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Senegal

Executive Summary

Senegal is a republic dominated by a strong executive branch. In 2012 voters elected Macky Sall as president for a seven-year term, in elections local and international observers considered to be free and fair. In July 2017 Sall’s coalition won the majority of seats in the National Assembly. Local and international observers viewed the legislative election as largely free and fair despite significant irregularities.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included torture and arbitrary arrests by security forces; harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; criminal libel; lack of judicial independence; corruption, particularly in the judiciary, police, and elsewhere in the executive branch; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and forced labor.

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

In the southern Casamance region, situated between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, a de facto ceasefire between security forces and armed separatists continued for a sixth year. Sporadic incidents of violence occurred in the Casamance, but they were associated more with criminal activity than directly with the separatist conflict. Individuals associated with various factions of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC) continued to rob and harass local populations. There were occasional accidental contacts and skirmishes between security forces and MFDC units, leading to deaths and injuries of rebels and harm to civilians, and the Senegalese military conducted operations in response to a massacre of 14 individuals in the Casamance by unidentified individuals. Mediation efforts continued in search of a negotiated resolution of the conflict, which began in 1982.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, which is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, the government rarely enforced the law, and rape was widespread. The law does not address spousal rape. The law allows the common practice of using a woman’s sexual history to defend men accused of rape.

The law criminalizes assaults and provides for punishment of one to five years in prison and a fine. Domestic violence that causes lasting injuries is punishable with a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years. If an act of domestic violence causes death, the law prescribes life imprisonment. Nevertheless, the government did not enforce the law, particularly when violence occurred within the family. Police usually did not intervene in domestic disputes. Several women’s groups and the Committee to Combat Violence against Women and Children (CLVF) reported a rise in violence against women.

NGOs, including the CLVF, criticized the failure of some judges to apply domestic violence laws, citing cases in which judges claimed lack of adequate evidence as a reason to issue lenient sentences. NGOs also criticized the government’s failure to permit associations to bring suits on behalf of victims and the lack of shield laws for rape.

The number of incidents of domestic violence, which many citizens considered a normal part of life, were much higher than the number of cases reported. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for combating domestic violence, but it did not make public any programs to address rape and domestic violence. The government-run Ginddi Center in Dakar provided shelter to women and girls who were survivors of rape or early and forced marriage as well as to street children.

In August a court in Diourbel sentenced a man who physically attacked his wife to three months in jail, along with a 21-month suspended sentence. The court also sentenced him to pay his wife one million CFA francs (approximately $1,800) in damages.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law provides criminal penalties for the perpetration of FGM/C on women and girls, but no cases were prosecuted during the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law mandates prison terms of five months to three years and fines of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($90 to $900) for sexual harassment, but the problem was widespread. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Nevertheless, women faced pervasive discrimination, especially in rural areas where traditional customs and discriminatory rules of inheritance were strongest.

The family code’s definition of paternal rights also remained an obstacle to equality between men and women. The code considers men to be heads of household, preventing women from taking legal responsibility for their children. Additionally, any childhood benefits are paid to the father. Women can become the legal head of household only if the husband formally renounces his authority before authorities or if he is unable to act as head of household.

While women legally have equal access to land, traditional practices made it difficult for women to purchase property in rural areas. Many women had access to land only through their husbands, and the security of their rights depended on maintaining the relationship with their husbands.

The Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender has a directorate for gender equality that implements programs to combat discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired by birth or naturalization. The law provides for equal rights for mothers and fathers automatically to transmit citizenship to their children. The law does not make birth declaration mandatory. Registering births required payment of a small fee and travel to a registration center, which was difficult for many residents of rural areas.

Education: The law provides for tuition-free and compulsory education for children between the ages of six and 16, although many children did not attend school. While children generally could attend primary school without a birth certificate, they needed one to take national exams.

Approximately one-third of primary school-age children were not in school, in many cases because of a lack of resources or available facilities. Students often had to pay for their own books, uniforms, and other school supplies.

Girls encountered greater difficulties in continuing in school beyond the elementary level. Sexual harassment by school staff and early pregnancy also caused the departure of girls from school. An October 18 report by Human Rights Watch documented incidents of school-related sexual exploitation, harassment, and abuse in Dakar and the Casamance. Girls interviewed for the report said some teachers sexually harassed them, asking for favors or phone numbers and punishing them with bad grades if they did not comply. Teachers engaged in sexual relations with girls younger than 18. Where school directors were aware of sexual harassment or exploitation, they generally tried to resolve the situation on their own without reporting it to higher authorities or police and often stigmatized and faulted the behavior of the girls rather than the teacher in the process. Girls were generally unsure of what constitutes consent and harassment and did not know where to report exploitation. If girls became pregnant, they dropped out of school and were often shunned by their families.

Many parents opted to keep their middle- and high-school-aged daughters home to work or to marry rather than sending them to school. In recent years, however, gender disparity at the middle- and high-school level has significantly lessened.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained common, particularly of boys sent to Dakar and other cities to beg under threat of punishment. Many of these boys were sent by their parents to study in Quranic schools or daaras. At some daaras Quranic instructors exploited, physically abused, and forced children to beg on the street. Approximately 70 percent of trafficked child beggars on the streets of Dakar were forced to beg by a Quranic instructor or someone pretending to be one, while the rest begged of their own volition due to poverty. A 2018 daara-mapping study found an estimated 28,000 Quranic students in the Dakar region (15 percent of the total) were forced to beg up to five hours per day. Most children exploited in forced begging appeared to be ages five to 10; some reportedly were as young as two.

The National Task Force Commission Against Trafficking, as well as the recently created Ministry of Good Governance and Child Protection, have committed to continue to address these issues throughout the country.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

A talibe is a boy in Senegal and other West African countries who studies the Quran at a daara. In March 2017, a Quranic teacher in Pikine was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for the rape of three talibes, all approximately 12 years old. The teacher had repeatedly raped all three boys over an extended period of time. He had fractured the skull of one of the boys for protesting the rape. In November five individuals were arrested in Dakar for abusing talibes. Overall, government efforts to address the abuse of talibes remained weak.

Early and Forced Marriage: By law women have the right to choose when and whom they marry, but traditional practices often restricted a woman’s choice. The law prohibits the marriage of girls younger than 16, but this law generally was not enforced in most communities where marriages were arranged. Under certain conditions a judge may grant a special dispensation to a man to marry a girl below the age of consent.

According to women’s rights groups and officials from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender, child marriage was a significant problem, particularly in the more rural areas in the south, east, and northeast. The ministry conducted educational campaigns to address the problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides that convicted sexual abusers of children receive five to 10 years’ imprisonment. If the offender is a family member, the maximum is applied. Procuring a minor for prostitution is punishable by imprisonment for two to five years and a fine of 300,000 to four million CFA francs (approximately $550 to $7,200). If the crime involves a victim younger than 13, the maximum penalty is applied. The law was not effectively enforced, but when cases were referred to law enforcement, authorities conducted follow-up investigations. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18.

Pornography is prohibited, and pornography involving children under age 16 is considered pedophilia and punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 300,000 CFA francs (approximately $550).

Exploitation of women and girls in prostitution was a problem, particularly in the southeast gold-mining region of Kedougou. Although there were no reports of child sex tourism during the year, the country was considered a destination for child sex tourism for tourists from France, Belgium, and Germany, among other countries.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Infanticide, usually due to poverty or embarrassment, continued to be a problem. In some cases women’s families shamed them into killing their babies. Domestic workers and rural women working in cities sometimes killed their newborns if they could not care for them. Others, married to men working outside the country, killed their infants out of shame. According to the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights, infanticide also occurred when a woman became pregnant with the child of a man from a prohibited occupational caste. If police discovered the identity of the mother, she faced arrest and prosecution for infanticide. A 2015 UN report indicated approximately 16 percent of females in detention in 2013 were imprisoned for infanticide, and that infanticide was the grounds for imprisonment for 64 percent of girls and young women ages 13 to 18.

Displaced Children: Many children displaced by the Casamance conflict lived with extended family members, neighbors, in children’s homes, or on the streets. According to NGOs in the Casamance, displaced children suffered from the psychological effects of conflict, malnutrition, and poor health.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 100 Jewish residents in the country; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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 disabilities, but the government did not enforce these provisions adequately. The law also mandates accessibility for persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.

The government provided grants, managed vocational training in regional centers, and offered funding for persons with disabilities to establish businesses. Due to a lack of special education training for teachers and facilities accessible to children with disabilities, authorities enrolled only 40 percent of such children in primary school. Support for persons with mental disabilities was not generally available, and incidents of abuse of persons with mental disabilities were common.

Persons with disabilities experienced difficulty registering to vote as well as accessing voting sites, due to physical barriers such as stairs as well as the lack of provisions such as Braille ballots or sign-language interpreters for persons who are visually or hearing-impaired, or unable to speak. A 2012 law reserves 15 percent of new civil service positions for persons with disabilities, but this quota has never been enforced. In regions outside Dakar, in particular, persons with disabilities were still effectively excluded from access to these positions.

The Ministry for Health and Social Action is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic groups generally coexisted peacefully. In the Casamance incidents of conflict between the Diola, the region’s largest ethnic group, and the mostly Wolof Senegalese in the north continued to decline.

Discrimination against individuals of lower castes continued, and intellectuals or businesspersons from lower castes often tried to conceal their caste identity.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults, referred to in law as an “unnatural act,” is a criminal offense, and penalties range from one to five years’ imprisonment and fines of between 100,000 and 1.5 million CFA francs ($180 and approximately $2,700); however, the law was rarely enforced. No laws prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, nor are there hate crime laws that could be used to prosecute crimes motivated by bias against LGBTI persons.

LGBTI persons faced widespread discrimination, social intolerance, and acts of violence. LGBTI individuals were subject to frequent threats, mob attacks, robberies, expulsions, blackmail, and rape. LGBTI activists also complained of discrimination in access to social services.

In what appeared to be an isolated incident, on June 8, police raided a home in Keur Massar without a warrant after being alerted the inhabitants were LGBTI persons. Eleven individuals were present at the time of the raid, of whom two–both asylum seekers from The Gambia–were arrested. Eyewitnesses alleged the two were subjected to torture while in police custody, including beatings and electric shocks. The two were allegedly denied food, water, legal counsel, and medical assistance. On June 9, four other individuals who had been present in the house–two Senegalese and two Gambian asylum-seekers–visited police station to inquire about their detained friends. The four were arrested upon arrival at the station. Three of the four were released after 24 hours. The fourth, in addition to the two individuals arrested on June 8, was brought to court on June 12. All three were acquitted of all charges for lack of evidence.

Aside from this one outlying case, LGBTI activists indicated the overall situation in the country remained calm with respect to the LGBTI community for a second consecutive year.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits all forms of discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, and the government and NGOs conducted HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns to increase social acceptance of persons with HIV or AIDS and increase HIV testing and counseling nationwide. Nevertheless, human rights activists reported HIV-positive individuals and those with AIDS suffered from social stigma due to the widespread belief that such status indicated homosexuality. HIV-positive men sometimes refrained from taking antiretroviral drugs due to fear their families would discover their sexual orientation.

Serbia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Serbia is a constitutional, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. The country held extraordinary parliamentary elections in 2016 and presidential elections in 2017. International observers stated that the elections were mostly free, but that campaigning during both periods benefited progovernment candidates. In 2017 Aleksandar Vucic, president of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), was elected president, winning approximately 55 percent of the vote in the first round.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included government corruption, including by some high-level officials; violence against journalists; and crimes including violence targeting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses (and punish them, if convicted), both in the police force and elsewhere in the government, following public exposure of abuses. Nevertheless, many observers believed numerous cases of corruption, social and domestic violence, and other abuses went unreported and unpunished.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The law provides protection to IDPs in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, but implementation fell short in some areas. According to official statistics of the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration (SCRM), approximately 200,000 displaced persons from Kosovo resided in the country, most of whom were Serbs, Montenegrins, Roma, Egyptians, Ashkali, Gorani, and Bosniaks who left Kosovo, then an autonomous province of Yugoslavia, because of the 1998-99 war. Approximately 80 percent resided in urban areas. According to recent research conducted by the SCRM, more than 68,000 of these persons were extremely vulnerable and in need of assistance. These displaced persons met one or more of UNHCR’s vulnerability criteria, such as households that had income below the poverty line; persons living in undignified conditions; persons with mental or physical disabilities; single parents; elderly persons and women, children, or adolescents at risk.

According to UNHCR research, displaced Roma were the most vulnerable and marginalized displaced population in the country, with 92 percent of the 20,000 internally displaced Roma living below the poverty threshold, and 98 percent of displaced Roma households unable to satisfy basic nutritional needs or afford to pay for utilities, health care, hygiene, education, and local transport. Displaced Roma had a 74 percent unemployment rate. According to UNHCR, almost 90 percent of displaced Roma lived in substandard housing, and the vast majority had not been able to integrate or return home. According to the SCRM, over the past 18 years, the government, supported by the international community, implemented measures and activities related to the reception and care of displaced persons from Kosovo to provide for adequate living conditions. Their recent research stated that more than 4,700 housing units, generally defined as living spaces for one family, were provided. It was not clear how many of these units were provided to Romani displaced persons, who often did not identify themselves as Roma.

While government officials continued to state publicly that displaced persons from Kosovo should return, senior government officials also claimed that it was unsafe for many to do so. To assist refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as displaced persons from Kosovo, the government continued to implement its 2002 National Strategy on Refugees and Internally Displaced People. It was expanded and updated in 2015 and slated to continue until 2020. The strategy was not comprehensive and failed to provide the technical and financial capacity to ensure durable solutions for displaced persons. Some progress was made within the Skopje Process, which started in 2014 when the governments of Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Kosovo identified security, property, data management, documentation, and solutions planning as the issues to be resolved and agreed on actions that needed to be taken. The adoption and implementation of these actions, however, were still pending. UNHCR stated that the government continued to underreport the funding needed for the integration of displaced persons to avoid pressure from the EU to direct more funds to these programs.

During the year the government provided 173 housing units and 151 income-generation packages to displaced persons. Local NGOs and international organizations provided additional housing, financial assistance, and free legal assistance for civil registration, resolution of property claims, securing work rights, and obtaining personal documents.

The housing situation of many displaced persons remained a source of concern. Many of the more than 68,000 extremely vulnerable displaced persons from Kosovo lived in substandard private accommodation. The Commissariat for Refugees and Migration reported 68 displaced persons from Kosovo remained in three official collective centers in the country; 52 of the displaced persons from Kosovo were Roma accommodated in the so-called “Salvatore” collective center in Bujanovac, a minimally habitable facility originally constructed for only temporary accommodation. These individuals were particularly marginalized and, according to UNHCR, did not have access to social assistance or economic empowerment programs.

The most vulnerable displaced persons were Roma living in informal settlements without access to basic infrastructure, electricity, water, and sanitation, who were in constant fear of forced evictions. These Romani communities were mostly in urban areas; some of the most vulnerable were in the informal settlements Cukaricka Suma in Belgrade, Veliki Rit in Novi Sad, and in other urban areas.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Humanitarian organizations noted the government lacked the resources and expertise to provide sufficient protection against refoulement. Various press and humanitarian reports indicated that authorities pushed back irregular migrants without screening them to see if they were seeking asylum. There was also a credible report of a group of 25 Afghan nationals, who expressed their intent to claim asylum in the country in February 2017. The migrants were issued asylum intention certificates stating that they should proceed to Divljana Reception Center, in accordance with the country’s asylum law. The group’s arrival at the Divljana Reception Center could not be confirmed, and reports indicated that they were expelled into Bulgaria by Serbian security forces.

The government’s Mixed Migration Group was inactive during the year and did not deliberate on any of the issues in its portfolio or communicate the number of illegal entrances prevented since January 1. UNHCR estimated that some 5,267 individuals were prevented from illegally entering Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia from the country’s territory in the period through August.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for giving protection to refugees. The asylum office within the Ministry of Interior is responsible for implementing the system but lacked the capacity, resources, and trained staff to do so effectively.

While the law was broadly in accordance with international standards, failures and delays in the implementation of its provisions denied asylum seekers access to a prompt and effective individual assessment of their protection needs. In the majority of cases, asylum applications were discontinued or suspended because the applicants left the country. According to UNHCR the primary reasons for asylum seekers leaving the country were their lack of interest in living in Serbia and a lengthy government procedure for adjudicating applications.

The Asylum Office granted subsidiary protection to 14 asylum seekers and refugee status to nine asylum seekers during the year. In March parliament adopted a new Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection, which came into effect in the beginning of June. In theory, it represented a step forward, bringing procedural guarantees to asylum seekers, and improving all steps of the procedures pertaining to refugee children. The law’s practical impact on the asylum system could not be evaluated due to the short time it had been in effect.

In 2017 the government expanded its network of five official asylum centers (Krnjaca, Sjenica, Tutin, Banja Koviljaca, and Bogovadja) by opening 13 additional centers (Subotica, Principovac, Sid, Adasevci, Bujanovac, Vranje, Presevo, Dimitrovgrad, Pirot, Divljana, Bosilegrad, Sombor, and Kikinda) with capacity to accommodate approximately 6,000 persons. In September the government closed the Divljana, Presevo, and Dimitrovgrad centers due to a lower migrant population. These reception centers could be reopened quickly in the event that migrant flows increased. The government also erected three large tents in Adasevci, near the border with Croatia, during the year to accommodate asylum seekers waiting to cross the border.

NGOs and UN agencies reported that the Hungarian government continued the practice of “pushing back” irregular migrants into the territory of Serbia, including individuals who had not been previously present in the country and who entered Hungary from another country.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: International humanitarian organizations raised concerns about the government’s interpretation and use of the concept of a safe country of origin/transit. It was government policy to issue blanket denials of asylum to applicants from a “safe country of origin.” Asylum authorities dismissed the asylum applications of almost all the persons who entered the country from one of the countries on the list of safe third countries and declined jurisdiction. Court rulings in extradition proceedings extradited asylum seekers without a final decision on their asylum applications and without examining potential risks of persecution in their countries of origin, rigorously abiding by the provisions of the law. Competent authorities in both asylum procedures and extradition proceedings did not examine the risks of persecution in the countries of origin (the grounds on which these persons had requested asylum); in two cases authorities extradited asylum seekers to their countries of origin. In one case the Asylum Office established the jurisdiction of Montenegro (from where the asylum seeker had entered Serbia) by examining the individual’s asylum application, but authorities in charge of extradition proceedings deported him to Turkey, his country of origin.

The UNHCR claimed this policy and the list of “safe third countries” were not valid, because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs determined them based solely on the country’s relations and affiliations with those countries and not on their actual safety with regard to humanitarian and human rights conditions. As a result all neighboring states recognized by the government were on its list of “safe third countries.” The new Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection introduced procedural guarantees to asylum seekers with the aim of limiting the application of the “safe third country” concept by obliging asylum authorities to examine its application in every individual case.

Employment: Asylum seekers do not have the right to employment until nine months after an asylum application is submitted if no decision has been taken on their case. Employment is also available once an applicant is recognized as a refugee at the end of the country’s refugee determination process.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees have the right to access health and education services, although barriers including language and cultural differences limited access.

Durable Solutions: The government provided support for the voluntary return and reintegration of refugees from other countries of the former Yugoslavia. Those who chose the option of integration in Serbia rather than return to their country of origin enjoyed the same rights as nationals, including access to basic services such as health and education, and had access to simplified naturalization in the country; they did not have the right to vote unless their naturalization process was complete. According to the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration’s official statistics, 26,502 refugees (18,232 refugees from Croatia and 8,270 from Bosnia and Herzegovina) resided in the country, while the government estimated that approximately 200,000 to 400,000 former refugees were naturalized but not socially or economically integrated into the country.

There are no remaining refugees displaced during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the country’s collective centers. The government directly funded 178 housing units for these refugees during the year.

Together with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro, Serbia participated in the Regional Housing Project (RHP) to provide housing for approximately 16,000 vulnerable refugee families who have decided to integrate into their countries of residence. Since inception RHP donors approved nine project proposals to provide housing to more than 7,000 refugee families living in the country. To date more than 2,000 housing units had been provided or were under construction. The total value of the nine projects was 152 million euros ($175 million), of which the government contributed 25.2 million euros ($29.0 million). During the year 772 housing units were provided in Serbia.

Temporary Protection: The government made no decisions on temporary protection during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

Poverty, social marginalization, lack of information, cumbersome and lengthy bureaucratic procedures, difficulty in obtaining documents, the lack of an officially recognized residence, and the lack of birth registration limited the ability of those at risk of statelessness to gain nationality.

According to UNHCR an estimated 2,200 persons, primarily Roma, Balkan Egyptians, and Ashkali, were at risk of statelessness in the country; approximately 300 of these remained without birth registration. The country has laws and procedures that afford the opportunity for late birth registration and residence registration as well as the opportunity to gain nationality. Children whose parents lacked personal documents (identification cards) could not, however, be registered into birth registry books immediately after birth, creating new cases of persons at risk of statelessness.

One example was the case of R.A. and her family, members of the Romani minority in the country who fled Kosovo after the conflict in 1999. In 2000 R.A. gave birth in a hospital to a girl, whom she named N. When her daughter was born, R.A. did not have an identification card and a birth certificate to prove her identity. When she came to the hospital to give birth, she presented herself under the last name of her common-law husband, although they were never formally married. Under the operative rules and regulations, to register the birth and name of a child immediately upon birth, the mother needs to possess both her birth certificates and identification. Since R.A. had neither, her child remained unregistered. It subsequently took an NGO that provided free legal aid five years to reregister N in the birth registry, and an additional procedure was required for determination of citizenship. In 2015 R.A. obtained an identification card for the first time. After she obtained her card, she initiated the procedure for registration of her daughter N. In this procedure it was necessary to correct all the mistakes that resulted from the erroneously entered data in the hospital records when N. was born. After the attempts to register N. before an administrative body failed, a procedure for determination of date and place of birth before the court was initiated and was still pending.

Due to existing regulations, children of undocumented parents can be without birth registration for upwards of a year. Until they are registered, children remain legally invisible, at risk of statelessness, and deprived of access to numerous rights, such as health care and social protection.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 40 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic violence is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. While the law provides women the right to obtain a restraining order against abusers, the government did not enforce the law effectively. According to the Ministry of Interior, 25 women were killed in domestic violence through August 15. The number of victims of domestic violence for the first four months of the year doubled compared with the same period in 2017. In May Jelena Grbic was killed in the Kosjeric municipality in front of her three minor children. Her alleged killer and common law partner, Ivan Radovanovic, was arrested, indicted for aggravated murder, and is currently in pretrial confinement. The alleged killer had previously been convicted of domestic violence. According to the Ministry of the Interior, seven men were also killed in family violence through July 25.

The Law on the Prevention of Family Violence strengthens protective measures for domestic violence victims by temporarily removing the perpetrator from a home from a minimum of 48 hours to a maximum of 30 days. This law requires that police, prosecutors’ offices, courts, and social welfare centers maintain an electronic database on individual cases of family violence and undertake emergency and extended measures.

Women’s groups were critical of the implementation of the law, citing lack of precision in statistical reporting as well as very few actual detentions.

Throughout 2017 and the first half of the year, the Justice Ministry conducted training for prosecutors, police officers, and centers for social welfare on the implementation of the law.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of men and women is a crime punishable by imprisonment for up to six months in cases that do not involve domestic abuse or a power relationship, and for up to one year for abuse of a subordinate or dependent. The Autonomous Woman’s Center published polling data indicating that one in three women in the country has experienced unwanted physical contact, and 80 percent of the young men and women have been sexually harassed. While the legal framework was generally in place, the law was rarely enforced and did not provide an adequate deterrent to prevent sexual harassment. In October, the police charged a man with sexually harassing and inappropriately touching a teenage girl who was riding public transportation in Belgrade. Woman’s organizations contended that cases of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching were rarely investigated.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all areas, including family, religion, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance, but the government did not always enforce these laws. Women were discriminated against both at home and in the labor force; in marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process and housing. According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, women did an average of over twice as many hours of domestic work as men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from a child’s parents. The law on birth records provides for universal birth registration. Some Romani children were not registered at birth. Subsequent birth registration was possible but complicated (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). Children who were not registered did not have access to public services, such as health care.

Education: Education was free through the secondary level, but compulsory only from preschool through age 15. Ethnic discrimination and economic hardship discouraged some children from attending school. In Romani and poor rural communities, girls were more likely than boys to drop out of school and normally did so at an earlier age.

Child Abuse: There are laws prohibiting child abuse, and the penalties ranged from two to 10 years of imprisonment. According to research and reports, children were exposed to direct and interpersonal violence, physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse, and neglect. Children in the country also suffered structural violence, stemming from existing patriarchal social structures that enabled marginalization; this problem was manifested through different types of discrimination, child marriage, and child labor. Children in historically marginalized groups, such as Roma, suffered various types of social exclusion and were more prone to marginalization. According to the ombudsman, one-third of complaints filed with his office had to do with child abuse. Serbia’s efforts to prevent child abuse have largely focused on protection of victims rather than prevention of child abuse through targeted intervention; these programs have included training for police, schools, and social workers as well as hotlines and other platforms for reporting violence.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. A court can allow a minor older than 16 to marry if the minor is mature enough to “enjoy the rights and fulfill the responsibilities of marriage.” Child marriages occurred in Romani communities, but these marriages were not legal marriages, and statistics on their prevalence did not exist. Romani activists anecdotally reported a decline in number of child marriages, but this decline could not be verified.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, to include selling, offering, or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography; the government enforced the law, but, nonetheless, these activities occurred. Evidence was limited, and the extent of the problem was unknown. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

Displaced Children: According to local NGOs and media reports, an estimated 2,000 homeless children lived on Belgrade’s streets.

Institutionalized Children: Children in orphanages and institutions were sometimes victims of physical and emotional abuse by caretakers and guardians and of sexual abuse by their peers. The law on social protection prioritizes the deinstitutionalization of children, including those with developmental problems, and their placement in foster families. Children with disabilities who were housed in institutions faced problems including isolation, neglect, and a lack of stimulation. Institutions were often overcrowded, and children were mixed with adults in the same facility. The Mental Disability Rights Initiative Serbia expressed concern over the violation of rights of institutionalized children, noting that 60 percent of institutionalized children with disabilities were excluded from the educational system.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2011 census, 787 persons in the country identified as Jewish. While the law prohibits hate speech, Jewish community leaders reported that translations of anti-Semitic literature were available from ultranationalist groups and conservative publishers. Anti-Semitic literature was available in some bookstores, and the Jewish community reported incidents of anti-Semitic comments in online media.

Holocaust education continued to be a part of the school curriculum at the direction of the Ministry of Education, including in the secondary school curriculum. The role of the collaborationist National Salvation government run by Milan Nedic during the Nazi occupation was debated. Some commentators continued to seek to minimize and reinterpret the role of the national collaborators’ movements during World War II and their role in the Holocaust. On July 11, the High Court in Belgrade ruled against the rehabilitation of wartime Prime Minister Milan Nedic, holding that the petition to the court by his family and several organizations representing political prisoners and victims of the communist regime was unfounded. The court document stated that the presumption that “Milan Nedic was arrested without any court or administrative decision and was a victim of persecution for political or ideological reasons” was groundless.

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 and supporting laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. The government did not enforce these laws effectively. Persons with disabilities and their families experienced stigmatization and segregation because of deeply entrenched prejudices and a lack of information. The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality’s 2017 annual report highlighted a case in which the city of Zajecar failed to provide a personal assistant to a disabled schoolchild in accordance with the child’s individual support plan.

Persons with disabilities were exposed to discrimination in almost every aspect of life, including access to justice, health services, education, employment, and political participation. The 2017 annual report by the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality noted that 20 percent of all complaints filed with the office were cases of discrimination on disability grounds. According to the report, as a category women with disabilities experienced the most severe multiple discrimination. According to the World Health Organization, persons with disabilities represented 15 percent of the country’s population. The law requires all public buildings to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but public transportation and many older public buildings were not accessible. Many children and adults with intellectual disabilities remained in institutions, sometimes restrained or isolated.

The law also prohibits physical, emotional, and verbal abuse in schools. NGOs and journalists reported that thousands of children with disabilities (institutionalized and noninstitutionalized) were not enrolled in school.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Issues, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Health had sections with responsibilities to protect persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Labor had a broad mandate to engage with NGOs, distribute social assistance, manage residential institutions, and monitor laws to provide protection for the rights of persons with disabilities. The labor minister told media on May 17 that his ministry’s priority was to develop partner relations with disability organizations and provide expert and financial support to associations that implement programs that promote rights of persons with disabilities.

According to the National Employment Agency (NEA), the number of unemployed persons with disabilities in early June was approximately 15,500; approximately 6,500 persons with disabilities registered with NEA became employed in 2017. The agency had a budget of 550 million dinars ($5.29 million) for the employment of persons with disabilities.

The media reported that 51 companies throughout the country employed 5,000 persons with disabilities. The trade union Nezavisnost reported in September that persons with disabilities who worked for several companies employing persons with disabilities were receiving salaries under 16,000 dinars per month ($154), which was below the national minimum wage (approximately $240).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the commissioner for the protection of equality, Roma were subject to discrimination in many ways; independent observers and NGOs stated that systemic segregation and discrimination of Roma continued. A Human Rights Defender’s report noted that Roma often considered such treatment normal and noted that hate crimes against Roma were not prosecuted. According to the report, a significant number of Romani citizens were without personal documents and experienced discrimination in the labor market and in schools. The report condemned the situation as “particularly appalling” in housing, health, and access to justice.

National Minority Councils (NMC) represented the country’s ethnic minority groups and had broad competency over education, media, culture, and the use of minority languages. Amendments to the Law on National Minority Councils and the Law on Protection of Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities were adopted on June 20. On November 4, regular elections were held for national minority council seats; 22 of Serbia’s 23 recognized national minorities participated in these elections; the Jewish NMC elects leadership on a different cycle in accordance with its bylaws.

Ethnic Albanian leaders in the southern municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac, along with Bosniaks in the southwestern region of Sandzak, complained they were underrepresented in state institutions at the local level.

According to the director of the Government Office for Human and Minority Rights, more than 60,000 minority schoolchildren attended education in their mother tongue. The government made some progress in approving new mother tongue textbooks, although not all the textbooks in minority languages were available at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.

The government took some steps to counter violence and discrimination against minorities. The stand-alone government Office for Human and Minority Rights supported minority communities. Civic education classes, offered by the government as an alternative to religion courses in secondary schools, included information on minority cultures and multiethnic tolerance.

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

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the law does not describe specific areas in which discrimination is prohibited but is generally interpreted as applying to housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The government did not enforce these laws effectively, and violence and discrimination against members of the LGBTI community were serious problems. Transgender individuals were not permitted to update legal identity documents to reflect their gender identity unless they had undergone sex reassignment surgery.

According to civil society organizations, there were 500,000 LGBTI persons in the country. Credible NGOs noted a lack of significant progress in establishing dialogue, educating the public on LGBTI issues, and addressing hate crimes and bias-motivated violence.

According to NGOs, activists, and independent institutions, discrimination against members of the LGBTI community continued. The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality found that LGBTI persons seldom reported instances of violence and discrimination because they lacked trust in relevant institutions, and feared stigmatization and secondary victimization. Data available from a number of research papers and reports indicated that homophobia and transphobia were deeply rooted in society.

According to data from the Equal Rights Association, 26 percent of the country’s population would cease contact with a person if they learned that person was LGBTI; 38 percent of population believed that homosexuality was a disease; 48 percent of parents would try medical treatment for their LGBTI child; 70 percent opposed the right of an LGBTI person to inherit the property of their deceased partner, and 90 percent opposed child adoption by LGBTI persons. The NGO Let It Be Known recorded eight hate crimes involving violence against LGBTI persons from January through November 2017. The organization also reported 11 cases of psychological violence and threats, five cases of hate speech, and two discriminatory incidents during the study period.

On April 29, a transgender person was severely injured in an attack in front of a Belgrade nightclub. Police identified three of five attackers, two of whom were minors, and filed criminal charges against them. Police also initiated internal control procedures against a police officer for unprofessional conduct when the survivor was reporting the attack at the police station.

In October a man who attacked a transgender woman in 2014 was sentenced to one year of probation. Activists criticized the sentence as being too light, because the attacker was not prosecuted under a provision of the criminal code that mandates harsher punishment for hate crimes.

On September 16, the Belgrade Pride parade was held for a fifth consecutive year after police stopped several dozen counterprotesters walking towards the parade route; no security incidents were reported. Police shut a portion of central Belgrade to secure the route and prevent harassment of the nearly 1,000 participants who marched through central Belgrade. The law enforcement presence was significantly less than in previous years. Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, other ministers, and Belgrade’s mayor attended the march. Organizers of Pride Week demanded the protection of human rights of LGBTI individuals.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

According to government officials and NGOs, there was significant prejudice against persons with HIV/AIDS in all aspects of public life, including employment, housing, and access to public services. According to a survey performed by the Union of Persons Living with HIV and Aids of Serbia, 92 percent of Serbians have a discriminatory attitude towards persons living with HIV/AIDS. The commissioner for protection’s 2017 annual report noted that the majority of persons with HIV/AIDS did not disclose their health status to anyone besides their attending physician, and only approximately half of persons with HIV/AIDS disclosed their status to family members. The government adopted a strategy for prevention and control of HIV/AIDS for 2018-25 that promotes the protection from discrimination and human rights of persons with HIV/AIDS.

Seychelles

Executive Summary

Seychelles is a multiparty republic governed by a president, Council of Ministers, and National Assembly. In 2015 voters narrowly re-elected president James Michel of Parti Lepep in an election that international observers criticized for voter intimidation and vote buying. In 2016 President Michel resigned and appointed his vice president, Danny Faure, president of the republic, as provided for by the constitution. President Faure was the Parti Lepep vice-presidential candidate, and after assuming the presidency, he declared he would not run for the leadership of his party. In 2017, a year after he assumed office, Faure withdrew from Parti Lepep, marking the first time since independence that the head of state was not the head of a political party. Faure was serving the remaining four years of Michel’s mandate and had never run as a presidential candidate. In 2016 the opposition coalition Seychellois Democratic Union (SDU) won a majority of seats in legislative assembly elections, which international and domestic observers called fair but not free due to lack of credibility of the election management body. This was the SDU’s first majority since the establishment of a multiparty system, and since then the government has been in a state of “cohabitation.” In September the SDU tabled a motion calling on Faure to step down and make way for presidential elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included violent prison conditions, ineffective government enforcement of regulations concerning domestic violence against women, and forced labor.

The government took steps to punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, spousal rape, and domestic abuse are criminal offenses for which conviction is punishable by a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, rape was a problem, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. Most victims did not report rape due to fear of reprisal or social stigma.

Domestic violence against women was a widespread problem. Police rarely responded to domestic disputes, although media continued to draw attention to the problem. Police maintained a specialized unit, the Family Squad, to address domestic violence and other family problems.

The Social Affairs Division of the Ministry of Family Affairs and NGOs provided counseling services to victims of rape and domestic violence. The ministry’s Gender Secretariat conducted outreach campaigns to end gender-based violence. On November 9, the first shelter for victims of gender-based violence opened and was operated by CEPS.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but enforcement was rare. The penal code provides no penalty for sexual harassment, although the court may order a person accused of such conduct to “keep a bond of peace,” which allows the court to assess a fine if the harasser fails to cease the harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although society is largely matriarchal, the law provides for the same legal status and rights for men as for women, including equal treatment under family, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. While unwed mothers were the societal norm, the law requires fathers to support their children financially. The Employment Act, as amended in 2015, provides fathers with five days of paid paternity leave upon the birth of a child.

There was no officially sanctioned economic discrimination against women in employment, access to credit, equal pay for equal work, or owning or managing a business. Women were well represented in both the public and private sectors. Inheritance laws do not discriminate against women.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth in the country or from parents, and births were generally registered immediately.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits physical abuse of children, child abuse was a problem. Physical abuse of children was prevalent. The strongest public advocate for young victims was a semiautonomous agency, the National Council for Children. A December 2017 amendment to the Education Act prohibits corporal punishment in schools.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 15 years for girls with parental consent. The legal age for a girl to get married without parental consent is 18. Boys may legally marry at 18, and the law does not provide for parental consent before that age. Child marriage was not a significant problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code, the Children’s Act, and other laws criminalize the prostitution and sexual exploitation of children and specifically prohibit the procurement, recruitment, or exploitation of children younger than age 18 for the purpose of prostitution. The law also prohibits the detention of any child against his or her will with the intent to engage the child in sexual conduct. The law provides for a sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment for a first conviction of sexual assault on a person younger than age 15 and 28 years’ imprisonment for a second conviction, but the presiding judge may reduce these sentences.

The 2014 Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act prescribes penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment and a fine up to 800,000 Seychellois rupees ($59,000) for a child trafficking conviction. There were previous credible reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children. No cases of child pornography, which is illegal, were reported during the year.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered fewer than 10 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

Although the constitution and law provide for the right of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities to special protection, including reasonable provisions for improving quality of life, no laws provide for access to public buildings, transportation, or government services, and the government does not provide such services. Unlike in previous years, employed persons with disabilities were paid their salaries in full. Most children with disabilities were segregated in specialized schools. The National Council for the Disabled, a government agency under the Ministry of Family Affairs, developed work placement programs for persons with disabilities, although few employment opportunities existed.

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

In 2016 consensual same-sex sexual activity between men was decriminalized. There were few reports of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons although activists claimed that discrimination and stigma was common.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Unlike in previous years, foreign citizens marrying a Seychellois were no longer required to undergo an HIV test. An independent National AIDS Council oversees all laws, policies, and programs related to HIV and AIDS.

Sierra Leone

Executive Summary

Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. In March the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) presidential candidate, Julius Maada Bio, won the presidential elections. Maada Bio defeated Samura Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC) party by a narrow margin. In the January parliamentary elections, the APC won a plurality of the seats. Observers found the elections to be largely free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; criminal libel; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation/cutting; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, leading to the arrest of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; and child labor.

The government took some steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed violations, but impunity persisted.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of both men and women and a conviction is punishable by between five and 15 years’ imprisonment. Rape was common and viewed more as a societal norm than a criminal problem. The law specifically prohibits spousal rape. Indictments were rare, especially in rural areas. A reluctance to use the judicial system by both victims and law enforcement officials, combined with women’s lack of income and economic independence, helped perpetuate violence against women and impunity for offenders. Despite the establishment of the Family Support Unit (FSU) of the SLP and the existence of applicable legislation, reports of rapes, especially involving child victims, steadily increased.

Violent acts against women, especially wife beating and spousal rape, were common and often surrounded by a culture of silence. Conviction of domestic violence is punishable by a fine not exceeding five million leones ($685) and two years’ imprisonment. Victims seldom reported domestic violence due to their fear of social stigma and retaliation. First Lady Fatima Jabbie-Bio, and NGOs such as the Rainbo Center actively promoted public awareness, calling on men to refrain from violence against women.

The HRCSL observed that the incidence of sexual and gender-based violence continued to rise while arrests and convictions of perpetrators were negligible. A psychosocial worker of the NGO Rainbo Center blamed the structure of the justice system and lengthy court processes for the delay in accessing justice.

In May Rainbo Center reported low conviction rates in prosecuting perpetrators of rape and sexual violence. In May the spokesperson for the country’s judiciary reported that most of the viable cases in the last two criminal sessions of the High Court were for rape.

Medical and psychological services for rape victims were limited. Police often required victims to obtain a medical report for the filing of charges, but most government doctors charged fees that were prohibitively expensive for the victims. Although the law provides that the victim of a sexual offense shall be entitled to free medical treatment and medical reports, many victims had to pay for these medical services.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C for women and girls. UNICEF data from 2014, the most recent available, reported that nine of 10 women and girls had undergone the procedure. In the lead up to the March elections, the minister of local government and rural development banned secret society initiation activities, including female genital mutilation (FGM/C), until after the elections. The government stated that the ban was to ensure the peaceful conduct of the elections. In July the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs signed a memorandum of understanding with the Soweis and other traditional leaders who practice FGM/C, whereby the traditional leaders committed not to initiate minors younger than 18 years of age. The FSU reported no new cases of FGM/C during initiation of girls younger than 18 years of age from August 2017 through the year’s end, although anecdotal evidence suggests that the practice has not been entirely abandoned.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, but authorities did not always effectively enforce it. It is unlawful to make unwanted sexual advances, repeatedly follow or pursue others against their will, initiate repeated and unwanted communications with others, or engage in any other “menacing” behavior. Conviction of sexual harassment is punishable by a fine not exceeding 14.3 million leones ($1,660) or imprisonment not exceeding three years. No reliable data was available on the prevalence of sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. See Appendix C for information on maternal mortality.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for men and women under family, labor, property, and inheritance laws. Women continued to experience discriminatory practices. Their rights and positions are largely contingent on customary law and the ethnic group to which they belong. The law provides for both Sierra Leonean fathers and mothers to confer nationality to children born abroad. The law provides for equal remuneration for equal work without discrimination based on gender. Either spouse may acquire property in their own right, and women may obtain divorce without being forced to relinquish dowries.

The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs reported that women faced widespread societal discrimination, particularly in matters of marriage, divorce, property, and inheritance, which are guided by customary law in all areas except Freetown. Formal laws apply in customary as well as formal courts, but customary judges had limited or no legal training and often were unaware of formal laws or chose to ignore them. Women’s rights and status under customary law varied significantly depending upon the ethnic group to which they belonged, but such rights and status were routinely inferior to those of men. Under customary law, women’s status in society is equal to that of a minor. Women were frequently perceived to be the property of their husbands, to be inherited on his death with his other property.

Discrimination occurred in access to credit, equal pay for similar work, and the ownership and management of a business. Women did not have equal access to education, economic opportunities, health facilities, or social freedoms. In rural areas, women performed much of the subsistence farming and had little opportunity for formal education. Women also experienced discrimination in access to employment, and it was common for an employer to dismiss a woman if she became pregnant during her first year on the job. The law does not prohibit dismissal of pregnant workers based on pregnancy.

The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs has a mandate to protect the rights of women, but most international and domestic NGOs asserted the ministry did not have the resources, infrastructure, and support of other ministries to handle its assigned projects effectively. The ministry routinely relied on the assistance of international organizations and NGOs to help combat women’s rights violations.

Children

Birth Registration: Although the constitution states that it prohibits discrimination based on race, tribe, gender, place of origin, political opinion, color, and religion, the constitution denies citizenship at birth to persons who are not of “Negro-African descent.” Non-Africans who have lived in the country for at least eight years (two years for foreigners married to Sierra Leonean citizens) may apply for naturalization, subject to presidential approval. Citizenship derived by birth is restricted to children with at least one parent or grandparent of Negro-African descent who was born in Sierra Leone. Children not meeting the criteria must be registered in their parents’ countries of origin.

Birth registration was not universal due to outdated birth registration laws and inadequate staffing of government registry facilities. Lack of registration did not affect access to public services or result in statelessness. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Despite President Maada Bio’s Free and Quality Education Program enacted in August as part of his attempt to follow through on campaign promises, pregnant girls continued to be prohibited from attending classes and taking examinations with other students on the grounds that they were a “bad moral influence.”

Child Abuse: A pattern of violence against and abuse of children existed, and according to the FSU, it increased between January and August compared with previous years. The FSU reported the following forms of child abuse to be on the increase: sexual violence, abandonment, and trafficking. FSU personnel were trained in dealing with sexual violence against children, and cases of child sexual abuse generally were taken more seriously than adult rape cases.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. According to UNICEF, child marriage is a major restriction on girls’ education. According to UNICEF’s world children report of 2017, 39 percent of girls in the country are married before their 18th birthday. The report stated that child marriage in the country is linked to poverty, lack of education, and geographical area. On August 9, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children, LAB, and the Sierra Leone Police interrupted an underage marriage and arrested parents who acted contrary to law. The government is currently implementing “Let Girls be Girls, Not Mothers,” a two-year national strategy to reduce teenage pregnancy. On July 17, the Inter-Religious Council promised not to conduct any marriage when members think the bride is younger than the age of 18.

According to UNICEF the country is one of 12 selected to be part of the United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF’s global program to accelerate action to end child marriage and teenage pregnancy, which are still major challenges.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. Although the law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, and child trafficking, including child pornography, enforcement remained a problem and conviction numbers remained low. In many cases of sexual assault of children, parents accepted payment instead of taking the perpetrator to court due to difficulties dealing with the justice system, fear of public shame, and economic hardship.

According to a UNICEF case study in 2017, the FSU of the Sierra Leone Police estimated more than 1,000 children experience sexual violence in the country each year. The World Vision 2017 Research report confirms that sexual violence, including verbal and emotional abuse, inappropriate touching, physical harassment, and rape, continued to surge and affects 13.2 percent of boys and 21.5 percent of girls. The same study stated that the perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation are normally persons who live in the same community and are known to the children, with more than one-third being either a close relative or an extended relative.

Displaced Children: The NGO Needy Child International reported that during the year approximately 50,000 children worked and lived on the street, with 45,000 of them engaged in artisanal gravel production in the Western Area.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The Persons With Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment and provision of state services, including judicial services. The government did not effectively implement laws and programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. The government-funded Commission on Persons with Disabilities is charged with protecting the rights and promoting the welfare of persons with disabilities. Given the high rate of general unemployment, work opportunities for persons with disabilities were limited, and begging was commonplace. Children with disabilities were also less likely to attend school than other children.

There was considerable discrimination against persons with mental disabilities. The vast majority of persons with mental disabilities received no treatment or public services. The Sierra Leone Psychiatric Hospital in Kissy, the only inpatient psychiatric institution that served persons with mental disabilities, was underfunded. Authorities reported that only one consulting psychiatrist was available, patients were not provided sufficient food, and restraints were primitive and dehumanizing. The hospital lacked running water and had only sporadic electricity. Only basic medications were available.

The Ministry of Health and Sanitation is responsible for providing free primary health-care services to persons with polio and diabetic retinopathy as well as those who are blind or deaf. The ministry did not provide these services consistently, and organizations reported many persons with disabilities had limited access to medical and rehabilitative care. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs has a mandate to provide policy oversight for issues affecting persons with disabilities but had limited capacity to do so.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The population included 18 ethnic groups of African origin. In addition there were significant Lebanese and Indian minorities and small groups of European and Pakistani origin. Little ethnic segregation was apparent in urban areas, where interethnic marriage was common. The two largest ethnic groups were the Themne in the North and the Mende in the South. Each group constituted approximately 30 percent of the population. Strong ethnic loyalties, bias, and stereotypes existed among all ethnic groups. Ethnic loyalty was an important factor in the government, the armed forces, and business. Complaints of ethnic discrimination in government appointments, contract assignments, and military promotions were common.

Residents of non-African descent faced some institutionalized discrimination, particularly in the areas of citizenship and nationality (see sections 3, Participation of Women and Minorities, and 6, Children, Birth Registration).

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

A law from 1861 prohibits male-to-male sexual acts, but there is no legal prohibition against female-to-female sex. The 1861 law, which carries a penalty of life imprisonment for “indecent assault” upon a man or 10 years for attempting such an assault, was not enforced. The constitution does not offer protection from discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Sexual orientation and gender-identity civil society groups alleged that because the law prohibits male-to-male sexual activity, the law limits lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons from exercising their freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. The law, however, does not restrict the rights of persons to speak out on LGBTI human rights. No hate crime laws cover bias-motivated violence against LGBTI persons. The law does not address transgender persons.

A few organizations, including Dignity Association, supported LGBTI persons, but they maintained low profiles. LGBTI groups alleged that police were biased against them.

The NGO Dignity Association reported that the LGBTI community faced challenges ranging from violence, stigma, discrimination, blackmailing, and public attack to denial of public services such as healthcare and justice. The NGO reported nine cases of discrimination against two staff members and a police officer in Bo during the year. It reported that three LGBTI persons were subjected to physical violence, denied medical service, and evicted from their houses due to their LGBTI status.

In the areas of employment and education, sexual orientation or gender identity were bases for abusive treatment, which led individuals to leave their jobs or courses of study. It was difficult for LGBTI individuals to receive health services–many chose not to seek medical testing or treatment due to fear their right to confidentiality would be ignored. Obtaining secure housing was also a problem for LGBTI persons. Families frequently shunned their LGBTI children, leading some to turn to sex work to survive. Adults could have their leases terminated if their LGBTI status became public. Women in the LGBTI community reported social discrimination from male LGBTI persons and the general population. On June 9, authorities expelled two female secondary school students for kissing each other in public. Dignity Association reported that after NGOs expressed concerns to school authorities about the expulsions, the authorities agreed to allow the girls to return to the school.

As of August there was no information regarding any official action by government authorities to investigate or punish public entities or private persons complicit in abuses against LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination based on actual, perceived, or suspected HIV status, but society stigmatized persons with HIV/AIDS. The Network of HIV Positive in Sierra Leone (NETHIP-SL) in December 2017 informed stakeholders and government officials that HIV/AIDS stigma was on the increase. NETHIP-SL reported that adults with HIV/AIDS lacked employment and promotion opportunities. There were also reports men often divorced their wives due to HIV/AIDS status, leaving the latter without financial support. Authorities from the National AIDS Secretariat reported that 3,352 children were infected with HIV. NETHIP-SL reported children were denied access to education because of their HIV status and the issue of children with HIV/AIDS had been missing in the HIV/AIDS prevention process.

Singapore

Executive Summary

Singapore is a parliamentary republic where the People’s Action Party (PAP), in power since 1959, overwhelmingly dominated the political scene. The Elections Department declared Halimah Yacob president in 2017; she was the only candidate who qualified for the ballot, which was reserved that year for an ethnic Malay. Observers considered the 2015 general election free and open. The PAP won 83 of 89 parliamentary seats with 70 percent of the vote. The president subsequently reappointed PAP leader Lee Hsien-Loong as prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included: preventive detention by government authorities under various laws that dispense with regular judicial due process; monitoring private electronic or telephone communications without a warrant; significant restrictions on the press and online, including the use of defamation laws to discourage criticism; laws and regulations significantly limiting the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well as criminalization of sexual activities between men, although the law on this was not enforced.

The government prosecuted officials who committed human rights abuses in previous years. There were no reports of officials who committed human rights abuses or prosecutions or reports of impunity for such abuses in the year to October.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, although it limited them in certain circumstances. Government cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations with respect to asylum seekers and other refugees was limited.

In-country Movement: The ISA permits authorities to restrict a person’s movement, and they did so in the case of some former ISA detainees. Several dozen suspected terrorists were subject to such restrictions.

Foreign Travel: The government may refuse to issue a passport; in practice this was done primarily on security grounds.

Men are required to undertake 24 months of uniformed national service upon reaching age 18. They also are required to participate in reserve training up to age 40 (for enlisted men) or 50 (for officers). Male citizens and permanent residents with national service reserve obligations are required to advise the Ministry of Defense of plans to travel abroad. Men and boys age 13 and older who have not completed national service obligations are required to obtain exit permits for international travel if they intend to be away for three months or more.

The law allows the government to deprive naturalized citizens of citizenship if they have resided outside of the country for more than five consecutive years. Naturalized citizens may also lose their citizenship if they have engaged in activities deemed harmful to public safety and order.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. The government may, on a case-by-case basis, cooperate with organizations such as UNHCR to repatriate or send refugees to a third country.

STATELESS PERSONS

As of January 2016 there were 1,411 legally stateless persons living in the country. Many were reportedly born in the country before independence but did not or could not meet requirements for citizenship then in force. Others were permanent residents who lost their foreign citizenship, or were children born to foreign nationals who are not recognized in their home countries. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship.

Approximately 80 percent of stateless persons have obtained permanent residency, but those who have not may not buy or rent real estate, are not entitled to government health or education subsidies, and may have difficulty securing employment.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime, with maximum penalties of 20 years’ imprisonment and the possibility of caning. By law only a man can commit rape. A man cannot legally be a victim of rape but may be the victim of unlawful sexual penetration, which carries the same penalties as rape. Spousal rape is generally not a crime, but husbands who force their wives to have intercourse may be prosecuted for other offenses, such as assault. Spousal rape is a criminal offense when the couple is separated, subject to an interim divorce order that has not become final, or subject to a written separation agreement, as well as when a court has issued a protection order against the husband. Domestic violence is a crime. Victims may obtain court orders restraining the respondent and barring the spouse or former spouse from the home until the court is satisfied the spouse has ceased aggressive behavior.

Twenty-one women’s and social sector groups issued a joint press release signaling their strong support for repealing marital immunity for rape.

In March parliament amended the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act to increase protection for victims of sexual crimes and child abuse within the judicial system. Identity protection orders became mandatory from the time a police report is lodged. Victims of sexual crimes may video-record their testimony instead of having to recount it in person. Victims may testify in closed-door hearings, with physical screens to shield them from the accused person. Lawyers may not ask questions about a victim’s sexual history, unless the court grants them permission to do so.

Several voluntary welfare organizations that assisted abused women noted that gender-based violence was under-reported, which they said was the result of social stigma and a lack of understanding among the population at large as well as among police. The press gave prominent coverage to several instances of abuse or violence against women.

Welfare and advocacy organization AWARE, which operated a specialized care service for survivors of sexual violence, collaborated with police to develop a training video. The video, first used in the reporting year, helped police understand how victims of sexual crime feel, why they behave in certain ways, and how police and other first responders can assist them effectively.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Type I (a) (as classified by the World Health Organization) female genital mutilation/cutting was practiced among a small portion of the Muslim population. Referred to locally as “ceremonial” female circumcision, it was undertaken as a standardized procedure by designated doctors under the supervision of the Muslim Healthcare Professionals Association. There was no legislation banning FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: Harassment is a crime and the law includes harassment within and outside the workplace, cyberbullying, and bullying of children. The law also prescribes mandatory caning and minimum of two years’ imprisonment on conviction on any charge of “outraging modesty” that causes the victim to fear death or injury. The law also subjects persons convicted of using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior to maximum fines of 5,000 SGD ($3,650). It also provides a range of self-help measures, civil remedies, and enhanced criminal sanctions to protect against harassment. Additionally, stalking is an offense punishable with a maximum fine of 5,000 SGD ($3,650), imprisonment for up to 12 months, or both.

In February police highlighted sexual molestation on public transport as a concern. Outrage of modesty advisory posters were placed in buses and in subway stations, and public education videos screened on subway platforms. The police “Citizens on Patrol” program expanded its presence to the subway system, where volunteers gave out flyers raising awareness about molestation. In February and again in May, media reported cases in which a woman who was molested while traveling by bus enlisted the help of the bus driver and commuters to detain the alleged perpetrator until police arrived.

According to police statistics, outrage of modesty incidents increased by more than 21 percent in the first six months of the year (compared to the same period in 2017 (from 685 to 832 cases). AWARE reported that government campaigns encouraging women to report sexual molestation led to the increase. Media gave significant coverage to sexual harassment convictions throughout the year, and several members of parliament urged the government to address sexual harassment in the workplace more actively.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, including civil liberties, employment, commercial activity, and education. Women were well represented in many professions (see section 7.d.).

No laws mandate nondiscrimination in hiring based on gender; prohibit employers from asking questions about a prospective employee’s family status during a job interview; require flexible or part-time work schedules for employees with minor children; or establish public provision of childcare. The Ministry of Manpower set aside 30 million SGD ($21.9 million) to help employers implement flexible workplace practices.

Polygyny is permitted for Muslim men but is limited and strictly regulated by the Syariah Court and the Registry of Muslim Marriages, which oversees Muslim marriages and other family law matters. Polygynous marriages constituted 0.2 percent of Muslim marriages.

Both men and women have the right to initiate divorce proceedings.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents. The law requires that all births be registered within 14 days.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes mistreatment of children, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. The government enforced the law and provided support services for child-abuse victims.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law characterizes unmarried persons younger than 21 years as minors and persons younger than 14 as children. Individuals younger than 21 who wish to marry must obtain parental consent, and the couple must attend a mandatory marriage preparation program. Individuals younger than 18 also require a special license from the Ministry of Social and Family Development to wed or, if they are marrying under Muslim law, they require permission from the kadi (a Muslim judge appointed by the president), who will grant permission only under special conditions.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes human trafficking, including child sex trafficking, and authorities enforced the law.

The age of consent for noncommercial sex is 16 years. Sexual intercourse with a person younger than 16 is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison, a fine, or both, and if the victim is 14 or younger punishable by as long as 20 years in prison and a fine or caning.

Authorities may detain (but generally do not prosecute) persons younger than 18 whom they believe to be engaged in prostitution. They prosecute those who organize or profit from prostitution, bring women or girls to the country for prostitution, or coerce or deceive women or girls into prostitution. The law is ambiguous regarding employment of persons ages 16 to 18 in the production of pornography.

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/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

Although estimates varied widely, the government estimated there were approximately 2,500 members in the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

There is no comprehensive legislation addressing equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in education or employment. Electoral law allows voters who are unable to vote in the manner described by law to receive assistance from election officials to mark and cast their ballots.

In December 2017 a couple was imprisoned after the severe abuse they inflicted on their intellectually disabled roommate over a period of eight months resulted in her death. Tan Hui Zhen was jailed for 16 years and six months and her husband, Pua Hak Chuan, was jailed for 14 years and given 14 strokes of the cane for causing grievous hurt with a weapon to Annie Ee Yu Lian. The case gained national attention due to the victim’s vulnerability, and a national petition called for harsher punishments for the pair.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and coordinates implementation of the government’s 2017-2021 policy plan for programs and services in the disability sector, which focuses on greater inclusiveness. The ministry began implementing the policy plan in January.

The government maintained a comprehensive code on barrier-free accessibility, established standards for facilities for persons with physical disabilities in all new buildings, and mandated the progressive upgrading of older structures. SG Enable, established by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, administered several assistance schemes for persons with disabilities, and provided a job training and placement program for them.

The Disabled People’s Association, an advocacy group, reported private discrimination against persons with disabilities who were seeking employment.

The country provided a high level of educational support for children and minors with disabilities from preschool to university. Elementary and secondary levels both included mainstreaming programs and separate education schools. All primary schools and the majority of secondary schools had specialist support for students with mild disabilities. Mainstreaming programs catered primarily to children with physical disabilities. Separate education schools, which focused on children who required more intensive and specialized assistance, were operated by social service organizations and involved a means-tested payment of fees. The Special Educational Needs Support Offices, established in all publicly funded tertiary education institutions including universities, provided support for students. Informal provisions permitted university matriculation for those with visual, hearing, or physical disabilities through assistive technology devices and services such as note taking.

In the 2015 general election, voters with visual disabilities could cast their vote independently with stencils. The Disabled People’s Association recommended that persons with disabilities be permitted to choose who would assist them to mark and cast their ballots.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Malays constituted approximately 13 percent of the population. The constitution recognizes them as the indigenous persons of the country and charges the government to support and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social, cultural, and language interests. The government took steps to encourage greater educational achievement among Malay students and upgrading of skills among Malay workers, including through subsidies for tertiary education fees for poorer Malays. Malay educational performance has improved, although ethnic Malays have not yet reached the educational or socioeconomic levels achieved by the ethnic Chinese majority, the ethnic Indian minority, or the Eurasian community. Malays remained underrepresented at senior corporate levels and, some asserted, in certain sectors of the government and the military. This reflected their historically lower educational and economic levels, but some argued it also was a result of employment discrimination.

The Presidential Council on Minority Rights examines all pending bills to ensure they do not disadvantage any particular group. It also reports to the government on matters that affect any racial or religious community.

Government policy designed to facilitate interethnic harmony and prevent the formation of racial enclaves enforced ethnic ratios, applicable for all ethnic groups, to all forms of public housing.

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

Section 377A of the penal code criminalizes male-to-male sexual relations, subject to up to two years’ imprisonment. The law does not criminalize female-to-female sexual relations. Authorities have not enforced the section for several years and stated that they will not do so. The prime minister and the minister for home affairs and law have said they personally are not opposed to male-to-male sexual relations. There were no indications the law was used intentionally to intimidate or coerce. The law’s existence, however, intimidates some gay men, particularly those who are victims of sexual assault but who will not report it to the police for fear of being charged with violating Section 377A.

No laws explicitly protect the LGBTI community from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Moreover, since single persons are prevented from purchasing government housing reserved for married couples until age 35, LGBTI persons, were unable to receive certain government services and benefits available to other citizens before reaching 35.

In September disc jockey Johnson Ong filed a constitutional challenge to Section 377A on the grounds it violates the right to “life and personal liberty” and the right to equality. The challenge argues that sexual orientation “is unchangeable or suppressible at unacceptable personal cost” and that the law applies only to sex between two men and not between two women. The High Court held a pretrial conferences in September.

LGBTI persons may experience discrimination in the military, which classifies individuals by sexual orientation and evaluates them on a scale of “effeminacy” to determine fitness for combat training and other assignments. Openly gay servicemen faced threats and harassment from their peers and were often ostracized.

A requirement that applicants for government employment declare their sexual orientation on job applications is no longer required.

Individuals were prohibited from updating their gender on official unless they underwent sex reassignment surgery.

Media censorship perpetuated negative stereotypes of LGBTI individuals by restricting portrayals of LGBTI life. The IMDA censored films and television shows with LGBTI themes. According to the IMDA website, authorities allow the broadcast of LGBTI themes on television “as long as the presentation does not justify, promote, or glamorize such a lifestyle” (see section 2.a.).

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Some persons with HIV/AIDS claimed that they were socially marginalized and faced employment discrimination or possible termination if they revealed their HIV/AIDS status. There is no law to prevent employers from firing a person based on their HIV status. Because of the above, many persons living with HIV fear losing their jobs if they disclose their HIV status. Some HIV-positive persons seek diagnosis and treatment outside the country.

The government discouraged discrimination, supported initiatives that countered misperceptions about HIV/AIDS, and publicly praised employers that welcomed workers with HIV/AIDS. HIV-positive foreigners are barred from obtaining work permits, student visas or immigrant visas.

Slovakia

Executive Summary

The Slovak Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy led by a prime minister and a 150-member parliament (Narodna Rada or National Council). Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini heads a three-party coalition that secured a majority of seats in parliament following free and fair parliamentary elections in 2016. In elections considered free and fair, voters elected Andrej Kiska to a five-year term as president and head of state in 2014.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included corruption; violence or hate speech targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; violence and widespread discrimination and violence against Roma; and security force violence against ethnic and racial minorities that government actions and rhetoric did little to discourage.

The government investigated reports of abuses by members of the security forces and other government institutions, although some observers questioned the thoroughness of these investigations. Some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. There were no reports of government authorities exerting pressure on refugees to return to the country they had fled.

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, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing some protection to refugees. Some organizations criticized the Migration Office for granting asylum only in a very limited number of cases. As of August the government had received 104 asylum applications and granted asylum to one individual. The government granted asylum to 29 individuals in 2017.

NGOs reported asylum seekers had only limited access to qualified, independent legal advice. The contract for legal assistance to asylum seekers did not cover asylum seekers in detention, so these persons could access free legal assistance only in the second, appellate-level, hearing on their asylum application process. Migration Office staff allegedly endeavored to provide legal advice to some asylum applicants, even though they were also interviewing the asylum seekers and adjudicating their asylum applications.

There was no independent monitoring by local NGOs of access to asylum procedures on the country’s borders and only limited monitoring of access to asylum by UNHCR.

In July the country extradited a foreign national to Russia before officially closing his asylum process. The foreign national, who had applied for international protection in the country in 2011 citing fear of torture and inhumane treatment in his home country, was wanted in Russia on terrorism-related charges. The Justice Ministry asserted that the man had to be extradited as he posed a national security threat and would have to be released from custody within 60 days. Human rights NGOs and the UN Commission for Human Rights protested the extradition and called it a dangerous precedent for an asylum seeker to be extradited before a final decision on his asylum case had been made. In August the Constitutional Court turned down an appeal by the asylum seeker, asserting it lacked jurisdiction in the case.

In April the country’s media reported on the possible involvement of government officials in the 2017 abduction of a Vietnamese asylum seeker from Germany to Vietnam by the Vietnamese intelligence services. Based on information from German law enforcement officials, media reported that a Slovak government aircraft was used to transport the abducted Vietnamese national out of the Schengen area immediately following an official meeting between former Slovak interior minister, Robert Kalinak, and the Vietnamese minister of public security in July 2017 in Bratislava. In August the prosecution service launched official investigations into alleged government involvement in the abduction. The case remained pending.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to applicants from a safe country of origin or transit. The law requires authorities to ensure the well-being of individual asylum seekers is not threatened if deported to a non-EU “safe country.” Some observers criticized the BBAP for lacking the information necessary to determine whether a country would be safe for persons facing deportation there.

Freedom of Movement: NGOs reported the BBAP unnecessarily detained migrants, including asylum seekers whom police believed made false asylum claims, and that police failed to use adequately alternatives to detention, such as supervised release or financial bonds. In 2017 one in four asylum seekers in the country was placed in immigration detention rather than accommodation centers. NGOs reported it was routine practice to issue detention orders and place asylum seekers with children in the immigration detention center in Secovce, where they often faced degrading treatment.

Access to Basic Services: There were reports persons granted subsidiary protection had only limited access to health care. The Ministry of Interior issued health-coverage documentation directly to persons with subsidiary protection, which in some instances created confusion among health-care providers, who often did not know which medical procedures the policy would cover.

NGOs reported schools generally did not make use of available government support for language and integration assistance for foreign students.

Durable Solutions: The Migration Office accommodated refugees processed at the UNHCR emergency transit center in Humenne for resettlement to a permanent host country. The refugees were moved to Slovakia from other countries due to security and humanitarian concerns. The center was permitted to accommodate up to 250 refugees at a time for up to six months.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary “subsidiary protection” to individuals who might not qualify as refugees but could not return to their home countries and granted it to approximately seven persons as of August. Subsidiary protection is initially granted for one year, with possible extensions. NGOs said this created uncertainty regarding the refugee’s status in the country and significantly hindered their integration prospects.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and sexual violence, which carry a penalty of five to 25 years in prison. The law does not specifically define spousal rape, but the criminal code covers spousal rape and spousal sexual violence under the crime of rape and sexual violence. NGOs and rape victims criticized police for sometimes failing to enforce the law effectively and for often failing to communicate appropriately with rape victims. Rape and domestic violence victims had access to shelters and counseling offered by NGOs and government-funded programs. NGO service providers complained that authorities provided only a small portion of necessary funding, forcing many centers to close or fundraise additional resources from private and international donors.

Domestic violence against women is punishable by three to eight years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence was widespread, and activists claimed official statistics failed to capture the magnitude of the issue. NGOs also asserted the government did not enforce the law effectively. Experts complained there were no written procedures for referring battered women to counselling centers or shelters and no services for batterers. The lack of affordable public housing or rent-controlled housing often forced victims to return to abusive households.

In January the regional court in Kosice confirmed a 23-year prison sentence for a former police officer who in 2016 stabbed his fiancee to death and burned her remains in Spisska Nova Ves.

In March a 22 year-old man attacked his girlfriend and her three friends, breaking her nose and causing other injuries. The woman immediately reported the incident to police, who reportedly failed to provide first aid to the victims, downplaying the incident. The assailant was later found guilty and sentenced to a fine. After intense media coverage, the regional prosecutor’s office in Banska Bystrica announced it would reexamine the case.

In September the regional court in Banska Bystrica confirmed a 16-year prison sentence for a man who stabbed his wife to death in July 2017 while she sat in the back seat of a police patrol car that had responded to her domestic disturbance call. The man gained access to the patrol car by telling police he wanted a chance to apologize to his wife. As of October the two police officers who failed to prevent the attack awaited trial on charges of criminal negligence.

According to a 2017 report on gender equality and domestic violence by the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family, more than 21 percent of adult women had experienced violence at the hand of their partner.

Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment as unlawful discrimination, subject to civil penalties. Victims usually avoided legal action due to fear of reprisal, lengthy court proceedings, and lack of accessible legal services. A coordination center for gender-based and domestic violence under the Labor, Social Affairs and Family Ministry implements and coordinates countrywide policy to prevent and eliminate violence against women (including sexual harassment) and coordinates education and training efforts for the public and professionals. The government operates a 24/7 hotline for women subjected to violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status for women as for men. Discrimination against women remained a problem, particularly in the labor market, where women were less likely to be offered employment than men with equal qualifications, and faced a 20 percent gender pay gap.

Children

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship by birth to at least one citizen parent, regardless of where the child is born. Each domestic birth is recorded at the local vital statistics office, including for children born to asylum seekers, stateless persons, and detained migrants.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a problem according to child advocates. A 2013 government study (the latest available) showed that 23 percent of 13- to 15-year-old persons suffered physical abuse, 20 percent emotional abuse, and 7 percent sexual abuse. Domestic abuse carries basic penalties of three to eight years’ imprisonment.

The government continued implementing and annually updating the National Action Plan for Children for 2013-22, funded through the government budget. Government bodies provided financial support to crisis centers for abused children and to NGOs that worked on child abuse. The Labor and Social Affairs Office had dedicated departments for overseeing childcare and operated a national coordination body for dealing with violence against children, which collected data, provided information on domestic violence and abuse of minors, helped refer victims to service providers, and ran a national helpline.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. In exceptional cases, based upon request of one of the marrying couple, a competent court may allow marriage of a person as young as 16, if both parents consent. Women from marginalized Romani communities were transported to the United Kingdom by force or deception to marry foreign citizens attempting to avoid deportation by marrying an EU citizen and might consequently have been subjected to trafficking in persons.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Rape and sexual violence against a child carry basic penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment. The law establishes 15 as the minimum age for consensual sex. In addition to prohibiting trafficking in persons, the law criminalizes the prostitution of children. These abuses were not common, and there were no obstacles to enforcement of the law.

The production, distribution, or possession of child pornography is a crime with penalties ranging from two to 20 years’ imprisonment.

Institutionalized Children: Reports published by the ombudsperson during the year and in 2013 found that juvenile offenders at educational rehabilitation centers regularly endured hunger and were subjected to degrading treatment, including compulsory gynecological examinations of girls after their trips outside the facility. The reports also found substandard levels of education at the centers.

In February the regional prosecutor in Trencin indicted a former employee of the private juvenile rehabilitation facility Cisty Den for sexual abuse and causing bodily harm to a minor. The facility lost its official Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family accreditation in September 2017 after a series of allegations of severe malpractice and misconduct. Experts criticized the labor minister for failing to protect the children housed in Cisty Den after suspicions regarding the facility first surfaced more than a year before the center’s accreditation was revoked.

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

Anti-Semitism

Jewish community leaders estimated, and the 2011 census data indicated, the size of the Jewish community was 2,000 persons.

Organized neo-Nazi groups with an estimated 500 active members and several thousand sympathizers occasionally spread anti-Semitic messages. Latent anti-Semitic attitudes characterizing Jewish people as greedy or secretly influencing world affairs were widespread, even beyond neo-Nazi groups and their sympathizers. Polls revealed increased support for the neo-Nazi LSNS, polling at 11 percent or higher.

In July the Special Prosecutor’s Office indicted LSNS leader and MP Marian Kotleba for his charitable donation of 1,488 euros ($1,710) to three families at a 2017 event marking the founding of the Nazi-allied wartime Slovak state (The number 1,488 refers to a white supremacist 14-word slogan and a numeric representation of HH, for “Heil Hitler.”). Also in July, the Specialized Criminal Court acquitted LSNS MP Stanislav Mizik of extremism charges in a case concerning a January 2017 Facebook post in which he criticized President Kiska for giving state awards to persons of Jewish origin. The judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove that Mizik wrote the statement. The Special Prosecutor’s Office appealed the verdict, and the case remained pending. In February LSNS MP Milan Mazurek verbally attacked an expert witness during a court hearing at his trial, saying the witness was “not impartial, since he is a Jew.”

While direct denial of the Holocaust was relatively rare, expressions of approval for the World War II-era Slovak fascist state, which deported tens of thousands of Jews, Roma, and others to death camps, occurred frequently. Throughout the year, far-right groups organized small events to commemorate dates associated with the Slovak fascist state and its president, Jozef Tiso. On March 14 and April 19, the LSNS organized commemorations of the creation of the fascist Slovak state in 1939 and Tiso’s execution in 1947.

On September 9, government officials commemorated the Day of the Victims of the Holocaust and of Racial Violence at the Holocaust Memorial in Bratislava. The coalition government undertook initiatives to promote Holocaust education in schools and funded school field trips to Auschwitz and the Slovak Holocaust Museum in Sered. Government leaders including President Kiska and Speaker of Parliament Danko denounced the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the far right.

Representatives of the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia noted the number of anti-Semitic comments and hate speech on the internet and social media increased following statements in March by then prime minister Robert Fico (Smer-SD), in which he accused philanthropist George Soros, who is Jewish, of instigating a coup against his government.

In January the ministers of finance and culture commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day by visiting the Holocaust Museum in Sered where they announced a subsidy of one million euros ($1.15 million) to complete the museum’s campus.

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, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, the judicial system, other transportation, or the provision of other public services.

Psychiatric institutions and hospitals, which fall under the purview of the Ministry of Health, used cage beds to restrain patients. The law prohibits both physical and nonphysical restraints in social care homes managed by the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family.

No broadcaster complied with laws requiring television stations to provide audio descriptions for viewers who are blind or have impaired vision. While the law defines mandatory standards for access to buildings, NGOs noted they were not fully implemented, although access to privately owned buildings improved more rapidly than access to public buildings.

The government’s Council on Human Rights, National Minorities, and Gender Equality operated a committee on persons with disabilities. The council served as a governmental advisory body and included representation from NGOs working on disability problems. The country’s first national human rights strategy included a chapter on the rights of persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the 2011 census, approximately 458,000 ethnic Hungarians lived in the country. The law provides for the imposition of fines on government institutions, civil servants, and legal entities that do not provide information required by law in Slovak. Members of the ethnic Hungarian minority criticized the provision as discriminatory and a restriction on their right to free speech. The Ministry of Transport and Construction continued placing dual language signs at train stations serving Hungarian minority populations. In February the ministry changed a decree to allow the use of dual-language traffic signs.

Societal discrimination against Roma and individuals of non-European ethnicity was common. As much as 53 percent of the Romani population resided in marginalized communities. The UN Development Program has identified 231 segregated rural settlements located, on average, less than one mile from neighboring municipalities.

There were reports of violence against members of ethnic minorities during the year. In May a Filipino man with permanent residency status died after being brutally beaten for protecting his female colleagues from unwanted sexual advances on the streets of Bratislava. Authorities initially released the attacker from custody after the prosecutor’s office stated it saw no risk of him committing similar attacks. Following intense public pressure, the prosecutor reversed the decision and detained the alleged attacker, who faces a possible 12 years in prison. Media cited witnesses who reported the attacker was likely motivated by the victim’s skin color and perceived sexual orientation.

In July, three Romani boys from the northern city of Zilina were chased and attacked by a group of violent hooligans. Police pressed charges against three individuals, who remained in pretrial detention. Police and prosecutors initially refused to confirm the attack was racially motivated, but media outlets published testimony of eyewitnesses who claimed the assailants shouted, “Gypsies, we will kill you!” while hurling stones and bottles and chasing the boys.

Marginalized Romani communities continued to be subjected to controversial police raids and brutality. In November 2017 media reported on a police raid in the Romani community in the village of Jarovnice. Several police officers, including a special operations unit and a K9 unit, allegedly ransacked a house looking for three men wanted for petty larceny. While no one was injured during the raid, human rights activists questioned the appropriateness and proportionality of the police response. In May the Ministry of Interior Inspection Service terminated an investigation into the 2017 police raid in Zborov and concluded police officers did not break the law. Released video footage from the Zborov raid appeared to show police chasing, threatening, and beating numerous community residents, including children and elderly persons, who did not appear to be resisting police. Three residents required medical assistance.

Authorities’ investigation of violent incidents involving police was inconsistent and varied by jurisdiction. In 2016 the Ministry of Interior Inspection Service Department brought charges against the police officer who commanded a 2015 raid in a Romani community in the village of Vrbnica. According to reports, a group of 15 officers entered the community, allegedly to locate and arrest individuals evading arrest warrants, and severely beat, mistreated, and harassed a number of Romani residents. The investigation remained pending. At the same time, the investigation into several other police officers involved in the raid was halted, allegedly due to lack of evidence.

In November 2017 the Constitutional Court dismissed a motion protesting police brutality during a 2013 raid in a Romani settlement in the town of Moldava nad Bodvou as unsubstantiated. Six witnesses who had testified about excessive force used by police faced prosecution on charges of perjury. In June the district court in Kosice found two of the witnesses guilty in an accelerated procedure and sentenced them to suspended sentences. Both appealed the ruling and the cases remained pending. An expert testifying for the prosecution claimed the witnesses had a “Romani mentality,” which he claimed made them less trustworthy.

In May the Kosice regional court overturned for the second time a lower court ruling that acquitted all of the police officers accused in the 2009 case of police abuse against a group of six Romani boys between the ages of 11 and 15. The case was returned to the Kosice district court for the third time.

The LSNS continued to organize marches and gatherings against “asocial Gypsies.”

Police generally responded quickly to gatherings targeting the Romani community and prevented crowds from entering Romani communities or inciting confrontations.

In January during a visit to a Romani settlement in eastern Slovakia, then interior minister Robert Kalinak (Smer-SD) announced a new legislative package that included collecting statistics on “Roma crime,” greater police powers, and a constitutional amendment eliminating social benefits for persons who did not take appropriate care of their children. NGOs and the government plenipotentiary for Romani communities criticized the interior minister, claiming he incited hatred against the minority by portraying the Roma as a security and public order threat.

There were instances of public officials at every level defaming minorities and making derogatory comments about Roma. In April, MP Milan Mazurek (LSNS) was found guilty of anti-Roma hate speech for his remarks during a public radio broadcast in 2016. The Specialized Criminal Court in Banska Bystrica fined Mazurek 5,000 euros ($5,750) and gave him a suspended six-month prison sentence that he would serve should he fail to pay the fine.

Widespread discrimination against Roma continued in employment, education, health care, housing, loan practices, restaurants, hair salons, and public transportation.

In April the Kosice regional court issued a final decision affirming lower court rulings in favor of a Romani woman who was unjustly denied a job as a social worker in the town of Spisska Nova Ves, which must pay the woman 2,500 euros ($2,880) in compensation. In July a Presov district court ruled that the Sabinov municipality and the Transport Ministry had discriminated against local Sabinov Roma by moving them out of public housing in the center of the town and into substandard housing on the city’s periphery.

In May a Romani mother with her children was not allowed to participate in a celebration of Children’s Day in the eastern Slovak village of Velka Ida due to her ethnicity. The local mayor stated this was not discrimination because there were separate events for Roma and a separate Children’s Day event in a preschool. He implied that diseases in the local Romani settlement made it unsuitable for Romani children to attend the larger Children’s Day celebration.

Local authorities continued to use regulatory obstacles, such as withholding of construction permits, to discourage the legal establishment of Romani settlements. In August the Partizanske municipality demolished a dilapidated apartment building inhabited by Roma. NGOs criticized the city leadership for failing to provide replacement housing and pushing Roma inhabitants out of the city limits. The Kosice municipality advanced plans of demolitions of apartment buildings in the marginalized Romani district of Lunik IX but finalized documentation for new housing for the Lunik inhabitants.

NGOs reported Romani women faced multiple forms of discrimination in reproductive health care, including segregation in maternity departments, verbal harassment, and maltreatment by medical personnel. The hospitals claimed they grouped persons according to their levels of hygiene and adaptability, not by race. While there were no reported cases of forced or coerced sterilizations, NGOs continued to express concerns over the way in which medical personnel obtained informed consent from patients. Romani women continued to pursue compensation through the courts for past involuntary sterilization, and NGOs called on the government to establish an independent investigative body to determine the scope of the practice.

Romani children from socially excluded communities faced educational segregation and were disproportionately enrolled in “special” schools or placed in segregated classrooms within mainstream schools. A report issued during the year by the ombudsperson established that Romani children received an inferior education compared with their non-Romani peers. The report found a disproportionately high share (88 percent) of Romani children in “special” primary schools for children with mental disabilities and schools with special classes for Romani children. Only 15 percent of the Romani children surveyed had received preschool education, compared with 78 percent for the general population. The ombudsperson’s investigation also confirmed systemic discrimination against Romani children in academic and psychological testing, where authorities failed to consider personal and special circumstances of the individuals who were tested.

The Government Council on Human Rights, National Minorities, and Gender Equality operated a Committee for the Prevention and Elimination of Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism, and Other Forms of Intolerance.

The law bans the spreading of profascist propaganda and hatred in public, including on social media and hate speech against LGBTI individuals.

In June parliament adopted a resolution expressing deep concern over growing extremism and hatred in the country and stressing that the country must remain “built on values such as democracy, freedom and tolerance.”

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, education, state social services, health care, and access to goods and services and identifies sexual orientation as a hate crime motivation that warrants stiffer sentences.

LGBTI organizations reported the law requires that persons seeking legal gender recognition provide confirmation from a medical practitioner that a person has undergone a “gender change” to obtain new identity documents; however, the law does not define “gender change.” In practice authorities required confirmation that a person had undergone permanent sterilization before issuing new identity documents.

The law does not allow educational establishments to reissue educational certificates with a new first name and surname to transgender individuals after they have transitioned. The law does allow institutions to issue such individuals new birth certificates reflecting the name with which they identify.

NGOs reported violence and online harassment of LGBTI persons. In June a group of 10 men attacked two gay 17-year-old boys for holding hands in public in the western Slovak city of Trencin. The group attacked the teenagers in front of a nightclub, kicking and punching them while shouting homophobic slurs. Afraid to reveal their names, the boys refused to report the incident to police or press charges. A widely publicized attack on a Filipino man, who died in June after being brutally beaten for protecting his female colleagues from unwanted sexual advances in Bratislava, was also reportedly accompanied by antigay slurs.

In July SNS deputy chair Anton Hrnko criticized ombudsperson Maria Patakyova for giving a speech at Bratislava Rainbow Pride and accused her of contributing to the spread of “neoliberal gender ideology” which aimed “to dismantle the traditional family.”

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

NGOs reported violence and online hate speech towards refugees.

Government officials at all levels and leaders from across the political spectrum, including the opposition, engaged in rhetoric portraying refugees and Muslims as a threat to society.

In January then prime minister Fico stated he rejected the creation of Muslim communities in the country. On another occasion, Fico remarked that tourists wanted to come to the country because they did not have to fear explosions and know Muslims will not bother them in public squares.

Slovenia

Executive Summary

Slovenia is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional republic. Power is shared among a directly elected president (head of state), a prime minister (head of government), and a bicameral parliament composed of the National Assembly (lower house) and the National Council (upper house). On June 3, the country held parliamentary elections. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

Citizenship: Based on a 2012 decision by the ECHR, in 2013 the government introduced a system for providing just satisfaction (i.e., restitution for damages) for the “erased” citizens of other former Yugoslav republics denied the right to reside legally in the country in the 1990s. To date, more than 10,300 “erased” individuals have regularized their legal status in Slovenia. An additional 3,000 were presumed deceased, and approximately 12,000 were believed to be living abroad with no intention of returning to the country.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

In 2017 the Government Office for the Care and Integration of Migrants began operations. By law this office is responsible for ensuring the country meets its international commitments to provide services and protection to refugees, migrants, and displaced persons by coordinating the efforts of national authorities, NGOs, and other organizations. The office provided material support and accommodation to assist refugees through its asylum center and branches, managed reception and support assistance programs, and engaged with NGOs and international organizations to provide services and resettlement options to migrants. It offered medical services and psychological counseling, oversaw integration services for refugees and immigrants, cooperated with legal representatives of unaccompanied minors, and assisted police in deportation proceedings for those whose asylum claims were denied.

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

The local Amnesty International (AI) chapter stated that in early June Slovenian border authorities rejected without due process the asylum applications of at least 51 applicants and sent them back to Croatia. AI detailed its findings based on interviews with 70 individuals in late June near the Bosnia-Croatia border. Among those interviewed, 58 individuals said they reached Slovenia, where 51 individuals (mostly families from Syria, Iran, and Iraq and single men from Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Egypt) said they intended to seek asylum. These individuals claimed Slovenian border police failed to provide interpreters and denied or ignored their requests for asylum, forcibly returning them to Croatian police, who then deported them to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On July 19, former ministry of interior state secretary Bostjan Sefic publicly rejected AI’s allegations and stated border officials behaved professionally and in accordance with all required national and European legislation with respect to human rights and the right to international protection. Slovenian police also rejected accusations of forcibly returning asylum applicants to Croatian police and explained that the returns involved individuals who abused procedures by announcing an intention to file asylum applications but failed to do so.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The Dublin III regulation obligates the country, as a member state of the EU, to consider all EU countries as safe countries of origin and transit. Under the regulation the government may return an asylum seeker entering from another EU country to the country in which the person first entered the EU; however, pursuant to a decision by the ECHR, the government did not return asylum seekers to Greece.

Freedom of Movement: Local NGOs reported unjustifiable limitations on the movement of asylum seekers residing in government-operated integration houses and asserted that no legal grounds existed for these limitations. The NGO Legal Information Center filed a proceeding against the Government Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants on this issue, which was pending at year’s end.

Local NGOs criticized as inappropriate the government’s housing of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers alongside adults in the police-managed Foreigners Home in Postojna. Determining the age of unaccompanied asylum seekers remained a challenge.

Employment: Asylum seekers outside of EU resettlement and relocation programs often waited six or more months for their cases to be adjudicated and were barred from working during the initial nine months of this period, although many reportedly worked illegally. Local NGOs criticized this restriction, asserting it made asylum seekers vulnerable to labor exploitation due to their illegal status, lack of knowledge of local labor laws, and language barriers.

Durable Solutions: In 2016 the government approved an EU plan to relocate 567 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece and to resettle 20 refugees from other non-EU countries. The government also agreed to resettle 40 Syrian refugees from Turkey. As of September, the country had resettled 27 individuals from Turkey. Individuals accepted for resettlement received the same integration services as refugees as well as a three-month orientation program to familiarize them with the country.

Of the 567 refugees that the country agreed to accept in 2016 under the EU relocation plan, 253 lived in the country. In this group 244 have acquired refugee status, and most lived in private homes. In August the government announced the country had fully honored its commitments under the EU relocation plan but was unable to resettle all 567 migrants because Greece and Italy did not submit the necessary documentation. The government provided housing and sufficient resources to meet refugees’ basic needs.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, but the Ministry of Interior did not maintain separate statistics for refugees and those who qualified for subsidiary protection. In the first eight months of the year, the Government Office for Support and Integration of Migrants accepted and housed 2,222 applicants for international protection status. As of late August, there were 523 persons with international protection status in the country.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape and domestic violence, is illegal. Sexual violence is a criminal offense and the penalty for conviction is six months’ to eight years’ imprisonment. The penalty for conviction of rape is one to 10 years’ imprisonment. Police actively investigated accusations of rape and courts tried accused offenders.

The law provides from six months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment for aggravated and grievous bodily harm. Upon receiving reports of spousal abuse or violence, police generally intervened and prosecuted offenders, but local NGOs reported that victims of sexual violence often did not report crimes to police.

There was a network of maternity homes, safe houses, and shelters for women and children who were victims of violence. The police academy offered annual training on domestic violence. Local NGOs reported women lacked equal access to assistance and support services and that free psychosocial assistance from NGOs was unavailable in many parts of the country. NGOs also reported a lack of practical training and educational programs for professionals who are legally bound to offer services to survivors of violence. NGOs highlighted the lack of systematic and continuous prevention programs for domestic violence and rape and reported there were no specialized support programs for Romani women, elderly women, or other vulnerable groups.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense carrying a penalty if convicted of up to three years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits sexual harassment, psychological violence, mistreatment, or unequal treatment in the workplace that causes “another employee’s humiliation or fear.” Authorities did not prosecute any sexual harassment cases during the year.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. Despite legal provisions for equal pay, inequities persisted.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from the parents with certain limitations. A child is granted citizenship at birth if the child’s mother and father were citizens, or one of the child’s parents was a citizen and the child was born on the territory of the country, or one of the child’s parents was a citizen while the other parent was unknown or of unknown citizenship and the child was born in a foreign country. Naturalization is possible. Children of migrants and asylum seekers do not qualify for citizenship if they are born in Slovenia, although their parents may file for asylum or refugee status on their behalf.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is a criminal offense and conviction carries a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment. In the first half of the year, police reported 48 cases of child abuse and 179 cases of negligence. The number of reported cases is roughly on track with 2017 cases. In October authorities closed the Kengurujcki (“Little Kangaroos”) child-care facility following allegations of child abuse. After alerting staff to the inappropriate treatment of children, a newly hired employee at “Little Kangaroos” recorded a video showing children ages 11 months to four years subjected to force-feeding and life-threatening ways to prevent toddlers from crying. The video showed a baby with her head and body tightly wrapped in sheets with a mattress on top of her. The employee showed the video to parents, and they jointly reported the case to the police. A police and educational inspectorate investigation was underway.

There were 10 crisis centers for youth, with a combined capacity for 86 children. The government allowed children to stay at these centers until they reached age 21, if they were still in school.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. Centers for social service may approve marriage of a person younger than age 18, together with the approval of parents or legal guardians. Child marriage occurred within the Romani community but was not a widespread problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Statutory rape carries a prison sentence of one to eight years in prison. The law sets the minimum age of consent for sexual relations at 15. The government generally enforced the law.

The possession, sale, purchase, or propagation of child pornography is illegal, and the government enforced the law effectively. The penalty for conviction of violations ranged from six months to eight years in prison.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 300 Jews in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic violence or overt discrimination.

In November, in the city of Velenje, police arrested a juvenile for public incitement of hatred and intolerance for hanging in June of six Nazi-themed posters in public places. The president and prime minister strongly condemned the act, and the case remained pending. The government promoted antibias and tolerance education in primary and secondary schools, and the Holocaust was a mandatory topic in the history curriculum.

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, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but modification of public and private structures to improve access continued at a slow pace, and some buildings–particularly older buildings–were not accessible. The law provides social welfare assistance and early-childhood, elementary, secondary, and vocational education programs for children with disabilities. It also provides vocational and independent living resources for adults with disabilities. The government continued to implement laws and programs to provide persons with disabilities with access to education, employment, health services, buildings, information, communications, the judicial system, transportation, and other state services. The government generally enforced these provisions effectively.

Changes to the electoral law require all polling stations to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the National Electoral Commission estimated that as of the presidential election in fall 2017, only 56 percent of local polling stations were accessible to persons with disabilities. In the June 3 parliamentary elections, the National Electoral Commission used seven mobile ballot boxes to provide for equal access of voters with disabilities. Voters with disabilities who are unable to reach a polling station on election day may also vote by mail.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Three officially recognized ethnic minorities live in the country: Roma (estimated at 7,000 to 11,000), Hungarians (approximately 8,000), and Italians (approximately 4,000). The approximately 2,000 ethnic Germans are not recognized as an official minority group.

Discrimination against socially marginalized Roma persisted in some parts of the country. Organizations monitoring conditions in the Romani community noted that Roma faced difficulties securing adequate housing in traditional housing markets. Many Roma lived apart from other communities in illegal settlements lacking basic utilities, such as electricity, running water, sanitation, and access to transportation. Government officials emphasized that the illegality of settlements remained the biggest obstacle to providing Roma access to adequate housing, water, and sanitation. By law only owners or persons with another legal claim to land, such as legal tenants, may obtain public services and infrastructure, such as water, electricity, and sanitation.

While visiting the country in April, the UN special rapporteur on minority issues said Roma continued to be the most vulnerable community in Slovenia and called on authorities to address recurrent problems within the Romani community. He noted Romani homes were often built without permits and highlighted difficulties Roma encountered in finding employment and accessing public services.

Organizations monitoring conditions in the Romani community and officials employed in schools with large Romani student populations unofficially reported that high illiteracy rates among Roma persisted. While education for children is compulsory through grade nine, school attendance and completion rates by Romani children remained low. Silvo Mesojedec, head of Novo Mesto’s Civil Initiative for Roma Issues, said less than 1 percent of inhabitants in Zabjak-Brezje (the country’s largest illegal Romani settlement with approximately 700 inhabitants) have finished primary school.

The Centre for School and Outdoor Education continued its 2016-22 project on Romani education, which the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport and the European Social Fund financed. The project helps Romani children succeed in the educational system through mentoring and support, including extracurricular activities and preschool education at community multipurpose centers. Although segregated classrooms are illegal, a number of Roma reported to NGOs their children attended segregated classes and that school authorities selected them disproportionately to attend classes for students with special needs.

In May the government adopted the National Program of Measures for Roma for 2017-21 to improve the Romani community through 41 specific measures, such as promoting education, employment, and social inclusion, improving health-care access, reducing poverty, and providing antidiscrimination training. The Office for National Minorities is to coordinate this program and monitor its implementation. NGOs observed that, although government consulted Romani community representatives in preparing the National Program, it focused too much on project-based initiatives and did not adequately adopt the Romani community’s suggestions to address systemic issues, such as a lack of electricity, running water, sanitation, and access to transportation.

A government-established commission to safeguard the rights of Roma continued to function. The commission included representatives from the Romani community, municipalities, and the government.

Representatives of the Romani community participated in a program that improved communication between police and individual Roma through discrimination prevention training for police officers working in Romani communities. The government provided medical equipment to health-care facilities and supported programs, workshops, and educational initiatives to provide best practices for health-care professionals working in Romani communities.

The NGO Roma Academic Club organized lectures and workshops for high school and university students on Romani culture and discrimination towards the Romani community.

In March the German-speaking community called on the government to begin the process of officially recognizing the community as a minority in the constitution. They called on the government to address fields of education in German, recognition of the minority language in radio and television programming, and the provision of funds.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services. The government enforced such laws effectively, but societal discrimination was widespread.

The law considers crimes against LGBTI persons to be hate crimes and prohibits incitement to hatred based on sexual orientation. The Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities, as well as NGOs and law enforcement authorities, recorded incidents, but they did not track the number of cases of violence against LGBTI persons.

While the law and implementing regulations establish procedures for legal gender recognition, LGBTI NGOs maintained the provisions are too general; subject to misinterpretation; and insufficiently protect the rights to health, privacy, and physical integrity of transgender persons. For example, NGOs reported only two psychologists were authorized to provide documentation required for individuals to begin the process, which resulted in waiting times up to one year.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

NGOs reported HIV-positive individuals often faced stigma and discrimination in access to health care. For example, Activists for the Rights of People Living with HIV and medical experts from the Clinic for Infectious Diseases and Febrile Conditions reported 90 percent of individuals living with HIV experienced discrimination in medical institutions due to their HIV status. In one case, an HIV-positive patient said a dentist refused to provide dental services to him due to his HIV status. This patient filed a suit against the dentist, and the court ruled the dentist did discriminate against him due to his HIV-positive status. Local activists hailed the case as a landmark ruling in legal protections of HIV-positive persons.

Solomon Islands

Executive Summary

Solomon Islands is a constitutional multiparty parliamentary democracy. Observers considered the 2014 parliamentary election generally free and fair, although there were incidents of vote buying. Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as prime minister after the election, and he formed a coalition government. In November 2017, after a vote of no confidence against Sogavare, parliament elected Ricky Houenipwela prime minister, and he formed a new coalition government.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included corruption; criminalization of same-sex sexual activity, although the law was not enforced; and child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons and other persons of concern.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The government continued to provide land for persons displaced in 2014 and 2015 due to natural disasters.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year, and there were no known refugees in the country.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Domestic violence is a crime, with a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a fine of SBD 30,000 ($3,630).

Police made efforts to charge offenders for domestic violence and assault against women. In June, for example, three male nurses at Kilu’ufi Hospital Psychiatric Unit allegedly raped a 15-year-old mentally ill female patient. Police were investigating the allegation, but as of September, police had not arrested or charged the three suspects. As part of the police curriculum, officers receive specialized training on how to work with rape victims. Police have a Sexual Assault Unit, staffed mostly by female officers, to provide support to victims and investigate charges. In reported cases of domestic abuse, victims often dropped charges before a court appearance, or settled cases out of court. In cases in which charges were filed, the time between the charging of an individual and the subsequent court hearing could be as long as two years. The magistrates’ courts dealt with physical abuse of women as with any other assault, but prosecutions were rare due to low judicial and police capacity and cultural bias against women.

With donor funding and support, the government conducted training workshops for local court officials in how to process cases of domestic violence and rape. The training focused on how to apply relevant laws and policies and use referral networks to support victims.

Violence against women, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem but was underreported. Among the reasons cited for failure to report abuse were pressure from male relatives, fear of reprisals, feelings of shame, and cultural taboos on discussing such matters.

A 2011 World Health Organization report revealed more than half of the women in the country had experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner and that 64 percent of women age 15 to 49 years regularly experienced violence in the home.

The Family Protection Act requires that victims of domestic violence have access to counseling and medical services, legal support, and a safe place within the community if they cannot return home. The government has a referral system in place to coordinate these services, but referral agencies often lacked funding, especially in rural areas. The Family Support Center and a church-run facility for abused women provided counseling and other support services for women.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The incidence of customary bride-price payments continued to increase and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not illegal and was a widespread problem.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: While the law accords women equal legal rights, including the right to own property, most women were limited to customary family roles that prevented them from taking more active roles in economic and political life. No laws mandate equal pay for work of equal value (see section 7.d.). The government did not provide sufficient resources to enforce equal rights laws effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship through their parents. The laws do not allow dual citizenship for adults, and persons who acquire dual citizenship at birth must decide by age 18 years which citizenship to retain. Registration delays did not result in denial of public services to children.

Education: Education was neither free nor compulsory. The government continued to implement its Free Fee Basic Education Policy, which covers the operational costs for children to attend school but allows school management to request additional contributions from families in the form of cash, labor, or school fundraising. The policy is intended to increase educational access by subsidizing school fees for students age six to 15 years in grades one through nine, but it rarely covered all costs. The additional school fees and other costs or required contributions prevented some children from attending school. According to 2013 data from the Asian Development Bank, 75 percent of boys who entered primary school reached the final grade, whereas only 69 percent of girls did. According to the bank, gender imbalance in education decreased from earlier years.

Child Abuse: The law grants children the same general rights and protections as adults, with some exceptions. The law mandates the Social Welfare Division of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services to coordinate child protection services and authorizes the courts to issue protection orders in cases of serious child abuse or neglect. Laws do not specifically prohibit the use of children in illicit activities such as drug trafficking.

The government did not provide sufficient resources to enforce laws designed to protect children from sexual abuse, child labor, and neglect (see section 7.c.). The law criminalizes domestic violence including violence against children, but lacked public awareness and enforcement. Child sexual and physical abuse remained significant problems. Nonetheless, the traditional extended-family system generally respected and protected children in accordance with a family’s financial resources and access to services.

Early and Forced Marriage: Both boys and girls may legally marry at age 15 years, and the law permits marriage at age 14 with parental and village consent. Marriage at such young ages was not common.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is age 15 years. The maximum penalty for sexual relations with a girl younger than age 13 is life imprisonment, and for sexual relations with a girl age 13 to 15, the penalty is five years’ imprisonment. Consent is not a permissible defense under these provisions; however, in the latter case, reasonable belief the victim was age 15 years or older is a permissible defense. Selling or hiring minors younger than age 15 and girls younger than age 18 for prostitution is punishable as a criminal offense. Prostitution laws do not cover boys age 15 to 18 and therefore leaves them without legal protection. There were reports of workers in logging camps sexually exploiting girls as young as age 12, but in most cases, official charges were not filed.

Child pornography is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. Amendments to the penal code passed in 2017 criminalize commercial sexual exploitation of children and participation in or use, distribution, and storing of sexually exploitative materials with children, and some forms of internal child trafficking. Within the country girls and boys were exploited in prostitution and sexual servitude.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

No law or national policy prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and no legislation mandates access to buildings, information, or communications for such individuals. Very few buildings were accessible to persons with disabilities. In August parliament passed changes to the Electoral Act that require electoral officials to provide special accommodation for voters with disabilities.

The country had one separate educational facility, supported almost entirely by the International Committee of the Red Cross, for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities could attend mainstream schools, but inaccessible facilities and a lack of resources often made it difficult for them to access education. No law requires reasonable accommodations in the workplace and high unemployment nationwide made it difficult for persons with disabilities to find work, particularly in rural areas.

The government relied upon families to meet the needs of persons with mental disabilities, and there were very limited government facilities or services for such persons.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country has more than 27 major islands with approximately 70 language groups. Many islanders saw themselves first as members of a clan, next as inhabitants of their natal island, and only third as citizens of their nation. Tensions and resentment between the Guadalcanalese and the Malaitans on Guadalcanal culminated in violence beginning in 1998. Reconciliation ceremonies organized during the year led to further easing of tensions between the two groups. Underlying problems between the two groups remained, however, including issues related to jobs and land rights.

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

“Sodomy” is illegal, as are “indecent practices between persons of the same sex.” The maximum penalty for the former is 14 years’ imprisonment and for the latter five years. There were no reports of arrests or prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons under these provisions during the year, and authorities generally did not enforce these laws.

There are no specific antidiscrimination laws based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although stigma may hinder some from reporting.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was societal discrimination toward persons with HIV/AIDS, but unlike in the past, there were no specific reports of disownment by families and no reports of violence targeting persons with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were three reported cases of sorcery-related violence during the year. The violence typically targeted the most vulnerable persons: young women, widows without male sons, and the elderly.

In February, Prime Minister Houenipwela launched the second phase of the UN Peacebuilding Project aimed at consolidating peace, stability, and social cohesion. With support from the UN Peacebuilding Project, the government hosted stakeholder dialogues targeting women and youth as key agents for peacebuilding efforts.

Somalia

Executive Summary

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo,” following his election by a joint vote of the two houses of parliament in February 2017, led the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), formed in 2012. President Farmaajo succeeded President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who peacefully stepped down from power following his electoral defeat. Members of the two houses of parliament were selected through indirect elections conducted from October 2016 through January 2017, with House of the People membership based on clan and Upper House membership based on state. The electoral process for both houses was widely viewed as flawed and marred with corruption, but the two houses of parliament elected President Farmaajo in a process viewed as fair and transparent. The government of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland in the northwest and the regional government of Puntland in the northeast controlled their respective jurisdictions. As these administrations exercised greater authority in their areas, they were also more capable of infringing on the rights of citizens. The administrations of Galmudug, Jubaland, South West State, and Hirshabelle did not fully control their jurisdictions. The terrorist organization al-Shabaab retained control of the Juba River Valley and maintained operational freedom of movement in many other areas in the south-central part of the country. Conflict during the year involving the government, militias, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and al-Shabaab resulted in death, injury, and displacement of civilians.

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces and had limited ability to provide human rights protections to society.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings of civilians by security forces, clan militias, and unknown assailants; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary and politically motivated arrest and detentions, including of journalists; criminal libel; use of child soldiers; forced eviction, relocation and sexual abuse of internally displaced persons (IDPs); disruption, and diversion of humanitarian assistance; citizens’ lack of ability to change their government through free and fair elections; violence against women, partly caused by government inaction; trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and forced labor, including by children.

Impunity generally remained the norm. Government authorities took minimal steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed violations, particularly military and police officials accused of committing rape, killings, clan violence, and extortion.

Clan militias and the terrorist group al-Shabaab continued to commit grave abuses throughout the country; al-Shabaab committed the majority of severe human rights abuses, particularly terrorist attacks on civilians and targeted assassinations including extrajudicial and politically motivated killings; disappearances; cruel and unusual punishment; rape; and attacks on employees of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the United Nations. They also blocked humanitarian assistance, conscripted child soldiers, and restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement. AMISOM troops killed civilians (see section 1.g.).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, providing penalties of five to 15 years in prison for violations. Military court sentences for rape included death. The government did not effectively enforce the law. There are no federal laws against spousal violence, including rape, although in 2016 the Council of Ministers approved a national gender policy that gives the government the right to sue anyone convicted of committing gender-based violence, such as the killing or rape of a woman. On August 28, the Somaliland president signed into law the Sexual Offenses Bill, which provides punishment up to 20 years’ imprisonment for perpetrators and compensation for victims. Puntland enacted a state law against sexual offenses in 2016 that provides for life imprisonment or the death penalty for offenses such as rape using a weapon. In 2017 Puntland opened its first forensic laboratory, and the attorney general hired 10 female lawyers to serve as experts in rape and sexual violence cases.

Somali NGOs documented patterns of rape perpetrated with impunity, particularly of female IDPs and members of minority clans.

Government forces, militia members, and men wearing uniforms raped women and girls. While the army arrested some security force members accused of such rapes, impunity was the norm.

IDPs and members of marginalized clans and groups suffered disproportionately from gender-based violence. Police were reluctant to investigate and sometimes asked survivors to do the investigatory work for their own cases. Some survivors of rape were forced to marry perpetrators.

Authorities rarely used formal structures to address rape. Survivors suffered from subsequent discrimination based on the attribution of “impurity.”

In April following a clan conflict, an opposing clan member raped and attacked a 13-year-old girl, causing grievous bodily injuries. The Galmudug government had not prosecuted the alleged perpetrator.

Local civil society organizations in Somaliland reported that gang rape continued to be a problem in urban areas, primarily perpetrated by youth gangs and male students. It often occurred in poorer neighborhoods and among immigrants, returned refugees, and displaced rural populations living in urban areas.

Domestic and sexual violence against women remained serious problems despite the provisional federal constitution provision prohibiting any form of violence against women. While both sharia and customary law address the resolution of family disputes, women were not included in the decision-making process.

Al-Shabaab also committed sexual violence, including through forced marriages. Al-Shabaab sentenced persons to death for rape.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Although the provisional federal constitution describes female circumcision as cruel and degrading, equates it with torture, and prohibits the circumcision of girls, FGM/C was almost universally practiced throughout the country.

After a 10-year-old girl died following the FGM/C process in July, Attorney General Ahmed Ali Dahir promised to carry out an investigation and to bring responsible parties to court. Two sisters, ages 10 and 11, bled to death in Arawda North village in Galdogob district, Puntland in September after undergoing FGM/C. No charges had been filed in either case.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Adultery in al-Shabaab-controlled areas was punishable by death. In May a woman was stoned to death in the town of Sablale, Lower Shabelle Region after al-Shabaab members accused her of polygamy.

Sexual Harassment: The provisional federal constitution states that workers, particularly women, shall have a special right of protection from sexual abuse and discrimination. Nevertheless, sexual harassment was believed to be widespread.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women did not have the same rights as men and experienced systematic subordination to men, despite provisions in the federal constitution prohibiting such discrimination. Women experienced discrimination in credit, education, politics, and housing. In 2016, five months after the Council of Ministers approved a national gender policy to increase women’s political participation, economic empowerment, and the education of girls, the Somali Religious Council publicly warned the government against advocating for women in politics. The council called the 30 percent quota for women’s seats in parliament “dangerous” and against Islamic religious tenets and predicted the policy would lead to disintegration of the family. When the minister for human rights and women tabled the sexual offenses bill, religious clerics called for her to be criminally charged.

Only men administered sharia, which often was applied in the interests of men. According to sharia and the local tradition of blood compensation, anyone found guilty of the death of a woman paid to the victim’s family only half the amount required to compensate for a man’s death.

The exclusion of women was more pronounced in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, where women’s participation in economic activities was perceived as anti-Islamic.

While formal law and sharia provide women the right to own and dispose of property independently, various legal, cultural, and societal barriers often obstructed women from exercising such rights. By law girls and women could inherit only half the amount of property to which their brothers were entitled.

Children

Birth Registration: The provisional federal constitution provides that there is only one Somali citizenship and calls for a special law defining how to obtain, suspend, or lose it. As of year’s end, parliament had not passed such a law.

According to UNICEF data from 2010 to 2015, authorities registered 3 percent of births in the country. Authorities in Puntland and in the southern and central regions did not register births. Birth registration occurred in Somaliland, but numerous births in the region were unregistered. Failure to register births did not result in denial of public services, such as education.

Education: The provisional constitution provides the right to a free education up to the secondary level, but education was not free, compulsory, or universal. In many areas, children did not have access to schools. Nearly one-half of the student-age population remained out of school due to barriers such as poverty in rural areas, poor school safety, exorbitant school fees, and competing household and labor demands. NGOs and nonstate private actors attempted to fill this gap, but with different curricula, standards, and languages of instruction. Preprimary Islamic education continued to be prevalent, and often led to late primary student enrollment. Girls faced additional challenges of early marriage and low prioritization of girls’ education, leading to even lower attendance. There was an insufficient supply of qualified teachers, particularly female teachers.

The government lacked funds to provide effective education countrywide, a gap partially filled by NGOs and nonstate private actors, and its reach was often limited to more secure urban areas.

Child Abuse: Child abuse and rape of children were serious problems and there were no known efforts by the government or regional governments to combat child abuse. Children remained among the chief victims of continuing societal violence.

The practice of “asi walid,” whereby parents placed their children in boarding schools, other institutions, and sometimes prison for disciplinary purposes and without any legal procedure, continued throughout the country.

Early and Forced Marriage: The provisional federal constitution requires both marriage partners to have reached the “age of maturity” and defines a child as a person younger than 18. It notes marriage requires the free consent of both the man and woman to be legal. Early marriages frequently occurred. In areas under its control, al-Shabaab arranged compulsory marriages between its soldiers and young girls and used the lure of marriage as a recruitment tool. There were no known efforts by the government or regional authorities to prevent early and forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child prostitution is illegal in all regions. There is no statutory rape law or minimum age for consensual sex. The law does not expressly prohibit child pornography. The law on sexual exploitation was rarely enforced, and such exploitation reportedly was frequent.

Child Soldiers: The use of child soldiers remained a problem (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: There was a large population of IDPs and children who lived and worked on the streets.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The provisional federal constitution provides equal rights before the law for persons with disabilities and prohibits the state from discriminating against them. Authorities did not enforce these provisions. The provisional federal constitution does not discuss discrimination by nongovernmental actors.

The needs of most persons with disabilities were not addressed. According to Amnesty International, persons with disabilities faced daily human rights abuses, such as unlawful killings, violence including rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced evictions, and lack of access to health care or an adequate standard of living. Children and adults with all types of disabilities were often not included in programs aimed at supporting people in the country, including humanitarian assistance. IDPs were often victims of multiple forced evictions. Domestic violence and forced marriage were prevalent practices affecting persons with disabilities. Women and girls with disabilities faced an increased risk of rape and other forms of sexual violence, often with impunity, due to perceptions that their disabilities were a burden to the family or that such persons were of less value and could be abused.

Without a public health infrastructure, few services existed to provide support or education for persons with mental disabilities. It was common for such persons to be chained to a tree or restrained within their homes.

Local organizations advocated for the rights of persons with disabilities with negligible support from local authorities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

More than 85 percent of the population shared a common ethnic heritage, religion, and nomad-influenced culture. In most areas, the predominant clan excluded members of other groups from effective participation in governing institutions and subjected them to discrimination in employment, judicial proceedings, and access to public services.

Minority groups, often lacking armed militias, continued to be disproportionately subjected to killings, torture, rape, kidnapping for ransom, and looting of land and property with impunity by faction militias and majority clan members, often with the acquiescence of federal and local authorities. Many minority communities continued to live in deep poverty and to suffer from numerous forms of discrimination and exclusion.

In September an ethnically Bantu man in Mogadishu was burned to death by the family of his recently married nephew’s wife because they belonged to a higher-ranking clan.

Fighting between clans resulted in deaths and injuries (see section 1.g.).

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

Same-sex sexual contact is punishable by imprisonment for three months to three years. The country’s penal code classifies sexual violence as an “offense against modesty and sexual honor” rather than as a violation of bodily integrity, and punishes same-sex intercourse. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no known lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations and no reports of events. There were few reports of societal violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity due to severe societal stigma that prevented LGBTI individuals from making their sexual orientation or gender identity known publicly. There were no known actions to investigate or punish those complicit in abuses. Hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms do not exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTI community.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS continued to face discrimination and abuse in their local communities and by employers in all regions. The United Nations reported that persons with HIV/AIDS experienced physical abuse, rejection by their families, and workplace discrimination and dismissal. Children of HIV-positive parents also suffered discrimination, which hindered access to services. There was no official response to such discrimination.

South Africa

Executive Summary

South Africa is a multiparty parliamentary democracy in which constitutional power is shared among the executive, judiciary, and parliament branches. In December 2017 the ruling African National Congress (ANC) elected then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as party president. On February 14, then president of the country Jacob Zuma announced he would step down. Of February 15, the National Assembly elected Ramaphosa to replace Zuma. In 2014 the country held a largely free and fair national election in which the ruling ANC won 62 percent of the vote and 249 of 400 seats in the National Assembly.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government agents; corruption; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Although the government investigated and prosecuted officials who committed abuses, there were numerous reports of impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women, including spousal rape, is illegal and remained a serious and pervasive problem. The minimum sentence for conviction of rape is 10 years in prison for the first offense. Under certain circumstances, such as second or third offenses, multiple rapes, gang rapes, or the rape of a minor or a person with disabilities, conviction requires a minimum sentence of life imprisonment, unless substantial and compelling circumstances exist to justify a lesser sentence. Perpetrators with previous rape convictions and perpetrators aware of being HIV positive at the time of the rape also face a minimum sentence of life imprisonment, unless substantial and compelling circumstances exist to justify a lesser sentence.

In most cases attackers were acquaintances or family members of the victim, which contributed to a reluctance to press charges, as did a poor security climate and societal attitudes. In June, Khensani Maseko, a Rhodes University student, committed suicide after being raped by her boyfriend. In response the Department of Higher Education drafted a policy that requires institutions to expand support for victims of sexual violence and that perpetrators be prosecuted. From April 2017 through March, 40,525 cases of rape were reported. According to the 2017-2018 NPA Annual Report, the conviction rate for sexual offense crimes was 73 percent based on a sample of 6,879 cases that were “finalized” or investigated first as rape cases before being passed to the NPA and tried. A Medical Research Council study on the investigation, prosecution, and adjudication of reported rape cases concluded that only 18.5 percent of cases reported went to trial and only 8.6 percent of cases resulted in a verdict of guilty. Prosecutors chose not to prosecute many cases due to insufficient evidence. Poor police training, insufficient forensic lab capacity, a lack of trauma counseling for victim witnesses, and overburdened courts contributed to the low conviction rate.

The Department of Justice operated 58 dedicated sexual-offenses courts throughout the country. Although judges in rape cases generally followed statutory sentencing guidelines, women’s advocacy groups criticized judges for using criteria such as the victim’s behavior or relationship to the rapist as a basis for imposing lighter sentences.

The NPA operated 55 rape management centers, or TCCs (Thuthuzela Care Centers). All TCCs were located at hospitals. Of rape cases brought to TCCs, 47 percent went to trial and were terminated–by either conviction or acquittal–within nine months from the date a victim reported the case.

Domestic violence was pervasive and included physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, as well as harassment and stalking. The government prosecuted domestic violence cases under laws governing rape, indecent assault, damage to property, and violating a protection order. The law requires police to protect victims from domestic violence, but police commanders did not always hold officers accountable. Conviction of violating a protection order is punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years, or up to 20 years if additional criminal charges apply. Penalties for conviction of domestic violence include fines and sentences of between two and five years’ imprisonment.

The government financed shelters for abused women, but NGOs reported a shortage of such facilities, particularly in rural areas, and that women were sometimes turned away from shelters. The government conducted rape and domestic violence awareness campaigns, including a first-of-its-kind GBV summit. In August the government hosted numerous events focused on empowering women in business, government, health, sports, and the arts; however, many civil society organizations were critical of the Ministry of Women’s general focus on women’s economic empowerment while neglecting the issue of GBV.

On August 1, women across the country participated in #TotalShutdown, a one-day protest against violence against women. According to SAPS, the number of incidents of violence against women and children drastically increased nationwide during the year. In November, SAPS arrested two suspects in connection with the killing of three women and four children from one family in Vlakfontein (south of Johannesburg).

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of girls and women, but girls in isolated zones in ethnic Venda communities in Limpopo Province were subjected to the practice. The government continued initiatives to eradicate the practice, including national research and sensitization workshops in areas where FGM/C was prevalent. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Harassment: Although the law prohibits sexual harassment, it remained a widespread problem. With criminal prosecution a rare secondary step that the complainant must request, the government left enforcement primarily to employers. The Department of Labor issued guidelines to employers on how to handle workplace complaints that allow for remuneration of a victim’s lost compensation plus interest, additional damages, legal fees, and dismissal of the perpetrator in some circumstances.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of forced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Discrimination: Discrimination against women remained a serious problem despite legal equality in family, labor, property, inheritance, nationality, divorce, and child custody matters. Women experienced economic discrimination in wages, extension of credit, and ownership of land.

Traditional patrilineal authorities, such as a chief or a council of elders, administered many rural areas. Some traditional authorities refused to grant land tenure to women, a precondition for access to housing subsidies. Women could challenge traditional land tenure decisions in courts, but access to legal counsel was costly.

According to the Employment Equity Amendment Act, any difference in the terms or conditions of employment among employees of the same employer performing the same, substantially similar, or equal value work constitutes discrimination. The act expressly prohibits unequal pay for work of equal value and discriminatory practices, including unequal pay and separate pension funds for different groups in a company.

The minister of women in the Presidency, the Commission for Gender Equality, the Commission for Employment Equity, and a number of other government bodies monitored and promoted women’s rights, as did numerous NGOs and labor unions.

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides for citizenship by birth (if at least one parent is a permanent resident or citizen), descent, and naturalization. Nevertheless, registration of births was inconsistent, especially in remote rural areas or among parents who were unregistered foreign nationals. Children without birth registration had no access to free government services such as education or health care, and their parents had no access to financial grants for their children. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Public education is compulsory and universal until age 15 or grade nine. Public education is fee-based and not fully subsidized by the government. Nevertheless, the law provides that schools may not refuse admission to children due to a lack of funds; disadvantaged children, who were mainly black, were eligible for assistance. Even when children qualified for fee exemptions, low-income parents had difficulty paying for uniforms and supplies. In violation of law, noncitizen children were sometimes denied access to education.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal. The penalties for conviction of child abuse include fines and up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Violence against children, including domestic violence and sexual abuse, remained widespread.

Some teachers and other school staff harassed, abused, raped, and assaulted students in schools, according to reports. The law requires schools to disclose sexual abuse to authorities, but administrators sometimes concealed sexual violence or delayed disciplinary action.

In April a Hermanus (Western Cape) schoolteacher was tried for the rape and kidnapping at gunpoint of a female pupil. The trial continued at year’s end.

Early and Forced Marriage: By law parental or judicial consent to marry is required for individuals younger than 18. Nevertheless, ukuthwala, the practice of abducting girls as young as age 12 and forcing them into marriage, occurred in remote villages in Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces. The law prohibits nonconsensual ukuthwala and classifies it as a trafficking offense. According to the 2016 State of the World’s Children Report of the UN Children’s Fund, 6 percent of girls in the country were married before age 18. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for conviction of sexual exploitation of a child include fines and imprisonment of up to 20 years. By law the age of consent is 16. The statutory sentence for conviction of rape of a child is life in prison, although the law grants judicial discretion to issue sentences that are more lenient.

The law prohibits child pornography and provides for penalties including fines and imprisonment of up to 10 years. The Film and Publications Board maintained a website and a toll-free hotline for the public to report incidents of child pornography.

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

Anti-Semitism

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies estimated the Jewish community at 75,000 to 80,000 persons. There were reports of verbal abuse, hate speech, harassment, and attacks on Jewish persons or property. Government and political representatives made anti-Semitic statements.

Twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie, arrested in 2016 for allegedly planning to set off explosives at Jewish establishments, continued to await trial at year’s end. They were charged with contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terror and Related Activities law and with having ties to a foreign terrorist organization.

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 based on physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disability in employment or access to health care, the judicial system, and education. Persons identified by the courts as having a mental disability, however, are prohibited by law from voting. Department of Transportation policies on providing services to persons with disabilities were consistent with the constitution’s prohibition on discrimination. The Department of Labor ran vocational centers at which persons with disabilities learned skills to earn a living. Nevertheless, government and private-sector discrimination existed. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but such regulations were rarely enforced, and public awareness of them remained minimal.

According to the 2017-2018 Annual Report of the Department of Basic Education, there were numerous barriers to education for students with disabilities, primarily a policy of channeling students into specialized schools at the expense of inclusive education. Separate schools frequently charged additional fees (making them financially inaccessible), were located long distances from students’ homes, and lacked the capacity to accommodate demand. Children often were housed in dormitories with few adults, many of whom had little or no training in caring for children with disabilities. When parents attempted to force mainstream schools to accept their children with disabilities–an option provided for by law–schools sometimes rejected the students outright because of their disabilities or claimed there was no room. Many blind and deaf children in mainstream schools received only basic care rather than education.

The law prohibits harassment of persons with disabilities and, in conjunction with the Employment Equity Act, provides guidelines on the recruitment and selection of persons with disabilities, reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities, and guidelines on proper handling of employees’ medical information. Enforcement of this law was limited.

Persons with disabilities were sometimes subject to abuse and attacks, and prisoners with mental disabilities often received no psychiatric care. According to the 2016 Optimus Study, children with disabilities were 78 percent more likely than children without disabilities to have experienced sexual abuse in the home. According to media reports, in June a mute 11-year-old boy was raped at the Golden Hours Special Needs School in Durban North.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Incidents of racism continued. In March, Vicki Momberg was convicted of crimen injuria (see section 2.a.) for repeatedly addressing black police officers with a racial slur and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment without parole. She was recorded on video using the “K-word” 48 times at the officers who were trying to assist her after she was a victim of a theft in Johannesburg. Momberg’s conviction was the first under the 2000 Promotion of Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.

Some advocacy groups asserted that white farmers were targeted for burglaries, home invasions, and killing because of their race. Some analysts attributed the incidents to the country’s high and growing crime rate. According to the Institute for Security Studies, “farm attacks and farm murders have increased in recent years in line with the general upward trend in South Africa’s serious and violent crimes.” A report by the NGO AgriSA stated that killings on farms during the year were at their lowest level in the past 19 years. According to SAPS 2017/2018 crime statistics, farm killings represented only 0.3 percent of all killings in the country (62 of 20,336).

Xenophobic attacks on foreign African migrants and ethnic minorities occurred and sometimes resulted in death, injury, and displacement. Incidents of xenophobic violence generally were concentrated in areas characterized by poverty and lack of services. Citizens blamed immigrants for increased crime and the loss of jobs and housing. According to researchers from the African Center for Migration and Society, perpetrators of crimes against foreign nationals enjoyed relative impunity. In August, Soweto and other Johannesburg-area townships saw a spate of looting and violence targeted against small foreign-owned convenience shops. SAPS confirmed that four residents died and at least 27 were arrested on charges of murder, possession of firearms, and public disorder in connection with the violence. At year’s end their trial date had yet to be set.

Local community or political leaders who sought to gain notoriety in their communities allegedly instigated some attacks. The government sometimes responded quickly and decisively to xenophobic incidents, sending police and soldiers into affected communities to quell violence and restore order, but responses were often slow and inadequate. Since 2013 the government significantly reduced the number of assaults and deaths by evacuating foreign nationals from communities affected by xenophobic violence, although little was done to protect their property. Civil society organizations criticized the government for failing to address the causes of violence, for not facilitating opportunities for conflict resolution in affected communities, for failing to protect the property or livelihoods of foreign nationals, and for failing to deter such attacks by vigorous investigation and prosecution of perpetrators.

Indigenous People

The NGO Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa estimated there were 7,500 indigenous San and Khoi in the country, some of whom worked as farmers or farm laborers. By law the San and Khoi have the same political and economic rights as other citizens, although the government did not always effectively protect those rights or deliver basic services to indigenous communities. Indigenous groups complained of exclusion from land restitution, housing, and affirmative action programs. They also demanded formal recognition as “first peoples” in the constitution. Their lack of recognition as “first peoples” excluded them from inclusion in government-recognized structures for traditional leaders. Their participation in government and the economy was limited due to fewer opportunities, lack of land or other resources, minimal access to education, and relative isolation.

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

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care.

Despite government policies prohibiting discrimination, there were reports of official mistreatment or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Security force members, for example, reportedly raped LGBTI individuals during arrest. A 2018 University of Cape Town report underscored violence and discrimination, particularly against lesbians and transgender individuals. The report documented cases of “secondary victimization” of lesbians, including cases in which police harassed, ridiculed, and assaulted victims of sexual violence and GBV who reported abuse. LGBTI individuals were particularly vulnerable to violent crime due to anti-LGBTI attitudes within the community and among police. Anti-LGBTI attitudes among junior members of SAPS affected how they handled complaints by LGBTI individuals.

The multisector network of civil society organizations Hate Crimes Working Group analyzed 945 cases of hate crimes from across five provinces and found that 17 percent of victims were targeted due to their sexual orientation. According to the NGO, approximately 66 percent of hate crimes were not reported to police. Of those reported there were numerous abuses similar to the following example. In February media reported that during the annual gathering in Tongaat of pastors of the Shembe Nazareth Church, 50 male parishioners were beaten for being gay.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV and HIV-related social stigma and discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and health care remained a problem, especially in rural communities. In 2015 the South African National AIDS Council–a joint body composed of government, academic, and civil society representatives–released a landmark People Living with HIV Stigma Index. The council surveyed a representative sampling of more than 10,000 HIV-positive individuals regarding their experiences with social stigma. The survey revealed a large majority of respondents had never been excluded from social gatherings. Nevertheless, those who reported exclusion cited their HIV status as the main reason. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were reports that persons accused of witchcraft were attacked, driven from their villages, and in some cases killed, particularly in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, and Eastern Cape Provinces. Victims were often elderly women. Traditional leaders generally cooperated with authorities and reported threats against persons suspected of witchcraft.

Persons with albinism faced discrimination and were sometimes attacked in connection with ritual practices.

Ritual (muthi) killings to obtain body parts believed by some to enhance traditional medicine persisted. Police estimated organ harvesting for traditional medicine resulted in 50 deaths per year.

Incidents of vigilante violence and mob killings occurred. For example, in August, two men were killed in separate incidents of mob justice in Brits (North West Province). In one case the victim of an armed robbery caught the perpetrator and took him to the night vigil of the victim’s congregation, where he was assaulted and later died of his injuries. In the second case, police arrested a man for assault. Hundreds of community members surrounded the police vehicle in which the suspect was being held, poured hot wax on the vehicle, pelted police with stones, and removed the suspect, whom they set on fire and killed.

South Sudan

Executive Summary

South Sudan is a republic operating under the terms of a peace agreement signed in August 2015 and renewed in September. President Salva Kiir Mayardit, whose authority derives from his 2010 election as president of what was then the semiautonomous region of Southern Sudan within the Republic of Sudan, is chief of state and head of government. International observers considered the 2011 referendum on South Sudanese self-determination, in which 98 percent of voters chose to separate from Sudan, to be free and fair. Since then all government positions have been appointed rather than elected.

Civilian authorities routinely failed to maintain effective control over the security forces.

In 2013 a power struggle within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party erupted into armed conflict. President Salva Kiir accused then first vice president Riek Machar Teny of plotting a coup. The two leaders appealed to their respective ethnic communities, and the conflict spread primarily to the northwest of the country. The parties signed several ceasefire agreements, culminating in the 2015 peace agreement. A ceasefire generally held from 2015 to July 2016, when fighting broke out in Juba, eventually spreading to the rest of the country. The major warring factions signed a “revitalized” peace agreement in September, which was still holding at year’s end.

Human rights issues included government-perpetrated extrajudicial killings, including ethnically based targeted killings of civilians; forced disappearances and the mass forced displacement of approximately 4.4 million civilians; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; violence against, intimidation, and detention of journalists, closure of media houses, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; corruption; unlawful recruitment and use of approximately 19,000 child soldiers; widespread rape of civilians targeted as a weapon of war; trafficking in persons; criminalization of LGBTI conduct, and violence against the LGBTI community.

Security force abuses occurred throughout the country. Despite one successful prosecution, impunity was widespread and remained a major problem.

Opposition forces also perpetrated serious human rights abuses, which, according to the United Nations, included unlawful killings, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and forced recruitment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment and a fine. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and rape was widespread. The law defines sexual intercourse within marriage as “not rape.” No information was available on the number of persons prosecuted, convicted, or punished for rape, and convictions of rape seldom were publicized. According to observers, sentences for persons convicted of rape were often less than the maximum. Since the conflict began in 2013, conflict-related sexual violence was widespread. The targeting of girls and women reached epidemic proportions following skirmishes and attacks on towns in conflict zones, and sex was often used as a weapon of war (see section 1.g.). Women and girls also faced the threat of rape while living in UN PoC sites and when leaving PoC sites to conduct daily activities.

The law does not prohibit domestic violence. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, was common, although there were no reliable statistics on its prevalence. According to NGOs, some women reported police tried to charge them SSP 20 ($0.16) or more when they attempted to file the criminal complaints of rape or abuse. While not mandatory, police often told women they needed to complete an official report prior to receiving medical treatment. Families of rape victims encouraged marriage to the rapist to avoid public shaming.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is a criminal offense under the penal code, but little data existed to determine its prevalence. The law prohibits subjecting children to negative and harmful practices that affect their health, welfare, and dignity. Although not a common practice, FGM/C occurred in some regions, particularly along the northern border regions in Muslim communities. Several NGOs worked to end FGM/C, and the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Welfare raised awareness of the dangers of FGM/C through local radio broadcasts.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The practice of girl compensation–compensating the family of a crime victim with a girl from the perpetrator’s family–occurred. Victims were generally between ages 11 and 15, did not attend school, and often were physically and sexually abused and used as servants by their captors. Local officials complained the absence of security and rule of law in many areas impeded efforts to curb the practice. Dowry practices were also common. NGOs reported fathers often forced daughters, generally minors, to marry older men in exchange for cattle or money.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. The government rarely enforced the law, and NGOs reported most women were unaware it was a punishable offense. Observers noted sexual harassment, particularly by military and police, was a serious problem throughout the country.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: While the transitional constitution provides for gender equality and equal rights for women, deep cultural prejudices resulted in widespread discrimination against women. High illiteracy rates also impeded women’s ability to understand and defend their rights. Communities often followed customary laws and traditional practices that discriminated against women. For example, authorities arrested and detained women for adultery.

Despite statutory law to the contrary, under customary law, a divorce is not final until the wife and her family return the full dowry to the husband’s family. As a result, families often dissuaded women from divorce. Traditional courts usually ruled in favor of the husband’s family in most cases of child custody, unless children were between three and seven years of age.

Women also experienced discrimination in employment, pay, credit, education, inheritance, housing, and ownership and management of businesses or land. Although women have the right to own property and land under the transitional constitution, community elders often sought to prevent women from exercising these rights because they contradicted customary practice.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through birth if a person has any South Sudanese parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent on either the mother’s or the father’s side, or if a person is a member of one of the country’s indigenous ethnic communities. Individuals may also derive citizenship through naturalization. Birth in the country is not sufficient to claim citizenship. The government did not register all births immediately.

Education: The transitional constitution and the 2012 Education Act provide for tuition-free, compulsory basic education through grade eight. Armed conflict and violence, however, were key factors preventing children from attending school throughout the year. UNICEF estimated nearly three-quarters of the country’s children were not attending school. The expansion of conflict also resulted in the displacement of many households and widespread forced recruitment of children, particularly boys, by armed groups (see section 6), making it difficult for children to attend school and for schools to remain in operation. NGOs reported government and opposition forces, and militias associated with both, looted numerous schools in conflict zones. In addition, the government did not give priority to investments in education, particularly basic education, and schools continued to lack trained teachers, educational materials, and other resources. Girls often did not have equal access to education. Many girls did not attend school or dropped out of school due to early marriage, domestic duties, and fear of gender-based violence at school. According to the 2015 Education for All national review, girls constituted only 39 percent of primary school students and 32 percent of secondary school students, although this figure may be even lower due to continuing violence and displacement because of the conflict.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children included physical violence, abduction, and harmful traditional practices such as “girl compensation” (see Other Harmful Traditional Practices). Child abuse, including sexual abuse, was reportedly widespread. Child rape occurred frequently in the context of child marriage and within the commercial sex industry in urban centers, and armed groups perpetrated it. Authorities seldom prosecuted child rape due to fear among victims and their families of stigmatization and retaliation. Child abduction also was a problem. Rural communities often abducted women and children during cattle raids (see section 1.g.).

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that every child has the right to protection from early marriage but does not explicitly prohibit marriage before age 18. Child marriage was common. According to the Ministry of Gender, Child, and Social Welfare, nearly half of all girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 19 were married, and some brides were as young as 12. Early marriage sometimes reflected efforts by men to avoid rape charges, which a married woman cannot bring against her husband. In other cases families of rape victims encouraged marriage to the rapist to avoid public shaming. Many abducted girls, often repeatedly subjected to rape (see section 1.g.), were forced into marriage. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law designates a minimum age of 18 years for consensual sex, although commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred. Perpetrators of child prostitution and child trafficking may be punished by up to 14 years’ imprisonment, although authorities rarely enforced these laws. Child prostitution and child trafficking both occurred, particularly in urban areas.

Child Soldiers: The law prohibits recruitment and use of children for military or paramilitary activities and prescribes punishments of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Opposition and government forces and affiliated armed militia groups recruited and used child soldiers throughout the year (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: During the year conflict displaced numerous children, both as refugees and IDPs (see section 1.g.).

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

Anti-Semitism

There were no statistics concerning the number of Jews in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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 does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. NGOs reported community and family routinely subjected persons with disabilities to discrimination. The government did not enact or implement programs to provide access to buildings, information, or communications public services. The Transitional Constitution and the 2012 Education Act stipulate primary education be provided to children with disabilities without discrimination. Very few teachers, however, were trained to address the needs of children with disabilities, and very few schools were able to provide a safe, accessible learning environment for children with disabilities. There were no legal restrictions on the right of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs, although lack of physical accessibility constituted a barrier to effective participation. There were no mental health hospitals or institutions, and persons with mental disabilities were often held in prisons. Limited mental health services were available at Juba Teaching Hospital.

There were no reports of police or other government officials inciting, perpetuating, or condoning violence against persons with disabilities, or official action taken to investigate or punish those responsible for violence against persons with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities also faced disproportional hardship during famine conditions and continuing violence throughout the year. Human Rights Watch reported persons with disabilities were often victimized by both government and opposition forces. Persons with disabilities faced difficulty fleeing areas under attack and accessing humanitarian assistance in displacement camps. Since 2013 the conflict itself disabled an unknown number of civilians, who experienced maiming, amputation, sight and hearing impairment, and trauma. The World Health Organization estimated 250,000 persons with disabilities were living in displacement camps, while the estimated number of persons with disabilities in the country could be more than one million.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Interethnic fighting and violence by government, opposition forces, and armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition targeting specific ethnic groups resulted in human rights abuses throughout the year (see section 1.g.). The country has at least 60 ethnic groups and a long history of interethnic conflict. Ethnic groups were broadly categorized into the Nilotic (Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk ethnic groups), Nilo-Hamitic, and Southwestern Sudanic groups. For some ethnic groups, cattle represented wealth and status. Competition for resources to maintain large cattle herds often resulted in conflict. Longstanding grievances over perceived or actual inequitable treatment and distribution of resources and political exclusion contributed to conflict.

Interethnic clashes occurred throughout the year. Insecurity, inflammatory rhetoric–including hate speech–and discriminatory government policies led to a heightened sense of tribal identity, exacerbating interethnic differences.

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

The law does not prohibit same-sex sexual acts, but it prohibits “unnatural offenses,” defined as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” which are punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment if committed with consent and up to 14 years if without consent. There were no reports authorities enforced the law.

There were reports of incidents of discrimination and abuse. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons reported security forces routinely harassed and sometimes arrested, detained, tortured, and beat them. Because of actively hostile government rhetoric and actions, most openly LGBTI citizens fled the country.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While there were no reports filed regarding discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, discrimination was widely believed to be both pervasive and socially acceptable. Key groups especially vulnerable to stigma and discrimination included commercial sex workers and LGBTI persons. This stigma often presented a barrier to seeking and receiving services for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence and Discrimination

Throughout the year disputes between Dinka herders and agrarian youths over cattle grazing in the Equatorias at times deteriorated into violent and retaliatory events, leaving numerous dead and injured, and forcing thousands to flee their homes.

Civilian casualties and forced displacements occurred in many parts of the country when raiders stole cattle, which define power and wealth in many traditional communities. Land disputes often erupted when stolen cattle were moved into other areas, also causing civilian casualties and displacement. SPLA and police sometimes engaged in revenge killings both between and within ethnic groups.

Spain

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Spain is a parliamentary democracy headed by a constitutional monarch. The country has a bicameral parliament, the General Courts or National Assembly, consisting of the Congress of Deputies (lower house) and the Senate (upper house). The head of the largest political party or coalition usually is named to head the government as president of the Council of Ministers, the equivalent of prime minister. Observers considered national elections held in 2016 to be free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses during the year.

The government generally took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. In some instances officials engaged in corruption and created the impression of impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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.

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The latest report of the National Ombudsman indicated that the center for the temporary accommodation of migrants in the enclave of Melilla was “severely overcrowded.” The center housing migrants in the enclave of Ceuta was also overcrowded.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: According to a UNHCR report on April 3, there were cases where migrants who crossed the border from Morocco to the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla were returned to Morocco without receiving a complete eligibility review for asylum.

Access to Asylum: According to the Ministry of the Interior, by November 30, 59,048 persons arrived in the country illegally via the Mediterranean Sea or land border crossing points in Ceuta and Melilla bordering Morocco, a number higher than the total numbers for 2015, 2016, and 2017 combined.

The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has bilateral return agreements with Morocco and Algeria. Authorities review asylum petitions individually, and there is an established appeals process available to rejected petitioners. The law permits any foreigner in the country who is a victim of gender-based violence or of trafficking in persons to file a complaint at a police station without fear of deportation, even if that individual is in the country illegally. Although potential asylum seekers were able to exercise effectively their right to petition authorities, some NGOs, such as CEAR, and Accem, as well as UNHCR alleged that several migration reception centers lacked sufficient legal assistance for asylum seekers. The NGOs reported that getting an appointment to request asylum could take months. CEAR reported the government granted refugee status to 595 individuals in 2017. This number does not include refugees accepted from Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon, as part of the EU relocation and resettlement plan.

On April 9, the government granted political asylum to three Turkish citizens requesting protection from persecution related to the 2016 attempted coup against the Turkish government. They were the first Turkish nationals granted asylum by the government in connection with the attempted Turkish coup.

On September 3, in a report from a March 18-24 observation mission in Ceuta and Melilla, the COE issued found the continued use of so-called “hot returns,” whereby migrants are returned without first registering and verifying eligibility for asylum. Lawyers and UNHCR reported that in August authorities returned 116 migrants to Morocco within 24 hours of their arrival after they crossed the border to Ceuta, without first verifying whether they were eligible for asylum. Spanish authorities, the International Organization for Migration, and the Spanish Red Cross asserted the migrants were identified and provided legal counsel under the terms of the country’s migration laws. The return of the migrants was carried out under terms of a 1992 agreement with Morocco that provides for the readmission of third-country nationals who illegally entered Spain from Morocco.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Under EU law the country considers all other countries in the Schengen area, the EU, and the United States to be safe countries of origin.

Access to Basic Services: In Ceuta and Melilla, according to UNHCR, asylum seekers could wait up to several months in some cases before being transferred to the care of NGOs in mainland Spain. Migrants from countries without a return agreement and those who demonstrated eligibility for international protection were provided housing and basic care as part of a state-sponsored reception program managed by various NGOs.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for relocation and resettlement and provided assistance through NGOs such as CEAR and Accem. As of April the country received 2,792 refugees (1,359 through relocation and 1,433 through resettlement) from Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon. UNHCR noted the country’s system for integrating refugees, especially vulnerable families, minors, and survivors of gender-based violence and trafficking in persons, needed improvement.

The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of failed asylum seekers and migrants to their homes or the country they came from.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals whose applications for asylum were pending review, or who did not qualify as refugees and asylees. In 2017 it extended subsidiary protection to approximately 4,080 such persons.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, at the end of 2017, 1,596 stateless persons lived in the country. The law provides a path to citizenship for stateless persons. The law includes the obligation to grant nationality to those born in Spain of foreign parents, if both lack nationality or if legislation from neither parent’s country of nationality attributes a nationality to the child, as well as to those born in Spain whose parentage is not determined.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. The penalty for rape is six to 12 years in prison. The law also prohibits violence against women and sets prison sentences of six months to a year for domestic violence, threats of violence, or violations of restraining orders, with longer sentences if serious injuries result.

On December 5, a provincial court confirmed the conviction for sexual abuse of Jose Angel Prenda, Alfonso Jesus Cabazuelo, Jesus Escudero, Angel Boza, and Antonio Manuel Guerrero, who called themselves “the Wolfpack” and who in 2016 allegedly raped an 18-year-old woman in Pamplona. On April 26, the court found the defendants guilty of the lesser crime, citing insufficient evidence of violence or intimidation, which is required to determine a rape verdict. Feminist associations responded by leading nationwide protests.

According to the government’s delegate for gender violence, as of June 30 partners or former partners were responsible for the deaths of 17 women. According to the General Council of the Judiciary, 49,165 cases of gender-based violence were prosecuted in 2017. The Observatory against Domestic and Gender Violence reported 166,260 complaints of gender-based violence in 2017. There were 39,586 allegations of gender-based violence in the first quarter of 2018. Independent media and government agencies generally paid close attention to gender-based violence.

In September a husband killed his wife in Bilbao, nine months after she had reported him to police for domestic abuse and making death threats. The judge who reviewed the abuse charges refused to issue a restraining order and acquitted the husband of all charges on the grounds that his wife and children were planning to move to a new apartment.

On May 10, the Ministry of the Interior reported a 28.4-percent increase in the number of reported rapes during the first three months of the year. In January the Ministry of Health reported that 6,300 men were imprisoned in 2017 for crimes related to gender-based violence.

A 24-hour toll-free national hotline advised battered women on finding shelter and other local assistance. Police also alerted female victims of gender-based violence of any changes in prison sentences of their attackers.

In September 2017 congress approved the State Plan against Gender Violence, with a budget of one billion euros ($1.15 billion) over five years, to support efforts to counter the problem. On August 3, the government approved the distribution of the first 100 million euros ($115 million) for the year.

The government allocated more than 5.26 million euros ($6.05 million) to combat gender-based violence, trafficking, and childhood sexual abuse within the existing framework of the State Plan against Gender Violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and authorizes courts to prosecute residents of the country who committed this crime in the country or anywhere in the world. Doctors must ask parents residing in the country who originate from countries that practice FGM/C to sign a declaration promising their daughter(s) will not undergo FGM/C when they visit countries where the practice is common. Once a family returns to the country, a doctor must examine the girl(s) again and may start legal action against the parents if examination finds that the minors underwent FGM/C during their trip.

The State Plan against Gender Violence includes FGM/C as a form of gender-based violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, but few cases came to trial. The punishment in minor cases may be between three and five months in jail or fines of six to eight months’ salary. Harassment continued to be a problem, according to media reporting.

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

On February 6, the NGOs “Cermi Mujeres” and the European Forum of Disabilities alleged that each year approximately 100 women and girls with intellectual disabilities are sterilized in the country without their knowledge.

Discrimination: Under the law women enjoy the same rights as men. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents. All children born in the country, except children of diplomats and children whose parents’ country of origin gives them nationality, are registered as citizens. When a child does not acquire the parents’ nationality, the government may grant it.

Child Abuse: The law provides protections for various forms of child abuse. Those accused of sexual abuses involving minors receive larger penalties. For example, in cases of sexual abuse, instead of one to four years of jail time, the penalty increases to four to 10 years when the victim is a child. Cases of sexual aggression, which normally receive six to 12 years in jail, are punished with 12 to 15 years in cases involving minors.

As of June 30, either a parent or a parent’s partner killed one minor.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 16 years for minors living on their own.

As of September 15, Catalan police assisted six victims of forced marriage, one of whom was a minor.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the “abuse and sexual attack of minors” younger than age 13 and sets the penalty at imprisonment from two to 15 years, depending on the nature of the crime. Individuals who contact children younger than age 13 through the internet for the purpose of sexual exploitation face imprisonment for one to three years. Authorities enforced the law.

The minimum age for consensual sex in the country is 16. The law defines sexual acts committed against persons younger than age 16 as nonconsensual sexual abuse, and provides for sentences from two to 15 years in prison, depending on the circumstances.

The penalty for recruiting children or persons with disabilities into prostitution is imprisonment from one to five years. The penalty for subjecting children to prostitution is imprisonment from four to six years.

The commercial sexual exploitation of trafficked teenage girls remained a problem (see also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/).

The law prohibits using a minor “to prepare any type of pornographic material” as well as producing, selling, distributing, displaying, or facilitating the production, sale, dissemination, or exhibition of “any type” of child pornography by “any means.” The penalty is one to five years’ imprisonment; if the child is younger than age of 13, the length of imprisonment is five to nine years. The law also penalizes knowingly possessing child pornography.

There is a registry for sex offenders to bar them from activities in which they could be in the presence of minors.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered approximately 40,000-45,000 persons. The law provides descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country 500 years ago right of return as full Spanish citizens. In March the Council of Ministers reported that 1,910 Sephardic Jews had obtained Spanish nationality under that law. The Jewish community noted that burdensome financial and administrative requirements such as a self-funded trip to the country made the process more difficult.

The law considers denial and justification of genocide as a crime if it incites violence, with penalties that range from one to four years in prison.

The Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience reported that, as of September, there were five instances of religiously motivated aggression targeting Jews (one case of destruction of property, four cases of verbal abuse).

According to Jewish community leaders and the NGO Movement against Intolerance, anti-Semitic incidents included graffiti on Jewish institutions. In February anti-Semitic graffiti with the word “pigs” written in English followed by a sentence in Catalan reading “Get out of the country” was spray-painted on the walls of a synagogue in Barcelona, which now serves as a cultural center and a museum.

In June authorities in the Canary Islands arrested an illegal immigrant from Morocco allegedly for inciting hatred against Jews on Facebook and YouTube.

Government institutions promoted religious pluralism, integration, and understanding of Jewish communities and history, but their efforts did not reach all of the country’s autonomous regions.

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, with fines of up to one million euros ($1.15 million), discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions effectively.

The law requires private companies with more than 50 employees to hire persons with disabilities for at least 2 percent of their jobs. In 2016 the NGO Leialta estimated that 81 percent of the companies did not comply with the obligation. In July the government approved a Plan for Decent Work, which warrants labor inspectors to guarantee that companies implement their obligation for persons with disabilities under the law.

The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. While the government generally enforced these provisions, levels of assistance and accessibility varied among regions.

On October 18, the legislature approved reforms of the electoral law that will allow approximately 100,000 persons with intellectual disabilities to vote.

The Randstad Foundation reported that between January and October, the private sector signed 98,378 contracts with persons with disabilities, 6.3 percent more than during the same period in 2017.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Ministry of the Interior reported 416 hate crimes linked to racism (38 percent) in 2016, the most recent year for which data were available, a decrease of 17.6 percent from 2015. The regions of Catalonia, Madrid, Andalusia, the Basque Country, and Valencia had the highest numbers of hate crimes according to the ministry’s data.

In February, ECRI reported that only 45 percent of Romani children finish secondary school.

During 2017 the Federation of SOS Racism Associations recorded 309 complaints, 82 of them were institutional racism, while 46 were perpetrated by law enforcement officials. Most of the cases of discrimination go unreported, due to victims’ lack of resources and lack of trust in the system.

In its report published on February 28, ECRI welcomed the government’s refinement of crime statistics “to obtain a realistic picture” of the extent of hate crimes. The commission noted, however, serious underreporting of hate crimes.

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

The country’s antidiscrimination laws prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the government enforced the law. The law penalizes those who provoke discrimination, hate, or violence based on sexual orientation with up to three years’ imprisonment. The law also prohibits denial or disqualification of employment based on sexual orientation and the formation of associations that promote discrimination, hate, or violence against others based on their sexual orientation. The law may consider an anti-lesbian, -gay, -bisexual, -transgender, and -intersex hate element an aggravating circumstance in crimes.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

According to the Ministry of the Interior, 1,272 hate crimes were reported in 2016, the latest year for which data were available, a 4.2-percent decline from 2015. Of these, 240 cases involved physical injuries and 205 involved threats. The NGO Movement against Intolerance estimated that 80 percent of hate crimes in the country were unreported.

According to a report from the Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience, as of September there were 142 instances of religiously motivated violence (122 such cases in the same period for 2017).

Sri Lanka

Executive Summary

Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multiparty democratic republic with a freely elected government. In January 2015 voters elected President Maithripala Sirisena to a five-year term. The parliament shares power with the president. August 2015 parliamentary elections resulted in a coalition government between the two major political parties with Ranil Wickremesinghe as the prime minister. Both elections were free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces.

On October 26, President Sirisena announced the removal of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the appointment of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister and subsequently announced the dissolution of parliament. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and others challenged both actions as unconstitutional. On December 13, the Supreme Court ruled that Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament was unconstitutional. Following the ruling, Rajapaksa resigned and Sirisena reinstated Wickremesinghe as prime minister on December 16.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings; torture, notably sexual abuse; arbitrary detention by government forces; website blocking; violence against lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and criminalization of same-sex sexual activity; and corruption. Although same-sex sexual conduct was prohibited by law, it was rarely prosecuted.

Police reportedly harassed civilians with impunity, and the government had yet to implement a mechanism to hold accountable government security personnel accused of crimes during the civil war. During the year, however, the government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish some officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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. 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, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The country’s civil war that ended in 2009 caused widespread, prolonged displacement, including forced displacement by the government and the LTTE, particularly of Tamils. According to the Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Northern Development, and Hindu Religious Affairs, 37,815 citizens remained IDPs as of June 30. The large majority resided in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, and Batticaloa Districts in the north and east. While all IDPs had full freedom of movement, most were unable to return home due to land mines; restrictions designating their home areas as part of HSZs; lack of work opportunities; inability to access basic public services, including acquiring documents verifying land ownership; and lack of government resolution of competing land ownership claims and other war-related reasons. The government did not provide protection and assistance to IDPs in welfare camps.

The government promoted the return and resettlement of IDPs by returning approximately 840 acres of military-seized land and making state land available for landless IDPs. The military and other government agencies supported the resettlement of IDPs by constructing houses, schools, toilets, and providing other social services on newly released lands.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government relied on UNHCR to provide food, housing, and education for refugees in the country and to pursue third-country resettlement for them. The law does not permit refugees and asylum seekers to work or enroll in the government school system, but many worked informally.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and domestic violence, but enforcement of the law was inconsistent. Section 363 of the penal code does not explicitly criminalize rape of men. Section 365 B (1), which is gender neutral, criminalizes “grave sexual abuse.” The prescribed penalties for rape are seven to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of at least 200,000 Rs ($1,160). For domestic violence, a victim can obtain a protection order for one year and request a maintenance allowance. The law prohibits spousal rape only if the spouses are legally separated.

In February two men reportedly raped a nurse at a private hospital in Narahenpita. Police in Narahenpita arrested the suspects five days after receiving the report, and their trial was underway at year’s end.

Women’s organizations reported police and judiciary responses to rape and domestic violence incidents and cases were inadequate. The police Bureau for the Prevention of Abuse of Women and Children conducted awareness programs in schools and at the grassroots level to encourage women to file complaints. Police continued to establish women’s units in police stations. Services to assist survivors of rape and domestic violence, such as crisis centers, legal aid, and counseling, were generally scarce nationwide due to a lack of funding.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The country’s Muslims historically practiced FGM/C, but it was not a part of public discourse until recent years when media articles drew attention to the practice. There were no statistics on the current prevalence of FGM/C in the country, which does not have laws against FGM/C. In May the director general of health services from the Ministry of Health issued a circular prohibiting medical practitioners from carrying out FGM, but FGM/C itself is not criminalized.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Sexual harassment was common and was a particularly widespread problem in public transport.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women have equal rights to men under civil and criminal law. Adjudication of questions related to family law, including marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, varied according to the customary law of each ethnic or religious group, resulting in discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: Children obtain citizenship from their parents.

Child Abuse: According to reports and evidence from fundamental rights applications and complaints filed with police during the year, school authorities frequently violate government regulations on banning corporal punishment in schools. There was also growing public concern about the high incidence of violence, including sexual violence, against children in the family and community despite successful efforts to reform the penal code, the basic criminal law, and other laws on child abuse, cruelty to children and their exploitation in trafficking, and child labor. Penalties vary based on the type and degree of child abuse, but trials tended to drag on for years.

Most child abuse complaints received by the National Child Protection Authority related to violence inflicted on children, and the rest of the complaints addressed related issues such as cruelty to children, deprivation of a child’s right to education, sexual abuse, and child labor. Teachers, school principals, and religious instructors reportedly sexually abused children. In a number of child rape cases, government officials were the suspected perpetrators. Civil society organizations working on children’s issues asserted children had insufficient mechanisms to report domestic violence or abuse safely. Although police stations are supposed to have an officer dedicated to handling abuse complaints from women and children, the government did not consistently implement this practice nationwide.

Early and Forced Marriage: Civil law sets the minimum legal age for marriage at 18 for both men and women, although girls may marry at age 16 with parental consent. According to the penal code, sexual intercourse with a girl younger than 16 years, with or without her consent, amounts to statutory rape. The provision, however, does not apply to married Muslim girls older than 12. The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, which applies only to Muslims, permits the marriage of girls as young as 12 at the consent of the bride’s father or other male relative. The bride’s consent is not required.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography, but authorities did not always enforce the law. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16.

Child sex tourism remained a problem.

Displaced Children: IDP welfare centers and relocation sites exposed children to the same difficult conditions as adult IDPs and returnees in these areas.

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 Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population remained very small. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

Various laws forbid discrimination against any person with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel, other public transportation, and access to health care. In practice, however, discrimination occurred in employment, education, and provision of state services, including public transportation. Children with disabilities attended school at a lower rate than other persons. There were regulations on accessibility, but accommodation for access to buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities was rare.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Both local and Indian-origin Tamils maintained they suffered longstanding, systematic discrimination in university education, government employment, housing, health services, language laws, and procedures for naturalization of noncitizens. Throughout the country, but especially in the north and east, Tamils reported security forces regularly monitored and harassed members of their community, especially activists and former or suspected former LTTE members.

The government had a variety of ministries and presidentially appointed bodies designed to address the social and development needs of the Tamil minority. The government implemented a number of confidence-building measures to address grievances of the Tamil community. It also replaced military governors of the Northern and Eastern Provinces with civilians. The Office of National Unity and Reconciliation, established by the president in 2016, continued to coordinate the government’s reconciliation efforts. The office focuses on promoting social integration to build an inclusive society, securing language rights for all citizens, supporting a healing process within war-affected communities via the government’s proposed Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation, and non-recurrence of the violence. The Tamil National Alliance and Defense Ministry continued to meet in accordance with a formal dialogue on returning military-held lands in the Northern and Eastern Provinces inaugurated in 2017. On October 4, President Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as minister of defense, publicly ordered the security forces to release all remaining private land in their possession by December 31. Observers noted that implementation by the deadline was logistically improbable.

Extremist Buddhist monks instigated violent attacks on Muslims and their property. In March Sinhalese mobs led by Buddhist monks attacked Muslim civilians, shops, homes, and mosques that resulted in two confirmed deaths, 28 injured, and extensive property damage. Observers blamed local government and law enforcement officials for failing to stop the riots, with some claiming police personnel took part in the anti-Muslim rioting. The central government responded by declaring a 10-day state of emergency, sending in the army to restore order, restricting social media, and arresting more than 150 alleged perpetrators.

Indigenous People

The country’s indigenous people, known as Veddas, reportedly numbered fewer than 1,000. Some preferred to maintain their traditional way of life, and the law generally protected them. They freely participated in political and economic life without legal restrictions, but some did not have legal documents.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Although prosecutions were rare, human rights organizations reported police used the threat of arrest to assault, harass, and sexually and monetarily extort LGBTI individuals. Those convicted of engaging in same-sex sexual activity in private or in public face 10 years’ imprisonment. Antidiscrimination laws do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Transgender persons continued to face societal discrimination, including arbitrary detention, mistreatment, and discrimination accessing employment, housing, and health care.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons who provided HIV prevention services and groups at high risk of infection reportedly suffered discrimination. In addition hospital officials reportedly publicized the HIV-positive status of their clients and occasionally refused to provide health care to HIV-positive persons.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Sources stated some Buddhist monks regularly tried to close down Christian and Muslim places of worship on the grounds they lacked the Ministry of Buddha Sasana’s approval. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka documented 65 cases of attacks on churches, intimidation and violence against pastors and their congregations, and obstruction of worship services as of September.

Sudan

Executive Summary

Sudan is a republic with power concentrated in the hands of authoritarian President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his inner circle. The National Congress Party (NCP) continued approximately three decades of nearly absolute political authority. The country last held national elections (presidential and National Assembly) in 2015. Key opposition parties boycotted the elections when the government failed to meet their preconditions, including a cessation of hostilities, holding of an inclusive “national dialogue,” and fostering of a favorable environment for discussions between the government and opposition on needed reforms and the peace process. Prior to the elections, security forces arrested many supporters, members, and leaders of boycotting parties and confiscated numerous newspapers, conditions that observers said created a repressive environment not conducive to free and fair elections. Only 46 percent of eligible voters participated in the elections, according to the government-controlled National Electoral Commission (NEC), but others believed the turnout was much lower. The NEC declared al-Bashir winner of the presidential election with 94 percent of the vote.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Some armed elements did not openly identify with a particular security entity, making it difficult to determine under whose control they operated.

The government repeatedly extended its 2016 unilateral cessation of hostilities (COH) in Blue Nile and South Kardofan states (the “Two Areas”) and an end to offensive military action in Darfur. Clashes between the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) and government forces resumed, however, in April and continued through July, and there were credible reports that villages in Darfur’s Jebel Marra mountain range were targeted for attack during these clashes, resulting in thousands of newly displaced civilians. Nevertheless, the COH did allow for periods of increased stability and an overall improvement in the human rights situation in Darfur and the Two Areas. As part of its UN Security Council-mandated reconfigurations, the African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) established a Jebel Marra Task Force and a temporary operating base in Golo to monitor the humanitarian and security situation in the area. In Darfur weak rule of law persisted, and banditry, criminality, and intercommunal violence were main causes of insecurity in Darfur.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, torture, and arbitrary detention, all by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arrests and intimidation of journalists, censorship, newspaper seizures, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; restrictions on religious liberty; restrictions on political participation; corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; outlawing of independent trade unions; and child labor.

Government authorities did not investigate human rights violations by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), the military, or any other branch of the security services, with limited exceptions relating to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). Impunity remained a problem in all branches of the security forces and government institutions.

In Darfur and the Two Areas, paramilitary forces and rebel groups continued to commit killings, rape, and torture of civilians. Local militias maintained substantial influence due to widespread impunity. There were reports of both progovernment and antigovernment militias looting, raping, and killing civilians. Intercommunal violence spawned from land tenure and resource scarcity continued to result in civilian deaths, particularly in East, South, and North Darfur. The government continued its national arms collection campaign, which began in October 2017, mostly in Darfur.

There were some human rights abuses in Abyei, a region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, generally stemming from tribal conflict between Ngok Dinka and Misseriya. Reports were difficult to verify due to limited access.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape and sexual harassment are criminal offenses, and a rape victim cannot be prosecuted for adultery. Marital rape is not recognized.

There were no reliable statistics on the prevalence of rape and domestic violence. The international expert on the human rights situation in Sudan and UNAMID’s human rights section reported that they received regular reports of incidents of rape and sexual and gender-based violence (see section 1.g.). Monitoring groups reported that the incidence of rape and sexual assault increased as the economic situation worsened during the year. Human rights organizations cited substantial barriers to reporting sexual and gender-based violence, including cultural norms, police reluctance to investigate, and the widespread impunity of perpetrators.

On April 19, a criminal court in Omdurman convicted 19-year-old Noura Hussein of the murder of her husband under article 130 of the 1991 Criminal Code. Hussein was sentenced to death on May 3, but an appeals court later reduced the sentence to five years’ imprisonment and payment of blood money to her deceased husband’s family. Hussein became engaged at the age of 15 under pressure from her family and was married three years later. Her defense team and supporters report that she was raped by her husband with the help of male family members after she refused to consummate the marriage, and claimed Hussein acted in self-defense. The case generated substantial attention to the country’s family and marriage laws and provoked a national movement calling for legal reform and an end to child marriage.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C remained a problem throughout the country. No national law prohibits FGM/C, and the procedure continued to be used on women and girls throughout the country. The government launched a national campaign in 2008 to eradicate FGM/C by 2018; since 2008 five states passed laws prohibiting FGM/C: South Kordofan, Gedaref, Red Sea, South Darfur, and West Darfur. The government, with the support of the first lady, continued to prioritize the “saleema” (uncut) campaign, which raised public awareness. The government continued to work with UNICEF, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and the World Health Organization to end FGM/C.

According to UNICEF and UNFPA, the prevalence rate of FGM/C among girls and women between 15 and 49 years old was 87 percent. Prevalence varied geographically and depended on the local ethnic group.

For more information, see data.unicef.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-country-profiles/ .

Sexual Harassment: There were frequent reports of sexual harassment by police. The government did not provide any information on the number of sexual harassment reports made. NGOs, not the government, made most efforts to curb sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law, including many traditional legal practices and certain provisions of Islamic jurisprudence as interpreted and applied by the government, discriminates against women. In accordance with Islamic judicial interpretation, a Muslim widow inherits one-eighth of her husband’s estate; of the remaining seven-eighths, two-thirds goes to the sons and one-third to the daughters. In certain probate trials, a woman’s testimony is not considered equal to a man’s; the testimony of two women is required. In other civil trials, the testimony of a woman equals that of a man.

By law a Muslim man may marry a Jewish or Christian woman. A Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim man and may be charged with adultery if she does so.

Various government institutions required women to dress according to Islamic or cultural standards, including wearing a head covering. In Khartoum Public Order Police occasionally brought women before judges for allegedly violating Islamic standards. One women’s advocacy group estimated that in Khartoum, Public Order Police arrested an average of 40 women per day. Islamic standards for dress generally were not legally enforced for non-Muslims, but were culturally enforced.

Children

Birth Registration: The Interim National Constitution states persons born to a citizen mother or father have the right to citizenship. The law, however, granted citizenship only to children born to a citizen father by descent until July 2017, when the Supreme Court recognized the right of mothers to confer citizenship on their children.

Most newborns received birth certificates, but some in remote areas did not. Registered midwives, dispensaries, clinics, and hospitals could issue certificates. Failure to present a valid birth certificate precludes enrollment in school. Access to health care was similarly dependent on possession of a valid birth certificate, but many doctors accepted a patient’s verbal assurance that he or she had one.

Education: The law provides for tuition-free basic education up to grade eight, but students often had to pay school, uniform, and examination fees to attend. Primary education is neither compulsory nor universal.

Child Abuse: The government tried to enforce laws criminalizing child abuse and was more likely to prosecute cases involving child abuse and sexual exploitation of children than cases involving adults. Some police stations included “child friendly” family and child protection units and provided legal, medical, and psychosocial support for children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage was 10 years for girls and 15 years or puberty for boys. The government and the president’s wife continued to work to end child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for the sexual exploitation of children vary and can include imprisonment, fines, or both. The government tried to enforce laws criminalizing child sexual exploitation.

There is no minimum age for consensual sex or a statutory rape law. Pornography, including child pornography, is illegal. Statutes prescribe a fine and period of imprisonment not to exceed 15 years for child pornography offenses.

Displaced Children: Internally displaced children often lacked access to government services such as health and education due to both security concerns and an inability to pay related fees. In July UNICEF reported that approximately 960,000 children were internally displaced.

Institutionalized Children: Police typically sent homeless children who had committed crimes to government camps for indefinite periods. Health care, schooling, and living conditions were generally very basic. All children in the camps, including non-Muslims, had to study the Quran.

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.

Anti-Semitism

A very small Jewish community remained in the country, predominantly in the Khartoum area. Societal attitudes were generally not tolerant of Jewish persons, although anti-Semitic acts were rare.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

Although the law and the Interim National Constitution, provides protection for persons with disabilities, social stigma and a lack of resources hindered the government’s enforcement of disability laws. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Social stigma and lack of resources often prevented government and private entities from accommodating persons with disabilities in education and employment. Appropriate supports were especially rare in rural areas.

The government had not enacted laws or implemented effective programs to provide for access to buildings, information, and communication for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The population includes more than 500 ethnic groups, speaking numerous languages and dialects. Some of these ethnic groups self-identify as Arab, referring to their language and other cultural attributes. Northern Muslims traditionally dominated the government.

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

The law does not specifically prohibit homosexuality but criminalizes sodomy, which is punishable by death. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons are not considered a protected class under antidiscrimination laws. Antigay sentiment was pervasive in society. LGBTI organizations increasingly felt pressured to suspend or alter their activities due to threat of harm. Several LGBTI persons felt compelled to leave the country due to fear of persecution, intimidation, or harassment.

There were no reports of official action to investigate or punish those complicit in LGBTI-related discrimination or abuses.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Clashes sometimes resulted from conflicts over land rights, mineral ownership, and use of gold-mining areas, particularly in the Jebel Amer area in North Darfur. Observers believed those clashes resulted in deaths and displacement. Largely unregulated artisanal gold-mining activities continued in all of the Darfur states, although it was a lesser source of tension between communities than in previous years. Claims to land rights continued to be mostly ethnic and tribal in nature.

Promotion of Acts of Discrimination

The government, government-supported militias, and rebel groups reportedly promoted hatred and discrimination, using standard propaganda techniques. The government often used religiously charged language to refer to suspected antigovernment supporters.

The government did not take measures to counter hate speech.

Suriname

Executive Summary

Suriname is a constitutional democracy with a president elected by the unicameral National Assembly. Elections for the National Assembly took place in 2015. International observers considered the legislative elections to be free and fair. In 2015 the assembly elected Desire (Desi) Delano Bouterse to a second consecutive term as president.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included corruption, trafficking in persons, violence and abuse against women and children, use of child labor, and criminal defamation laws, although there were no prosecutions during the year.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Observers nonetheless expressed concern that high public officials and security officers had impunity from enforcement.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

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. The country relies on UNHCR to assign refugee or asylum seeker status. Once status is confirmed, refugees or asylum seekers obtain residency permits under the alien legislation law.

The Red Cross Suriname was the local point of contact for those filing for refugee status with UNHCR.

In March the Ministry of Justice and Police passed a resolution that sets forth procedures for the formal processing of aliens filing for protective or refugee status and formalizes cooperation with the Red Cross as the UNHCR representative.

STATELESS PERSONS

A 2014 amendment to the Citizenship and Residency Law grants citizenship through place of birth to a child who is born in the country to non-Surinamese parents, but it does not automatically confer citizenship of one of the parents. The amended law aims to eliminate the possibility of statelessness among children but does not apply retroactively, so a person born before September 2014 continues to be subject to the previous citizenship rules. Thus, children born before September 2014 in undocumented Brazilian-national mining communities or to foreign women in prostitution become eligible to apply for citizenship only at the age of 18.

While officially the government does not limit services such as education to stateless children, the bureaucratic requirements of registering children for these services proved obstacles to obtaining services.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and prescribes penalties for rape or forcible sexual assault of between 12 and 15 years’ imprisonment and fines up to 100,000 Surinamese dollars (SRD) ($13,300). The government enforced the law effectively, including applying its provisions in cases involving rape of men. Police received 513 reports of sexual abuse as of September. Authorities investigated and prosecuted all reported cases.

Violence against women remained a serious and pervasive problem. The law imposes sentences of four to eight years’ imprisonment for domestic violence. Through September police reported to have received 102 cases of domestic abuse, compared with 421 for the same period in 2017. Domestic abuse played a role in four of the 18 homicides committed through September; prosecutions were pending.

The Victim Assistance Bureau of the Ministry of Justice and Police provided resources for victims of domestic violence and continued to raise awareness about domestic violence through public television programs. There were victims’ rooms in police stations in Paramaribo and Nickerie. Authorities trained police units in dealing with survivors and perpetrators of sexual crimes and domestic violence. The Victim Assistance Bureau managed a shelter for female victims of domestic violence and children up to age 12 and served an average of 40 clients per year. The Office for Gender Affairs of the Ministry of Home Affairs launched an awareness campaign in May against domestic violence nationwide.

Sexual Harassment: There is no specific legislation on sexual harassment, but prosecutors cited various penal code articles in filing sexual harassment cases. There were no reported court cases involving sexual harassment in the workplace.

Stalking is a criminal offense, and police may investigate possible cases of stalking without the filing of a formal complaint. Pending investigation, police may issue temporary restraining orders limiting contact between victim and suspect for up to 30 days. If found guilty, offenders can receive prison sentences ranging from four to 12 years and fines from SRD 50,000 to SRD 150,000 ($6,650 to $19,950).

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides for protection of women’s rights to equal access to education, employment, and property. Nonetheless, women experienced discrimination in access to employment and in rates of pay for the same or substantially similar work. In August the National Assembly passed labor legislation that protects pregnant women from being fired.

Children

Birth Registration: The law on citizenship and residency provides that citizenship transmits to a child when either the father or mother has Surinamese citizenship at the time of birth, when the parent is Surinamese but has died before birth, or if the child is born in the country’s territory and does not automatically acquire citizenship of another country. Births must be registered with the Civil Registry within one week. Failure to do so within the mandated period results in a more cumbersome process of registration.

Child Abuse: Police registered 47 cases of physical abuse and 256 cases of child sexual abuse as of September. Subject-matter experts believed the actual number of abuse cases was significantly higher than reported. To avoid intimidation by perpetrators, there were arrangements for children to testify in special chambers at legal proceedings. The Youth Affairs Office continued to raise awareness about sexual abuse, drugs, and alcohol through a weekly television program. The government operated a telephone hotline for children and provided confidential advice and aid to children in need. Authorities reported an average of 80 calls per day.

UNICEF continued cooperating with the government in providing training to officials from various ministries dealing with children and children’s rights. The Ministry of Justice and Police operated three child protection centers in different parts of the country.

Early and Forced Marriage: Parental permission to marry is required until the age of 21. The marriage law sets the age of marital consent at 15 for girls and 17 for boys, provided parents of the parties agree to the marriage. Children in certain tribal communities often marry at an age below that set forth by the law.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities prosecuted all reported violations. While the legal age of sexual consent is 14, trafficking-in-persons legislation makes illegal the sexual exploitation of a person younger than age 18. Criminal law penalizes persons responsible for recruiting children into prostitution and provides penalties of up to six years’ imprisonment and a fine of SRD 100,000 ($13,300) for pimping. The law also prohibits child pornography, which carries a maximum penalty of six years’ imprisonment and maximum fine of SRD 50,000 ($6,650). Violations are punishable by prison terms of up to 12 years.

Lack of economic opportunities led to an increasing number of adolescent boys and girls entering prostitution to support family or to pay for education. One NGO reported commercial sexual exploitation of children as young as 14. While not generally marketed as a destination for child sex tourism, cases were reported of tourists involved in sexual exploitation of children. Cases were also reported of parents forcing their young children into prostitution.

Several cases of sexual exploitation, sexual and physical abuse, and neglect came to trial. Victims included both boys and girls. Sentences range up to 10 years in prison.

Institutionalized Children: A lack of financial support from the Ministry of Social Affairs for orphanages and other shelters for children significantly affected these institutions’ ability to care for children adequately. There were reported cases of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in some shelter facilities.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a declared Jewish community of approximately 150 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts or discrimination.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

No laws specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. Persons with disabilities are eligible to receive general health benefits, but the process can be cumbersome. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination when applying for jobs and services. Authorities provided some training programs for persons with impaired vision or other disabilities. No laws or programs provide that persons with disabilities have access to buildings. A judge may rule to deny a person with a cognitive disability the right to vote, take part in business transactions, or sign legal agreements. Primary education was available for persons with disabilities and, depending on the type of disability, secondary and higher education were also available. There was secondary and technical education for deaf and hard-of-hearing persons but not for those with visual disabilities. Persons with disabilities are eligible to receive a stipend from the government until they marry or turn 60. The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

In October the Ministry of Social Affairs supported an NGO-led workshop on developing awareness for the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as identifying issues of concern.

Indigenous People

The law affords no special protection for, or recognition of, indigenous peoples. The IACHR identified the Maroons (descendants of escaped slaves who fled to the interior–approximately 22 percent of the population) as tribal peoples and thus entitled to the same rights as the indigenous Amerindian communities (approximately 4 percent of the population).

Maroons and Amerindians living in the remote and undeveloped interior had limited access to education, employment, and health and social services. Both groups participated in decisions affecting their tradition and culture, but they had limited influence in decisions affecting exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, and other natural resources on their lands. Both Maroons and Amerindians took part in regional governing bodies, as well as in the National Assembly, and were part of the governing coalition.

The government recognizes the different Maroon and indigenous tribes, but they hold no special status under national law, and there was no effective demarcation of their lands. Because authorities did not effectively demarcate or police Amerindian and Maroon lands, these populations continued to face problems with illegal and uncontrolled logging and mining. No laws grant indigenous peoples the right to share in the revenues from the exploitation of resources on their traditional lands. Organizations representing Maroon and Amerindian communities complained that small-scale mining operations, mainly by illegal gold miners, some of whom were themselves tribal or supported by tribal groups, dug trenches that cut residents off from their agricultural land and threatened to drive them away from their traditional settlements. Mercury runoff from these operations as well as riverbank erosion also contaminated sources of drinking water and threatened traditional food sources, especially freshwater fish.

Maroon and Amerindian groups complained about the government granting land within their traditional territories to third parties, who sometimes prevented the villages from engaging in their traditional activities on those lands.

In July the government translated and published the summary of the Kalina and Lokono Peoples vs. Suriname Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling announced in 2015. The court declared the state responsible for violating the rights to recognition of juridical personality, to collective property, to political rights, and to cultural identity, and reminded the state of its duty to adopt appropriate domestic legal provisions. The court ordered the government to recognize the Kalina and Lokono collective juridical personality legally; delimit, demarcate, and title the territory to the peoples; establish a community development fund; and rehabilitate areas affected by mining by third parties. The court also ordered similar legislative changes to be made for recognizing the rights of all indigenous and tribal peoples and to have this effective legal recognition and protection within three years. As of October the government had not taken action to carry out the court’s orders. The final deadline for the government to implement the ruling was January 2019.

The government also took no action to implement precautionary measures requested by the IACHR in 2016 regarding a 2009 petition from the Kalina Indigenous Community of Maho. In 2014, despite the continuing litigation, the government continued to grant concession rights to third parties in the area of the Maho community. In 2016 the Maho community requested that the IACHR forward the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Throughout the year the community continued to report infringements on its lands.

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

The constitution prohibits many forms of discrimination but does not address sexual orientation or gender identity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals could associate freely, were socially very active, and advocated within society under the same laws that pertain to the assembly and association of other groups. The law prohibits discrimination and hate speech based on sexual orientation, specifically protecting the LGBTI community. Violations are punishable by a fine or prison sentence of up to one year. The law does not set standards for determining what constitutes such discrimination or hate speech. The law was in effect but had not been used in any case.

The LGBT Platform, a collective of NGOs, reported improvements in acceptance of the LGBTI community by society. Despite legal protections, the government itself discriminated against same-sex couples, since 2014 legislation on retirement benefits specifically excludes same-sex couples from benefits granted to heterosexual couples. Among the LGBTI community, the transgender community faced the most stigmatization and discrimination. Transgender women arrested or detained by police were placed in detention facilities for men, where they faced harassment and other violence from other detainees.

There were few official reports of violence against LGBTI persons, primarily due to fear of retribution and because authorities reportedly did not take seriously complaints filed by members of the LGBTI community. There were reports of societal discrimination against the LGBTI community in areas of employment and housing.

An appeals case involving the Civil Registration Office concerning the ability of transgender individuals to update legal documents to reflect their gender identity in the public registry was ongoing.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS continued to experience discrimination in employment and medical services. Medical treatment is free for HIV/AIDS patients covered under government insurance, but private insurers did not cover such treatment. NGOs reported discriminatory testing, and subsequent denial, when applying for housing assistance from the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Chinese shop owners continued to be targets of violent armed robberies. Violence in the gold-mining areas of the interior occurred primarily among and within the Brazilian community, where the government exercised little authority.

Sweden

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a freely elected multiparty parliamentary form of government. Legislative authority rests in the unicameral parliament (Riksdag). Observers considered the national elections on September 9 to be free and fair. Efforts to form a new government continued at year’s end. The king is largely a symbolic head of state. The prime minister is the head of government and exercises executive authority.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

Authorities generally prosecuted officials who committed abuses in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Police reported several fires involving housing facilities or planned housing facilities for asylum seekers by suspected arsonists.

A report published on September 12 by UN Women found that the benefits system does not cover survivors of violence against women who are not legally resident in the country, and most shelters are not allowed to house survivors from this group. Hospital emergency rooms may treat the survivors. Private shelters may also accept illegal migrants, but may incur legal liability for hiding and housing an illegal migrant.

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. Applicants may appeal unfavorable asylum decisions.

Asylum seekers who have been denied residence are not entitled to asylum housing or a daily allowance, though many municipalities continued to support rejected asylum seekers through the social welfare system at the local level. The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner criticized the government over delays in the appointment of guardians for unaccompanied minor refugees and in processing of asylum applications from unaccompanied minors.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: In accordance with EU regulations, the government denied asylum to persons who had previously registered in another EU member state or in countries with which Sweden maintained reciprocal return agreements.

Durable Solutions: The government assisted in the voluntary return of rejected asylum seekers to their homes and authorized financial support for their repatriation in the amount of 30,000 kronor ($3,450) per adult and 15,000 kronor ($1,700) per child, with a maximum of 75,000 kronor ($8,600) per family. The country also participated in the European Reintegration Network that offers support for reintegration for returning rejected asylum seekers.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided various forms of temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In 2017 it provided temporary protection to 1,091 persons.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR there were 35,101 stateless persons in the country in December 2017. The large number of stateless persons was due to the influx of migrants and refugees and the birth of children to stateless parents who remained stateless until either one parent acquired citizenship or a special application for citizenship (available for stateless children under the age of five) was made. Most stateless persons came from the Middle East (Gaza and the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq) and Somalia.

Stateless persons who were granted permanent residence could obtain citizenship through the same naturalization process as other permanent residents. Gaining citizenship generally took four to eight years, depending on the individual’s grounds for residency, ability to establish identity, and lack of a criminal record.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape and domestic violence, are illegal, and the government enforced the law effectively. Penalties range from two to 10 years in prison.

Amnesty International alleged that “rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls remained widespread but there were few convictions.” In 2017 only 111 cases of the 3,430 reported were prosecuted. Authorities apprehended and prosecuted abusers in most cases of domestic violence reported to them. On October 2, the Malmo district court sentenced a man to four years and 10 months in prison for aggravated rape of a woman in a massage salon.

The law provides for protection of survivors from contact with their abusers. When necessary, authorities helped survivors protect their identities or obtain new identities and homes. Both national and local governments helped fund volunteer groups that provided shelter and other assistance for abused women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C. The government developed a national action plan to prevent FGM/C and work with victims.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Honor-related violence often involved immigrants from the Middle East or South Asia. In 2017 the Swedish Prison and Probation Services estimated that 97 persons were in prison for committing honor-related violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for criminal penalties from a fine to up to two years in prison. The government generally enforced this law. During the year a flood of stories of assault and harassment forced the resignations of several high-profile persons.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance law. Women were underrepresented in high-ranking positions in both the public and the private sectors.

Gender-based discrimination with respect to access to credit, owning or managing a business, and access to education and housing is prohibited and was not commonly reported. The government enforced the laws effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents. The tax authority immediately registered in the national population register all children born in the country, regardless of their parents’ citizenship or immigration or residency status in the country.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits parents or other caretakers from abusing children mentally or physically. Penalties for such range from a fine up to 10 years in prison. Cases of child abuse were reported. Authorities may remove abused children from their homes and place them in foster care. The children’s ombudsman published a number of reports and publications for children and those working to protect children from abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 18, and it is illegal for anyone under 18 to marry. The government will legally recognize as valid the marriage of anyone who comes to the country after the age of 18, even if they were married abroad before the age of 18. The country does not recognize a foreign child marriage if either of the parties was a Swedish citizen or resident in the country at the time of marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes “contact with children under 15 for sexual purposes,” including internet contact intended to lead to sexual assault. Penalties range from fines to one year in prison. The law prohibits the sale of children; penalties range from two to 10 years in prison. It also bans child pornography with penalties ranging from fines to six years in prison. Authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.

Displaced Children: Stockholm police reported underage children, mainly from Morocco, Algeria, and other countries in North Africa, lived on the streets. Many of these children had sought asylum in the country, but did not qualify and were at risk of removal. Social Services offered accommodation for children or foster families regardless of asylum status.

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

Anti-Semitism

Leaders of the Jewish community estimated there were 20,000 to 30,000 Jews in the country and approximately 6,000 registered members of Jewish congregations. The National Council for Crime Prevention (NCCP) registered 182 anti-Semitic crimes in 2016, the latest year available, compared with 277 in 2015, a decrease of approximately 34 percent. Anti-Semitic crimes included threats, verbal abuse, vandalism, graffiti, and harassment in schools. Anti-Semitic incidents were often associated with neo-Nazi movements and events in the Middle East and the actions of the Israeli government. Swedish Jews were often blamed for Israeli policies.

The most common forms of anti-Semitism were unlawful threats or harassment (49 percent of complaints), hate speech (27 percent), vandalism or graffiti (10 percent), and defamation (5 percent). Ten violent anti-Semitic hate crimes were reported in 2016, the latest year available, an increase from eight such crimes in 2015. Authorities initiated an investigation in 58 percent of the complaints of anti-Semitism reported in 2015; 37 percent were directly dismissed due to lack of evidence. Formal charges were brought in only 4 percent of the cases.

Police, politicians, media, and Jewish groups have stated that anti-Semitism has been especially prevalent in Malmo. The Simon Wiesenthal Center left in place its travel warning, first issued in 2010, regarding travel in southern Sweden, because Jews in Malmo could be “subject to anti-Semitic taunts and harassment.”

On June 21, three men in their early 20s (one Syrian, and two Palestinians) were sentenced for attempting to firebomb the synagogue in Gothenburg in December 2017. One of the Palestinian men was sentenced to two years in prison and expulsion; the others were sentenced to two years and 15 months in prison. The man facing expulsion appealed his sentence. The appellate court ruled on September 12 that he would not be expelled after serving his prison sentence due to his “special refugee status.” The prosecutor general appealed the decision not to extradite the Palestinian to the Supreme Court in October.

The newspaper Expressen reported on August 31 that a number of Sweden Democrats candidates in the general election had made anti-Semitic comments on social media. Martin Sihlen, a candidate for the municipal government in Orkelljunga, questioned the number of people murdered in the Holocaust, referred to the “Jewish plague,” and wrote online that “Hitler did not lie about the Jews” and that “Hitler was not bad.” Per Olsson, a candidate for the municipal government in Oskarshamn, shared an image of Anne Frank wearing a shirt reading “Coolest Jew in the Shower Room,” as well as a photo of Adolf Hitler. Raghu Jacobssen, a candidate for the municipal government in Stenungsund, wrote: “As long as the Rothschilds run the economy, and as such the modern slavery on this planet, there will be antisemitism. #Jews #Israel.” He also shared an image stating: “What’s the difference between a cow and the Holocaust? You can’t milk a cow for 70 years straight.” The Sweden Democrats expelled the three candidates in response to media reports about their activities online.

The government allocated 22 million kronor ($2.5 million) for grants to increase security for threatened places of worship and other parts of civil society. All religious communities and civil society actors who feel they have been threatened may apply for the grant.

The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency continued to cooperate with religious communities on a national level to promote dialogue and prevent conflicts leading to anti-Semitic incidents. It continued to train police officers to detect hate crimes and visited high schools to raise awareness of such crimes and encourage more victims to report abuses. The government made information available in several languages for victims of hate crimes and provided interpreters to facilitate reporting. Police hate-crime officers operated throughout the country.

The Living History Forum is a public authority commissioned to address societal problems related to religious and ethnic tolerance, democracy, and human rights using the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity as its starting point. The Forum sensitized the public, and particularly the young, to the need to respect the equal value of all persons, with a specific focus on teaching about the Holocaust as a means of fighting Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.

The Media Council initiated a No Hate Speech Movement campaign and worked to stop anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The government allocated five million kronor ($575,000) annually for 2018-20 to strengthen the opportunities for study visits to Holocaust memorial sites, which allowed more students and teachers to visit them.

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 disabilities. In May new legislation expanded these protections to cover businesses with fewer than 10 employees. The government effectively enforced these provisions and held accountable those responsible for violations.

Government regulations require new buildings and public facilities to be fully accessible. Observers reported cases of insufficient access to privately owned buildings used by the public, such as apartments, restaurants, and bars. Some means of public transportation remained inaccessible.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Societal discrimination and violence against immigrants and Roma continued to be problems during the year.

Police registered reports of xenophobic crimes, some of which were linked to neo-Nazi or white supremacy ideology. Police investigated and the district attorney’s office prosecuted race-related crimes. The Security Service estimated the violent extreme right-wing group at 500 persons. Expo, a private foundation that researches and maps antidemocratic, right-wing extremists and racist tendencies in the country, noted increased radicalization and activities in the white supremacist groups. Neo-Nazi groups operated legally (see section 2.a.). The NRM was the largest white supremacy group with approximately 160 active members, strengthened by several hundred additional supporters who attend rallies. The NRM registered as a political party and participated in the general elections in September. It did not win any seats in any of the elections.

The Red Cross estimated that 4,700 “vulnerable EU citizens,” the vast majority of whom were Roma from Romania and Bulgaria, resided in the country in abject poverty at any given time. As EU citizens, they are allowed to stay in the country without permission for up to three months, but authorities did not enforce this limit. The police stated that most Roma were in the country voluntarily but that there were cases of trafficking and forced begging.

In its report published on February 27, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance noted a de facto segregation of the Rinkeby-Kista district of Stockholm, where 80 percent of the population was of immigrant origin or parentage, from the rest of the country’s society. The result was lower levels of education, higher levels of unemployment, and separation from the country’s mainstream culture mainly due to poor Swedish-language skills.

In December 2017 the Civil Right Defenders together with Stockholm University concluded in a report that being singled out by police due to ethnicity was a common experience for members of certain ethnic groups, including Afro-Swedes, Muslims, and Roma, mainly from marginalized residential areas of major cities.

Indigenous People

The approximately 20,000 Sami in the country are full citizens with the right to vote in elections and participate in the government, including as members of the country’s parliament. They are not, however, represented as a group in parliament. A 31-member elected administrative authority called the Sami parliament (Sametinget) also represented Sami. The Sami parliament acted as an advisory body to the government and had limited decision-making powers in matters related to preserving the Sami culture, language, and schooling. The national parliament and government regulations governed the Sami parliament’s operations.

Longstanding tensions between the Sami and the government over land and natural resources persisted, as did tensions between the Sami and private landowners over reindeer grazing rights. Certain Sami have grazing and fishing rights, depending on their tribal history.

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

Antidiscrimination laws exist; apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; and were enforced. In 2017 the NCCP reported 550 hate crimes based on sexual orientation and 80 reports of transphobic hate crimes.

Effective June 1, transphobia was defined as a hate crime.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In 2016 the NCCP identified 6,415 police reports with a hate crime motive, a majority with xenophobic motives.

In May the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) raised concerns in its periodic review over the level of racist hate crimes towards Afro-Swedes, Jews, Muslims, and Roma. The CERD also expressed concern over racist and extremist organizations’ right to arrange public demonstrations.

An inquiry of all the country’s Muslim congregations by Uppsala University showed that vandalism against mosques was common. During 2017 at least one Muslim place of worship was vandalized every week.

The police established democracy and hate crime groups in Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo. In January the government opened a National Center for Preventing Violent Extremism under the auspices of the NCCP. The center serves as a clearinghouse for information, best practices, and support of municipalities, agencies, and other actors.

Switzerland

Executive Summary

The Swiss Confederation is a constitutional republic with a federal structure. Legislative authority resides in a bicameral parliament (Federal Assembly) consisting of the 46-member Council of States and the 200-member National Council. Federal elections in 2015 were considered free and fair. Parliament elects the executive leadership (the seven-member Federal Council) every four years, and did so in 2015. A four-party coalition made up the Federal Council.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed violations, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities may detain asylum seekers who inhibit authorities’ processing of their asylum requests, subject to judicial review, for up to six months while adjudicating their applications. The government may detain rejected applicants for up to three months to assure they do not go into hiding prior to forced deportation, or up to 18 months if repatriation posed special obstacles. The government may detain minors between the ages of 15 and 18 for up to 12 months pending repatriation. Authorities generally instructed asylum seekers whose applications were denied to leave voluntarily but could forcibly repatriate those who refused.

Following media reports of asylum seekers younger than 15 being held in deportation prisons, authorities in the cantons of Zurich and Bern decided to stop incarcerating asylum seekers who are minors; the Federal Council announced in October that the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) will instead task cantons with establishing alternative accommodation for asylum-seeking minors. Members of parliament alleged that the practice breached the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Federal Council stated that the practice occurs very rarely.

In September the UN Committee against Torture called the SEM’s attempt to deport an asylum-seeking Eritrean torture victim back to Italy “inhumane” on the grounds that the man’s psychiatric condition required a re-examination. The SEM’s investigation into the case was pending as of November.

The SEM stated that many unaccompanied minors fled the country’s official reception centers after applying for asylum, and authorities were unable to verify their whereabouts. The NGO Terre des Hommes expressed concern over missing underage asylum seekers becoming victims of trafficking. Terre des Hommes further stated that some cantons did not consistently report disappearances of underage asylum seekers. According to data from the Federal Statistical Office, sexual violence in asylum housing was on the rise, with authorities recording 33 cases of sexual violence in 2017, including six cases of child sex abuse and eight rapes. NGO Terre des Femmes noted that asylum centers often restricted the private sphere and safety of female refugees, due to bedrooms and bathrooms not always being gender segregated. According to the NGO, perpetrators of sexual violence comprised asylum seekers, caregivers, and security personnel.

On July 12, the NCPT released its annual report on deportation flights. Between April 2017 and March, the country forcibly deported 317 persons, including 28 families and 28 children, to their countries of origin. The NCPT regarded the treatment of deportees as generally professional. The committee, however, criticized the deportation of seven-months’ pregnant women and the staggered repatriation of asylum-seeking families that led to the separation of family members during deportation. The committee continued to observe inconsistent deportation practices among the cantons.

NGOs working with refugees continued to complain that officials often effectively denied detained asylum seekers proper legal representation in deportation cases due to their financial inability to hire an attorney. Authorities provided free legal assistance only during the initial phase of the asylum application process and in cases of serious criminal offenses, deeming deportation of asylum seekers an administrative, rather than a judicial, process.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: While the government generally did not force asylum seekers to return to countries where their lives or freedom may be threatened, there were reportedly exceptions. In July the Federal Administrative Court ruled Eritrean asylum seekers may still be deported to their home country even if they faced military conscription upon their return. The court stated that while conditions during Eritrean national service are reportedly difficult, they are not so severe as to make deportation unlawful. The court further concluded that cases of abuse and sexual assault were not widespread enough to influence the assessment. The ruling followed previous criticism by the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants over the Administrative Court’s February 2017 decision to no longer grant protection to Eritrean asylum seekers who illegally departed their country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government required asylum applicants to provide documentation verifying their identity within 48 hours of completing their applications; authorities, under the law, are to refuse to process applications of asylum seekers unable to provide a credible justification for their lack of acceptable documents or to show evidence of persecution.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The SEM relied on a list of “safe countries.” Asylum seekers who originated from or transited these countries generally were ineligible for asylum. The country is a signatory to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation.

Employment: The law prohibits asylum seekers from working during the first three months following their arrival in the country, and authorities can extend that prohibition for an additional three months if the SEM rejects the asylum application within the first three months. After three months asylum seekers may seek employment in industries with labor shortages, such as in the hospitality, construction, healthcare, or agricultural sectors.

Access to Basic Services: The cantons assumed the main responsibility for providing housing, general assistance, and care to asylum applicants during the processing phase. Shortages of appropriate housing for asylum seekers remained a problem. Asylum seekers have the right to basic medical care, and the children of asylum seekers are entitled to attend school until ninth grade (the last year for which school is mandatory).

A study published in August 2017 by Bern’s University of Applied Sciences reported shortages in asylum centers’ health-care services for pregnant women. According to the report, a lack of translation services prevented patients from receiving adequate psychological support, while access to female-specific contraception was limited due to the unsubsidized cost of the prescription.

To accommodate increasing numbers of asylum seekers, the SEM continued to house hundreds of asylum seekers in remote rural areas or in decommissioned military establishments–several of them underground–retrofitted to serve as short-term housing. In May 2017 the SEM commenced a pilot project to end the ban on mobile phones for asylum seekers and took additional steps to provide suitable care for minor asylum seekers in federal centers.

Durable Solutions: In 2016 the government announced it would accept an additional 2,000 Syrian refugees until 2019 as part of a UNHCR resettlement program. In 2015 the government agreed to accept 3,000 Syrian refugees between 2015 and 2018 under the UNHCR resettlement program. As of August, 2,231 of these had arrived in the country.

Temporary Protection: In 2017 the government granted temporary admission to 8,419 individuals, 966 of whom the government designated as refugees.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, and domestic violence, are statutory offenses for which penalties range from one to 10 years in prison. The government effectively prosecuted individuals accused of such crimes.

NGOs such as Terre des Femmes, Vivre Sans Violence, and the umbrella organization for women’s shelters noted that violence against women remained a serious problem. Domestic violence against migrant women was four times higher than against nonmigrant women. The law penalizes domestic violence and stalking. A court may order an abusive spouse to leave the family home temporarily.

Specialized government agencies, numerous NGOs, and nearly a dozen private or government-sponsored hotlines provided help, counseling, and legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence. According to the NGO Umbrella Organization for Swiss Women’s Shelters, more than 1,000 women and children were unable to be housed by shelters due to a lack of space and financing. Most cantonal police forces included specially trained domestic violence units.

The women’s NGO Alliance F observed a rise in violence against women and an increase in violent messages and images on social media directed at women. In one prominent case, on August 8, a group of men assaulted five young women in the early morning hours outside a nightclub in Geneva. Two of the women suffered severe head injuries, with one reportedly left in a coma. Public shock and outcry over the attack sparked protests in Geneva, Zurich, Bern, Basel, and Lausanne. According to press reports, in September, French authorities arrested three suspects in the attack, all of whom were French nationals, and took over investigation of the case.

On November 25, the NGO Feminist Peace Organization organized a campaign supported by several cantonal governments on the influence of gender stereotypes on violence against women. Approximately 50 organizations participated, and they sponsored 70 public awareness events across the country.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The first-ever criminal sentence under the anti-FGM/C law was handed down during the year. In July the criminal court of Boudry in the canton of Neuchatel issued an eight-month suspended prison sentence against a Neuchatel-based Somali woman who ordered between 2013 and 2015 the full or partial removal of her six- and seven-year-old daughters’ genitalia while in Somalia and Ethiopia.

According to the latest available statistics, the University Hospital of Zurich treated up to 30 cases of FGM/C each year, while the women’s clinic in the canton of St. Gallen recorded approximately five cases each year. Hospitals in Basel also confirmed cases of FGM/C in their clinics. According to government and NGO estimates, approximately 15,000 women and girls, primarily from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt, were affected by, or at risk of, FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and facilitates legal remedies for those claiming discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Special legal protection against the dismissal of a claimant expires after six months. Employers failing to take reasonable measures to prevent sexual harassment are liable for damages up to the equivalent of six months’ salary.

The cantonal police of Bern, the Zurich city police, and the city government of Lausanne conducted public information campaigns against sexual harassment during the year. Lausanne city officials also established an online platform for victims to record instances of sexual harassment and provided extra training to police officers and teachers on the matter.

A national survey published in April 2017 by local newspaper 20 Minuten found that 44 percent of 2,700 surveyed women had experienced sexual assault at least once in their lives, while 41 percent had experienced sexual harassment, and 3 percent were victims of rape.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution and the law generally provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. A study commissioned by the Federal Office for Gender Equality and published in June 2017 by the University of Geneva found that lawsuits regarding salary discrimination were the most numerous.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents; either parent may convey citizenship. Authorities registered births immediately.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a significant problem. A study by the UBS Optimus Foundation found that up to 50,000 children are registered with child protection authorities each year due to child abuse. According to statistics by the Swiss Society of Pediatrics, child abuse cases rose 10 percent in 2017, to 1,730 cases. The most common form of child abuse was neglect, with cases almost doubling to a total of 657 cases in 2017.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. The law prohibits forced marriage and provides penalties of up to five years in prison for violations. The federal government announced in January it would financially support the NGO Organization against Forced Marriage in its prevention activities over the next four years, including maintaining a website where at-risk individuals could declare their unwillingness to be married while on foreign travel. The website enabled authorities either to stop vulnerable individuals from leaving the country or to pronounce the marriages as invalid upon their return.

In 2017 the NGO Organization against Forced Marriage recorded 107 child marriages, of which 43 cases concerned children younger than the age of 16. The NGO partly attributed the rise in child marriages to the growing numbers of Syrian refugees who reportedly arrange marriages for their daughters in refugee camps to protect them from sexual assault, as well as to the increasing social awareness of the problem in schools and asylum centers.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The production, possession, distribution, or downloading of internet pornography that involves children is illegal and punishable by fines or a maximum sentence of one year in prison. With few exceptions, the law designates 16 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The maximum penalty for statutory rape is imprisonment for 10 years. The mandate of the federal police Cybercrime Coordination Unit included preventing and prosecuting crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children online.

The law prohibits prostitution of persons younger than the age of 18 and punishes pimps of children subjected to trafficking in commercial sex with prison sentences of up to 10 years. It provides for sentences of up to three years in prison for persons engaging in commercial sex with children.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG/FSCI), approximately 18,000 Jewish individuals resided in the country.

The 2017 Anti-Semitism Report, produced jointly by the SIG/FSCI and the Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism, cited 39 anti-Semitic incidents (excluding anti-Semitic online hate speech) in the German-speaking part of the country in 2017. The SIG/FSCI attributed the increase in recorded anti-Semitic statements and acts to a potential improvement in the reporting behavior of the public. The report documented four physical assaults against Jews.

In 2017 the Geneva-based Intercommunity Center for Coordination against Anti-Semitism and Defamation reported 150 anti-Semitic incidents in the French-speaking region. The report noted an increase in right-wing extremist activities and anti-Semitic incidents motivated by the myth of a global Jewish conspiracy controlling the world. The report also observed a steep rise in anti-Semitic incidents on social media and a growing trivialization of the Holocaust. In July the federal government decided to allocate 500,000 Swiss francs ($500,000) annually to education and awareness efforts aimed at improving the protection of religious minorities, notably the Jewish and Muslim communities. The decision followed an October 2017 report by the Ministry of Interior, in which the government described the protection of Jewish institutions as an “issue of national importance.”

In July a German national armed with a knife yelled anti-Semitic statements while following three Jews on their way to a Zurich synagogue. Police arrested the man the same evening and released him shortly afterwards.

In August the leadership of the centrist Conservative Democratic Party (BDP) expelled a Thurgau cantonal politician from the party after he tweeted that Adolf Hitler could not have been “endlessly bad” and that he did not just see an “evil tyrant” in Hitler. He later apologized for his tweet. The BDP stated any minimization of Nazi atrocities is unacceptable.

In October a kosher butcher shop in Basel was vandalized four times in one month. Police were investigating what the community president called “anti-Semitic attacks,” and the secretary general of the SIG/FSCI told the press the incidents were “generating concern” among members of the community.

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 and federal law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government generally enforced the prohibition. The law mandates access for disabled persons to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and government services. The government generally enforced these provisions.

One of the country’s largest disability organizations, Procap, stated that persons with mental disabilities faced increasing difficulties finding employment. Procap also observed a growing number of disabled persons living in poverty, due to disability insurance benefits falling short of allowing disabled persons to live above the poverty income level. The NGO Humanrights.ch alleged that patients were incarcerated in regular detention centers for up to 23 hours a day and that they were denied their right to free legal counsel. In its 2016 report, the CPT stated that some mentally disabled persons were hospitalized in inappropriate conditions.

The Federal Equal Opportunity Office for Persons with Disabilities promoted awareness of the law and respect for the rights of individuals with disabilities through counseling and financial support for projects to facilitate their integration in society and the labor market. In May the government published a report on the situation of disabled persons, which concluded that disabled individuals still lacked equal access to the labor market, health care services, and housing, as well as to recreational and cultural activities. In response to the findings, the government ordered two new staff members to be added to the Federal Equal Opportunity Office for Persons with Disabilities in order to assist with the implementation of two new programs, one to increase disabled persons’ employment opportunities and the other to enable a more independent life style by better addressing disabled persons’ individual needs.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Extremists, including skinheads, who expressed hostility toward foreigners, ethnic and religious minorities, and immigrants, continued to be active.

In May the Federal Court confirmed the cantonal court of Vaud’s sentencing of a man for breaching the antiracism law after he asked on Twitter in 2015 who would join him in “torching Muslims” in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack in France. In April the Consulting Network for Racism Victims, a partnership between the NGO Humanrights.ch and the Federal Commission against Racism, released its report for 2017, again documenting an increase in racism against dark-skinned individuals and persons of Arab background. Anti-Muslim incidents were the third most-recorded cases of racism, after general xenophobia and racism against persons with dark skins. The report noted that most incidents of racial discrimination were verbal and occurred primarily in the workplace and at school. Unlike the previous year’s report, no physical attacks were reported.

In 2017 the Romani association Romano Dialogue and the Roma Foundation reported discrimination against Roma in the housing and labor markets and that many Roma routinely concealed their identity to prevent professional and private backlash. Romani representatives told local media that perceptions of uncleanliness, criminality, street begging, and lack of education continued to dominate the public’s view of Roma. According to the Society for Threatened Peoples, itinerant Roma, Sinti, and Yenish regularly faced arbitrary stops by police. In June the government rejected an official request submitted by Romani organizations to recognize Roma as a national minority. According to the government, Roma did not sufficiently display determination to “safeguard a common Swiss identity” nor did enough members have Swiss citizenship or longstanding ties to the country. The Society for Threatened Peoples called the decision discriminatory in light of the government’s recognition of the Sinti as a national minority in 2016.

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

The law does not specifically ban discrimination in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. There were occasional reports of societal violence or discrimination based on opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status.

The umbrella organization for gay men, Pink Cross, reported that bullying in the work place remained a problem for LGBTI persons and noted that there were instances of discrimination against LGBTI individuals in the housing market. The organization also noted that authorities did not specifically prosecute hate crimes. In September Pink Cross initiated criminal proceedings against right-wing extremist leader Florian Signer of the Party of Nationally Oriented Swiss for publishing an article on the party’s website that described gay men as doing “pioneering work for pedophiles” and that the adoption of children by LGBTI persons is an “emotional time bomb.”

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were occasional reports of discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. To combat harassment and unfair behavior, the Swiss AIDS Federation conducted multiple campaigns to sensitize the public to the problem.

Syria

Executive Summary

President Bashar Assad has ruled the Syrian Arab Republic since 2000. The constitution mandates the primacy of Baath Party leaders in state institutions and society, and Assad and Baath party leaders dominate all three branches of government as an authoritarian regime. An uprising against the government that began in 2011 continued throughout the year. The 2014 presidential election and the 2016 parliamentary elections resulted in the election of Assad and 200 People’s Council (Syrian parliament) seats for the Baath Party-led National Progressive Front, respectively. Both elections took place in an environment of widespread government coercion, and many Syrians residing in opposition-held territory did not participate in the elections. Observers did not consider the elections free or fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the uniformed military, police, and state security forces but did not maintain effective control over foreign and domestic military or paramilitary organizations. These progovernment forces included Russian armed forces, Hizballah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and nonuniformed progovernment militias, such as the National Defense Forces.

Government and progovernment forces launched a massive assault on the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta, culminating in the government’s recapture in April of an area it had besieged since 2013. The assault by the government and progovernment forces involved use of heavy weapons, likely use of chemical weapons, and deliberate denial of humanitarian aid. Government and progovernment forces launched an assault on opposition-controlled areas of Daraa Province, considered the cradle of the revolution that began in 2011, and reasserted government control in July. The assault killed hundreds of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government, including those involving the repeated use of chemical weapons, including chlorine and other substances; enforced disappearances; torture, including torture involving sexual violence; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care; prisoners of conscience; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; undue restrictions on free expression, including restrictions on the press and access to the internet, including censorship and site blocking; substantial suppression of the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe suppression of religious freedom; undue restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; high-level and widespread corruption; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by the government and other armed actors; trafficking in persons; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; violence and severe discrimination targeting LGBTI persons; and severe restrictions on workers’ rights.

The government took no steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights violations or abuses. Impunity was pervasive and deeply embedded in the security forces and elsewhere in the government.

Government-linked paramilitary groups reportedly engaged in frequent violations and abuses, including massacres, indiscriminate killings, kidnapping civilians, arbitrary detentions, and rape as a war tactic. Government-affiliated militias, including the terrorist organization Lebanese Hizballah, supported by Iran, repeatedly targeted civilians.

There were reports that armed opposition groups carried out what were characterized as indiscriminate attacks in the battle in eastern Ghouta and that they arbitrarily arrested and tortured civilians in Douma. Syrian opposition groups supported by the Turkish government reportedly looted and confiscated homes belonging to Kurdish residents in Afrin.

Some Kurdish forces reportedly unlawfully restricted the movement of persons in liberated areas and arbitrarily arrested some local civil council leaders, teachers, and other civilians. Elements affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and other minorities that included members of the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG), reportedly engaged in forced conscription, to include limited conscription of children. In September the SDF issued a military order banning the recruitment of anyone younger than age 18 and ordering their military records office to verify the ages of those currently enlisted.

Armed terrorist groups, such as the al-Qa’ida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), also committed a wide range of abuses, including massacres, unlawful killings, bombings, and kidnappings; unlawful detention; torture; and forced evacuations from homes based on sectarian identity. ISIS lost the majority of territory it once controlled, limiting its ability to subject large populations to human rights violations. Although severely weakened, ISIS attacked members of religious minority groups and subjected women and girls to routine rape, forced marriages, sexual slavery, human trafficking, and murder.

Russian forces were reportedly implicated in the deaths of civilians resulting from air strikes characterized as indiscriminate, particularly during support of the government’s military campaigns in the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta, including Douma.

Foreign forces fighting ISIS were implicated in civilian casualties reportedly in Afrin and Raqqa.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of movement “within the territories of the state unless restricted by a judicial decision or by the implementation of laws,” but the government, ISIS, and other armed groups restricted internal movement and travel and instituted security checkpoints to monitor such travel throughout the regions under their respective control. Government sieges in Homs, Damascus, rural Damascus, Deir al-Zour, and Idlib Governorates restricted the freedom of movement and resulted in documented cases of death, starvation, and severe malnutrition, while forced evacuations following sieges resulted in mass displacement and additional breakdowns in service provision and humanitarian assistance (see section 1.g.).

The government inconsistently cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The government provided some cooperation to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Both government and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths.

In-country Movement: In government-besieged cities throughout the country, government forces blocked humanitarian access, leading to severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care, and death. The violence, coupled with significant cultural pressure, severely restricted the movement of women in many areas. Additionally, the law allows certain male relatives to place travel bans on women.

The government expanded security checkpoints into civilian areas to monitor and limit movement. Government forces reportedly used snipers to prevent protests, enforce curfews, target opposition forces, and, in some cases, prevent civilians from fleeing besieged towns. The government also barred foreign diplomats from visiting most parts of the country and rarely granted them permission to travel outside Damascus. The consistently high level and unpredictability of violence severely restricted movement throughout the country.

In areas they still controlled, armed opposition groups and terrorist groups such as HTS and ISIS also restricted movement, including with checkpoints (see section 1.g.). According to the COI, long desert detour routes exposed drivers and passengers to arbitrary arrest, unlawful search and seizure of property, demands for bribes, and detention and execution at checkpoints administered by ISIS, the government, and other armed actors.

While the SDC and SDF generally supported IDP communities in northeast Syria, in July HRW claimed that the SDC and members of the Kurdish Autonomous Administration operating in Deir al-Zour and Raqqa confiscated the identification cards of IDPs in camps and prevented their freedom of movement. According to UN and HRW allegations, the SDF in some instances required IDPs to obtain “sponsorship” to move to traditionally Kurdish areas controlled by the Kurdish Autonomous Administration in Qamishli, Hasakeh, and Kobani.

In the remaining areas under its control, ISIS restricted the movement of government supporters or assumed supporters, especially the Alawite and Shia populations, as well as Yezidi, Christian, and other captives. ISIS reportedly did not permit female passengers to traverse territory it controlled unless accompanied by a close male relative.

Foreign Travel: While citizens have the right to travel internationally, the government denied passports and other vital documents based on the applicant’s political views, association with opposition groups, or ties to geographic areas where the opposition dominated. The government also imposed exit visa requirements and routinely closed the Damascus airport and border crossings, claiming the closures were due to violence or threats of violence. For example, local media reported that every man between the ages of 17 and 42 must obtain approval from the conscription office before leaving the country. Additionally, the government often banned travel by human rights or civil society activists, their families, and affiliates. Many citizens reportedly learned of the ban against their travel only when authorities prevented them from departing the country. The government reportedly applied travel bans without explanation or explicit duration, including in cases when individuals sought to travel for health reasons. The government comprehensively banned international travel of opposition members, often targeting any such individual who attempted to travel. Local media and human rights groups repeatedly stated that opposition activists and their families hesitated to leave the country, fearing attacks at airports and border crossings.

The government also often refused to allow citizens to return. According to numerous media outlets, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s General Security directorate, stated that in coordinating the return of Syrian refugees from Lebanon, the Syrian government reviews a list of names and “on average” rejects 10 percent of them.

Syrians born abroad to parents who fled the conflict and remained in refugee camps generally did not have access to Syrian citizenship documents. The government allowed Syrians living outside of the country, whose passports expired, to renew their passports at consulates. Many who fled as refugees, however, feared reporting to the government against which they may have protested or feared the government could direct reprisals against family members still in the country.

Women older than age 18 have the legal right to travel without the permission of male relatives, but a husband may file a request with the Interior Ministry to prohibit his wife from departing the country.

There were reports ISIS destroyed Syrian passports and legal records and produced its own passports, not recognized by any country or entity. These policies disproportionately affected children, because many left the country before obtaining a passport or identification card. ISIS explicitly prohibited women from foreign travel.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

During the year violence continued to be the primary reason for displacement, much of it attributed to government and Russian aerial attacks. Government and progovernment evacuations of besieged areas, often overseen by Russian forces, forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of persons. Years of conflict and evacuations repeatedly displaced persons, and each displacement depleted family assets. In September the United Nations estimated there were more than 6.2 million IDPs in the country, including 1.5 million new IDPs since the start of the year. The United Nations estimated that 750,000 IDPs returned to their places of origin during the first half of the year. Up to 1.2 million persons lived in UN-designated hard-to-reach areas. UN humanitarian officials reported that most IDPs sought shelter with host communities or in collective centers, abandoned buildings, or informal camps. The humanitarian response to the country was coordinated through a complex bureaucratic structure. The crisis inside the country continued to meet the UN criteria for a level 3 response–the global humanitarian system’s classification for response to the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises.

The government generally did not provide sustainable access to services for IDPs, did not offer IDPs assistance or protection, did not facilitate humanitarian assistance for IDPs, and provided inconsistent protection. The government forcibly displaced populations from besieged areas and restricted movement of IDPs. The government did not promote the safe, voluntary, and dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs and, in many cases, refused to allow IDPs to return home. Seven Syrians who had attempted to return to their homes in Darayya and Qaboun, or whose immediate relatives attempted to return in May and July, told HRW that they or their relatives were unable to access their residential or commercial properties. According to HRW, the government was imposing town-wide restrictions on access to Darayya and in Qaboun the government either had restricted access to their neighborhoods or had demolished the property of the Syrians attempting to return. The government routinely disrupted the supply of humanitarian aid, including medical assistance, to areas under siege as well as to newly recaptured areas (see section 1.g.).

The SARC functioned as the main partner for international humanitarian organizations working inside the country to provide humanitarian assistance in government and some opposition-controlled areas. NGOs operating from Damascus faced government bureaucratic obstruction in attempting to provide humanitarian assistance. UN agencies and NGOs sought to increase the flow of assistance to opposition-held areas subject to government offensives to meet growing humanitarian needs, but the government increasingly restricted cross-line operations originating from Damascus. Cross-border operations from Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq, provided humanitarian assistance, but these halted from Jordan in June when the government retook territory in the southwest up to the Syria-Jordan border. While humanitarian aid was provided cross-border from Turkey to northwest Syria (Idlib and Aleppo) via two border crossings, Turkey prohibited the provision of humanitarian and stabilization aid to areas of northeast Syria from Turkey.

Assistance reached some hard-to-reach locations, but the government continued to hinder UN and NGO access, and the government secured control over many of these areas during the year. For example, humanitarian organizations reported throughout the summer that the government did not permit UN agencies the sustained access required to conduct detailed needs assessments for vulnerable populations in Quneitra. The United Nations reported that as of November only seven humanitarian assistance convoys had accessed hard-to-reach areas during the year, providing assistance to approximately 220,000 persons.

In early November the United Nations and SARC delivered humanitarian assistance to approximately 50,000 persons in need at Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Jordanian border. Additionally, the convoy provided an emergency vaccination campaign to protect some 5,000 children against measles, polio, and other diseases. The overall humanitarian situation in Rukban camp had reached a dire state, with reported shortages of basic commodities, protection concerns, increasing violence, and the death of several children who reportedly were unable to obtain the further medical treatment they needed, according to the United Nations. Prior to the delivery of humanitarian goods, the last UN delivery of assistance to Rukban was in January, delivered through Jordan. Prior to the November delivery, the government refused to authorize a convoy to travel from Damascus to Rukban.

Armed opposition groups, and terrorist groups such as HTS and ISIS, also impeded humanitarian assistance to IDPs. For example, in March the United Nations criticized the Turkish-backed armed opposition groups, including the FSA, for providing inconsistent, restricted access to IDPs in Afrin. In October the United Kingdom temporarily suspended the delivery of aid to Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province due to HTS taxes on aid trucks. The United Kingdom subsequently resumed aid delivery and, as of November, was still delivering aid to Idlib Province. The SDF and SDC generally facilitated the safe and voluntary return of IDPs during the year, particularly to Raqqa.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: UNHCR maintained that conditions for refugee return to Syria in safety and dignity were not yet in place and did not promote, nor facilitate, the return of refugees to Syria during the year. In July, however, the government and Russia began a diplomatic campaign to encourage the return of refugees to Syria. While Russia reportedly was eager to use the return of Syrian refugees as a means to secure international donations for Syria reconstruction efforts, the Syrian government adopted a more cautious approach on promoting the return of refugees, reportedly due to the government’s suspicion that many Syrian refugees supported the opposition.

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. UNHCR and UNRWA were able to maintain limited protection areas for refugees and asylum seekers, although violence hampered access to vulnerable populations. In coordination with both local and international NGOs, the United Nations continued to provide such individuals essential services and assistance.

Employment: The law does not explicitly grant refugees, except for Palestinians, the right to work. While the government rarely granted non-Palestinian refugees a work permit, many refugees found work in the informal sector as guards, construction workers, street vendors, and in other manual jobs.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows for the issuance of identity cards to Palestinian refugees and the same access to basic services provided to citizens. The government also allowed Iraqi refugees access to publicly available services, such as health care and education, but residency permits were available only to those refugees who entered the country legally and possessed a valid passport, which did not include all refugees. The lack of access to residency permits issued by authorities exposed refugees to risks of harassment and exploitation, and severely affected their access to public services. The approximately 48,000 non-Palestinian refugees and asylum seekers in the country faced growing protection risks, multiple displacements, tightened security procedures at checkpoints, and difficulty obtaining required residency permits, all of which resulted in restrictions on their freedom of movement. UNHCR reported a rise in sexual- and gender-based violence and child-protection concerns among refugees, including child labor, school dropouts, and early marriages.

STATELESS PERSONS

Following the 1962 census, approximately 150,000 Kurds lost their citizenship. A legislative decree had ordained the single-day census in 1962, and the government executed it unannounced with regard to the inhabitants of al-Hasakah Governorate. Anyone not registered for any reason or without all required paperwork became “foreign” from that day onward. The government at the time argued it based its decision on a 1945 wave of alleged illegal immigration of Kurds from neighboring states, including Turkey, to Hasakah, where they allegedly “fraudulently” registered as Syrian citizens. In a similar fashion, authorities recorded anyone who refused to participate as “undocumented.” Because of this loss of citizenship, these Kurds and their descendants lacked identity cards and could not access government services, including health care and education. They also faced social and economic discrimination. Stateless Kurds do not have the right to inherit or bequeath assets, and their lack of citizenship or identity documents restricted their travel to and from the country.

In 2011 President Assad decreed that stateless Kurds in al-Hasakah Governorate who were registered as “foreigners” could apply for citizenship. It was unclear how many Kurds benefited from the decree. UNHCR reported that approximately 40,000 of these Kurds remained unable to obtain citizenship. Likewise, the decree did not extend to the approximately 160,000 “unregistered” stateless Kurds. The change from 150,000 to 160,000 reflected an approximate increase in population since the 1962 census.

Children derive citizenship solely from their father. Because women cannot confer nationality on their children, an unknown number of children whose fathers were missing or deceased due to the continuing conflict were at risk of statelessness. Mothers could not pass citizenship to children born outside the country, including in neighboring countries operating refugee camps. Children who left the country during the conflict also experienced difficulties obtaining identification necessary to prove citizenship and obtain services.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape is punishable by imprisonment and hard labor of at least 15 years (at least nine years in mitigating circumstances), which is aggravated if the perpetrator is a government official, religious official, or has legitimate or actual authority over the victim; male rape is punishable by imprisonment up to three years. The law specifically excludes spousal rape, and it reduces or suspends punishment if the rapist marries the victim. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and other UN agencies, NGOs, and media characterized rape and sexual violence as endemic, underreported, and uncontrolled in the country. Humanitarian organizations reported that women, men, and community leaders consistently identified sexual violence as a primary reason their families fled the country. In March the COI reported that government and progovernment forces regularly used rape and sexual violence to terrorize and punish women, men, and children perceived as associated with the opposition, as did terrorist groups such as HTS and ISIS. There were instances, comparatively far fewer, of armed opposition groups reportedly raping women and children. HTS and ISIS also reportedly forced women and girls into sexual slavery (see sections 1.a., 1.c., and 1.g.).

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, but it stipulates that men may discipline their female relatives in a form permitted by general custom. According to a November 2017 UNFPA report, violence against women and children was pervasive and increasing due to conflict and the lack of economic opportunity for men. Victims did not report the vast majority of cases. Security forces consistently treated violence against women as a social rather than a criminal matter. Observers reported that when some abused women tried to file a police report, police did not investigate their reports thoroughly, if at all, and that in other cases police officers responded by abusing the women.

In previous years several domestic violence centers operated in Damascus; the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor licensed them. Local NGOs reported, however, that many centers no longer operated due to the conflict. There were no known government-run services for women outside Damascus. According to local human rights organizations, local coordination committees and other opposition-related groups offered programming specifically for protection of women; NGOs did not integrate these programs throughout the country, and none reported reliable funding.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permits judges to reduce penalties for murder and assault if the defendant asserts an “honor” defense, which often occurred. The government kept no official statistics on use of this defense in murder and assault cases and reportedly rarely pursued prosecution of so-called honor crimes. There were no officially reported honor killings during the year, but UNFPA reported in November 2017 that honor killings increased since the onset of the crisis in 2011 due to increased sexual violence and lawlessness. For example, UNFPA cited an adolescent girl in Mare, Aleppo, whose friend reportedly was killed by her father when she returned after being kidnapped. To protect their daughters, UNFPA reported that many families arranged for them to marry earlier, leading to an increase in early and forced marriage. NGOs working with refugees reported families killed some rape victims inside the country, including those raped by government forces, for reasons of honor.

The terrorist groups ISIS and HTS permitted and committed so-called honor killings in territories under their control (see section 1.g.).

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender but does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Sexual harassment was pervasive, uncontrolled, and increasing, according to a November 2017 report by UNFPA. For example, UNFPA cited an adolescent girl from Saraqab, Idlib, who said she formerly returned from university in Aleppo at night without any problems but that harassment of girls has spread, even in the daytime; her parents became worried and prevented her from leaving home.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization by the government, but previous reports from Iraq and NGOs such as Yazda and the Free Yezidi Foundation found that ISIS forced Yezidi women whom they had impregnated to have abortions. There were reports that ISIS transferred some Yezidi women captives from Iraq to Syria, and the COI reported in March that some ISIS fighters were seen fleeing Raqqa and Deir al-Zour in 2017 with women believed to be Yezidi captives (see section 1.g.).

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, nationality, inheritance, retirement, and social security laws discriminate against women.

For example, if a man and a woman separately commit the same criminal act of adultery, then by law the woman’s punishment is double that of the man’s. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses, but the law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony in some cases. Under the law a divorced mother loses the right to guardianship and physical custody of her sons when they reach age 13 and of her daughters at age 15, when guardianship transfers to the paternal side of the family. For Muslims in particular, personal status law discriminates against women. Church law governs personal status issues for Christians, in some cases barring divorce. Some personal status laws mirror sharia regardless of the religion of those involved in the case. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. Women cannot pass citizenship to their children. The government’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except Christians. Accordingly, courts usually granted Muslim women half of the inheritance share of male heirs. In all communities, male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they do not, women have the right to sue.

The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.

Before the conflict began, 13 percent of women participated in the formal labor force, compared with 73 percent of men. Both male and female employment participation decreased as violence and insecurity increased, (The International Labor Organization estimated female employment fell by slightly more than 1 percent while male employment fell by almost 3 percent from 2011 to 2017). UNFPA reported local female employment participation increased in Damascus, Raqqa, Daraa, and elsewhere since the need to support the family forced women to work because many men could no longer do so.

The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shared responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered.

Women participated in public life and in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported that violence and lawlessness in many regions reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.

The terrorist groups ISIS and HTS reportedly placed similar discriminatory restrictions on women and girls in the territories they controlled. For example, in March the COI reported that HTS or ISIS or both: forced women and girls into marriage; imposed a dress code on women and girls; banned women and girls from wearing makeup; required that women and girls must be accompanied by a “mahram” or male member of their immediate family; forbade women from speaking with unrelated men or hosting men who were not their husband; forbade widows from living alone; banned women’s centers; banned meetings with mixed male and female participation; and segregated classrooms. Both ISIS and HTS maintained all-female police units to support the Hisbah in enforcing these regulations, sometimes violently, among women. Summary punishments for infractions ranged from corporal punishment such as lashing to execution.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship solely from their father. In large areas of the country where civil registries were not functioning, authorities did not register births. The government did not register the births of Kurdish noncitizen residents, including stateless Kurds (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). Failure to register resulted in deprivation of services, such as diplomas for high school-level studies, access to universities, access to formal employment, and civil documentation and protection.

Education: The government provided free public education to citizen children from primary school through university. Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and 12. Enrollment, attendance, and completion rates for boys and girls generally were comparable. Noncitizen children could also attend public schools at no cost but required permission from the Ministry of Education. While Palestinians and other noncitizens, including stateless Kurds, could generally send their children to school and universities, stateless Kurds were ineligible to receive a degree documenting their academic achievement.

The conflict and widespread destruction continued to hamper the ability of children to attend school. In June the Assistance Coordination Unit, a local NGO, reported that only 9 percent of the assessed functional schools provided upper secondary education, 36 percent offered lower secondary education, 56 percent offered primary education, and almost one-third of the assessed schools did not separate the various teaching levels.

The terrorist groups, ISIS and HTS, reportedly imposed their interpretation of sharia on schools and discriminated against girls in the territories they controlled. For example, in March the COI reported that HTS and ISIS: segregated classrooms by gender, dismissed students for dress code violations, imposed their curriculum on teachers, and closed private schools and educational centers. ISIS also banned several basic education subjects, such as chemistry and philosophy.

Child Abuse: The law does not specifically prohibit child abuse, but it stipulates that parents may discipline their children in a form permitted by general custom. According to a November 2017 UNFPA report, violence against children, especially girls, was pervasive and increasing due to conflict and the lack of economic opportunity for men.

There were reports of government and progovernment forces, as well as the terrorist groups HTS and ISIS, sexually assaulting, torturing, detaining, killing, and otherwise abusing children (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., and 1.g.). In July Urnammu reported extensively on such abuses.

The terrorist groups HTS and ISIS subjected children to extremely harsh punishment, including execution, in the territories they controlled (see section 1.g.).

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 17 for women. A boy as young as 15 or a girl as young as 13 may marry if a judge deems both parties willing and “physically mature” and if the fathers or grandfathers of both parties consent. Early and forced marriages were increasingly common, as were abusive temporary marriages.

In November 2017 UNFPA reported early marriage had evolved from a cultural practice to an increasingly used coping mechanism during the war. Many families reportedly arranged marriages for girls, including at younger ages than pre-2011, believing that it would protect them and ease the financial burden on the family.

There were instances of early and forced marriage of girls to members of government, progovernment, and armed opposition forces.

In previous years ISIS abducted and sexually exploited Yezidi girls in Iraq and transported them to Syria for rape and forced marriage; many of those Yezidi women and girls remained captive during the year (see section 1.g. and section 6, Women). In March the COI reported that ISIS perceived unmarried women and girls older than the age of puberty as a threat to social order. As a result, from 2014 onwards, ISIS began to marry forcibly Sunni (also minority) girls and women living in territories under its control. Some of those forced to marry ISIS members were adults, including widows, but the vast majority of cases the COI documented revealed that girls between 12 and 16 years old were victims of forced marriage. Many women and girls reportedly were passed among multiple ISIS fighters, some as many as six or seven times within two years. HTS also reportedly forced Druze and other minority women and girls into marriage, as well as Sunni women and girls.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates penalties for those found guilty of certain forms of child abuse associated with trafficking crimes, including kidnapping and forced prostitution, both of which carry a penalty of up to three years in prison. The law considers child pornography a trafficking crime, but the punishment for child pornography was set at the local level with “appropriate penalties.” It was also unclear if there had been any prosecutions for child pornography or if authorities enforced the law.

The age of sexual consent by law is 15 with no close-in-age exemption. Premarital sex is illegal, but observers reported authorities did not enforce the law. Rape of a child under the age of 15 is punishable by not less than 21 years’ imprisonment and hard labor. There were no reports of government prosecution of child rape cases.

Child Soldiers: Several sources documented the continued unlawful recruitment and use of children in combat (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: There was a large population of IDP children and some refugee children as well. These children reportedly experienced increased vulnerability to abuses, including by armed forces (see sections 1.c., 1.g., and 2.d.).

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

Anti-Semitism

In 2016 NGOs estimated fewer than 20–perhaps fewer than 10–Jews remained in the country. The national school curriculum did not include materials on tolerance education or the Holocaust. There is no designation of religion on passports or national identity cards, except for Jews.

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 protects the rights of persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, and other state services, but the government did not enforce these provisions effectively. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and seeks to integrate them into the workforce, reserving 4 percent of government jobs and 2 percent of private-sector jobs for persons with disabilities. Private-sector businesses are eligible for tax exemptions after hiring persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for assisting persons with disabilities, and it worked through dedicated charities and organizations to provide assistance. Authorities did not fully document the number of persons with disabilities, but the NGO Humanity and Inclusion (HI, formerly Handicap International) reported in April that 30,000 new conflict-related trauma cases per month were leading to thousands of permanent disabilities. According to the local NGO Syria Relief, persons with disabilities remained among the most hidden, neglected, and socially excluded of all displaced persons in the country. They reportedly were not often recognized or calculated in record-keeping and data-collection exercises, contributing to neglect.

The destruction of schools and hospitals, most often by government and progovernment forces, limited access to education and health services for persons with disabilities, but government and nongovernment social care institutes reportedly existed for blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, and physical and intellectual disabilities. The government did not effectively work to provide access for persons with disabilities to information, communications, building, or transportation. In its November 2017 report, UNFPA detailed how educational institutions, early childcare centers, Quranic schools, and women’s centers often were easily accessible to community members with the exception of the elderly and persons with disabilities. UNFPA further stated that persons with disability were sometimes denied aid, as they could not access it, and some distribution centers required presence in person.

According to a 2017 report by the Syria Reliance Consortium of HI and other international NGOs, 50 percent of households surveyed, who counted a member with a disability, suffered from poor food consumption, compared with 34 percent for households without persons with a disability. In April HI reported that women and girls with disabilities were three times more likely to experience gender-based violence compared with nondisabled women. For example, in a November 2017 report, UNFPA cited the case of a young man in Sweida who lured and raped a disabled girl playing in the street by offering her candy. There was no indication that the government effectively investigated or punished those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The government actively restricted national and ethnic minorities from conducting traditional, religious, and cultural activities. The Kurdish population–citizens and noncitizens–faced official and societal discrimination and repression as well as government-sponsored violence. Government and progovernment forces, as well as ISIS and armed opposition forces such as the Turkish-backed FSA, reportedly arrested, detained, tortured, killed, and otherwise abused numerous Kurdish activists and individuals, as well as members of the SDF, during the year (see section 1.g.).

The government continued to limit the use and teaching of the Kurdish language. It also restricted publication in Kurdish of books and other materials, Kurdish cultural expression, and at times the celebration of Kurdish festivals.

The Alawite community, to which Bashar Assad belongs, enjoyed privileged status throughout the government and dominated the state security apparatus and military leadership. Nevertheless, the government reportedly also targeted Alawite opposition activists for arbitrary arrest, torture, detention, and killing. Extremist opposition groups targeted Alawite communities on several occasions for their perceived progovernment stance.

In March the COI reported that armed opposition groups detained hundreds of women and girls belonging to minority groups, particularly Alawites, and used them as bargaining chips for initiating prisoner swaps with government and progovernment forces.

The terrorist groups ISIS and HTS violently oppressed and discriminated against all non-Sunni Arab ethnic minorities in the territories they controlled (see section 1.g.).

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, defined as “carnal relations against the order of nature,” and punishable by imprisonment up to three years.

In previous years police used this charge to prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were no reports of prosecutions under the law during the year, but NGO reports indicated the government arrested dozens of LGBTI persons since 2011 on charges such as abusing social values; selling, buying, or consuming illegal drugs; and organizing and promoting “obscene” parties. Local media and NGOs reported instances in which government and progovernment forces used accusations of homosexuality as a pretext to detain, arrest, torture, and kill civilians. The frequency of such instances was difficult to determine, since police rarely reported their rationale for arrests.

Although there were no known domestic NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, there were several online networking communities, including an online LGBTI-oriented magazine. Human rights activists reported there was overt societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of society.

The terrorist groups ISIS and HTS regularly detained, tortured, and killed LGBTI individuals in the territories they controlled (see section 1.g.). For example, in its March report, the COI described how in 2016 HTS predecessor Jabhat al-Nusra accused two men of being homosexuals, tied their hands behind their backs, announced the accusations of homosexuality over loudspeakers, and threw the two men from the third floor of a building in Sheikhoun, Idlib. Similarly, the COI reported that ISIS executed males, including boys raped by older men, on charges of sodomy and widely circulated videos of the executions to terrorize populations under their control. For example, in its March report, the COI reported that Hisbah belonging to ISIS arrested a teenage boy in Raqqa, charged him with sodomy, and threw him off a building.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but human rights activists believed such cases were underreported and the UN Development Program (UNDP) noted that stigma affected access to health care. The Ministry of Health claimed in December 2017 there were 35 known cases of HIV/AIDS in the country, while UNDP estimated there were 450 persons with HIV/AIDS. The UNDP and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria assessed that the incapability of the health-care sector to identify newly infected persons or offer medical support in a hostile environment posed a major problem and added to the risk of further spread of the disease among the general population.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Yezidis, Druze, Christians, and other religious minorities were subject to violence and discrimination by ISIS (see section 1.g.).