Isarama Forastero in Choco.
Despite precautionary measures ordered by the IACHR, ethnic Wayuu children continued to die of malnutrition. NGOs and civil society leaders reported during the year that members of the Wayuu community received threats and were targeted by gunmen.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There was no official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. A 2015 Constitutional Court decision required that the Ministry of Education modify its educational materials to address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in schools. In May a proposed constitutional referendum to prevent same-sex couples from adopting failed in a congressional committee vote.
Transgender individuals cited barriers to public services when health-care providers or police officers refused to accept their government-issued identification. Some transgender individuals stated it was difficult to change the gender designation on national identity documents and that transgender individuals whose identity cards listed them as male were still required to show proof they had performed mandatory military service or obtained the necessary waivers from that service. NGOs claimed discrimination and violence in prisons against persons due to their sexual orientation and gender identity remained a problem.
Despite government measures to increase the rights and protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, there were reports of societal abuse and discrimination, as well as sexual assault. NGOs claimed transgender individuals, particularly transgender men, were often sexually assaulted in so-called corrective rape. The Constitutional Court pronounced in 2016 that transgender persons faced discrimination and social rejection within the LGBTI community and recommended measures to increase respect for transgender identities in the classrooms.
As of July 31, the Attorney General’s Office was investigating at least eight alleged homicides of LGBTI individuals that had occurred since January 1. Seven of the cases were in the investigation stage, and one was in the trial stage.
The NGO Colombia Diversa also reported three cases, involving four victims, of police abuse of persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, with the majority of complaints coming from transgender individuals. According to NGOs working on LGBTI problems, these attacks occurred frequently, but victims did not pursue cases due to fear of retaliation. NGOs also reported several cases of threats against human rights defenders working on LGBTI issues, as well as a high level of impunity for crimes against members of the LGBTI community. Such organizations partially attributed impunity levels to the failure of the Attorney General’s Office to distinguish and effectively pursue crimes against the LGBTI community.
The manual of administrative procedures for blood banks issued by the Ministry of Health states that, to protect the recipient of a transfusion from HIV/AIDS, the ministry excludes those donors who had “male homosexual relations in the past 15 years.” In 2012 the Constitutional Court ordered the ministry to remove selection criteria based on the sexual orientation of donors, but the regulation reportedly was not changed as of September.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There were no confirmed reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In the most recent demographic and health survey (2010), the government reported the responses of 85 percent of those surveyed indicated discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS, reflecting low levels of social acceptance throughout the country.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and it prohibits antiunion discrimination. Members of associated workers’ cooperatives are not allowed to form unions, since the law recognizes members of a cooperative as owners. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police from forming or joining unions. The law provides for automatic recognition of unions that obtain 25 signatures from potential members and that comply with a registration process. Public-sector employees legally have the right to bargain collectively. The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining in practice. Workers faced some obstacles to exercising those rights, and the government faced numerous challenges effectively enforcing applicable laws governing those two rights.
The law permits associated workers’ cooperatives (CTAs), collective pacts, and union contracts. Under collective pacts employers may negotiate accords on pay and labor conditions with workers in workplaces where no union is present or where a union represents less than one-third of employees. Law and regulations prohibit the use of CTAs and collective pacts to undermine the right to organize and bargain collectively, including by extending better conditions to nonunion workers through such pacts. Through a union contract, a company may contract a union, at times formed explicitly for this purpose, for a specific job or work; the union then in essence serves as an employer for its members. Workers who belong to a union that has a union contract with a company do not have a direct employment relationship with either the company or the union. Labor disputes for workers under a union contract may be decided through an arbitration panel versus labor courts if both parties agree.
The law does not permit members of the armed forces, police, and persons performing “essential public services” to strike. Before conducting a strike, unions must follow prescribed legal procedures, including entering into a conversation period with the employer, presenting a list of demands, and gaining majority approval in the union for a strike. The law limits strikes to periods of contract negotiations or collective bargaining and allows employers to fire trade unionists who participate in strikes or work stoppages ruled illegal by the courts.
The government has the authority to fine labor-rights violators. The government sought to enforce most applicable labor laws, but a lack of an inspection strategy, as well as an overburdened judicial system, inhibited speedy and consistent application. The maximum penalty for violations of law, including those that prohibit the misuse of CTAs, is 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage, or COP 3.4 billion ($1.13 million). The law also stipulates that offenders repeatedly misusing CTAs or other labor relationships shall receive the maximum penalty and may be subject to losing their legal status to operate. Employers who engage in antiunion practices may also be imprisoned for up to five years, although government officials admitted a fine was more likely than imprisonment. Prohibited practices include impeding workers’ right to strike, meet, or otherwise associate, and extending better conditions to members of collective pacts than to union members. Through March the government reported fines on certain subcontracting entities for abusive forms of subcontracting at a value of COP 2.283 billion ($761,000).
The Ministry of Labor’s Special Investigations Unit continued to exercise its power to investigate and impose sanctions in any jurisdiction. The vice minister for labor relations decides on a case-by-case basis whether to assign the Special Investigations Unit or the regional inspectors to investigate certain sites. The unit was reportedly overburdened with cases, resulting in denials of recent union requests for review by the unit.
The Ministry of Labor leads a tripartite Inter-Institutional Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Workers, with participation by the government, organized labor groups, and business community. The commission met in August.
As part of its commitments under the 2011 Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights (Labor Action Plan), the government continued to take steps to protect internationally recognized labor rights. Labor inspections by the Ministry of Labor for abusive subcontracting in the five priority sectors of palm oil, sugar, ports, mines, and cut flowers remained infrequent, however. Critics claimed inspections lacked necessary rigor, assessed fines were not collected, and abusive subcontracting continued. The government continued to engage in regular meetings with unions and civil society groups.
The Ministry of Labor, in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO), continued a virtual training program to prepare labor inspectors to identify antiunion conduct. It also implemented methods, including contract and process maps, as strategic planning tools to prioritize interventions. The ministry continued to employ a telephone- and internet-based complaint mechanism to report alleged labor violations. Union members complained that existing systems did not allow citizens to register anonymous complaints and noted that complaints registered through the telephone and internet systems do not result in action.
Judicial police, the Technical Investigation Body, and prosecutors investigating criminal cases of threats and killings are required to determine during the initial phase of an investigation whether a victim is an active or retired union member or is actively engaged in union formation and organization, but it was unclear whether they did so. It could take several months to transfer cases from regional field offices of the Attorney General’s Office to the Attorney General’s Human Rights Directorate, and cases are transferred only with the approval of the attorney general in response to direct requests, instead of automatically.
The government continued to include in its protection program for labor activists persons engaged in efforts to form a union, as well as former unionists under threat because of their past activities. Through July the NPU provided protection to 440 trade union leaders or members (others protected included journalists, human rights advocates, and land restitution claimants). Approximately 12 percent of the NPU’s budget was dedicated to unionist protection. Between January 1 and September 30, the NPU processed 171 risk assessments of union leaders or members; 96 of those cases were assessed as posing an “extraordinary threat,” and the NPU provided them protection measures. The NPU reported that through June, the average time needed to implement protection measures upon completion of a risk analysis was 50 days in regular cases or five days for emergency cases. NGOs, however, complained about slow processing times.
The protection and relocation of teachers falls under the Ministry of National Education and the departmental education secretaries, but the NPU retains some responsibilities for the risk analysis and protection of family members. Through July 31, the NPU evaluated 99 threat cases against teachers and found 62 to be of extraordinary risk.
In cases of unionist killings from previous years, the pace of investigations and convictions remained slow, and high rates of impunity continued. Labor groups stated more needed to be done to address impunity for perpetrators of violence against trade unionists and the large number of threat cases. The Attorney General’s Office indicated it prioritized cases in order of severity and had a backlog of lower-priority cases. As of July 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported 753 sentences against 620 persons in cases of violence against unionists since 2006 that were filed in the Human Rights Directorate. Between January 1 and July 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported 78 sentences in cases of violence against union leaders.
Violence, threats, harassment, and other practices against trade unionists continued to affect the exercise of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. According to the Attorney General’s Office, through July 31, 166 teachers were registered as victims in cases of homicide.
The National Union School (ENS), a labor rights NGO and think tank, reported 14 trade unionists were killed through August. ENS and other labor groups stated that focusing on killings alone masked the true nature and scope of the violence against labor activists. Labor groups noted that in some regions nonlethal violations continued to increase. ENS reported during the same period 94 death threats, four nonlethal attacks, nine arbitrary detentions and 16 cases of harassment, and one case of an illegal raid.
For example, in June unidentified gunmen killed Mauricio Velez Lopez, national vice president of the National Public University Workers Union (Sintraunal).
Unions cited multiple instances in which companies fired employees who formed or sought to form new unions. Some employers continued to use temporary contracts, service agencies, and other forms of subcontracting to limit worker rights and protections. Fines assessed by the government did little to dissuade violators because fines were often not collected. In the first eight months of the year, the government reported 1,211 workers benefited from 14 formalization agreements that the Ministry of Labor reached with employers in Bogota and the departments of Amazonas, Barrancabermeja, Caqueta, Casanare, Valle del Cauca, Cesar, Choco, Huila, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Quindio, and Uraba.
Labor confederations and NGOs reported that business owners in several sectors used “simplified stock corporations” (SAS), union contracts, foundations, or temporary service agencies in attempts to circumvent legal restrictions on cooperatives. While in theory SAS workers may exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively with SAS management, it appeared that in some cases the SAS had little or no control over the conditions of employment. The Ministry of Labor stated that an SAS, like any corporate structure, may be fined for labor violations if they occurred.
According to ENS, Indupalma, a large employer in the palm sector located in the municipality of San Alberto, Cesar Department, employed more than 1,500 workers through illegal cooperatives. This reportedly was the only company in the region that continued using labor intermediation with illegal cooperatives with no sanctions or corrective measures by the Ministry of Labor.
Metal and mineworkers’ union SINTRAIME reported that inspections for abusive subcontracting carried out by the Ministry of Labor at the Drummond coalmines were ineffective in safeguarding the freedom of workers to organize.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases, and there continued to be reports that such practices occurred. The law prescribes punishments of 13 to 23 years’ imprisonment plus fines for forced labor violations.
There were reports ELN guerrillas and organized criminal gangs used forced labor, including forced child labor, in coca cultivation and illegal mining in areas outside government control as well as forced labor for criminal activity, such as extortion, in urban areas. The ICBF noted it was difficult to produce exact statistics on the number of children who participated in illegal armed groups due to the groups’ clandestine nature. In February 2016 the FARC announced it would stop recruiting children under the age of 18. The FARC reached an agreement with the government in May 2016 on how to release minors already in the ranks and facilitate their reintegration. As of June 14, the FARC released 88 children, according to UNICEF. As part of a temporary bilateral ceasefire between the government and the ELN scheduled from October 1 to January 12, 2018, the ELN committed to stop the recruitment of minors.
Forced labor in other sectors, including organized begging, mining, agriculture, forced recruitment by illegal armed actors, and domestic service, also remained a serious problem. Afro-Colombians, indigenous Colombians, and inhabitants of marginalized urban areas were at the highest risk of forced labor, domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced recruitment.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 and for hazardous work at 18. Children 15 and 16 years of age may work no more than 30 hours per week, and children age 17 may work no more than 40 hours per week. Children under 15 may work in arts, sports, or recreational or cultural activities for a maximum of 14 hours per week. In all these cases, working children and adolescents must have signed documentation filed by their parents and approved by a labor inspector or other local authority.
The law prohibits child workers from working at night or where there is a risk of bodily harm or exposure to excessive heat, cold, or noise. Hazardous work includes an extensive list of activities within 11 occupational categories, including agriculture, hunting and forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying, manufacturing, construction, transport and storage, health services, and defense, and subcategories identified as the “worst forms of child labor.”
The law authorizes inspectors to issue fines of up to 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage for labor law violations, including child-labor violations. A violation deemed to endanger a child’s life or threaten moral values may be punished by temporary or permanent closure of the establishment. Nationwide, labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing child labor laws. In 2014 the Ministry of Labor created the Child Labor Eradication Internal Working Group based in Bogota but with nationwide responsibilities to investigate cases of child labor and carry out activities to prevent child labor. It was unclear what actions this group took. Inspectors monitored the formal sector through periodic inspections, but an estimated 80 percent of all child labor occurred in the informal sector of the economy. Resources and training remained inadequate for effective enforcement.
Government agencies carried out several activities to eradicate and prevent exploitative child labor. With ILO assistance the government continued to improve cooperation among national, regional, and municipal governments through its national plan to eradicate child labor and protect working youth. It also continued to employ a monitoring system to register working children, although the system was not always regularly updated. The government also sought to reduce demand for child labor through public awareness and training efforts, often working with international and civil society organizations.
The government, through the Ministry of Labor, continued to follow the 2008 plan outlined in the National Strategy to Prevent and Eradicate the Worst Forms of Child Labor and Protect Young Workers. It also continued its roundtable discussion group, which included government representatives, members of the three largest labor confederations, and civil society. The group concentrated its efforts on formalizing an integrated registration system for information on child labor that would permit public and private entities to register information about child workers.
The government continued to combat illegal mining and formalize artisanal mining production, with goals including the elimination of child labor and forced labor. Regional ICBF offices were charged with leading efforts to combat child labor in mining at the local level, working with the Ministry of Labor and other government agencies to coordinate responses. The Department for Social Prosperity continued to implement the More Families in Action program to combat poverty through conditional cash transfers; it included a specific focus on addressing child labor. In interagency child labor meetings, the Ministry of Labor reported that whichever government presence was available in the area–whether police, the ICBF, teachers, or the DPS–attended to children found working in illegal mining operations. While all agencies had directives on how to handle and report child labor cases, it was unclear whether all cases were referred to the ICBF.
The ICBF continued to implement several initiatives aimed at preventing child labor, including producing an extensive section of its website designed specifically for young audiences to educate children on child labor, their rights, and how to report child labor. The Ministry of Labor continued its work with the Network against Child Labor, in which the ministry operates alongside member businesses that pledged to work within the network to prevent and eradicate child labor.
Child labor remained a problem in the informal and illicit sectors. In April the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) published the results of a 2015 survey of child labor that measured child labor during October-December 2014. DANE data noted that, of the 11.1 million children between ages five and 17, an estimated one million worked outside the home (approximately 68 percent boys and 32 percent girls). The national rate of children who worked outside the home was 7.8 percent, with 4.2 percent of children ages five to 14 working and 19.8 percent of children ages 15 to 17 working. For the period of the study, 29.8 percent of the children who worked did not attend school. According to the study, 36.3 percent of child laborers in urban areas engaged in commerce, hotel, and restaurant work, while 36.6 percent of child laborers in rural areas engaged in agriculture, fishing, cattle farming, hunting, and forestry work; 47.2 percent of working children ages five to 17 did not receive payment.
Significant rates of child labor occurred in the production of clay bricks, coal, emeralds, gold, coca, and pornography. Children also worked as street vendors and domestic servants and were engaged in begging and garbage scavenging. There were also reports that children were involved in agriculture, including coffee production and small family production centers in the unrefined brown sugar market, as well as selling inexpensive Venezuelan gasoline. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).
Prohibitions against children working in mining and construction were reportedly largely ignored. Some educational institutions modify schedules during harvest seasons so that children may help on the family farm. Children worked in artisanal mining of coal, clay, emeralds, and gold under dangerous conditions and in many instances with the approval or insistence of their parents. The government’s efforts to assist children working in illegal mining focused on the departments of Antioquia and Boyaca.
There continued to be instances of child trafficking with the purpose of forced labor in mines, quarries, and private homes. According to government officials and international organizations, illegal drug traders and other illicit actors recruited children, sometimes forcibly, to work in their illegal activities. The ELN and organized criminal gangs forced children into sexual servitude or criminality to serve as combatants or coca pickers (see section 1.g.). Children working in the informal sector, including as street vendors, were also vulnerable to labor trafficking. The ICBF identified 651 children and adolescents who qualified for and received social services.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, sex, religion, political preference, national origin or citizenship, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or infection with other communicable diseases, or social status. Complaints of quid pro quo sexual harassment are filed not with the Ministry of Labor but with the criminal courts. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases.
Unemployment disproportionately affected women. They faced hiring discrimination and received salaries that generally were not commensurate with their education and experience. According to DANE, 43.1 percent of working-age women were engaged in economic activity, compared with 56.9 percent of men. Sisma Mujer reported on average women were paid 28 percent less than men. In a previous year, a senior government official estimated that 85 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum monthly wage as decreed by the government was COP 689,454 ($230) for all sectors. According to DANE, as of December 2016, 28 percent of the national population lived in poverty: 24.9 percent of the urban population and 38.6 percent of the rural population lived below the poverty line. The share of the national population living in extreme poverty was 8.5 percent.
The law provides for a regular workweek of 48 hours and a minimum rest period of eight hours within the week. Exceptions to this may be granted by the Ministry of Labor and were frequently granted in the mining sector. The law provides for paid annual civil and religious holidays for all workers. Employees who work at least one full year are entitled to at least 15 days of paid vacation. The law stipulates that workers receive premium compensation for nighttime work, hours worked in excess of 48 per week, and work performed on Sundays. The law permits compulsory overtime only in exceptional cases where the work is considered essential for the company’s functioning.
The law provides for workers’ occupational safety and health in the formal sector. The legal standards were generally up to date and appropriate for the country’s main formal industries. The law does not cover informal-sector workers, including many mining and agricultural workers. In general the law protects workers’ rights to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although some violations of this right were reported during the year. In cases of formal grievances, authorities generally protected employees in this situation.
The Ministry of Labor is required to enforce labor laws in the formal sector, including occupational safety and health regulations, through periodic inspections by labor inspectors. The government reported that as of June 30, the ministry employed 859 inspectors countrywide, although not all conducted worksite inspections and most had little training in occupational safety and health issues. Individual labor violations can bring fines of up to 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage, but infractions for occupational safety and health can trigger fines of only up to 1,000 times the minimum monthly wage. Unionists stated that more fines needed to be collected to impact occupational safety and health issues.
While the government’s labor inspectors undertook administrative actions to enforce the minimum wage in the formal sector, the government did not conduct any action to do so in the informal sector.
To encourage the formalization of labor, the Ministry of Labor continued to promote formal employment generation. As of the first quarter of the year, the proportion of informal workers was 47.3 percent in cities and metropolitan cities, according to DANE. Formalization agreements in firms with illegal subcontracting increased during the year; however, some labor rights groups expressed concern that the formalization agreements were not sufficiently monitored by the Ministry of Labor. The government continued to support complementary social security programs to increase the employability of extremely poor individuals, displaced persons, and the elderly.
Nonunion workers, particularly those in the agricultural and port sectors, reportedly worked under hazardous conditions because they feared losing their jobs through subcontracting mechanisms or informal arrangements if they criticized abuses. Some unionized workers who alleged they suffered on-the-job injuries complained that companies illegally fired them in retaliation for filing workers compensation claims. Only the courts may order reinstatement, and workers complained the courts were backlogged, slow, and corrupt. The Ministry of Labor may sanction a company found to have broken the law in this way, but it may offer no other guarantees to workers.
Security forces reported that illegal armed actors, including FARC dissidents, the ELN, and organized criminal groups, engaged in illegal mining of gold, coal, coltan, nickel, copper, and other minerals. Illegal mines were particularly common in the departments of Antioquia, Bolivar, Cauca, Cordoba, Choco, Narino, and Tolima.
According to the National Mining Agency, through July 31, there were 43 mine accidents reported, causing 51 miners’ deaths. The majority of both accidents and deaths were due to cave-ins. There were no reports of nonmining major industrial accidents through October.
According to its constitution, Egypt is a republic governed by an elected president and unicameral legislature. Domestic and international observers concluded the 2014 presidential election was administered professionally and in line with the country’s laws, while also expressing serious concerns that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression constrained broad political participation. Domestic and international observers also concluded that government authorities professionally administered parliamentary elections in 2015 in accordance with the country’s laws, while also expressing concern about restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression and their negative effect on the political climate surrounding the elections.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
A three-month state of emergency (SOE), subsequently renewed for an additional three months, was imposed following the Palm Sunday terrorist attacks on Coptic churches in April. Two days after the expiration of the second SOE in October, a three-month SOE was imposed. By law SOEs may only be renewed once.
The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; major terrorist attacks; disappearances; torture; harsh or potentially life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; including the use of military courts to try civilians; political prisoners and detainees; unlawful interference in privacy; limits on freedom of expression, including criminal “defamation of religion” laws; restrictions on the press, internet, and academic freedom; and restrictions on freedoms of assembly and association, including government control over registration and financing of NGOs. LGBTI persons faced arrests, imprisonment, and degrading treatment. The government did not effectively respond to violence against women, and there were reports of child labor.
The government inconsistently punished or prosecuted officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government. In most cases the government did not comprehensively investigate human rights abuses, including most incidents of violence by security forces, contributing to an environment of impunity.
Attacks by terrorist organizations caused arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life. Terrorist groups conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets throughout the country, including places of worship and public transportation. Authorities investigated terrorist attacks.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including incidents that occurred while making arrests or holding persons in custody, during disputes with civilians, or while dispersing demonstrations. There were also reports of civilians killed during military operations in Sinai. Impunity was a problem.
There were instances of persons tortured to death and other allegations of killings in prisons and detention centers. The government charged, prosecuted, and convicted perpetrators in some cases.
On February 13, Mahmoud Sayed Hussein died due to what government investigators described as beatings and torture following a 15-day detention on charges of murder and theft. In March the Giza Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the detention of three police officers involved. The investigation was still pending at year’s end.
As of year’s end, an investigative team led by the Prosecutor General’s Office had not released its conclusions of its investigation into the killing of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni in 2016. In February 2016 authorities found Regeni’s body with what forensics officials said were signs of torture, including cigarette burns, broken bones, and head injuries. Local and international human rights groups stated such signs of torture were consistent with forms of abuse committed by security services. Some human rights groups further alleged torture by security services was responsible for Regeni’s death. An international news agency reported security services detained Regeni prior to his death, citing intelligence and police sources. The Interior Ministry denied such claims and any connection with Regeni’s death.
There were reports of suspects killed in unclear circumstances during or after arrest. On July 19, authorities arrested Gamal Aweida, a 43-year-old Coptic Christian man, on charges of procuring false drivers’ licenses. According to an Amnesty International (AI), 15 hours after his arrest, authorities informed his family he was dead by suicide. A subsequent Forensic Medical Authority report listed his cause of death as “suspect criminal action and a severe drop in blood circulation.” Family members stated Aweida’s body bore marks of torture. The prosecutor’s office summoned police officers for questioning, but there were no reports of further action.
There were reports of police killing unarmed civilians during personal or business disputes, which local academics and human rights groups asserted were part of a culture of excessive violence within the security services. On January 18, the Prosecutor’s Office charged two police officers with beating and torturing to death a laborer in July 2016 after the laborer attempted to bribe a friend of the officers.
There were reports of suspected terrorists and other suspected criminals killed during security raids conducted by police. The Interior Ministry claimed police officers fired at suspects only when suspects fired first. In July press reported that the Ministry of Interior killed 54 persons in 14 operations following a May 26 terrorist attack on a bus carrying Coptic Christians (see below). According to state-affiliated press reporting, the ministry alleged 29 of those killed were Arms of Egypt Movement (HASM) and Islamic State Sinai Province (IS-Sinai) terrorists and had not yet identified the remaining 25. Rights groups claimed these shootings might have amounted to extrajudicial killings. In some cases, human rights organizations and media reported there was evidence that police detained suspects before killing them. On January 13, the Interior Ministry reported it killed 10 alleged members of the armed group IS-Sinai in al-Arish during a house raid. The Interior Ministry named six of the 10. According to AI and Human Rights Watch (HRW), all six were in police custody at the time of the reported house raid, and police had held them for three months.
The government, at times, used excessive force to disperse both peaceful and nonpeaceful demonstrations. On July 16, security forces killed one protester on Warraq Island, near Cairo, reportedly due to suffocation from tear gas. The Ministry of Interior and press reporting claimed protesters attacked security forces with rocks and birdshot. A local resident claimed police fired birdshot as well as tear gas at protesters.
On February 14, the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial in the case of the Central Security Forces officer previously convicted of killing secular activist Shaimaa el-Sabbagh at a peaceful demonstration in 2015. A Cairo criminal court previously convicted the officer of manslaughter and sentenced him to 15 years’ imprisonment (see section 1.d.). On June 19, a Cairo criminal court reduced the sentence to 10 years’ imprisonment prison.
A second appeal was pending at year’s end in the case of four police officers charged in the 2013 deaths of 37 Muslim Brotherhood (MB) detainees while transferring them to Abu Zaabal Prison near Cairo. In 2014 an appeals court overturned their original conviction. In 2015 the officers were convicted again, but the court reduced one officer’s sentence from 10 to five years, while maintaining the one-year suspended prison sentences for the three other officers.
At year’s end the government had not held accountable any individual or governmental body for state violence after 2013, including the deaths of hundreds of civilians during the 2013 dispersals of the sit-ins at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Cairo and Nahda Square in Giza.
The independent online newspaper Mada Masr reported that, on July 5, an airstrike killed an engineer and two workers near the Bahariya Oasis in the Western Desert. No party took responsibility for the attack.
Terrorist groups, including IS-Sinai (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) and Ajnad Misr, among others, conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets throughout the country, including schools, places of worship, banks, and public transportation. On April 9, twin terrorist attacks on the St. George Church in Tanta and the St. Mark Church in Alexandria during Palm Sunday prayers killed 53 civilians and injured dozens more. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. On April 18, police arrested Ali Mahmoud Mohamed Hassan on suspicion of involvement with the bombings. On June 22, according to a Ministry of the Interior statement, police killed seven persons with alleged links to the attacks in a security operation.
On May 26, a terrorist attack on a bus carrying Coptic Christians killed 29 civilians. According to government statements, the perpetrators were HASM and IS-Sinai terrorists.
There were no published official data on the number of victims of terrorist violence during the year. According to local media reports, terrorists killed hundreds of civilians throughout the country. In Sinai alone militant violence had killed at least 405 civilians and 137 security force members (police and military), according to publicly available information. During the same period in Sinai, the government killed 753 terrorists, according to official public statements.
Several international and local human rights groups reported continuing large numbers of enforced disappearances, alleging authorities increasingly relied on this tactic to intimidate critics. According to an August AI statement, security agents caused the disappearance of at least 1,700 persons since 2015. According to an August report issued by the Cairo-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), authorities forcibly disappeared 254 individuals during the first six months of the year. In the cases ECRF presented, authorities arrested those forcibly disappeared in a manner that did not comply with due process (see section 1.d.). Authorities also detained individuals after forcing their way into homes without producing arrest or search warrants. According to ECRF, many of these individuals were detained in police stations or Central Security Forces’ camps but were not included in official registers. Authorities held detainees incommunicado and denied their requests to contact family members and lawyers. The length of disappearances documented by AI ranged from a few days to seven months. Local rights groups provided various estimates of forced disappearances, with one reporting 630 cases between January and May 15. According to government statements, in 2016 the National Council for Human Rights raised 448 cases of enforced disappearances with the Interior Ministry, which responded with information on 393.
On June 17, security forces detained human rights lawyer Tarek Hussein at his home and detained him for 42 days. According to his public statements, officers did not present an arrest warrant at the time of his detention, despite his request to see one. According to Hussein, security forces moved him among multiple facilities, his family was often unaware of his whereabouts, and he was initially denied contact with his lawyer. Authorities charged him with belonging to the MB, calling for a protest, and several other minor charges. Several cases against him remained open.
The next hearing in the trial of Aser Mohamed, which began in August 2016, was scheduled for February 10, 2018. In January 2016 authorities detained 14-year-old Aser Mohamed, taking him from his home without producing an arrest warrant, as reported by AI. Mohamed was missing for 34 days before he was located at a Central Security Forces camp on the outskirts of Cairo, as stated by AI. According to AI, authorities reportedly tortured Mohamed to “confess” to participating in a terrorist attack and other crimes during his detention. In February 2016 authorities charged Mohamed and 25 others with belonging to a banned group. According to available information, Mohamed remained at the Central Security Forces camp.
According to a 2016 AI report, authorities held many victims of forced disappearance at the National Security Sector Lazoughly Office. There were also reports that military authorities continued to hold civilians in secret at al-Azouly Prison inside al-Galaa Military Camp in Ismailia. Authorities did not charge the detainees with crimes or refer them to prosecutors or courts. They also prevented detainees’ access to their lawyers and families.
According to a July 31 report of the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, 258 disappearance cases were under the working group’s review. The report noted the working group’s “concern” that, despite the government’s engagement, 101 cases were transmitted under its urgent action procedure during the reporting period of May 2016 through May 2017. As of December the working group had not received a response to its 2011 request to visit the country (see section 5).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution states that no torture, intimidation, coercion, or physical or moral harm shall be inflicted upon a person whose movements are restricted or whom authorities have detained or arrested. The penal code forbids torture to induce a confession from a detained or arrested suspect but does not account for mental or psychological abuse against persons whom authorities have not formally accused, or for abuse occurring for reasons other than securing a confession. The penal code also forbids all public officials or civil servants from “employing cruelty” or “causing bodily harm” under any circumstances.
Local rights organizations documented hundreds of incidents of torture throughout the year, including deaths that resulted from torture (see section 1.a.). According to domestic and international human rights organizations, police and prison guards resorted to torture to extract information from detainees, including minors. Reported techniques included beatings with fists, whips, rifle butts, and other objects; prolonged suspension by the limbs from a ceiling or door; electric shocks; sexual assault; and attacks by dogs. A June UN Committee against Torture report concluded that torture was a systematic practice in the country. Government officials denied the use of torture was systemic. A September HRW report catalogued multiple cases in which members of the public prosecution, the authority empowered with investigating abuses, ignored victims’ allegations of torture. According to HRW and local NGOs, torture was most common in police stations and other Interior Ministry detention sites. Local NGO al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence documented an average of 35 to 40 instances of torture per month. Authorities stated they did not sanction these abuses and, in some cases, prosecuted individual police officers for violating the law (see section 1.a.).
On July 6, AI released a report claiming that four individuals, whom authorities stated were killed in shootouts with police, may have earlier been detained in May, tortured, released, and in June extrajudicially executed. AI reported that family members who saw victims’ bodies at the morgue told AI three bore signs of torture including bruises and, in one case, burns.
On February 7, the Cairo Criminal Court released assistant detective Karim Magdy, accused in the torture and death of cart driver Magdy Makeen, on bail of 5,000 Egyptian pounds (EGP) ($283). In November 2016 authorities found Makeen dead with signs of severe torture. A forensic report stated Makeen died as a result of one or more persons standing on his back. Authorities arrested nine persons, including Magdy. No further information was available on the status of the investigation at year’s end.
A third retrial continued for two national security officers accused of torturing to death lawyer Karim Hamdy in 2015. The most recent hearing was scheduled for January 2018. In October 2016 the Court of Cassation canceled the five-year prison sentences for the two security officers. Hamdy died in custody after authorities arrested him on charges of taking part in antigovernment protests. According to a forensic report, he sustained fractures to the ribs and bruises and bleeding in the chest and head. The accused officers remained free pending the results of the retrial.
On June 7, the Court of Cassation upheld the death sentences against six men who were forcibly disappeared and tortured to obtain the confessions used to convict them, according to AI. The men were arrested by the National Security Sector in 2014 and disappeared for periods ranging from days to three months during which time authorities tortured them. On June 15, the men’s lawyers submitted a final appeal, requesting a retrial based on due process errors in the previous trial. No further information on the state of the appeal was available at year’s end.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in the prisons and detention centers were harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, inadequate medical care, poor infrastructure, and poor ventilation.
Physical Conditions: According to domestic and international nongovernmental NGO observers, prison cells were overcrowded, and prisoners lacked adequate access to medical care, proper sanitation and ventilation, food, and potable water. Tuberculosis was widespread. Provisions for temperature control and lighting generally were inadequate. Reports that guards abused prisoners, including juveniles, in adult facilities were common. Prison conditions for women were marginally better than those for men. Media reported that some prisoners protested conditions in July by going on hunger strikes, including at Wadi al-Natrun Prison.
According to the law, religious books are required to be available for prisoners, religious counsel (including confession if appropriate) should be provided to prisoners in keeping with the tenets of their religious group, and prisoners should not be compelled to work during religious holidays.
The large number of arrests and the use of pretrial detention during the year exacerbated harsh conditions and overcrowding, contributing to the prevalence of deaths in prisons and detention centers. During the year the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) reported police detention centers were at 150 percent of maximum capacity and that prisons were at 300 percent of maximum capacity. Health care in prisons was inadequate, leading to a large number of prisoner deaths due to possibly treatable natural causes. Human rights groups and the families of some deceased prisoners claimed that prison authorities denied prisoners access to potentially life-saving medical care and, in some cases, denied requests to transfer the prisoners to the hospital, leading to deaths in prison.
According to an August 14 HRW report, journalist Hisham Gaafar’s health, including his eyesight, was deteriorating because prison authorities could not provide him necessary health care. Since 2015 authorities detained Gaafar on charges including membership in the MB and illegally receiving foreign funds for his foundation. According to HRW Gaafar suffered from a number of ailments, which required continuing specialist care.
On November 4, Nubian activist Gamal Sorour (see section 6) died after falling into a diabetic coma while in pretrial detention. According to press reports, Sorour was one of at least 223 detainees participating in a hunger strike protesting prolonged pretrial detention and maltreatment.
There were reports authorities sometimes held prisoners accused of crimes related to political or security issues separately from common criminals and subjected them to verbal or physical abuse and punitive solitary confinement. On October 12, the Court of Cassation ordered the retrial of imprisoned activist Ahmed Douma. In 2015 authorities convicted Douma of several offenses, including assaulting police and military forces during clashes between protesters and police in 2011. Beginning with his arrest in 2015, Douma was held in solitary confinement for more than 1,200 days.
Authorities did not always separate juveniles from adults and sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Rights organizations alleged the illegal use of Central Security Forces camps as detention facilities.
The law authorized prison officials to use force against prisoners who resisted orders.
Administration: The penal code provides for reasonable access to prisoners. According to NGO observers and relatives, the government sometimes prevented visitors’ access to detainees. Prisoners could request investigation of alleged inhumane conditions. NGO observers claimed, however, that prisoners sometimes were reluctant to do so due to fear of retribution from prison officials. The government investigated some, but not all, of these allegations. As required by law, the public prosecutor inspected prisons and detention centers.
Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit visits by nongovernmental observers but did permit some visits by the National Council for Women and Parliament’s Human Rights Committee to prisons and detention centers. The law formally recognizes the NCHR’s role in monitoring prisons, specifying that visits require notifying the prosecutor general in advance. The NCHR did not visit any prisons in 2017. Authorities did not permit other human rights organizations to conduct prison visits.
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/her arrest or detention in court, but reported incidents of arbitrary arrests and detentions remained frequent.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. The government does not have effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. Official impunity was a problem. Police investigative skills remained poor. Police did not investigate reported police abuses sufficiently, according to local and international human rights groups. The government investigated and prosecuted some, but not all, reports of abuse, and some prosecutions resulted in acquittals due to insufficient or contradictory evidence. The government frequently called for investigations of abuses by security forces, although these investigations rarely resulted in judicial punishment.
The primary security forces of the Interior Ministry are the Public Police and the Central Security Forces. The Public Police are responsible for law enforcement nationwide. The Central Security Forces provide security for infrastructure and key domestic and foreign officials, and are responsible for crowd control. The National Security Sector, which investigates counterterrorism and internal security threats, also reports to the minister of interior. The armed forces report to the minister of defense and are generally responsible for external defense, but they also have a mandate to “assist” police in protecting “vital public facilities,” including roads, bridges, railroads, power stations, and universities. Military personnel have arrest authority during “periods of significant turmoil.” The Border Guards Department is responsible for border control and includes members from the army and police. Single-mission law enforcement agencies, such as the Tourist and Antiquities Police and the Antinarcotics General Administration, also worked throughout the country.
On June 19, the retrial of a Central Security Forces officer previously convicted of killing secular activist Shaimaa el-Sabbagh at a peaceful demonstration in 2015 concluded when a Cairo Criminal Court sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
On March 2, the Court of Cassation found former president Hosni Mubarak, former minister of interior Habib al-Adly, and six others innocent of issuing an order to kill protesters during the 2011 revolution. The decision marked the end of a retrial that began in late 2015. The court also rejected lawyers’ and victims’ requests to reopen civil suits. There are no further options for repeal or retrial. Thus far no entity or individual has been found responsible for the deaths of protesters during the 2011 revolution.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
For persons other than those apprehended in the process of committing a crime, the government required a warrant issued either under the penal code or the code of military justice, both of which were in effect simultaneously; however, there were numerous reports of arrests without such a warrant.
Ordinary criminal courts and misdemeanor courts hear cases brought by the prosecutor general. Arrests under the penal code occurred openly and with warrants issued by a public prosecutor or judge. There was a functioning bail system, although some defendants claimed judges imposed unreasonably high bail.
Criminal defendants have the right to counsel promptly after arrest, and usually, but not always, authorities allowed access to family members. The court is obliged to provide a lawyer to indigent defendants. Nevertheless, defendants often faced administrative and, in some cases, political obstacles and could not secure regular access to lawyers or family visits. A prosecutor may order four days of preventative detention for individuals suspected of committing misdemeanors and 15 days for individuals suspected of committing felonies. The period of preventative detention is subject to renewal by the prosecutor for up to 60 days, in cases of both misdemeanors and felonies. On the 61st day, the prosecutor must submit a case to a relevant judge who may release the accused person or renew the detention in increments of 15 days (but no longer than 45 days at a time). Detention may extend from the stage of initial investigation through all stages of criminal judicial proceedings. Except in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, the combined periods of prosecutor and court-ordered detentions may not exceed six months in cases of misdemeanors and 18 months in cases of felonies. After the detention reaches its legal limit without a conviction, the accused person must be released immediately. Legal experts offered conflicting interpretations of the law in cases in which convictions carry the death penalty or life imprisonment, with some arguing there is no time limit to court-ordered renewals of detention in such cases.
Charges involving the death penalty or life imprisonment sometimes could apply to cases related to demonstrations, such as blocking roads or demonstrating outside government buildings; as a result authorities might hold some appellants charged with nonviolent crimes indefinitely.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arrest, search, or detention without a judicial order, except for those caught in the act of a crime. There were frequent reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. Local activists and rights groups stated that hundreds of arrests did not comply with due-process laws. For example, authorities did not charge the detainees with crimes or refer them to prosecutors and prevented access to their lawyers and families (see section 1.b.).
Pretrial Detention: The government did not provide figures on the total number of pretrial detainees. Rights groups and the quasi-governmental NCHR alleged excessive use of pretrial detention and preventative detention during trials for nonviolent crimes. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Large backlogs in the criminal courts contributed to protracted periods of pretrial detention. Estimates of the number of pretrial and preventive detainees were unreliable. According to a May 2016 report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, at least 1,464 persons in four governorates remained in detention without bail for more than two years without a conviction and at various stages in the legal process. According to a 2015 report by the NCHR, citing Interior Ministry figures, at least 7,000 persons remained in detention without a conviction at various stages in the legal process on charges related to incidents after mid-2013, including approximately 300 “activists.” Most others were affiliated with the MB, according to the NCHR.
On June 30, Ministry of Interior authorities arrested Ola al-Qaradawi and her husband Hosam Khalaf while they were on vacation in the country. HRW reported the couple is being held in solitary confinement in Cairo, have limited access to a lawyer, and have yet to be formally charged but are being investigated in connection with belonging to the MB and spreading information aimed at distorting Egypt’s image.
On April 16, following almost three years of detention, the Cairo Criminal Court acquitted spouses Aya Hijazi and Mohamed Hassanein, founders of the Belady Foundation NGO, and their codefendants of torturing children, sexual assault, forcing children to participate in illegal demonstrations, and operation of a criminal group for the purposes of trafficking, among other charges. Authorities had held them in detention without bail since 2014. Local human rights groups described the charges against them as baseless and depicted the delays in the defendants’ trial as spurious. While the first trial hearing was held in 2015, according to local human rights groups, authorities delayed proceedings on procedural grounds and the defense could not begin to argue its case until February 2016.
Authorities have held photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (known as Shawkan) in detention without bail since 2013. Authorities arrested him while he was taking pictures during the security forces’ dispersal of the MB sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Cairo. Authorities charged Shawkan and 737 other defendants with belonging to the MB, possessing firearms, and murder. The court issued a decision to continue his detention during trial, according to his lawyers. The trial began in 2015, but no substantive hearings have taken place. The next hearing was scheduled for January 2, 2018.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to the constitution, detainees have the right to challenge the legality of their detention before a court, which must decide if the detention is lawful within one week or otherwise immediately release the detainee. In practice authorities deprived some individuals of this right, according to international and local human rights groups.
Amnesty: The constitution gives the president the power to grant a pardon or reduce a sentence after consulting with the cabinet. According to press reports, as of September the president had used this authority to pardon more than 2,000 prisoners–generally those who had served more than one-half their sentences, including secular activists, student protesters, MB members, and others.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Individual courts sometimes appeared to lack impartiality and to arrive at outcomes that were politically motivated or without individual findings of guilt. The government generally respected court orders. Judicial and executive review is available to individuals sentenced to the death penalty.
Some trials involving hundreds of defendants continued, particularly in cases involving demonstrators sympathetic to former president Morsi and the MB in 2013 and 2014.
On September 18, a mass trial of 494 demonstrators concluded when a court acquitted 52 persons, sentenced 43 persons to life in prison, 17 persons to 15-year prison terms, 67 persons to 10-year terms, and 216 persons to five-year terms. Acquitted individuals included Irish-Egyptian citizen Ibrahim Halawa, who had asserted in an article published online in September 2016 that authorities tortured him while in prison, mostly through beatings. The sentences of the remaining defendants were unclear. Authorities arrested the defendants, including several minors, in 2013 for participating in protests following the removal of former president Morsi from power. AI stated there was only evidence against two of the 330 defendants who had been in pretrial detention for more than four years.
Of two retrials based in Minya, authorities resolved one with hundreds of defendants, and one continued at year’s end. On August 7, the Minya Criminal Court sentenced 24 persons to death, 12 of them in their absence, and a further 119 to life in prison, eight of them in their absence in connection with charges of killing a police officer and attempting to kill two other police officers in 2013. It sentenced a further two defendants to 10 years in prison and acquitted the remaining 238 defendants. Four defendants died while waiting for the case’s resolution.
A retrial continued in the case of 683 individuals, including MB Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, charged with attacking a police station and killing two police officers in 2013. In 2015 the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial after the Minya Criminal Court issued provisional death sentences in 2014 to 683 defendants. In December 2016 a judge ordered the release of 13 defendants pending trial. The next hearing in the retrial was scheduled for December 31.
In April the government enacted a law giving the president the authority to appoint the chiefs of top courts. Previously judicial seniority played the deciding role in such appointments. On July 19, in a move viewed by some observers as political reprisal, President Sisi appointed Ahmed Abo al-Azm instead of the more senior Yehia al-Dakroury as Chief Justice of the Council of State, a judicial body providing legal advice to the government. Judge Yehia al-Dakroury had ruled against the government in 2016 on the controversial issue of the sovereignty of two Red Sea islands, which the government transferred to Saudi Arabia.
The law imposes penalties on individuals designated by a court as terrorists, even without criminal convictions. In January a court approved the addition of 1,538 persons to a national terrorists list. Individuals placed on the list included former president Mohamed Morsi and his sons; senior MB leaders and their sons and daughters; Safwan Thabet, a businessperson; the former soccer star Mohamed Abu Trika; Mostafa Sakr, a newspaper publisher; and Hisham Gaafar, a journalist. Effects of a designation include a travel ban, asset freeze, loss of political rights, and passport cancellation. HRW claimed designated individuals could not contest the designation, and authorities may not have informed most of their designation before the court ruled. The decision may be appealed directly to the country’s highest appeals court.
The constitution states: “Civilians may not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that represent a direct assault against military facilities, military barracks, or whatever falls under their authority; stipulated military or border zones; military equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, military secrets, public funds or military factories; crimes related to conscription; or crimes that represent a direct assault against its officers or personnel because of the performance of their duties.”
Nevertheless, authorities used military courts to try civilians during the year. Public access to information concerning military trials was limited. Military trials were difficult to monitor because media were usually subject to restraint orders. Rights groups and lawyers stated defense attorneys in military trials had difficulty gaining access to their clients and to documentation related to the cases.
According to HRW military courts had tried at least 7,400 civilians since the issuance of a 2014 decree ordering the military to “assist” police in securing “vital public facilities.”
On July 27, the Western Alexandria Prosecutor’s office referred 235 persons to military court on charges including violence and damaging public property during rioting following a soccer match. According to press reporting, 150 of the 235 detainees were younger than 18 years old. A military court ordered their release on December 17.
On December 26, authorities executed 15 individuals convicted in 2015 by a military court of staging a deadly attack on an army checkpoint in Sinai in 2013. Three others defendants were acquitted and a minor was sentenced to five years in jail. Human rights organizations claimed legal procedures against the men were flawed and at least one of the 15 may have been tortured in detention.
On December 30, a court convicted former president Morsi and 18 others, including activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, of insulting the judiciary. The defendants received three-year prison sentences. On September 16, the Court of Cassation upheld former president Morsi’s 25-year prison sentence for leading the MB and canceled a 15-year sentence imposed in 2016 on charges of spying for Qatar. Morsi remained a defendant in two pending cases related to participating in a prison break and spying for Hamas. Some local and international rights groups questioned the impartiality of proceedings. According to press statements by Morsi’s lawyers, authorities have allowed them to visit him three times since his 2013 incarceration; the most recent visit took place in November.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary often failed to enforce this right.
The law presumes defendants are innocent, and authorities usually inform them promptly and in detail of charges against them. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials. Attendance is mandatory for individuals charged with felonies and optional for those charged with misdemeanors. Civilian criminal and misdemeanor trials usually are public. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney, and the government is responsible for providing counsel if the defendant cannot afford a lawyer. Defendants have the right to free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals. The court assigns an interpreter. The law allows defendants to question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The constitution provides for the right of an accused person to remain silent in his own trial. Defendants have the right of appeal up to the Court of Cassation. Judges must seek the nonbinding review of the Grand Mufti on all death sentences, and the president must confirm all such sentences.
The law permits individual members of the public to file charges with the prosecutor general, who is charged with deciding whether the evidence justifies referring the charges for a trial. Observers reported, however, that, due to unclear evidentiary standards, the Prosecutor General’s Office investigates and refers for trial the overwhelming majority of such cases, regardless of the strength of the evidence.
On October 7, the prime minister decreed that certain economic and security crimes, including violations of protest laws, should be referred to state security courts instead of the public prosecutor. State security courts may have two military judges appointed to sit alongside three civilian judges and verdicts of state security courts can only be appealed on points of law rather than the facts of the case as in a civilian court.
Military courts are not open to the public. Defendants in military courts nominally enjoyed the same due process rights, but the military judiciary has wide discretion to curtail these rights in the name of public security. Military courts often tried defendants in a matter of hours, frequently in groups, and sometimes without access to an attorney, leading lawyers and NGOs to assert they did not meet basic standards of due process. Consequently, the quick rulings by military courts sometimes prevented defendants from exercising their rights. Defendants in military courts have the right to consult an attorney, but sometimes authorities denied them timely access to counsel. According to rights groups, authorities permitted defendants in military trials visits from their attorneys every six months, in contrast with the civilian court system, where authorities allowed defendants in detention attorney visits every 15 days.
The Military Judiciary Law governing the military court system grants defendants in the military court system the right to appeal up to the Supreme Military Court of Appeals. The president must certify sentences by military courts.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were reports of political prisoners and detainees, although verifiable estimates were not available. The government claimed there were no political prisoners and all persons in detention had been or were in the process of being charged with a crime. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned as many as several thousand persons solely or chiefly because of their political beliefs. One local rights organization estimated there were more than 2,000 political prisoners in the Borg al-Arab Prison alone. A local rights group considered any persons arrested under the 2013 demonstrations law to be political prisoners.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals had access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and filed such lawsuits during the year. Nonetheless, courts often dismissed cases or acquitted defendants for lack of evidence or conflicting witness testimonies. Individuals and organizations can appeal adverse domestic decisions to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
In response to a continuing terrorist insurgency in Sinai, the government continued its efforts to establish a buffer zone in the region to interdict weapons smuggling and incursions to and from the Gaza Strip. According to government statements to media, authorities demolished 3,272 residential, commercial, administrative, and community buildings between mid-2013 and August 2016. In October authorities expanded the buffer zone resulting in the destruction of more than 100 homes and hundreds of acres of farmland. Human rights groups stated that the military had evicted without adequate notice thousands of persons as part of the demolitions. The government promised it would appropriately compensate all families whose homes it destroyed. Some persons complained they did not receive adequate or timely restitution. The government did not compensate residents for agricultural land.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions and provides for the privacy of the home, correspondence, telephone calls, and other means of communication. There were reports, however, that security agencies sometimes placed political activists, journalists, foreigners, and writers under surveillance; monitored their private communications; screened their correspondence, including email and social media accounts; examined their bank records; searched their persons and homes without judicial authorization; and confiscated personal property in an extrajudicial manner.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflict
The conflict involving security forces, militant groups, and terrorist organizations in Sinai continued. Rights groups and international media reported the armed forces used indiscriminate force during military operations resulting in killings of civilians and destruction of property, particularly along the border with Gaza, where there was extensive smuggling of weapons and other equipment to terrorist groups. The government did not report any civilian casualties during operations in Sinai.
Killings: At year’s end the government recognized no civilian deaths due to security force actions. Human rights organizations stated some persons allegedly killed in raids on terrorist hideouts in Sinai had in fact been in state detention for months before their deaths (see section 1.a.). On April 22, a Turkish-based media network released a video apparently showing members of the armed forces killing detainees. Human rights organizations claimed eight individuals were killed, including one minor. The government claimed the video was a fabrication.
Human rights groups reported the cities of Rafah and al-Arish witnessed repeated artillery and rocket bombardment as well as sporadic gunfire from ambushes affiliated with security forces. On January 20, a drone strike killed 10 civilians attending Friday prayers in the North Sinai city of Rafah. An artillery shell killed eight civilians when it fell on a house in Southern Rafah in January, according to press reports.
Human rights groups and media also reported authorities killed civilians for allegedly not adhering to security personnel instructions at checkpoints or for unknown reasons. For example, according to press reports, security forces shot and killed Abdul-Latif al-Nasayira at the Raysa military checkpoint in Arish, North Sinai Governorate, as he exited his car at the Raysa checkpoint vehicle queue to get food on February 7. Security forces injured another individual.
Militants and terrorist groups in Sinai also targeted the military and civilians, using tactics including gunfire and beheading. ISIS claimed in a public infographic that, between October 2016 and September, it had killed 86 persons and deployed 27 improvised explosive devices. On July 8, a suicide bomb attack on an army checkpoint in North Sinai Governorate killed 26 soldiers, according to security sources. On November 24, militants attacked the Sufi-associated al-Rawda mosque in Bir al-Abd during Friday prayers, killing 309 persons, including 27 children. More than 100 additional individuals were injured. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the prosecutor general, the 25-30 attackers, some of whom carried ISIS flags, shot at worshipers and ambulances as they left the mosque.
There were multiple reports of attacks on military-owned or -affiliated industries and that militants killed civilians for allegedly cooperating with security forces. For example, on November 10, militants attacked a convoy of cement trucks from an Egyptian military factory in central Sinai resulting in the deaths of eight civilian employees and two soldiers.
IS-Sinai reportedly targeted Coptic Christian civilians in Sinai. In February IS-Sinai claimed responsibility for the deaths of seven Coptic Christian civilians in al-Arish. One of the civilians was beheaded and another set on fire, according to press reports. In response to the attacks, at least 90 Coptic families reportedly fled to Ismailia.
Fighting between armed Bedouin tribal groups and IS-Sinai also resulted in deaths. In April members of the Tarabin tribe reportedly set on fire and killed a captured member of IS-Sinai. In May, IS-Sinai killed 10 members of the Tarabin tribe in an attack.
Abductions: Militants abducted civilians in North Sinai. According to human rights groups, militants rarely released abductees; they were more often shot or beheaded. According to human rights groups, militants abducted civilians rumored or known to cooperate with security forces. Militants warned citizens of North Sinai not to cooperate with the security forces or risk beheading. On February 22, militants kidnapped and later killed two Coptic Christians as part of a wave of killings targeting Copts (see above).
Other Conflict-related Abuse: According to press reports, militants attacked health-care personnel and ambulances trying to reach security checkpoints or transfer injured soldiers to hospitals. State authorities forcibly displaced civilians from the Rafah border area in an attempt to curb smuggling operations, according to press reports (see section 2.d.).
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect these rights.
Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. The government investigated and prosecuted critics for alleged incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or violation of public morals. Individuals also faced societal and official harassment for speech viewed as sympathetic to the MB, such as using a hand gesture showing four fingers, a reference to the 2013 security operation to disperse the sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.
The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” The president has stated that lying is a form of terrorism. Human rights observers expressed concern that authorities could use the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.
On May 21, the Court of Cassation cancelled the sentence against author Ahmed Naji and ordered his retrial. In 2016 authorities sentenced Naji to two years in prison on charges of violating public morals based on the publication of an excerpt of his novel, The Use of Life, which contained explicit descriptions of sexual acts and illegal drug use. Authorities had acquitted Naji of the same charges in January 2016, but prosecutors appealed the decision. On July 6, Cairo airport authorities prevented author Naji from traveling to New York, informing him he was subject to an exit ban. The date for the retrial was not set as of December.
On December 12, authorities sentenced both pop singer Shyma and music video director Mohamed Gamal to two years in prison for “inciting debauchery.” The charges stemmed from a music video in which the singer eats an apple and a banana in an allegedly suggestive manner.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. The constitution, penal code, and media and publications law govern media issues. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of a majority of newspapers, including private newspapers and those of opposition political parties. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.
The more than 20 state-owned media outlets broadly supported official state policy. The National Press Authority holds the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets. The governmental Egyptian Radio and Television Union appointed the heads of state-owned radio and television channels. Both state-owned and private media (including television and online journalism) sometimes criticized the government, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.
As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 20 imprisoned journalists in the country. Authorities continued to keep journalist Ismail Alexandrani in detention without formal charges as of December. Authorities detained the Egyptian investigative researcher in 2015 at Hurgada airport upon his return from Berlin. In November 2016 a court ordered his release, but authorities successfully appealed the release order. According to local rights groups, Alexandrani was under investigation for “reporting false news” and “joining a banned group.” Alexandrani’s reporting and scholarly work focused on Sinai.
In May police raided the offices of al-Borsa, an Arabic financial newspaper, and Daily News Egypt, the only independent English-language newspaper. Mostafa Sakr, chairperson of Business News–the parent company of both newspapers–was detained by police but released later that day. Authorities ordered Sakr’s assets frozen after they designated him as a terrorist earlier in the year (see section 1.e.). In August the state-run committee assigned to seizing funds and assets of MB-affiliated members assigned the state-run newspaper Akhbar al-Youm to assume operation of the Daily News Egypt, as well as the Arab International Company for Commercial Agencies, parent company of prominent Alef bookstore chain.
In March a court reduced a two-year sentence for harboring fugitives against Yehia Kalash, former president of the press syndicate, and Gamal Abdel Reheem and Khaled el-Balshy to a one-year suspended sentence. The defendants appealed the sentence again, and the case was pending at year’s end. The charges stemmed from their efforts to prevent the detention of two journalists during a May 2016 police raid on the press syndicate headquarters.
On May 8, a court reduced the sentences of television presenter Mohamed Adly and journalists Samhi Mostafa and Abdullah Fakharany from life in prison to five years and acquitted news organization managers Hany Salah-el-Deen and Mosad al-Barbary. Authorities convicted the five, along with Hassan al-Kabbani, in 2015 on charges including inciting violence and disseminating false news. Kabbani was not included in the retrial.
On August 14, a court ordered a 45-day extension to al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein’s pretrial detention. In December 2016 authorities arrested Hussein in Cairo, accusing him of disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities to defame the state’s reputation. Subsequently, authorities have held him in pretrial detention, and, according to press reports, he has yet to face formal charges. On August 24, Hussein’s daughter told the press that prison authorities denied Hussein treatment for a broken arm.
Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state and nonstate actors arrested and imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. Foreign correspondents reported cases where the government denied them entry, deported them, and delayed or denied issuance of media credentials; some claimed these actions were part of a government campaign to intimidate foreign media.
On April 24, authorities denied Sudanese journalists, Taher Saty and Kamal Eddin, entry into the country when they arrived at Cairo International Airport after returning from vacation in France. According to a Sudanese Journalists’ Network statement, authorities deported both individuals within 24 hours.
On August 17, authorities arrested crime reporter Abdallah Ras and took him to a National Security Agency office, according to his employer al-Bawaba News. The Interior Ministry initially denied arresting and detaining Rashad, and his employer and family did not know his whereabouts or what charges he faced for more than 11 days. He was charged with joining a banned group, and his next hearing was scheduled for December.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The SOE empowers the president empowered to monitor newspapers, publications, editorials, drawings, and all means of expression and to order the seizure, confiscation, and closure of publications and print houses.
On, April 10, April 11, and September 3, authorities banned the printing of daily newspaper al-Bawaba. According to press reports, the banned issues contained articles critical of the Interior Ministry and its response to terrorist attacks.
On August 6, the state printing press refused to publish newspaper al-Masryoun’s weekly edition. According to an Arabic Network for Human Rights Information report, the printing press told al-Masryoun staff that a security institution ordered the press not to print the newspaper. According to press reports, the August 6 edition of al-Masryoun contained an article critical of the country’s dealings with Israel.
Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the MB, due to the overall anti-MB and progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine.
On November 19, police raided the downtown Cairo office of Merit Publishing House and detained a volunteer on suspicion of being in possession of unregistered books. On December 28, police returned to Merit, confiscated two books, and took Merit’s owner to the police station for questioning. He was subsequently released.
Libel/Slander Laws: Local and international rights groups reported several cases of authorities charging and convicting individuals with denigrating religion under the so-called blasphemy law, primarily targeting Christians but also Muslims.
In May authorities charged former under secretary of the Ministry of Islamic Endowment Sheikh Salem Abdul Galeel with denigration of religion and undermining national unity for stating on his television program Muslims Are Asking that Christians are infidels (kuffar) and their faith is corrupt. Galeel’s television show was canceled, and the Ministry of Islamic Endowments banned him from preaching in any mosque. Galeel was released on bail; a hearing remained pending at year’s end.
In July authorities charged Coptic Orthodox priest Makary Younan with denigration of religion, discrimination against a specific group, disturbing peace and order in the country, exploiting religion to spread thoughts that aimed to stir strife and insult divine religions, and harming national unity and social coherence. Younan stated in a sermon that, according to both Islamic and non-Islamic historical sources, Egypt had been a Christian-majority country until it was defeated by an Islamic army. On November 12, the court dropped the case after the prosecuting lawyer agreed to reconcile with Younan.
National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security.
The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists.
Judges may issue restraint orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities sometimes misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. Citing safety and security, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.
On April 12, an Alexandria court sentenced lawyer Mohamed Ramadan to 10 years in prison, followed by five years under house arrest and a five-year ban on using the internet. It convicted him of insulting the president, misusing social media platforms, and incitement to violence under the country’s counterterrorism law, as a result of comments he made on social media. In December 2016 authorities arrested Ramadan while he was visiting clients at Montazah Police Station in Alexandria.
On May 19, a rights lawyer told media that authorities had arrested approximately 30 activists on charges relating to sharing posts critical of the government on social networking sites. The charges, which fall under the country’s antiterrorism law, included inciting public opinion against the government, insulting the president, obstructing state institutions, and seeking to overthrow the regime.
The constitution protects the right to privacy, including on the internet. The constitution provides for the confidentiality and “inviolability” of postal, telegraphic, and electronic correspondence; telephone calls; and other means of communication. They may not be confiscated, revealed, or monitored except with a judicial order, only for a definite period, and only in cases defined by law. The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.
The government, however, restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage, relying on a law that only allows targeted interception of communications under judicial oversight for a limited period and does not permit indiscriminate mass surveillance. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.
The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period.
On April 20, police arrested Dostour Party member Nael Hassan on charges including insulting the president online based on social media comments, according to public statements by his lawyer. On November 1, he was released.
There were multiple reports that the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications. For example, on July 7, the government blocked an internet communication site for mobile users; the block lasted one day.
On June 24, authorities convicted Ghazy Sami Ghazy and fined him EGP 30,000 ($1,700) on charges of insulting the president in relation to a poem he published on Facebook. On the same day, authorities acquitted him of publishing fake news. In March authorities arrested and imprisoned him on charges including spreading and publishing false information, preventing state institutions from carrying out their duty, and insulting the president via poems on his Facebook account.
The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting telecommunication networks: mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines. Cuts generally occurred from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Networks were again fully accessible at approximately 8 p.m. and sometimes later. Cutsalso disrupted operations of government facilities and banks.
The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, allowing security forces to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which could lead to lack of online anonymity. Individuals widely used social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, to spread criticism of the government and security forces.
There were reports authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).
As of December the government had blocked more than 400 websites without providing a clear legal basis or authority responsible for the blocks. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. On May 24, the government announced it had blocked 21 websites, mostly independent and MB-affiliated news sites, on charges of inciting terrorism and spreading lies. Some blockages appeared to be in response to critical coverage of the government. For instance, authorities blocked one website less than 48 hours after it published a report detailing systematic government use of torture.
In February, Citizen Lab and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights released a report documenting a large-scale and sophisticated phishing campaign targeting human rights NGOs, lawyers, journalists, and political activists that began in November 2016. The organizations were unable to identify a perpetrator of the attacks.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 41 percent of the population used internet in 2016. Media reported 1.7 million active users on Twitter and stated 35 million persons used Facebook.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. In June the Ministry of Education removed mention of the country’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions from high school history class curriculums. In 2016 Minister of Higher Education Ashraf al-Shihy published a statement requiring private universities to review all research papers and thesis dissertations to assure they do not include any “direct or indirect insult to societies or individuals belonging to any brotherly or friendly countries.” According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, allegedly existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic issues. Faculty members needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also must obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs permission to travel abroad. In August an official at the country’s embassy in Berlin threatened to cancel researcher Taqadum al-Khatib’s PhD scholarship if he did not surrender his passport and access to his personal Facebook account, according to a local NGO report. In September, Damietta University cancelled al-Khatib’s scholarship, and press reported he was dismissed from the university in October. According to the university’s dean, al-Khatib violated the terms of his scholarship when he changed his research topic without informing the university board. Human rights groups stated the university dismissed him for his research on the sovereignty of the disputed Tiran and Sanafir islands.
The Ministry of Education began a campaign to remove all MB members from teaching positions before the start of the 2017-18 academic year. Press reported that Asyut University terminated six teaching staff members, and Cairo University announced it had suspended four professors for alleged MB affiliation.
There was censorship of cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.
On July 2, the rock band Cairokee announced the General Authority for Censorship of Works of Art rejected four songs on their new album “A Drop of White” and banned the entire album from sale in stores and from broadcast on television and radio. The band continued offering the album online and played the music during concerts. Band members told press they believed authorities banned the four songs because of their “political overtones.”
The Syndicate of Musicians stated that it would ban future concerts by Lebanese band “Mashrou’ Leila” after concert-goers waved a rainbow flag in support of LGBTI rights during a September performance in the country (see section 6).
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” Authorities implemented an amended 2013 demonstrations law that includes an expansive list of prohibited activities, giving a judge the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations after submitting an official memorandum. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law did not meet international standards regarding freedom of assembly. In January the government imposed an exclusion zone of 2,600 feet around vital governmental institutions in which protests are prohibited.
There were protests throughout the year that varied widely in size, and some occurred without government interference. In other cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, even in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.
The number of persons arrested under the protest law was not publically available, although research center Daftar Ahwal reported at least 37,000 cases of individuals stopped, arrested, or charged under the protest law between November 2013 and September 2016. Authorities charged 15,491 individuals under the protest law resulting in 6,382 convictions and 5,083 acquittals.
On February 1, security forces arrested 29 members of the Ultras Ahlawy, a fan club of the Ahly soccer team in Cairo. According to press reports, the group had been planning a commemoration of the Port Said stadium riot in which 70 persons died. Prior to the arrests, the group cancelled the commemoration, citing police warnings, raids, and arrests of its members.
On November 8, the Court of Cassation reduced the prison sentence of prominent activist Abdel Fattah from five years’ “rigorous” imprisonment to five years’ imprisonment followed by five years of probation. No further appeals are possible. In 2015 the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Abdel Fattah to five years in prison on charges of breaking the demonstrations law related to his participation in a protest in front of the Shura Council in 2013.
Thousands of persons whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful) remained imprisoned; however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences. Authorities held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.” Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.
In January authorities released activists Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel from prison after they completed three-year sentences for violating the protest law. Authorities placed both individuals on probation for the next three years and required them to reside in the local police station from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day. Police reportedly physically assaulted Maher and ordered him to mop the floor of the local police station during his nights at the station.
According to press reports, student groups focused on entertainment while political activities virtually disappeared in light of pressure from authorities. Universities held student union elections in December for the first time in two years.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law governing associations, however, significantly restricts this right.
On May 30, the government enacted a new NGO law. The law affects all nongovernmental civil society associations, the overwhelming majority of which were domestic welfare, educational, and environmental foundations. It includes among its provisions: creation of a new administrative body that includes members of security services and can regulate all NGOs that receive foreign funding and reject registration applications by not responding for 60 days; rules targeting all aspects of NGO work; and prison sentences among the penalties for violations. Local and international NGOs stated the law could make it impossible for them to operate independently. As of December the government had not issued implementing regulations. As a result several local NGOs stated that while they continued to operate under the previous law, government agencies have frozen activities or carried out stricter registration and security procedures, in anticipation of implementation of the new law. The Ministry of Social Solidarity continued to apply the previous law in a highly restrictive manner on international and domestic organizations receiving international funding, denying government approval of programs that domestic and international organizations sought to implement, or granting governmental approval after lengthy delays (which in some cases amounted to effective denials). Rights groups reported several incidents of security services ordering the cancellation of planned training programs or other events. In February the Ministry of Social Solidarity suspended 500 NGOs in Qalioubeya Governorate for lack of activity and failure to achieve objectives, according to a ministry statement. In July the Ministry of Social Solidarity dissolved 22 NGOs in Luxor, alleging they had MB connections.
The penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” from states or NGOs “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Those convicted may be sentenced to life in prison (or the death penalty in the case of public officials) for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.” On September 10, authorities arrested Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, at the Cairo International Airport and held him incommunicado. Hegazy was traveling to Geneva to participate in the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. His whereabouts were not known until September 12, when the government confirmed his arrest. The charges against him included “communicating with a foreign body to harm the Egyptian national interest.” On September 21, Hegazy told his lawyers authorities tortured him during the first three days they held him. He remained in detention, and his next hearing was scheduled for December.
As of December the conviction of 43 mostly foreign NGO workers sentenced in 2013 for operating unlicensed organizations and receiving foreign funding without government permission stood. Appeals for some defendants were pending; defendants had not yet filed appeals in the remainder of cases.
The MB, the MB-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party, and its NGO remained illegal, and the MB was a legally designated terrorist organization.
Authorities continued investigations of local NGOs that received foreign funding under a case originally brought in 2011. On August 22, authorities released human rights lawyers Malek Adly and Osama Khalil on bail; both faced charges relating to their work with the Hisham Mubarak Law Center. On June 20, authorities released human rights activist Hafiz Tayel on bail; his charges included receiving foreign funding to harm national security in connection with his NGO, the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education. On May 24, authorities released human rights defender Mohamed Zaree of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies on bail after they charged him with receiving funds from foreign entities and spending them with intent to harm national security and national interests. On January 11, a Cairo criminal court ordered an asset freeze against human rights defenders Mozn Hassan of Nazra for Feminist Studies and Mohamed Zaree and Atef Hafez of the Arab Penal Reform Organization. The court also froze the assets of Nazra for Feminist Studies and the Arab Penal Reform Organization.
In February authorities closed the offices of el-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (also registered under the name el-Nadeem for Psychological Rehabilitation), which documents torture and other forms of abuse and provides counseling for torture and rape victims. In February 2016 the center received administrative closure orders from three governmental bodies, and in November 2016 authorities froze its assets. The organization asserted the closure was politically motivated, targeting el-Nadeem because of its work on torture, deaths in detention, and impunity for these crimes. As of December authorities had not officially rescinded the order, but the organization continued to operate in a limited capacity.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the handling of potential refugees and asylum seekers. 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, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees sometimes reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, faced the greatest risk of societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.
According to UNHCR and press reports, police security sweeps increased in neighborhoods known to house Syrian, Sudanese, and other African refugees, as well as migrants, resulting in increased detentions. Detainees reported authorities subjected them to racist verbal abuse, beatings, and torture during detention.
While reports of abuse by Sinai-based facilitators and captors of irregular migrants declined, a shift in human trafficking activities to mainland Egypt accompanied this decline due to the security situation in Sinai and Libya.
In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, and civil society activists from entering the Sinai Peninsula, stating it was to protect their safety; however, some persons avoiding government detection did enter Sinai, particularly irregular migrants attempting to reach the Israeli border and the western border zone.
Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.”
Men who have not completed compulsory military service, however, may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.
Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 45 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand Turkey, and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country.
The government increasingly imposed travel bans on human rights defenders, and political activists. In March 2016 Mada Masrreported there had been 554 cases of politically motivated banned entry and exit imposed by authorities in airports since 2011. Local human rights groups maintained authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, including individuals connected with NGOs facing investigation as part of the reopened NGO foreign funding case. On October 2, Cairo airport authorities prevented human rights defender Magdy Abdel Hamid from travelling to Jordan. Press reports cited his status as a defendant in the NGO foreign funding case as the reason for his ban.
Democracy activist Esraa Abdel Fattah remained unable to depart the country. In 2015 authorities prevented Abdel Fattah from departing the country and informed her that authorities had issued a travel ban in her name. She filed a lawsuit to challenge the ban, but the court dismissed the suit. In September authorities referred a case regarding comments she made on social media for military prosecution.
Exile: There was no government-imposed exile, and the constitution prohibits the government from expelling citizens or banning citizens from returning to the country. Some Mubarak- and Morsi-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and stated they faced government threats of prosecution.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: According to human rights advocates, migrants detained while attempting to enter the country irregularly were typically given two options: return to their country of origin or administrative detention. The government often contacted UNHCR upon detaining unregistered migrants and asylum seekers. The number of potential asylum seekers returned to their countries was unknown. Authorities sometimes encouraged those detained to choose to return to their countries of origin to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. There were no reports that authorities deported children to their countries of origin without their parents or an adult caregiver.
Compared with previous years, fewer Palestinian refugees from Syria entered the country illegally, intending to travel to Europe. In a number of cases, in the absence of valid travel documents or inability to confirm their identities, they faced either detention or deportation.
The Association on Freedom of Thought and Expression reported that, between July 3 and October, authorities arrested 90 to 120 Uighurs, primarily students at al-Azhar University. Some reports indicated authorities subsequently deported 12 of these individuals, and the number of individuals still in custody remained unknown. Human rights organizations reported the individuals faced arbitrary detention and torture if returned to China.
Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens, nor does it register or provide assistance to Palestinian refugees in the country.
According to UNHCR, as of August there were approximately 211,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in the country, coming mainly from Syria (123,033), as well as from Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Yemen. Since 2016 the number of Syrian nationals registered as refugees has increased. Observers attributed the increase to relaxed family reunification visa requirements, decreasing areas of ISIS control throughout the country, young men attempting to avoid conscription in the national military or armed groups, and an increased fear of raids targeting unregistered migrants. Most Syrians continued to arrive by way of Sudan, which remained the only neighboring country to which Syrians could travel without visas. The number of African refugees also increased during the year according to UNHCR, particularly among Ethiopian, Eritrean, and South Sudanese populations.
In 2012 and 2013 under the Morsi administration, the government accorded Syrians visa-free entry. Starting in mid-2013 the government applied a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria since Egypt lacked consular services there. Following the UNHCR high commissioner’s visit in January, the country relaxed its visa requirements for Syrians seeking family reunification.
Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly via the Mediterranean dropped dramatically during the year, according to UNHCR, following parliament’s passage and enforcement of a law that dramatically increased patrols on the country’s Mediterranean coast. In 2016 UNHCR documented 4,985 failed attempts to leave the country by sea; however, since the law’s passage, authorities intercepted only four boats trying to leave Egyptian waters. UNHCR observed increased African irregular departures from the country, particularly Sudanese, Eritrean, and Ethiopian nationals. Irregular migrants continued to travel steadily through the land route from Sudan (Wedi Halfa/Abu Simbel).
UNHCR access to detained registered refugees and asylum seekers was unscheduled and intermittent. According to UNHCR, authorities allowed access but only by request. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed the majority of detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities generally granted UNHCR access to asylum seekers at all prison and detention facilities, and UNHCR officials visited 102 detained foreign prisoners to determine their status as of September. Authorities generally released migrants upon confirming they were registered with UNHCR as well. Authorities detained migrants, many of whom were Ethiopian, Eritrean, Sudanese, and Somali (and may have had a basis for asylum claims) and frequently did not grant them the same quick release. Detained migrants–as unregistered asylum seekers–did not have access to UNHCR. Authorities often held them in in police stations until UNHCR or other aid agencies assisted them, although sometimes authorities sent them to regular prisons alongside convicted criminals.
The government has never recognized UNHCR’s mandate to offer services to Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, reportedly due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Approximately 2,900 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, the majority reportedly in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population, who were not able to access UNHCR assistance provided to Syrians due to governmental restrictions. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) mission in Cairo provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.
Employment: There is no law granting or prohibiting refugees the right to work. Those seeking unauthorized employment were challenged by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation by employers.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, received limited access to some services, including housing and public education. According to UNHCR, refugees can fully access public-health services. The Interior Ministry restricted some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in Sinai. UNHCR was unaware of any migrants detained in Sinai since 2016. UNHCR provided refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. The International Organization for Migration provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.
Refugee children not enrolled in public schools mainly attended refugee-run schools, private schools, or were home schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many hospitals did not have adequate resources to do so. In some cases hospitals insisted that refugees provide payment in advance of receiving services or refused to provide services to refugees. In response to the influx of Syrians, the government allowed Syrian refugees and asylum seekers access to public education and health services. UNHCR estimated that 35,000 school age Syrian children (approximately 90 percent) have enrolled successfully in the public school system.
Most of the 26 stateless persons known to UNHCR were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. An unknown number of the approximately 70,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.
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. Constraints on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, however, limited citizens’ ability to do so.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The country held parliamentary elections in several rounds in 2015. Domestic and international observers concluded that authorities administered parliamentary elections professionally and in accordance with the laws. Observers expressed concern regarding restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and expression and their negative effect on the political climate surrounding elections.
Domestic and international observers concluded authorities administered the 2014 presidential election professionally and in line with the law, but they expressed serious concerns regarding constraints on the freedoms of expression and association and limits on freedom of the press leading to the election, which “prevented free political participation and severely compromised the broader electoral environment.”
Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution grants citizens the ability to form, register, and operate political parties. The law requires new parties to have a minimum of 5,000 members from each of at least 10 governorates. The constitution also states, “No political activity may be practiced and no political parties may be formed on the basis of religion or discrimination based on gender, origin, or sectarian basis or geographic location. No activity that is hostile to democratic principles, secretive, or of military or quasi-military nature may be practiced. Political parties may not be dissolved except by virtue of a court judgment.”
The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the MB, remained banned. Authorities did not ban other Islamist parties, including the Strong Egypt Party and the Building and Development Party, although those parties boycotted the 2015 parliamentary elections, citing a “negative political environment.” The Islamist al-Noor Party participated, winning 11 seats.
Press reported a wave of arrests of members of smaller political parties, including the Bread and Freedom Party and the Dostour Party in April and May. Authorities detained more than 40 individuals. This included former presidential candidate and human rights lawyer Khaled Ali, who authorities arrested and charged with public indecency after a photograph showed him making a provocative hand gesture in public. In September a court sentenced Ali to three months in prison. On November 6, Ali announced he would run in the 2018 presidential election if he is not barred as a result of his conviction. The next hearing for his appeal is January 3. Human rights organizations claimed the charges against Ali were politically motivated.
In December Anwar al-Sadat, the head of the opposition Reform and Development Party, claimed the security services had repeatedly prevented hotels in Cairo from renting him space to hold a press conference for his party. Sadat claimed that two public campaigns supporting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for a second term have been able to hold press conferences, with the support of government agencies.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women, members of minorities, or both in the political process, and they did participate. Social and cultural barriers, however, limited women’s political participation and leadership in most political parties and some government institutions. Voters elected a record number of 75 women, 36 Christians, and nine persons with disabilities to parliament during the 2015 elections, a substantial increase compared with the 2012 parliament. The House of Representatives law outlines the criteria for the electoral lists, which provides that the House of Representatives must include at least 56 women, 24 Christians, and nine persons with disabilities. In 2015 the president appointed 28 additional members of parliament, including 14 women and two Christians. The House of Representatives law grants the president the authority to appoint House of Representatives members, not to surpass 5 percent of the total number of elected members. If the president opts to use this authority, one-half of his appointments must be women, according to the law. Parliament included 89 women and 38 Christians.
Three women led four cabinet ministries; not all cabinet members hold portfolios. No members of religious minorities were among the appointed governors of the 27 governorates. In February the president appointed Nadia Abdou governor of Behaira, making her the country’s first female governor. No women were on the Supreme Constitutional Court. Legal experts stated there were approximately 66 female judges serving in family, criminal, economic, appeals, and misdemeanor courts; that total was less than 1 percent of judges. Several senior judges were Christian.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not consistently implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption: The Central Agency for Auditing and Accounting was the government’s anticorruption body and submitted reports to the president and prime minister that were not available to the public. The auditing and accounting agency stationed monitors at state-owned companies to report corrupt practices. The Administrative Control Authority, another state institution with technical, financial, and administrative independence, had jurisdiction over state administrative bodies, state-owned enterprises, public associations and institutions, private companies undertaking public work, and organizations to which the state contributes in any form.
On August 27, authorities arrested Alexandria’s deputy governor Soad el Kholy on charges including bribery, misuse of public funds, and profiteering. On November 29, the prosecutor general referred the case to criminal court.
On August 22, the Cairo Criminal Court acquitted businessman Hussein Salem on charges of money laundering. On May 18, the court acquitted him in the retrial of a case involving exporting gas to Israel. The acquittals were part of a reconciliation agreement reached in March 2016 with Salem. Salem had lived in Spain since 2011, following conviction in absentia of corruption related to the sale of natural gas and electricity and separate sentences of 15 years’ and 10 years’ imprisonment. According to Salem’s lawyer’s comments to media, the agreement included the transfer of 78 percent of the assets held by Salem, his children, and his grandchildren to the government. According to press reports, Salem had transferred EGP 4.28 billion ($242.7 million) by the end of 2016. In July, Salem returned to the country.
On September 13, the Cairo Criminal Court convicted Gamal al-Labban, purchasing manager for the State Council of receiving bribes worth an estimated EGP 150 million ($8.48 million). Al-Labban was arrested in December 2016. The court acquitted three defendants who reported incidents of bribery, thus exempting them from punishment according to the penal code. Another subject of the investigation, former State Council secretary general Wael Shalaby was arrested on January 1. On January 2, Shalaby was subsequently found dead in his cell on January 2 reportedly from suicide.
Financial Disclosure: There are no financial disclosure laws for public officials. A 2013 conflict-of-interest law forbids government officials from maintaining any pecuniary interest in matters over which they exercise authority.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The government continued to exhibit an uncooperative and suspicious approach to international and local human rights organizations. Government officials publicly asserted they shared the civil society organizations’ goals, but they rarely cooperated with or responded to the organizations’ inquiries. Domestic civil society organizations criticized the government’s consultations with civil society as insufficient. Provisions in the new NGO law and penal code for penalties of up to life imprisonment for requesting or accepting foreign funding to undermine state security continued to have a chilling effect on NGO operations (see section 2.b.).
Extended delays in gaining government approvals and an unclear legal environment continued to limit the ability of domestic and international NGOs to operate. State-owned and independent media frequently depicted NGOs, particularly international NGOs and domestic NGOs that received funding from international sources, as undertaking subversive activities. Some NGOs reported receiving visits or calls to staff, both at work and at home, from security service officers and tax officials monitoring their activities, as well as societal harassment.
Human rights defenders and political activists were also subject to governmental and societal harassment and intimidation, including through travel bans (see section 2.d.). Print and television media published articles that included the names, photographs, business addresses, and alleged meetings held by activists, including meetings held with foreign diplomatic representatives.
Well established, independent domestic human rights NGOs struggled to operate amid increasing pressure from security forces throughout the country. Widespread online censorship (see section 2.a.) diminished internet activists’ and bloggers’ role in publicizing information concerning human rights abuses. Authorities sometimes allowed civil society organizations not registered as NGOs to operate, but such organizations often reported harassment, along with threats of government interference, investigation, asset freezes, or closure.
The government reopened investigations into the receipt of foreign funding by several human rights organizations (see section 1.b.).
Major international human rights organizations, such as HRW and AI, did not have offices in the country after closing them in 2014 due to “concerns about the deteriorating security and political environment in the country.”
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not respond to the visit requests from 10 UN special rapporteurs charged with investigation or monitoring of alleged human rights abuses. The oldest pending request was from the special rapporteur on torture in 1996. The most recent pending request was from the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism as issued during the year. The government had agreed to but not yet scheduled dates for the visits of three special rapporteurs, including those responsible for violence against women; promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and provision for their nonrecurrence; and foreign debt. Authorities did not allow the ICRC access to prisoners and detainees. The Interior Ministry provided some international organizations informal access to some detention centers where authorities detained asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants to provide humanitarian assistance (see section 2.d.).
Government Human Rights Bodies: The NCHR monitored government abuses of human rights and submitted citizen complaints to the government. A number of well-known human rights activists served on the organization’s board, although some observers alleged the board’s effectiveness was sometimes limited because it lacked sufficient resources and the government rarely acted on its findings. The council at times challenged and criticized government policies and practices, calling for steps to improve its human rights record. For example, the NCHR called for improved prison conditions and for repeal of the protest law.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, prescribing criminal penalties of 15 to 25 years’ imprisonment, or life imprisonment for cases of rape involving armed abduction. Spousal rape is not illegal. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Civil society organizations reported police pressure not to pursue charges.
Domestic violence was a significant problem. The law does not prohibit domestic violence or spousal abuse, but authorities may apply provisions relating to assault with accompanying penalties. The law requires that an assault victim produce multiple eyewitnesses, a difficult condition for domestic abuse victims. Police often treated domestic violence as a social rather than criminal matter.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity supported eight women’s shelters. The Interior Ministry includes a unit responsible for combating sexual and gender-based violence. The NCW, a quasi-governmental body, was responsible for coordinating government and civil society efforts to empower women. In 2015 the NCW launched a five-year National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women with four strategic objectives: prevention, protection, intervention, and prosecution.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, but it remained a serious problem. According to the 2015 Egypt Health Issues Survey, published during 2016 by the Ministry of Health and Population, 70 percent of girls between ages 15 and 19 had undergone FGM/C, a decrease from 81 percent in 2008.
A 2016 amendment to the law designates FGM/C a felony, as opposed to a misdemeanor as it was previously, and assigns penalties for conviction of five to seven years’ imprisonment for practitioners who perform the procedure, or 15 years if the practice led to death or “permanent deformity.” The law granted exceptions in cases of “medical necessity,” which rights groups identified as a problematic loophole that allowed the practice to continue. According to international and local observers, the government did not effectively enforce the FGM/C law.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law does not specifically address “honor” crimes, which authorities treated as any other crime. There were no reliable statistics regarding the incidence of killings and assaults motivated by “honor,” but local observers stated such killings occurred, particularly in rural areas.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem.
The government prioritized efforts to address sexual harassment. The penal code defines sexual harassment as a crime, with penalties including fines and sentences of six months to five years’ imprisonment if convicted. Media and NGOs reported that sexual harassment by police was also a problem, and the potential for further harassment further discouraged women from filing complaints.
In April as part of a focus on sexual harassment during the holiday of Sham el-Nessim, police reportedly detained dozens of men in connection with accusations of sexual harassment. Police forces, including female officers, were deployed in public gardens, parks, and streets, and government hotlines were available for reporting incidents.
On July 30, a Cairo court convicted a male tuk-tuk (covered moped taxi) driver of “harassment” after he sexually assaulted a woman in September 2016 while she was walking in a street and sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment. According to the NCW, the ruling was the first conviction under the sexual harassment law.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for male and female citizens. Women did not enjoy the same legal rights and opportunities as men, and discrimination was widespread. Aspects of the law and traditional societal practices disadvantaged women in family, social, and economic life.
Women faced widespread societal discrimination, threats to their physical security, and workplace bias in favor of men that hindered their social and economic advancement.
Laws affecting marriage and personal status generally corresponded to an individual’s religious group. A female Muslim citizen cannot legally marry a non-Muslim man. If she were to do so, authorities could charge her with adultery and consider her children illegitimate. Under the government’s interpretation of Islamic law, any children from such a marriage could be placed in the custody of a male Muslim guardian. “Khula” divorce allows a Muslim woman to obtain a divorce without her husband’s consent, provided she forgoes all her financial rights, including alimony, dowry, and other benefits. The Coptic Orthodox Church permits divorce only in rare circumstances, such as adultery or conversion of one spouse to another religion. Other Christian churches sometimes permitted divorce on a case-by-case basis.
The law follows Islamic sharia in matters of inheritance; therefore, a Muslim female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir’s inheritance, and Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole Muslim female heir receives one-half her parents’ estate, and the balance goes to the siblings of the parents or the children of the siblings if the siblings are deceased. A sole male heir inherits his parents’ entire estate. A court case suing for the right of a Christian family to divide property equally among sons and daughters was pending appeal.
In marriage and divorce cases, a woman’s testimony must be judged credible to be admissible. Usually the woman accomplishes credibility by conveying her testimony through an adult male relative or representative. The law assumes a man’s testimony is credible unless proven otherwise.
The law makes it difficult for women to access formal credit. While the law allows women to own property, social and religious barriers strongly discouraged women’s ownership of land, a primary source of collateral in the banking system.
Labor laws provide for equal rates of pay for equal work for men and women in the public but not the private sector. Educated women had employment opportunities, but social pressure against women pursuing a career was strong. Large sectors of the economy controlled by the military excluded women from high-level positions.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through the citizenship of their parents. The mother or the father transmits citizenship and nationality. The government attempted to register all births soon after birth, but some citizens in remote and tribal areas, such as the Sinai Peninsula, resisted registration or could not document their citizenship. In some cases failure to register resulted in denial of public services, particularly in urban areas where most services required presentation of a national identification card.
Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal until the ninth grade. The law provides this benefit to stateless persons and refugees. Public schools enrolled Syrian refugees, but they largely excluded refugees of other nationalities.
Child Abuse: The constitution stipulates the government shall protect children from all forms of violence, abuse, mistreatment, and commercial and sexual exploitation. According to a local rights group, authorities recorded hundreds of cases of alleged child abuse each month. No dedicated government institution addressed child abuse, although several civil society organizations assisted runaway and abandoned children.
In March the Department of Family and Children at the Ministry of Social Solidarity investigated complaints of child abuse in the Ishraqa orphanage in Six October City. According to a ministry official, orphanage employees beat and sexually assaulted the children; moreover, they did not receive adequate food or supervision. One orphanage employee told the press the abuse had continued for years. Police arrested the former orphanage supervisor as part of a continuing investigation.
Rights organizations reported children faced mistreatment in detention, including torture, sharing cells with adults, denial of their right to counsel, and authorities’ failure to notify their families. According to a local rights group, police sometimes charged street children with unsolved crimes to increase perceived police effectiveness. On January 31, authorities released Mazen Mohamed Abdallah pending investigation of charges of belonging to a banned group, protesting without authorization, and printing flyers inciting protests. Security forces detained then 14-year-old Abdallah in 2015. AI reported authorities held him for seven days without contacting his family and that authorities tortured Abdallah, including by raping him with a wooden stick and subjecting him to electric shocks. The Interior Ministry denied these claims. No further information was available on the case as of year’s end.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. According to UNICEF 17 percent of girls married before age 18, and 2 percent of girls were married by age 15. According to NCW statistics, nearly 36 percent of marriages in rural areas in the southern part of the country included a partner who was not yet age 18. Families reportedly sometimes forced adolescent girls to marry wealthy foreign men in what were known locally as “tourism” or “summer” marriages for the purpose of sexual exploitation, prostitution, or forced labor. According to the law, a foreign man who wants to marry an Egyptian woman more than 25 years younger than he is must pay a fine of EGP 50,000 ($2,830). Women’s rights organizations argued that allowing foreign men to pay a fine to marry much younger women represented a form of trafficking and encouraged child marriage. They called on the government to eliminate the system altogether. The Antitrafficking Unit at the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), a governmental body, is responsible for raising awareness of the problem.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for sentences of not less than five years’ imprisonment and fines of up to EGP 200,000 ($11,315) for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The government did not adequately enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is age 18.
Displaced Children: The CAPMAS and the National Council for Motherhood estimated the number of street children to be 16,000, while civil society organizations estimated the number to be in the millions. The ministry offered shelters to street children, but many chose not to use them because staff treated the children as if they were criminals, according to local rights groups. According to rights groups, the incidence of violence, prostitution, and drug dealing in these shelters was high. Religious institutions and NGOs provided services for street children, including meals, clothing, and literacy classes. The Ministry of Health and Population offered mobile health clinics staffed by nurses and social workers. In July the Ministry of Social Solidarity launched an initiative in which 17 mobile units in 10 governorates provided emergency services, including food and health care, to street children.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The country’s Jewish community reportedly numbered less than 20 individuals. Criticism of Israel rarely reached the level of anti-Semitism in public discourse. State-owned and private media greatly reduced the use of anti-Semitic rhetoric, including by academics, cultural figures, and clerics, with cartoons demonizing Jews. There were a few reports of imams using anti-Semitic rhetoric in their sermons. Societal anti-Semitism remained widespread.
In praise of a UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem, Grand Mufti of Dar al-Ifta Shawky Allam called al-Aqsa Mosque “a holy site dedicated only for Muslims without any right for Jews,” according to press reports.
The chairman of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, Alaa Abed, said the “Zionist Lobby” funded an HRW report on torture in Egyptian jails.
For the seventh consecutive year, authorities cancelled the Abu Hassira celebrations scheduled for January, preventing an annual Jewish pilgrimage, which in previous years had included many Israelis, to the shrine of 19th-century scholar Rabbi Yaakov Abu Hassira. The cancellation followed a 2014 administrative court decision to ban the festival permanently, stating the festival was a “violation of public order and morals” and “incompatible with the solemnity and purity of religious sites.”
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution states persons with disabilities are equal without discrimination before the law, but no laws explicitly prohibited discrimination, nor mandate access to buildings, information, communication, or transportation.
The law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment. Government policy sets a quota for employing persons with disabilities of 5 percent of workers with disabilities for companies with more than 50 employees. Authorities did not enforce the quota requirement, and companies often had persons with disabilities on their payroll to meet the quota without actually employing them. Government-operated treatment centers for persons with disabilities, especially children, were of poor quality.
The Ministries of Education and Social Solidarity share responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities rode government-owned mass transit buses without charge, but the buses were not wheelchair accessible. Persons with disabilities received subsidies to purchase household products, wheelchairs, and prosthetic devices.
The law prohibits discrimination on any grounds. Nevertheless, dark-skinned Egyptians and sub-Saharan Africans faced discrimination and harassment, as did Nubians from Upper Egypt.
According to the constitution, the state should make efforts to return Nubians to their original territories and develop such territories within 10 years of the constitution’s 2014 ratification.
On September 3, security forces in Aswan arrested 25 Nubians who were participating in a protest to commemorate the 2011 detention of Nubians during a sit-in. The charges against them included protesting illegally and receiving funds from foreign sources. Several of the original detainees undertook hunger strikes in protest of their continued detention, including activist Gamal Sorour, who died on November 6 after falling into a diabetic coma. The death of Sorour triggered another protest on November 9 by members of the Nubian community outside the detention facility where Sorour had been held. Authorities reportedly arrested as many as 13 protesters at the event. On November 12, a court ordered the original 24 detainees released, pending their next hearing in 2018.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
While the law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, it allows police to arrest LGBTI persons on charges such as “debauchery,” “prostitution,” and “violating the teachings of religion” and provides for prison sentences if convicted of up to 10 years. According to a local rights group, there were more than 250 reports of such arrests since 2013. Authorities did not use antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTI individuals. Legal discrimination and social stigma impeded LGBTI persons from organizing or advocating publicly in defense of their rights. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.
There was an increase in reports of arrests and harassment of LGBTI individuals, particularly after a rainbow flag was raised on September 22, at a concert by the rock band “Mashrou Leila.” Intimidation and the risk of arrest greatly restricted open reporting and contributed to self-censorship. Rights groups and activists reported harassment by police, including physical assault and forced payment of bribes to provide information concerning other LGBTI individuals or to avoid arrest. The government has the authority to deport or bar entry to the country of LGBTI foreigners.
There were credible reports that authorities used social media, dating websites, and cell phone apps to entrap persons they suspected of being gay or transgender, a method that LGBTI advocates described as especially effective as LGBTI-friendly public spaces had largely closed during the past two years.
On September 25, police arrested seven persons for raising the rainbow flag at the “Mashrou Leila” concert. According to news reports, police also arrested a person for filming and promoting the concert on his Facebook page. By December 4, the number of arrests had risen to more than 70, including one minor. Of those arrested and convicted, 49 received sentences ranging from three months’ to six years’ imprisonment. Two detainees were released on probation and three acquitted. According to media reports, charges included “promoting sexual deviancy” and “habitual debauchery.”
On September 26, the Dokki court convicted and sentenced one man to six years’ imprisonment for practicing debauchery and being openly gay on social media. Press reports indicated the charges stemmed from police searches of LGBTI social media pages and linked the conviction to the rainbow flag incident.
Rights groups alleged that authorities, including the Forensic Medical Authority, subjected individuals detained on suspicion of debauchery to forced anal examinations.
On October 1, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation issued an order to ban all forms of promotion or sympathy toward LGBTI individuals on media outlets in addition to banning their appearance on media outlets.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
HIV-positive individuals faced significant social stigma and discrimination in society and the workplace. The health-care system provided anonymous counseling and testing for HIV, free adult and pediatric antiretroviral therapy, and support groups.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were incidents of mob violence and vigilantism, particularly sectarian violence against Coptic Christian Egyptians. On September 14, a mob of Muslim residents of Minya’s Ezbat el-Sheikh Nageim village attacked Coptic Christians, injuring three persons and destroying several shops and vehicles. The mob also pelted a church with stones, according to press reports. Police detained 19 persons in connection with the violence. Police also charged two Coptic Christian men with inciting sectarian strife and insulting Islamic leaders
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, with significant restrictions. The constitution provides for freedom of association. In December authorities passed a law regulating labor unions. The law does not recognize independent trade unions and proscribes a strict hierarchy for union formation consisting of a company-level trade union committee, a profession- or industry-level general union, and a national-level federation. It also stipulates a minimum of 20,000 members are needed to form a general trade union and 200,000 are needed to form a national-level trade federation. In March 2016 the Interior Ministry issued a directive instructing government offices not to accept documents stamped by independent trade unions as legal documents, calling such unions “illegitimate entities.”
The law provides for collective bargaining but imposes significant restrictions. For example, the government sets wages and benefits for all public-sector employees. The law does not provide for enterprise-level collective bargaining in the private sector but requires centralized tripartite negotiations with workers represented by a union affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) and the Ministry of Manpower overseeing and monitoring collective negotiations and agreements.
The constitution provides for the right to “peaceful” strikes. The Unified Labor Law permits peaceful strikes but imposes significant restrictions for strikes to be considered legal, including prior approval by a general trade union affiliated with the ETUF.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Labor laws do not cover several categories of workers, including agricultural and domestic workers, among other sectors of the informal economy.
Government enforcement of applicable laws was inconsistent. HRW reported that no unions had been able to register since 2015. The government also occasionally used its powers to arrest striking workers and rarely reversed arbitrary dismissals. The government seldom followed the requirement for tripartite negotiations in collective disputes, and workers negotiated directly with employers, usually after resorting to a strike. When the government became involved, it most often was for dispute resolution rather than for genuine collective bargaining.
In June the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that peaceful strikes concerning work complaints are not punishable offenses, even in the absence of a legislative law regulating the action(s), as long as the demands of the strike are legitimate and represent the rights of workers. The ruling stipulated, “the right to strike for public sector workers is enshrined within the Constitution.”
The court further suggested five principles to regulate rulings on the right to strike for public-sector employees in the absence of an official legislation. First, the demands must be considered legitimate and relevant to the job performed by the employees, yet nonpolitical. Second, employees can only strike after exhausting all other formal communication channels, such as submitting complaints and discussing them. Third, the relevant administration should be notified of the strike’s intention in advance. Fourth, administration should be given enough time to respond to the demands, and, finally, other options should be provided for urgent matters relating to their work, so citizens’ interests are not hindered.
Unions, which proliferated in recent years, faced pressure to dissolve. In June 2016 an administrative court referred a lawsuit calling for the dissolution of independent trade unions to the Supreme Constitutional Court. ETUF affiliates filed the lawsuit. The court had not taken up the lawsuit as of December.
Two main independent trade union federations, the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions and the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress, continued to operate. The National Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, a coalition of 140 independent trade unions from the public and private sector whose leadership stated it focused on negotiations with the government rather than strikes or protests, had not been reported to have engaged in any activities since its founding in 2015.
While it was no longer directly controlled by the state, observers still saw the ETUF as subordinate to the state, and authorities repeatedly postponed elections for new leadership. Government-appointed ETUF board members remained in place, despite the expiration of former prime minister Mehlab’s 2014 decree to extend the government-appointed board. The ETUF received some advantages from the state.
Authorities arrested or subjected to other legal sanctions several labor organizers, often following the dispersal or end of a labor strike. In September authorities arrested workers of the state-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving company in Mahala, following an August strike action organized to protest delayed bonuses and demand an increase in the meals allowance, among other work-related grievances. The strike lasted for 14 days in August. Authorities charged the workers with instigating unlawful strikes and obstructing company operation. On September 9, company officials banned six workers from company premises, reportedly for organizing the strike. The company also reduced workers’ August salaries by 20 percent and delayed payment of September salaries. As of December the case was pending investigation before the prosecutor general.
In September authorities arrested eight members of Egyptian independent trade unions following union training events and attempts to organize protest actions. According to a Center of Trade Unions and Workers Services statement, authorities arrested two of the members after they filed for permits to hold a protest demanding pay raises. Authorities arrested Tarek Mostafa Koaib, head of the Real Estate Workers Syndicate, in front of a hospital where he had been referred for admission to intensive care (see section 1.c.). The detainees faced charges including inciting strikes and demonstrations, misuse of social media, and affiliation with a banned group. On October 16, they were released on bail; at year’s end no information was available on the date of the next hearing.
Workers sometimes staged sit-ins on government and private property, often without obtaining the necessary permits. Rights groups claimed that authorities sometimes arrested those seeking to obtain protest permits. In August a South Sinai court convicted 50 police officers and sentenced them to three years’ imprisonment for organizing a strike in January to improve their working conditions. Authorities charged police officers with illegal assembly, sabotage of state assets, and endangering citizens after the officers held a two-day strike in January at the South Sinai security directorate.
Police, and the military to a lesser extent, engaged in the forceful dispersal of labor actions in isolated cases.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution states no work may be compulsory except by virtue of a law. Government did not effectively enforce the prohibition. Employers subjected male and female persons (including citizens) from South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa to forced labor in domestic service, construction, cleaning, begging, and other sectors. The government worked with NGOs to provide some assistance to victims of human trafficking, including forced labor.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The Child Law sets the minimum age for regular employment at 15 and at 13 for seasonal employment. The constitution defines a child as anyone under age 18. A Ministry of Manpower decree bars children under age 18 from 44 specific hazardous occupations, while the Child Law prohibits employment of children under 18 from work that “puts the health, safety, or morals of the child into danger.” Provincial governors, with the approval of the minister of education, may authorize seasonal work (often agricultural) for children ages 13 years and older, provided duties are not hazardous and do not interfere with schooling. The labor code and Child Law limit children’s work hours and mandate breaks.
Overall, authorities did not enforce child labor laws effectively. The Ministry of Manpower, in coordination with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the Interior Ministry, enforced child labor laws in state owned enterprises and private sector establishments through inspections and supervision of factory management. Labor inspectors generally operated without adequate training on child labor issues, although the Ministry of Manpower offered some child-labor-specific training. The government did not inspect noncommercial farms for child labor, and there were very limited monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for children in domestic service. When authorities prosecuted offenders, the fines imposed were often as low as EGP 500 ($28), insufficient to deter violations. The government did not enforce child labor laws in the informal sector.
The Ministry of Manpower inspected 25,735 facilities, issued 6,414 formal warnings, and initiated legal actions against 352 facilities between January 2016 and August.
Although the government often did not effectively enforce relevant laws, authorities implemented a number of social, educational, and poverty reduction programs to reduce children’s vulnerability to exploitive labor. The NCCM, working with the Ministries of Education and Social Solidarity, sought to provide working children with social security safeguards and to reduce school dropout rates by providing families with alternative sources of income.
Child labor occurred, although estimates on the number of child laborers varied. According to the EDHS, 1.6 million children worked, primarily in the agricultural sector in rural areas but also in domestic work and factories in urban areas, often under hazardous conditions. Children also worked in light industry, the aluminum industry, construction sites, and service businesses such as auto repair. According to government, NGO, and media reports, the number of street children in Cairo continued to increase in the face of deteriorating economic conditions. Such children were at greater risk of sexual exploitation or forced begging. In some cases employers abused or overworked children.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. The law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment but does not completely outlaw discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce prohibitions against such discrimination. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women and persons with disabilities (see section 6). Discrimination against migrant workers occurred (see section 2.d.).
An employee facing discrimination can file a report with the local government labor office. If the employee and the employer are unable to reach an amicable settlement, they take the claim to administrative court, which may order the employer to redress the complaint or to pay damages or legal fees. According to local rights groups, implementation of the law was inadequate. Additionally, the lengthy and expensive litigation process could deter employees from filing claims.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no national minimum wage. The government sets a monthly minimum wage of EGP 1,200 ($68) for government employees and public-sector workers. According to labor rights organizations, the government implemented the minimum wage for public-sector workers but applied it only to direct government employees and included benefits and bonuses in calculating total salaries. Most government workers already earned income equal to or more than the announced minimum wage. For government employees and public business-sector workers, the government also set a maximum wage limit at 35 times the minimum wage of EGP 42,000 ($2,380) per month. There was no private-sector minimum wage. In 2015 CAPMAS estimated the poverty rate in the country to be 27.8 percent, an increase from its 2013 estimate of 26 percent. The law does not require equal pay for equal work.
The law stipulates a maximum 48-hour workweek for the public and private sectors and provides for premium pay for overtime and work on rest days and national holidays. The labor law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The government sets worker health and safety standards, for example, prohibiting employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions. The law excludes agricultural, fisheries, and domestic workers from regulations concerning wages, hours, and working conditions.
The Ministry of Manpower is responsible for enforcement of labor laws and standards for working conditions. Due in part to insufficient resources, labor law enforcement and inspections were inadequate. The ministry did not attempt to apply labor standards to the informal sector. Penalties, especially as they were often unenforced, did not appear sufficient to deter violations. By law workers are allowed to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to employment, although authorities did not reliably enforce this right. In July unidentified industrial material heated to a temperature of 1,200 degrees Celsius (2,200 degrees Fahrenheit) spilled into a worker area, killing three workers in the Aswan Cement Plant. Workers went on strike after the accident to demand better safety measures. Authorities arrested eight workers and charged them with obstructing means of production, inciting a strike, using violence, and threatening public employees.
The government provided services, such as free health care, to all citizens, but the quality of services was often poor. Other benefits, such as social insurance, were available only to employees in the formal sector.
Many persons throughout the country faced poor working conditions, especially in the informal economy, which employed up to 40 percent of workers, according to some estimates. Domestic workers, agricultural workers, workers in rock quarries, and other parts of the informal sector were most likely to be subjected to hazardous or exploitive conditions. There were reports of employer abuse of citizen and undocumented foreign workers, especially domestic workers. Little information was available on workplace fatalities and accidents.