Argentina

Executive Summary

Note: This report was updated 4/26/17; see Appendix F: Errata for more information.

Argentina is a federal constitutional republic. In November 2015 Mauricio Macri won election to the presidency in the second round of multiparty elections that the media and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) described as generally free and fair. The 2015 first round also included legislative elections for one-half of the Chamber of Deputies and one-third of the Senate.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The principal human rights problems included multiple reports of official corruption, torture by federal and provincial police, and gender-based violence.

Other human rights problems included use of excessive force by police, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and detention, prolonged pretrial detention, judicial inefficiency, child abuse, anti-Semitism, discrimination against and infringements on the rights of indigenous people, sex trafficking, forced labor, and child labor.

Judicial authorities indicted and prosecuted a number of current and former government officials who committed abuses during the year, including a number of investigations against high-level officials of the former government.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. Independent newspapers, radio and television outlets, and internet sites were numerous and active, expressing a wide variety of views.

Press and Media Freedoms: On August 24, the government issued a resolution limiting the use of advertising funds for political purposes and established criteria in line with inter-American standards. Thereafter, some newspapers, magazines, and websites that benefited from the distribution of public advertising money during the former administration–which multiple observers asserted was unbalanced and discriminatory in favor of media sources that supported government policies–either shut down or faced serious economic problems.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of physical attacks, threats, and harassment against journalists in relation to their reporting, most of which covered cases of official corruption.

On April 11, unknown assailants attacked a journalist from television Channel TN who was covering former president Cristina Kirchner’s departure from Santa Cruz. The following day assailants attacked Radio Mitre reporters while they reported Kirchner’s appearance in court in Buenos Aires.

On September 4, an anonymous individual threatened well-known journalist Luis Majul via text message while he was interviewing a protected witness in a legal case involving former administration officials.

Two armed assailants who broke into the home of radio journalist Sergio Hurgado in December 2015 remained in pretrial detention while their criminal prosecution continued. Hurtado regularly reported on drug use and trafficking in San Antonio Areco, Buenos Aires Province. The assailants, known to local residents for selling drugs, issued Hurtado a warning: “Stop talking about drugs on the radio. We had orders to kill you.” Both assailants raped Hurtado’s wife, with the journalist’s children sleeping nearby, before stealing money and property.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On March 20, Roberto Navarro of television station C5N alleged that his program Politica Economica was cancelled for one day for “political reasons.” Navarro said that he planned to broadcast a special report portraying a business partner of President Mauricio Macri in a negative light.

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: On April 6, Congress eliminated the former Audiovisual Communications Enforcement Authority and another media oversight agency and created a single National Communications Authority. President Macri introduced the changes to the Audiovisual Communications Services Act by way of an executive decree in December 2015.

On September 29, the government established a protocol to protect journalists in cases where their activities entail risks, allowing journalists to request protective measures from the Ministry of Security. Measures include confidentiality of the subject matter, nature, scope, and details of the research as well as the protection of personal data of the journalists or third parties related to the investigation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Individuals and groups could engage in the expression of views via the internet, including the use of e-mail and social networks. The World Bank reported that 69 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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 and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Decisions on asylum petitions may take up to two years to adjudicate.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government has a human rights secretariat within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. Its main objective is to coordinate within the ministry and collaborate with other ministries and the judiciary to promote policies, plans, and programs for the protection of human rights. During the year it published leaflets and books on a range of human rights topics.

The prosecutor general’s Office of Crimes against Humanity investigated and documented human rights violations that occurred under the 1976-83 military dictatorship.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes; the government generally respected these rights. The law prohibits military and law enforcement personnel from forming and joining unions. In 2015 officers from the Buenos Aires Provincial Police attempted to unionize. The National Labor, Employment, and Social Security Ministry rejected the police petition. The officers appealed the ministry’s decision, which remained under consideration in the Supreme Court at year’s end.

The government effectively enforced these laws. Complaints of unfair labor practices can be brought before the judiciary. Violations of the law may result in a fine being imposed on the employer or the relevant employers’ association, where appropriate. Information regarding fines and other penalties for violations was unavailable. There were few cases of significant delays or appeals in the collective bargaining process.

The law prohibits discrimination against unions and protects workers from dismissal, suspension, and changes in labor conditions. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law allows unions to register without prior authorization, and registered trade union organizations may engage in certain activities to represent their members, including petitioning the government and employers. The law grants official trade union status to only one union deemed the “most representative,” defined by law as the union that has the highest average proportion of dues-paying members to number of workers represented, per industrial sector within a specific geographical region. Only unions with such official recognition receive trade union immunity from employer reprisals against their officials, are permitted to deduct union dues directly from wages, and may bargain collectively with recourse to conciliation and arbitration. The most representative union bargains on behalf of all workers, and collective agreements cover both union members and nonmembers in the sector. The law requires the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security to ratify collective bargaining agreements. The International Labor Organization (ILO) requested that the government improve procedures to register trade unions and grant trade union status.

The Argentine Workers Central (CTA) and other labor groups not affiliated with the General Confederation of Labor continued to contend that the legal recognition of only one union per sector conflicted with international standards and prevented these unions from obtaining full legal standing. In 2013 the Supreme Court reaffirmed the need for more than one official union per sector and for amendments to the legislation. Congress had modified the labor law to incorporate the Supreme Court ruling; however, the executive branch granted preliminary recognition to the CTA in 2014. The ILO urged the government to bring the legislation into conformity with international labor standards.

Civil servants and workers in essential services may strike only after a compulsory 15-day conciliation process, and they are subject to the condition that unspecified “minimum services” be rendered. Once the conciliation term expires, civil servants and workers in essential services must give five days’ notice to the administrative authority and the public agency where they intend to strike. If “minimum services” were not previously defined in a collective bargaining agreement, all parties then negotiate which minimum services will continue to be provided and a schedule for their provision. The public agency, in turn, must provide clients two days’ notice of the impending strike.

Workers exercised freedom of association, and employers respected the right to bargain collectively and to strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced such laws. Penalties for violations range from four to 15 years in prison, are comparable to those for other serious offenses, and were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights reported rescuing approximately 304 potential victims of forced labor between January and August 2015. Most of the victims were discovered on agricultural farms and construction sites. The Labor, Employment, and Social Security Ministry carried out several inspections during the year and found various irregularities and potential cases of forced labor. Efforts to hold perpetrators accountable continued during the year, including a criminal case against a construction company in Neuquen Province for trafficking Paraguayans.

Forced labor occurred. Employers subjected a significant number of Bolivians, Paraguayans, and Peruvians, as well as Argentine citizens from poorer northern provinces, to forced labor in the garment sector, agriculture, construction, domestic work, and small businesses (including restaurants and supermarkets). There were reports that Chinese citizens were victims of forced labor in supermarkets. Men, women, and children were victims of forced labor, although victims’ typical gender and age varied by employment sector (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 16. In rare cases labor authorities may authorize a younger child to work as part of a family unit. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 may work in a limited number of job categories and for limited hours if they have completed compulsory schooling, which normally ends at age 18. Children under 18 cannot be hired to perform perilous, arduous, or unhealthy jobs. The law requires employers to provide adequate care for workers’ children during work hours to discourage child labor.

Provincial governments and the city government of Buenos Aires are responsible for labor law enforcement. Financial penalties for employing underage workers range from 125 pesos ($8) to 625 pesos ($40) for each child employed. Subsequent violations permit the labor authority to close the company for up to 10 days, and the company is subsequently prohibited from being a government vendor for a year. Prison terms for child labor violations range from one to four years, unless the crime falls under a more serious category. The law excludes parents. These penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

While the government generally enforced applicable laws, observers noted some inspectors were acquainted or associated with the persons being inspected, and corruption remained an obstacle to compliance, especially in the provinces.

Child labor occurred. In 2014 the Catholic University of Argentina issued a child labor report (covering the period 2010 to 2013). The report found that 15 percent of children in urban areas between the ages of five and 17 performed some type of work. In rural areas children worked on family and third-party farms producing agricultural goods or raising sheep and pigs. Children working in the agricultural sector often handled pesticides without proper protection. In urban areas some children engaged in domestic service and worked on the street selling goods, shining shoes, and recycling trash. The Labor, Employment, and Social Security Ministry reported a 66 percent decline in child labor rates between 2004 and 2012. According to government sources, some children worked in the manufacturing sector producing such goods as bricks, matches, fireworks, and garments. Children also worked in the mining, fishing, and construction sectors. Officials noted reports of children forced to work as street vendors and beggars in the capital. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred as well (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, age, language, and HIV-positive status or other communicable disease.

The government enforced these laws more effectively in cases where employees were terminated because of discrimination, but there were no statistics available on how the law was applied in cases of discrimination during the hiring of employees.

The most prevalent cases of workplace discrimination were based on gender (see section 6, Women) and age. Discrimination also occurred on the basis of HIV-positive status (see section 6, HIV/AIDS and Social Stigma) and against individuals of indigenous origin. In April the Labor, Employment, and Social Security Ministry issued a resolution promoting progressive actions in the workplace and prohibited companies from blood screening for HIV when conducting employment-related medical screening.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In September the government increased the monthly minimum wage for workers to 7,560 pesos ($490). According to the latest available official data from the National Census and Statistics Institute, issued in September, a family of four needed 12,489 pesos ($810) to remain above the poverty line.

Federal law sets standards in the areas of hours and occupational safety and health. The maximum workday is eight hours, and the maximum workweek is 48 hours. Overtime pay is required for hours worked in excess of these limits. The law prohibits excessive overtime and defines permissible levels of overtime as three hours a day. The law sets minimums for periods of rest, requiring a minimum of 12 hours of rest prior to the start of a new workday. Sundays are holidays, and those required to work on Sundays are paid double. Labor law mandates between 14 and 35 days of paid vacation, depending on the length of the worker’s service.

The law sets premium pay for overtime, adding an extra 50 percent of the hourly rate on ordinary days and 100 percent on Saturday afternoons, Sundays, and holidays. Employees cannot be forced to work overtime unless work stoppage would risk or cause injury, the need for overtime is caused by an act of God, or other exceptional reasons affecting the national economy or “unusual and unpredictable situations” affecting businesses occur.

The government sets occupational safety and health standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The law requires employers to insure their employees against accidents at the workplace and when traveling to and from work. The law requires employers either to provide insurance through a labor-risk insurance entity or to provide their own insurance to employees to meet requirements specified by the national insurance regulator. In 2012 Congress amended the Labor Risks Law to increase compensation for a worker’s death or incapacitation, while limiting the worker’s right to file a complaint if he or she accepts the insurance company’s compensation.

Laws governing acceptable conditions of work were not enforced universally, particularly for workers in the informal sector. The Labor, Employment, and Social Security Ministry has responsibility for enforcing legislation related to working conditions. The ministry continued inspections to ensure companies registered their workers are registered and formally employed. During the year the ministry reported that it had 400 labor inspectors. The ministry conducted inspections in various provinces during the year. Statistics on the number of inspections during the year, violations encountered by inspectors, and fines or penalties imposed were not publicly available. According to senior officials in the labor ministry, approximately three to four million citizens were engaged in the informal sector. The Superintendency of Labor Risk served as the enforcement agency to monitor compliance with health and safety laws and the activities of the labor risk insurance companies.

Most workers in the formal sector earned significantly more than the minimum wage. The minimum wage generally served to mark the minimum pay an informal worker should receive, although formal workers’ pay was usually higher.

The Superintendency of Labor Risk statistics for 2015 indicated there were, on average, 46.4 worker fatalities per million workers. Workers could not always recuse themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in these circumstances.

Dominican Republic

Executive Summary

The Dominican Republic is a representative constitutional democracy. In May voters elected Danilo Medina of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) as president for a second four-year term. Impartial outside observers assessed the elections as generally free and orderly despite failures in the rollout of a new electronic voting system.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

The most serious human rights problem was widespread discrimination against Haitian migrants and their descendants. In 2013 the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that Dominican-born descendants of individuals residing in the country without legal status, most of whom were of Haitian descent, were not entitled to Dominican citizenship and retroactively revoked their citizenship. The naturalization law, promulgated in 2014, helped restore citizenship rights to many of those affected, although the majority remained without nationality documents at year’s end.

Other human rights problems included extrajudicial killings by security forces, overcrowded and dangerously substandard prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and detention, lengthy pretrial detention, weak rule of law, and impunity for corruption. There were also reports of chronic violence against women, including domestic violence, rape, and femicide; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity; and inadequate enforcement of labor laws.

The government took some steps to punish officials who committed human rights abuses, but there were widespread reports of official impunity and corruption, especially concerning officials of senior rank.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restriction.

Press and Media Freedoms: Individuals and groups were generally able to criticize the government publicly and privately without reprisal, although there were several incidents in which authorities intimidated journalists or other news professionals.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists and other persons who worked in media were occasionally harassed or physically attacked. The newspaper El Dia reported that journalists, specifically in rural areas, received threats for investigating or denouncing criminal groups or official corruption. The Inter American Press Association reported that journalists suffered violent attacks from military and police security details of government officials, particularly during public protests and riots.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution provides for protection of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and includes a “conscience clause” allowing journalists to refuse reporting assignments. Nonetheless, journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when coverage could adversely affect the economic or political interests of media owners. Media outlets restricted the release of names of journalists covering stories connected to drug trafficking and other security matters in the interest of protecting them.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamation and insult with harsher punishment for offenses committed against public or state figures than for offenses against private individuals. The Dominican College of Journalists reported that journalists were sued by politicians, private-sector and government officials, and criminal groups to pressure them to stop reporting. In February the Constitutional Tribunal annulled several articles from the Law on Freedom of Expression that had criminalized statements denouncing events that were of public interest and that authorities considered damaging. The court also ruled that media outlets, executive staff, and publishers are not liable for libel suits against individual journalists, thus easing some past pressure that business interests, which controlled much of the mainstream media, put on journalists. The law still penalizes libel for statements concerning the private lives of certain public figures, including government officials and foreign heads of state.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no government restrictions on access to the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 52 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly. Outdoor public marches and meetings require permits, which the government usually granted. On several occasions police used force to disperse demonstrations and injured demonstrators and bystanders.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right (see section 7.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. The government cooperated in a limited manner 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, or other noted persons of concern.

In 2014 the government promulgated a National Regularization Plan that enabled undocumented migrants in the country to apply for temporary legal residency. In January 2014 the government discontinued all deportations to give irregular migrants a chance to participate in this plan. The plan’s application period closed in June 2015, and in August 2015 the government resumed deportations. In July the government extended the expiration date of the temporary resident cards issued under the plan.

The National Regularization Plan granted temporary residency status to approximately 250,000 irregular migrants (98 percent Haitian). According to census data, up to 280,000 Haitian migrants may not have applied or qualified for regularization and were subject to deportation. UN officials accompanied immigration authorities during interception procedures conducted in different provinces. According to the United Nations, the deportation procedures it observed were orderly, legal, and individualized, in compliance with applicable international human rights standards. The government invited the international community to observe and comment on deportations. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that, as of September, the military patrolled the border and removed interdicted persons without individualized screening procedures, thus putting at risk other protected undocumented populations, including regularization plan beneficiaries, and undocumented Dominicans. In August the IOM counted 13 individuals with legal residency status who were detained pending removal and should have been protected from deportation. The IOM assisted these individuals to avoid deportation. The IOM also reported cases of individuals deported because authorities did not permit them to retrieve immigration or citizenship documents from their residences as well as deportations of women who left children behind in their residences.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has an established refugee protection system but did not effectively implement it. UNHCR recognized more than 600 asylum seekers, while the government recognized only 26. Of the more than 300 asylum-seeker cases since 2012 that received a final decision, the government rejected 99 percent with the indefinite justification of “failure of proof.” NGOs concluded that this alone was evidence of systemic discrimination, as 99 percent of asylum seekers were also of Haitian origin.

The National Office of Refugees in the Migration Directorate of the National Commission for Refugees (CONARE) adjudicates asylum claims. CONARE is an interagency commission that includes the Foreign Ministry, the National Department of Investigations, and General Directorate of Migration. The full commission has the responsibility for making the final decision on individual asylum applications.

A 2013 CONARE resolution requires individuals to apply for asylum within 15 days of arrival in the country. Under this resolution, if an asylum seeker is in the country for more than 15 days and does not apply for asylum, the individual permanently loses the right to apply for asylum. The resolution also rejects as inadmissible any asylum application from an individual who has been in, or proceeds from, a foreign country where the individual could have sought asylum. Thus, the government makes inadmissibility determinations administratively before an asylum interview or evaluation by CONARE.

According to refugee NGOs, there was no information posted at ports of entry to provide notice of the right to seek asylum or of the timeline or process for doing so. Furthermore, these NGOs reported that immigration officials did not know how to handle asylum cases. UNHCR protection officers were occasionally and unpredictably granted access to detained asylum seekers. CONARE policies do not provide for protection screening in the deportation process. By law the government must afford due process to detained asylum seekers, and those expressing a fear of return to their country of nationality or habitual residence should be allowed to apply for asylum under the proper procedures. Nonetheless, there was generally neither judicial review of deportation orders nor any third-party review to provide for protection screening.

CONARE did not provide rejected asylum seekers details of the grounds for the rejection of their initial application for asylum or information regarding the process for appeal. Rejected applicants received a letter informing them that they had 30 days to leave the country voluntarily. Per government policy, rejected asylum seekers have seven days from receipt of notice of denial to file an appeal; however, the letter providing notice of denial does not mention this right to appeal.

Freedom of Movement: Starting in 2015, approved refugees were issued travel documents by the government for a fee of 3,150 pesos ($70). Refugees commented that the travel document listed their nationality as “refugee” and not their country of origin. Asylum seekers with pending cases had only a paper letter to present to avoid deportation, which deterred freedom of movement.

Employment: The government prohibited asylum seekers with pending cases from working. This situation was further complicated by the long, sometimes indefinite, periods of pending cases. Lack of documentation also precluded refugees from certain employment. Employment was nonetheless a requirement for the government to renew refugees’ temporary residency cards.

Access to Basic Services: Approved refugees receive the same rights and responsibilities as legal migrants with temporary residence permits. This provided refugees the right to access education, employment, health care, and other social services. UNHCR reported that, in practice, problems remained. Only those refugees able to afford health insurance were able to access adequate health care. Refugees reported that their government-issued identification numbers were not recognized, and thus they could not access other services, such as opening a bank account or entering service contracts for basic utilities, but instead had to rely on friends or family for such services.

STATELESS PERSONS

Prior to 2010, the constitution bestowed citizenship upon anyone born in the country except children born to diplomats and children born to parents who are “in transit.” The 2010 constitution added an additional exception for children born in the country to parents without migratory status. In 2013 the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that children born in the country to foreigners “in transit” were not Dominican citizens. In effect the ruling retroactively revised the country’s citizenship transmission laws and stripped citizenship from approximately 135,000 persons, mostly the children of undocumented Haitian migrants, who had conferred citizenship by virtue of jus soli since 1929.

Until 2012 the Haitian constitution did not permit dual citizenship. Therefore, individuals of Haitian descent who obtained Dominican citizenship at birth by virtue of birth on Dominican soil forfeited their right to Haitian citizenship. The 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling therefore stripped nearly all of those affected of the only citizenship they held.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), UNHCR, and the Caribbean Community criticized the 2013 Constitutional Tribunal judgment. The IACHR found that the 2013 tribunal ruling implied an arbitrary deprivation of citizenship and that the ruling had a discriminatory effect, stripped citizenship retroactively, and led to statelessness for individuals not considered citizens.

In May 2014 President Medina signed and promulgated law 169-14, “the Special Status of Individuals born in the territory with an irregular registration in the Civil Registry and on Naturalization.” Law 169-14 proposes to regularize and (re)issue identity documents to individuals born in the country between June 16, 1929, and April 18, 2007, to undocumented migrant parents, who were previously registered in the civil registry (Group A), recognizing them as Dominican citizens from birth. Based on an audit of the national civil registry archives, that population was estimated to total 60,000. The law also creates a special path to citizenship for persons born to undocumented migrant parents who never registered in the civil registry, including an estimated 45,000-75,000 undocumented persons, predominantly of Haitian descent (Group B). Group B individuals may apply for legal residency under this law and apply for naturalized citizenship after two years. The law granted Group B individuals 180 days to apply for legal residency, an application window that closed on January 31, 2015. A total of 8,755 Group B individuals successfully applied before that deadline. As of November 2015, the government approved 6,262 cases and continued processing the remainder. NGOs and foreign governments expressed concern for the potentially large number of Group B persons who did not apply within the deadline. The government committed to resolve any unregistered Group B cases but had not identified the legal framework under which that commitment would be fulfilled. The government also committed not to deport anyone born in the country.

In June 2015 the civil registry (known as the Central Electoral Board or JCE) announced it had transferred the civil records of the 54,307 individuals identified in Group A to a separate civil registry book and annulled their original civil registrations. The JCE invited those on the list to report to JCE offices and receive a reissued birth certificate. The vast majority of persons on the list were of Haitian descent. In late 2015 civil society groups reported that many Group A individuals experienced difficulties in obtaining reissued birth certificates at JCE offices. NGOs also documented cases of individuals who they determined qualified as Group A, but who were not included in the JCE’s audit results list. In response the government unveiled a number of new mechanisms to facilitate issuance of nationality documentation to Group A. The government also announced new channels for reporting delays or failures to issue Group A nationality documents in JCE satellite offices around the country, including a telephone line and social media accounts. NGOs reported early in the year that these measures led to improved document issuance rates for Group A but noted that some JCE offices continued to deny issuance to some fully qualified Group A citizenship applicants.

A 2012 National Statistics Office and UN Population Fund study estimated the total Haitian population in the country at 668,145, of whom 458,233 were identified as Haitian immigrants and 209,912 were categorized as persons of Haitian descent. The exact number of undocumented persons remained unclear.

Dominican-born persons of Haitian descent without citizenship or identity documents faced obstacles traveling both within and outside the country. In addition, undocumented persons may not obtain national identification cards or voting cards. Persons who did not have a national identification card or birth certificate had limited access to electoral participation, formal-sector jobs, public education, marriage and birth registration, formal financial services such as banks and loans, courts and judicial procedures, and ownership of land or property.

On September 25, a human rights lawyer who worked on prominent cases of Dominicans of Haitian descent affected by the Constitutional Tribunal judgment was followed from his work, taunted for defending Haitians, and assaulted with a concrete block, leading to the lawyer’s hospitalization. Amnesty International reported a trend of verbal and physical attacks on others working on this issue.

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

A number of domestic and international organizations generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While officials often were cooperative and responsive, human rights groups that advocated for the rights of Haitians and persons of Haitian descent were an exception and faced occasional government obstruction. On January 8, in an unprecedented gesture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and JCE met with a large group of NGOs from across the country that advocate for the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent. Despite a public commitment to do so, the government did not hold a subsequent meeting.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution establishes the position of human rights ombudsman, and in 2013 the Senate appointed Zoila Martinez, former Santo Domingo district attorney, for a six-year term. The ombudsman’s functions as outlined in the constitution are to safeguard the fundamental human rights of persons and to protect collective interests established in the constitution and law. The Interinstitutional Human Rights Commission is chaired by the minister of foreign affairs and the attorney general. The commission did not meet regularly. The Attorney General’s Office has its own human rights division.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of military and police, to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; however, it places several restrictions on these rights. For example, a requirement considered excessive by the ILO restricts trade union rights by requiring unions to represent 50 percent plus one of the workers in an enterprise to bargain collectively. In addition, the law prohibits strikes until mandatory mediation requirements have been met. Formal requirements for a strike to be legal also include the support of an absolute majority of all company workers for the strike, written notification to the Ministry of Labor, and a 10-day waiting period following notification before proceeding with the strike. Government workers and essential public service personnel may not strike.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids employers from dismissing an employee for participating in union activities, including being part of a committee seeking to form a union. Although the law requires the Ministry of Labor to register unions for them to be legal, it provides for automatic recognition of a union if the ministry has not acted on an application within 30 days. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. Public-sector workers may form associations registered through the Office of Public Administration. The law requires that 40 percent of civil servant employees agree to join a union in a given government entity for it to be formed. According to the Ministry of Labor, the law applies to all workers, including foreign workers, those working as domestic workers, workers without legal documentation, and workers in the free trade zones (FTZs).

The government inconsistently enforced laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Labor inspectors did not consistently investigate allegations of violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. For example, workers in the sugar sector continued to report that labor inspectors in the sector did not ask workers or supervisors about workers’ freedom to associate, right to organize, union membership or activity, or collective bargaining, although workers had separately reported some instances of employers threatening them with firing or loss of housing if they were to meet with coworkers.

Penalties under law for labor practices contrary to freedom of association range from seven to 12 times the minimum wage and may increase by 50 percent if the employer repeats the act. Noncompliance with a collective bargaining agreement is punishable with a fine equaling three to six times the minimum wage. Such fines were insufficient to deter employers from violating worker rights and were rarely enforced. In addition, the process for dealing with disputes through labor courts was often long, with cases pending for several years. NGOs and labor federations reported companies took advantage of the slow and ineffective legal system to appeal cases, which left workers without labor rights protection in the interim.

The government and private sector did not consistently respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. There were reports of intimidation, threats, and blackmail by employers to prevent union activity. Some unions required members to provide legal documentation to participate in the union, despite the fact that the labor code protects all workers within the territory regardless of their legal status. Dominican air traffic controllers claimed they were fired for engaging in union activity and filed a lawsuit. The lower court decision ordering the reinstatement of the controllers was overturned on appeal.

Labor NGOs reported the majority of companies resisted collective negotiating practices and union activities. Companies reportedly fired workers for union activity and blacklisted trade unionists, among other antiunion practices. Workers frequently had to sign documents pledging to abstain from participating in union activities. Companies also created and supported “yellow” or company-backed unions to counter free and democratic unions. Formal strikes occurred but were not common.

Companies used short-term contracts and subcontracting, which made union organizing and collective bargaining more difficult. Few companies had collective bargaining pacts, partly because companies created obstacles to union formation and could afford to go through lengthy judicial processes that nascent unions could not afford.

The Dominican Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers (FEDOTRAZONAS) reported that the management of several companies or their subcontractors conducted antiunion campaigns within their enterprises, which included threats to fire union members, and engaged in activities to forestall attainment of union membership sufficient to establish collective bargaining rights under the labor code. The Ministry of Labor intervened in some cases to provide mediation.

Unions in the FTZs reported that their members hesitated to discuss union activity at work due to fear of losing their jobs. Unions accused some FTZ companies of discharging workers who attempted to organize unions.

NGOs continued to report that many Haitian laborers and Dominicans of Haitian descent in construction and agricultural industries, including sugar, did not exercise their rights due to fear of firing or deportation. The Ministry of Labor reported that, during the first half of 2014, there were 237,843 Haitians living in the country, of whom 157,562 were working in the formal and informal sectors of the economy. Multiple labor unions represented Haitians working in the formal sector; however, these unions were not influential. The ministry also stated that Haitians earned, on average, 60 percent of what a Dominican worker received in wages.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes penalties for conviction of forced labor of up to 20 years’ imprisonment with fines; such penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter abuses.

The government reported it received no forced labor complaints during the year. Nonetheless, there were credible reports of forced labor of adults in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors as well as reports of forced labor of children. (see section 7.c.). For example, workers and unions reported instances of forced overtime, induced indebtedness, deception, false promises about terms of work, and withholding and nonpayment of wages in the construction and agricultural sectors, including sugar.

Haitian workers’ lack of documentation and legal status in the country made them vulnerable to forced labor. Although specific data on the problem were limited, Haitian nationals reportedly endured forced labor in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors. Many of the 240,000 mostly Haitian irregular migrants who received temporary (one- or two-year) legal residency through the Regularization Plan for Foreigners worked in these sectors. In 2015 and 2016, the government created the regulatory framework to include documented migrants in the national social security network, including disability, health-care, and retirement benefits. As of November the government had not started providing these benefits.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of children under the age of 14 and places restrictions on the employment of children under the age of 16, limiting their working hours to six hours per day. For those under the age of 18, the law limits night work and prohibits employment in dangerous work, such as work involving hazardous substances, heavy or dangerous machinery, and carrying heavy loads. The law also prohibits minors from selling alcohol, certain work in the hotel industry, handling cadavers, and various tasks involved in the production of sugarcane, such as planting, cutting, carrying, and lifting sugarcane, or handling the bagasse. Firms employing underage children are subject to fines and legal sanctions.

The Ministry of Labor, in coordination with the National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONANI), is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. While the ministry and CONANI generally effectively enforced regulations in the formal sector, child labor in the informal sector was a problem. The law provides penalties for child labor violations, including fines and prison sentences.

A National Steering Committee against Child Labor plan to eliminate the worst forms of child labor set objectives, identified priorities, and assigned responsibilities to combat exploitative child labor. Several government programs focused on preventing child labor in coffee, tomato, and rice production; street vending; domestic labor; and commercial sexual exploitation.

The government continued to implement a project with the ILO to remove 100,000 children and adolescents from exploitative labor as part of its Roadmap towards the Elimination of Child Labor. The roadmap aimed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the country and all other types of child labor by 2020.

Nevertheless, child labor remained a problem. A health survey published by the National Statistics Office revealed that 12.8 percent of children between the ages of five and 17 performed some sort of illegal child labor.

Child labor occurred primarily in the informal economy, small businesses, private households, and the agricultural sector. In particular there were reports children worked in the production of garlic, potatoes, coffee, sugarcane, tomatoes, and rice. Children often accompanied their parents to work in agricultural fields. NGOs also reported many children worked in the service sector in a number of jobs, including as domestic servants, street vendors and beggars, shoe shiners, and car window washers. The commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a problem, especially in popular tourist destinations and urban areas (see section 6, Children).

Many children who worked as domestic servants were victims of forced labor. There were credible reports that poor Haitian families arranged for Dominican families to “adopt” their children. In some cases adoptive parents reportedly did not treat the children as full family members, expecting them to work in the household or family businesses rather than attend school, which resulted in a kind of indentured servitude for children and adolescents. There were also reports of forced labor of children in street vending and begging, agriculture, construction, and moving of illicit narcotics.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits all forms of discrimination, exclusion, or preference in employment based on gender, age, language, race, color, nationality, social origin, disability, political or union affiliation, religious belief, and against persons with HIV/AIDS. There is no law against discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws against discrimination in employment. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to LGBTI persons, especially transgender persons; against HIV/AIDS-positive persons; and against persons with disabilities, persons of darker skin color, and women (see section 6). For example, the ILO noted its concern regarding continued sexual harassment in the workplace and urged the government to take specific steps to address existing social and cultural stereotypes contributing to discrimination. Discrimination against Haitian migrant workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent occurred across sectors. Many Haitian irregular migrants did not have full access to benefits, including social security and health care (see sections 7.b. and 7.e.).

In August 2015 the Ministry of Labor announced a campaign against labor discrimination, “Let’s All Work from Equality.” The program provided support to vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities, women, those with a different sexual orientation, and individuals with HIV/AIDS.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There were 14 different minimum wages, depending on the industry. The minimum wage for workers in FTZs was 8,310 pesos ($183) per month. The minimum wage for workers outside the zones ranged from 7,843 pesos ($173) to 12,873 pesos ($284) per month. The minimum wage for the public sector was 5,884 pesos ($130) per month. The daily minimum wage for agricultural workers was 234 pesos ($5.17) based on a 10-hour day, with the exception of sugarcane field workers, who received 146 pesos ($3.22) based on an eight-hour workday. Minimum wage provisions cover all workers, including migrants. The Central Bank calculated that, due to inflation, the minimum wage had not increased in real terms since 1979. The Worker Rights Consortium and labor confederations estimated the living wage was 27,897 pesos ($616) per month.

In 2012 the Ministry of Economy, Planning, and Development used 2007 statistics to calculate the official poverty line at 3,247 pesos ($72) per month. The ministry stated that 43 percent of the population was living in poverty. In February 2015 the Juan Bosch Foundation released a study that reported 63 percent of working Dominicans did not receive an income sufficient to pay for the lowest-cost family budget, and only 3.4 percent received a salary adequate to provide for a family of four. The report stated that 80 percent of workers earned less than 20,000 pesos ($454) per month.

In August 2015 the National Salary Commission approved a 15.5 percent wage increase for construction workers. The Ministry of Labor stated that the increase would benefit all construction workers throughout the country. The National Salary Commission agreed on the increase after hearing the arguments presented by the National Federation of Construction Workers as well as by representatives from the private construction sector.

The Ministry of Labor, in a tripartite agreement with unions and the private sector, approved a 14 percent private-sector minimum wage increase in May 2015. The minimum wage last increased during the 1990s. A random survey conducted by a major daily newspaper found that, although the majority of those polled approved of the increase, most stated the increase would not improve their well-being. Trade unions, which sought an increase of 28 to 30 percent, reported dissatisfaction with the outcome of the tripartite negotiation.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 44 hours. While agricultural workers are exempt from this limit, in no case may the workday exceed 10 hours. The law stipulates all workers be entitled to 36 hours of uninterrupted rest each week. Although the law provides for paid annual holidays and premium pay for overtime, enforcement was ineffective. The law prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime and states that employees may work a maximum of 80 hours of overtime during three months. The labor code covers domestic workers but does not provide for notice or severance payments. Domestic workers are entitled to two weeks’ paid vacation after one year of continuous work as well as a Christmas bonus equal to one month’s wage. The labor code also covers workers in the FTZs, but they are not entitled to bonus payments.

The Ministry of Labor sets workplace safety and health regulations. By regulation employers are obligated to provide for the safety and health of employees in all aspects related to the job. By law employees may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but in practice they could not do so without reprisal.

Authorities did not always enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and workplace health and safety standards. Penalties for these violations range between three and six times the minimum wage. Both the Social Security Institute and the Ministry of Labor had a small corps of inspectors charged with enforcing labor standards. The ministry reported in 2015 that it trained labor inspectors on inspection protocols and best practices and conducted outreach campaigns for workers and employers that focused on labor rights and duties, enrollment in social security, work contracts, and child labor.

Workers complained that labor inspectors lacked training, did not respond to their complaints, and responded to requests from employers more quickly than requests from workers. In the sugar sector, for example, there continued to be reports of procedural and methodological shortcomings in the ministry’s inspections, such as: interviewing few or no workers, failing to discuss topics related to law compliance with workers, conducting worker interviews with employer representatives present, employing inspectors with language skills (particularly Creole) insufficient for effective communication with all workers, failing to follow up on allegations of violations made by workers during the inspection process, and failing to conduct follow-up inspections to verify remediation of identified violations. FEDOTRAZONAS reported that the government did not sufficiently monitor workplace safety and health regulations and did not sanction identified violations.

Mandatory overtime was a common practice in factories, enforced through loss of pay or employment for those who refused. FEDOTRAZONAS reported that some companies set up “four-by-four” work schedules, under which employees worked 12-hour shifts for four days. In some cases employees working the four-by-four schedules were not paid overtime for hours worked in excess of maximum work hours allowed under labor laws. Some companies continued the practice of paying every eight days, a biweekly salary with the four-by-four schedules, instead of every seven days, a weekly salary with a standard 44-hour schedule. These practices resulted in underpayment of wages for workers, as they were not compensated for the extra hours worked.

According to an ILO report published in 2014, informal employment as a portion of nonagricultural employment grew from 50 percent in 2011 to 51.5 percent in 2012. In 2013 the Central Bank calculated that 58 percent of employment was informal and theorized the high rate stemmed from a low minimum wage and workforce elasticity in the availability of cheap migrant labor. Workers in the informal economy faced more precarious working conditions than formal workers and were often outside the reach of government enforcement efforts.

Conditions for agricultural workers were poor. Many workers worked long hours, often 12 hours per day and seven days per week, and suffered from hazardous working conditions, including exposure to pesticides, long periods in the sun, and sharp and heavy tools. Some workers reported they were not paid the legally mandated minimum wage.

Companies did not regularly adhere to workplace safety and health regulations. For example, the National Confederation of Trade Unions Unity reported unsafe and inadequate health and safety conditions, including lack of appropriate work attire and safety gear; vehicles without airbags, first aid kits, properly functioning windows, or air conditioning; inadequate ventilation in workspaces; an insufficient number of bathrooms; and unsafe eating areas.

Accidents caused injury and death to workers, but information on the number of accidents was unavailable by year’s end.

Greece

Executive Summary

Greece is a constitutional republic and multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral parliament. On September 20, 2015, the country held parliamentary elections that were considered free and fair. A coalition government formed by the SYRIZA and ANEL parties headed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras led the country.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

With more than 60,000 migrants and refugees stranded in the country at year’s end, the most significant human rights problems were the overcrowding and poor humanitarian conditions facing migrants and asylum seekers at migrant reception and registration sites, including reported gender-based violence; a lack of adequate shelter, food, and potable water; poor hygiene; and insufficient access to such services as health and pharmaceutical care, legal information and assistance, and psychological and social support. Police violence against migrants, asylum seekers, and Roma was also a significant problem. Societal discrimination and instances of violence against individuals perceived to be foreigners and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community were also substantial.

Other reported human rights problems included some restrictions on freedom of press and religion; domestic violence; trafficking in persons; incidents of anti-Semitism; limits on the freedom of certain ethnic-minority groups, including the recognized Muslim minority in Thrace, to self-identify; and discrimination against Roma and exploitation of Romani children.

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:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech but specifically allow restrictions on speech and sanction individuals who intentionally incite others to actions that could provoke discrimination, hatred, or violence against persons or groups, based on their race, color, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability or who express ideas insulting to persons or groups on those grounds. Members of parliament (MPs) and political party leaders have immunity from criminal prosecution for activities related to the exercise of their duties while in office; however, the parliamentary majority may lift this immunity. On May 11, parliament lifted the immunity of two current and one former Golden Dawn MPs so that they could face trial for alleged violation of antiracism laws. The charge related to the distribution of leaflets inciting the public to rally against undocumented migrants in March 2015.

On August 3, parliament passed legislation ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime and its protocol criminalizing racist and xenophobic acts committed using computer systems.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Legislation passed February 15 supplemented an October 2015 law authorizing the country’s first-ever national television broadcast licensing tender; previously, authorities awarded licenses on an ad hoc basis. The closed-door auction process began on August 30 and ended September 2, with four successful bidders announced, including two existing channels.

Media watchdog groups criticized the government’s decision to auction only four television licenses as well as the minister of state’s control over the tender. Media owners and other analysts criticized the legislation as a government attempt to reshape and control the country’s media landscape. On May 16, privately held television broadcasters, along with their union, filed a lawsuit with the Council of State seeking to abolish the February legislation. On October 26, the Council of State deemed unconstitutional the law granting the government authority to license television permits and decide on their number.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to physical attack, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting in four reported instances. In three of these, perpetrators were allegedly Golden Dawn party supporters. No arrests were made in the four cases.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While an investigation into polling and news coverage of a July 2015 referendum on the country’s bailout program was pending in the courts, the disciplinary committee of the Athens Journalists’ Union (ESIEA) on April 6 announced its decision to suspend the membership of seven journalists accused of biased coverage prior to the referendum. Opposition parties criticized this decision, claiming it exclusively affected journalists who had opposed the government’s position in support of a “No” vote. On October 6, ESIEA’s second instance disciplinary board ruled on an appeal filed by three of the affected journalists and decided not to uphold the sanctions.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides criminal penalties for defamation. On February 24, the Supreme Court president filed a lawsuit against a lawyer and professor of constitutional law for defamation of character, arguing that she felt insulted by the professor’s social media comments about her. The professor had criticized the court’s president for a 2015 letter to EU colleagues asking them to urge the country’s international lenders to complete its bailout review. In his blog post, the academic called on the Supreme Court president to resign because her judicial position required apolitical objectivity and neutrality, asserting that her involvement in this matter was inappropriate. On February 25, the Athens Bar Association voiced its concern and disapproval of the lawsuit, arguing that the free expression of ideas, including public criticism of public officials, is an “obvious and non-negotiable human right.” The lawsuit was pending prosecutor investigation.

On June 12, a three-member appeals court in Lesvos sentenced a journalist accused of insulting the principal of a local middle school in 2013 to a three-month suspended sentence. The journalist had called the principal a “neo-Nazi” for his publicly ultrarightist political stance and for urging his colleagues to vote for Golden Dawn. The appeals court found the use of the term “neo-Nazi” instead of “ethno-socialist” to describe the principal’s political beliefs insulting to him.

On September 20, a journalist was placed under arrest for libel following a defamation lawsuit filed by the minister for infrastructure, transportation, and networks.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the country’s national statistics agency, approximately 67 percent of the population used the internet as of March 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

In March 2015 media reported that a public prosecutor in Crete pressed charges against a university professor for allegedly claiming in his book that World War II Nazi war crimes were incited by rebels in Crete. The trial began in November 2015. On February 10, a judge in Rethymno, Crete, acquitted the professor accused of tying Cretan rebels to World War II Nazi war crimes.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. On January 30, police issued a statement forbidding public gatherings in central Athens for a single 12-hour period from 6:00 a.m. until midnight citing reasons of public order.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government continued to place legal restrictions on the names of associations of nationals who self-identified as ethnic Macedonians or associations that included the term “Turkish” as indicative of a collective ethnic identity (see section 6). Such associations, despite the lack of legal recognition, continued to operate.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The 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), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to a wide range of credible sources, authorities did not always provide adequate security or physical protection to migrants and asylum seekers inside reception, registration, and detention camps when violent incidents occurred. In a May 19 report by HRW, women interviewed at island reception and identification centers, also known as hotspots, on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, and Samos, said they felt particularly exposed to the threat of sexual violence during episodes of fighting among male counterparts.

Female residents at similar facilities, such as Elliniko in greater Athens, Nea Kavala, and Softex in northern Greece were vulnerable to gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape, due to the unconventional physical layouts of sites and the lack of law enforcement coverage. Police sources reported that, aside from relocating alleged offenders to other sites, authorities were limited in their ability to take legal action against them unless their victims agreed to press formal charges. An August report by the Women’s Refugee Commission noted an increase in incidents of gender-based violence; attributing this partly to the longer stays in the country, allowing survivors of gender-based violence more time to seek assistance from local authorities.

On September 8, the migration ministry transferred 82 Yazidi Kurds from Yiannitsa Migrant Center to an all-Yazidi migrant camp located in Serres. Yazidis at Yiannitsa claimed Syrian Sunni Arabs had harassed them because of their religious beliefs. Earlier in the year, Yazidis left Eidomeni, Katsikas, and Nea Kavala camps for the same reason. According to The Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children NGO, as of September 7, there were 2,535 Yezidis migrants in the country, most of whom (1,323) lived in an open-air camp at the base of Mount Olympus. Camp visits by NGOs confirmed that segregation mostly resolved the Yezidis’ protection issues but living conditions still needed to be improved.

On June 29, Doctors of the World NGO (MDM) issued an open letter alleging that police abused unaccompanied minors placed under protective custody at the Moria reception and identification center on Lesvos. The MDM claimed 12 unaccompanied Pakistani youths told MDM staff they had been taken on June 24 to a police station in handcuffs after scuffling with one another. The MDM said they found the minors in a state of shock, with bruises and marks on their hands and other body parts after returning from police custody. Following a July 6 parliamentary inquiry regarding the allegations, the public prosecutor in Lesvos and the Police Directorate for Northern Aegean reportedly ordered an investigation on July 15.

In-country Movement: According to a 2015 law, periods of absence from the country by documented migrants should not impede the renewal of a residency permit. Based on Ministry of Interior data, as of April 19, there were 557,476 documented migrants in the country. According to a law passed in April, all undocumented migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the country after March 20 were to be confined for a maximum of 25 days on island hotspots, during which time they would be registered in a national database and could start the process of applying for asylum. According to the law, exceptions to this detention period were allowed for vulnerable groups, including unaccompanied minors; persons with disabilities; severely ill and elderly individuals; pregnant women and new mothers; single parents with underage children; victims of torture, rape, and other serious forms of psychological, physical, or sexual violence or exploitation; shipwreck survivors; and trafficking-in-persons survivors.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

During the year several factors reduced the flow of migrant and asylum seekers to the country from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia; the flow consisted of a mix of asylum seekers/potential refugees and economic migrants.

While the flow of migrants and refugees declined upon implementation of the March 18 EU-Turkey Statement, the closing of the northern borders caused Greece to transition from a predominately transit country to a de facto host for a large migrant and refugee population. As of November 1, government figures indicated 61,327 migrants and asylum seekers were scattered throughout the country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for protecting refugees through an autonomous, asylum service under the authority of the Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reconstruction. The law provides that applicants have access to certified interpreters, may appeal negative decisions to the appeals authority, and may be detained but not deported.

Authorities worked with NGOs, IOs, and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) to inform undocumented migrants awaiting registration in the asylum system, as well as non-EU foreign national detainees, about their rights and asylum procedures and IOM-assisted voluntary return programs. UNHCR also assisted the government with briefings and distribution of multilingual leaflets and information packages on asylum and asylum procedures.

An April 1 law expedited the existing asylum process and allowed for EU and IO assistance in processing asylum claims. The law enables police and military personnel to assist in the registration of asylum applications and for EASO officials and interpreters to assist local asylum service authorities in registering applications and conducting interviews.

The law also enabled asylum seekers without criminal records whose claims had been pending at second instance for more than five years, to be automatically eligible for a two-year renewable residence permit on humanitarian grounds if they opted to discontinue their asylum process. This provision was intended to clear a backlog of pending cases from prior to the establishment of the Greek Asylum Service in 2013.

On June 22, parliament passed an amendment providing for the restructuring of the appeals committees that reviewed second instance asylum claims. Appeals committees subsequently consisted of two administrative court judges and one member designated by UNHCR. The amendment limited applicants’ ability to be physically present at a second instance hearing–leaving it up to the appeals committees–in contrast to the past practice when an applicant could request to be present at the hearing. The amendment also expanded EASO officials’ authority to conduct interviews, increasing the rate of asylum claims processing.

Throughout 2015 the asylum service received 13,197 asylum applications. According to governmental and nongovernmental sources, this number reflected the fact that the vast majority of migrants and asylum seekers transiting Greece were reluctant to file asylum claims in the country prior to the closure of neighboring borders and the March 18 EU-Turkey Statement. From January 1 through August 31, the asylum service reported receiving 25,364 asylum applications, a nearly 220 percent increase over the same period in 2015. A significant backlog in asylum claims remained.

From June 6 through July 30, the asylum service, in cooperation with UNHCR and EASO, conducted a preregistration exercise throughout the mainland to address the overwhelming interest in and lack of physical access to the asylum process. The exercise focused on formal reception camps and other facilities hosting migrant and asylum seekers, but it was also available to those residing in informal sites and urban areas. The procedure was available only to foreign nationals arriving in the country through March 19. Migrants and asylum seekers arriving thereafter were subject to expedited admissibility and asylum procedures initiated in island hotspot locations (see section 2.d., Freedom of Movement). The exercise aimed to identify individuals eligible for relocation or family reunification in other EU countries and those who would have to file asylum claims in country. Preregistration documents, issued in the interim period before an applicant filed a formal asylum claim, granted beneficiaries the right to legal residence in the country for one year and access to free health care, but not permission to work. Work was permitted once an applicant started the formal asylum process with an initial interview and received updated documentation. According to asylum service and UNHCR data, 27,592 individuals preregistered as part of the exercise.

IOs, NGOs, and human rights activists expressed concerns about problems related to the asylum system, including the lack of adequate staff and facilities; difficulties in registering claims and questions about the expedited nature and thoroughness of the examination of initial claims and appeals; lack of suitable reception centers to address the increased number of asylum seekers stranded in the country; insufficient welfare, integration, counseling, legal, and interpretation services; discrimination; as well as detention under inadequate and overcrowded conditions inside the hotspots. Asylum seekers of nationalities other than Syrian alleged delays in the processing of their claims due to the expedited processing of Syrian applications under a special program instituted in August 2014.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, according to which authorities may return asylum seekers to the EU member state of first entry for adjudication of asylum claims.

On March 18, the EU and Turkey reached a migration agreement, with implementation starting March 20. According to the agreement, every undocumented migrant crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands would be confined to a hotspot for up to 25 days, during which time the individual would have the opportunity to apply for asylum in Greece. Individuals opting not to apply for asylum or whose applications were deemed unfounded or inadmissible would be returned to Turkey under the terms of the agreement. The National Commission for Human Rights, an independent advisory body to the prime minister, and NGOs including HRW, Doctors without Borders, and the Greek Council for Refugees expressed concerns, objecting to detention of incoming migrants and asylum seekers. The NGOs argued that the expedited asylum process foreseen in the April 1 law undermined individual international protection rights because there was a lack of access to information on asylum proceedings and inadequate numbers of staff to execute properly the necessary procedures for each asylum claim.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In its July report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), HRW alleged that the readmission of some individuals to Turkey on April 4, under the EU-Turkey Statement, was abusive, contending that some individuals returned were not adequately informed of the process and lacked the opportunity to apply for asylum. On October 28, Amnesty International reported to have evidence that Greek authorities forced the return of at least eight Syrian refugees to Turkey, without respecting procedural guarantees or considering their asylum claims. Greek authorities insisted that all individuals were given the opportunity to apply for asylum on several occasions, also noting that three Syrian nationals from the same group did not return because they had requested asylum at the airport prior to their departure. Authorities also noted that the procedure took place under the supervision of the office of the Greek ombudsman. On October 21, a UNHCR spokesperson expressed concerns about these and other cases involving Syrian nationals who were returned to Turkey from Greece without “due consideration of their asylum claims.”

Freedom of Movement: Undocumented migrants arriving at Greek islands after March 20 were subjected to special border reception and registration procedures in closed facilities. According to the law, those arriving would experience “deprivation of liberty” for up to 25 days, although NGO and activist sources reported that this timeframe was not always respected. After this 25-day period, undocumented migrants remaining in those facilities were generally allowed to enter and exit. Undocumented migrants were prohibited from travelling to the mainland unless they filed asylum applications deemed admissible by the asylum authorities. Once asylum applications were filed, found admissible, and in process, migrants could move to an accommodation center on the mainland. There was no restriction on movement in/out of the accommodation centers.

Unaccompanied minors were also placed under “protective custody” due to lack of space in specialized shelters. In a July 19 report, HRW, citing the National Center for Social Solidarity (EKKA), stated that as of July 18, an estimated 18 children were held in police stations awaiting transfer, while hundreds of other unaccompanied children were kept in large detention centers in various locations, including the Greek islands. Unaccompanied minors were generally not free to leave these centers, although government and NGOs reported that NGO employees and volunteers were permitted to escort them outside the centers for recreational activities.

The government detained undocumented migrants with expired residence permits or rejected asylum seekers for up to six months. There were also cases of asylum seekers being detained under special circumstances or when under arrest for unlawful acts. Likewise, migrants and asylum seekers living in open camps with expired temporary residence documentation were detained if suspected of committing unlawful acts. Relying on police data, media reported approximately 1,140 migrants were in detention centers as of March 3. Police maintained that 13,928 individuals were deported or voluntarily returned to countries of origin through September 30.

Employment: Recognized refugees and holders of asylum-seekers’ papers were entitled to work. Asylum-seekers who underwent the preregistration process were not allowed to work until they underwent an initial interview and formally filed an asylum application.

Access to Basic Services: Services such as health care, education, and judicial procedures were granted to asylum seekers in possession of a valid residency permit. Legal assistance was limited and was usually offered via volunteer lawyers and bar associations, NGOs, and IOs. Designated refugees were also entitled to public housing, but almost all housing programs ceased due to austerity measures. Asylum seekers had access to special shelters operated under state management or supervision, or administered by NGOs. All residents in the country are entitled to emergency medical care regardless of legal status. Medical volunteers or doctors contracted by NGOs and military doctors provided basic medical care in camps with emergencies or more complex cases referred to local hospitals. The government started an initiative to provide education to refugee and migrant minors in October.

The Reception and Identification Service (RIS)–formerly known as the “First Reception Service,”–co-managed with the armed forces, police, and other agencies, a number of open reception and closed facilities, but the RIS was severely understaffed. The April 1 law placed the RIS under a newly established Secretariat for Reception under the authority of the Ministry for Interior and Administrative Reconstruction. Together with police, the RIS was responsible for registering, verifying the identity, medically screening, and identifying vulnerable groups among undocumented migrants entering the country. The RIS was also responsible for the short-term housing of individuals, the referral of vulnerable individuals to other facilities, and the provision of information concerning options for international protection or assisted voluntary return to the undocumented migrants’ home countries.

More than 40 reception and accommodation camps were gradually established throughout the country to house a migrant and asylum seeking population that ceased being transitory. Most sites were “open” and typically operated in such areas as former military camps; state-owned lands where prefabricated houses were installed; unused and refurbished municipal or state-owned buildings; empty or abandoned and refurbished hotels; or former factory or warehouse facilities. “Closed” sites, typically on island hotspots, mostly operated on military or state-owned plots with additional prefabricated houses. The government participated in a European Commission-funded UNHCR rental subsidy program launched in December 2015 to increase housing capacity. Based on UNHCR data from April through October 31, the program accommodated 16,393 migrants and asylum seekers in a combination of rental subsidies, hotels, host families, and a relocation camp administered by UNHCR.

Sites lacked standard operating procedures and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Living conditions for migrants and refugees were occasionally reported to be below international humanitarian standards. NGOs, IOs, and independent observers voiced concerns about overcrowding, poor access to water and sanitation, inadequate food provision, poor access to basic health and pharmaceutical care (particularly for individuals suffering from chronic diseases), limited mental health care and social and psychological support. Accommodation for individuals with disabilities at most sites was inadequate. Connections to sewage and water supply systems were nonexistent or problematic at many sites–although the government prioritized water and sanitation projects in cooperation with local municipalities, NGOs, and others to mitigate long-standing complaints among local resident communities.

In a July 21 open letter published by the Hellenic Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO), its officials cited conditions deemed to pose health risks to migrants, asylum seekers, and the public. According to KEELPNO, their officials visited 16 accommodation facilities along with regional health officers on July 4-8, following a ministerial decree providing for a public-health assessment of these centers. The letter specifically mentioned the site of a former tannery in Sindos, in the Thessaloniki area, noting water at the site probably had high traces of toxic heavy metals and that the facility contained other hazardous materials including asbestos in the ceilings.

Segregation of vulnerable groups was not always feasible at some sites, with overcrowding and a lack of information raising tensions among residents. Credible observers reported several violent incidents, including fist fights involving migrants and asylum seekers, stabbings, gender-based violence (see section 2.d., Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons), and at least two alleged killings. Residents initiated periodic hunger strikes and protests, including suicide attempts, inside hotspots and accommodation camps to protest detention policies, delays in the asylum process, overcrowding, and poor living and sanitary conditions.

In its May report, the German-based NGO “Pro ASYL” found conditions in most emergency camps in the Athens area to be substandard, adding that the system of detection and protection of vulnerable groups was ineffective and that migrants and asylum seekers lacked information about and access to asylum, relocation, and family reunification options. Campaigns by NGOs, IOs, and the government helped improve information dissemination, particularly in the months immediately following agreement on the March 18 EU-Turkey statement.

Temporary Protection: As of August 31 the government also provided temporary protection to approximately 21 individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, with the exception of restricted access to detention and reception facilities for migrants and asylum seekers in the islands and in certain circumstances to official camps in the mainland. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman, a state body considered independent and effective, investigated complaints by individuals of human rights problems. Five deputy ombudsmen dealt with human rights, children’s rights, citizen-state relations, health and social welfare, and quality of life problems. The office received adequate resources to perform its functions. In its 2015 annual report, the office reported receiving 11,502 complaints, of which 80 percent were considered to have been satisfactorily resolved.

The autonomous, state-funded National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) advised the government on protection of human rights. The NCHR was considered independent, effective, and adequately resourced.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of members of the military services, to form and join independent unions, conduct their activities without interference, and strike. On July 27, parliament passed a law allowing armed forces personnel to form unions, while explicitly prohibiting strikes and work stoppages by those unions. Police also have the right to organize and demonstrate but not to strike.

The law does not allow trade unions in enterprises with fewer than 20 workers and places restrictions on labor arbitration mechanisms. The law also generally protects the right to bargain collectively but restricts the right to bargain collectively on wages for persons under the age of 25. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law allows company-level agreements to take precedence over sectoral-level collective agreements in the private sector. Civil servants negotiate and conclude collective agreements with the government on all matters except salaries.

There are some legal restrictions on strikes, including a mandatory four-day notification requirement for public utility and transportation workers and a 24-hour notification requirement for private-sector workers. The law mandates minimum staff levels during strikes affecting public services. The law also gives authorities the right to commandeer services in national emergencies through civil mobilization orders. Anyone receiving a civil mobilization order is obliged to comply or face a prison sentence of at least three months. The law exempts individuals with a documented physical or mental disability from civil mobilization. The law explicitly prohibits the issuance of civil mobilization orders as a means of countering strike actions before or after their proclamation.

The government generally protected the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining and effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties for violations of laws on freedom of association and collective bargaining, which provide for fines of 3,000 euros ($3,300) and minimum three-month prison sentences, reportedly were insufficient to deter violations in all cases. Courts may declare a strike illegal for reasons including failure to respect internal authorization processes and secure minimum staff levels, failure to give adequate advance notice of the strike, and introduction of new demands during the course of the strike. Unions complained this deterred some members from participating in strikes. On July 6, the Council of State ruled that a nationwide lawyers’ strike started January 12, was contrary to the constitution and to the European Convention on Human Rights. Administrative and judicial procedures to resolve labor problems were generally subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

There were reports of antiunion discrimination. On June 23 and on July 13, the Union of Professional Drivers in Attica, the Union of Salaried Technicians, and the Pan-Hellenic Union of Lithographers reported three separate cases of what they viewed as illegal dismissals of active union members.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and provides additional protections for children, limiting their work hours and their work under certain conditions. Although several government entities, including the police antitrafficking unit, worked to prevent and eliminate labor trafficking, there were reports of forced labor of women, children, and men in the agricultural sector, food warehouses business, and transportation companies. Forced begging (also see section 7.c.) mostly occurred in metropolitan areas and populous islands, focusing on popular metro stations, squares and meeting places. Penalties for violations included more than 10 years in prison and fines of up to 100,000 euros ($110,000) but were not sufficient to deter violations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment in the industrial sector is 15, with higher limits for some activities. The minimum age is 12 in family businesses, theaters, and cinemas. A presidential decree permits children who are 15 or older to engage in hazardous work in certain circumstances, such as when it is necessary as part of vocational or professional training; in this case a worker should be monitored by a safety technician or a medical doctor. Hazardous work includes work that exposes workers to toxic and cancer-producing elements, radiation, and other similar conditions.

The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, with penalties for violators ranging from fines to imprisonment. Information is not available on whether the penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Employers generally observed child labor laws in the formal economy. Trade unions, however, alleged that enforcement was inadequate due to the inspectorate’s understaffing. The government did not adequately protect exploited children.

Child labor was a problem in the informal economy. Younger family members often assisted families in agriculture, food service, and merchandising on at least a part-time basis. Family members compelled some children to beg, pickpocket, or sell merchandise on the street or trafficked them for the same purposes. The government and NGOs reported the majority of such beggars were indigenous Roma or Bulgarian, Romanian, or Albanian Roma. There were reports that unaccompanied migrant children were particularly vulnerable to labor exploitation and worked mainly in the agricultural and, to a lesser extent, manufacturing sectors. On June 16, media reported an estimated 50,000 minors were working in the country.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment based on race, sex, religion, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, and HIV-positive status, but not political opinion.

The government did not always effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties provided by the law were not sufficient to deter violators. Penalties included prison sentences up to three years and fines up to 5,000 euros ($5,500). Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred based on race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity. There was discrimination against migrant workers (see section 7.e.).

In its 2015 report for gender and equality, the ombudsman reiterated findings from previous years about illegal dismissals from employment and changes in work terms imposed by private sector employers due to pregnancy. Of 87 complaints of disability-related discrimination filed with the ombudsman in 2015, 25 cases concerned discrimination in employment. The ombudsman stated in a report to the Ministry of Administrative Reform and to the Manpower Employment Organization that the requirement for a middle-school certificate to obtain employment constituted indirect discrimination in employment for Roma in unspecified sectors.

The Greek Transgender Support Association criticized discrimination against transgender individuals in overall employment, which the association stated led to limited access to housing and medical care.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage in the private sector for persons age 25 or older was 26.18 euros ($28.80) per day and 586.08 euros ($645) per month. The minimum wage for persons under age 25 was 84 percent of the minimum wage of workers older than 25, or 22.83 euros ($25.10) per day and 510.95 euros ($562) per month. The government determines public-sector salaries, including the minimum wage, without negotiating with civil servant unions.

The maximum legal workweek is 40 hours. The law provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week, mandates paid vacation of one month per year, and sets limits on the amount of overtime work. The law regarding overtime work requires premium pay, and employers must submit information to the Ministry of Labor for authorization. Premium pay ranged from 20 to 75 percent of the daily wage, based on the total number of extra hours and the day (Sundays, holidays, nights, etc.). Employers also provided compensatory time off. These provisions were not always effectively enforced in all sectors, particularly in tourism, agriculture, and the informal economy or for domestic or migrant workers.

The law provides for minimum standards of occupational health and safety. According to government sources, the safety and health legislation in the country consisted of about 150 total laws and presidential decrees. Workers have the right to file a confidential complaint with the Labor Inspectorate regarding hazardous working conditions and to remove themselves from such situations without jeopardizing their employment.

According to media, investigation of a May 2015 accident at the Hellenic Petroleum refinery in Aspropyrgos, Attica, by the Athens first instance court prosecutor was still in progress. Authorities fined the company 22,500 euros ($24,750) for health and safety-related violations. The company’s investigation reported that fuel in the reservoir pipeline during maintenance caused the fire that resulted in four deaths. Media reported through July 13 that 29 work accidents had resulted in two deaths.

The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcement of labor legislation. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for all concerns regarding occupational safety and health at the national level. The Directorate of Security and Health in Labor under the General Directorate for Labor and Labor Inclusion and the Labor Inspectorate are the principal competent government authorities. The inspectorate’s mandate includes the private and public sectors, except for domestic employment, mining, and marine shipping (which fall under the Ministry of Economy, Development, and Tourism and the Ministry of Maritime and Island Policy). The General Confederation of Workers and Employees (GSEE) characterized health and safety laws as satisfactory but stated that enforcement by the Labor Inspectorate was inadequate.

The number of inspectors authorized to conduct labor inspections reportedly exceeded 1,000, including Labor Inspectorate personnel and staff of the Ministry of Labor, Social Security, and Social Solidarity, the Social Insurance Fund, and the Economic Crimes Division of the police. No data was available on the number of dedicated labor inspectors in the Labor Inspectorate. Trade unions and the media alleged that, due to insufficient inspectorate staffing, enforcement of labor standards was inadequate in the shipping, tourism, and agricultural sectors. Enforcement was also lacking among small enterprises (employing 10 or fewer persons).

Employers found hiring undeclared employees were fined 10,500 euros ($11,550) for each undeclared employed over age 25 and 9,197 euros ($10,117) for each undeclared employee under age 25. The GSEE and other unions asserted that the penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. On March 2, the Ministry of Labor, Social Security, and Social Solidarity reported that approximately 17 percent of inspected enterprises in the country through November 2015 were found employing unregistered workers.

In 2015 GSEE’s Institute of Labor data indicated that approximately 1.2 million individuals experienced delays of up to 15 months in receiving their salary. Other reported labor violations included payment of partial wages for full-time work, no payment of holiday pay, non-issuance of benefits, conclusion of contracts for below minimum-wage part-time work, employment for up to 30 consecutive days of work without weekends off, and delays in payments due to ongoing capital controls imposed in 2015. Such violations were mostly noted in the tourism, agriculture, and housekeeping services sectors.

Honduras

Executive Summary

Honduras is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country held national and local elections in November 2013. Voters elected Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party as president for a four-year term that began in January 2014. International observers generally recognized the elections as transparent, credible, and reflecting the will of the electorate. The National Congress elected a new 15-member Supreme Court for a seven-year term in February.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Pervasive societal violence persisted, although the state made efforts to reduce it. The March murder of environmental and indigenous rights activist Berta Caceres underscored state institutions’ lack of effective measures to protect activists. Violence and land-rights disputes involving indigenous people, agricultural workers, landowners, the extractive industry, and development projects continued in rural areas, including the Bajo Aguan region. Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of murder, extortion, kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, and intimidation of journalists, women, and human rights defenders.

Other serious human rights problems were widespread impunity due to corruption and institutional weaknesses in the investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial systems, and excessive use of force and criminal actions by members of the security forces. Additional, human rights problems included harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; lengthy pretrial detention and failure to provide due process of law; threats and violence by criminals directed against human rights defenders, judicial authorities, lawyers, the business community, journalists, bloggers, and members of vulnerable populations; violence against and harassment of women; child abuse; trafficking in persons, including child prostitution; human smuggling, including of unaccompanied children; failure to conduct free and informed consultations with indigenous communities prior to the authorization of development projects; discrimination against indigenous and Afro-descendent communities; violence against and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; ineffective enforcement of labor laws; and child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, including arresting and prosecuting members of congress, judges, prosecutors, police officers, mayors, and other local authorities. Civilian authorities arrested and investigated members of the security forces alleged to have committed human rights abuses. Some prosecutions of military and police officials charged with human rights violations moved too slowly or failed to convict the responsible parties.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and laws provide for freedom of speech and press, with some restrictions, and the government generally respected these rights. A small number of powerful business magnates with intersecting commercial, political, and family ties owned most of the major news media.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The penal code includes a provision to punish persons who directly, or through public media, incite discrimination, hate, contempt, repression, or violence against a person, group, or organization for reasons of gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or national origin, language, nationality, religion, family affiliation, family or economic situation, disability, health, physical appearance, or any other characteristic that would offend the victim’s human dignity.

CONADEH reported that the government closed 21 media outlets that failed to renew their operating licenses, including major opposition channel Globo TV. Some of these channels were already defunct, while others were attempting to renew their broadcast licenses. Many of the affected journalists continued their reporting at other media outlets. Civil society organizations expressed concerns about the allegedly arbitrary nature of the closures.

Violence and Harassment: There were continued reports of harassment and threats against journalists and social communicators (defined as persons not employed as journalists who served as bloggers or conducted public outreach for NGOs). Reports linked most of these instances of harassment and threats to organized criminal elements and gangs.

Government officials at all levels denounced violence and threats of violence against members of the media and social communicators. UNAH’s Violence Observatory reported no killings of journalists during the first six months of the year, unlike in the previous year, when nine journalists and social communicators were killed. CONADEH, which used a broader definition than UNAH, reported that 64 journalists, social commentators, and owners and employees of media outlets were killed between 2014 and August. Perpetrators were convicted in three of these cases, and 10 cases were being prosecuted. There were many reports of intimidation and threats against members of the media and their families, including from members of the security forces and from organized crime. It was usually unclear whether violence and threats against journalists were linked to their work or were simply products of generalized violence. For example, reporter Felix Molina was shot and wounded in the second of two apparent attempts to rob him on May 2.

Human rights defenders, including indigenous and environmental rights activists, political activists, labor activists, and representatives of civil society working to combat corruption, reported threats and acts of violence. The killing of Berta Caceres in March (see section 1.a.) was the most emblematic of these cases. Other organizations, including the Indigenous Lenca Movement of La Paz, as well as civil society members of the Special Commission reviewing the HNP, and the leadership of the National Anticorruption Council, reported threats linked to their activities. The AFL-CIO’s International Solidarity Center reported threats against several labor leaders, including public-sector labor union leaders (also see section 7.a.).

The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization worked to implement the May 2015 Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators, and Justice Operators but was hampered by weaknesses in the new protection mechanism, including a lack of staff and other resources. On July 11, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) expressed concern that some of the new law’s provisions did not assure effective protection for human rights defenders, and that the resources allocated to the protection mechanism were insufficient to ensure the law’s effective implementation. NGOs generally criticized the measures as ineffective, based on the small number of persons protected, an overreliance on protective measures provided by police (who many protected persons did not trust), and the limited resources provided to protected persons. Civil society also criticized the government’s failure to investigate threats against activists adequately.

The HNP’s Human Rights Office continued to implement protective measures for journalists, social communicators, human rights defenders, labor leaders, and other activists receiving threats. On July 19, the government announced it would allocate an additional 10 million lempiras ($434,000) for protection services, essentially doubling the current budget. During the first six months of the year, the government worked with NGO Freedom House to develop and strengthen implementation of the law. As of July 29, the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization had received 39 requests for protection since the law’s approval in April 2015 and accepted 30, which were being processed. The other nine requests were from persons who were already beneficiaries of IACHR-mandated protection measures that the Human Rights Office of the Ministry of Security continued to implement. The Ministry of Security planned to transfer these cases to the protection mechanism once the government established a formal protocol for doing so. The IACHR had 66 outstanding orders for protection in the country. According to NGO ACI Participa, 49 orders between 2006 and 2015 benefited 426 individuals, including 59 indigenous persons, 27 members of the LGBTI community, 28 environmentalists, and 72 journalists.

The HNP’s Violent Crimes Task Force (VCTF) investigated crimes against high-profile and particularly vulnerable victims, including judges, journalists, human rights activists, and members of the LGBTI community. In 2015-16, the VCTF investigated the killings of seven journalists and arrested three suspects in these cases. It also arrested a suspect for the death of a journalist in a prior year, helped bring two other cases to trial, and secured one conviction for the murder of a journalist.

Civil society organizations, including agricultural workers groups and indigenous rights groups, criticized the government and its officials for allegedly criminalizing and stigmatizing social protest. The government charged some members of these groups with trespassing after they occupied disputed land and required them to present themselves to judicial authorities periodically while legal proceedings against them were pending.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of media and NGOs said the press self-censored due to fear of retaliation from organized crime or corrupt government officials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Citizens, including public officials, can initiate criminal proceedings for libel and slander. As of November 3, journalists Julio Ernesto Alvarado and David Romero Ellner remained free and continued to practice their profession, despite being convicted of slander in 2015 and ordered to stop practicing journalism temporarily. Alvarado paid a fine to avoid jail time; in December 2015 to comply with a 2014 order from the IACHR, the government rescinded the order that he stop practicing journalism. Romero Ellner received a 10-year prison sentence in March, and the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court denied his final appeal on August 19.

National Security: Reporters without Borders and other civil society organizations continued to express concerns about potential abuse of the law for the Classification of Public Documents Related to Defense and National Security. Beginning in the third quarter of 2015, the government made available to the public some information about activities that the security tax and other trust funds support, and it incorporated trust fund numbers into the current budget. In August the Organization of American States’ Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) and the semiautonomous Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP) called for the law’s revision.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some journalists and other members of civil society reported threats from members of organized crime. It was unclear how many of these threats were related to the victims’ professions or activism.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications. According to estimates compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, in 2015 approximately 20 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Some local and international civil society organizations, including the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), alleged that members of the security forces used excessive force to break up demonstrations. On several occasions police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse violent protesters. Authorities temporarily detained protesters wielding rocks, machetes, and other dangerous items but usually released them without pressing charges. Many civil society leaders and organizations condemned a decision by UNAH leaders authorizing police to break up a two-month student sit-in in July. Police briefly detained approximately two dozen protest leaders, and university officials then brought criminal charges against them. As of early December, student protesters and UNAH leadership remained in discussions to address the concerns of all parties, including the judicial proceedings and administrative actions that university officials took against protest leaders.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The penal code prohibits illicit association, defined as gatherings by persons bearing arms, explosive devices, or dangerous objects with the purpose of committing a crime, and prescribes prison terms of two to four years and a fine of 30,000 to 60,000 lempiras ($1,300 to $2,600) for anyone who convokes or directs an illicit meeting or demonstration. There were no reports of such cases during the year.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. In practical terms there were areas where authorities could not assure freedom of movement because of criminal activity and a lack of significant government presence.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. UNHCR reported that as of August approximately 280 indigenous persons displaced from Nicaragua remained along the international border in Gracias a Dios Department. The government provided some assistance to this community.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

On April 5, the special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons welcomed the government’s recognition that internal displacement existed in the country and its acknowledgement that the challenges it presents require research and concerted action to tackle its root causes. UNHCR remained concerned about forced displacement caused by high levels of violence, national and transnational gang activity, human trafficking, and migrant smuggling. The government maintained an interinstitutional commission to address the problem of persons displaced by violence. UNHCR reported that it collaborated extensively with the commission, which monitored displacement and developed policies and programs to prevent displacement and to provide protection to displaced persons, focusing on the most vulnerable persons affected by organized crime and other situations of violence. A 2015 UNHCR report estimated there were between 174,000 and 182,000 internally displaced persons in the country. There were no official numbers for forced displacement in the country, in part because gangs controlled many of the neighborhoods that were sources of internal displacement (see section 6, Displaced Children). Media reported in March that gangs ordered residents of two communities, one in San Pedro Sula and one in Tegucigalpa, to vacate their homes; the government responded by increasing law enforcement operations and presence in the affected neighborhoods. Several communities along the border with El Salvador reported that gangs displaced them by moving into their communities, following increased police action in El Salvador. On July 10, authorities lifted a one-month curfew in the town of Mapulaca, in Lempira Department near the border with El Salvador, after increasing security force activities in the area.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law allows for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system to provide protection to refugees, but at times there were significant delays in processing provisional permits for asylum applicants.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials met with domestic and international NGOs and convened meetings to obtain their views on different issues. Although attentive to NGO views, officials often were not responsive to their recommendations. Some NGOs claimed that some government officials made statements about NGOs that constituted threats or harassment. Citizens may file complaints of human rights violations with the IACHR.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2014, as part of a complete restructuring of executive branch agencies, the president combined several ministries to create the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization.

As of December the government was implementing 37 recommendations from the 2010 Truth and Reconciliation Commission created after the 2009 political crisis. The recommendations included measures to amend the constitution, increase respect for human rights, and advance efforts to combat corruption.

In 2013 the Council of Ministers approved the government’s first Public Policy and National Action Plan for Human Rights, which provides a roadmap for each government ministry to integrate promotion of and respect for human rights into its planning and budget. The administration that took office in 2014 committed to implement the plan. The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that as of August, the government had implemented nine of the plan’s actions, after implementing 14 actions in 2015. The ministry had provided human rights training to 7,760 persons as of August, including civilian police, members of the armed forces, health- and emergency-service personnel, other government officials, students, businesspersons, and convicts.

The Public Ministry’s Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights handled cases involving charges of misconduct by members of the security forces, as well as crimes against communities of special concern. CONADEH performed the functions of an ombudsman and investigated complaints of human rights abuses.

At the invitation of the government, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights opened an office in March 2015, but the head of the office did not arrive until October 2016.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law grants workers the right to form and join unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and strike. It prohibits employer retribution against employees for engaging in trade union activities. The law places a number of restrictions on these rights, such as requiring that a recognized trade union represent at least 30 workers, prohibiting foreign nationals from holding union offices, and requiring that union officials work in the same substantive area of the business as the workers they represent. Following an employer’s appeal of the findings of a 2015 labor inspection, in October the STSS administratively ruled that seasonal workers could not hold leadership positions in a union. Labor unions filed an appeal of this decision in October, saying it violated labor rights and international standards. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police, as well as certain other public employees, from forming labor unions.

The law requires an employer to begin collective bargaining once workers establish a union, and specifies that if more than one union exists at a company the employer must negotiate with the largest.

The law allows only local unions to call strikes, prohibits labor federations and confederations from calling strikes, and requires that a two-thirds majority of both union and nonunion employees at an enterprise approve a strike. The law prohibits workers from legally striking until after they have attempted and failed to come to agreement with their employer, and it requires workers and employers to participate in a mediation and conciliation process. Additionally, the law prohibits strikes in a wide range of economic activities that the government has designated as essential services or that it considers would affect the rights of individuals in the larger community to security, health, education, and economic and social well-being.

The law prohibits certain public service employees from striking. The law permits workers in public health care, social security, staple food production, and public utilities (municipal sanitation, water, electricity, and telecommunications) to strike, as long as they continue to provide basic services. The law also requires that public-sector workers involved in the refining, transportation, and distribution of petroleum products submit their grievances to the STSS before striking. The ILO expressed concerns that restricting strikes in so many sectors was excessive. The law permits strikes by workers in export processing zones and free zones for companies that provide services to industrial parks, but it requires that strikes not impede the operations of other factories in such parks.

The STSS has the power to declare a work stoppage illegal, and employers may discipline employees consistent with their internal regulations, including firing strikers, if the STSS rules that a strike is illegal. The ILO expressed concerns about the government’s authority to end disputes in several sectors, including oil production and transport, because such authority is vulnerable to abuse.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The STSS can fine companies that violate the right to freedom of association. The law permits fines of between 200 and 10,000 lempiras ($9 to $440) per violation. If a company unlawfully dismisses founding union members or union leaders, the law stipulates that employers must also pay a fine equivalent to six months of the dismissed leaders’ salaries to the union itself. Civil society, international organizations, and the STSS complained that such small fines failed to deter violations. In practice the STSS rarely imposed or collected fines for violations. When the STSS imposed fines, inspectors had to clear them through the Central Office of the Inspector General, a requirement that added a year or more to the time between an inspection and a fine. Both the STSS and the courts may order a company to reinstate workers, but the STSS lacks the means to ensure compliance. The reinstatement process in the courts was unduly long, lasting from six months to more than five years.

Workers had difficulty exercising the rights to form and join unions and to engage in collective bargaining, and the government failed to enforce applicable laws effectively. Public-sector trade unionists raised concerns about government interference in trade union activities, including its suspension or ignoring of collective agreements and its dismissals of union members and leaders.

Due to suspicions that employees at the STSS’s registry office alerted companies when workers were attempting to unionize–thereby facilitating the dismissal of union organizers before they gained additional legal protections–some unions delayed providing lists of members to the STSS until after the union formally notified the employer of its formation. Although there is no legal requirement that they do so, STSS inspectors generally accompanied workers when they notified their employer of their intent to form a union. In some cases STSS inspectors, rather than workers, directly notified employers of workers’ intent to organize. Workers reported that the presence and participation of the STSS reduced the risk that employers would dismiss the union’s founders and later claim they were unaware of efforts to unionize.

Civil servants frequently engaged in illegal work stoppages without experiencing reprisals, but there were also reports that government employees, including sanitation workers and police officers, lost their jobs or were subjected to discipline for striking over working conditions. Medical professionals and others continued to hold strikes throughout the year to protest arrears in salary and overtime.

Some employers either refused to engage in collective bargaining or made it very difficult to do so. Some companies also delayed appointing or failed to appoint representatives for required STSS-led mediation, a practice that prolonged the mediation process and impeded the right to strike. There were allegations that companies used collective pacts, which are collective contracts with nonunionized workers, to prevent unionization and collective bargaining because only one collective contract can exist in each workplace. Unions also raised concerns about the use of temporary contracts and part-time employment, suggesting that employers used these mechanisms to prevent unionization and avoid providing full benefits. A Supreme Court ruling requires that both unions and employers notify the STSS of new collective agreements before they go into effect. There were some complaints that employers delayed making such notifications.

Antiunion discrimination continued to be a serious problem. The three major union federations and several civil society groups noted that many companies paid the fines that government authorities imposed but continued to violate the law. Some failed to remedy violations despite multiple visits by STSS inspectors. Employers often threatened to close unionized factories and harassed or dismissed workers seeking to unionize. Local unions, the AFL-CIO’s International Solidarity Center, and other organizations reported that some employers dismissed union leaders in attempts to undermine union operations. As of August the Solidarity Center reported that it was aware of 25 cases of individuals fired for union activism. In 2015 the STSS levied 650,000 lempiras ($28,500) in fines against 134 companies for labor rights violations. As part of a bilateral Monitoring and Action Plan signed by the minister of labor in December 2015, the government agreed to increase fines for violations of labor laws through a new labor inspection law. The International Solidarity Center reported threats against several labor leaders, including public-sector labor union leaders.

Employers often further complicated matters by barring STSS inspectors from entering company premises to serve union protection documents. STSS inspectors rarely called on police to help them gain entry to a factory. Employers often failed to comply with STSS orders requiring them to reinstate workers fired for engaging in union activities. As of September NGOs documented eight cases of threats or violence against union leaders during the year, including leaders in the agricultural and public sectors.

There was credible evidence that some employers in the manufacturing industry continued to blacklist employees who sought to form unions. Some companies in other sectors, including the banana industry, established employer-controlled unions that prevented the formation of independent unions because of legal restrictions on the number of unions and collective bargaining agreements allowed per company.

Several companies in export processing zones had solidarity associations that functioned similarly to company unions for the purposes of setting wages and negotiating working conditions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced labor, but the government did not effectively implement or enforce these laws. Administrative penalties of up to 5,000 lempiras ($220) were insufficient to deter violations and were rarely enforced. Penalties for forced labor under antitrafficking laws range from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment, but authorities often did not enforce them. As of August the government was investigating two cases of labor trafficking, one of street children forced to work as beggars and another involving domestic service.

Forced labor occurred in street vending, domestic service, the transport of drugs and other illicit goods, and other criminal activity. Victims were primarily impoverished men, women, and children in both rural and urban areas (also see section 7.c.). The 2015 prison labor law requiring prisoners to work at least five hours a day, six days a week, took effect in January. Regulations for implementing the law were still under development as of December 20. The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization said it was taking every precaution to protect prisoners’ rights and assure that the work provided opportunities for prisoners to develop skills they could use in legal economic activities after their release.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law regulates child labor, sets the minimum age for employment at 14, and regulates the hours and types of work that minors up to age 18 may perform. By law all minors between 14 and 18 years old must receive special permission from the STSS to work, and the STSS must perform a home study to verify that there is an economic need for the child to work and that the child will not work outside the country or in hazardous conditions, including in offshore fishing. The STSS approved 132 such authorizations between 2014 and August. The vast majority of children who worked did so without STSS permits. If the STSS grants permission, children between 14 and 16 years old may work a maximum of four hours a day, and those between 16 and 18 years old may work up to six hours a day. The law prohibits night work and overtime for minors under the age of 18, but the STSS can grant special permission for minors ages 16 to 18 to work in the evening if such employment does not adversely affect their education.

The law requires that individuals and companies that employ more than 20 school-age children at their facilities provide a location for a school.

The government did not devote adequate resources or sufficient inspectors to monitor compliance with child labor laws or to prevent or pursue violations. Fines for child labor are between 5,000 lempiras ($220) and 25,000 lempiras ($1,100) for a first violation, and as high as 50,000 lempiras ($2,200) for repeat violations. These fines are higher than those for other violations of the labor code. The law also imposes prison sentences of three to five years for child labor violations that endanger the life or morality of a child. The STSS did not effectively enforce child labor laws, except in the apparel assembly sector, and there were frequent violations. The STSS issued 35 fines in 2015 for child labor violations. As of September the STSS had identified 14 small businesses that employed children, and fined seven of them.

Estimates of the number of children under age 18 in the country’s workforce range from 370,000 to 510,000. During the year the Ministry of Education reported that 32,719 students in grades one through 12 were working. Children often worked on coffee, okra, and sugarcane plantations; rummaged at garbage dumps; worked in the forestry, hunting, and fishing sectors; worked as domestic servants; peddled goods such as fruit; begged; washed cars; hauled goods; and labored in limestone quarrying and lime production. Most child labor occurred in rural areas. Children often worked alongside family members in agriculture and other work, such as fishing, construction, transportation, and small businesses. Some of the worst forms of child labor occurred, including commercial sexual exploitation of children, and NGOs reported that gangs often forced children to commit crimes, including murder (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or national origin, language, nationality, religion, family affiliation, family or economic situation, disability, health, physical appearance, or any other characteristic that would offend the victim’s human dignity. Penalties include prison sentences of up to five years and monetary fines. The law prohibits employers from requiring pregnancy tests as a prerequisite for employment; violators are subject to a 5,000 lempira ($220) fine. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations.

Many employers discriminated against women. According to a 2013 study by the National Institute for Women, employers paid women an average of 16 percent less than they paid men for comparable work. Female workers in the textile export industry continued to report being required to take pregnancy tests as a condition of employment. Persons with disabilities, indigenous and Afro-Honduran persons, LGBTI persons, and persons with HIV/AIDS also faced discrimination in employment and occupation (also see section 6, Children). As of August the STSS reported that it had received no formal complaints of work discrimination. The International Solidarity Center reported that the STSS had received 12 complaints of discrimination based on disability.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There are 42 categories of monthly minimum wages, based on the industry and the size of a company’s workforce; the minimums range from 5,682 lempiras ($250) to 9,593 lempiras ($420). The law does not cover domestic workers.

The law applies equally to citizens and foreigners, regardless of gender, and prescribes a maximum eight-hour shift per day for most workers, a 44-hour workweek, and at least one 24-hour rest period for every six days of work. It also provides for paid national holidays and annual leave. The law requires overtime pay, bans excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to four hours a day for a maximum workday of 12 hours, and prohibits the practice of requiring workers to complete work quotas before leaving their place of employment. The law does not protect domestic workers effectively.

In 2015 the government approved a new social security law. As part of the new law, employers must deposit at least 50 percent of the severance pay to which an employee is entitled into a bank account in the employee’s name. This provision, however, remained suspended as of December 20, pending the resolution of several court cases and further clarification of how the law will be implemented.

Occupational safety and health standards were current but not enforced. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing continued employment.

The STSS is responsible for enforcing the national minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety laws, but it did so inconsistently and ineffectively. The law permits fines of up to 1,000 lempiras ($45) for failing to pay the minimum wage, 500 lempiras ($22) for violating occupational safety or health regulations, and 5,000 lempiras ($220) for other labor code violations. As part of the Monitoring and Action Plan, the government nearly doubled the budget for inspectors, from 31.127 million lempiras ($1.4 million) to 59.54 million lempiras ($2.6 million). As of August inspectors had conducted 11,494 inspections, including 3,163 at work sites and 8,331 at STSS offices. As of August the STSS had 136 labor inspectors.

Because labor inspectors continued to be concentrated in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, full labor inspections and follow-up visits to confirm compliance were far less frequent in other parts of the country. Many inspectors asked workers to provide them with transportation so that they could conduct inspections, since the STSS did not have sufficient resources to pay for travel to worksites. Credible allegations of corruption among labor inspectors continued. Inspectors repeatedly failed to respond to requests for inspections to address alleged violations of labor laws, did not impose or collect fines when they discovered violations, and did not ensure enforcement of remediation orders.

Authorities did not effectively enforce worker safety standards, particularly in the construction, garment assembly, and agricultural sectors, as well as in the informal economy. The STSS conducted 31 reinspections of companies identified as labor rights violators under a Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) complaint filed in 2012 by labor unions. Employers rarely paid the minimum wage in the agricultural sector and paid it inconsistently in other sectors. Employers frequently penalized agricultural workers for taking legally established days off.

There were reports of violations of overtime limits, with agricultural workers allegedly working seven days a week for many months. There were credible allegations of compulsory overtime at apparel assembly factories–particularly for women, who made up approximately 65 percent of the sector’s workforce–as well as in the private security sector and among domestic workers. Employers frequently denied workers mandatory benefits, including vacation pay and 13th- and 14th-month bonuses. As of August the STSS had recovered 26.91 million lempiras ($1.2 million) in unpaid severance from four companies and was working with an additional three companies to complete collection of outstanding severance payments from them. There were reports that both public- and private-sector employers failed to pay into the social security system.

Human rights organizations continued to report that workers in the private security and domestic sectors were typically obliged to work more than 60 hours a week, but were paid for only 44. Domestic workers often lacked contracts and received salaries below a living wage. Since many lived in on-site quarters, their work hours varied widely based on the will of individual employers. Private security guards also often worked for salaries below the minimum wage. Many guards worked every two days on 24-hour shifts, in violation of the law. Civil society organizations also reported that employers often forced workers in cleaning services and the fast food industry to work shifts of 12 hours or more. The STSS regularly received complaints of failure to pay agreed overtime, especially in the security and cleaning service sectors. As of August the STSS had received 85 formal complaints of failure to pay overtime and fined 57 companies for not doing so. The STSS estimated that more than 60 percent of workers were employed in the informal economy.

There continued to be reports of violations of occupational health and safety laws affecting the approximately 3,000 persons who made a living by diving for seafood such as lobster, conch, and sea cucumber, most from the Miskito indigenous community and other ethnic minority groups in Gracias a Dios Department. These violations included lack of access to appropriate safety equipment. In 2014 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised similar concerns, calling the working conditions “deplorable.” Civil society groups reported that most dive boats held more than twice the craft’s capacity for divers and that many boat captains sold their divers marijuana and crack cocaine to help them complete an average of 12 dives a day, to depths of more than 100 feet. In 2014 the government banned compressed air diving for sea cucumbers because of deaths in the dive fisheries. The STSS inspected 45 fishing boats at the opening of the season. As of September 20, the Honduran Miskito Association of Crippled Divers (AMHBLI) reported five deaths and 15 injuries. AMHBLI reported the deaths of 455 divers and the crippling of 1,750 others since 1988.

Hungary

Executive Summary

Hungary is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. The unicameral National Assembly (parliament) exercises legislative authority. The parliament elects the president (the head of state) every five years. The president appoints a prime minister from the majority party or coalition in parliament following national elections every four years. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the center-right Fidesz-KDNP (Christian Democratic People’s Party) alliance retained a two-thirds majority in parliament, receiving 45 percent of party-list votes while winning 91 percent of the country’s single-member districts allocated through a first-past-the-post system. The governing coalition lost its two-thirds majority in parliament in March 2015. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election observation mission’s report concluded the elections were efficiently administered and offered voters a diverse choice following an inclusive candidate registration process, although the main governing party enjoyed an undue advantage because of restrictive campaign regulations, biased media coverage, and campaign activities that blurred the separation between political party and the state. Viktor Orban, the Fidesz party leader, has been prime minister since 2010.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

The most significant human rights problem remained the government’s handling of migrants and asylum seekers seeking to transit the country, which was marked by several reports of physical abuse and xenophobic rhetoric. International organizations and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to voice criticism of the systematic erosion of the rule of law; potential violations of international humanitarian law; weakening of checks and balances, democratic institutions, and transparency; and intimidation of independent societal voices since 2010.

Other human rights problems included prison overcrowding and substandard physical conditions, physical abuse of prisoners and detainees by prison and detention staff, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, a politically determined process for government registration of religious groups, government corruption, growing media concentration that restricted editorial independence, and governmental pressure on civil society. There were reports of domestic violence against women and children, sexual harassment of women, anti-Semitism, abuse and inhuman treatment of institutionalized children and persons with mental and physical disabilities, social exclusion and discrimination against Roma, and trafficking in persons.

There were allegations of physical abuse of migrants and asylum seekers entering irregularly by security forces, particularly during push-backs across the border, but the government resisted calls to order an independent investigation into the reports. Civil society organizations widely suspected impunity among government officials and public employees involved in corruption.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and press. The broad powers of the media regulatory authority, however, together with a high level of media concentration and an advertising market highly dependent on governmental contracts maintained a climate conducive to self-censorship and political influence. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) continued to report bias in news reporting by the public media.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits the incitement of hatred against members of certain groups. Any person who publicly incites hatred against any national, ethnic, racial, or religious group or certain other designated groups of the population may be prosecuted and convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The constitution includes hate speech provisions to “protect the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial, or religious community.” The provisions provide for judicial remedies for damage to individuals and their communities that result from hate speech. In 2013 the Venice Commission raised concern that the “dignity of the Hungarian nation” provision could be applied to curtail criticism of the country’s institutions and office holders, which would be incompatible with the standards of free speech limitations in a democratic society.

On May 17, the Media Council issued a resolution in connection with an article by Zsolt Bayer published in both the print and online platforms of Magyar Hirlap in November 2015. The Media Council ruled that Magyar Hirlap Publishing Kft. violated the legal ban on inciting hatred against and promoting exclusion of peoples, nations, national, ethnic, linguistic and other minorities, or any majority or religious community. Consequently, the Media Council ordered the immediate removal of the contested op-ed from the website of Magyar Hirlap; imposed a fine of 250,000 forints ($895) on the publisher; and ordered the publication of a statement on the homepage of Magyar Hirlap for one week. The statement included the Media Council resolution and noted that the “author described the community of migrants as a homogenous group being in war with European societies, calling every member of this community above the age of 14 potential murderers.” On August 18, Zsolt Bayer received a state award (Knight’s Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit) from the minister of the Prime Minister’s Office (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism).

The law prohibits public denial of, expression of, doubt about, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes of the National Socialist (Nazi) and communist regimes, which are punishable by a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Through the end of October, the Action and Protection Foundation (TEV) reported nine cases of Holocaust denial, of which four were pending, three were suspended, one was rejected by police, and one was closed.

On June 1, the Buda Central District Court ordered the temporary removal from the internet of nearly 20 websites for violating the legal ban of Holocaust denial. The prosecutor’s office argued that the websites were promoting and selling the Hungarian translation of a book by a Swedish author claiming that Nazi regimes did not commit genocide.

The law prohibits as a petty offense the wearing, exhibiting, or promoting of the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, the symbols of the arrow cross, the hammer and sickle, or the five-pointed red star in a way that harms human dignity or the memory of the victims of dictatorships.

On May 16, the ECHR ruled that freedom of expression of seven opposition members of parliament was violated in 2013, when parliamentary speaker Kover fined them for alleged “seriously disruptive conduct considered gravely offensive to parliamentary order.” The members had displayed a large placard and banners in the parliamentary chamber, and one used a megaphone to speak during the course of a vote. The ECHR found that the interference with the members’ right to freedom of expression was not “necessary in a democratic society.” The ECHR also found a lack of procedural safeguards because the members had no remedy under domestic law to contest the disciplinary decisions imposed on them. Nevertheless, the ECHR acknowledged that a 2014 amendment to the law introduced minimum procedural safeguards by providing the possibility for a member of parliament who had been fined to make representations before a parliamentary committee.

On January 21, the Buda Central District Court acquitted the man who kicked a polystyrene head of Prime Minister Viktor Orban at an antigovernment demonstration in 2013. The man was charged with committing a rowdy act, but he stated it was an expression of political opinion. The prosecutor appealed the verdict but the Budapest Metropolitan Court upheld it in a legally binding ruling on November 24.

Press and Media Freedoms: A massive reshuffling in the media market that started in 2015 continued during the year, resulting in further expansion of government-friendly enterprises and reduction in independent media voices in television, radio, print, and online media through the launching of new media outlets, acquisitions of existing outlets, efforts to further bolster state media, and the sudden closure of the country’s largest independent daily newspaper. The state media continued to be the frequent object of criticism that its coverage of news reflected the government’s views and that it concealed unfavorable facts and opinions.

Under the legal framework for the media sector, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH), subordinate to parliament, is the central state administrative body for regulating the media. The authority of NMHH includes overseeing the operation of broadcast and media markets as well as “contributing to the execution of the government’s policy in the areas of frequency management and telecommunications.” The NMHH president also serves as the chair of the five-member Media Council, which is the decision making body of the NMHH and supervises broadcast, cable, online, and print media content and spectrum management. Human rights NGOs remained highly critical of the NMHH for being a politically homogeneous body consisting of members nominated exclusively by the governing parties and of the law governing the media for failing to secure media pluralism and the independence of public-service media.

A 2015 report of the Venice Commission on the media laws noted that media content restrictions were unclear and allowed for an excessively broad interpretation by the courts. It also found fault with restrictions on criticism of religious or political views and stipulations that media content cannot violate privacy rights. The report criticized the composition of the Media Council and procedures for selecting its head as failing to ensure independence and political neutrality and lacking diverse representation of relevant media stakeholders. The report also noted that the public media was overly centralized and that content was supplied nearly exclusively by the government-controlled National News Agency (MTI).

On April 26, parliamentary speaker Laszlo Kover banned journalists representing NepszabadsagHVG24.hu, and Index from parliament for an indefinite period, one day after he was filmed ignoring their questions about possible corruption related to the Hungarian National Bank. Kover asserted that the reporters had been working in areas of the building that were off limits to the media, based on a previous order of the speaker. As of September 12, Kover suspended the ban. On October 20, Kover banned all employees of the news website 444.hu indefinitely after reporters momentarily blocked the path of the Fidesz faction spokesperson while asking questions about a high-level government official’s use of a helicopter to attend a wedding (see also section 3, Elections and Political Participation, and section 4).

On October 8, the operations of the country’s largest independent daily newspaper, Nepszabadsag, were suddenly suspended by its parent company. Prior to the suspension, employees had been told to pack their effects to move to new office space, but when they arrived on October 8 they were informed of the newspaper’s closure and denied access to company offices. Both the print and online versions ceased operations, and Nepszabadsag’s website, including its archive of past news stories, was made unavailable. The newspaper’s management company, the Austrian-based Mediaworks, stated the suspension was an economic decision because the newspaper had been losing readership and money and would continue until the company found a new business model. Some employees and media watchers noted that Nepszabadsag had turned a profit in 2015, as had Mediaworks itself. Some employees and government critics linked the sudden closure to Nepszabadsag’s exposes of government corruption, including a cabinet minister’s use of a helicopter to attend a celebrity wedding and nepotism involving the girlfriend of the national bank president.

Several domestic and foreign media outlets expressed solidarity with Nepszabadsag journalists and several thousand persons demonstrated in front of parliament against shutting the daily on the evening of October 8. The European Commission spokesperson stated the EC was following the situation closely and was “very concerned” about the shutting of the newspaper. The European Journalists Federation expressed dismay at the closure of Nepszabadsag, calling the termination of the daily a serious blow to media pluralism. OSCE media representative Dunja Mijatovic also described the closure as a huge blow to freedom of the press and media diversity. The government echoed Mediaworks’ statement that the closure was an economic decision, adding that it would be a violation of the freedom of the press for it to intervene.

Violence and Harassment: On April 14, the European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) sent a letter to the prime minister asking him to initiate an investigation into the assault by police on journalists and camera crews from Serbia, Slovakia, and Australia while they were covering the attempt by hundreds of asylum seekers to get through the border fence in September 2015 and the consequent response by border guards. The ECPMF called it “unacceptable” that, instead of investigating the assault on foreign journalists, the government declared the police action lawful and professional and blamed the victims for not leaving the country where the police had been using coercive measures. The ECPMF also found it “worrisome” that the state media covered the incident and the refugee crisis more generally in a biased, unbalanced way. On May 23, Minister of Interior Sandor Pinter responded to the ECPMF letter, rejecting reports that police beat and arrested foreign journalists. In November 2015, upon the report of the HHC, the Szeged department of the Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against unknown perpetrators for mistreatment during official proceedings in connection with the incident. The investigation remained pending.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides content regulations and standards for journalistic rights, ethics, and norms that are applicable to all media, including news portals and online publications. It prohibits inciting hatred against nations; communities; ethnic, linguistic, or other minorities; majority groups; and churches or religious groups. It provides for maintaining the confidentiality of sources with respect to procedures conducted by courts or authorities.

The Media Council may impose fines for violations of content regulations, including on media services that violate prohibitions on inciting hatred or violating human dignity or regulations governing the protection of minors. The council may impose fines of up to 200 million forints ($717,000), depending on the nature of the infringement, type of media service, and audience size. It may also suspend the right to broadcast for up to one week. Defendants may appeal Media Council decisions but must appeal separately to prevent implementation of fines while the parties litigate the substantive appeal. As of August 1, the Media Council issued 106 resolutions imposing fines totaling 31.5 million forints ($113,000) on 61 media outlets. Twelve defendants challenged those resolutions in court.

On May 9, Mertek Standard Media Monitor released its annual report, The Methods are Old, the Cronies are New–Soft Censorship in the Hungarian Media in 2015. The report cited “the market expansion of the pro-Fidesz interests at every level of the value chain, be it through a politically biased distribution of radio frequencies or the manipulative allocation of state advertisements.” Concerning state media, the report highlighted the market-distorting impact of nontransparent and excessive funding as well as the documented practice of concealment of news or certain viewpoints and even the doctoring of some news items to serve the government’s needs. Based on interviews with media executives, the report concluded that statutory rules and the institutional framework governing the operations of media are not the main impediments to press freedom. It found instead that “the dearth of funding makes media vulnerable and potentially leads them to compromise their principles, while the lack of equipment and staff also constitute serious challenges to quality journalism and investigative reporting.”

On May 2, Janos Karpati, former MTI correspondent in Brussels, stated at a conference that those working at state-run radio, television, and the MTI were advised to consult their superiors about what questions they could ask members of the cabinet. Karpati, who had been working for MTI since 1981 until he was dismissed earlier in the year, further stated, “questions arrive from up above to the editor and the correspondent” with instructions such as “emphasize this; ask this; or do not ask that.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Individuals may be sued for libel for their published statements or for publicizing libelous statements made by others. Plaintiffs may litigate in both civil and criminal courts. Journalists reporting on an event may be judged criminally responsible for making or reporting false statements.

The HCLU reported that public officials, especially in small towns, continued to use libel and defamation laws to silence criticisms from citizens and journalists. According to the HCLU, there were several dozen cases per year in which public officials pursued both criminal and civil charges (often simultaneously) against individuals for expressing criticism of officials or their policies.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 72.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2015. Freedom House maintained the country’s internet and digital media rating as “free.”

On February 2, the ECHR found that domestic court rulings had violated the right to free expression of the Association of Hungarian Content Providers and Index.hu Zrt. In the rulings in question, domestic courts had found the two aggrieved parties liable for “disseminating” offensive and vulgar third-party comments that were posted on the two parties’ websites. Although the two parties had immediately removed the comments from their websites when they were notified of the civil proceedings, domestic courts held they were liable for having provided space for injurious and degrading comments. In its ruling, the ECHR found that comments in response to an online article could be regarded a matter of public interest and did not amount to hate speech or incitement to violence. The ECHR established that court findings of liability in such cases may have, directly or indirectly, a chilling effect on freedom of expression on the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. By law, demonstrations do not require a police permit, but event organizers must inform police of a planned assembly in a public place at least three days in advance. The law authorizes police to prohibit any gathering if it seriously endangers the peaceful operation of representative bodies or courts or if it is not possible to provide for alternate routes for traffic. Police may not disband a spontaneous, unauthorized assembly that remains peaceful and is aimed at expressing opinion on an event that was unforeseeable, but organizers must inform police without delay after the organizing has begun. Police are required to disband an assembly if it commits a crime or incites the commission of a crime, results in the violation of the rights of others, involves armed participants, or is held despite a preliminary official ban. A police decision to prohibit or disband a public demonstration is open for judicial review.

On June 6, parliament amended the law to introduce new police measures in case of a terrorist attack or the preparation of such, including the right to disband public events in the geographic area affected by the terrorist act. The police can order such special security measures for 72 hours, which can doubled if deemed necessary. The national police chief can decide on the further extension of the measure if it is justified by concrete and verified new information. The minister of interior is responsible for informing parliament’s relevant committees on the extension of the security measures and for providing the relevant information used as the basis for the decision.

Through the end of September, police prohibited seven demonstrations, which constituted 0.8 percent of total announced demonstrations. Organizers requested judicial review of four demonstration requests rejected by police, and courts ultimately permitted the demonstration in one case.

NGOs continued to criticize shortcomings in the law that resulted in inconsistent police practices and court decisions with regard to both prohibiting and disbanding demonstrations.

On July 12, the Constitutional Court rejected the complaint of a petitioner concerning the police banning of a planned protest in 2014. The applicant wished to stage demonstrations at several locations on one day but police banned gatherings at three sites, including the prime minister’s residence. The applicant filed a legal challenge to the ban, but the Budapest Metropolitan Administrative and Labor Court rejected it on the basis of protecting the right to privacy. The Constitutional Court found that, because the demonstration organizer could have protested at other, nonrestricted locations, the right to peaceful assembly was not disproportionately curtailed. The Constitutional Court called on parliament to amend the relevant legislation by the end of the year to resolve the conflict between the basic rights to privacy and assembly. The applicant appealed to the ECHR; that appeal remained pending. The HCLU harshly criticized the Constitutional Court ruling on the grounds that the law clearly stipulates how others’ rights (e.g., right to privacy) can be protected from an assembly and therefore no further restrictions are necessary, especially in the phase of planning and organizing a demonstration. According to the HCLU, the new restriction on freedom of assembly that the Constitutional Court considers necessary would provide too broad discretion for law enforcement agencies in making unilateral decisions curtailing freedom of assembly. Despite the Constitutional Court order, parliament failed to amend the legislation on freedom of assembly by the end of the year.

On July 23, police banned a demonstration of 100 individuals planned by Zoltan Buki of the Facebook group For a Democratic Hungary for July 24 at the prime minister’s residence. Police based their decision on protection of the privacy rights of the residents of the area. Buki appealed the police ban at the Budapest Metropolitan Administrative and Labor Court, which upheld the police decision on July 28. In response, on the same day, Buki announced another demonstration at the same location for July 31, but promised to keep the gathering under 50 participants, who would remain silent and only hold banners to express their opinions. On July 30, police again prohibited the demonstration attempt, but a subsequent ruling of the Budapest Metropolitan Administrative and Labor Court permitted it on August 3. On August 7, 15 persons finally held a demonstration in front of the prime minister’s residence.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association and the government generally respected it.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On June 4, UNHCR announced allegations in more than 100 cases of excessive use of force and abuse against asylum seekers and migrants by border authorities aimed at preventing their irregular border crossing (crossing the border illegally). The cases included that of a 22-year-old Syrian man, who drowned in the Tisza River on June 1 when he was allegedly pushed back by “uniformed personnel” to prevent his irregular crossing from Serbia. The HHC also repeatedly expressed “extreme concerns over the unprecedented and systematic allegations of brutality and mistreatment committed by uniformed personnel on the Serbian-Hungarian border” (also see section 1.b.).

On June 13, parliament amended the law to authorize police, effective July 5, to escort irregular migrant asylum seekers apprehended within five miles of the border back to the external side of the border fence, which remains on Hungarian territory (the fence was placed six feet back from the actual border). Authorities reportedly did not register such irregular migrants but directed them, once across the fence, to proceed to the nearest of four official transit zones to submit asylum claims. UNHCR, the HHC, and Doctors without Borders (MSF) expressed concern that those pushed back were stranded for several days or weeks in inhumane conditions on the Serbian side of the border, waiting in front of the transit zones to be able to submit their asylum claim.

On July 13, HRW released a report claiming that “people who cross into Hungary without permission, including women and children, have been viciously beaten and forced back across the border.” It included witness accounts of and evidence of injury from, beatings, pepper spray, and dog attacks. On July 22, MSF reported treating on the Serbian side of the border fence an increasing number of patients who “showed physical trauma directly associated with violence.” Some HRW interviewees reported that they were beaten and abused by personnel wearing uniforms consistent with those of police and the military. HRW obtained photographic evidence of fresh injuries and observed bruises from injuries more than two weeks after they occurred. On July 15, UNHCR in a press statement described “dire” conditions for those–including women and children–waiting near transit zones on the Hungary-Serbia border. It also expressed deep concern over the new Hungarian border crossing restrictions that led to push-backs to Serbia of persons seeking asylum as well as over reports of violence and abuse. UNHCR asserted that the new restrictions were at variance with EU and international law. On September 27, Amnesty International (AI) released a report mirroring the earlier HRW report and UNHCR statement, criticizing reported abuse, violent push-backs across the border fence, failure to provide timely access to asylum procedures, and failure to provide adequate resources and services for migrants waiting at the border. In a press release at the time of the report, AI asserted that the “appalling treatment and labyrinthine asylum procedures are a cynical ploy to deter asylum seekers from Hungary’s ever more militarized borders.”

On July 13, following a visit to the Kormend refugee camp, Socialist Member of Parliament Agnes Kunhalmi stated that conditions in the camp were “squalid.” Kunhamli stated that migrants in the camp did not have access to hot water and that the provided tents and food did not meet basic standards.

Between April 8 and July 5 (when the new law entered into effect), authorities prevented 22,127 irregular migrants from entering the country, and 6,859 persons between July 5 and October 18. From July 5 to October 18, authorities returned 5,493 irregular migrants to the Serbian side but none to the Croatian side of the border. By December 16, the HHC registered 409 allegations of mistreatment reported to or recorded by the HHC pertaining to the measures to maintain order on the state borders. The government publicly rejected NGO and UNHCR allegations of abuse by law enforcement officials against migrants. According to the Office of the Prosecutor General, however, 18 investigations were launched for mistreatment in official proceedings (including six upon the reports of victims) as of October in connection with police border protection measures along the Serbian border. Of the 18 investigations, the Szeged department of the Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office terminated the investigation in five cases, suspended the investigation in one case, and pressed charges in two cases. Ten investigations remained pending at the end September.

The government failed to cooperate fully with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

As of October 18, police registered 18,006 “illegal migrants” (persons crossing the border not at the official border stations but illegally through the “green border”) arriving in Hungary, compared with 391,384 in 2015. As of November 9, the Office of Immigration and Nationality (BAH) registered 28,320 asylum claims, compared with 177,135 in 2015. As of October 18, the BAH terminated more than 47,210 cases (including many launched in 2015), mainly due to the absence of the applicant (compared with 152,260 in 2015) and issued decisions on the merits in 3,706 cases (3,819 in 2015). The BAH granted refugee status, subsidiary protection, or tolerated status in 389 cases (compared with 508 in 2015), which was 11 percent of the cases assessed on the merits (13 percent in 2015).

Access to Asylum: A law adopted in 2015 with new provisions added during the year provides for the granting of refugee status, but the new system failed to provide full protection to refugees, according to UNCHR. The new system was based on enhanced physical border protection aimed at eliminating unauthorized border crossings and significantly reducing migrants’ access to asylum proceeding.

In the second half of 2015, the government installed a 13-foot-high “temporary border control fence” to stop migrants and asylum seekers from unauthorized border crossing from Serbia and Croatia. The 2015 law stipulates that crossing the border illegally along the security fence at the Serbian and Croatian borders constitutes a criminal offense punishable with actual or suspended imprisonment of up to 10 years and/or expulsion. Damaging the fence or hindering its construction are also criminal offenses.

On March 9, the government announced a six-month nationwide “crisis situation prompted by mass migration,” which was extended for another six months, effective from September 8. Under the special legal situation, the law authorizes the armed forces, beginning in September 2015, to assist police in maintaining order at the country’s borders, explicitly including through use of instruments of coercion suitable for causing physical injury, but only with nonlethal intent. In such circumstances, soldiers receive police power (they may ask for identification, capture and detain individuals, examine clothing, packages, and vehicles, and take measures against foreigners) and may use firearms if not directed at killing others (see also section 1.d., Role of the Police and Security Apparatus).

Effective from July 5, the law authorizes police to escort irregular migrants apprehended within five miles of the border back to the external side of the border fence, which remains Hungarian territory. In such cases, authorities reportedly did not register irregular migrants or allow them to submit an asylum claim, although they provided migrants information on how to proceed to the nearest official transit zone if they wished to submit an asylum claim. Given that the country only accepted a limited number of asylum applications a day at these transit zones, those pushed outside were unable to pursue an asylum claim sometimes for weeks. In effect, authorities pushed potential asylum seekers back to Serbia without providing them an opportunity to seek protection in the country except after long delay. International and domestic organizations reported broad allegations of mistreatment by authorities during push-back procedures (see Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons).

In September and October 2015, the government opened four official “transit zones” for administering asylum applications along the border with Serbia and Croatia (in Roszke, Tompa, Beremend, and Letenye). The original capacity of each transit zone was 100 applicants per day, which was reduced to 15 per day per transit zone on March 22 and further reduced to 10 per day on November 2. These transit zones, operated by the BAH, are responsible for assessing the eligibility of the asylum applicants based on safe country of origin and safe third-country provisions and transferring eligible cases to an assessment proceeding within eight days. The rules exempt “asylum seekers with special needs” (such as unaccompanied minors, the elderly, persons with disabilities, pregnant women, single parents with children, and victims of torture) from the admissibility border procedure, and such applicants immediately enter the assessment phase of the asylum process, at which point their applications are reviewed on their merits. Once the application enters the assessment phase, the applicant is permitted to enter the country’s territory and becomes eligible for government services provided to asylum seekers. If the BAH rejects the application in the assessment phase, the applicant is immediately issued an order of expulsion but has seven days to appeal the decision in court, where judges or court clerks issue a legally binding ruling in eight days. Courts may quash administrative decisions and refer applicants back to the BAH for a new procedure but have no authority to change the decision on the asylum application.

On May 12, UNHCR released a report concluding that the 2015 and 2016 laws and practice “have had the combined effect of limiting and deterring access to asylum in the country” and raised “serious concerns as regards compatibility with international and European law.” According to UNHCR, the asylum procedure and reception conditions in the transit zones were not in accordance with EU and international standards, in particular concerning procedural safeguards, judicial review, and freedom of movement.

On July 15, the HHC released a report criticizing the authorization of automatic push-back of persons potentially in need of international protection over the fence to the border area of Hungary and Serbia. Reports suggested that push-backs also occur from deep within the territory of the country. The HHC report concluded that “legalizing push-backs from deep within Hungarian territory denies asylum seekers the right to seek international protection, in breach of international and EU law.”

The infringement procedure launched by the European Commission in December 2015 against the country in connection with asylum regulations remained pending at the end of the year. The European Commission raised specific concerns regarding the lack of interpretation and translation in the context of fast-tracked criminal proceedings for irregular border crossers; the lack of possibility to refer to new facts and circumstances during the asylum procedure; the lack of automatic suspension of expulsion orders in case of appeals; the possibility to reject an asylum application without a personal hearing; and the issuance of decisions by court secretaries (a sub-judicial level) who lack judicial independence.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: In July 2015 the government issued lists of “safe countries of origin” and “safe third countries.” Both lists included EU member and candidate states (except Turkey, but including Serbia), member states of the European Economic Area, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and those states of the United States of America that do not apply the death penalty. On March 31, the government updated the list of safe third countries to include Turkey. UNHCR and the HHC repeatedly noted their objection to the government’s recognition of Serbia as a safe transit country.

As of November 9, the BAH rejected 2,036 asylum applications based on inadmissibility due to safe country of origin and safe third-country provisions (7 percent of all applications). Upon appeal, the BAH did not change any original decisions of inadmissibility.

Refoulement: The government did not send asylum seekers back to conflict zones where their lives or freedom would be at risk. UNHCR and the HHC, however, criticized the government for issuing inadmissibility decisions based on Serbia being considered as a safe third country. According to UNHCR, Serbia lacked a functioning asylum system, thus the return of asylum seekers to Serbia may result in their exposure to inhuman treatment and refoulement to other unsafe countries. As of September 2015, however, Serbia refused to take back asylum seekers unless they were Serbian, Albanian, or Kosovar citizens or other individuals holding valid travel and/or entry documents.

Freedom of movement: The law permits detention of asylum seekers under certain circumstances. The law requires that detention of asylum seekers be based on an individual assessment and only occur absent alternative means to provide for the presence of the applicant at asylum proceedings. Judges must decide every 60 days whether to extend a decision to keep an illegal migrant in custody. The law provides that detention of asylum seekers may not exceed six months, or 30 days in case of families with children. Unaccompanied minors are exempted from asylum detention, and alternatives to detention (such as bail) must also be considered before ordering detention. On November 21, 330 asylum applicants were in asylum detention. As of November 9, 2,363 asylum seekers (eight percent of all asylum applicants) were in asylum detention.

On July 5, the ECHR ruled that the “asylum detention” of a gay Iranian asylum seeker was arbitrary and therefore unlawful. The ECHR found that authorities failed to make an individualized assessment and take into account the applicant’s vulnerability in the detention facility, based on his sexual orientation. The ECHR emphasized that authorities should exercise special care when deciding on deprivation of liberty in order to avoid situations that may reproduce the conditions that forced asylum seekers to flee in the first place.

The law provides that irregular migrants in an expulsion procedure (including rejected asylum seekers) can be placed in “immigration detention,” which may not exceed 12 months or 30 days for families with children. Unaccompanied minors are exempted from immigration detention. Immigration detention is subject to periodic judicial review. The regulations effective from September 2015 make the acts of crossing the border illegally through the security fence, damaging the fence, or hindering the construction of the fence punishable by imprisonment. Authorities usually put convicted illegal border crossers in immigration detention in preparation for their expulsion. As of November 21, authorities kept 138 irregular migrants in immigration detention (see also section 1.d., Protracted Detention of Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons).

On November 3, the CPT released a report on its ad hoc visit in October 2015 aimed at examining the treatment and conditions of detention of foreign nationals as well as legal safeguards offered to them. The CPT report raised concerns regarding criminal investigations pursued against foreign nationals who had irregularly crossed a border fence, even if they had submitted an application for international protection. The report recalled the 1951 Geneva Convention of the Status of Refugees, which stipulates that contracting states “shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.” The CPT report asserted that this provision applies to “persons who have briefly transited other countries or who are unable to find effective protection in the first country or countries to which they flee.” On November 3, the government officially responded to the report, stating its view that the 1951 Convention delineated a prohibition of “imposing a penalty” and not a prohibition on launching “criminal proceedings” against refugees who enter or are present in the country without authorization. According to the government’s response, domestic law stipulates the exclusion or the limitation of criminal culpability or the punishability in cases defined by the convention. On November 4, the HHC released a statement asserting that, contrary to the government’s position, domestic law failed to unequivocally exclude or limit criminal culpability in cases of irregular border crossing by asylum seekers, which resulted in repeated court convictions in such cases.

Between September 2015 and November 30, some 2,895 persons faced criminal trial for offenses related to the border fence, of whom 2,843 were convicted for the “prohibited crossing of the border closure.”

On March 22, the HHC, together with the Cordelia Foundation, the Foundation for Access to Rights, and the Assistance Center for Torture Survivors, released a report, From Torture to Detention. The report criticized the lack of systematic identification mechanisms to prevent the detention of torture victims and other traumatized asylum seekers; the presence of numerous factors that could lead to retraumatization in detention, including the lack of proper information; lack of access to interpretation in crucial situations; unnecessary limitations on contact with the outside world and on internal freedom of movement; and the lack of specialized medical and psychological and psychosocial care.

UNHCR expressed concerns over the number of persons kept in detention while awaiting expulsion to Serbia.

The November 3 CPT report stated that a “considerable number of foreign nationals claimed that they had been subjected to physical mistreatment by police officers.” The allegations concerned mainly slaps and punches to the face or abdomen as well as baton blows at the moment of apprehension, even when the persons concerned were allegedly not resisting apprehension or after they had been brought under control; during transfer to a police establishment; and/or during subsequent police questioning. Foreign nationals who claimed to be unaccompanied minors made some of these allegations. In addition, “a few allegations were received of physical mistreatment by police officers and/or armed guards working in immigration or asylum detention facilities.” Moreover, some allegations were received of verbal abuse and disrespectful behavior on the part of police officers and armed guards (such as swearing, mocking, and spitting at foreign nationals); these allegations pertained to all stages of deprivation of liberty.

As of September 30, one person filed a report for mistreatment during an official procedure at the Kiskunhalas immigration detention facility. Subsequently the Military Council of the Szeged Tribunal imposed a fine of 130,000 forints ($465) and reprimanded the convicted police officer. As of September 30, six persons filed reports of mistreatment during an official procedure against police officers at the Nyirbator asylum detention facility. The Debrecen Regional Office of the Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office launched investigations in each case, which remained pending.

Access to Basic Services: On May 10, parliament amended the law to curtail measures aimed at facilitating the integration of beneficiaries of international protection on the grounds that they should not have more advantages than citizens. The new measures include the introduction of mandatory and automatic revision of refugee status at least every three years; reduction of the maximum period of stay in open reception centers after recognition from 60 to 30 days; decrease of the eligibility period for basic health care services following recognition from one year to six months; and termination of housing allowances, educational allowances, and monthly cash allowances previously provided for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection or tolerated status.

Durable Solutions: The country is party to the 2013 Dublin III regulation, which provides for the return of asylum seekers to the first EU member state they entered for processing, although the government strictly limited the acceptance of Dublin III returnees during the year. As of October 31, the country accepted 452 Dublin III returnees out of 24,446 whose return was requested by other EU member states (1.9 percent).

On February 24, the government initiated a national referendum on the question, “Do you agree that the European Union should have the power to impose the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of the parliament of Hungary?” The government actively campaigned for voters to choose the “no” response to the referendum question. The referendum, held on October 2, was legally invalid, as the number of votes fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed to be valid. The turnout was 43.91 percent, but only 41.07 percent in terms of unspoiled or error-free ballots. Among valid ballots, 98.32 percent supported the government-favored “no” response and only 1.68 percent responded “yes.”

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection (“subsidiary protection” and “tolerated status”) to individuals who did not qualify as refugees. The law defines subsidiary protection as protection provided to foreigners who do not satisfy the criteria for recognition as a refugee but who, in the event of their return to their country of origin, would risk exposure to “serious harm.” The law also provides that the BAH may authorize persons to stay in the country by granting them “tolerated status” for one year (extendable) consistent with the country’s nonrefoulement obligations under international law. As of November 9, the BAH received 389 refugee claims (the majority from Afghan nationals) and granted 136 persons refugee status, 246 persons subsidiary protection status, and seven persons tolerated status.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Senior government officials, however, continued the political smear campaign against human rights NGOs that began in 2013 and continued after the 2014 national elections. Meanwhile, some other government officials and Fidesz executives specifically invited some of the same human rights NGOs to consult on certain key legislative proposals.

On February 16, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, released a statement upon the completion of his visit to the country. In the statement, Forst concluded that “because of the disrupted checks and balances and feeble political opposition, human rights defenders who criticize the government or raise human rights concerns are quickly intimidated and portrayed as ‘political’ or ‘foreign agents.’ They face enormous pressure through public criticism, stigmatization in the media, unwarranted inspections, and reduction of state funding.” Forst’s final report on the visit remained pending.

On May 20 in a radio interview, Prime Minister Viktor Orban stated that organizations sponsored by Hungarian-American business executive George Soros were a “background power” that “constantly aims to gain political influence and effectively influences political decision making, according to the natural rules of democracy.” On May 25, the minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, Janos Lazar, stated to the press that “the entire domestic promigrant civil sector belongs to the sphere of influence of Soros” and referred to purported reports by the intelligence services substantiating his claim. On September 26, Szilard Nemeth, a Fidesz parliamentarian and deputy chairman of parliament’s national security committee, stated in an interview that he had asked the committee and the country’s clandestine services to examine the activities and operations of those domestic NGOs that cooperated with the Soros-funded network. Nemeth also stated he had identified 22 such organizations to be examined. On October 3, the national security committee discussed the proposal during a closed meeting. On November 17, during his weekly press conference, Lazar stated that he “considered the activity of the Soros empire in Hungary dangerous and would find it beneficial if the national security services paid specific attention to that.”

On June 29, the Budapest Metropolitan Court of Appeals issued a legally binding ruling that stated the governing Fidesz party tarnished the good reputation of the HHC and ordered the party to publicly apologize and pay one million forints ($3,580) compensation for the NGO. The ruling prohibited the party from committing further rights violations. The case stemmed from a May 2015 Fidesz press statement claiming that the “bogus civil group Helsinki Committee executes the political orders of the international speculative financial capital and shamelessly attempts to falsify plain figures.” The June 29 ruling also noted that the Fidesz party had repeatedly violated the HHC’s right to reputation, since the court had already issued a similar ruling in June 2015 in a case where the Fidesz spokesperson called the HHC and other organizations “fake NGOs.”

On October 13, officials from the National Tax and Customs Authority, without warning, searched the offices of Energia Klub, an environmental group, and seized hundreds of documents and computer files related to a climate adaptation training program that the group had implemented earlier in the year. The program was funded by the Norwegian/ European Economic Area Grants NGO fund under a climate change adaptation program and administered by the Regional Environment Center. Energia Klub filed a complaint with the Pest County Prosecutor’s Office against the house search, which was rejected on November 11. According to the prosecutor’s office, Energia Klub was not a suspect in the investigation and the house search was conducted in a lawful manner. On November 25, the Energia Klub appealed the prosecutor’s office rejection at the court, which remained pending.

On April 27, the chair of parliament’s legislative committee and Fidesz vice-president Gergely Gulyas invited leaders of three leading human rights NGOs (TI-H, the HCLU, and the HHC) to a meeting to discuss draft counterterrorism legislation and took notes of their professional recommendations. The NGOs regarded the meeting as the potential opening of a long-closed channel of communication. During the year the Ministry of Justice invited human rights NGOs to contribute to the draft of the new criminal procedure code.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution and law establish a unified system for the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights (ombudsman). The ombudsman has two deputies, one responsible for the rights of national minorities and one for the interests of the “future generations” (environmental protection). The ombudsman is elected by a two-thirds majority of parliament after being proposed by the president. The ombudsman is solely accountable to parliament and has authority to initiate proceedings to defend the rights of citizens from violations committed by government institutions, banks, businesses, and social organizations. The constitution provides that citizens may submit constitutional complaints about laws passed by parliament to the ombudsman, who may request a review by the Constitutional Court. Since 2014 the ombudsman was responsible for collecting electronically submitted reports of public benefit, e.g., whistleblower reports on public corruption. The ombudsman must forward these reports to the appropriate public offices within eight days. Starting in January 2015, the ombudsman operated the national preventive mechanism prescribed by the OPCAT. By the end of September, the ombudsman had received 258 reports of public interest from citizens, 64 requests to review the activities of organs investigating reports of public interest, and 60 petitions requesting he refer laws to the Constitutional Court and had released seven OPCAT reports. As of October, the ombudsman had not filed any petitions with the Constitutional Court.

The 12-member Judiciary Committee was responsible for covering the human rights and religious portfolio in parliament. The Parliamentary Committee of the Nationalities of Hungary consisted of the spokespersons of the 13 officially recognized ethnic nationalities and was responsible for assessing legislation concerning minorities.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions without previous authorization or excessive requirements, conduct their activities without interference, and bargain collectively. With the exception of law enforcement and military personnel, prison guards, border guards, health-care workers, and firefighters, workers have the right to strike. The law permits military and police unions to seek resolution of grievances in court. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The government established professional associations in the public sector where the membership of workers was compulsory.

While employers were not allowed to hire temporary workers during a strike, temporary workers hired beforehand were allowed to continue working. Workers at certain public offices or companies performing activities that authorities determine are essential to the public interest, such as schools, municipalities, public transport, telecommunications, water, power, gas, and other energy-sector firms, may not strike unless an agreement has been reached on provision of “sufficient services” during a strike. Fundamental services may not be considerably restricted, and courts determine the definition of sufficient services. National trade unions opposed the law on the basis that the courts lacked the expertise to rule on minimum service levels that are necessary and that the term “abusing the right to strike” was too vague. Unions reported courts generally refused to rule on such cases, essentially inhibiting the right to strike.

The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association and collective bargaining. Penalties took the form of fines imposed by courts but were generally inadequate to deter violations. To engage in collective bargaining, the law requires trade unions to represent either 10 percent of workers employed by an employer or 10 percent of the workers covered by a collective agreement. Labor unions of law enforcement professionals are not entitled to collective bargaining rights. The law does not allow the labor inspectorate to enforce collective rights. The labor inspectorate does not use inspections, remediation efforts, or monetary penalties in enforcement efforts. Administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The International Trade Union Confederation noted, however, that the labor code prohibits any worker conduct that may jeopardize the employer’s reputation or legitimate economic and organizational interests and explicitly provides for the possibility of restricting the workers’ personal rights in this regard–including their right to express an opinion during or outside of working hours. There was also anecdotal evidence of unilateral termination of collective agreements. Unions reported that the government continued to attempt to influence their independent operation.

The International Trade Union Confederation remained concerned that judges often delayed the registration of trade unions and that court procedures were generally long and cumbersome. While the law provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, court proceedings on unfair dismissal cases sometimes took more than a year to complete, and authorities did not always enforce court decisions. Trade unions reported cases of employers intimidating trade union members; transferring, relocating, or dismissing trade union officers; and hindering union officials from entering the workplace.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

While the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, the government failed to enforce it effectively. Government inspections and efforts to identify victims remained inadequate, despite significant efforts to eliminate trafficking. Penalties for forced labor range from one to 20 years in prison or life imprisonment in certain circumstances and were sufficiently stringent compared with other serious crimes.

Forced labor occurred throughout the year. Groups vulnerable to forced labor included those in extreme poverty, Roma, and homeless men. Women and girls were vulnerable to sex trafficking. Men typically were subjected to forced labor, especially in agriculture, construction, and factories. The government increased law enforcement efforts and sustained its prevention efforts.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The constitution generally prohibits child labor. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from working, except that children who are 15 or 16 may work under certain circumstances as temporary workers during school vacations. Any person who is at least 15 years old and enrolled in full-time studies may enter into employment during school holidays. With authorization of a guardian, persons under the age of 16 may be employed to perform in cultural, artistic, sports, or advertising activities. Children may not work night shifts or overtime or perform hard physical labor. Any person who violates the provisions of the law pertaining to the employment of individuals under the age of 18 without authorization to undertake gainful employment may be punished with imprisonment not exceeding three years. No information was available about the adequacy and effectiveness of child labor law enforcement or penalties for violations.

Child labor occurred. Through the end of October, the employment authority reported three cases, involving three children, of child labor under the age of 15. The employment authority also reported two cases (involving three children) who were 15 or 16, and 14 cases (involving 21 children) between ages of 16 and 18 who were employed without the consent of their parents or legal representatives. The labor inspectorate found 10 cases, involving 11 minors, of infringement of requirements regarding underage workers’ working and rest periods. Labor inspectors who identify child victims of labor exploitation are required to report them to the guardianship authority.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, infection with HIV or other communicable diseases, or social status. The labor code provides for the principles of equal treatment. The government failed to enforce these regulations effectively. Penalties took the form of fines but were generally inadequate to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to Roma, women, and persons with disabilities. According to NGOs, there was economic discrimination against women in the workplace, particularly against job seekers older than 50 and those who were pregnant or had returned from maternity leave. Romani women were subject to discrimination on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, and class and experienced barriers to equal access to employment. A government decree requires companies with more than 25 employees to reserve 5 percent of their work positions for persons with physical or mental disabilities. While the decree provides fines for noncompliance, employers generally paid the fines rather than employ persons with disabilities. The National Tax and Customs Authority issued “rehabilitation cards” for disabled persons, which granted tax benefits for employers employing such individuals. As of July, 86,628 persons had such rehabilitation cards, of whom 26,091 were employed by 7,566 employers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum monthly wage for full-time employment was 111,000 forints ($400) per month. A special minimum monthly wage for jobs requiring the completion of secondary education was 129,000 forints ($460) per month. The 2014 poverty level was 87,300 forints ($313) per month per person.

The law sets the official workday at eight hours, although it may vary depending on industry. A 48-hour rest period is required during any seven-day period. The regular workweek is 40 hours with premium pay for overtime and two days of rest. The labor code sets the maximum limit of overtime at 250 hours per year and provides for paid annual national holidays. The government set occupational safety and health standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations. Labor laws also apply to foreign workers with work permits.

Labor standards were not enforced in all sectors, including the informal economy. Information regarding penalties and their sufficiency to deter violations was not available. The employment authority and the labor inspectorate units of government offices monitored and enforced occupational safety and health standards and labor code regulations. As of September, occupational safety inspectors registered 16,557 injuries at workplaces, most of them in the mechanical engineering and manufacturing industries. The number of workplace injuries included 60 fatalities, most of which took place in the agricultural, construction, and logistics sectors.

Iraq

Executive Summary

Note: This report was updated 3/29/17; see Appendix F: Errata for more information.

Iraq is a constitutional parliamentary republic. The outcome of the 2014 parliamentary elections generally met international standards of free and fair elections and led to the peaceful transition of power from former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Civilian authorities were not always able to maintain effective control of all security forces which include: the regular armed forces and domestic law enforcement bodies; the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state-sponsored umbrella military organization composed of nearly 60, predominantly Shia components , which report directly to the prime minister; and the Peshmerga–the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) principal military force. Prime ministerial decrees on February 22 and July 27, as well as a November 26 parliamentary vote, boycotted by most Sunnis, established prime ministerial authority over the PMF; however at year’s end the command and control over the PMF remained inconsistent and ineffective.

Violence continued to divide the country, largely fueled by Da’esh’s actions. Violence occurred throughout the year as government forces fought to liberate territory lost to Da’esh, principally in Arab Sunni and some other minority and mixed areas. Armed clashes between Da’esh and government forces caused civilian hardship. At year’s end the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) declined to 3.03 million from a peak of 3.4 million in March. The decrease in IDPs was primarily due to Iraqis returning to their homes after those areas were liberated from Da’esh. The country also accommodated approximately 225,000 Syrian refugees, mostly in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR). Although donor funding increased, the government’s response fell short of rapidly rising humanitarian demands, and displaced populations became destitute, leading some citizens to seek refuge abroad.

Severe human rights problems were widespread. Sectarian hostility, widespread corruption, and lack of transparency at all levels of government and society weakened the government’s authority and worsened effective human rights protections. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), members of the Federal Police, and the Peshmerga committed some human rights violations, and there continued to be reports of PMF killing, torturing, kidnapping, and extorting civilians. Nonetheless, the terrorist organization Da’esh committed the overwhelming majority of serious human rights abuses, including attacks against: civilians, (particularly Shia but also Sunnis who opposed Da’esh); members of other religious and ethnic minorities; women; and children. Observers also reported other significant human rights-related problems: harsh and life-threatening conditions in detention and prison facilities; arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes incommunicado; denial of fair public trial; insufficient judicial institutional capacity; ineffective implementation of civil judicial procedures and remedies; arbitrary interference with privacy and homes; child soldiers; limits on freedom of expression, including press freedoms; violence against and harassment of journalists; undue censorship; social, religious, and political restrictions in academic and cultural matters; limits on freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; limits on religious freedom due to violence by extremist groups; restrictions on freedom of movement; refugee and IDP abuse; both forced IDP returns and preventing IDPs from returning home; discrimination against and societal abuse of women and ethnic, religious, and racial minorities, including exclusion from decision-making roles; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; seizure of property without due process; and limitations on worker rights.

The government announced investigations into reports of PMF abuses, but results of the investigations or convictions were often not publicly available. Information about government investigations or prosecutions of abuses by officials and members of the security forces was also often not publicly available. The KRG High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports considered charges of Peshmerga abuse, largely against IDPs, and exculpated them in public reports and commentaries. Impunity effectively existed for government officials, security force personnel, including the Peshmerga, and militias.

Terrorists committed the majority of serious human rights abuses. Da’esh members committed acts of violence on a mass scale, including killings through the use of suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), executions including shootings and public beheadings, as well as use of chemical weapons. They also engaged in kidnapping, rape, enslavement, forced marriage, sexual violence, committing such acts against civilians from a wide variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds, including Shia, Sunni, Kurds, Christians, Yezidis, and members of other religious and ethnic groups. Reports of Da’esh perpetrating gender-based violence, recruiting child soldiers, trafficking in persons, and destroying civilian infrastructure and cultural heritage sites were credible and common. Secretary Kerry stated on March 17 that in his judgment, Da’esh was responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims, and was also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.

The government investigated some of Da’esh’s human rights abuses, and in some instances, results were publicly available. For example, on August 21, the Ministry of Justice announced the conviction, sentencing, and execution of 36 men convicted of involvement in the 2014 Camp Speicher massacre of hundreds of Shia Air Force recruits after trials international observers criticized as unfair.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution broadly provides for the right of free expression that does not violate public order and morality, express support for the banned Ba’ath party, or advocate altering the country’s borders through violent means. The main limitation on individual and media exercise of these rights was self-censorship due to credible fear of reprisals by the government, political parties, ethnic and sectarian forces, terrorist and extremist groups, or criminal gangs.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Despite the constitutional protection for freedom of expression, government and KRG oversight and censorship interfered with media operations, at times resulting in closures of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, and interference with internet service. Individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately, but not without fear of reprisal. On April 27, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission closed the Baghdad offices of al-Jazeera. The station’s Baghdad bureau chief reported the government closed the office because it did not approve of al- Jazeera’s editorial policies. The bureau chief also said unidentified armed men repeatedly threatened the bureau and its employees.

In April the media provided live coverage of Baghdad demonstrations, including protesters’ first breach of the International Zone. When a second breach occurred, local media were quiet, with no live coverage or commentary. According to directors of two satellite channels, they received calls from “officials” telling them that covering the protests exacerbated the situation and asked them to “tone it down.”

Press and Media Freedoms: An active media expressed a variety of views largely reflecting the owners’ political viewpoints. The media also self-censored to comply with government restrictions against violating public order and because of a fear of reprisal, particularly by nongovernmental forces, but also by political figures. Media outlets, unable to cover operating costs through advertising revenue, overwhelmingly relied upon political funding, which diminished their ability to report unbiased news. Political parties strongly influenced, or controlled outright, most of the several hundred daily and weekly print media publications, as well as dozens of radio and television stations.

On July 13, the parliament introduced legislation on freedom of expression and peaceful demonstrations. NGOs, such as the Iraqi Union for Freedom of Expression, voiced concern about the legislation, specifically, that the law called for a one-year minimum prison sentence for insulting a religious symbol or figure, and required 10 days’ notice to the government to obtain a permit for a protest.

International and local organizations reported arrests and harassment of journalists as well as closure of media outlets covering politically sensitive topics, including poor security, corruption, and weak governmental capacity. The deterioration in the security situation exacerbated harassment of journalists. Government and KRG security authorities sometimes prevented journalists from reporting citing security pretexts.

Local and national media extensively covered recurring protests in the South; however, security forces did not always allow coverage. For example, on February 12, security forces prevented a reporter for al-Baghdadiya TV from passing the security cordon to cover a demonstration. They told the reporter their security procedures prevented it.

On April 9, security forces wearing civilian uniforms reportedly attacked a Kurdistan News Network (KNN) cameraman in an Erbil mosque while the KNN crew was covering a protest there. As the cameraman attempted to film the protest, one of the uniformed security force members placed a weapon against the cameraman’s head to force him to stop.

In the IKR, government authorities continued to try, convict, and take legal action against journalists, despite a 2008 law that decriminalizes publication-related offenses. According to Kurdistan Journalist Syndicate officials, the 2008 law is the sole basis for prosecution of journalists for publication offense under the regional counterterrorism law, for public morality violations and other crimes.

While in December 2015 the KRG reopened Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) offices that it originally closed in October 2015, Gorran-affiliated KNN offices in Erbil and Dahuk Governorates remained closed because of KRG pressure.

Violence and Harassment: According to a report of the Committee to Protect Journalists, 10 journalists and media workers were killed during the year. Five Iraqi journalists were killed covering the war with Da’esh, four by unknown gunmen, and one in a bombing in Baghdad.

Reporting from Da’esh-controlled areas was increasingly difficult. Journalists covering armed clashes involving government, militia, and Da’esh forces faced serious threats to their safety, with several instances of journalists being killed or injured. Military officials, citing safety considerations, sometimes restricted access of journalists particularly to areas with active fighting, but primarily to outlets not affiliated with the ruling party.

Media workers often reported they were under pressure from persons and institutions, including politicians, government officials, security services, tribal elements, and business leaders, not to publish articles critical of them. Media workers reported accounts of government or partisan violence, intimidation, death threats, and harassment. Mohammed al-Jabari, a correspondent for al-Made Satellite TV in Basrah, said he received a threatening phone call from someone at the Basrah Intelligence Directorate. He said this person was upset because al-Jabari reportedly recorded him talking about the deteriorating security situation with other intelligence officers at the governorate building. Al-Jabari left Basrah because of the threat.

During his coverage of a local teachers’ demonstration, one of the security officers guarding the Basrah governor’s office verbally harassed and beat al-Sharqiya News Channel correspondent Mazin al-Tayyar when he asked why the demonstration coordinator and another protester were arrested.

In April according to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, Sarmad al-Qasim, the editorial manager of the Lex News agency, received death threats for his work reporting government corruption in Diyala Governorate.

Throughout the IKR there were numerous beatings, detentions, and death threats against media workers. In some cases the aggressors wore military or police uniforms. Many attacks targeted independent and former opposition media, mainly the independent NRT; Payama Television, affiliated with the Kurdistan Islamic Group; and the KNN Television, affiliated with the Gorran Party. According to HRW, Wedat Hussein Ali, a Kurdish journalist who security services had previously interrogated, was abducted and later found dead on August 13 (see section 1.a.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits producing, importing, publishing, or possessing written material, drawings, photographs, or films that violate public integrity or decency. The penalties include fines and imprisonment. Fear of violent retaliation for publishing facts or opinions displeasing to political factions inhibited free expression. Public officials reportedly influenced content through rewarding positive reporting with bribes, providing money, land, access to venues, and other benefits to journalists, particularly to members of the pro-government Journalists’ Syndicate. These restrictions extended to privately owned Iraqi television stations operating outside of the country.

In 2013 the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament passed the Access to Information Law, to provide for access to information for journalists, media outlets, and ordinary citizens. As of September, however, the KRG had not made efforts to implement the law. Moreover, local government, political parties, and officials, regularly discriminated against some media outlets regarding access to information based on party affiliation. For example, in KDP stronghold areas Dahok and Erbil, KDP-affiliated outlets Rudaw and KTV had access to all KRG departments, while in the PUK and Gorran stronghold of Sulaimaniyah, PUK-affiliated outlets such as GK TV and Kurdsat TV received more access to government and party information than other outlets.

All books published in the country as well as imported books required the Ministry of Culture’s approval and were therefore subject to censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits defamation and provides penalties of up to one month in prison or a fine of 50,000 to 250,000 dinars ($45 to $225). Many in the media complained this provision prevented them from freely practicing their profession by creating a strong fear of prosecution, although widespread self-censorship impeded journalistic performance as well. Public officials occasionally resorted to libel charges under criminal and civil law, which in some cases resulted in punitive fines on individual media outlets and editors, often for publishing articles containing allegations of corruption. When cases went to court, the courts usually sided with the journalist, according to local media-freedom organizations.

Libel is a criminal offense under KRG law as well, and judges may issue arrest warrants for journalists on this basis.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists and family members were targets of terrorists, religious groups that rejected media independence, criminals, corrupt officials, and unknown persons or groups wishing to limit the flow of news. Journalists were harassed, kidnapped for ransom, or killed in deliberate attacks for reporting information critical of Da’esh.

In April an armed group threatened two civil activists in Amara after they criticized Ammar al-Hakim, Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq president and Iraqi National Alliance chairman, on their Facebook pages. Hasaneen al-Manshad and Ali al-Dilfi wrote on Facebook that the Islamic parties were not fulfilling the needs of Iraqis and had failed to manage the country, in addition to criticizing Hakim’s speech. The two activists were at a friend’s wedding on April 7 when armed men from the Jihad and Construction Movement forcibly entered and threatened to kill them. The armed men held them at gunpoint until guests negotiated their release in return for the activists’ public apology to Hakim and deleting the offending Facebook posts.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were overt government restrictions on access to the internet, and there were credible reports, but no official acknowledgement, that the government monitored e-mail and internet communications without appropriate legal authority. Despite restrictions, political figures and activists used the internet to criticize corrupt and ineffective politicians, mobilize protesters for demonstrations, and campaign for candidates through social media channels. According to the World Bank, approximately 17 percent of the population used the internet in 2015, compared with 5 percent in 2011.

The government acknowledged that it interfered with internet access in some areas of the country due to the deterioration in the security situation and Da’esh’s disruptive use of social media platforms. Representatives from the State Company for Internet Services reported they had pursued internet gateway projects that would give them greater control over incoming internet feeds as well as the ability to restrict internet content, but these projects had stalled. During the year there were reports that government officials attempted to have pages critical of the government removed from Facebook and Twitter for communications that the government considered “hate speech,” although they did not succeed in doing so.

There were no reports the Ministry of Communications imposed social media blackouts. Sporadically throughout the year, the government shut down the internet during school exams, reportedly so students could not cheat. Additionally, at times the government shut down the internet during protests for a few hours.

Da’esh also restricted access to the internet and telephone service in areas under its control.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Social, religious, and political pressures significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of choice in academic and cultural matters. In all regions, various groups reportedly sought to control the pursuit of formal education and granting of academic positions. The country’s universities did not pursue gender-segregation policies. Da’esh continued to limit female education beyond the primary level in areas that it controlled.

Academic freedoms remained restricted in areas of active conflict and in Da’esh-controlled territory. Following Da’esh’s 2014 seizure of Mosul, the group began reshaping education at the elementary, high school, and university levels, including printing textbooks for elementary school children that glorify violence and Da’esh history. For example, local and international media reported that at Mosul University, Da’esh altered the programs of study to comply with Da’esh ideology in the colleges of law, fine arts, physical education, languages, social sciences, and archeology. Da’esh extremists also targeted libraries, museums, and academic institutions in violent attacks and abducted students and faculty.

Extremists and armed groups limited cultural expression by targeting artists, poets, writers, and musicians. For example, Iraqi media continued to report that Da’esh had issued a directive banning all stores in Mosul from selling movies or music CDs, and had instructed businesses to stock only CDs containing Quranic verses or religious programs. On February 16, Da’esh publicly beheaded 15-year-old Ayham Hussein of Mosul for listening to western music, according to an HRW report.

In the IKR, according to local NGOs, senior professorships continued to be easier to obtain for those with links to the traditional KDP and PUK ruling parties.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration “regulated by law.” Regulations require protest organizers to seek permission seven days in advance of a demonstration and submit detailed information about the applicants, the reason for the protest, and participants. The regulations prohibit all “slogans, signs, printed materials, or drawings” involving “sectarianism, racism, or segregation” of citizens. The regulations also prohibit anything that would violate the constitution or law; encourage violence, hatred, or killing; or prove insulting to Islam, “honor, morals, religion, holy groups, or Iraqi entities in general.” Provincial councils traditionally maintained authority to issue permits. Authorities generally issued permits in accordance with the regulations.

In April and May, thousands of protesters took to the streets in response to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s call for protests of the government’s failure to combat corruption and provide security. Protesters stormed the International Zone in Baghdad and overran the Council of Ministers’ Secretariat and the COR buildings, before ISF stopped them. Media reported security forces killed four and injured dozens of demonstrators with tear gas, water cannons, and live fire.

Most protests in the South during the year were accompanied by a heavy security presence and were peaceful. One notable exception was in Nassiriyah on February 2, when a demonstration turned violent after protesters reached the Da’wa Party’s main office. They chanted that Prime Minister Abadi and former prime minister Maliki were “thieves,” “Iran’s spies,” and “corrupt.” Masked men with sticks came out of the office and began to beat the protesters. The police were present but did not intervene to stop the violence. The Dhi Qar Provincial Council formed an investigatory committee but did not identify any of the masked men or hold anyone responsible.

In some cases the government dismissed unauthorized protests or restricted protests for security reasons.

There were limited reports of violence or official interference in protests in the IKR. Media reported that on December 1, PUK authorities in the city of Sulaimaniyah arrested at least 13 teachers before a demonstration over unpaid public-sector salaries.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right to form and join associations and political parties, with some exceptions. The government generally respected this right, except for the legal prohibitions on groups expressing support for the Ba’ath Party or Zionist principles. The law stipulates that any person who promotes Zionist principles, associates with Zionist organizations, assists such organizations through giving material or moral support, or works in any way towards the realization of Zionist objectives, is subject to punishment by death. There were no applications of this law after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime.

On July 30, parliament passed the Banning the Ba’ath, Entities and Racist Parties and Takfiri and Terrorist Activities Party Law, which observers portrayed as addressing the injustices of the de-Ba’athification process. Rather than ending the collective stigmatization of all those associated with the party, however loosely, the Banning of the Ba’ath Party Law arguably amplified rather than limited de-Ba’athification. Notably, while previous de-Ba’athification processes prevented individuals from political participation or certain economic benefits, this law criminalizes the very idea of “Ba’athism,” metes out lengthy prison sentences for those promoting “Ba’athist ideas,” and strikes at the heart of basic freedoms of expression, assembly, and protest, as well as the principle of nondiscrimination. The law specifically criminalizes “Ba’athists” participating “in any rallies, sit-ins, or demonstrations.” Given the broad and wide-ranging definitions of Ba’athist activities and ideas, its stated application to “any entity, party, activity or approach,” political parties, nongovernmental, civil society organizations and groups of citizens, demonstrating, protesting or simply holding meetings may violate the law.

Bureaucratic delays continued in the government’s NGO registration process. The slow process impeded development and legal protection of NGOs. NGOs can only register in Baghdad, and must periodically reregister. The NGO Directorate in the Council of Ministers Secretariat issued registration certificates to 244 NGOs, from January to August. The NGO Directorate reported 2,844 registered NGOs.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement and foreign travel, but the government did not consistently respect these rights. IDPs had limited access to Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Najaf Governorates, and areas controlled by the KRG throughout the year. As of November approximately one million IDPs and 225,000 refugees were present in the IKR and areas under KRG security control. In late November hundreds of Sunni Turkmen IDPs from the Tal Afar area were denied entry into Dahuk, located in the IKR. The governor of Dahuk said he was concerned there were Da’esh elements among these IDPs, whose presence in the IDP camps in Dahuk among Yezidis might provoke revenge attacks on them.

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM),), and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other vulnerable populations. The government did not have effective systems to assist all of these individuals, largely due to funding shortfalls, lack of capacity, and lack of access. The security situation and armed clashes between the ISF and Da’esh throughout the year caused significant movement of civilians, further complicating the government’s coordination of relief efforts. The IOM estimated that, since the beginning of 2014, the conflict with Da’esh had caused more than 3.4 million individuals to become displaced, at least one million of whom have returned home. Security considerations in and near active combat areas, unexploded ordinance, destruction of infrastructure, and official and unofficial restrictions continued to limit humanitarian access to IDP communities.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UN agencies, NGOs and the press reported that sectarian groups, extremists, criminals, and, in some alleged but unverified cases, government forces attacked and arrested refugees, including Palestinians, Ahwazis, and Syrian Arabs.

Local NGOs reported that abuse of Syrian refugees–often by other refugees–was common, including violence against women and children, child marriage, forced prostitution, and sexual harassment.

A 2011 memorandum of understanding between the government and the United Nations provided for the closure of Camp Ashraf in Diyala Governorate, and transfer to Camp Hurriya (in Baghdad) of members of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK), an Iranian dissident group. The UNHCR relocation program provided the means successfully to relocate all MeK members from Iraq to third countries during the year; the majority of MeK were moved to Albania.

In-country Movement: The law permits security forces to restrict in-country movement pursuant to a warrant, impose a curfew, cordon off and search an area, and take other necessary security and military measures in response to security threats and attacks. There were numerous reports that security forces, including the ISF and Peshmerga, as well as the PMF, selectively enforced regulations requiring residency permits to limit entry of persons into liberated areas under their control. UNAMI and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights received multiple reports that Kirkuk authorities denied Sunni Arab IDPs from Salah al-Din and Ninewa Governorates access to Kirkuk Governorate.

UNAMI reported that in some areas, civilians fleeing conflict zones were intercepted by armed groups and militia operating in support of the ISF, and were targeted for threats, intimidation, physical violence, abductions, destruction of property, and killings. There were a number of reports that IDPs faced hostility from local government authorities and populations, as well as threats of expulsion.

UNHCR reported that Kirkuk authorities also confiscated identification documents or served notices of eviction to IDPs from Salah al-Din, Anbar, and Diyala Governorates, provoking their departure from camps and urban centers. On September 22, authorities forcibly returned 330 IDP families from Laylan Camp to a checkpoint along the road to Salah al-Din, according to the Iraq Humanitarian Protection Cluster. From September 1 to 21, Protection Cluster partners documented the departure of more than 1,000 IDP families who had been targeted for expulsion by local authorities. Amnesty International reported that the PMF Units (predominantly Shi’a militias) and the Peshmerga forces prevented civilians, largely Sunni, from returning to their homes after Da’esh was pushed out.

The KRG, imposing what it stated were necessary security procedures, restricted movement across the areas it administered. Authorities required nonresidents of the IKR to obtain permits that authorized limited stays in the IKR. These permits were generally renewable. Iraqi citizens from outside the IKR who sought to obtain residency permits for KRG-controlled areas required sponsorship from a resident in the region. Citizens (of all ethno-sectarian backgrounds, including Kurds) crossing into the region from the South were obligated to enter at checkpoints and undergo personal and vehicle inspection. The government imposed similar restrictions on IDPs from Ninewa Governorate and the disputed territories.

KRG authorities applied restrictions more stringently in some areas than in others. The United Nations and international humanitarian organizations alleged that practices regarding the entry of IDPs and Iraqi refugees seeking to return were more or less restrictive depending upon the location of the checkpoint and the ethno-sectarian background of the displaced individuals. There were also reports that checkpoints into the IKR were sometimes closed for extended periods, forcing IDPs to wait to enter the region. Officials prevented individuals whom they deemed security threats from entering the region. IKR officials generally admitted minority IDPs into the IKR, although the security checks were occasionally lengthy. Entry often was more difficult for men, particularly Arab men traveling without family.

Due to military operations aimed at defeating Da’esh, ISF, including the PMF and KRG Peshmerga, increased the number of checkpoints and erected makeshift roadblocks in many parts of the country (see section 1.g.). In June, following the liberation of Ramadi and Fallujah from Da’esh in Anbar Governorate, thousands of residents fled those cities for surrounding areas. Most were prevented from leaving Anbar per an official government order, due to security and ethnocentric concerns. Some 70,000 individuals fled Fallujah during a three-day period in June when the Iraqi army secured safe exit routes, overwhelming local and international assistance efforts and leaving many stranded in the desert for days without aid. At least 600 IDPs from Fallujah were missing after Shia PMF units held them for screening. IDPs began returning to Fallujah and outlying areas in September, although there were credible reports that provincial authorities required some government workers to return before they were ready to do so. In September, IDPs in Laylan Camp in Kirkuk were informed that they must return to their areas of origin. UN agencies confirmed that confiscation of identification documents and other measures to force IDPs to return home continued.

Da’esh restricted freedom of movement, particularly in the West and North (see section 1.g.). Da’esh prevented citizens from leaving the cities of Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul, and other places unless those citizens paid bribes to exit, left family members behind as collateral for their return, or agreed to relinquish property they owned in those cities. Da’esh severely restricted women’s freedom of movement in areas under its control. Patrols checked to make sure women wore suitable attire and that male relatives or guardians accompanied them outside the home. There were credible reports that Da’esh killed civilians trying to flee, including in the cities of Hawija, Qayara, and Mosul, when ISF moved to liberate those areas.

Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for citizens leaving the country, but the requirement was not routinely enforced.

Exile: The constitution permits forced exile only of naturalized citizens and only if a judicial decision establishes that the individual obtained citizenship based on material falsifications. There were no reported cases of forced exile. After 2003 many former Ba’ath Party members sought refuge in neighboring countries, choosing self-imposed exile over possible prosecutions under de-Ba’athification laws, and later under the Anti-Terrorism Law. In 2011 another wave of prominent Sunni politicians left the country after the government began arresting Sunnis and dissidents, by expansively applying Anti-Terrorism Law provisions.

Emigration and Repatriation: The government failed to provide travel documents to hundreds of citizens awaiting deportation from the United States, essentially rendering these individuals stateless.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The constitution and the national policy on displacement address IDP rights, but few laws specifically do so. The central government, the IKR, and international organizations, including UN agencies and NGOs, attempted to provide protection and other assistance to IDPs. Host communities were strained as the number of IDPs outside of camps increased. In 2014 the United Nations designated the humanitarian crisis as a Level Three emergency, its highest level, citing the scale, urgency, and complexity of the situation and has since extended the designation through February 2017.

Since 2014 the armed conflict has displaced more than 3.4 million persons, predominantly from Anbar, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din Governorates. In July and August, Salah al-Din Governorate experienced a significant increase in new IDPs resulting from the positioning of government forces in areas around Mosul in preparation for the operations for its liberation. From mid-June through mid-December, nearly 131,000 persons were displaced from Ninewa, Salah al-Din, and Erbil Governorates. One million IDPs from the 2006-08 sectarian conflict remained as of 2014, presumed to be included in the total IDP figure nationwide.

Sectarian violence and the advance of Da’esh displaced Sunni, Christian, Shia, Yezidi, Turkmen, Shabak, and Sabaean-Mandean families (see section 1.g.). While some of the displaced fled to areas outside their districts of origin, lack of secure corridors and fear of looting made others decide to stay. The government urged civilians in Mosul to remain in their homes, attempting to limit possible displacement during the Mosul operations.

The government’s focus on military operations to expel Da’esh and address IDPs’ immediate humanitarian needs, strained official efforts to promote safe, voluntary return or local integration. This challenge required the government to balance attempts to assist IDPs while maintaining good relations with host communities, including addressing their concerns about security threats posed by IDPs. UNHCR and other international organizations noted there was no national policy on IDP returns to homes of origin. In September the Ministry of Displacement and Migration and IKR’s Ministry of Interior signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a coordinated approach on IDP returns and other IDP issues. The Ministry of Displacement and Migration’s strategy recognized local integration as a legal option for IDPs; although in practice, new IDPs arriving from Da’esh-controlled areas (the large majority of whom were Sunni Arabs) faced difficulties being accepted in KRG-controlled areas or in areas held by Shia PMF units. The government attempted to integrate IDPs into local populations but also encouraged families to return to their original homes, in some cases before the families were willing to return.

Government assistance focused on the provision of financial grants, but it made neither the initial nor the successive payments consistently, particularly with the downturn in the economy. Faced with the large movements of IDPs across the country, the government provided food, water, and financial assistance to many but not all IDPs, including in the IKR. Many IDPs lived in informal settlements where they did not receive adequate water, sanitation, or other essential services. According to the IOM, as of November, 17 percent of IDPs lived in shelter arrangements that did not meet minimal safety or security standards, and approximately 64 percent resided in private arrangements, including host family residences, hotels, motels, and rented housing. The government and KRG worked with the United Nations to expand existing camp infrastructure.

In June nearly 85,000 IDPs from Fallujah and surrounding areas fled military operations to expel Da’esh. The unexpectedly large number of IDPs fleeing in a short period of time initially overwhelmed assistance efforts. Since June military shaping operations in villages south of Mosul displaced nearly 131,000 civilians. Many of them fled to overcrowded IDP camps in Debaga and elsewhere. The government worked with UN agencies and NGOs to provide food, shelter, health care, water and sanitation, and other essential services to IDPs in camps and other informal settlements. The government provided many of the IDPs in the camps with basic household goods.

All citizens are eligible to receive food under the Public Distribution System (PDS); however, PDS was implemented sporadically and irregularly. Not all commodities were distributed each month and not all IDPs were able to access the PDS in each governorate. Since the price of oil has dropped, the functioning of the PDS has been even more irregular. Iraqis could only redeem their PDS rations at their place of residence and within their registered governorate, thus losing access and entitlement following displacement.

Persons who did not register as IDPs in their current places of residence sometimes faced limited access to services. Local authorities often determined whether IDPs would have access to local services. Through the provision of legal aid, UNHCR and other humanitarian actors assisted IDPs in obtaining documentation and registering with authorities to improve access to services and entitlements. The IOM reported that some IDPs faced difficulty with registration due to lack of required documentation and administrative delays.

While humanitarian assistance generally reached IDPs in most of the country, access to those remaining in Da’esh-controlled areas was limited. Humanitarian personnel continued to attempt to provide assistance in these areas, but security and movement limitations constrained aid delivery.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a system, albeit flawed, for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, there were approximately 267,000 refugees in the country, most of whom are asylum seekers arriving from Syria, with smaller numbers from Iran and Turkey. The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and IDPs in the country.

Refoulement: The government cooperated with UNHCR to prevent the deportation of refugees. UNHCR relocated refugees at risk of deportation to refugee camps or attempted to resettle them.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to work in the private sector. Palestinian refugees, however, faced job insecurity when working in the public sector due to their ambiguous legal status; the government did not recognize their refugee status and did not allow them to obtain citizenship. Syrian refugees were able to obtain and renew residency and work permits both in refugee camps and in Erbil. Authorities, however, did not allow some Syrian refugees to continue their employment in refugee camps.

Durable Solutions: Ethnic Kurdish refugees from Syria, Turkey, and Iran in the IKR generally integrated well, although economic hardship plagued families and prevented many children, especially Syrians, from enrolling in formal school. Local integration remained the best and most likely option for the majority of Iranian Kurds. In September the KRG reported that approximately 60 percent of Syrian refugees in the IKR lived outside camps. Many worked in Erbil or found shelter with relatives in the IKR.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR estimated that approximately 50,000 stateless persons lived in the country, many of them Syrian refugees. Many nonrefugee stateless individuals had previously been citizens and had already begun the process of reacquiring nationality.

As of 2006, the latest year for which data was available, an estimated 54,500 Bidoun individuals living as nomads in the desert near or in the southern governorates of Basrah, Dhi Qar, and Qadisiyah remained undocumented and stateless. Prolonged drought in the southern section of the country forced many individuals from these communities to migrate to city centers, where most obtained identification documents and gained access to food rations and other social benefits. Other communities similarly at risk of statelessness included the country’s Romani population, the Ahwazi community of Shia Arabs of Iranian descent, the Bahai religious minority community, inhabitants of the southern Marshlands, members of the Goyan and Omariya Turkish Kurdish tribes near Mosul, and nationals of South Sudan, which had not established a diplomatic presence in the country.

Stateless persons faced discrimination in employment and access to education. Many stateless persons, particularly Baha’i, were not able to register for identity cards, which prevented them from enrolling in public school, registering marriages, and gaining access to some government services. Stateless persons also faced difficulty obtaining public-sector employment and lacked job security.

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

Domestic and international NGOs operated in most cases with little government interference. Due to the humanitarian crisis, the majority of local NGOs shifted their focus to providing assistance to IDPs and other communities the conflict has affected. In some instances these local NGOs worked in coordination with central government and Kurdistan regional government authorities. A number of NGOs also investigated and published findings on human rights cases. When NGOs alleged human rights abuses that concerned government actions or actions of ethnic or religious groups allied with the government, there were some reports of government interference.

NGOs faced capacity-related challenges, did not have regular access to government officials, and did not systematically serve as bulwarks against failures in governance and human rights abuses. Sustainability of domestic NGOs remained a key factor hindering the long-term development of the sector. The government rarely awarded NGOs contracts for services. While the law forbids NGOs from engaging in political activity, political parties or sects originated, funded, or substantially influenced many, although not all, domestic NGOs.

Some NGOs in the South alleged government officials interfered and harassed them, particularly regarding finances. One NGO representative in Dhi Qar said ISF frequently visited the NGO’s office, claiming that they needed to “check on things.” The governor of Maysan reportedly tried to control funding for local NGOs from international organizations. On September 21, the Maysan Provincial Council voted to limit the governor’s authority over NGOs operating in the province, according to the provincial council’s spokesperson, in order to curb the governorate’s interruption of local NGOs’ work.

Another NGO reported the government refused to register and license its women’s shelters. The government periodically asked the NGO to close them down, even though government officials “unofficially” referred women to the shelters. After each such closure, the shelters would reopen a few days later.

The IKR had an active community of mostly Kurdish NGOs, many with close ties and funded by the PUK and KDP political parties. Government funding of NGOs is legally contingent upon whether an NGO’s programming goals conform to already-identified priority areas. The region’s NGO Directorate established formal procedures for awarding funds to NGOs, which included a public description of the annual budget for NGO funding, priority areas for consideration, deadlines for proposal submission, establishment of a grant committee, and the criteria for ranking proposals. During the year local and international NGOs did not report difficulties registering with the regional government and obtaining permits for their operations in KRG-administered areas.

Reports indicated that Da’esh continued to threaten NGOs and civil society activists in areas under its control throughout the year.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government and the KRG sometimes restricted the access of the United Nations and other international bodies to sensitive locations, including Interior Ministry detention facilities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In August 2015 the prime minister abolished the Ministry of Human Rights as part of his reform program to reduce the number of governmental ministries. Ministry staff and files were transferred to other ministries, including the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), which had not met since May 2015.

The constitution mandates the creation of an independent IHCHR. The law governing its operation provides for commissioners with four-year nonrenewable terms. No less than one-third of the 11 full-time and three reserve commissioners must be women, and at least one full-time member and one reserve member must be from a minority community. The law provides that the IHCHR be financially and administratively independent and have broad authority, including the right to receive and investigate human rights complaints, conduct unannounced visits to correctional facilities, and review legislation. By the end of the year, the commissioners had not been selected.

The KRG Human Rights Commission, which began operating in 2013, issues periodic reports on human rights, trafficking in persons, and religious freedom. The Commission reported KRG police and security organizations had generally been receptive to human rights training and responsive to reports of violations. In February, however, a court convicted the deputy head of the commission’s Dahuk office for interfering with a police investigation; his sentence was suspended.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution states that citizens have the right to form and join unions and professional associations. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide reinstatement for workers fired for union activity. In August 2015 the COR approved a labor law (No. 37 of 2015) that allows workers to select representatives for collective bargaining, even if they are not members of a union, and affords workers the right to have more than one union in a workplace. The law went into effect in February 7. On October 25, the Council of Ministers ratified International Labor Organization Convention 87 on freedom of association and the rights to organize, but the COR had not voted on it at year’s end.

A Saddam Hussein-era law bans all public-sector trade union activity. The law also considers individuals state-owned enterprises employ (who made up approximately 10 percent of the workforce) as public-sector employees. Civil society organizations lobbied for a new trade union law to expand union rights.

Private-sector employees in worksites employing more than 50 workers may form workers committees–subdivisions of unions with limited rights–but most private-sector businesses employed fewer than 50 workers.

Labor courts have the authority to consider alleged labor law violations and disputes, but no information was available concerning enforcement of the applicable law, including whether procedures were prompt or efficient.

Strikers and union leaders reported that government officials threatened and harassed them during the year. They also asserted that ministries and state-owned enterprises used fines, demotions, suspension from work, and forced transfers to punish labor activists and discourage union activity. Unions reported authorities arrested labor leaders and activists for their activities. Union leaders also cited corruption within the government as a continuous problem, with government officials imposing arbitrary fines on workers for such activities as calling for demonstrations and traveling outside the country on union business without prior approval.

The law allows for collective bargaining in the private sector, although in practice, the government authorities sometimes violated private-sector employees’ collective bargaining rights. Some unions were able to play a supportive role in labor disputes, and they had the right to demand government arbitration.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor–including slavery, indebtedness, and trafficking in persons–but the government did not effectively monitor or enforce the law.

Foreign migrant workers, particularly construction workers, security guards, cleaners, handymen, and domestic workers, were subjected to forced labor, confiscation of travel and identity documents, restrictions on movement and communications, physical abuse, sexual harassment and rape, withholding of wages, and forced overtime. There were cases of employers withholding travel documents, stopping payment on contracts, and preventing foreign employees from leaving the work site.

Women were subjected to involuntary domestic service through forced marriages and the threat of divorce, and women who fled such marriages or whose husbands divorced them were vulnerable to further forced labor. Due to the deterioration in the security situation, female IDPs were increasingly vulnerable to economic exploitation and discriminatory employment conditions. According to local sources, Da’esh exploited as many as several thousand Yezidi and other minority women and girls sexually and economically and forced men and boys into military service (see also sections 1.g. and 6).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The constitution and law prohibit child labor. The minimum age for employment is 15. The law limits working hours for persons younger than age 18 to seven hours a day and prohibits employment in work detrimental to health, safety, or morals of anyone younger than 18. The labor code does not apply to juveniles (ages 15 to 18) who work in family-owned businesses producing goods exclusively for domestic use. Since children employed in family enterprises are exempt from some protections in the labor code with regard to employment conditions, anecdotal reports of children performing hazardous work in family-owned businesses, such as in brick manufacturing and auto repair shops, continued. The new labor law introduced improvements to child labor regulations, such as increased fines and penalties for violators of the labor law. The new law abolished a Saddam-era decree that allowed children as young as 12 to work. The law also mandates employers–not workers or families–to bear the cost of annual medical checks for working juveniles (ages 15-18). Children between the ages of 12 and 14 were not required to attend school but were not permitted to work and thus were vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor. Violators are subject to imprisonment for a period of 30 days to six months or to a fine ranging from 100,000 dinars to 500,000 dinars ($91 to $455). Qualitative data on child labor practices was limited, particularly with regard to the worst forms of child labor, a factor that further limited enforcement of existing legal protections.

Child labor, including in its worst forms, occurred throughout the country. The inspection service of the labor ministry sought to comply with the law prohibiting child labor in the private and public sectors. Inspections continued, but due to capacity constraints as well as the focus on maintaining security and fighting terrorism, law enforcement personnel and labor inspectors’ efforts to monitor these practices were ineffective, and penalties for violations did not serve as a deterrent.

The NGO Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights documented many cases of displaced children who were forced to migrate with their families from their homes, and were subsequently forced to work. It also reported the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs did not maintain accurate statistics about displaced child workers. In July, UNICEF reported an estimated half a million children were in the labor market, a number which doubled since 1990.

There was no recent survey of the child labor situation in the IKR, but local NGOs reported that child labor increased due to the influx of Syrian refugees. The IKR’s Labor Ministry operated a 24-hour hotline for reporting labor abuses, including child labor; the hotline received approximately 200 calls per month.

There were reports that Da’esh and other armed groups recruited children to gather intelligence, staff checkpoints, patrol the streets, and serve as couriers (see section 1.g. and section 6, Children). There was no evidence that the government purposely recruited children into the armed forces. There were local press reports of families sending their children to beg in the streets. Local NGOs reported that organized gangs also recruited children to beg. In September the Labor Ministry launched a grants program to encourage low-income families to send their children to school rather than to beg in the streets.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides that all citizens are equal before the law without regard to gender, sect, opinion, belief, nationality, or origin. The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, social origin, political opinion, language, or social status, and any forms of sexual harassment in the workplace. The government was ineffective in enforcing these provisions. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, foreign workers, and minorities (see section 6). The law gives migrant Arab workers the same status as citizens but does not provide the same rights for non-Arab migrant workers, who faced stricter residency and work visa requirements.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In June the prime minister issued an order to cut senior civil servants salaries by 15 percent due to budget constraints. The COR rejected the order in July. The 2015 pay scale reduced salaries of senior civil servants and increased salaries of civil servants at the low end of the pay scale. The 2015 pay scale offered nonskilled workers a monthly salary of 170,000 dinars ($155) and 300,000 dinars ($273) for jobs that required a bachelor’s degree. The salary also included bonuses for employees with families and higher education degrees.

The law limits the standard workday to eight hours, with one or more rest periods totaling 30 minutes to one hour, and the standard workweek to 48 hours. The law permits up to four hours of overtime work per day and requires premium pay for overtime work. For industrial work, overtime should not exceed one hour per day. The government sets occupational health and safety standards. The law states that for hazardous or exhausting work, employers should reduce daily working hours. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from a situation endangering health and safety without prejudice to their employment but does not extend this right to civil servants or migrant workers, who together made up the majority of the country’s workforce.

The Labor Ministry has jurisdiction over labor law, child labor, wages, occupational safety and health topics, and labor relations. The government did not enforce regulations governing working conditions. The ministry’s occupational safety and health staff worked throughout the country, but the lack of a law governing these inspections hindered compliance and enforcement efforts.

The legal and regulatory framework, combined with the country’s high level of violence and insecurity, high unemployment, large informal sector, and lack of meaningful work standards, resulted in unacceptable conditions for many workers. Workplace injuries occurred frequently, especially among manual laborers. A lack of oversight and monitoring of employment contracts left foreign and migrant workers vulnerable to exploitative working conditions and abusive treatment. Little information was available on the total number of foreign workers in the country, although some observers reported that large groups of migrant workers, many of them in the country illegally, lived in work camps, sometimes in substandard conditions. Due to the deterioration in security, and conflict throughout western and northern Iraq, many foreign workers departed the country, or their companies or home governments evacuated them. The government also deported dozens of foreign workers from the South because they lacked proper immigration documents.

On February 5, a fire in an Erbil hotel massage center resulted in at least 19 deaths. Press reports quoted the Erbil governor as identifying 15 of the victims as Philippine nationals; the remaining victims were Iraqi and Palestinian. The hotel reportedly lacked fire extinguishers and fire suppression systems.

In 2015 the Labor Ministry launched an income-generating loan program, with a budget of 10 billion dinars ($9.1 million), to assist unemployed persons, including recent college graduates, shopkeepers affected by terrorism, and IDPs. In February the ministry announced that the microloans had benefitted 43,079 persons since the start of the program.

Israel and The Occupied Territories

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: ISRAEL (BELOW) | THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES


Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Although it has no constitution, parliament, the unicameral 120-member Knesset, has enacted a series of “Basic Laws” that enumerate fundamental rights. Certain fundamental laws, orders, and regulations legally depend on the existence of a “state of emergency,” which has been in effect since 1948. Under the Basic Laws, the Knesset has the power to dissolve the government and mandate elections. The nationwide Knesset elections in 2015, considered free and fair, resulted in a coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. An annex to this report covers human rights in the occupied territories. This report deals with human rights in Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security services. During the year, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Palestinians committed 12 terror attacks within the Green Line that led to the deaths of seven Israelis and one foreign citizen, as well as injuries to 62 Israelis. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Palestinian militants fired 46 projectiles into Israel, and there were 21 incidents of mortar fire or cross-border shooting from Syria. Further information on the human rights situation in the occupied territories is in the annex.

The most significant human rights problems were terrorist attacks targeting civilians and politically and religiously motivated societal violence; institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel, many of whom self-identify as Palestinian, in particular in access to equal education, housing, and employment opportunities; and institutional and societal discrimination against Ethiopian Israelis and women.

Other human rights problems included administrative detention, often extraterritorial in Israel, of Palestinians from the occupied territories; stigmatizing of human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); the treatment of asylum seekers and irregular migrants; institutional and societal discrimination against non-Orthodox Jews and intermarried families; and labor rights abuses against Arab and foreign workers.

The government took some steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses within Israel regardless of rank or seniority.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

The law, however, criminalizes calling persons “Nazis” or “fascists.” The law imposes tort liability on any person who knowingly issues a public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the State of Israel and the Israeli-controlled occupied territories. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the “antiboycott” legislation. In 2015 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this law. The law also permits the minister of finance to institute regulations imposing administrative sanctions on those calling for such a boycott, including restrictions on participating in tenders for contracts with the government and denial of government benefits.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender. The Counterterrorism Law, which passed in June and took effect in November, criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supportive of terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” There were no convictions under the law as of the end of the year.

On July 18, the Knesset passed a law increasing the penalty for desecrating the Israeli flag from one year to three years in prison and increased the fine from the equivalent of eight dollars to 58,400 shekels ($15,500).

In cases of speech that constitute incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.

Press and Media Freedoms: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. In December, however, ACRI published a report detailing a variety of legislative and rhetorical attacks on media throughout the year by elected officials, especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, and expressed concern about the chilling effect of these attacks on press freedom. In September 2015 the Knesset amended the public broadcasting law to prohibit journalists on public broadcasting from transmitting their own views. Subsequently, the Israel Press Council urged the government to cancel the law, saying it violated free speech. The Knesset repealed the amendment in November 2015.

In April the press freedom organization Freedom House lowered Israel’s ranking from free to partly free due to “the growing impact of Israel Hayom, whose owner-subsidized business model endangered the stability of other media outlets, and the unchecked expansion of paid content–some of it government funded–whose nature was not clearly identified to the public.”

On June 23, the Ministry of Public Security barred Nazareth-based television channel Musawa for six months claiming that the Palestinian Authority funded it. Authorities previously banned the station for six months in July 2015 when it was known as Palestine 48.

The government shut media outlets associated with the Northern Islamic Movement, following that group’s ban in November 2015.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to military censors any material relating to specific military issues or strategic infrastructure issues, such as oil and water supplies. Organizations may appeal the censor’s decisions to the Supreme Court, and the censor may not appeal a court judgment. Whereas in the past the military censor requested prepublication review of sensitive information only from major media outlets, Ha’aretz reported in February that the military censor expanded the request to 30 bloggers and administrators of public Facebook pages as well.

News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government did not fine newspapers or other mass media for violating censorship regulations during the year. The government regularly enacted restrictive orders on sensitive security information and required foreign correspondents, as well as local media, to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the military at the request of +972 Magazine, Mekomit, and the Movement for Freedom of Information, from 2011 through August, the military censor banned the publication of 1,936 articles and redacted information from 14,196 articles.

In January the State Attorney’s Office sought a court order to compel the NGO Breaking the Silence to reveal the identity of an individual who served in Operation Protective Edge and who testified to the organization about alleged war crimes during the operation. Breaking the Silence claimed the investigation was politically motivated and that providing this information would effectively force the organization to ends its operations. As of the end of the year, the case remained pending at the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court.

National Security: In November 2015 the government used emergency law to outlaw the Northern Islamic Movement, stating that it incited violence and alleging that it closely collaborated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. MK Ahmed Tibi and other Arab Israeli politicians stated, however, that politics appeared to have motivated the decision much more than a threat to national security. The government issued cease and desist orders to 17 related organizations.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no government restrictions on access to the internet. The government monitored e-mail, internet chat rooms, and the popular texting application WhatsApp for security purposes. Internet access was widely available, and approximately 73 percent of the country’s inhabitants used it regularly.

In October 2015 authorities arrested Dareen Tatour, an Arab citizen of Israel, on charges of incitement to violence, terrorism, and support for a terrorist organization as a result of the poems, pictures, and other media she posted online. Authorities imprisoned her for three months and then released her to home detention, pending the completion of legal proceedings, which were remained underway at the end of the year. Tatour claimed that translations of her Arabic postings by police were poor and distorted.

In December 2015 authorities arrested attorney Tareq Barghout, part of the legal team for an alleged teenage Palestinian terrorist, on charges of publishing material on Facebook praising terrorists and encouraging further attacks. The court released Barghout, noting that the material he posted was poorly translated from Arabic to Hebrew and that he has freedom of expression as reflected in Facebook postings.

During an outbreak of fires in November, police detained Arab citizen of Israel Anas Abudaabes for three days on suspicion of incitement after he posted a sarcastic Facebook message. The publication +972 Magazine reported that police had attempted to translate the message using Google Translate.

Following a reported agreement between government officials and Facebook in September to remove content that the government reported as incitement, the NGO Adalah expressed grave concern the targeted content would disproportionately affect Arab citizens. They cited research showing that 70 percent of 175,000 inciting posts in Israel in the 12 months ending May were actually made by right-wing Israeli Jews against Arabs and left-wing Jews, yet only 18 percent of those arrested for incitement-related offenses during the year were Jews. A study by the Berl Katznelson Foundation published in November reported more than six million racist expressions online in Israel in one year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” referring to the displacement of 80 percent of the Palestinian Arab population during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

In June the president of Ben-Gurion University overturned a decision to award the Berelson Prize for Jewish-Arab Understanding to the NGO Breaking the Silence on the grounds that it “isn’t in the national consensus.” Despite the university president’s decision, university lecturers awarded the NGO an alternative prize at a ceremony in November. Breaking the Silence, a group of military veterans whose goal is to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, was the target of intensely negative rhetoric in the national discourse during the year.

The NGO Mossawa claimed that there were no Arab employees among five cinema foundations that control the 60 million shekels ($16 million) allocated by the government for Israeli cinema, and that the government selected almost no Arabic films for funding.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

In April and May 2015, thousands of Ethiopian Israelis and their supporters gathered to protest police brutality and discrimination following the publication of a video showing police beating Ethiopian IDF soldier Demas Fekadeh in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon. The demonstrations at some points resulted in clashes with police. The demonstration resulted in 56 officers and 12 protesters injured; authorities arrested 43 persons. Police set up a committee to investigate the events. Government officials, including the president and prime minister, met with Fekadeh and Ethiopian community representatives in the wake of the demonstrations and pledged that police would conduct a thorough and transparent investigation. The government dropped charges against one officer who apprehended Fekadeh and also against Fekadeh himself, concluding Fekadeh had not initiated the altercation. According to the NGO Tebekah, the attorney general indicated in June that he would re-examine the charges against the officer. Tebekah filed a petition with the Supreme Court to compel the attorney general to give a response to the question of re-examining the charges, and the case continued as of December 9.

The police committee created to investigate the events led to several steps toward reform in partnership with an Ethiopian Israeli NGO, including a pilot project for police body cameras, which began in August, and a new police code of conduct.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.

Human rights NGOs alleged that in prior years, police engaged in mass arrests of Arab protesters, claiming they did not have a permit, although Israeli law does not require one in certain circumstances, or after incitement by Israeli agents provocateurs dressed as Arabs. There were no such mass arrests during the year.

There were some instances in 2015 in which police required organizers of demonstrations to accept criminal responsibility for any disturbance or prohibited behavior by participants of the demonstration before approving a permit application. Following submission of a petition to the Supreme Court by ACRI, police agreed to eliminate this condition, and ACRI withdrew its petition.

In December 2015 the government loosened police regulations to allow the use of live fire as a first resort against protesters throwing stones or incendiary devices.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.

Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights problems and critical of the government, asserted that the government sought to intimidate and stop their foreign funding (see section 5). According to ACRI, the law prohibits registration of an association or a party if its goals include denial of the existence of the State of Israel or the democratic character of the state. A political party will not be registered if its goals include incitement to racism or support of an armed struggle, enemy state, or terror organization against the State of Israel.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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 (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, except as noted below.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Communities with a large concentration of African migrants were occasionally targets of violence. The Tel Aviv municipality dedicated a special police unit to combat violence and crime in the migrant community. Additionally, the nature of government policies on the legality of work forced many refugees to work in “unofficial” positions, making them more susceptible to poor treatment and questionable work practices by their employers.

Immediately following the killing of a soldier by an Israeli Bedouin attacker in Beer Sheva in October 2015, a security guard shot Eritrean asylum seeker Haptom Zerhom, who the guard mistakenly believed was a second attacker. A group of onlookers then beat the injured Eritrean man, who later died. Pathologists later confirmed the cause of death was the gunshot wound. In January authorities indicted Eviatar Damari, David Moyal, soldier Yaakov Shamba, and prison officer Ronen Cohen for causing grievous bodily harm with serious intent. The case was scheduled to resume in February 2017.

Foreign Travel: Citizens generally were free to travel abroad provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations. Authorities do not permit any citizen to travel to any state officially at war with Israel without government permission. This restriction includes travel to Syria, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.

Adalah alleged that the prohibition on travel to many Arab countries disproportionately discriminated against Arab-Israeli citizens and noted that authorities did not detain Jewish Israelis upon return from similar trips to unauthorized countries. The government required all citizens to have a special permit to enter “Area A” in the West Bank (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the Palestinian Authority exercises civil and security responsibility), although the government allowed Palestinian citizens access without permits. In March 2015 the Supreme Court rejected a petition by ACRI requesting the airport to eliminate racial profiling of Arab citizens.

In 2014 the Supreme Court upheld a policy that did not allow Palestinians from Gaza to enter Israel to access courts for tort damages filed against the security forces, stating that it wanted to “give a chance” to new procedures and guidelines for facilitating entry into the country adopted by the attorney general. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated in November that Gazans who prove that their entry into Israel is necessary for their court case to be effectively managed, and the results of the case affect a humanitarian need, are granted entry. The burden of proof remains on the plaintiff to justify the application to enter Israel on humanitarian grounds.

Citizenship: The 2011 amendment to the Nationality Law allows revocation of citizenship from a person on grounds of “breach of loyalty to the State of Israel.” As of November 9, no one was stripped of his citizenship or permanent residence status. On May 29, Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri filed a motion with the Haifa District Court to revoke the citizenship of Alaa Zayoud, whom the courts convicted of four counts of attempted murder in an October 2015 car-ramming attack. In addition, on June 26, Deri requested that the attorney general revoke the citizenship of Luqman Atun and the permanent residency of East Jerusalemite Khalil Adel Khalil, following their attempts to join Da’esh in Syria. All three motions were pending as of November 9.

On October 21, after the head of NGO B’Tselem called on the UN Security Council to take action to address the growth of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, MK David Bitan, the chairman of the governing coalition, told media the remarks were an “explicit breach of trust by an Israeli citizen against the state, and as such he should find himself another citizenship.” The government, however, did not take any steps to strip him of his citizenship.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: In 2008 authorities began giving the majority of asylum seekers a “conditional release visa” that requires renewal every one to four months. The government provided these individuals with a limited form of group protection with freedom of movement, protection against refoulement, and some informal access to the labor market. Access to health care, shelter, and education was available inconsistently. The protection environment, however, significantly deteriorated following the adoption in late 2011 of policies and legislation aimed at deterring future asylum seekers by making life difficult for those already in the country. These actions further curtailed the rights of the population and encouraged the departure of those already in the country.

The Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Unit of the Population Immigration and Border Authority handles asylum requests and publicizes information on how to apply in its offices and on its website. The RSD Unit set up a computer-based appointment system in Arabic and Tigrinya (Eritrean).

RSD recognition rates were extremely low. In the 2012-16 period, the government received 28,915 asylum applications, including 4,901 from Sudanese applicants, 7,848 from Eritreans, 7,130 from Ukrainians, and 4,221 from Georgians. Of those, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government approved 27, denied 4,764, and closed 4,750 for other reasons such as departure from Israel or noncooperation. During the year the government approved only four asylum requests and denied 2,609. As of August, 326 requests submitted in 2009 were still pending, and as of the end of the year, 19,374 cases were pending, including 11,238 from Ukrainians and Georgians. While the government extended nonremoval and “conditional release visas” to a number of Sudanese from Darfur, it granted refugee status to a Sudanese applicant for the first time on June 21.

In addition to these low rates, according to international organizations, a lack of transparency in the documentation and deliberation phases of the government’s processes further undermined confidence in the system, affecting views of the legitimacy of the government’s regime for asylum seekers. HRM, the African Refugee Development Center, UNHCR, and the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic expressed continuing concerns regarding the accessibility, efficiency, and impartiality of the RSD Unit.

Authorities originally granted this population protected status and barred them from applying for RSD, a policy later changed without notification to much of the population. Some of these individuals, however, applied through UNHCR upon arrival (and continued to have files with UNHCR that the government had not requested or accepted for transfer). Others were discouraged from applying by the government’s policy summoning those who applied to detention in Holot and by the extremely low rate of acceptance of refugee claims.

In 2015 the government adopted a practice of requiring long-staying RSD applicants to provide an acceptable justification for not applying for RSD within their first year of residence in the country. The government then rejected the majority of justification applications from these individuals. In September an appeals tribunal ruled that asylum applications from Eritreans should not be rejected out of hand on the basis of fleeing military conscription. The Ministry of Interior immediately appealed the ruling, and the case was pending as of the end of the year. In November another appeals tribunal overturned the government’s blanket rejection of applications submitted more than one year after arrival. The government’s response to the November ruling was pending as of November 10.

The government continued to give Eritreans and Sudanese outside of detention renewable “conditional release” documents, but recipients must renew these documents every one to four months. Only three Ministry of Interior offices in the country renew these visas. In 2015 authorities summoned 12,425 asylum seekers to Holot for a one-year detention period, although there were only 3,360 beds. NGOs reported that some asylum seekers failed to appear, while others reported to Holot after quitting their jobs and giving up their residence, only to learn that there was insufficient space at the facility. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that authorities summoned 3,396 persons during the year.

In July the Be’er Sheva District Court ordered release of the asylum seeker held longest in prison, a man from Guinea detained in Saharonim Prison for 10 years. On August 23, authorities released him for one month on the condition that he depart the country. Data that HRM received under the Freedom of Information Law revealed that as of July 2015, there were 16 migrants detained for more than three years, 30 migrants detained between two to three years, and 31 migrants detained between one to two years.

Government officials and media outlets continued to refer to asylum seekers as “infiltrators” and characterized them as directly associated with increases in crime, disease, and vagrancy.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened and stated its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement. During the year 465 irregular migrants and asylum seekers departed the country through a “voluntary return” program, compared with 3,381 in 2015 and 6,414 in 2014. The government provided most returnees with paid tickets to either Uganda or Rwanda, although those governments did not provide assurances of legal residency or the right to work, despite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ claim that the receiving countries were obligated to allow the relocated individuals to stay and work. In 2015 a Be’er Sheva court upheld the legality of the secrecy of these agreements in response to a petition by NGOs. The government provided those departing a stipend paid in dollars of $3,400, and prior to departure, the Population and Immigration Authority and the Custody Review Tribunal reviewed mandatory recorded video interviews and written statements of those who opted to participate in the voluntary return program to verify they were departing voluntarily. The government claimed in September that there were no known cases of injury or harm to any of the relocated migrants after arrival in the receiving country and that they received all rights accorded in the agreements.

A coalition of NGO advocates for asylum seekers (including Amnesty International, HRM, and the African Refugee Development Center) questioned the government’s policy of sending migrants to a foreign country. These groups were concerned that the destination countries were not prepared to care for the asylum seekers and considered that, in some cases, this transfer could amount to refoulement. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other NGOs reported that the voluntary return policy led to many individuals returning to their country of origin via the foreign countries where they did not receive permission to stay upon arrival or where authorities did not meet their protection needs. In response to a petition by human rights groups, however, the government promised in November 2015 to expand monitoring of implementation of these agreements in the foreign countries, according to Ha’aretz. HRW and HRM documented the treatment of some returnees whom Sudanese and Eritrean authorities arrested upon their return to Sudan and Eritrea and whom those authorities reportedly surveilled, beat, threatened, and in some cases tortured. In November media reported that Sudan issued arrest warrants for 3,300 citizens who had returned from Israel. The Israeli government denied that anyone who left under one of these agreements had experienced refoulement, persecution, or harassment and affirmed that everyone had received the rights accorded to them under the terms of the agreements.

In March 2015 the government announced a new policy to deport migrants from Eritrea and Sudan by sending them to other countries in Africa. The government explained that this procedure would initially apply to those held in Holot (2,000 at the time) who either never applied for asylum or who had applied and been rejected. By November 2015 authorities had notified 43 persons that they must either depart from Israel to a country in Africa or go to prison indefinitely. NGOs filed a court case questioning the safety of this policy, and the Supreme Court decided that for the duration of the court case, those migrants affected could remain outside of jail. That month the Beer Sheva District Court ruled against the migrants and NGO petition, stating that the government may use its process for relocating migrants. The court recommended the government delay actual implementation until a process for monitoring those who travel is established. Following an appeal to the Supreme Court in March, the government submitted a confidential response regarding the agreements with African countries, which was partially revealed to the plaintiffs. The Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic stated that parts of the agreements are unwritten, the written portion does not include any supervision mechanism, the rights assured under the agreement include only the right to work and remain for an unspecified period of time, and there are no assurances of proper execution or sanctions for violation. As of the end of the year, no migrants were known to have been jailed under this policy.

The government stated it reached agreements with two foreign countries with regard to the relocation of migrants from Sudan and Eritrea, and the attorney general conditioned his approval of the relocation policy on the assurance of certain protections in those countries. According to UNHCR, if returned to their countries of origin, these individuals were likely to face major human rights abuses, including the risk of death, torture, and life imprisonment. According to the government, however, from 2010 to 2015, 12,300 migrants departed to safe foreign countries or to their country of origin voluntarily, with no cases of violations of the principle of nonrefoulement.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR and NGOs expressed concern over the government’s actions in providing protection and assistance to some refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern, including victims of trafficking, but not to others. UNHCR and NGOs raised specific concerns over the government’s use of so-called voluntary return of detained migrants, including those seeking asylum, as well as the government’s failure to provide independent individual refugee status determinations for the vast majority of migrants of sub-Saharan African origin, including Eritreans and Sudanese. UNHCR and NGOs also raised objections and called for changes to the government’s continued use of “anti-infiltrator” laws, which impose long-term detention on all individuals who enter the country irregularly. The amended Prevention of Infiltration Law gives authorities the discretion to detain these individuals for three months in prison followed by 20 months in an “open facility.” In August 2015 the Supreme Court issued a provisional ruling on the Law to Prevent Infiltration that reduced the maximum time that the government may detain migrants in Holot from 20 to 12 months (see section 1.d.).

The government reported the arrival of 18 irregular migrants during the year, compared with 168 in 2015, and the departure of 3,088, including 792 under the “voluntary departure” program to a third country, as well as the departure of 325 asylum seekers, including 77 to a third country. The 18 irregular migrants who arrived in the year included 14 from Sudan, three from Turkey, and one from China.

The government reported the Holot facility was near capacity throughout the year, housing 2,892 asylum seekers as of September 21, in addition to 621 detainees in Saharonim and 99 in Givon. An amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, passed in 2014, excluded from summoning to Holot all women and children, men who could prove that they have a wife or children in Israel for whom they provide, recognized trafficking victims, persons over age 60, and those whose health could be negatively affected by detention in Holot. According to UNHCR, as of April 2015, authorities can now send torture survivors to Holot; according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the law exempts victims of human trafficking.

In 2015 the Ministry of Interior released four identified victims of torture from the Saharonim facility, three of whom had been in prison for four years, and granted 25 persons temporary stays of orders to the Holot facility in response to HRM petitions. The government asserted that it would not send men who have family living in the country to Holot. Regulatory procedures, however, forced many families to separate because male heads of household did not have proper legal documentation to prove their status as married with dependents and authorities; therefore, they were required to report to Holot. According to NGOs, these documentation problems often resulted when circumstances forced families to flee their countries of origin without important documentation, including marriage certificates. Some migrants and asylum seekers married locally but hesitated to register their relationship status due to fear of legal repercussions and due to authorities’ not recognizing other marriages.

Employment: The few recognized refugees received renewable work visas. In 2015 many asylum seekers who once had B/1 work visas had this status downgraded, and most held a 2A5 visa, which explicitly reads, “This is not a work visa.” The government allowed asylum seekers to work in the informal sector but not to open their own businesses or register to pay value-added tax, although the law does not prohibit these activities. In 2015 the Ministry of Interior conducted media campaigns to warn employers against hiring illegal foreign workers. Despite the lack of a legal right to employment, the government’s published policy was not to indict asylum seekers or their employers for their employment.

Authorities prohibited asylum seekers released from the Holot facility from going to Eilat and Tel Aviv, in part to keep them from working there, and municipal officials in other areas stated they would oppose asylum seekers relocating to their communities. Nevertheless, media reported in 2015 that labor-recruitment companies sent representatives to Holot to interview those released for possible employment in hotels at the Dead Sea or elsewhere outside of Tel Aviv and Eilat.

The government reserves the right to demand unpaid value-added tax and levy substantial fines against business proprietors for operating businesses without a tax exemption. African asylum seekers in the Holot open facility may not work outside the facility, but some worked inside the facility for less than the minimum wage. Some of the facility’s services depended on detainee labor. Some detainees erected stalls outside the facility to sell food or other goods, but authorities periodically demolished their kiosks based on sanitation concerns or the prohibition against employment.

The law bars migrants from sending money abroad, limits the amount they may take with them when they leave to the minimum wage for the number of months they resided in the country, and defines taking money out of the country as a money-laundering crime.

Access to Basic Services: Access to health care, shelter, and education was available on an inconsistent basis. Recognized refugees received social services, including access to the national health-care system, but the government did not provide asylum seekers with public social benefits such as health insurance. The government stated it provided infirmary services, including laboratory services, medical imaging, and general and mental hospitalization services in the Holot facility for individuals held there, including asylum seekers. UNHCR reported that when a detainee accessed health services, another detainee often provided translation, compromising confidentiality and potentially affecting the quality of treatment. The government sponsored a mobile clinic, and mother and infant health-care stations in south Tel Aviv, which were accessible to migrants and asylum seekers. The clinic provided health and dental services, sexually transmitted disease evaluation and treatment, and prenatal and infant medical care.

Two major providers of medical care for asylum seekers stopped providing nonurgent treatment in the summer. The Gesher clinic in Jaffa, which the Ministry of Health funded and was the only provider of mental health services to asylum seekers, announced in late July that it no longer would accept new patients. Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, which had previously covered the cost of treatment of asylum seekers from its budget, ran out of funds in early August. The two remaining clinics in Tel Aviv, where most asylum seekers resided, offered only limited medical services.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection primarily to Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. The Ministry of Interior continued to reject the applications of almost all Eritrean detainees, concluding that military desertion provided insufficient grounds for presenting a subjective fear of persecution and disregarding further evidence presented on conditions in Eritrea should individuals return. In September, however, an appeals tribunal ruled that applications from asylum seekers fleeing conscription in Eritrea cannot be rejected out of hand and must be adjudicated individually. The government immediately appealed the ruling, and the case was pending as of November 10.

STATELESS PERSONS

Despite being eligible for Israeli citizenship since 1981, an estimated 20,000 Druze living in territory captured from Syria in 1967 largely refused to accept Israeli citizenship, and their status as Syrian citizens was unclear. They held Israeli identification cards, which listed their nationality as “undefined.” Media reported that the number of Syrian Druze applying for Israeli citizenship had increased since 2011.

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

Numerous domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views, and they routinely invited NGOs critical of the government to participate in Knesset hearings on proposed legislation. Human rights NGOs have standing to petition the Supreme Court directly regarding governmental policies and may appeal individual cases to the Supreme Court. A unit in the Foreign Ministry maintained relations with certain international and domestic NGOs.

Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights problems and critical of the government, asserted, however, that the government sought to intimidate and stigmatize them. On July 11, the Knesset passed a law requiring NGOs that received more than half their funding from foreign governments to state this fact in all their official publications, when they apply to attend a Knesset meeting, and in any communications with the public (on television, radio, billboards, or e-mails). The law was scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2017, with the first report due from NGOs to the Ministry of Justice in July 2018. The law fines NGOs that violate these rules 29,200 shekels ($7,700). The Ministry of Justice believed that 27 NGOs received more than half their funding from foreign governments; of these, 25 were human rights organizations. NGOs criticized the law as stigmatizing left-wing organizations, which more commonly received international funding from foreign governments, while rejecting similar requirements for those funded by private international donors, which was more common among right-wing organizations. The government claimed that the law facilitates transparency and the right of the public to know which governments actively funded NGOs and emphasized that the law does not place any limits on NGO funding, discriminate on the basis of political orientation, limit the activity of NGOs, restrict their freedom of association, or impose any additional financial obligations or sanctions.

Following an October speech by B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad at the UN Security Council, calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked accused him of “cooperating with our enemies in the political terror waged against us in the United Nations,” and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin called for El-Ad to be imprisoned on the basis of “treason and providing aid to the enemy.”

On October 27, the Knesset’s Finance Committee approved renewal of Amnesty International Israel’s tax reduction on donations for only one year, whereas most other NGOs were approved for three years. The Knesset press release stated that during the year, “the Tax Authority will reexamine the organization to determine whether it meets the legal criteria for receiving such a tax break and whether or not it operates in a manner that jeopardizes the country’s security.”

The Ministry of Interior continued to deny foreign nationals affiliated with certain pro-Palestinian NGOs and solidarity organizations entry into the country. Authorities required some foreign nationals to sign declarations stating their understanding that “all relevant legal actions” would be taken against them, “including deportation and denial of entry into Israel for a period of up to 10 years,” if they traveled through the country to Palestinian Authority-controlled areas without appropriate authorization. The government stated it took this action on an individual basis, not according to the activities or platform of the NGOs with which these persons were affiliated.

The staff of NGOs, including B’Tselem, Israel Religious Action Center, and Breaking the Silence, received death threats, which spiked during periods government officials spoke out against their activities.

According to the Ministry of Defense, in 2015 the government increased enforcement of fines on Israeli arms exporters who broke the law, including a ban on exports to countries where genocide is occurring. Fines in 2015 totaled 2.8 million shekels (741,000), an increase of 40 percent from 2014.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally cooperated with the United Nations and other international bodies. The government continued its participation in the UN Human Rights Council, including the Universal Periodic Review process, although it announced it intended to suspend all coordination with UNESCO in October following adoption of a resolution that omitted mention of the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Moreover, the government prevented the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on the situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 from gaining access to the West Bank.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state comptroller also served as ombudsman for human rights problems. The ombudsman investigated complaints against statutory bodies that are subject to audit by the state comptroller, including government ministries, local authorities, government enterprises and institutions, government corporations, and their employees. The ombudsman is entitled to use any relevant means of inquiry and has the authority to order any person or body to assist in the inquiry.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law protects the right of workers to form and join independent unions, strike, earn the minimum wage and overtime, and bargain collectively. Members of police and armed forces are not permitted to form or join unions. After a union declares a labor dispute, there is a 15-day “cooling period” in which the Histadrut, Israel’s organization of trade unions, negotiates with the employer to resolve the dispute. On the 16th day, employees are permitted to strike. Workers essential to state security are not permitted to strike, such as members of the military, police, prison service, Mossad, and ISA. While the law allows the government to declare a state of emergency to block a strike that it deemed could threaten the economy or trade with foreign states, according to the Histadrut, this law has never been applied. For example, strikes during the year by both customs workers at the border crossing with Jordan and El Al airline pilots had negative effects on the economy, but the government did not declare states of emergency in those cases.

The law specifically prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court has discretionary authority to order the reinstatement of a worker fired for union activity. The government respected these rights, and there are penalties if an employer is found guilty of firing a worker for union activity. The Histadrut raised concerns, however, that the deterrence was not always effective, primarily because the appeal process is lengthy and the fines imposed on employers are insufficiently low.

Court rulings and union regulations forbid simultaneous membership in more than one trade union. A minimum of one third of the employees in a given workplace is needed to form a union. Members of the Histadrut who pay affiliation fees may be elected to the union’s leadership bodies regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender.

Authorities generally respected workers’ rights to free association and collective bargaining for citizens, although foreign workers often faced difficulties exercising these rights. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. For the most part, the Basic Laws do not differentiate between public-sector and private-sector workers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

While the law prohibits forced or compulsory labor and criminalizes labor exploitation, the government did not effectively enforce laws concerning minimum employment conditions for foreign workers. Labor laws enacted in 2012 increased penalties for forced labor to 35,000 shekels ($9,300) and helped investigation procedures.

According to government statistics, as of September 30, there were approximately 81,000 legal foreign workers and 16,736 illegal foreign workers in the country. Some workers, particularly foreign workers, experienced conditions of forced labor, including the unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on freedom of movement, limited ability to change or otherwise choose employers, nonpayment of wages, exceedingly long working hours, threats, sexual assault, and physical intimidation. Foreign agricultural workers, construction workers, and nursing care workers–particularly women–were among the most vulnerable to conditions of forced labor, including in particular nonpayment or withholding of wages.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace and prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Children age 14 and older may be employed during official school holidays in light work that does not harm their health. Children 15 years old and older who have completed education through grade nine may be employed as apprentices. Regulations restrict working hours for youths between the ages of 16 and 18 in all sectors.

The government generally enforced these laws and conducted year-round inspections to identify cases of underage employment, with special emphasis on summer and school vacation periods. During 2015 authorities imposed a number of sanctions against employers for child labor infractions: authorities issued 430 administrative warnings and levied 14 administrative fines, amounting to 377,870 shekels ($100,000). Additionally, authorities filed four criminal indictments and imposed 28 criminal fines amounting to 542,500 shekels ($144,000) on some of these employers. Employers employed youth mainly in the food-catering sector and the entertainment and hospitality sectors.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Equal Employment Opportunities Law prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees, contractors, or persons seeking employment on grounds of gender, sexual orientation, personal status, age, race, religion, nationality, country of origin, opinion, political affiliation, or medical suitability for military service. The Equal Pay Law provides for equal pay for equal work of male and female employees. The Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities (see section 6). The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of language, citizenship, HIV/AIDS status, or other communicable diseases. Regulations also prohibit discrimination with regard to working conditions, promotion, professional training, dismissal or severance payments, and retirement benefits or payments.

The law charges the Commission for Equal Employment Opportunities with the implementation and civil enforcement of the Equal Employment Opportunities Law. The 26-member commission includes one member each from organizations that promote employment rights for Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, Druze, Circassians, Haredim, immigrants, elderly persons, women, and army veterans. Additionally, the commission must have adequate representation of citizens of Ethiopian descent and persons with disabilities. The law enables penalties of up to 120,000 shekels ($31,700) without the need to prove damages. The government provided no details regarding violations of the law or enforcement activities (see sections 7.b. and 7.e. for treatment of migrant workers).

On April 4, the Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court, relying on a “friend of the court” legal brief submitted by the Israeli Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, found that an employer fired Arab citizen of Israel Ehab Nofel from his job at Albar Car Fleet because he was Arab. The court awarded Nofel 80,000 shekels ($21,000) compensation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage is set annually on April 1 to equal 47.5 percent of the average income. The national minimum wage increased to 25.94 shekels ($6.86) per hour and was slightly less for youths under age 18, who earned between 70 and 83 percent of the minimum wage. In 2015 authorities issued 25 administrative warnings and imposed 309 financial penalties for violations related to minimum wage, totaling 12,498,810 shekels ($3.3 million). The law allows a maximum 43-hour workweek at regular pay and provides for paid annual holidays. Premium pay for overtime is set at 125 percent for the first two hours and 150 percent for any hour thereafter up to a limit of 15 hours of overtime per week. In 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that labor law provisions for overtime pay do not apply to migrant workers who work as live-in caregivers for ill or elderly Israelis. The Central Bureau of Statistics reported that the average salary of an Arab man in 2015 was 46 percent lower than that of a Jewish man (up from 40 percent in 2014), and the salary of an Arab woman was 43 percent less than that of a Jewish woman (up from 31 percent in 2014). The poverty income level for 2014 was a monthly income of less than 3,077 shekels ($815) for individuals, 4,923 shekels ($1,300) for couples, and 9,230 shekels ($2,440) for a family of five, respectively.

The Labor Inspection Service, along with union representatives, enforced labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace, although resource constraints limited enforcement capacity. These standards were generally current and appropriate. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and the government protected this right. There was little information about protection and enforcement standards in the informal economy.

According to some NGOs, the country failed to enforce its labor laws fully with respect to minimum working conditions for foreign workers, including asylum seekers, and existing penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Many foreign workers earned significantly less than the minimum wage. There were numerous documented cases of foreign laborers living in harsh conditions and subjected to debt bondage, but authorities prosecuted few employers.

A 2007 Supreme Court ruling extended the protections of Israeli labor law to most Palestinians employed by Israeli businesses in the West Bank. In August, however, the Ministry of Justice instituted a regulation under which noncitizen workers employed by Israeli companies, whether in the West Bank or Israel, must make a monetary deposit to file a labor rights claim against their employer in an Israeli court. Civil society groups like the Jewish Labor Committee and the labor rights NGO Kav LaOved expressed opposition to this obstacle to fair labor practices.

The country had bilateral work agreements with Bulgaria, Moldova, and Romania to regulate recruitment fees of migrant workers in the construction sector, and it had an agreement with Thailand to regulate recruitment fees for migrant workers in the agricultural sector. The entire recruitment process of foreign workers in these industries was coordinated solely through government offices, which resulted in a steep decline in recruitment fees paid by migrant workers in the construction and agricultural sectors. Recruitment fees persisted, however. Kav LaOved reported that, upon arrival at the airport, authorities required Thai workers to pay $450 to the International Organization of Migration and $850 to Israeli manpower agencies. Besides a small pilot program with Nepal in 2015, no bilateral work agreements had been signed in the largest sector of foreign labor, home care, which employs tens of thousands of migrant workers, mostly from the Philippines and Indian subcontinent.

The agreements provide for migrant workers to have information on their labor rights as well as a translated copy of their labor contract before they arrive in the country. As a result of greater awareness of their legal rights and their reduced recruitment debt, more workers were willing to report labor violations to NGOs or to quit their jobs and return home than prior to the agreements. The government created and helped fund a hotline for migrant workers to report violations. In 2014 the hotline received 1,372 complaints from agricultural and construction workers. Government enforcement bodies investigated all of these complaints.

Research by NGOs into the living and working conditions of foreign construction and agriculture workers continued to reveal violations of their rights. In 2014 the government issued 36 administrative warnings and one financial penalty totaling 35,070 shekels ($9,280) against construction-sector employers following complaints by foreign workers of labor violations. Ha’aretz reported in September that from 2011 to 2015, 29,000 construction workers received compensation payments from the National Insurance Institute after being injured on building sites, with the number increasing from year to year, not including injuries unreported or not recognized by the institute. Of the 42 workers who died at construction sites, the government identified 12 as resulting from flaws not ordinarily related to occupational safety and health, such as engineering failures.

Labor violations by employers in the agricultural sector also remained widespread. A 2014 investigation by HRW of 1,010 separate groups of Thai workers in different farming communities found that in all but one, employers housed Thai workers in makeshift and inadequate accommodations, and in all communities employers subjected the workers to illegally low wages and longer work hours than lawfully prescribed. The breadth of violations by employers and the lack of penalties imposed by the government suggested enforcement of labor laws in these industries was far from adequate despite the bilateral agreements. HRW attributed the government’s failure to enforce its own labor laws for Thai migrant workers to a combination of factors: an unnecessary division of regulatory responsibilities; insufficiently resourced enforcement units; failure to complement a reactive complaints mechanism with a proactive regime of random inspections; and failure to impose material sanctions, which the law provides on employers and manpower agents. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce the law effectively.

Some employers in the agricultural sector circumvented the bilateral agreement with Thailand by recruiting students from poor countries to take part in agricultural study programs on student visas and then forcing them to work in the agriculture industry once they arrived in the country. According to Kav LaOved, the number of these student workers doubled from 2012 to approximately 4,500 during the year. Employers required participants to pay high fees to one of six private companies to participate in what they believed were study programs, but authorities did not supervise their working or living conditions since they lacked work permits and were ostensibly in the country for study. A class-action lawsuit filed in July 2015 by Kav LaOved against Agrostudies, a division of agricultural cooperative Granot, which was also active in recruiting Thai workers, alleged that it sidestepped a number of Israeli labor and student laws through this method. Agrostudies denied the accusations, and the case continued as of December 14.

Abuse in the recruitment of home-care workers remained widespread and included excessive recruitment fees and false descriptions of the terms of employment contracts. Live-in arrangements and lack of legal protections and inspections led to many cases of exploitative working conditions for female migrant workers. Local NGOs filed hundreds of complaints on behalf of foreign caregivers, including allegations of underpayment of wages, physical violence, sexual harassment, and unsuitable employment conditions.


READ A SECTION: ISRAEL (ABOVE) | THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES

Kenya

Executive Summary

Kenya is a republic with three branches of government: an executive branch, led by a directly elected president; a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and the National Assembly; and the judiciary. The country continued to transfer significant elements of fiscal and administrative authority from the central government to 47 county governments created in 2013 in accordance with the 2010 constitution. The constitution also established an independent judiciary and a supreme court. In the 2013 general elections, the first under the new constitution, citizens elected a president and deputy president, parliamentarians (including members of the new Senate), and, for the first time, county governors and legislators. International and domestic observers judged the elections generally free and credible, although some civil society groups pointed to irregularities and questioned the results. In a closely contested election, Jubilee Coalition candidate Uhuru Kenyatta won the presidency. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the election results. Since that time, authorities have held several free and credible by-elections.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

The most serious human rights problems were security force abuses, including unlawful killings, forced disappearances, and impunity.

Other human rights problems included: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged pretrial detention; arbitrary infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on press freedom and freedom of assembly; an inefficient judiciary; widespread corruption; violence and discrimination against women; violence against children, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); early and forced marriage; child prostitution; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities and albinism; discrimination based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, and HIV/AIDS status; violence against persons with HIV/AIDS; mob violence; lack of enforcement of workers’ rights; and forced and bonded labor, including of children.

The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), established to provide civilian oversight over the work of police, investigated numerous cases of misconduct. Impunity at all levels of government continued to be a serious problem, despite public statements by the president and deputy president and police and judicial reforms. The government took only limited and uneven steps to address cases of alleged unlawful killings by security force members, although IPOA continued to increase its capacity and referred cases of police misconduct to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) for prosecution. Impunity in cases of alleged corruption was also common, although President Kenyatta continued his anticorruption campaign launched in March 2015, and the inspector general of police continued his strong public stance against corruption among police officers. In November 2015 the president reshuffled his cabinet in response to corruption allegations against several cabinet secretaries.

Al-Shabaab terrorists conducted deadly attacks and guerilla-style raids on isolated communities along the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. Human rights groups alleged that security forces committed abuses while conducting counterterror operations.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government sometimes restricted these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution and National Cohesion and Integration Act prohibit hate speech and incitement to violence. Following inflammatory public comments in June, eight politicians–from both the ruling and opposition parties–were detained for several days. Four were charged with incitement to violence under Section 96 of the penal code: Member of Parliament (MP) Florence Mutua, MP Moses Kuria, MP Ferdinard Waititu, and Senator Johnson Muthama. Kimani Ngunjiri was charged with ethnic contempt under Section 62 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act. Three were charged with hate speech under Section 13 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act: MP Aisha Juma, Junet Nuh, and Timothy Bosire. The detention of senior politicians attracted considerable national attention to the problem of hate speech. The case against Muthama was dismissed on July 28. The cases against the other politicians continued as of October 25.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government occasionally interpreted laws to restrict press freedom, and officials occasionally accused the international media of publishing stories and engaging in activities that could incite violence. Two 2013 laws–the Media Council Act and the Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Act–greatly increased government oversight of media by creating a complaints tribunal with expansive authority, including the power to revoke journalists’ credentials and levy debilitating fines. Following the January 15 al-Shabaab terrorist attack on the Kenyan-commanded African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forward operating base in el Adde, Somalia, numerous journalists who published comments about the attack were arrested. Most were charged under Kenya Information and Communications Act (KICA) Section 29, a section of law ruled unconstitutional in April–(see Internet Freedom below).

Of the 16 other laws in place that restrict media operations, the Defamation Act, Official Secrets Act, and Preservation of Public Security Act place the most severe restrictions on freedom of the press. On August 31, the president signed into law the Access to Information bill, which media freedom advocates lauded as progress in government transparency (see section 4).

Violence and Harassment: Journalists alleged security forces or supporters of politicians at the national and county levels sometimes harassed and physically intimidated them. The government at times failed to investigate allegations of harassment, threats, and physical attacks on members of the media.

Kenyan journalists held protests in multiple cities on September 8 against police harassment of journalists. For example, three men reportedly shot and killed freelance journalist Dennis Otieno on September 7 in his home in Kitale and allegedly stole his camera and photographs covering a student demonstration over a land dispute. The protesting journalists petitioned parliament, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the inspector general of police to brief them on the status of investigations on attacks against journalists and to assure journalists that the government was taking action. The government’s response was pending as of November 7.

Most news media continued to cover a wide variety of political and social issues, and most newspapers published opinion pieces criticizing the government.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The mainstream media were generally independent, but there were reports by journalists that government officials pressured them to avoid certain topics and stories and intimidated them if officials judged they had already published or broadcast stories too critical of the government. There were also reports journalists avoided covering issues or writing stories they believed their editors would reject due to direct or indirect government pressure. On January 6, Denis Galava, special projects editor at National Media Group, was suspended for a January 2 editorial deemed critical of the government. In March Godfrey Mwampembwa (“Gado”), a revered political cartoonist, had his contract with the Nation terminated, allegedly because of pressure from the government over Gado’s oftentimes politically sensitive cartoons. He was subsequently hired by the Standard, another leading daily newspaper.

Libel/Slander Laws: Government officials and politicians threatened and brought defamation cases against the media. Libel and slander remain criminal offenses, although authorities did not charge any journalists during the year. There were, however, several cases of High Court rulings against media houses on libel charges resulting in large awards for damages. In June the High Court awarded Justice Samuel Mukunya 20 million shillings ($200,000) in a libel suit against the Nation, and in August the High Court awarded Justice Alnasir Visram 26 million shillings ($260,000) in a libel suit against the Standard.

National Security: The government cited national or public security as grounds to suppress views that it considered politically embarrassing.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities, however, monitored websites for violations of hate speech laws.

By law mobile telephone service providers may block mass messages they judge would incite violence. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission tracked bloggers and social media users accused of spreading hate speech.

On April 19, the High Court declared unconstitutional Section 29 (b) of the KICA (Section 29). During the year at least 16 online activists–who were highlighting cases of corruption and abuse of public office–were prosecuted under this provision with charges of “misuse of electronic equipment.” As a result of the High Court ruling on KICA Section 29, on April 29 a lower court dismissed a case against Samburu blogger John Lenkulate, who had posted online that the Samburu County government was misusing public resources.

Following the January 15 al-Shabaab terrorist attack on the Kenyan-commanded AMISOM forward operating base in el Adde, Somalia, the government arrested at least one blogger and one journalist for posting photographs and commentary about the number of Kenyan soldiers killed. Most were charged under KICA Section 29, which was overturned in April. Charges were subsequently dropped.

According to the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK), as of September there were 37 million internet users–84 percent of the population–representing a 10 percent increase from the previous year. The total included 24.8 million mobile data subscriptions. The CAK attributed the increase to the expansion of 3G network coverage by the various mobile operators, as well as to a consistent increase in the usage of social networking sites. Mobile data expanded internet access to many less-developed parts of the country.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. On August 21, the president signed into law the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Cultural Expressions Bill, which promotes traditional cultural knowledge and expressions.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, the government sometimes restricted this right. Police routinely denied requests for meetings filed by human rights activists, and authorities dispersed persons attending meetings that had not been prohibited beforehand. Organizers must notify local police in advance of public meetings, which may proceed unless police notify organizers otherwise. By law authorities may prohibit gatherings only if there is another previously scheduled meeting at the same time and venue or if there is a perceived specific security threat.

Police used excessive force at times to disperse demonstrators. In April and May, the Kenya Police Service used excessive force to disperse nationwide demonstrations led by the political opposition coalition against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), resulting in at least 10 deaths and numerous injuries (see section 1.c.). Many human rights and civil society organizations condemned the excessive use of police force against demonstrators. IPOA’s investigation of resulting complaints continued as of early October. A lack of police cooperation frustrated IPOA’s investigation into some of the alleged abuses.

There were complaints during the year that police were available for hire by private interests to dissuade or disperse demonstrators.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right, but there were reports that authorities arbitrarily denied this right in some cases. In at least one case, courts affirmed the right to freedom of association. In April 2015 a High Court panel decided that the national NGO Coordination Board’s inability to register the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission because homosexual sexual acts are illegal violated the constitutional right to freedom of association and ordered the board to register it; the government’s appeal remained pending as of October 25. On May 20, however, the Court of Appeal ruled the judgment of the High Court stands in the interim.

The Societies Act requires that every public association be either registered or exempted from registration by the Registrar of Societies. The NGO Coordination Act requires that NGOs dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, or the promotion of charity or research register with the NGO Coordination Board. In October 2015 the board announced its intent to deregister and freeze the bank accounts of 959 civil society organizations, including NGO Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), for reportedly failing to submit proper accounting and donor funding information. The cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, which oversaw the NGO Coordination Board, suspended the deregistration notice shortly thereafter. Per the KHRC’s legal challenge to the NGO Coordination Board’s actions, a High Court ruled on April 29 that the NGO Coordination Board’s actions were unconstitutional and “riddled with impropriety and procedural deficiencies.” On September 9, the Ministry of Devolution and Planning announced its intention to implement immediately the 2013 Public Benefits Organization (PBO) Act, an important step in providing a transparent legal framework for NGO activities. On October 19, the cabinet secretary of the Ministry of Devolution and Planning dismissed the chief executive officer (CEO) of the NGO Coordination Board and dissolved the three-member board; however, a High Court injunction subsequently reinstated the CEO and restored the board. In late November the government transferred responsibility for the NGO sector to the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, without prior stakeholder consultation. As of year’s end, the PBO Act had not yet been implemented.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights but increasingly enforced restrictions on refugees’ movements. The government generally 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 (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Police abuse of asylum seekers and refugees continued, with most reports coming from Nairobi’s predominantly Somali Eastleigh neighborhood.

Witnesses alleged security forces routinely confiscated or destroyed both expired and valid UN refugee documents and frequently demanded bribes to release persons in detention or in the process of arrest. According to media and NGO reports, police and military personnel mistreated refugees in retaliation for al-Shabaab attacks on security personnel.

The security situation in Dadaab remained precarious, although no new attacks on humanitarian workers occurred. Increased police presence in the camps led to some improvements and cooperation with refugees through community policing and neighborhood watch initiatives. Violence also occasionally flared over Dadaab host community protests about employment and priority contract rights related to the camp.

Gender-based violence remained a problem in both the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps and in Nairobi, particularly for vulnerable populations including women, children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) refugees. Reported incidents included domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, physical assault, psychological abuse, FGM/C, and forced marriage, particularly of young Sudanese, South Sudanese, and Somali girls. Refugee communities sometimes targeted opponents of FGM/C. Health and social workers in Kakuma refugee camp reported that, due to strong rape-awareness programs in the camp, survivors increasingly reported such incidents, resulting in improved access to counseling. In the Dadaab refugee camp, however, the government’s limited effectiveness and UNHCR’s restricted access and limited ability to provide services or protection resulted in higher numbers of cases of gender-based violence and underreporting of crimes and abuse, particularly against women and girls.

While mobile courts continued to serve the camp populations, most crimes went unreported. Refugees generally dealt with criminality in accordance with customary law and traditional practices rather than through the country’s justice system. Other security problems in refugee camps included petty theft, banditry, ethnic violence, and the harassment of Muslim converts to Christianity, according to UNHCR.

In-country Movement: The country hosted a very large refugee population. Prolonged insecurity and conflict in the region forced the country to play a leading role in coping with refugee flows, especially from Somalia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Ethiopia. The government’s appeal of a 2013 High Court ruling that blocked a plan to relocate all urban refugees to camps remained unresolved. The government enforced an encampment policy, with Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps as the designated areas for refugees (see Protection below).

The government granted limited travel permission to refugees to receive specialized medical care outside the camps, to refugees enrolled in public schools, and to refugees in the resettlement pipeline. It made exceptions to the encampment policy for extremely vulnerable groups in need of protection. The government continued to provide in-country movement and exit permits for refugee interviews and departures for third-country resettlement.

From January through July, the Department of Refugee Affairs issued 2,896 temporary movement passes to refugees and asylum seekers. UNHCR reported that approximately 90 percent of the individuals returned to their camps by the time their passes expired. Authorities charged 240 refugees and asylum seekers with being unlawfully present in the country (under the Citizenship and Immigration Act) and residing without authority outside designated areas (under the Refugees Act). Of the 240 refugees and asylum seekers, authorities discharged 133 and returned them to the camps, convicted 98 and ordered them to pay fines or serve three to six months in prison, and continued the cases of nine as of year’s end.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The National Consultative Coordination Committee on IDPs (the committee) was created by the Prevention, Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons and Affected Communities Act of 2012 (IDP Act); however, the committee did not meet and begin to implement the IDP Act until April 2015. According to the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, in 2015 the committee completed the resettlement of more than 10,000 IDPs who remained in camps after the 2007-08 postelection violence.

Violence in Mandera County in 2014 between the communities of Mandera North District and Banisa District, and on the border between Mandera and Wajir Counties, resulted in displacement of an estimated 32,000 households. According to the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, the committee provided Mandera County with financial assistance for 6,890 IDP households that had not been able to return home, and construction of new homes had commenced.

Water scarcity exacerbated communal conflict and left an unknown number of citizens internally displaced. IDPs from all locations generally congregated in informal settlements and camps. Living conditions in such settlements and camps remained poor, with rudimentary housing and little public infrastructure or services. Grievances and violence between IDPs and host communities were generally resource based and occurred when IDPs attempted to graze livestock or gather food and fuel locally. In the north IDP settlements primarily consisted of displaced ethnic Ethiopians and Somalis and were targets of clan and resource-based violence.

The Ministry of Devolution and Planning reported that citizens who had fled a 2015 security operation to flush al-Shabaab from the Boni Forest in Lamu and southern Garissa Counties returned to their homes.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to camp-based refugees. While the government generally coordinated with UNHCR to provide assistance and protection to refugees in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, cooperation was limited in urban areas. Security threats emanating from Somalia strained the government’s ability to provide security to those seeking asylum, especially in Dadaab. The government permitted registration of new refugee arrivals only during specific time periods–most recently between July and August 2015. Since that time, no registration of new arrivals took place, and there were an estimated 4,000 unregistered persons of concern, mostly from Somalia, in need of adjudication. In May the government revoked prima facie status–a group determination of refugee status–for newly arrived asylum seekers from Somalia and did not provide individual refugee status determination to new Somali refugee arrivals.

According to UNHCR, as of October the country hosted more than 500,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers: in Dadaab refugee camp an estimated 282,200, in Kakuma camp approximately 158,200, and in the Nairobi area an estimated 63,800. The unofficial estimate of refugees in urban areas was nearly 100,000. The majority of refugees and asylum seekers were from Somalia (334,728), with others coming from South Sudan (90,247), the DRC (27,485), Ethiopia (26,742), Sudan (9,790), and other countries (13,202). Most refugees arriving in Kakuma were from South Sudan, and the refugee population in Dadaab was primarily of Somali origin. New arrivals also included individuals from Burundi, the DRC, Ethiopia, and Uganda. The Somali refugee influx was lower than in previous years. In 2013 the governments of Kenya and Somalia and UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement, which expired in November; it established a legal framework and process for the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees when conditions permitted such returns. Under the agreement UNHCR began facilitating voluntary returns to Somalia in December 2014 and had supported the return of more than 30,200 Somali refugees as of October 25.

In May the government again announced that it planned to close the Dadaab camps for reasons of security and economic burdens when the tripartite agreement expired in November; however, in mid-November the government announced it would close the camp within six months. Officially, the country encouraged Somali refugees to return voluntarily to Somalia. UNHCR continued to provide both financial and transportation support to refugees voluntarily returning to Somalia. In September, NGO Human Rights Watch released a report that questioned the voluntariness of Somali refugee returns from Kenya and accused officials of violating international law by intimidating refugees into returning to insecure conditions in Somalia. In November, Amnesty International also issued a report alleging the government was forcing refugees to return to Somalia.

In addition to the May announcement of plans to close Dadaab, the government also in May disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs and replaced it with a new Refugee Affairs Secretariat to carry out the department’s previous work.

Negotiations concerning land for a new camp near Kakuma among UNHCR, the government, and host community in Turkana County concluded in 2015. The county governor signed over land to UNHCR for the new Kalobeyei Integrated Refugee Settlement, planned to host 60,000 refugees and benefit thousands of Kenyan nationals from the host community once completed. The new model was designed, in coordination with Turkana County, to increase the economic integration of refugees with the host community and improve access to income-generating activities, education, and health care for both refugees and citizens.

No official national refugee count existed because the government stopped registering refugees in urban areas in 2012 and in Dadaab camp in 2011. In Kakuma there remained a backlog of cases for registration and refugee status determination of new refugees. This backlog was compounded when the government disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs.

Refoulement: On November 2, the government forcibly sent South Sudanese opposition spokesman James Gatdet Dak to South Sudan, despite the risk of torture. In a statement UNHCR expressed its deep concern, noting that Dak had previously been granted refugee status by Kenyan authorities.

There were also multiple reports released by advocacy organizations alleging undue government pressure on refugees in Dadaab camp to repatriate voluntarily to Somalia and that inadequate information was provided to prospective refugees about conditions in areas of return inside Somalia.

STATELESS PERSONS

The constitution and the 2011 Citizen and Immigration Act provide for the protection of stateless persons and for legal avenues for eligible stateless persons to apply for citizenship. In September, UNHCR estimated that 20,000 stateless persons were registered in the country; the actual number, however, was unknown. According to UNHCR stateless persons accounted for 3.5 percent of all registered refugees and asylum seekers in the country. Communities known to UNHCR as stateless included Sudanese Nubians in Nairobi, the Somali Galjeel in the Tana River area, the Mozambican Makonde in Mombasa, and the Pemba in Kwale. There were also a number of stateless persons of mixed Eritrean-Ethiopian heritage. On October 13, President Kenyatta issued a directive that the government should issue national identity cards to all eligible Makonde persons by December and ensure that members of the community are issued title deeds for land they own. The Makonde applicants had not received their cards or title deeds at year’s end.

Although legal safeguards and pathways to citizenship for stateless persons exist, the government lacked a strategy to identify and register them, significantly limiting their ability to acquire legal residence or citizenship. Stateless persons had limited legal protection and encountered travel restrictions, social exclusion, and heightened vulnerability to trafficking, sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation, forced displacement, and other abuses. UNHCR reported that stateless persons faced restrictions on internal movement and limited access to basic services, property ownership, and registration of births, marriages, and deaths. Inadequate documentation sometimes resulted in targeted harassment and extortion by law enforcement officials and exploitation in the informal labor sector.

National registration policies require citizens age 18 and older to register and obtain national identification documents from the National Registration Bureau. Failure to do so is a crime. Groups with historical or ethnic ties to other countries faced higher burdens of proof in the registration process. For example, Nubians, along with ethnic Somalis (such as the Galjeel community) and Muslims on the coast, experienced discriminatory registration policies that led to statelessness, according to UNHCR and domestic legal aid organizations (see section 3).

The deadline for stateless persons to apply to be considered for citizenship expired on August 30. Article 15(2) of the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act of 2011 provides that the cabinet secretary may extend that deadline for three years. It was unclear as of October if there would be an extension.

Many stateless persons did not qualify for protection under the local refugee determination apparatus. Among these were Somali refugees born in Kenyan refugee camps and Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees.

Pursuant to the 2011 finding by the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child that the government should grant citizenship to children of Nubian descent, during the year the government established a vetting committee of Nubian elders to identify children of Nubian descent who are eligible for registration. As of year’s end the committee had not completed this process.

In 2013 then cabinet secretary for land charity Ngilu announced the allocation of 300 acres of public land to a private group representing the Nubian Council of Elders for the settlement of stateless persons. The cabinet secretary, however, left office before the titles were transferred, and there was no progress on this matter. The Nubian Council of Elders sought additional assistance from civil society organizations to obtain the land titles. The council asserted an ancestral claim to approximately 700 acres of land, including the large Kibera informal settlement in Nairobi. UNHCR reported that the National Action Plan to eradicate statelessness in Kenya had been completed but not yet approved by the government.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, although some groups reported experiencing increased government harassment during the year. Officials were sometimes cooperative and responsive to the queries of these groups, but the government generally ignored recommendations by human rights groups if such recommendations were contrary to its policies. There were reports that officials intimidated NGOs and threatened to disrupt their activities. Less-established NGOs, particularly in rural areas, reported harassment and threats by county-level officials as well as security forces. Human rights activists claimed security forces conducted surveillance of their activities, and some reported threats and intimidation.

Government and security officials promptly investigated the June triple homicide case of IJM lawyer and investigator Willie Kimani, IJM client Josphat Mwenda, and their driver Joseph Muiruri and charged four police officers accused in the case. Unless IPOA became involved, however, the police generally failed to pursue investigations of police misconduct. Many other groups requesting official cooperation in the investigation of alleged security force abuses did not receive it. HRW, for example, did not receive responses to its requests for research assistance in March from the heads of the Kenya Defense Forces or the Kenya Police Service (see section 1.a.).

In the aftermath of the al-Shabaab terrorist attack on the Kenyan-commanded AMISOM forward operating base on January 15 in el Adde, Somalia, numerous bloggers and journalists were arrested for posting photographs and commentary about the number of Kenyan soldiers killed. Most were charged under Section 29 of KICA (see section 2.a.).

The KNCHR, the legislatively established independent body with the mandate to promote and protect human rights in the country, reported that security agencies continued to deny the KNCHR full access to case-specific information and facilities to conduct its investigations of human rights abuses as the constitution permits.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally ignored recommendations of the United Nations or international human rights groups if they were contrary to government policies.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The KNCHR is an independent institution created by the 2010 constitution and established through the KNCHR Act of 2011. Its mandate is to promote and protect human rights in the country. Funding for the KNCHR to carry out investigations and issue reports increased modestly during the year.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, including those in export processing zones (EPZs), to form and join unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. Any seven or more workers in an enterprise have the right to form a union by registering with the trade union registrar. If the registrar denies registration, a union may appeal to the courts. Members of the armed forces, prisons service, and police are exempted from the provisions of the Labor Relations Act (2007) and are not allowed to form or join trade unions. The law permits the government to deny workers the right to strike under certain conditions. For example, the government prohibits members of the military, police, prison guards, and the National Youth Service from striking. Civil servants are permitted to strike following a seven-day notice period. The Ministry of Labor and East African Community Affairs typically referred disputes to mediation, fact finding, or binding arbitration at the Employment and Labor Relations Court, a body of up to 12 judges which has exclusive jurisdiction to handle employment and labor matters and which operates in urban areas, including Nairobi, Mombasa, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kisumu, and Kericho. During mediation it is illegal for the parties involved to strike. Additionally, a Ministry of Labor and East African Community Affairs referral of a dispute to the conciliation process nullifies the right to strike.

By law authorities do not allow strikes by workers who provide essential services, defined as “a service the interruption of which would probably endanger the life of a person or health of the population.” Any trade dispute in a service listed as essential or declared an essential service may be adjudicated by the Employment and Labor Relations Court.

The law permits workers in collective bargaining disputes to strike if they have exhausted formal conciliation procedures and have given seven days’ notice to both the government and the employer. Conciliation is not compulsory in individual employment matters. Security forces may not bargain collectively but have an internal board that reviews salaries. Informal workers may establish associations, or even unions, to negotiate wages and conditions matching the government’s minimum wage guidelines as well as to advocate for better working conditions and representation in the Employment and Labor Relations Court. The bill of rights in the constitution allows trade unions to undertake their activities without government interference, and the government generally respected this right.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The Employment and Labor Relations Court can order reinstatement and damages in the form of back pay for employees wrongfully dismissed for union activities. Labor laws apply to all groups of workers.

Due to human and material resource constraints, the government did not always effectively enforce labor laws. The government encouraged a strengthened labor dispute system, but it did not enforce the decisions of the Employment and Labor Relations Court consistently. Many employers did not comply with reinstatement orders, and some workers accepted payment in lieu of reinstatement. In several cases employers successfully appealed the Employment and Labor Relations Court’s decisions to the High Court. The enforcement mechanisms of the Employment and Labor Relations Court remained weak, and its case backlog raised concerns regarding the efficacy of the court.

The Employment and Labor Relations Court received many cases arising from the implementation of new labor laws. The parties filed the majority of cases directly without referral to the Ministry of Labor and East African Community Affairs for conciliation. There were 3,651 cases filed with the Industrial Court during 2015, up from 3,540 in 2014. In 2015 the court announced a total of 1,086 awards and rulings. The court also received 231 appeal cases, and 241 cases transferred from other courts. The court received 263 Collective Bargaining Agreements with 128 registered within 2015. The government established the court to provide for quick resolution of labor disputes, but backlog cases dated to 2007.

The chief justice designated all county courts presided over by senior resident magistrates and higher-ranking judges as special courts to hear employment and labor cases. Providing adequate facilities outside of Nairobi was challenging, but observers cited the ability of workers to submit labor-related cases throughout the country as a positive step.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although enforcement was inconsistent. The government expressed its support for union rights mandated in the constitution.

Migrant workers often lacked formal organization and consequently missed the benefits of collective bargaining. Similarly, domestic workers and others who operated in private settings were vulnerable to exclusion from legal protections. The Ministry of Labor and East African Community Affairs, however, claimed all employees are covered by the existing labor laws, and the ministry continued to handle cases of domestic workers, especially when their terms and conditions of work are violated.

NGOs and trade unionists reported increased replacement of permanent positions by casual or contract labor, especially in the EPZs, the Port of Mombasa, and in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. In some cases cited, employers staffed permanent jobs with rotating contract workers. This practice occurred at the management level as well, where employers hired individuals as management trainees and kept them in these positions for the maximum permitted period of three years. Instead of converting such trainees to permanent staff, employers replaced them with new trainees at the end of the three years. During the year the ministry reviewed misuse of term contract employment.

The Supreme Court ruled in August 2015 that government teachers should get a pay raise of between 50 to 60 percent, in line with the demands made by the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET). When the government refused to pay, arguing it did not have the funds, 280,000 teachers went on strike in September 2015. After the Employment and Labor Relations Court directed the teachers’ unions to suspend their strike, the issue was finally resolved in June 2016, when President Kenyatta committed to implement a new pay deal for teachers, and the teachers service commission signed a collective bargaining agreement to form the basis for talks on new pay to be held later in the year. In October, KNUT and KUPPET signed a collective bargaining agreement that addressed salaries and allowances to be paid for those working outside of their normal duty station. The existing agreement states that the highest-paid teacher will continue to earn a basic salary of 109,089 shillings ($1,090), while the lowest-paid will receive 16,692 shillings ($167) a month. This collective bargaining agreement was meant to resolve perennial disputes over allowances and basic pay, which have disrupted the educational system due to teachers’ strikes in recent years. KNUT announced that there would be no strikes at least for the next four years following the signing of this pay agreement with the TSC.

The New National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) had more than six million beneficiaries, covering 288,000 elderly, but 2015 rate increases significantly raised worker contributions, which the government claimed was necessary to meet its goal of providing universal health care. Those earning less than 6,000 shillings a month ($60) will make monthly contributions of 150 shillings ($1.50) into the NHIF, while those earning more than 100,000 shillings ($10,000) a month will pay 1,700 shillings ($17) a month for NHIF coverage. Employers continued to raise concerns about the NHIF’s failure to provide adequate information regarding health institutions in the NHIF plan and services provided.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The country made moderate advances during the year to prevent or eliminate forced labor. The government continued to implement the National Safety Net Program for Results, a 2013-18 project seeking to establish an effective national safety net program for poor and vulnerable households, and the Decent Work Country Program, a 2013-15 project designed to advance economic opportunities.

The Chief’s Authority Act provides that able-bodied men between ages 18 and 50 may be required to perform any work or service in connection with the conservation of natural resources for up to 60 days in any year. Additionally, certain provisions, including the penal code and the Public Order Act, impose compulsory prison labor. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate to prevent forced labor, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties ranged from 50,000 to 200,000 shillings ($500 to $2,000) or three to 12 months’ imprisonment. Violations included debt bondage, trafficking of workers, and even family members compelled to work as domestic servants for family, friends of the family, or strangers.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The constitution gives children legal protection from hazardous or exploitative labor. The law explicitly prohibits forced labor, trafficking, and other practices similar to slavery; child soldiering; prostitution; the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; and the use by an adult for illegal activities (such as drug trafficking) of any child up to age 18. The law applies equally to girls and boys.

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 and the minimum age for hazardous work at 18. It prohibits employment of a child (defined as a person under age 18) in any activity that constitutes a worst form of child labor or that would prevent children younger than age 16 from attending school. The law allows children ages 13 to 16 to engage in industrial undertakings when participating in apprenticeships. Industrial undertakings are defined under law to include work in mines, quarries, factories, construction, demolition, and transportation, which the list for children includes as hazardous work.

The law provides for penalties for any person who employs, engages, or uses a child in an industrial undertaking in violation of the law. An individual convicted of violating the law is liable to a fine not exceeding 200,000 shillings ($2,000), imprisonment for not more than one year, or both. The fines were generally enough to deter violations. Employment of children in the formal industrial wage sector in violation of the Employment Act was rare. Child labor in the informal sector was difficult to monitor and control.

The Ministry of Labor and East African Community Affairs has responsibility for enforcing child labor laws, but implementation remained problematic due to resource constraints. Alternatives such as the International Labor Organization (ILO)-initiated Community Child Labor monitoring program helped provide additional resources to combat child labor. These monitoring communities complemented law enforcement efforts by identifying children who were working illegally, removing them from hazardous work conditions, and referring them to the appropriate service providers. The ministry, in collaboration with the ILO, the international donor community, and NGOs, completed a list of specific jobs considered hazardous that would constitute the worst forms of child labor and published the list in the Kenya Gazette in 2014.

The government worked closely with the Central Organization of Trade Unions, the Federation of Kenyan Employers, and the ILO to eliminate child labor. The government continued to use its practical guide to labor inspection, a policy document developed previously at the labor ministry. The National Steering Committee on the Elimination of Child Labor, which included the attorney general, eight ministries, representatives of child welfare organizations, other NGOs, unions, and employers, continued to operate and meet quarterly. An interministerial coordination committee on child labor is responsible for setting general policy. Additionally, a network of organizations consisting of government ministry departments, social partners, and NGOs working on child labor met regularly under the supervision of the labor ministry. This collaboration facilitated greater coordination of efforts to combat child labor and placed children in schools, vocational training institutions, and apprenticeships. Partners also provided support to schools for income-generating activities to help keep children from poor families in school.

Child labor awareness was also included in the primary school curriculum and in different government policies, such as the Alternative Education Policy, again with ILO support. The ILO also promoted child participation through its program, Support Children’s Rights through Education Arts and Media. In this program experts trained teachers to identify and reduce child labor, with children’s rights clubs formed in schools implementing the project. The success of the program depended on children being actively involved in identifying and reporting cases of child labor within their communities.

According to the 2009 National Census, almost three million children between ages five and 14 (33 percent of all children in that age group) engaged in child labor. Many children worked on family plots or in family units on tea, coffee, sugar, sisal, tobacco, and rice plantations, as well as in the production of miraa (khat). Children worked in mining, including in abandoned gold mines and small quarries, and to harvest sand. Children also worked in the fishing industry. In urban areas businesses employed children in hawking, scavenging, carrying loads, fetching and selling water, and selling food. Children often worked long hours as domestic servants in private homes for little or no pay, and there were reports of physical and sexual abuse of child domestic servants. Parents sometimes initiated forced or compulsory labor by children, such as agricultural labor, prostitution, and domestic servitude.

Most of the trafficking of children within the country appeared related to domestic labor, with migrant children trafficked from rural to urban areas.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on grounds of race, color, sex, age, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin, disability, language, pregnancy, mental status, or HIV status. The law did not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred, although the law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring. The average monthly income of women was approximately two-thirds that of men. Women had difficulty working in nontraditional fields, had slower promotions, and were more likely to be dismissed. According to a World Bank report, both men and women experienced sexual harassment in job recruitment, but women more commonly reported it. Women who tried to establish their own informal businesses were subjected to discrimination and harassment. One study of women street vendors in Nairobi found harassment was the main mode of interaction between street vendors and authorities. The study noted that demands for bribes by police amounting to 3 to 8 percent of a vendor’s income as well as sexual abuse were common.

Devolution of fiscal and administrative responsibility to county governments led to an increase in interethnic conflict in some areas. In an audit of hiring practices released in 2014, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission accused many county governors of appointing and employing disproportionate numbers of the dominant tribe in their county. According to the commission, 15 of the 47 counties failed to include a single person from a minority tribe either on the county’s public service board or as county executive committee members. For example, all 10 of West Pokot’s committee members were Pokots. Some counties, notably Nairobi City County, were notable for apportioning roles inclusively. Observers also noted patterns of preferential hiring during police recruitment exercises (see section 1.d.).

In both private business and in the public sector, members of nearly all ethnic groups commonly discriminated in favor of other members of the same group. Some neighborhoods, particularly in informal settlement areas of the capital, tended to ethnic segregation, although interethnic marriage was common in other urban areas.

Due to societal discrimination, there were limited employment opportunities for persons with albinism.

Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred. Migrant workers enjoy the same legal protections with regard to wages and working conditions as citizens.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Regulation of wages is part of the Labor Institutions Act, and the government established basic minimum wages by occupation and location, setting minimum standards for monthly, daily, and hourly work in each category. The minimum wage for a general laborer was 10,954 shillings ($110) per month. The average minimum wage for skilled workers was 17,404 shillings ($170) per month. The government increased the lowest agricultural minimum wage for unskilled employees to 6,780 shillings ($68) per month, excluding housing allowance. Agricultural workers were underpaid compared with other sectors. The ministry established a wages order for the horticulture industry to address problems affecting the floriculture sector. In May there was a new increase for the minimum wage of 12 percent for general/artisan employees in the formal and informal sectors.

The ministry implemented various social protection programs under the Social Safety Net Program, such as a cash transfer for orphaned and vulnerable children, a cash transfer program for the elderly, and a cash transfer program for persons with disabilities. These programs cost the government 21 trillion shillings ($210 million) and reached 832,408 households.

The New National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) had more than six million beneficiaries, covering 288,000 elderly, but 2015 rate increases significantly raised worker contributions, which the government claimed was necessary to meets its goal of providing universal health care. Those earning less than 6,000 shillings ($60) a month paid 150 shillings ($1.50) a month, with earners of more than 100,000 shillings ($10,000) a month paying 1,700 shillings ($17) a month, for coverage. Employers continued to raise concerns about the NHIF’s failure to provide adequate information regarding health institutions in the NHIF plan and services provided.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work.

The constitution establishes the Salaries and Remuneration Commission to set and review regularly the remuneration and benefits of all state officers and to advise the national and county governments on the remuneration and benefits of all other public officers. The law also tasks the commission with assuring that the total public compensation bill is fiscally sustainable, promotes retention and recruitment, recognizes productivity and performance, and is transparent and fair.

The law limits the normal workweek to 52 hours (60 hours for night workers); some categories of workers had lower limits. It specifically excludes agricultural workers from such limitations. It entitles an employee in the nonagricultural sector to one rest day per week and 21 days of combined annual and sick leave. The law also requires that total hours worked (regular time plus overtime) in any two-week period not exceed 120 hours (144 hours for night workers) and provides premium pay for overtime.

Authorities reported workweek and overtime violations. Workers in some enterprises, particularly in the EPZs and those in road construction, claimed employers forced them to work extra hours without overtime pay to meet production targets. Hotel industry workers were usually paid the minimum statutory wage, but employees worked long hours without compensation. Additionally, employers often did not provide nighttime transport, leaving workers vulnerable to assault, robbery, and sexual harassment.

The law details environmental, health, and safety standards. Fines generally were insufficient to deter unsafe practices.

The labor ministry’s Directorate of Occupational Health and Safety Services has the authority to inspect factories and work sites, except in the EPZs, which the law excludes from the Factory Act’s provisions. The directorate’s health and safety inspectors can issue notices against employers for practices or activities that involve a risk of serious personal injury. Employers may appeal such notices to the Factories Appeals Court, a body of four members, one of whom must be a High Court judge. The law stipulates that factories employing 20 or more persons have an internal health and safety committee with representation from workers.

The law intends required labor inspections to prevent labor disputes, accidents, and conflicts and to protect workers from occupational hazards and disease by ensuring compliance with labor laws. Low salaries and the lack of vehicles, fuel, and other resources made it very difficult for labor inspectors to do their work effectively and left them vulnerable to bribes and other forms of corruption. The labor inspection form includes a provision for reporting on persons with disabilities. This form and the inspection process, however, need to be enhanced to serve persons with different disabilities. The Employment Act of 2007 prohibits discrimination against an employee on the basis of disability.

The Ministry of Labor and East African Community Affairs employed 82 labor officers in the Labor Inspectorate. The proposed optimal staff establishment for the inspectorate staff, however, was 467 officers. Insufficient funds caused many labor inspection positions to remain vacant, which resulted in several county labor offices having only one, or no, labor officer.

The government did not provide social protections for workers employed in the informal sector, but informal workers organized into associations, cooperatives, and, in some cases, unions.

Workers, including foreigners and immigrants, have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The Ministry of Labor and East African Community Affairs did not effectively enforce these regulations, and workers were reluctant to remove themselves from working conditions that endangered their health or safety due to the risk of losing their jobs.

Inspectors routinely found violations of health and safety conditions in the EPZs and other sectors, such as small horticultural producers. According to the government, many of the largest factories had health and safety committees. The Kenya Federation of Employers provided training and auditing of workplaces for health and safety practices.

According to a June 2015 report, the UN Economic Commission for Africa estimated the country’s informal-sector employment at 77.9 percent of the total workforce, increasing to more than 80 percent among women. According to the 2015 Kenya Economic Survey, the informal sector employed 11.8 million persons in 2014, compared with 2.4 million in the formal sector.

On August 22, the KNCHR launched investigations into claims of abuse of mineworkers and communities in three subcounties in Taita Taveta. Among the issues raised by the aggrieved parties were allegations of exploitation of the community by mining companies, irregular and unlawful acquisition of community land by private investors, threats of forced evictions and demolition of houses, widespread poor labor practices, and environmental concerns. No report on the investigations had been published as of October 25.

Mexico

Executive Summary

Note: This report was updated 4/07/17; see Appendix F: Errata for more information.

Mexico, which has 32 states, is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. In 2012 President Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won election to a single six-year term in elections observers considered free and fair. Citizens elected members of the Senate in 2012 and members of the Chamber of Deputies in 2015. Observers considered the June gubernatorial elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights-related problems included involvement by police and military in serious abuses, such as unlawful killings, torture, and disappearances. Impunity and corruption in the law enforcement and justice system remained serious problems. Organized criminal groups killed, kidnapped, extorted, and intimidated citizens, migrants, journalists, and human rights defenders.

The following additional problems persisted: poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; intimidation and violence against human rights defenders and journalists; violence against migrants; violence against women; domestic violence; abuse of persons with disabilities; threats and violence against some members of the indigenous population; threats against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; trafficking in persons; and child labor, including forced labor by children.

Impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem throughout the country with extremely low rates of prosecution for all forms of crimes.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. Most newspapers, television, and radio stations had private ownership. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained the main source of advertising revenue. Media monopolies, especially on a local level, constrained freedom of expression.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subject to physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation due to their reporting. Perpetrators of violence against journalists continued to act with impunity with few reports of successful investigation, arrest, or prosecution of suspects. Observers believed organized crime to be behind some of these cases, but NGOs asserted there were significant instances when local government authorities participated in or condoned these acts. The international NGO Article 19 analyzed complaints of violence or harassment registered with their organization and reported that 47 percent of cases of aggression against journalists in the prior seven years originated from public officials.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico, 14 journalists were killed between January and mid-December. During the first half of the year, Article 19 registered 218 cases of aggression against journalists, including assaults, intimidation, arbitrary detention, and threats; in 2015 there were 397 such cases.

On February 8, armed assailants kidnapped journalist Anabel Flores in her home in Veracruz. Authorities found her body the following day in neighboring Puebla State. NGOs asserted that moving her across state lines was meant to obstruct investigation of her death.

On June 20, unknown assailants shot and killed Elidio Ramos Zarate, a reporter for local Oaxaca newspaper El Sur, as he covered a demonstration allegedly led by teachers that included blockades. The victim and other reporters had received threats from masked individuals at the blockades. Article 19 had previously noted the vulnerability of reporters covering demonstrations, who were subject to attacks from both police and protesters. Two other journalists were killed in the state of Oaxaca.

On July 20, journalist Pedro Tamayo was killed outside his home in Veracruz–the third journalist killed in Veracruz between January and July. Tamayo had received threats previously; he had fled the state and was placed under police protection upon his return.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported state and local governments in some parts of the country worked to censor the media and threaten journalists. Journalists reported altering their coverage in response to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of the media and media facilities, false charges for publishing undesirable news, and threats or retributions against family, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship because of threats from criminal groups and of government officials seeking to influence or pressure the press, especially in the states of Tamaulipas and Sinaloa.

Libel/Slander Laws: Federal laws against defamation and slander were removed but remain on the books at the local level in some states. In April a Mexico City judge ruled against Sanjuana Martinez, a reporter who wrote an expose of politicians who allegedly patronized prostitutes. A politician named in the article sued Martinez for libel. Martinez was not notified of the lawsuit as required by law until a court ruled against her in April and ordered her to pay restitution.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave and increasing influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted regarding the use of physical and digital violence by organized criminal groups in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence as that faced by traditional journalists.

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: Since its creation in late 2012 through September, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (“the mechanism”) had accepted 367 cases–208 of them from journalists–out of 443 requests. NGOs noted that in the same period there were more than 1,800 attacks against journalists. SEGOB stated that since the establishment of the mechanism, there had not been a murder or forced disappearance of anyone protected under the mechanism. Separately, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression, part of the PGR, reported it continued training public servants and journalists on the importance of freedom of expression. During the year it did not prosecute any crimes committed against journalists.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. According to Freedom House, however, the government increased requests to social media companies to remove content. Freedom House’s 2015 Freedom of the Net Report categorized the country’s internet as partly free.

Some civil society organizations alleged that various state and federal agencies sought to monitor private online communications. NGOs alleged that provisions in secondary laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing security agents to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. Furthermore, the law does not fully define the “appropriate authority” to carry out such actions.

An estimated 45 percent of citizens–approximately 58 million persons–used the internet as of July.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. There were some reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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, or other persons of concern.

The government and press reports noted a marked increase in refugee and asylum applications over the previous year. A reported 2,100 migrants requested refugee status in the first four months of the year, compared with a total of 3,424 in 2015.

At the Iztapalapa detention center near Mexico City and other detention centers, including in Chiapas, men were kept separate from women and children, and there were special living quarters for LGBTI individuals. Migrants had access to medical, psychological, and dental services, and the Iztapalapa center had agreements with local hospitals for any urgent cases free of charge. Those from countries with consular representation also had access to consular services. The National Refugee Commission (COMAR) and CNDH representatives visited daily, and other established civil society groups were able to visit the detention facilities on specific days and hours. The INM and Children and Family Services’ officials took trafficking and other victims to designated shelters. Human rights pamphlets were available in many different languages.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The press and NGOs reported victimization of migrants by criminal groups and, to a lesser extent, by police and immigration officers and customs officials. Government and civil society sources reported Central American gang presence spread farther into the country and threatened migrants who had fled the same gangs in their home countries. On March 3, the Supreme Court ordered the Attorney General’s Office to allow the families access to the files of the 2010 killings of 72 migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas. Since August 2014 the INM had turned over to state and federal prosecution authorities approximately 1,110 individuals suspected of having committed a crime against migrants.

In March the government began operating the Crimes Investigation Unit for Migrants and the Mexican Foreign Support Mechanism of Search and Investigation. The International Organization for Migration collaborated with municipal governments to establish offices along the border with Guatemala to track and assist migrants.

In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by kidnappings and homicides.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that as of December 2015, there were at least 287,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), which resulted primarily from several displacement events that forced persons to flee their homes and communities in response to criminal, political, and religious violence as well as natural disasters. In May the CNDH released a report stating that 35,433 IDPs were displaced due to drug trafficking violence, religious conflicts, and land disputes. Tamaulipas reportedly had the highest number of IDPs at approximately 20,000, followed by Guerrero with 2,165, and Chihuahua with 2,008. NGO estimates of IDP numbers were higher: hundreds of thousands of citizens, many fleeing areas of armed conflict among organized criminal groups, or between the government and organized criminal groups, became internally displaced.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status and complementary protection, and the government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protection to refugees. During the year COMAR increased refugee status recognition by 60 percent. In the summer the INM entered into an agreement with UNHCR to relinquish custody to UNHCR those migrants who, while in INM custody, claimed a need for asylum. As of August 31 the INM had turned over approximately 200 persons to UNHCR.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were mostly cooperative and responsive to their views, and the president or cabinet officials met with human rights organizations such as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the IACHR, and the CNDH. Some NGOs alleged that individuals who organized campaigns to discredit human rights defenders sometimes acted with tacit support from officials in government.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is a semiautonomous federal agency created by the government and funded by the legislature to monitor and act on human rights violations and abuses. It may call on government authorities to impose administrative sanctions or pursue criminal charges against officials, but it is not authorized to impose penalties or legal sanctions. Whenever the relevant authority accepts a CNDH recommendation, the CNDH is required to follow up with the authority to verify that it is carrying out the recommendation. The CNDH sends a request to the authority asking for evidence of its compliance and includes this follow-up information in its annual report. When authorities fail to accept a recommendation, the CNDH makes that failure known publicly and may exercise its power to call before the Senate government authorities who refuse to accept or enforce its recommendations.

All of the country’s 32 states have their own human rights commission. The legislatures fund state-level commissions and instruct them to be autonomous. The state commissions did not have the same reporting requirements, making nationwide statistics difficult to compile and compare. The CNDH can take cases from state-level commissions if it receives a complaint the commission has not adequately investigated.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, to bargain collectively, and to strike in both the public and private sectors; however, conflicting law, regulations, and practice restricted these rights.

The law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive official recognition from the government, unions must file for registration with the appropriate conciliation and arbitration board (CAB) or the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS). For the union to be able to perform its legally determined functions, its leadership must also register with the appropriate CAB or STPS. CABs operated under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives. Outside observers raised concerns that the boards did not adequately provide for inclusive worker representation and often perpetuated a bias against independent unions, in part due to intrinsic conflicts of interest within the structure of the boards exacerbated by the prevalence of representatives from “protection” (unrepresentative, corporatist) unions.

By law a union may call for a strike or bargain collectively in accordance with its own bylaws. Before a strike may be considered legal, however, a union must file a “notice to strike” with the appropriate CAB, which may find that the strike is “nonexistent,” or in other words, cannot proceed legally. The law prohibits employers from intervening in union affairs or interfering with union activities, including through implicit or explicit reprisals against workers. The law allows for reinstatement of workers if the CAB finds the employer fired the worker unfairly and the worker requests reinstatement; however, the law also provides for broad exemptions for employers from such reinstatement, including employees of confidence or workers who have been in the job for less than a year.

Although the law authorizes the coexistence of several unions in one worksite, it limits collective bargaining to the union that has “ownership” of a collective bargaining agreement. When there is only one union present, it automatically has the exclusive right to bargain with the employer. Once a collective bargaining agreement is in place at a company, another union seeking to bargain with the employer must compete for bargaining rights through a “recuento” (bargaining-rights election) administered by the CAB. The union with the largest number of votes goes on to “win” the collective bargaining rights. It is not mandatory for a union to consult with workers or have worker support to sign a collective bargaining agreement with an employer. The law establishes that internal union leadership votes may be held via secret ballot, either directly or indirectly.

The government, including the CABs, did not consistently protect worker rights. The government’s common failure to enforce labor and other laws left workers with little recourse regarding violations of freedom of association, poor working conditions, and other labor problems. The CABs’ frequent failure to impartially and transparently administer and oversee procedures related to union activity, such as union elections and strikes, undermined worker efforts to exercise freely their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. A report released in April 2015–commissioned by the President’s Office and produced by the CIDE economic research center–found no guarantees of impartial and efficient labor justice from the boards and recommended the eventual incorporation of the CABs into the judicial branch.

In November the Congress passed constitutional reforms introduced in by President Pena Nieto that would dissolve the CABs and transfer their various functions to different entities. Judicial functions would transfer to the federal and state judiciaries, administrative functions would transfer to a new federal administrative entity, and conciliation functions would transfer to new conciliation entities. In addition to structural changes, the proposed labor reforms would require verification of worker support for a collective bargaining agreement prior to its registration, and they would establish concrete timeframes for all steps in the process for challenging a union’s exclusive bargaining rights. Thirteen state legislatures approved the legislation prior to the end of the year.

By law penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining laws range from 16,160 pesos ($960) to 161,600 pesos ($9,640). Such penalties were rarely enforced and were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and/or judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

To reduce backlogs and average time to issue labor rulings from 200 to 150 days, some states began implementing oral trials at their local CABs. There are 19 CABs located in the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, and Baja California. In the state of Mexico, from 2011 to 2015, the new process reduced the number of pending actions from 35,000 to 27,000.

Workers exercised their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining with difficulty. The process for registration of unions has been politicized, and according to union organizers, the government, including the CABs, frequently used the process to reward political allies or punish political opponents. For example, it rejects registration applications for new locals of independent unions and for new unions on technicalities.

Companies and protection unions used complex divisions and a lack of coordination between federal and state jurisdictions to manipulate the labor conciliation and arbitration processes. For example, a company might register a collective bargaining agreement at both the federal and the local level, and later alternate the jurisdictions when individuals filed and appealed complaints to gain favorable outcomes. Additionally, union organizers from several sectors raised concerns regarding the overt and usually hostile involvement of the CABs when organizers attempted to create independent unions.

Protection (unrepresentative, corporatist) unions and “protection contracts,” collective bargaining agreements signed by employers and these unions to prevent meaningful negotiations and ensure labor peace, continued to be a problem in all sectors. These contracts were facilitated by exclusivity in bargaining and lack of a requirement for workers to demonstrate support for a collective bargaining agreement or the union that negotiated it before the agreement could take effect. Protection contracts often were developed before the company hired any workers and without direct input from or knowledge of the covered workers. For example, in August 2015 a leader of the Workers Confederation of Mexico (CTM)–a known protection union–claimed that he was negotiating a collective bargaining agreement to cover workers at a tire factory in San Luis Potosi that was not set to begin production until 2017. As of July, of 31 automotive industry plants, 27 had protection contracts with the CTM.

Independent unions, a few multinational corporations, and some labor lawyers and academics called on the government to institute legal reforms that would prohibit registration of collective bargaining agreements where the union cannot demonstrate support by a majority of workers or where workers had not ratified the content of the agreements. Many observers noted working conditions of a majority of workers were under the control of these contracts and the unrepresentative unions that negotiated them, and that the protection unions and contracts often prevented workers from fully exercising their labor rights as defined by law. These same groups advocated for workers to receive hard copies of existing collective bargaining agreements when they are hired.

According to several NGOs and unions, many workers faced procedural obstacles and various forms of intimidation (including physical violence) from protection union leaders, or employers supporting a protection union, in the lead-up to, during, and after bargaining-rights elections from other workers, union leaders, violent individuals hired by a company, or employers favoring a particular union. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of pseudo employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union.

Other intimidating and manipulative practices continued to be common, including dismissal of workers for labor activism. In November 2015 hundreds of employees at a transnational factory in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, began protesting low wages, the arbitrary firings of 120 workers, and unacceptable working conditions. Civil society groups reported that management failed to provide either the promised day wage increase or the legally required Christmas bonus at the end of 2015. When workers attempted to organize to rectify these conditions, employers met them with mass firings, threats, and intimidation. Other complaints included sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions that exposed factory workers to hazardous chemicals without appropriate protective gear.

On August 22, one of the largest teacher unions (CNTE) began the school year by launching teacher strikes and setting up roadblocks to protest proposed education reforms. The government and CNTE engaged in numerous rounds of negotiations regarding the dispute following deadly clashes in June between teacher union-led protesters and federal police forces in Oaxaca that left eight civilians dead. CNTE members staged strikes in Oaxaca and Chiapas states, where 53 percent and 58 percent, respectively, of campuses did not open for the first day of school. CNTE was less successful in Guerrero and Michoacan states, where nearly all schools held classes. The CNTE blocked major roads and railways in Oaxaca and Chiapas to protest federal education reforms. On August 25, the Ministry of Education announced it would fire 1,255 teachers and school employees in Oaxaca and Guerrero who participated in the strikes and missed days of classes. As of September 6, authorities were processing 1,905 teachers for dismissal, including 1,600 from Oaxaca and the remainder from Chiapas and Michoacan.

Independent labor activists reported the requirement that the CABs approve strikes in advance gave the boards the power to show favoritism by determining which companies to protect from strikes. Few formal strikes occurred, but protests and informal work freezes were common. For instance, workers in “maquilas” (factories run by foreign-owned companies that manufacture goods for export) in Ciudad Juarez protested in January to gain support for the creation of an independent union.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for conviction of forced labor violations range from five to 30 years’ imprisonment and observers generally considered them sufficient to deter violations.

Forced labor persisted in the agricultural and industrial sectors, as well as in the informal sector. Women and children were subject to domestic servitude. Women, children, indigenous persons, and migrants (including men, women, and children) were the most vulnerable to forced labor. In November, 81 workers were freed by authorities from a situation of forced labor on a commercial farm in Coahuila.

In October 2015 municipal police rescued 49 persons held captive and forced to work 16 hours a day at a drug rehabilitation facility in Iztapalapa, Mexico City. The victims, mostly from indigenous groups, lived in overcrowded, unhealthy conditions and faced mistreatment and sexual exploitation. Some of the rescued laborers sent to hospitals suffered from malnutrition, dehydration, skin cuts, infections, and fractures.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The constitution prohibits children under age 15 from working and allows those between ages 15 and 17 to work no more than six daytime hours in nonhazardous conditions daily, and only with parental permission. The law requires that children under age 18 must have a medical certificate in order to work. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18. The law prohibits minors from working in a broad list of hazardous and unhealthy occupations.

The government was reasonably effective in enforcing child labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially the maquila sector, and other industries under federal jurisdiction. Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies and in the agriculture and construction sectors and nearly absent in the informal sector, in which most child laborers worked.

With regard to inspections at the federal level, the SEDESOL, the PGR, and the National System for Integral Family Development have responsibility for enforcement of some aspects of child labor laws or intervention in cases where employers violated such laws. The STPS is responsible for carrying out child-labor inspections. Penalties for violations range from 16,780 pesos ($1,000) to 335,850 pesos ($20,000) but were not sufficiently enforced to deter violations.

In August authorities rescued six child laborers in Coahuila in the rural community of San Eugenio. Many of the victims in these cases came from the states of Veracruz and San Luis Potosi and reportedly worked at least nine hours daily, received insufficient food, and were forced to live in unhygienic conditions. In December 2015 authorities granted Oscar Lozano Chavez, the owner of the company involved in the case, house arrest due to health problems; he was monitored by an electronic bracelet. The court denied similar requests by three other defendants.

According to the 2013 INEGI survey, the most recent data available on child labor, the number of employed children between ages five and 17 remained at 2.5 million, or approximately 8.6 percent of the 29.3 million children in the country. Of these children, 746,000 were between ages five and 13, and 1.8 million were between ages 14 and 17. Of employed children 30 percent worked in the agricultural sector in the harvest of melons, onions, cucumbers, eggplants, chili peppers, green beans, sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, and tomatoes. Other sectors with significant child labor included services (25 percent), retail sales (26 percent), manufacturing (13 percent), and construction (4 percent). On August 25, the government announced the percentage of children engaged in labor decreased from 11.5 percent of total children in 2007 to 7.5 percent in 2015.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation regarding “race, nationality age, religion, sex, political opinion, social status, handicap (or challenged capacity), economic status, health, pregnancy, language, sexual preference, or marital status.” The law provides for labor protection for pregnant women.

The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties for violations of the law included administrative remedies, such as reinstatement, payment of back wages, and fines (often calculated based on the employee’s wages), and were not generally considered sufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred against women, indigenous groups, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and migrant workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The single general minimum wage was 73 pesos ($4.35) a day. Most formal sector workers received between one and three times the minimum wage. The National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy estimated the poverty line at 90 pesos ($5.40) per day. The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission, whose labor representatives largely represented protection unions and their interests, is responsible for establishing minimum salaries and continued to block increases that kept pace with inflation.

The law sets six eight-hour days and 48 hours per week as the legal workweek. Any work more than eight hours in a day is considered overtime, for which a worker receives double the hourly wage. After accumulating nine hours of overtime in a week, a worker earns triple the hourly wage. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for eight paid public holidays and one week of paid annual leave after completing one year of work. The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health regulations, issued jointly by the STPS and the Institute for Social Security. Legally mandated joint management and labor committees set standards and are responsible for overseeing workplace standards in plants and offices. Individual employees or unions may complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The STPS is responsible for enforcing labor laws and conducting inspections at workplaces. As of November 2015, there were 946 inspectors nationwide. This was sufficient to enforce compliance, and the STPS carried out inspections of workplaces throughout the year, using a questionnaire and other actions to identify victims of labor exploitation. Penalties for violations of wage, hours of work, or occupational safety and health laws range from 17,330 pesos ($1,030) to 335,940 pesos ($20,020) but were generally not sufficient to deter violations. Through its DECLARALAB self-evaluation tool, STPS had provided technical assistance to almost 4,000 registered workplaces to help them meet occupational safety and health regulations.

According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach–requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting hours when it is light–to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This continued to be a common practice in the maquila sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and oblige them to work, for example, during the Christmas holiday period, with no corresponding triple pay as mandated by law when workers opted for voluntary overtime on national holidays. Additionally, many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers informally, or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. In 2013, the latest year for which such data are available, INEGI estimated 59 percent of the workforce was engaged in the informal economy.

Private recruitment agencies and individual recruiters violated the rights of temporary migrant workers recruited in the country to work abroad, primarily in the United States. Although the law requires these agencies to be registered, they often were unregistered. The STPS registry was out of date and limited in scope. Although a few large recruitments firms were registered, the registry included many defunct and nonexistent mid-sized firms, and few if any of the many small, independent recruiters. Although the government did not actively monitor or control the recruitment process, it reportedly was responsive in addressing complaints. There were also reports that registered agencies defrauded workers with impunity. Some temporary migrant workers were regularly charged illegal recruitment fees. According to a 2013 study conducted by the Migrant Worker Rights Center, 58 percent of 220 applicants interviewed had paid recruitment fees; half did not receive a copy of their job contract and took out loans to cover recruitment costs; and 10 percent paid recruitment fees for nonexistent jobs. The recruitment agents placed those who demanded their rights on blacklists and barred them from future employment opportunities. In 2015 the NGO Proyecto de Derechos Economicos, Sociales, y Culturales, or ProDESC, filed a collective criminal complaint with the government for recruitment fraud to demand an inspection of a recruitment agency. The government inspection resulted in a fine of 57,750 pesos ($3,500) levied against the recruiter.

News reports indicated that there were poor working conditions in some maquiladoras. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, the lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and the lack of freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse. Most maquilas hired employees through outsourcing with few social benefits.

Morocco

Executive Summary

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king may dismiss ministers, dissolve parliament and call for new elections, or rule by decree. The king shares executive authority with the head of government (prime minister), whom he must appoint from the political party with the most seats in parliament, and approves members of the government nominated by the prime minister. International and domestic observers judged the October 7 parliamentary elections credible and relatively free from irregularities. The Islamist-leaning ruling party, Party of Justice and Development (PJD), again won a plurality of seats in the elections. As mandated by the constitution, immediately following the October 7 elections, the king chose the PJD to lead the governing coalition and nominated PJD Secretary General Abdelilah Benkirane to serve again as head of government. During the year the government continued to implement its “advanced regionalization” plan, allowing local bodies elected in 2015 to exercise increased budgetary and decision-making powers.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces.

The most significant continuing human rights problems were corruption, discrimination against women, and disregard for the rule of law by security forces.

A variety of sources reported other human rights problems. These included Security forces occasionally committing human rights abuses, including reports of mistreatment in detention. While prison and detention center conditions improved during the year, in some instances, they still did not meet international standards. Pretrial detention conditions were especially a problem due to overcrowding, and detention periods were often prolonged. The judiciary lacked full independence, and sometimes denied defendants the right to a fair public trial. Domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) asserted there were political prisoners, although the government asserted that these individuals were charged with criminal offenses. The government abridged civil liberties by infringing on freedom of speech and press, including by harassing and arresting print and internet journalists for reporting or commenting on issues sensitive to the government. The government also limited freedom of assembly and association and restricted the right to practice one’s religion. The power of the elected government was limited on certain national policy issues. The government placed restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations, depending on its evaluation of the political orientation of the organization and the sensitivity of the issues. Trafficking in persons and child labor continued to occur, particularly in the informal sector.

There were few examples of investigations or prosecutions of abuse or corruption by officials, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, which contributed to the widespread perception of impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of speech and press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically criticism of Islam, the institution of the monarchy, and the government’s official position regarding territorial integrity and claim to Western Sahara. Such criticism can result in prosecution under the penal code, with punishments ranging from fines to jail time, despite the freedom of expression provided for in the new press code passed in July. There have been no reports of prosecution, however, since the passage of the new press code.

Government-provided figures for the year showed that six journalists or media outlets faced charges for breaches of the national press code, and no journalists are facing charges under the penal code. Seven other journalists or media outlets are facing charges under laws other than the press or penal code. Of the 13 current cases, one was initiated by the government, with the remainder initiated by private citizens, including libel complaints. International and domestic human rights groups criticized criminal prosecutions of journalists and publishers as well as of libel suits, claiming that the government principally used these laws to restrict independent human rights groups and the press and social media.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law criminalizes the criticism of Islam, the institution of the monarchy, state institutions, officials such as those in the military, and the government’s official position regarding territorial integrity and claim to Western Sahara, and the government actively prosecuted persons who did so.

On January 21, authorities charged journalist and human rights activist, Ali Anouzla, with “undermining national territorial integrity” as a result of comments he made in November 2015 to a German newspaper, which quoted him referring to the “occupied territories” of Western Sahara. Anouzla maintained that he referred to the territory only as “Sahara” and that the paper misquoted him. Several weeks later the paper corrected its translation to use only “Sahara.” Subsequently, on May 24, the authorities dropped these charges against Anouzla. At year’s end, however, there was no information to confirm charges had been dropped against Anouzla for “supporting,” “inciting,” and “advocating” terrorism in relation to a 2013 article that linked to a video critical of the king. Trial dates in previous years on these charges were repeatedly postponed.

Press and Media Freedoms: In July parliament passed a new press code that limits punishments for journalistic infractions to fines. The antiterrorism law and the penal code, however, include provisions that permit the government to jail and impose financial penalties on journalists and publishers who violate restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults. Authorities may impose prison sentences on those convicted of libel. Consequently, self-censorship remained prevalent. Authorities filed charges of libel and other violations of the criminal code against specific journalists, with prosecution of these charges indefinitely delayed.

The government also enforced strict procedures governing NGO representatives and political activists meeting with journalists. Foreign journalists needed, but did not always receive, approval from the Ministry of Communication before meeting with political activists.

In 2015 officials targeted members of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI). Authorities detained and questioned several members, including Hicham Mansouri, Maati Monjib, and Hisham Almiraat. On October 26, the trial of the seven AMJI members was postponed to January 2017. At year’s end, the individuals remained at liberty but still under investigation although not yet charged.

On June 20, the court of first instance in Casablanca sentenced Hamid El Mahdaoui, editor of a news website, to a four-month suspended prison sentence and 10,000 dirham ($1,000) fine for defamation over a report on the minister of justice’s travel expenses.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation, including attempts to discredit them through harmful rumors about their personal lives. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Self-censorship and government restrictions on sensitive topics remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. While the government rarely censored the domestic press, it exerted pressure by pursuing legal cases that resulted in heavy fines and suspended publication. Such cases encouraged editors and journalists to self-censor. A Freedom House report this year noted that there is an “atmosphere of fear among journalists” that has led to increased self-censorship. The press code lists threats to public order as one of the criteria for censorship. Publications and broadcast media must also obtain government accreditation. The government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications. The government claimed that it did not censure, suspend, revoke, or confiscate any registered print, online, television, or radio media outlets from January 2015 to September.

On April 3, a foreign television crew was arrested while filming a report for French station “Canal+” on homosexual activity in the country. Authorities expelled the journalists for working without authorization; the journalists stated that they did not ask for authorization because the subject of their reporting was too sensitive and would not have been approved.

Libel/Slander Laws: Authorities filed charges of libel and other violations of the criminal code against journalists. The new press code includes provisions that permit the government to impose financial penalties on journalists and publishers who violate restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults. Government statistics indicated 47 cases of defamation, libel, or blasphemy during the year. A court may impose a prison sentence if an individual is unable or unwilling to pay the fine.

National Security: The antiterrorism law provides for the arrest of journalists and filtering websites deemed to “disrupt public order by intimidation, terror, or violence”; however, there were no examples of authorities’ use of this provision of the law during the year.

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: In February and July, parliament approved a new press code that provides for freedom of the press and electronic media. The new press code, updated from the 2003 version, replaces prison sentences with fines for violations and provides legal protection for the confidentiality of sources. The press code, however, does not prevent journalists from being charged under the penal code or criminal law if their reporting criticizes Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s official position regarding territorial integrity and claim to Western Sahara.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but it did apply laws governing and restricting public speech and the press to the internet. The new press code stipulates that online journalism is equivalent to print journalism. According to Freedom House’s current Freedom on the Net report, the government did not block or filter any websites during the year, although laws on combatting terrorism permit filtering websites.

In January the government announced the blockage of voice over internet protocol technology, such as Skype, FaceTime, and Google Voice; however, the government did not block the associated messaging capabilities and the voice services remained available via VPNs. The government indicated that it blocked the services because they did not have proper operating licenses for the country. There was widespread belief among the public and domestic NGOs that blocking these services was not an attempt to limit freedom of speech, but in response to complaints from telecommunications companies that the services were reducing their profits. Shortly following the publication of a Brookings report, citing economic losses of $320 million due to the ban, the government dismissed the head of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency, and the ban was lifted in November.

According to a 2015 World Bank estimate, 57 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

By law the government has the right to criminalize presentations or debate questioning the legitimacy of Islam, the monarchy, state institutions, or the status of Western Sahara. The law restricts cultural events and academic activities, although the government generally provided more latitude to political and religious activism confined to university campuses. The Ministry of Interior approved appointments of university rectors.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Legally, groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to assemble publicly. Some NGOs complained that authorities did not apply the approval process consistently and have claimed that the government used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. In the absence of authorization, authorities disbanded meetings organized by groups ranging from reformers to student teachers, sometimes with excessive force.

According to HRW’s, World Report 2016, police allowed many protests demanding political reform and protesting government actions, but on some occasions, they dispersed protestors or prevented demonstrations from occurring.

On January 7, police responded violently to teacher trainees demonstrating peacefully in Inezgane and other cities against new decrees to reduce their stipends and access to employment. According to witnesses police used rubber batons and shields to beat protesters without prior warning to protesters to disperse. Over 150 protesters were injured, including 100 in Inezgane, some with fractures and injuries to the face and head, according to AMDH.

In February, as a result of public outcry against police actions in the January student-teacher protests, the Ministry of Interior launched a training program on nonviolent dispersal of demonstrations and management of peaceful protests in response to complaints about police brutality. Although protests by student teachers continued sporadically into September, police intervention was infrequent after January.

Authorities authorized small public protests on politically sensitive subjects occasionally during the year. For example, in June the Ministry of Interior granted permission for a group of atheist and non-Muslim citizens to protest in front of parliament against an article in the penal code relating to fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The protest proceeded and was not dispersed.

A number of civil society contacts reported instances when private event spaces abruptly cancelled bookings, citing official pressure not to allow “controversial” activities on their premises.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, although the government sometimes restricted this freedom. The government prohibited or failed to recognize some political opposition groups by deeming them unqualified for NGO status. The government denied official recognition to NGOs that it considered advocates against Islam as the state religion, the monarchy, or territorial integrity.

Authorities obstructed the registration of a number of associations perceived to be critical of the authorities by refusing to accept registration applications or to deliver receipts confirming the lodging of applications.

In June the Spanish NGO International Institute for Non-Violent Action (NOVACT) decided to close its office after the government denied entry to two members of its staff. In May 2015 the government expelled a representative of NOVACT. NOVACT had operated in the country since 2012 (see section 5).

In September 2015 the government requested that HRW suspend its activities in the country. The suspension remained in effect at year’s end.

In June 2015 authorities detained and expelled AI research staff. AI engaged in a dialogue with the authorities to resolve obstacles to access; however, some restrictions remained on research as of the end of October.

The Ministry of the Interior required NGOs to register in order to be recognized as a legal entity, but there was no comprehensive national register publicly available. A prospective organization must submit its objectives, bylaws, address, and photocopies of members’ identification cards to the ministry. The ministry issues a receipt to the organization that signifies formal approval. If the organization does not receive a receipt within 60 days, it is not formally registered. Unregistered organizations could not access government funds or legally accept contributions.

Several organizations the government chose not to recognize functioned without the receipts, and the government tolerated their activities. The National Federation of Amazigh Associations, an organization supporting the inclusion of the Amazigh population in public life, reported that two Amazigh organizations were denied registration this year. Despite a December 2015 court ruling that the Ministry of Interior had acted inappropriately in refusing to receive a petition by the Moroccan AMDH to renew their permit to operate a local branch in Temara, the organization continued to report difficulties in renewing registrations in multiple locations in the country even after court decisions in their favor.

On November 7, authorities informed historian Maati Monjib that the administrative court in Rabat ruled that the Ministry of Interior had acted inappropriately in refusing to register his NGO Freedom Now. The court ordered the ministry to pay a fine and grant Freedom Now’s registration request.

Authorities continued to monitor Justice and Charity Organization activities.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees and asylum seekers, as well as migrants, were particularly vulnerable to abuse; however, in contrast to previous years, following the 2014 migrant regularization program, there were fewer reports of mass arrests and brutalization by security forces of sub-Saharan migrants and of abuse by criminal gangs involved in human trafficking. There were reports of government authorities arresting or detaining migrants, particularly around the Spanish enclave cities of Melilla and Ceuta, and forcibly relocating them to other cities in the country (see section 1.d.).

In-country Movement: The law provides for freedom of internal movement. Authorities generally respected this right.

Exile: While the law provides for forced exile, there were no instances of forced exile during the year.

Emigration and Repatriation: The government encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from Algeria and elsewhere if they acknowledged the government’s authority over Western Sahara. The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis, and there were no reported cases of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling out of the country. On August 22, media reported that authorities prevented Salem Bachir, also known as Salem Hamda or M’Hamed Salem Hamda Birouk, the POLISARIO “Ambassador” to Argentina, from entering the territory at the airport in Laayoune. According to authorities, they prevented Bachir’s entry in the interest of public security.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The government also provided funding to humanitarian organizations to provide social services to migrants, including refugees. As of October 31, UNHCR registered 1,151 Syrians. UNHCR referred cases meeting the criteria for refugee recognition to the government’s interministerial Commission in Charge of Hearings for Asylum Seekers within the Bureau of Refugees and Stateless Persons, and 70 non-Syrian individuals were granted status as of the end of November. The government continued to grant status to UNHCR-recognized refugees and temporary status to registered Syrians. According to UNHCR statistics, since 2013 the Commission in Charge of Hearings for Asylum Seekers has recognized as refugees 696 non-Syrians referred by UNHCR.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status. The government has historically deferred to UNHCR as the sole agency in the country entitled to perform refugee status determinations and verify asylum cases. The government recognizes two types of asylum status: refugees designated according to the UNHCR statute and the “exceptional regularization of persons in irregular situation.” In 2015 the government continued to provide “exceptional regularization” to Syrians seeking international protection.

On December 15, the government launched the second phase of its migrant regularization program to provide legal status to migrants in exceptional circumstances. This program, similar to the 2014 campaign, will grant legal status to foreign spouses and children of citizens and other legal residents of the country, as well as individuals with at least five years of residence in the country, a valid work contract, or chronic illness.

Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees were able to gain access to health care and education services. Asylum seekers were, however, often unable to access the national health care system and continued to have little access to the judicial system until recognized as refugees. Registered refugees and regularized migrants have the right to work.

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

Groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases; however, the government’s responsiveness to, cooperation with, and restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations varied, depending on its evaluation of the political orientation of the organization and the sensitivity of the issues.

On January 26, according to reports, authorities expelled Andrea Nusse, the country director for Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a German NGO promoting human rights, rule of law, and democracy. Nusse had been country director for the foundation for the past three years. According to the organization, this action was taken because the organization awarded an international human rights award to government critic, Ali Anouzla. Authorities asserted that Nusse’s residency expired in August 2015, she left the country of her own accord in December 2015, and returned briefly in January to take care of her personal affairs. She was never the subject of an expulsion order.

On June 29, the International Institute for Nonviolent Action (NOVACT), a Spain-based NGO, decided to close its office citing government pressure since June 2015, including refusal to register the organization and expulsion or refusal of entry for its staff members. The organization claims that its difficulties were related to its support for rights for the LGBTI community. The government stated that the registration and entry refusals were due to improperly filed paperwork.

Following disputes between AI and governmental authorities in 2015, AI held a series of exchanges with the government during the year, but the issue of permitting international researchers to travel to the country remained unresolved by September. In late September, AI was prevented from holding its annual youth camp as scheduled. The Ministry of Interior claimed that it requested the postponement of the camp due to the electoral period. At the end of the year, AI had still not held the annual camp.

The government ordered HRW to suspend activities in 2015. In March, HRW met with the government but was informed that the suspension remained in place until further notice. Through September, HRW has been unable to conduct activities in the country. Nevertheless, HRW researchers have been able to engage with the government electronically and continue to publish limited information on the situation in the country.

The government recognized several domestic human rights NGOs with national coverage. The Moroccan Organization for Human Rights and the AMDH were the largest domestic human rights organizations.

During the year activists and NGOs reported continuing restrictions on their activities in the country. According to the AMDH, authorities prohibited 111 of its scheduled activities between June 2014 and June. Many activists reported that rather than banning activities outright, the government allegedly resorted to restricting the use of public spaces and conference rooms, as well as informing the proprietors of private spaces that certain activities should not be welcome. Organizations claimed that government officials told them their events were cancelled for failing to follow required procedures for public meetings, although the organizations say they submitted the necessary paperwork except in cases where they believed the law does not require it. Some unrecognized NGOs that did not cooperate officially with the government still shared information informally with both the government and government-affiliated organizations.

During the year the government occasionally met with and responded to inquiries and recommendations from NGOs.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There are three governmental human rights entities.

The CNDH is a national human rights institution established by the constitution that operates independently from the elected government. It is publicly funded and operates in conformity with the Principles of Paris according to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, which recognized it in November 2015 as a “class A national human rights institution” within the UN framework. It served as the principal advisory body to the king and government on human rights. The council filled the role of a national human rights monitoring mechanism for preventing torture, in keeping with the government’s international obligations. Additionally, the CNDH produced reports during the year criticizing current and former government practices in the domains of freedom of expression and assembly as well as women’s rights and published guides on political rights for youth activists and journalists. In 2014 the CNDH established the National Human Rights Training Institute (INFDH), which partners with international organizations to provide training to civil society, media, law enforcement, medical personnel, educators, and legal practitioners. Between January and November, the INFDH provided 39 training sessions on election observation, discrimination, human rights in the workplace, and the investigation and prevention of torture.

The Mediator Institution acted as a more general ombudsman. It considered allegations of governmental injustices and had the power to carry out inquiries and investigations, propose disciplinary action, or refer cases to the public prosecutor.

The mission of the DIDH is to promote the protection of human rights across all ministries, serve as a government interlocutor with domestic and international NGOs, and interact with relevant UN bodies regarding international human rights obligations. The DIDH has the primary responsibility for coordinating government responses to UN bodies on adherence to treaty obligations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides workers with the rights to form and join unions, strike, and bargain collectively, with some restrictions. The current law prohibits certain categories of government employees, including members of the armed forces, police, and some members of the judiciary from forming and joining unions and from conducting strikes. The law excludes migrant workers from assuming leadership positions in unions.

According to the labor code, employer and worker representatives should conduct discussions to agree on the wages and employment conditions of unionized workers. The law allows several independent unions to exist but requires 35 percent of the total employee base to be associated with a union for the union to be representative and engage in collective bargaining. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and prohibits companies from dismissing workers for participating in legitimate union-organizing activities. Courts have the authority to reinstate workers dismissed arbitrarily and may enforce rulings that compel employers to pay damages and back pay.

The law concerning strikes requires compulsory arbitration of disputes, prohibits sit-ins, and calls for a 10-day notice of a strike. The government may intervene in strikes. A strike may not take place over matters covered in a collective contract for one year after the contract comes into force. The government has the authority to disperse strikers in public areas not authorized for demonstrations and to prevent the unauthorized occupancy of private space. Unions may neither engage in sabotage nor prevent those individuals who were not on strike from working.

The government did not adequately enforce labor laws due to a lack of inspection personnel and resources. Inspectors do not have punitive power and cannot levy fines or other punishments. Upon action of the state prosecutor, the courts can force the employer to take remedial actions through a court decree. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Regulations also required inspectors to serve as mediators in disputes, requiring them to spend a significant amount of time in their offices, not conducting inspections. Enforcement procedures were subjected to lengthy delays and appeals.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Employers limited the scope of collective bargaining, frequently setting wages unilaterally for the majority of unionized and nonunionized workers. Domestic NGOs reported that employers often used temporary contracts to discourage employees from affiliating with or organizing unions. Legally, unions can negotiate with the government on national-level labor issues. From April 12 to May 4, the government held its first formal traditional tripartite social dialogue session since 2012, largely to discuss a pending pension reform legislation that was later passed in parliament despite union protests. At the sectoral level, trade unions negotiated with private employers concerning minimum wage, compensation, and other concerns.

Labor disputes were common and, in some cases, the result of employers failing to implement collective bargaining agreements and withholding wages. Trade unions complained that the government at times used the penal code to prosecute workers for striking and to suppress strikes. Most union federations strongly allied with political parties, but unions were generally free from government interference.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law penalizes forced adult labor by a fine for the first offense and a jail term of up to three months for subsequent offenses. Penalties for forced child labor under the law range from one to three years’ imprisonment. Authorities did not adequately enforce the legislation. Reports indicated that forced labor, especially of children, occurred (see section 7.c.).

On August 22, the government approved a law regulating the employment of domestic workers, who had previously been exempted from labor law. The new law includes provisions on the employment of minors as domestic servants (see section 7.c.). Penalties for violating this law start with a fine and, in cases of repeated offense, can include one to three months’ imprisonment.

Labor inspectors did not inspect small workshops and private homes where the majority of such practices occurred, as the law requires a warrant to search a private residence. The small number of inspectors, the scarce resources at their disposal, and the broad geographic dispersion of sites also limited effective enforcement of the law.

Local NGOs reported that an undetermined number of Filipina and Indonesian domestic workers filed suits against their former employers. These suits included significant indicators of potential trafficking abuses, such as withholding passports or wages. Information on disposition of these cases was not available. Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment in most sectors is 15 years old. The law prohibits children younger than 16 years old from working in domestic work, and younger than 18 years old from working in 33 “hazardous” sectors (see section 7.e.). In all sectors children younger than 16 years old are prohibited from working more than 10 hours per day; employers must give them a break of at least one hour. The law does not permit children younger than 16 years old to work between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. in nonagricultural work or between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. in agriculture. The overwhelming majority of child laborers worked in rural areas, according to the government’s statistical agency, the High Planning Commission. The law excludes seasonal agricultural work and work in traditional artisanal or handicraft sectors of businesses with fewer than five employees. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 18 years old in stone quarries, mines, fishing, or any other positions the government considers hazardous. Some families from rural areas sent girls to work as domestics in urban areas. Boys experienced forced labor as apprentices in the artisan and construction industries and in mechanic shops.

The Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs is responsible for implementing and enforcing child labor laws and regulations. The law provides for legal sanctions against employers who recruit children under 15 years old, with fines ranging from 27,000 to 32,000 dirhams ($2,710 to $3,210). Punishment for violations of the child labor laws includes criminal penalties, civil fines, and withdrawal or suspension of one or more civil, national, or family rights, including denial of legal residence in the country for five to 10 years. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The ministry did not systematically inspect workplaces or enforce sanctions against child labor. During the year the 51 national labor inspectorates had 53 inspectors trained in child labor issues and designated as a “focal point.” According to various reports, police, prosecutors, and judges rarely enforced legal provisions on “forced labor in cases involving child domestics,” and few parents of children working as domestics were willing or able to pursue legal avenues likely to provide any direct benefit.

Authorities successfully prosecuted employers throughout the year for employing a child domestic worker, but labor inspectors responsible for enforcing the labor code do not have jurisdiction to inspect private residences, as inspection requires a warrant. Stakeholders reported limited government coordination on providing services to reintegrate children removed from child labor with many agencies performing overlapping roles with unclear responsibilities that led to gaps in child reintegration.

The government expanded coordination with local, national, and international NGOs on education and training programs to combat child labor during the year. The Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs, led by the Office of the Director of Work in conjunction with NGOs, oversaw programs dealing with child labor. The programs sought to decrease the incidence of child labor by raising awareness of the problem, providing financial assistance to needy families, and lowering obstacles for at-risk children to attend school. Additionally, public education was available to migrant children, lowering their vulnerability to child labor.

The Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs reported that in 2015 (the most recent annualized inspection information available) inspectors conducted 443 visits to different private sector enterprises. During these visits they made 2,214 official “observations.” Authorities removed 63 children younger than 15 years old from work and also removed 265 children between the ages of 15 and 18 years old from hazardous work. There was no detailed information available on the collection of fines or on assistance to children identified through inspections.

Observers reported noncompliance with child labor laws in agriculture and private urban residences.

Some children became apprentices before they were 12 years old, particularly in small family-run workshops in the handicraft industry. Children also worked in hazardous occupations as designated by law. These included fishing and, in the informal sector, in textiles, light manufacturing, and carpet weaving. Children’s safety, health conditions, and wages were often substandard.

In some cases employers subjected children to the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as the result of human trafficking (see section 6, Children); forced domestic work, sometimes as the result of human trafficking; and forced labor in the production of artisan crafts and construction.

NGOs documented the physical and psychological abuse of children employed as domestic servants. Employers paid parents for their children’s work. Most child domestics received food, lodging, and clothing instead of monetary compensation, or employers paid them significantly below the minimum wage.

The High Planning Commission reported continued reduction in child labor, claiming that by the end of 2015 approximately 59,000 children between the ages of seven and 15 years old worked, compared with 68,870 in 2014 and 88, 570 in 2013.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, color, gender, disability, marital status, religion, political opinion, trade union affiliation, national ancestry, or social origin, resulting in a violation or alteration of the principle of equal opportunity or treatment on equal footing regarding employment or the practice of a profession. This was true in particular with regard to recruitment, conduct and labor distribution, vocational training, wages, advances, the granting of social benefits, disciplinary measures, and dismissal. The law does not address sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases in this context. The law provides for equal pay for equal work. The law prohibits the employment of women and youths (between the ages of 15 and 17 years old) in certain occupations that authorities considered hazardous, such as mining.

Discrimination in all categories prohibited by law occurred, as the government lacked sufficient human and financial resources to enforce these laws effectively. Migrant worker organizations reported that some migrants experienced discrimination in hiring, wages, or conditions of employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was 108 dirhams ($11.13) per day in the industrialized sector, 70 dirhams ($7.22) per day for agricultural workers, and 65 dirhams ($6.70) per day for domestic workers. The World Bank established the absolute poverty level threshold wage as 70 dirhams ($7.22) per day. Including traditional holiday-related bonuses, workers generally received the equivalent of 13 to 16 months’ salary each year. Informal businesses employed approximately 60 percent of the labor force and often ignored minimum wage requirements. Under temporary contract programs (Contracts ANAPEC) designed to help new entrants into the job market, the government pays social security and medical insurance contributions for the employee, and employers are required to pay above the minimum wage and hire 60 percent of ANAPEC interns at the conclusion of the contract. Contracts ANAPEC, however, fell outside the jurisdiction of the labor code and thus could be abused.

The law provides for a 44- to 48-hour maximum workweek with no more than 10 hours in a single day, premium pay for overtime, paid public and annual holidays, and minimum conditions for health and safety, including a prohibition on night work for women and minors. The law prohibits excessive overtime.

Occupational health and safety standards, reviewed and enforced by the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs, are rudimentary, except for a prohibition on the employment of women and children in certain dangerous occupations. The law prohibits persons under the age of 18 years old from hazardous work in 33 areas, including working in mines, handling dangerous materials, transporting explosives, and operating heavy machinery.

Many employers did not observe the legal provisions for conditions of work. The government did not effectively enforce basic provisions of the labor code, such as payment of the minimum wage and other basic benefits under the National Social Security Fund. The country’s 409 labor inspectors attempted to monitor working conditions and investigate accidents, but lack of resources prevented effective enforcement of labor laws. Penalties were generally not sufficient to deter violations. Labor inspectors are also tasked with mediation of disputes, which competed with proactive inspection of worksites for compliance with labor laws.

According to NGOs, no major workplace accidents occurred during the year. There were, however, numerous media reports of accidents, sometimes fatal, on construction sites that had substandard standards or lacked safety equipment. In the formal sector, workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

Netherlands

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of the Netherlands, a constitutional monarchy, consists of four equal autonomous countries: the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. The kingdom retains responsibility for foreign policy, defense, and other “kingdom issues.” The country of the Netherlands also includes the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius, which are designated as special municipalities. The six Caribbean entities collectively are known as the Dutch Caribbean.

The country of the Netherlands has a bicameral parliament. The country’s 12 provincial councils elect a first chamber, and the second chamber is elected by popular vote. A prime minister and a cabinet representing the governing political parties exercise executive authority. Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten have unicameral parliamentary systems. Ultimate responsibility for safeguarding fundamental human rights and freedoms in all kingdom territories lies with the combined kingdom governments. Elections for seats in the Netherlands first chamber of parliament, last held in May 2015, were considered free and fair.

Throughout the kingdom civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights problem in the country of the Netherlands was societal animosity and discrimination against certain ethnic and religious minority groups, particularly Muslim immigrants from North Africa, Turkey, and the Middle East. Anti-Semitic incidents, including physical attacks, also continued to pose a problem in the country of the Netherlands.

Other human rights problems reported in the kingdom during the year included: substandard prison conditions and interprisoner violence and intimidation in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten; allegations of police brutality in Aruba and Curacao; lengthy detention of failed asylum seekers pending deportation in the Netherlands; limited allegations of official corruption in Sint Maarten and Curacao; prosecution and conviction of individuals for violating laws prohibiting public speech that incites hatred or discrimination in the Netherlands; domestic violence against women in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten; reports that girls from some immigrant communities in the Netherlands were at risk of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); child abuse in the Netherlands; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation and forced labor in various parts of the kingdom.

Authorities in the kingdom investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the law provides for freedom of speech and press, speech that promotes discrimination and “hate speech” constitutes a criminal offense. The government generally respected these rights in other areas. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and of the press.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: While the governments mostly respected freedom of expression, it is a crime to “verbally or in writing or image deliberately offend a group of people because of their race, their religion or beliefs, their sexual orientation, or their physical, psychological, or mental disability.” Statements that targeted a philosophy or religion, as opposed to a group of persons, are not considered criminal hate speech under the statute. The penalties for violating the law against offensive language include imprisonment for a maximum of two years, a fine of up to 8,100 euros ($8,900), or both. In Aruba the penalties for this offense are imprisonment for a maximum of one year or a fine of 10,000 Aruba florins ($5,700). In the Netherlands there are restrictions on the sale of the book Mein Kampf and the display of swastika symbols with the intent to refer to Nazism.

During 2015 authorities prosecuted and convicted several persons for speech that promoted discrimination or hatred. On June 13, a court convicted a man for inciting violence against a person because of his race or religion and for insulting a group of persons. The court sentenced him to two weeks of imprisonment. The individual had posted signs in his windows reading, “Turks go away” and “Gas Jews” with a swastika.

During the year authorities held several preliminary court sessions in the case of Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders, who was accused of inciting discrimination and hatred at a 2014 political rally during which he provoked his supporters into chanting in favor of “fewer” Moroccans. Thousands of persons subsequently filed a complaint with police against Wilders on grounds of discrimination. Wilders defended his statement on the grounds of free speech. His trial started on October 31.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media in the kingdom were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law’s restrictions on “hate speech” applied to the print media but only occasionally were enforced. Disputes occasionally arose over journalists’ right to protect their sources.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The governments did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the governments monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely available in the kingdom and used by citizens. According to the most recent available statistics compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, in 2014 just more than 93 percent of the Netherlands’ population used the internet.

Authorities continued to pursue policies to prevent what they considered incitement to discrimination on the internet. They operated a hotline for persons to report discriminatory phrases and hate speech with the principal aim of having them removed. During the year courts convicted a number of persons on these grounds. On June 13, Dutch courts convicted a man of posting offensive and discriminatory anti-Semitic language on his Facebook page. The court sentenced him to three week’s imprisonment, which resulted in a two-week suspended sentence and two years of probation.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedom of assembly and association, and the governments generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws on asylum vary in different parts of the kingdom. In general the Netherlands provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees.

Sint Maarten does not recognize asylum seekers. Foreigners requesting asylum were processed as foreigners requesting a humanitarian permit. UNHCR aided authorities in those cases and determined whether the asylum case was justified and whether Sint Maarten needed to provide protection. If so, the asylum seekers received a humanitarian residence permit; if not, authorities deported them to their country of origin or a country where they would be accepted.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Authorities in the Netherlands denied asylum to persons who came from so-called safe countries of origin or who had resided for some time in safe countries of transit. They used EU guidelines to define such countries. Applicants had the right to appeal all denials.

Consistent with a 2011 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, the government processed the applications of third-country applicants arriving from Greece under the asylum procedures of the Netherlands instead of sending them back to Greece. The government stated such applicants would only be returned to Greece once the Greek asylum system meets European human rights standards.

Durable Solutions: In the Netherlands the government accepted up to 500 refugees a year for resettlement through UNHCR. These refugees came mainly from UN refugee camps, and many were Syrians arriving from camps in Lebanon and Jordan. The government also provided financial and in-kind assistance to refugees who sought to return to their home country voluntarily.

Temporary Protection: The Netherlands government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. According to Eurostat data, it provided subsidiary protection to approximately 4,975 persons and humanitarian status to 390 in the first nine months of the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to the most recent UNHCR statistics, 1,951 persons in the Netherlands fell under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate at the end of 2014. Stateless persons in the Netherlands included Palestinians from Syria, Romani immigrants, and some Malaccans, who declined both Dutch and Indonesian citizenship for historical and political reasons. UNHCR acknowledged that the 2014 statistics on stateless persons in the Netherlands was inaccurate because not every stateless person was properly registered. According to government statistics, there were 2,399 stateless asylum seekers in 2015 and 213 in the first five months of 2016. Most stateless asylum seekers were granted a residency permit.

Citizenship is based primarily on the citizenship of the parents. The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide the opportunity for non-Dutch or stateless persons to gain citizenship.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: A citizen of the Netherlands may bring any complaint before the national ombudsman, Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (NIHR), Commercial Code Council, or Council of Journalism, depending on circumstances. The NIHR acted as an independent primary contact between the government and domestic and international human rights organizations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide for public- and private-sector workers to form or join independent unions of their own choosing without prior governmental authorization or excessive requirements. The law in the Netherlands provides for the freedom of association and collective bargaining. The government and employers respected both. Unions may conduct their activities without interference. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retaliation against legal strikers. It requires workers fired for union activity to be rehired. The law restricts striking by some public-sector workers if a strike threatens the public welfare or safety. For example, judges prohibited police strikes because of the essential services police perform. Workers must report their intention to strike to their employer at least two days in advance.

Authorities effectively enforced applicable laws related to the right to organize and collective bargaining, and workers exercised them. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were adequate. The penalty included fines, and most violations were considered criminal. Penalties were effective in deterring violations. Government, political parties, and employers respected the freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain. Violations were rare.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

In the Netherlands the laws prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government enforced them. The penalty for violating the law against forced labor runs from 12 years’ imprisonment in routine cases to 18 years’ imprisonment in cases where the victim incurs serious physical injury and life imprisonment in cases where the victim dies. These penalties and government resources and inspections to combat forced labor were adequate to deter violations.

Forced or compulsory labor occurred in the kingdom. Victims of coerced labor included women and men, both domestic and foreign, as well as boys and girls (see section 7.c.) forced to work in agriculture, horticulture, catering, domestic servitude and cleaning, the inland shipping sector, and forced criminality (including illegal narcotics trafficking).

In Aruba there were no claims of forced labor abuses. Labor inspectors together with representatives of the Department for Immigration inspected work sites and locations for vulnerable migrants and screen for indications of trafficking based on the Quick Reference Card for Human Trafficking. They found no cases of forced labor or trafficking.

Sint Maarten’s government continued to educate business owners about relevant antitrafficking laws. In Sint Maarten and Curacao, front-line responders did not have standard procedures for identifying forced labor victims, which hindered the government’s ability to assist such persons.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

In the Netherlands the government categorizes children into three age groups for purposes of employment: 13 to 14, 15, and 16 to 17. Children in the youngest group are allowed to work only in a few light, nonindustrial jobs and only on nonschool days. The scope of permissible jobs and hours of work increases as children become older, and fewer restrictions apply. The law prohibits persons under age 18 from working overtime, at night, or in hazardous situations. Hazardous work differs per age category. For example, children younger than 18 are not allowed to work with toxic materials, and children under 16 are not allowed to work in factories. Holiday work and employment after school are subject to very strict rules set by law. The government effectively enforced child labor laws. Offenders faced fines, which were sufficient to deter violations. No reports of child labor occurred in the Netherlands.

In Aruba the minimum age for employment is 15. The rules differentiate between children and youngsters. Children are boys and girls under the age of 15, and youngsters are persons between the ages of 15 and 18. Children age 13 or older who have finished elementary school may work if doing so is necessary for learning a trade or profession (apprenticeship), not physically or mentally taxing and not dangerous. The government enforced child labor laws and policies. The government also conducted adequate inspections of possible child labor violations. Penalties ranged from fines to imprisonment, which were adequate to deter violations. No cases of child labor violations were registered in Aruba.

In Curacao the minimum age for employment is 15. The rules differentiate between children and youngsters. Children are those under the age of 15, and youngsters are persons between the ages of 15 and 18. Children age 12 or older who have finished elementary school may work if doing so is necessary for learning a trade or profession (apprenticeship), not physically or mentally taxing, and not dangerous. Inspectors of the Ministry of Education, Sport, and Culture enforced laws and policies to protect children. The government and a tripartite labor commission effectively conducted adequate inspections and enforced the law. The penalty for violations is a maximum four-year prison sentence and/or a fine of 100,000 Netherlands Antillean guilders ($56,000). The penalties were adequate. No registered cases of child labor violations existed in Curacao.

In Sint Maarten the law prohibits children under the age of 14 from working for wages. Special rules apply to schoolchildren who are 16 and 17 years of age. The law prohibits persons under age 18 from working overtime, at night, or in activities dangerous to their physical or mental well-being. The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties ranged from fines to imprisonment and were adequate to deter violations. Child labor did not exist.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

In the Netherlands labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination in employment or occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases.

Two studies published in 2015 concluded that job/internship seekers from ethnic minority backgrounds often experienced discrimination on the labor market. In 2014 the government presented a comprehensive plan of action to address discrimination in the labor market that included tailored policies for specific groups, such as non-Western immigrants, persons with disabilities, LGBTI persons, women, and older persons. The plan contained 42 policy measures for government and employers and employees associations to counter discrimination in the labor market. Implementation of the action plan continued.

Throughout the kingdom the government effectively enforced the laws. Penalties took the form of fines and were adequate to deter violations. Nevertheless, discrimination occurred, especially on the basis of sex.

In the Netherlands male and female unemployment rates in 2015 were 6.5 and 7.3 percent, respectively. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment reported that women’s higher unemployment rate, as well as their reduced chances for promotion and their generally lower-ranking jobs, resulted from, among other things, their more frequent engagement in part-time employment. According to the most recent estimate from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the average hourly wage of female employees in 2012 was 82 percent that of their male counterparts for similar work. The Central Bureau of Statistics noted that the size of the salary gap was decreasing. Voluntary surveys from employment websites confirmed this trend. The government provided affirmative action programs for women, and collective labor agreements usually included provisions to strengthen the position of women.

In Sint Maarten the unemployment rate in 2013 was 9.9 percent for men and 8.4 percent for women. In Aruba the unemployment rate in 2010 was 10.8 percent for men and 10.4 percent for women.

The NIHR focused on discrimination in the labor market, such as discrimination in the workplace, unequal pay, termination of labor contracts, and preferential treatment of ethnically Dutch employees. The institute also cooperated on several campaigns against discrimination, such as Crossing out Discrimination, launched in September by the Ministry of Interior that focused on raising awareness and encouraging individuals to report incidents of discrimination. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, religion, and disability. Migrant workers also faced discrimination in employment. The NIHR addressed several discrimination cases; although its rulings are not binding, they were usually followed. Courts occasionally addressed discrimination cases. The law addresses adaptations that employers may be required to make to accommodate employees with disabilities, and the government worked to improve the position of persons with disabilities in the labor market.

The situation was similar in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten, where labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In the Netherlands the minimum wage for an adult (23 and older) was 1,537.20 euros ($1,690) a month. The Central Bureau of Statistics set the 2014 monthly income level for “risk of poverty” at 1,020 euros ($1,120) for a single-person household, and at 1,920 euros ($2,100) for a couple with two children. Approximately 10 percent of households fell in this category.

In Aruba the monthly minimum wage in 2015 was 1,677 Aruban florins ($937). In Aruba there is no official poverty level. In Curacao the minimum monthly wage was 1,375 Netherlands Antillean guilders ($772), and the official poverty level was 2,195 guilders ($1,233). During 2015 the official minimum monthly wage in Sint Maarten was increased to 1,553 Netherlands Antillean guilders ($873); no poverty-level income information was available.

In the Netherlands the law does not establish a specific number of hours as constituting a full workweek, but most workweeks were 36, 38, or 40 hours long. The legal maximum workweek is 60 hours. During a four-week period, a worker may only work 55 hours a week on average or, during a 16-week period, an average of 48 hours a week, with some exceptions. Persons who work more than 5.5 hours a day are entitled to a 30-minute rest period. Workers are entitled to four times the number of days worked per week in annual paid leave (i.e., 20 days for most full-time jobs). There are seven government holidays. The interaction between government holidays and paid leave days depends on the collective bargaining agreement in each sector. Collective bargaining agreements or individual contracts, not law, regulate overtime.

In the Netherlands the government set occupational health and safety standards across all sectors. Standards were appropriate for main industries and frequently updated. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The situation was similar in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. In Sint Maarten the government provided guidelines for acceptable conditions of work in both the public and private sectors that covered specific concerns, such as ventilation, lighting, hours, and terms of work. The Ministry of Labor reviewed and updated the guidelines and routinely visited businesses to ensure employers were adhering to them.

The Inspectorate for Social Affairs and Employment effectively enforced the labor laws on conditions of work across all sectors, including the informal economy, with 743 inspectors in 2015. Resources, inspectors, and remediation were adequate. In 2015 labor inspectors imposed an average fine of nearly 9,200 euros ($10,100), which was sufficient to deter violations. Labor exploitation in informal sectors is uncommon; violations were prosecuted under criminal law. An interagency action team identified and shut fraudulent temporary employment agencies, which were known to be facilitators of labor exploitation.

Violations were common in temporary agencies that circumvent labor laws. These agencies mainly hired workers from Eastern Europe, particularly in the construction and transportation sectors, without paying the minimum wage. The law protects workers from exploitation while penalizing fraudulent agencies, individual employers, and recruiters involved in the business. The situation was similar in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten.

Poland

Executive Summary

Poland is a republic with a multiparty democracy. The bicameral parliament consists of an upper house, the senate (Senat), and a lower house (Sejm). The president, the prime minister, and the Council of Ministers share executive power. Observers considered the May 2015 presidential elections and the October 2015 parliamentary elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

During the year parliament passed a public assembly law, a counterterrorism law, a surveillance law, media laws, and laws related to the Constitutional Court which local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) indicated may have a negative impact on human rights protection and the principles of democracy and the rule of law.

Among the country’s principal human rights problems were xenophobic and racist incidents, including both hate speech and hate crimes involving violence, and cases of anti-Semitism. Local NGOs stated verbal harassment and physical violence targeting racial and ethnic minorities and foreigners increased. An increasing backlog of cases and lengthy court procedures impeded the delivery of justice.

Other human rights problems included abuse of prisoners and detainees by police, inadequate medical facilities and treatment in jails and prisons, compulsory hormone therapy to lower sex drive for some convicted sex offenders, and at times inadequate cell space and antiquated prisons. Delays in the restitution of private property continued. Criminal defamation laws restricted freedom of speech and press by discouraging speech, publications, and material on the internet critical of public officials. Official corruption remained a problem, despite enforcement efforts. During the year the government severely cut the budget of the office of the public defender for human rights and limited its ability to perform its functions. Burdensome procedures discouraged appropriate classification and treatment of domestic violence as a crime. Societal problems included discrimination against women in the labor market, abuse and sexual exploitation of children, trafficking in persons, restrictions on the ability of persons with mental disabilities to participate in civic affairs, and discrimination and violence against ethnic minorities as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Violations of workers’ rights to organize and join unions and to strike as well as antiunion discrimination also occurred. The government did not always effectively enforce laws governing the work of minors between ages 16 and 18.

The government generally enforced human rights and took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, laws restrict these freedoms. In the past the government and courts upheld laws that criminalize defamation by individuals and the media and limit editorial independence.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits hate speech, including the dissemination of anti-Semitic literature and the public promotion of fascist, communist, or other totalitarian systems.

Press and Media Freedoms: On May 13, the coordinator for special services, Mariusz Kaminski, announced before parliament’s Special Services Committee that during the previous government the ABW and the CBA had 52 journalists under surveillance. The former heads of the two agencies denied these allegations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits censorship of the press or social communication. At the same time, the law prohibits under penalty of fines the promotion of activities against government policy, morality, or the common good and requires that all broadcasts “respect the religious feelings of the audiences and, in particular, respect the Christian system of values.” The government rarely enforced this provision. The law also places some limits on editorial independence, for example, by specifying that journalists must verify quotations and statements with the person who made them before publication.

The National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council, a five-member body appointed by the Sejm (two members), the senate (one member), and the president (two members), is constitutionally responsible for protecting freedom of speech and has broad power to monitor and regulate programming, allocate broadcasting frequencies and licenses, apportion subscription revenues to public media, and impose financial penalties on all public and private broadcasters. While council members are required to suspend their membership in political parties and public associations, critics asserted that the council remained politicized.

Local and international NGOs raised concern regarding recent legislation and journalist dismissals in public media. On June 22, parliament created a new National Media Council with authority to hire and fire public media managers. The council consists of five members appointed to six-year terms; three appointed by parliament, and two nominated by the opposition and appointed by the president.

Since the beginning of public media reforms in January, approximately 100 journalists have left or been dismissed from their jobs.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense and includes publicly insulting or slandering members of parliament, government ministers, or other public officials, as well as private entities and persons. Defamation outside the media is punishable by a fine and community service. The courts rarely applied maximum penalties, and persons convicted of defamation generally faced only fines or imprisonment for up to one year. The maximum sentence for insulting the president or the nation is three years’ imprisonment. While journalists have never received the maximum penalty in defamation cases, according to the Helsinki Human Rights Foundation, the risk of facing criminal charges might discourage them from addressing sensitive subjects. Moreover, media owners, particularly of small local independent newspapers, were aware that potentially large fines could threaten the financial survival of their publications. According to Ministry of Justice statistics for 2015, the latest data available, courts convicted one individual of insulting the constitutional organs of the government. In 2015 the courts fined one person for public defamation.

In August the government submitted to parliament draft legislation stating, “Whoever publicly and contrary to the facts assigns the Republic of Poland or the Polish nation the liability or responsibility for the Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich will face a fine or imprisonment of up to three years.” Government officials stated the legislation was designed to deter public use of phrases like “Polish death or concentration camps,” instead of “concentration camps in occupied Poland during World War II,” because such terms contradict historical truth and harm the country’s good name. At year’s end, the draft legislation was pending in parliament.

On April 12, the Katowice regional prosecutor questioned Polish-American Princeton University professor Jan Gross for five hours about reported complaints filed by Polish citizens regarding a September 2015 article in the German newspaper Die Welt, in which Gross stated that Poles had killed more Jews than Poles killed Nazis during the World War II German occupation. Gross told media the prosecutors asked if he had intended to insult Poles. In October the Katowice prosecutor assigned to the case decided to discontinue the investigation, but a supervisory prosecutor overturned the decision and instructed the line prosecutor to seek expert opinions on whether Gross’s statement was offensive in nature. The prosecutorial investigation continued at year’s end.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications or e‑mail without appropriate legal authority. The June 10 anti-terrorism law authorizes the ABW to block websites without a prior court order in cases relating to combating, preventing, and prosecuting terrorist crimes. The process by which the law was adopted, as well as its substance, provoked controversy and criticism from NGOs, as well as from the Council of Europe. The law against defamation, which restricts freedom of speech, applies to the internet as well. In 2015, the latest year for which statistics were available, prosecutors investigated 793 hate speech cases involving the internet, compared with 624 cases in 2014. In 2015, according to data from the International Telecommunication Union, 20 percent of the population had a fixed broadband subscription, and 68 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The antiterrorism law of 2015 permits restrictions on public assemblies in situations of elevated terrorist threats.

On December 2, the Sejm passed amendments to the public assembly law establishing a new category of “cyclical” or recurring assemblies and introducing a 328-foot distance requirement between demonstrations and counterdemonstrations. Opposition politicians and human rights advocates immediately condemned the legislation and called on the senate to reject the amendments. The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner and the director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe jointly expressed concerns the amendments could undermine freedom of assembly. On December 13, the senate passed the legislation and sent the bill to the president to sign into law. On December 29, the president referred the legislation to the Constitutional Court for review without signing it.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees and Stateless Persons: In addition to the guarded centers for foreigners (see section 1.d.), the government operated 11 open centers for asylum seekers with an aggregate capacity of approximately 2,000 persons in the Warsaw, Bialystok, and Lublin areas. Some incidents of gender-based violence occurred, but the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that local response teams involving doctors, psychologists, police, and social workers addressed these cases. UNHCR and the Helsinki Human Rights Foundation reported no major or persistent problems with abuse in the centers.

The government cooperated with 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.

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. Each person who arrives receives consideration for asylum if requested. According to authorities, Ukrainians were rarely granted refugee status due to recognized options for internal flight within their country. Alternatively, authorities liberally used temporary residence and visa mechanisms to allow an almost 300 percent increase in Ukrainian authorized temporary residence since 2013, from an average 9,500 to an estimated 40,000 in 2016. During the year NGOs and media reported on the large number of entry refusals to Russian citizens from Chechnya who allegedly requested international protection but were denied entry at the border. Border guards stated those refused entry were economic migrants without a visa who wished to transit the country to Western Europe.

In 2015 the previous government agreed to relocate to the country 6,182 migrants from Africa and Middle East who were residing in Italy and Greece and to resettle 900 refugees from Lebanon and Jordan. At the end of September, no migrants or refugees were relocated or resettled under these commitments. The new government did follow through with financial commitments to the EU migrant crisis response and deployed asylum and border experts to Greece and Italy during the year. The government spoke out against the mandatory EU relocation quotas and advocated assisting refugees in countries of first asylum and strengthening EU external border security.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The EU’s Dublin III Regulation, to which the country is subject, recognizes all EU countries as safe countries of origin and transit. The regulation also authorizes the governments of EU member states to return asylum seekers to the countries where they first entered the EU. The law permits denial of refugee status based on safe country of origin or safe country of transit but includes provisions that allow authorities to consider the protection needs of individuals with exceptional cases.

Employment: Asylum seekers are not allowed to work during the first six months of the asylum procedure. If the asylum procedure lasts longer than six months, they gain the right to work until the asylum decision is final.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers faced language and cultural barriers, and had limited access to higher education. Children in centers for asylum seekers had free access to public education, but those placed with relatives in guarded centers for foreigners did not.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to 163 individuals who may not qualify as refugees during the first 11 months of the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, at the end of 2014, there were 10,825 stateless persons in the country.

The law affords the opportunity to gain nationality. The Halina Niec Legal Aid Center observed in its report during the year on statelessness, however, that the government did not implement a formal procedure of identifying the stateless persons, leading to protection gaps and exposing stateless persons to many negative consequences, including detention.

UNHCR occasionally received complaints from stateless persons regarding problems with employment, mainly involving the lack of identity documents, which discouraged employers from offering employment to stateless persons.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: After months of questioning its objectivity, on October 16, the government announced it would end its cooperation with the Venice Commission concerning the commission’s critical October 14 opinion on the government’s July legislative framework for the Constitutional Tribunal.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The law entrusts the human rights defender and the government plenipotentiary for civil society and equal treatment with the task of “implementing the principle of equal treatment.”

The country’s independent human rights defender processes complaints, conducts investigations, institutes and participates in court proceedings, undertakes studies, provides other public bodies with advice, proposes legislative initiatives, conducts campaigns, and cooperates with NGOs. The human rights defender has no authority to mediate disputes between private entities, even in cases of racial discrimination. The human rights defender presents an annual report to the Sejm on the state of human rights and civic freedom in the country and in 2015 reported receiving 57,627 cases.

During the annual report in September, members of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) Party strongly criticized the defender for intervening in cases related to LGBTI persons.

In his report on June 15, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner reiterated calls made by the council’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture, Committee on the Prevention of Racism and Intolerance, and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to increase the budget of the human rights defender. In 2015 the budget of the defender’s office was 38.6 million zloty ($9.79 million). The defender asked for an increase of 18 percent in the 2016 budget to 35.6 million zloty ($9.03 million). In February parliament reduced the defender’s general budget by 8 percent. In addition the budget for monitoring the implementation of equal treatment and for supporting victims of discrimination was cut by 30 percent.

The government plenipotentiary for civil society and equal treatment has a mandate to counter discrimination and promote equal opportunity for all. The plenipotentiary implements the government’s equal treatment policy, develops and evaluates draft acts, analyzes and evaluates legal solutions, and monitors the situation within the scope of application of the principle of equal treatment. The plenipotentiary is subordinate to the prime minister’s office, did not have the same institutional independence as the human rights defender, and did not have a separate budget. According to many NGOs, the government plenipotentiary was ineffective in promoting equal treatment.

Both chambers of parliament have committees on human rights and the rule of law. The committees serve a primarily legislative function and are composed of representatives from multiple political parties.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, and provides legal measures under which workers fired for union activity may demand reinstatement. There are several legal restrictions to these rights. The law does not provide for the right to form a union to persons who entered into an employment relationship based on a civil law contract, or to persons who were self-employed. In June 2015 the Constitutional Court ruled that any limitation to the freedom of association violates the constitution and required the government and parliament to amend the law on trade unions, but as of September 30, the government had not revised the law. Members in senior-level positions in the civil service cannot hold office in worker organizations.

Government workers, including police officers, border guards, prison guards, and employees of the supreme audit office, are limited to a single union. Workers in services deemed essential, such as security forces, the Supreme Chamber of Audit, police, border guards, and fire brigades, do not have the right to strike. These workers have the rights to protest and to seek resolution of their grievances through mediation and the court system.

Trade unions are registered when at least 10 eligible persons adopt a resolution to form a trade union. Newly established trade unions must appoint a founding committee consisting of three to seven persons. A new trade union must register with the National Court Registry within 30 days of the resolution. The court may remove a trade union from the registry only if a trade union adopts resolution to dissolve, is no longer able to operate due to the bankruptcy, liquidation, or reorganization of the company in which the trade union operated, or if a trade union has fewer than 10 members for more than three months.

Legal strikes require the support of at least 50 percent of all employees in a company or industry-level vote. To allow for required mediation, a strike may not be called fewer than 14 days after workers present their demands to an employer. The law obligates employers to notify the district inspection office in their region about a group dispute in the workplace. Cumbersome procedures made it difficult for workers to meet all of the technical requirements for a legal strike. What constitutes a strike under the labor law is limited to strikes regarding wages and working conditions. The law prohibits collective bargaining for key civil servants, appointed or elected employees of state and municipal bodies, court judges, and prosecutors.

The penalties for obstructing trade union activity range from fines to community service. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were not adequate, and the small fines imposed as punishment were an ineffective deterrent to employers. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Unions alleged that the government did not consistently enforce laws prohibiting retribution against strikers. In 2015 the National Labor Inspectorate (NLI) registered 1,202 disputes regarding working conditions, social benefits, and the right to freedom of trade union activity, filed under collective bargaining rules as a prerequisite for striking.

Violations of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining occurred. While many workers exercised the right to organize and join unions, many small- and medium-sized firms, which employed a majority of the workforce, discriminated against those who attempted to organize.

Labor leaders continued to report that employers regularly discriminated against workers who attempted to organize or join unions, particularly in the private sector. Discrimination typically took the forms of intimidation, termination of work contracts without notice, and closing of the workplace. Some employers sanctioned employees who tried to organize unions. The International Trade Union Confederation reported allegations of discrimination against members of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity “Solidarnosc” in Pyrzyce. These allegations included dismissals of six union members due to their affiliation with this union.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Nevertheless, forced labor occurred.

While the government effectively enforced the law, there were some limitations with respect to identification of victims of forced labor and distinguishing between forced labor and working conditions violations. Penalties for forced labor violations ranged from three to 15 years’ imprisonment and sufficiently stringent to deter violations compared to other serious crimes. In 2015, the last year for which statistics were available, the government assisted in removing 114 victims from forced labor.

There were reports that foreign and domestic men were subjected to forced labor in the agricultural, manufacturing, and food processing sectors and that men, women, and children were subjected to forced begging.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children under age 16, with exceptions in the cultural, artistic, sporting, and advertising fields when parents or guardians and the local labor inspector give their permission. Persons between ages 16 and 18 may work only if they have completed middle school, if the proposed employment constitutes vocational training, and if the work is not harmful to their health.

The government effectively enforced these laws in the formal sector, but the NLI was not empowered to inspect private farms or homes. During the first half of the year, the inspectorate conducted 710 inspections involving underage employees (ages 16 to 18). Authorities levied fines totaling 91,350 zloty ($23,179) in 270 cases. Trade unions generally argue that fines imposed on employers for workers’ rights violations were too small and ineffective.

The NLI reported that many employers underpaid minors or delayed their pay. The majority of employees ages 16 and 17 worked in commercial enterprises and repairs shops, processing industries, restaurants, and construction. Some children under age 18 also engaged in hazardous work in agriculture, primarily on family farms. Migrant Romani children from Romania were subjected to forced begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation in any way, directly or indirectly, on the grounds of race, sex, color, religion, political opinion, national origin, ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, trade union membership, and regardless of whether the person is hired for definite or indefinite contracts, or for full- or half-time work. The law does not specifically prohibit such discrimination based on language, HIV-positive status, gender identity, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. According to the Polish Society for Antidiscrimination Law, by law the accused must prove that discrimination did not take place, but judges often placed the burden on the victim to prove that discrimination occurred.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, age, minority status, disability, political opinion, sexual orientation and gender identity, and HIV-positive status. According to a European Commission report, the gender wage gap in 2013, the latest year for which data were available, was 6.4 percent. The Main Statistical Office’s 2016 gender pay gap report stated women earned 7.7 percent less than men earned in 2014. The report attributed the remuneration gap primarily to differing job qualifications. Discrimination against Romani workers also occurred (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national monthly minimum wage, which took effect in January, was 1,850 zloty ($469). On August 8, the president signed a law establishing 12 zloty ($3) as the minimum hourly wage to cover formal and informal work agreements. The law is to take effect January 2017. According to the Institute of Labor and Social Studies, in 2015 the social minimum monthly income level was 1,079 zloty ($274) for one person and 3,421 zloty ($868) for a family of four. In 2015 the subsistence level, which is the bare amount needed to cover the costs of housing and food, was 546 zloty ($139) for one person and 1,856 zloty ($471) for a family of four.

The law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours, with an upper limit of 48 hours including overtime. It requires premium pay for overtime. It prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime and sets a maximum of 150 hours of overtime per year. The law provides for workers to receive at least 11 hours of uninterrupted rest per day and 35 hours of uninterrupted rest per week. The constitution provides every employee the right to statutorily specified days free from work as well as annual paid holidays. The law also provides for 20 days of paid annual leave for employees with fewer than 10 years of employment and 26 days for those employed at least 10 years.

The law defines strict and extensive minimum conditions to protect worker health and safety, and empowers the NLI to supervise and monitor implementation of worker health and safety laws and to close workplaces with unsafe conditions. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The NLI’s powers are limited to the formal economy; it does not have authority to monitor implementation of worker health and safety laws in the informal economy, private farms, and households.

Authorities did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety in the formal or informal sectors. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were inadequate. In 2015 there were approximately 1,700 labor inspectors, the same number as in 2014.

According to the inspectorate’s 2015 report, the most frequent labor rights violations concerned failure to pay or delayed payment of wages. Most wage payment violations occurred in the services, construction, and processing industries. Seasonal workers were particularly vulnerable to such violations. The national inspectorate’s report did not cover domestic workers because inspectors could only conduct inspections in businesses, not private homes. The second-most common problem was inaccurate timekeeping records for hours worked.

Employers often ignored requirements regarding overtime pay. A large percentage of construction workers and seasonal agricultural laborers from Ukraine and Belarus earned less than the minimum wage. The large size of the informal economy–particularly in the construction and transportation industries–and the low number of government labor inspectors made enforcement of the minimum wage difficult. The Main Statistical Office definition of informal economy includes unregistered employment performed without a formal contract or agreement, and is not counted as a contribution to social security and from which income taxes are not deducted. According to Main Statistical Office, in 2014 (the latest year for which data were available), approximately 4.5 percent of workforce (711,000 persons) worked in the informal economy.

Trade union leaders stated penalties for employers were not sufficient to deter violations. In the case of serious violations, labor inspectors may submit the case to a court, which may impose a fine of up to 30,000 zloty ($7,600). According to labor laws, persons who maliciously violate the labor rights of employees may face up to two years’ imprisonment. According to the NLI, employers implemented 95 percent of all labor-inspection decisions, although a report by the NLI indicated that some legal restrictions, such as the requirement in some sectors that a company receive seven days’ advance notification of upcoming inspections, weakened the effectiveness of labor inspections. International observers noted that the NLI’s mandate to both confirm the legal status of workers and monitor working conditions creates a potential conflict of interest.

During 2015 the NLI continued a “Safety at Work Depends on You” campaign targeting employees and employers in high-risk sectors, such as industrial processing companies (mining and metalworking). The campaign took the form of training and information briefings, television and radio commercials broadcast on both private and public television and radio stations, and postings on the internet. In addition the NLI organized a prevention and information campaign targeting small construction companies, which included training on work safety standards for employees and employers. The NLI also continued a specific information and preventive program in construction, and offered training for small enterprises (those hiring up to 49 employees). The NLI also continued a television and radio campaign, “Respect Life! Safe Work on Farms,” targeting individual farmers and family members. The NLI visited many private farms to assess safety conditions and organized a number of competitions for individual farmers.

In June 2015 the NLI launched a new public-awareness campaign, “Before you start,” targeting mainly senior high-school and university students to inform them regarding their labor rights. In cooperation with the Central Institute of Labor Protection, senior high schools, educational authorities, universities, local governments and trade unions, the NLI continued an educational program called “Safety Culture” to instruct senior high-school and university students about workplace safety and to promote general knowledge about labor law.

In the first half of the year, the Central Statistical Office reported 39,233 victims of workplace accidents, an increase of 2,122 from the same period in 2015. The highest number of victims worked in industrial processing, the retail and wholesale trade, the health service sector, transportation, warehouse management, and construction. In 2015 the inspectorate investigated 2,024 accidents in which there were deaths or injuries, including 272 workers killed and 709 persons seriously injured. The NLI reported that, as in previous years, most of the fatal accidents occurred in the industrial-processing and construction industries. Employers routinely exceeded standards limiting exposure to chemicals, dust, and noise. According to the inspectorate’s 2015 report, inadequate training of employees, the poor quality of job-related risk assessment tools, and inadequate measures by employers to prevent accidents were the leading causes of workplace accidents.

Portugal

Executive Summary

Portugal, which includes the archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira, is a constitutional semi-presidential representative democracy with a president, prime minister, and parliament elected in multiparty elections. National legislative elections, held in October 2015, and presidential elections held on January 24 were free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The biggest human rights problems included excessive use of force and abuse of detainees and prisoners by police and prison guards; poor, unhealthy, and overcrowded prison conditions; and violence against women and children.

Other problems included the incarceration of juveniles with adults, denial of legal counsel and family contact to detainees, disregard of detainees’ rights by the Judiciary Police (PJ), lengthy pretrial detention, detention of asylum seekers, some government corruption, the practice of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) of girls in the Bissau-Guinean and other African communities, societal discrimination and exclusion against Roma, hindrances to labor organizing, trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation and forced labor, and a growing gap between pay for men and women.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press. The law criminalizes the denigration of ethnic or religious minorities, as well as offensive practices such as Holocaust denial. Prison sentences for these crimes run between six months and eight years.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 30 percent of the population had fixed broadband subscriptions, and 69 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities reportedly kept in detention some asylum seekers who submitted their applications for international protection at border points. If asylum seekers appealed a negative decision, they could remain in detention for up to 60 days, and no alternatives existed.

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

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considers all other EU countries to be safe countries of origin or transit. It returned asylum seekers to their country of entry into the EU for adjudication of their applications.

Durable Solutions: The government acceded to the EU’s relocation plan for refugees who entered the EU through Greece and Turkey and began receiving the refugees.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided subsidiary protection to approximately 105 persons in the first three quarters of the year.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country has an independent human rights ombudsman appointed by parliament who is responsible for defending the human rights, freedom, and legal rights of all citizens. The Ombudsman’s Office operated independently and with the cooperation of the government.

The ombudsman had adequate resources and published mandatory annual reports, as well as special reports on problems such as women’s rights, prisons, health, and the rights of children and senior citizens.

Parliament’s First Committee for Constitutional Issues, Rights, Liberties, and Privileges oversees human rights problems. It drafts and submits bills and petitions for parliamentary approval.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

While the law provides for freedom of association and collective bargaining, several restrictions limit these rights. In addition to members of the armed forces, the rights of police officers in these areas are limited. The PJ, the SEF, and prison guards may strike; the PSP and the GNR may not. If a long strike occurs in a sector deemed essential such as justice, health, energy, or transportation, the government may order strikers back to work for a specified period. Unions considered the list of essential sectors to be overly broad. Unions reported that compulsory conciliation and arbitration as prerequisites to strikes, restrictions on the scope of strikes, and restrictions on the types of strike actions permitted could limit the effectiveness of strikes.

The law requires unions to represent at least 50 percent of workers in a sector for collective bargaining units to be extended beyond the enterprise level. Under new reforms, the coverage of collective bargaining agreements declined. Public-sector employees have the right to discuss and consult with their employers on conditions of work, but they do not have the right to negotiate binding contracts. There remains a lack of clarity regarding criteria for union representation in the Permanent Commission for Social Partnerships, a tripartite advisory body. The law names specific unions, rather than giving participation rights to the most representative unions.

The government was generally effective in enforcing these laws. Resources, including inspections and remediation, were adequate. Penalties for violations range from fines equivalent to up to 120 days of the violator’s daily salary, or imprisonment for up to one year and were sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

Authorities generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations could generally operate free from government interference. Employers generally respected the right to bargain collectively. Requirements for enterprise-level bargaining by work councils sometimes prevented local union representatives from bargaining directly on behalf of workers. There were instances of employers undermining strikes using last-minute minimum-service requirements. Some workers received threats that union participation would result in negative performance reviews affecting their ability for promotion.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor. On September 22, an amendment to the Labor Code to combat modern forms of forced labor entered into force. The amendment distributes responsibility for complying with legal provisions between temporary employment agencies and users of temporary workers. It provides that the contractor and the developer, company or farm, as well as the respective managers, administrators or directors, and companies with which they are connected are jointly liable for violations of the legal provisions relating to the health and safety of temporary workers and are responsible for entitlements, social security contributions, and the payment of the respective fines. Parliament approved the law on July 20.

Resources dedicated to prevention and enforcement of forced labor, including inspections and remediation, remained inadequate. Penalties ranged from three to 15 years’ imprisonment, depending on under which article the charge was made, and were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. Convictions remained low, and convicted offenders frequently avoided imprisonment, undercutting enforcement efforts and victim protections. Government efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor during the year included a countrywide awareness campaign and training security forces to identify, flag, and direct victims to assistance services better.

Women and men were trafficked for forced labor primarily in restaurants, agriculture, and domestic service. Traffickers subjected children to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The statutory minimum age for the employment of children is 16. The law also prohibits the employment of persons under the age of 18 at night, for overtime work, or in sectors considered hazardous. The Working Conditions Authority (ACT) in the Ministry of Solidarity, Employment, and Social Security has primary responsibility for enforcement of the minimum age law and enforced it effectively in major industries and the service sector.

Child labor occurred in very limited cases within the formal economy. Children from Eastern Europe, primarily of Romani descent, were subjected to forced begging and coerced to commit property crimes (see section 6, Children).

Resources and inspections were adequate. Penalties for violations included up to four years in jail, six years in jail for repeat offenders, and were sufficient to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. The government effectively enforced these laws. There were reports, however, of job advertisements for the national airline, TAP, which placed age limits for certain positions, including engineers (up to 35 years of age), flight attendants (21 to 26 years old) and pilots (21 to 40 years old).

The law requires equal pay for equal work. According to the Ministry of Solidarity, Employment, and Social Security, however, women’s average salaries were approximately 27 percent lower than men’s, and the gap was widening.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage, which covers full-time workers, rural workers, and domestic employees who are 18 years of age and older, was 505 euros ($556) per month. The estimated poverty income level for 2010, the latest year available, was 421 euros ($463) per month per adult.

The legal workday may not exceed 10 hours, and the maximum workweek is 40 hours. On June 1, the government approved a return to the public sector’s traditional 35-hour working week, down from the current 40 hours that is standard in the private sector. There is a maximum of two hours of paid overtime per day and 200 hours of overtime per year, with a minimum of 12 hours’ rest between workdays. Premium pay for overtime worked on a rest day or public holiday is 100 percent; overtime performed on a normal working day is paid at a premium of 50 percent for the first hour and 75 percent for subsequent time worked. Unions raised concerns regarding working hour provisions on flexibility schemes and time banking, which the government has noted were designed to make working hours more flexible and increase productivity. The International Labor Organization reiterated that working-time arrangements detrimental to workers’ health or work-life balance could be inconsistent with international standards. Occupational safety and health standards set by ACT were current. Information identifying whether these laws apply to workers in the informal economy was not available.

ACT was responsible for enforcement of minimum wage, hours of work, and safety standards in the formal sector and effectively enforced these measures. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties ranged from fines (the equivalent of up to 120 days of the violator’s daily salary) to prison sentences of up to three years and were sufficient to deter violations. In 2014 the European Working Conditions Observatory reported 2 percent of the country’s workers stated they had performed paid work undeclared to tax authorities in the previous year.

Workers have the right to lodge confidential grievances with ACT regarding hazardous conditions or circumstances they believe endanger their health. Inspectors have the right to conduct inspections at any private or public company at any time without warning, and may shut down a workplace or a business permanently or temporarily if there is imminent danger to the workers’ health or safety. Workers are registered with social security services, whose funds cover their mandatory insurance for occupational diseases and work-related accidents. ACT conducts studies on labor accidents, salaries, and working conditions. It may impose administrative penalties and file lawsuits against employers. It has the right to access company records, files and archives, and may provide mediation services to resolve individual or group labor disputes. Labor enforcement tended to be less rigorous in sectors such as construction and agriculture where most immigrant workers were employed. According to ACT, there were 142 deaths from work-related accidents in 2015. Preliminary data for 2016 showed 89 deaths during the first eight months of the year. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

Senegal

Executive Summary

Senegal is a republic dominated by a strong executive branch. In 2012 voters elected Macky Sall to succeed Abdoulaye Wade as president for a seven-year term. In 2012 Sall’s coalition won a majority of seats in the National Assembly. Local and international observers viewed the elections as largely free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights problems included harsh prison conditions, lengthy pretrial detention, and discrimination and violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

Other major human rights problems included security force abuse, including torture, arbitrary arrest, questionable investigative detention, and lack of judicial independence. Corruption–particularly in the judiciary, police, and executive branch–was a problem. Child abuse, early and forced marriage, infanticide, and trafficking in persons occurred. Violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons continued, as did discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Forced labor, including by children, was a problem.

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 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 fourth year. Gunmen associated with various factions of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC), however, continued to rob and harass local populations. While there were occasional unplanned skirmishes between security forces and MFDC units, neither side conducted offensive operations. Mediation efforts continued in search of a negotiated resolution of the conflict, which began in 1982.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally limited these freedoms.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Blasphemy, security, and criminal defamation laws are in place and were occasionally enforced.

In October police arrested a French national for making death threats, defamation, and blasphemy. Following his arrest, the accused reportedly admitted to police that he maligned Islam as a “terrorist religion,” the Quran as a “book of lies,” and the Prophet Muhammad as “the terrorists’ guide.” In November a court sentenced him to six months in jail for several offenses, including religious insult, criminal breach of trust, and unlawful access to personal electronic data.

In June a court in Kolda sentenced Islamic preacher Ibrahima Seye, arrested in October 2015, to one year’s imprisonment for glorifying terrorism, inciting civil disobedience, and religious intolerance. Considering the sentence too light, the prosecutor on October 11 appealed the decision to the Dakar Court of Appeals, which sentenced Seye to 30 months in prison, where he remained at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent journalists regularly criticized the government without reprisal. Private, independent publications and government-affiliated media were available in Dakar, although their distribution in rural areas was irregular.

Radio was the most important medium of mass information and source of news due to the high illiteracy rate. There were approximately 200 community, public, and private commercial radio stations. Although an administrative law regulates radio frequency assignments, community radio operators claimed a lack of transparency in the process.

Although the government continued to influence locally televised information and opinion through Radio Television Senegal (RTS), five privately owned television channels broadcast independently. By law the government holds a majority interest in RTS, and the president directly or indirectly controlled selection of all members of the RTS executive staff.

Censorship and Content Restrictions: Journalists occasionally practiced self-censorship, particularly in government-controlled media.

On February 26, police seized files from the premises of Walf Fadjiri, an independent media outlet. The files featured a discussion between a journalist and an opposition activist on the March 20 constitutional referendum (see section 3), during which the journalist insinuated the president was using the referendum as a first step to legalize homosexuality. On February 29, police questioned the journalist about the broadcast for 10 hours.

On March 20, the day of the referendum, authorities attempted to shut down Walf Fadjiri for allegedly violating the electoral code by announcing election results while the polls remained open. Due to the presence of a crowd outside the station premises, authorities were unable to shut down the station, which continued to broadcast without interruption.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel. Unlike in previous years, authorities did not use these laws to block or punish critical reporting and commentary.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 58 percent of individuals had internet access.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government sometimes restricted this right. Some groups complained of undue delays in response to authorization requests for public demonstrations. Other groups were denied such authorization.

In February, for example, the government denied authorization to civil society groups calling for a rally in Dakar to campaign for a “no” vote in the March constitutional referendum.

The government forcibly dispersed demonstrators. For example, in January the government used teargas to disperse a demonstration against homosexuality by a coalition of 17 organizations; authorities had earlier denied the group a permit to demonstrate. Police detained 11 participants who defied the ban and subsequently released them without charge.

On October 14, a coalition of opposition parties, the Front for the Defense of Senegal, held a demonstration in Dakar that drew more than 15,000 demonstrators. Prior to the demonstration, the prefect of Dakar granted the coalition permission to march but altered the proposed route, which triggered a clash when police blocked demonstrators from their initially planned route. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd, a few of whom were detained and subsequently released on October 16. Some demonstrators also were injured, including former prime minister Abdoul Mbaye.

In January members of the main opposition Parti Democratique Senegalaise–Toussaint Manga, Bocar Niang, Gallo Tall, Aminata Sakho, Djibril Sarr, Daouda Dieye, Pape Fall, and Serigne Ndame Dieng–were released on bail. In February 2015 the eight had been remanded to custody pending trial for participating in an unauthorized public rally.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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 (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons.

In-country Movement: MFDC banditry and the risk of landmines restricted movement in some parts of the Casamance.

Foreign Travel: The law requires some public employees to obtain government approval before departing the country. Only the military and judiciary enforced this law, however.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

During the 34-year Casamance conflict, tens of thousands of persons left villages in the region due to fighting, forced removal, and land mines. The government estimated 10,000 IDPs remained in the Casamance. Some international humanitarian assistance agencies estimated the number could be as high as 24,000. During the year IDPs continued to return to their villages.

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. Since the president must approve each case, delays of one to two years in granting refugee status remained a problem. The government generally granted refugee status or asylum and provided refugees with food and nonfood assistance in coordination with UNHCR and NGOs.

The government did not offer all asylum seekers due process or security, since appeals filed by denied asylum seekers were examined by the same committee that examined their original case. A denied asylum seeker can be arrested for staying illegally in the country, and those arrested sometimes remained in “administrative detention” for up to three months before being deported.

Durable Solutions: Since 1989 the country has offered temporary protection to Mauritanian refugees, who were dispersed over a large area in the Senegal River valley along the Mauritania border and enjoyed free movement within the country. According to UNHCR, approximately half of the remaining 13,000 Mauritanian refugees in the country have indicated a desire to remain in Senegal permanently. UNHCR and the governments of Senegal and Mauritania were working to find durable solutions for this population.

The government continued to permit generally unsupervised and largely informal repatriation of Casamance refugees returning from The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.

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

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

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: On May 30, the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) sentenced former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre to life imprisonment for war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, and sexual slavery. The EAC is a hybrid court established by the government in collaboration with the African Union, within the country’s legal system, to try Habre as well as the other “persons most responsible” for international crimes committed in Chad during Habre’s rule. On June 10, Habre’s lawyers appealed the decision. No date for hearing the appeal had been set by year’s end, and Habre’s assets remained frozen. On July 29, the EAC ordered Habre to compensate his victims between 10 million CFA francs ($17,000) and 20 million CFA francs ($34,000) each, depending on the severity of abuse. Three judges–two Senegalese and a presiding judge from Burkina Faso–oversaw the trial, which began in June 2015 and was open to the public and widely covered by local and international press.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, except security force members, including police and gendarmes, customs officers, and judges. The law allows civil servants to form and join unions. Before a trade union can exist legally, the labor code requires authorization from the Ministry of Interior. Unions have no legal recourse if the minister refuses registration. Under the law, as part of the trade union recognition process, the ministry has the authority to check the morality and aptitude of candidates for positions of trade union officials. In addition the law provides that minors (both as workers and as apprentices) cannot organize without parental authorization. The state prosecutor can dissolve and disband trade unions by administrative order if union administrators are not following union regulations for what a union is supposed to be doing on behalf of its members. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides for the right to bargain collectively. Foreigners may hold union office only if they have lived in the country for five years and only if his or her country provides the same right to Senegalese citizens. Collective bargaining agreements applied to an estimated 44 percent of union workers. Unions are able to engage in legal proceedings against any individual or entity that infringes the collective bargaining rights of union members, including termination of employment.

The law provides for the right to strike; however, certain regulations restrict this right. The constitution seriously undermines the right to strike by stipulating that a strike must not infringe on the freedom to work or jeopardize an enterprise. The law states workplaces may not be occupied during a strike, whether or not such strike is peaceful, and may not violate nonstrikers’ freedom to work or hinder the right of management to enter the premises of the enterprise. This means pickets, go-slows, working to rule, and sit-downs are prohibited. Unions representing members of the civil service must notify the government of their intent to strike at least one month in advance; private-sector unions must notify the government three days in advance. The government does not have any legal obligation to engage with groups who are planning to strike, but the government sometimes engaged in dialogue with these groups. The right to strike is restricted further by the power of authorities to requisition workers to replace those on strike in all sectors, whether or not they are “essential services” sectors. The government effectively enforced applicable laws on the right to strike. Penalties for noncompliance include a fine, imprisonment from three months to one year, or both. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The labor code does not apply to the informal sector and thus excludes the majority of the workforce, including subsistence farmers, domestic workers, and those employed in many family businesses.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Workers exercised the right to form or join unions, but antiunion sentiment within the government was strong. Trade unions organize on an industry-wide basis, very similar to the French system of union organization. There were no confirmed reports of antiunion discrimination during the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Although the law prohibits begging for economic gain, a provision of the penal code provides that “the act of seeking alms on days, in places, and under conditions established by religious traditions” does not constitute begging. Many provisions of the law impose imprisonment with compulsory prison labor as a penalty for noncompliance, such as for participation in strikes in “essential services,” for occupying the workplace or its immediate surroundings during strike actions, or for breaching labor discipline deemed to endanger ships or the life or health of persons on board.

Following the president’s announcement of a campaign against child begging, authorities began removing children from the streets. During the first three months of the campaign, police collected 843 children begging on the streets and sent them to the Ginddi Center, the sole government-run shelter for abused and neglected children in the country. Many of these children were subsequently returned to their families or their daaras based on the child’s decision. The practice of forced begging, however, continued largely unabated, and there were no arrests, prosecutions, or convictions in connection with forced begging during the year.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws against forced labor, and such practices continued to occur, particularly forced child labor, including forced begging by children in some Quranic schools (see section 6). Some children in these schools (daaras) were kept in conditions of servitude, being forced to work daily, generally in street begging, and had to meet a daily quota for money (or sometimes sugar or rice) set by their teachers.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Regulations on child labor set the minimum working age at 15. The law prohibits many forms of hazardous child labor but includes exceptions. In the agricultural sector, for example, children as young as age 12 are permitted to work in a family environment when necessary. The law also allows boys under age 16 to work in underground mines and quarries doing “light work.” Due to the nature of the dangers associated with mining, “light work” activities do not prevent exposure to hazards.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor are charged with investigating and initiating lawsuits in child labor cases. The ministry’s investigators can visit any institution during work hours to verify and investigate compliance with labor laws and can act on tips from trade unions or ordinary citizens.

Labor laws prohibiting child labor were largely unenforced. The Ministry of Labor sent investigators to investigate formal work places, but they were not trained to deal with child labor problems. The Child Labor Division in the Ministry of Labor was severely understaffed and underfunded. Inspectors lacked adequate resources to monitor the informal sector, and no cases of child labor have ever been identified in the formal sector. There was no specific system in place to report child labor violations, largely due to inadequate funding of the Child Labor Division and the Ministry of Labor. The ministry instead relied on unions to report violators. The government conducted seminars with local officials, NGOs, and civil society to raise awareness of the dangers of child labor and exploitive begging.

Most instances of child labor occurred in the informal economy where labor regulations were not enforced. Economic pressures and inadequate educational opportunities often pushed rural families to emphasize work over education for their children. Child labor was especially common in the regions of Tambacounda, Louga, and Fatick, where up to 90 percent of children worked. Child labor was prevalent in many informal and family-based sectors, such as agriculture (millet, corn, and peanuts), fishing, artisanal gold mining, garages, dumpsites, slaughterhouses, salt production, rock quarrying, and metal- and woodworking shops. In the large, informal, unregulated artisanal mining sector, entire families, including children, were engaged in artisanal mining work. Child gold washers, most between ages 10 and 14, worked approximately eight hours a day without training or protective equipment. There were also reports of children working on family farms or herding cattle. Children also worked as domestics, in tailoring shops, at fruit and vegetable stands, and in other areas of the informal economy.

In 2008 (the most recent year for which such data was available) a national child labor survey published by the National Agency of Demography and Statistics measured the economic activities of children during the prior 12 months. According to the survey, 37 percent of children between ages five and 17 worked. A predominant type of forced child labor was the forced begging by children sent to live and study under the supervision of Quranic teachers (see sections 6 and 7.b.). Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on national origin, race, sex, disability, and religion; violators are officially subject to fines ranging from 250,000 CFA francs ($426) to one million CFA francs ($1,700) and imprisonment for a period of one month up to one year, but these were not regularly enforced. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The government did not effectively enforce the antidiscrimination provisions of the law. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred and was the most prevalent form of discrimination. Men and women have equal rights to apply for a job. Women represented 52 percent of the population, but they performed 90 percent of domestic work and 85 percent of agricultural work. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but women experienced discrimination in employment and operating businesses (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum hourly wage was 209 CFA francs ($0.36), but for agricultural workers it was 183 CFA francs ($0.31). The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage. Labor unions also acted as watchdogs and contributed to effective implementation of the minimum wage in the formal sector. The minimum wage provisions apply to foreign and migrant workers as well.

For most occupations in the formal sector, the law mandates a standard workweek of 40 to 48 hours, or 2,080 hours per year, with at least one 24-hour rest period per week, one month per year of annual leave, enrollment in government social security and retirement plans, safety standards, and other measures. Night work is defined as activity between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.; night workers should receive a supplementary rate of 60 percent for any night hours worked and 100 percent for any night hours worked on holidays. The law does not prohibit excessive or compulsory overtime in the formal sector.

Premium pay for overtime is required only in the formal sector. Legal regulations on occupational safety and health exist, and the government sets the standards. Employees or their representatives have the right to propose whatever they assume will insure their protection and safety. They can refer to the competent administrative authority in case the employers refuse.

The Ministry of Labor, through the Labor Inspection Office, is responsible for enforcing labor standards in the formal sector; those who violate standards are officially subject to fines ranging from 250,000 CFA francs ($420) to one million CFA francs ($1,700) and imprisonment for a period of one month up to one year, but these were not regularly enforced. Enforcement of the workweek standard was irregular. Labor inspectors had poor working conditions and lacked transportation to conduct their mission effectively. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common. The minimum wage also covers the informal sector but was not enforced, especially for domestic workers. Due to high unemployment and a slow legal system, workers seldom exercised their nominal right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety. According to government statistics, there were 1,736 cases related to workplace accidents in 2015 (the majority of which took place in Dakar); the reality is likely much higher, as the official number does not take into account the large number of workplace accidents in the informal sector.

Singapore

Executive Summary

Singapore is a parliamentary republic where the People’s Action Party (PAP), in power since 1959, overwhelmingly dominated the political scene. Observers considered the 2015 general election as open and free, with the major opposition party winning six seats in Parliament. Observers also considered the by-election held in 2016 as open and free, with the major opposition party winning the contested seat.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The government has broad powers to limit citizens’ rights. Parliament passed the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill, which seeks to prevent interference in and influence over cases before the High Court or Court of Appeals by clarifying conduct constituting contempt of court. The government could and did censor the media (from television shows to websites) if it determined that the content would undermine social harmony or criticize the government. The Internal Security Act (ISA) permitted preventive detention without warrant, filing of charges, or normal judicial review; in recent years the government used it against alleged terrorists and not against persons in the political opposition.

Additional reported human rights problems included the following: Caning is an acceptable punishment for some crimes; restrictions existed on free speech and assembly; government intimidation led to self-censorship by journalists; and there were some restrictions on freedom of religion and on labor rights.

The government prosecuted officials who committed human rights abuses, although there were no instances of such prosecutions reported during the year. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution provides for freedom of speech and freedom of expression but imposes official restrictions on these rights, and the government significantly restricted freedom of speech and of the press involving criticism of the government and statements that the government contended would undermine social or religious harmony. Government intimidation and pressure to conform resulted in self-censorship among many journalists. Nevertheless, there was an increase in open debate regarding government policies, and government leaders used social media to engage citizens on various issues and concerns. In the campaign leading to the 2015 general election, no opposition parties reported facing restrictions in holding campaign rallies.

In August Parliament passed the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill, which identifies actions that constitute contempt of court to include disobeying court orders (unless it is due to an “honest” and “reasonable” failure to understand the obligations under the order), publishing material that prejudges pending proceedings or interferes with proceedings in progress, and making allegations of bias against judges. Several prominent lawyers and public figures openly questioned if the law excessively restricts public discussion of court proceedings.

In 2000 the government established Speakers’ Corner as the only outdoor venue where citizens could give public speeches without a Public Entertainment License. Originally, only Singapore citizens were permitted to use the location and were required to obtain a police permit. Over time the rules eased, although restrictions remained. Today, Speakers’ Corner may be used for exhibitions, performances, and demonstrations, and Singapore citizens do not need a police permit to organize or participate in these events. Permanent residents may participate in events but must obtain a police permit in order to speak at or organize an event. Foreigners and foreign entities, however, must obtain a police permit in order to speak at, participate in, or organize events at the Speakers’ Corner. In October the Ministry of Home Affairs clarified the definitions of “public speaking” and “organizing” at Speakers’ Corner. Public speaking includes speaking through remote means, such as teleconferencing or prerecorded messages. Organizing an event includes sponsoring, publicly promoting the event, or organizing its members or employees to participate in the event. All event organizers must preregister online with the National Parks Board and must provide the topic of their event; regulations state that the event should not be religious in nature or cause feelings of enmity, ill will, or hostility between different racial or religious groups. The commissioner of parks and recreation reserves the right to cancel or disallow any event or activity that he or she believes may endanger or cause discomfort or inconvenience to other park users and/or the general public.

Citizens need a permit to speak at indoor public gatherings outside the hearing or view of nonparticipants only if the topic refers to race or religion. Indoor, private events are not subject to the same restrictions. Organizers of private events, however, must be vigilant in ensuring uninvited guests do not find a way inside, or they could be cited for noncompliance and, inadvertently, violate the rules regarding public gatherings.

Press and Media Freedoms: Under the ISA the government may restrict or place conditions on publications that incite violence, counsel disobedience to the law, have the potential to arouse tensions in the country’s diverse population, or threaten national interests, national security, or public order. The government has not invoked the ISA against political opponents since 1998.

Government leaders urged that news media support the goals of the elected leadership and help maintain social and religious harmony. In addition to enforcing strict defamation and press laws, the government’s demonstrated willingness to respond vigorously to what it considered personal attacks on officials led journalists and editors to moderate or limit what was published. In some instances the government sued journalists or online bloggers for defamation or for stories that authorities believed undermined social and religious harmony.

The government strongly influenced both the print and electronic media. Two companies, Singapore Press Holdings Limited (SPH) and MediaCorp, owned all general circulation newspapers in the four official languages of English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. SPH is a private holding company with close ties to the government; the government must approve (and can remove) the holders of SPH management shares, who have the power to appoint or dismiss all directors or staff. The government investment company Temasek Holdings wholly owned MediaCorp. As a result, while newspapers printed a large and diverse selection of articles from domestic and foreign sources, their editorials, coverage of domestic events, and reporting of sensitive foreign relations topics usually closely reflected official government policies and the opinions of government leaders.

Columnists’ opinions and letters to the editor expressed a moderate range of opinions on public issues, some critical of government policies.

Government-linked companies and organizations operated all domestic broadcast television channels and almost all radio stations. Only one radio station, the BBC World Service, was completely independent of the government. Residents could receive some Malaysian and Indonesian television and radio programming, but with few exceptions authorities prohibited satellite dishes. Cable subscribers had access to numerous foreign television shows and a wide array of international news channels and many entertainment channels. The government did not censor international news channels but did censor entertainment programs to remove or edit coarse language, representations of intimate gay and lesbian relationships, and explicit sexual content. In February a foreign leader’s remarks on The Ellen Show regarding gay rights were edited and not broadcasted in the country. The segment was deemed “unsuitable for family audiences.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In September the Media Development Authority (MDA) and the Info-communications Development Authority merged to form a new agency, the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA). The MDA is a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information that continues the former MDA’s role to regulate broadcast, print, and other media, including movies, video materials, computer games, and music. Banned publications consisted primarily of sexually oriented materials but also included some religious and political publications. The IMDA develops censorship standards including age-appropriate classification of media content with the help of various citizen advisory panels. The ISA, UPA, and Films Act allow the banning, seizure, censorship, or restriction of written, visual, or musical materials if authorities determine that such materials threaten the stability of the state, contravene moral norms, are pornographic, show excessive or gratuitous sex and violence, glamorize or promote drug use, or incite racial, religious, or linguistic animosities. The IMDA has the power to sanction broadcasters for transmitting what it believed to be inappropriate content. All content shown between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. must be suitable for viewers of all ages.

In June the producers of the musical Les Miserables removed a comical kiss between two men from all performances in order to retain a “General” rating (suitable for all ages). The MDA stated that such a scene would fall under an “Advisory” rating (mature content, parental guidance is advised).

In October the producers of the musical RENT decided to cut the same-sex kisses from several performances after the IMDA gave the show a rating of R18 (suitable for audiences age 18 and above), which required enforceable age restrictions. Without the same-sex kisses, the performances were rated as suitable for audiences age 16 and above.

Under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, the government may limit the circulation of foreign publications it determines interfere with domestic politics. The act requires foreign publications with circulation of 300 or more copies per issue that report on politics and current events in Southeast Asia to register, post a bond of S$200,000 ($144,000), and name a person in the country to accept legal service. The requirements for offshore newspapers applied to nine foreign newspapers but exempted three others.

The government may “gazette” (limit) the circulation of publications. The government also may ban the circulation of domestic and foreign publications under provisions of the ISA and UPA. The Broadcasting Act empowers the minister for communications and information to gazette or place formal restrictions on any foreign broadcaster deemed to be engaging in domestic politics. The government can require a gazetted broadcaster to obtain express permission from the minister to continue broadcasting in the country. The government may impose restrictions on the number of households receiving a broadcaster’s programming and may fine a broadcaster up to S$100,000 ($72,000) for failing to comply.

Libel Laws/Slander: Critics charged that government leaders used defamation lawsuits or threats of such actions to discourage public criticism, coerce the press, and intimidate opposition politicians. Conviction on criminal defamation charges may result in a prison sentence of up to two years, a fine, or both.

Playing of musical instruments is banned during processions, including religious foot processions, to “deter public disorder which may be caused by rivalries between groups and to minimize the impact of the procession along the procession route.” During the annual Hindu Thaipusam procession in 2015, after failing to prevent some participants from playing drums, which contravened permit conditions, event organizers requested police support. Police arrested three men for vulgar speech and injury of police officers. The arrests prompted online comments, with some calling the ban on musical instruments unjustified and others alleging that the excessive police reaction provoked the situation. The AGC released a media statement to warn the public against making comments that could be considered contempt of court for interfering with the administration of justice. Local media ran stories with headlines such as “AGC warns against public or online comments on Thaipusam incident.” The online discussions stopped in short order. Following feedback from the Hindu Endowment Board on the importance of religious music to devotees participating in Thaipusam, the government relaxed this rule to allow more music. In January, after a 42-year absence, musical instruments were permitted at Thaipusam.

INTERNET FREEDOM

In August the government committed to promote an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure global Internet and affirmed that the same rights that persons have offline must be protected online. Although online end users generally had unrestricted access to the internet, the government subjected all internet content to similar rules and standards as traditional media, as defined under the IMDA’s Internet Code of Practice. Individuals and groups could engage in the expression of views via the internet, including by e-mail. Internet service providers (ISPs) are required to ensure that content complies with the code. The IMDA also regulates internet material by licensing the ISPs through which local users are required to route their internet connections. The law permits government monitoring of internet use, and the government closely monitored internet activities, such as social media posts, blogs, and podcasts. The IMDA was empowered to direct service providers to block access to websites that, in the government’s view, undermined public security, national defense, racial and religious harmony, or public morals. Political and religious websites must register with the IMDA. Although a government-appointed review panel recommended that the government cease banning 100 specific websites for being pornographic, inciting racial and religious intolerance, or promoting terrorism and extremism, the ban remained in effect. In 2016, 88 percent of households and 81 percent of individuals had internet access.

The Online News Licensing Scheme (ONLS) requires certain internet news sites to obtain a license. This requirement applies to sites that publish on average at least one article per week over a two-month period that relates to issues in the country and receives at least 50,000 monthly site visits over a two-month period from the unique addresses of Singapore-based internet providers. The license requires these sites to submit a bond of S$50,000 ($36,000) and to adhere to additional requirements to remove prohibited content within 24 hours of notification from the IMDA. Many citizens viewed this regulation as a way to censor online critics of the government. The IMDA stated there was need to regulate commercial news sites and promote conformity with other forms of media such as print and television. The minister of communications and information stated that the intent of the regulation was not to target individual bloggers or blogs. As of November, 11 news sites had received notification from IMDA to move to the ONLS to obtain licenses and acceded to the request. News sites that cover political issues are required to register under the Broadcasting Act Class License to ensure that registrants do not receive foreign funding. Most websites registered upon request by the IMDA, with the exception of one that chose to shut down.

In September 17-year-old blogger Amos Yee received a sentence of six weeks in jail after he pled guilty to charges of obscenity and for “wounding religious feelings” by posting comments on the internet criticizing Christianity and Islam. In 2015 Yee was found guilty after posting a YouTube video criticizing the late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and sentenced to four weeks in jail. During the 2015 trial, the AGC issued a take-down notice to local sociopolitical website The Online Citizen for publishing a letter from Yee’s lawyer that questioned the AGC’s process in submitting evidence as well as the suitability of a reformative training sentence for Yee on the grounds that the letter was in contempt of court.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There was limited autonomy of all public institutions of higher education and political research. Although faculty members were not technically government employees, they were subject to potential government influence. Academics spoke, published widely, and engaged in debate on social and political problems, although public comment outside the classroom or in academic publications that ventured into prohibited areas–such as criticism of political leaders, sensitive social and economic policies, or comments that could disturb ethnic or religious harmony or appeared to advocate partisan political views–could result in sanctions. Publications by local academics and members of research institutions rarely deviated substantially from government views.

The law authorizes the minister of communications and information to ban any film, whether political or not, that in his opinion is “contrary to the public interest.” The law does not apply to any film sponsored by the government and allows the minister to exempt any film from the act.

Certain films barred from general release may be allowed limited showings, either censored or uncensored. Films, including banned films, were available through YouTube and other websites.

In 2014 the then MDA banned the film To Singapore, With Love, on the grounds that it undermined national security and stated that “the individuals in the film have given distorted and untruthful accounts of how they came to leave Singapore and remain outside Singapore.” The film featured interviews with political activists who had fled the country in the 1960s and 70s.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides citizens the right to peaceful assembly but permits Parliament to impose restrictions “it considers necessary or expedient” in the interest of security, public order, or morality, and the government restricted this right. Public assemblies, including political meetings and rallies, require police permission. By law a public assembly may include events staged by a single person. Citizens do not need permits for indoor speaking events, unless they touch on “sensitive topics” such as race or religion, or for qualifying events held at Speakers’ Corner. Police also have the authority to order a person to “move on” from a certain area and not return to the designated spot for 24 hours.

In June activist and blogger Han Hui Hui received a fine for organizing a rally without prior approval to protest the government’s management of the national retirement fund. The judge stated the evidence proved Han rallied her Facebook readers to go to the event to protest, but that she did not have the approval of authorities to organize a demonstration or had she applied for one.

The government closely monitored political gatherings regardless of the number of persons present.

Spontaneous public gatherings or demonstrations were virtually unknown.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Most associations, societies, clubs, religious groups, and other organizations with more than 10 members are required to register with the government under the Societies Act. The government can deny registration to groups that it believed had been formed for unlawful purposes or for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare, or public order. One application, of 236 submitted from January to October, was denied (155 were approved). The government has absolute discretion in applying criteria to register or dissolve societies.

The government prohibits organized political activities except by groups registered as political parties or political associations. The latter may not receive foreign donations but can receive funds from citizens and locally controlled entities. The PAP was able to use nonpolitical organizations, such as residential committees and neighborhood groups, for political purposes far more extensively than was the case for opposition parties. Due to laws regulating the formation of publicly active organizations, there were few NGOs apart from nonpolitical organizations, such as religious groups, ethnically oriented organizations, environmental groups, and providers of welfare services.

In June, three days after the annual LGBTI “Freedom to Love” rally organized by the advocacy group Pink Dot, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a press statement saying “foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones,” to include LGBTI issues. The announcement sparked much commentary online and in the press, as well as criticism from human rights groups.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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. According to government sources, 21 suspected terrorists were subject to such restrictions in 2014.

Foreign Travel: The government may refuse to issue a passport, 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 years 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. To obtain the required permit, a prospective traveler must in certain cases post a bond equal to S$75,000 ($54,000) or 50 percent of the combined gross annual income of both parents for the preceding year, whichever is greater. The bond requirement applies to male travelers that are 16 and one-half years of age and older for travel exceeding three months and to male travelers who are 13 to 16 and one-half years of age for travel lasting two or more years.

Emigration and Repatriation: The law allows for loss of citizenship by citizens who reside outside the country for more than 10 consecutive years; however, there were no known instances of the law being applied.

Former members of the Communist Party of Malaya residing outside the country may not repatriate unless they renounce communism, sever all links with the party, and agree to be interviewed by the Internal Security Department about their past activities. Some former party cadres accepted these conditions and returned in the past, but observers estimated that approximately 30 alleged party members had not.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, although the government may, on compassionate grounds and in cooperation with organizations such as UNHCR, provide assistance to refugees on a case-by-case basis.

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

A variety of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction and these organizations investigated and published their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. NGOs were subject to registration under the Societies Act or the Companies Act.

Some international human rights NGOs criticized the government’s policies in areas such as capital punishment, migrant workers’ rights, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and protection of the rights of LGBTI persons. They charged that the government generally ignored such criticisms or published rebuttals.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join trade unions. Workers have the legal right to strike and to bargain collectively. There is no law prohibiting antiunion discrimination, and no specific laws prohibit retaliation against strikers.

By law Parliament may impose restrictions on the right of association based on security, public order, or morality grounds. The Ministry of Manpower also has broad powers to refuse to register a union or to cancel a union’s registration. The Societies Act and labor and education laws and regulations restrict the right of association by requiring any group of 10 or more persons to register with the government. The Trade Unions Act restricts the right of uniformed personnel and government employees to organize, although the president may grant exemptions. The Amalgamated Union of Public Employees and 15 other public-sector unions received exemptions and may represent all public-sector employees except the most senior civil servants. Foreigners and those with criminal convictions generally may not hold union office or become employees of unions, but the ministry may grant exemptions.

The law requires more than 50 percent of affected unionized workers to vote in favor of a strike by secret ballot, as opposed to 51 percent of those participating in the vote. Workers in “essential services” are required to give 14 days’ notice to an employer before striking, and there is a prohibition on strikes by workers in the water, gas, and electricity sectors.

Most labor disagreements were resolved through conciliation by the Ministry of Manpower. If conciliation failed, the disputing parties usually submitted their case to the tripartite Industrial Arbitration Court, composed of employee and management representatives and chaired by a judge. The court is available only to employees who are members of a trade union and where the dispute relates to the terms of the employment contract or collective agreements. In some situations the law provides for compulsory arbitration. The court must certify collective agreements before they go into effect. The court may refuse certification at its discretion on the ground of public interest.

Unions were not able to carry out their work without interference from the government or political parties. The Trade Unions Act limits the objectives for which unions can spend their funds, prohibits payments to political parties or the use of funds for political purposes, and restricts the right of trade unions to elect their officers and choose whom they may employ.

Almost all unions were affiliated with the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), an umbrella organization with a close relationship with the government and the ruling PAP. The NTUC secretary-general was also a cabinet minister. Additionally, four PAP MPs were assistant secretaries-general of the NTUC. NTUC policy prohibited union members who supported opposition parties from holding office in its affiliated unions.

Collective bargaining was a normal part of labor-management relations in all sectors. Because almost all unions were its affiliates, the NTUC had almost exclusive authority to exercise collective bargaining power on behalf of employees. Union members may not reject collective agreements negotiated between their union representatives and an employer. Although transfers and layoffs are excluded from the scope of collective bargaining, employers consulted with unions on both issues, and the Tripartite Panel on Retrenched Workers issued guidelines calling for early notification to unions of layoffs.

Foreign workers made up approximately 15 per cent of union members. Laws, such as the Employment Act and the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, protect migrant workers. Labor NGOs also filled an important function by providing support for migrant workers, including legal aid and medical care, especially for those in the informal sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. In 2015 the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA), which strengthens victim protection and the role of law enforcement, went into effect.

The Ministry of Manpower, a participant in the Interagency Trafficking in Persons Taskforce, is responsible for combating labor trafficking and improving working conditions for workers. It generally enforced antitrafficking legislation. PHTA sets out harsh penalties (including up to nine strokes of the cane and 15 years’ imprisonment) for those found guilty of trafficking, including forced labor, or abetting such activities. The government developed a mechanism for referral of forced labor, among other trafficking-in-persons activities, to the interagency taskforce, co-chaired by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Manpower in conjunction with civil society and foreign embassies. The Home Affairs Ministry increased its efforts to train law enforcement and immigration officials.

There were reports of practices indicative of forced labor. Migrant workers in low-wage and unskilled sectors such as domestic work, hospitality, and construction were vulnerable to labor exploitation, including the withholding of pay, passports and other identity documents by employers.

There were regular reports of employers arrested for abuse or mistreatment of their foreign domestic workers (FDWs). Upon the FDWs’ arrival, there were reports their contracts were substituted, whereby the initial terms agreed upon were significantly changed. The law caps the fees payable by FDWs to employment agencies in the country at one month’s salary per year of the employment contract. Observers, however, noted that unscrupulous agencies in sending countries could still charge exorbitant fees. The government took law enforcement action against employers for workplace violations, and it investigated and imposed fines on some unlicensed employment agencies for committing other illegal practices that could facilitate trafficking.

Some observers also noted that the country’s employer sponsorship system made legal migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor, because they cannot change employers without the consent of the current employer.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of children under age 13. A child age 13 or older may engage in light work in a nonindustrial undertaking, subject to medical clearance. Exceptions include work in family enterprises; a child 13 or older may work in an industrial undertaking in which only members of his or her family are employed. Ministry of Manpower regulations prohibit night employment of children and restrict industrial work for children between ages 15 and 16 to no more than seven hours a day, including the hours spent in school. Employers must notify the commissioner of labor within 30 days of hiring a child between ages 15 and 16 for industrial work and attach a medical certification of the child’s fitness for employment. Children under 15 may not work on commercial vessels, with moving machinery, on live electrical apparatus lacking effective insulation, or in any underground job, and normally they are prohibited from employment in the industrial sector. The law does not clearly identify prohibitions for work by children between ages 16 and 18.

The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Penalties for employers that violated laws related to child labor were subject to fines and/or imprisonment, depending on the violation. Government officials asserted that child labor was not a significant issue.

The incidence of children in formal employment was low, and there were almost no abuses reported. Some children were subject to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution upholds the principle of equality in employment, but no specific antidiscrimination legislation exists. The Ministry of Manpower’s Fair Consideration Framework requires all companies to comply with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices’ (TAFEP) guidelines for employment practices that are open, merit-based, and nondiscriminatory. These guidelines call for eliminating language referring to age, race, gender, religion, marital status, family responsibility, and disability in employment advertisements. Employers are required to provide explanations for putting requirements such as specific language skills in the job advertisement. Penalties for violation of government guidelines are at the discretion of the ministry. There were no similar government guidelines with respect to political opinion, sexual orientation, or HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases.

Employers usually followed the guidelines. TAFEP, which works with employer organizations, unions, and the government to create awareness and facilitate the adoption of fair employment practices, received complaints on employment discrimination, largely that employers preferred to hire foreigners. TAFEP received complaints against employers for discrimination based on race, language, or religion. The Ministry of Manpower investigated nine employers over such complaints in 2014. Of the nine companies, the ministry restricted the abilities of eight employers to hire foreigners and added one to a watch list.

Employees were in a legal gray zone when facing discrimination in the workplace, and many cases were unreported. In 2014 the gender wage gap was 12.1 percent, and women were underrepresented in managerial and executive positions. Some persons called for the government to implement antidiscrimination laws. The Association for Muslim Professionals called for the formation of a central body to resolve, mediate, and prevent discriminatory practices against minority races and foreign communities. Some ethnic Malays and Indians reported that discrimination limited their employment and promotion opportunities. According to a 2013 Institute of Policy Studies survey, a majority of the Malay and Indian population at some point had felt racially discriminated against when applying for a job or being considered for promotions.

There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity. LGBTI citizens may become government workers but must declare their sexual orientation on job applications.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not specify a minimum wage, but citizens and permanent residents generally received relatively high wages that provided a decent standard of living for a worker and family. There is no official poverty level. The most recent average household expenditure on basic needs figure calculated by the government was from 2012/13 and set the amount at S$1,250 ($900) per month. In 2015, 18.3 percent of residents–comprising citizens and permanent residents–earned less than S$1,000 ($720) a month. The government’s progressive wage model, designed to raise the productivity and wages of low-wage workers, requires businesses in some sectors such as cleaning and security services to specify a minimum wage of S$1,000 ($720) to obtain a business license. Some argued that this level was lower than the minimum wage in countries with similar living costs.

The Employment Act sets the standard legal workweek at 44 hours and provides for one rest day each week. For employees covered by the Employment Act, the overtime rate is at least 1.5 times the basic hourly rate of pay. The law permits an employee to work up to a limit of 72 hours of overtime in a month. It requires employers to apply for an overtime exception from the Ministry of Manpower for employees to work more than 72 hours of overtime a month. The law requires employers provide either one rest-day each week or compensation for FDWs.

The law establishes a framework for workplaces to comply with occupational safety and health standards, and regular inspections enforced the standards. Officials encouraged workers to report situations that endanger health or safety to the Ministry of Manpower, but the law does not specifically protect the right of workers to remove themselves from a hazardous working environment. The Work Injury Compensation Act, which provides for medical treatment, medical leave, and compensation for permanent disability, excludes FDWs. Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, the employer is responsible for the provision of medical treatment to the employees, including FDWs. Employers are also required to purchase personal accident insurance for their FDWs with coverage up to S$40,000 ($28,800).

The Employment Act does not cover managers or executives making more than S$4,500 ($3,200) monthly, domestic workers, seafarers, or public servants (individuals employed by a Statutory Board or the government). The maximum salary below which the act applies for “nonworkmen” jobs was S$2,500 ($1,800), and a basic monthly salary not exceeding S$4,500 ($3,200) for persons employed in managerial and executive positions.

The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced laws and regulations establishing working conditions and comprehensive occupational safety and health (OSH) laws. Approximately 260 workplace safety and health officers worked for the ministry during the year. Penalties for violating OSH regulations range from S$50,000 to one million Singapore dollars ($36,000 to $720,000), which were sufficient to deter violations. The government also enforced requirements for employers to provide one rest day per week or compensation for FDWs, and penalties include a fine of up to S$10,000 ($7,200) or 12 months in prison. From January to October 2014, the ministry received 114 salary claims involving these workers.

The ministry implemented enforcement procedures and promoted educational and training programs to reduce the frequency of job-related accidents. There were 20,800 high-risk factories registered with the ministry under the enhanced factory registration scheme. The scheme strengthens the requirements for implementation of risk management and safety- and health-management systems in these higher-risk factories, which included construction worksites, shipyards, metalworking factories, and petrochemical plants. The Labor Relations and Workplaces Division of the Ministry of Manpower provided free advisory and mediation services to foreign workers experiencing problems with employers. The Foreign Manpower Management Division operated a hotline to receive information regarding FDWs’ well-being.

Substantial numbers of foreign workers held white-collar jobs. Employers and workers generally negotiated wages annually. The National Wages Council, composed of labor, management, and government representatives, issued yearly guidelines on raises and bonus pay that served as the starting point for bargaining agreements. Foreign workers were generally concentrated in low-wage, low-skill jobs and were often required to work long hours in construction, shipbuilding, services, and domestic work.

The great majority of the approximately 227,100 FDWs (mainly from the Philippines and Indonesia) worked under clearly outlined contracts. Under the penal code, any employer of an FDW or a member of the employer’s family, if convicted of certain offenses against the worker, such as causing hurt or insulting the modesty of the worker, are liable to a penalty of up to one and one-half times the mandated penalty when the victim is not a domestic worker. Nevertheless, there were regular reports of employers arrested for abuse or mistreatment of such workers (see section 7.b.). Pregnancy is a breach of the standard work permit conditions for such workers, and the government may cancel work permits and require repatriation of FDWs who become pregnant. According to an NGO, which surveyed 195 FDWs from July 2013 to October 2014, approximately six in 10 FDWs did not get a weekly day off in practice.

The NTUC reported that it advocated for the rights of all migrant work-permit holders through its Migrant Workers’ Center. NGOs also played a role in advocating for the rights of migrant workers, including urging the government to address root causes of exploitation of migrants. One NGO highlighted the need for the government to act bilaterally to mitigate risks of exorbitant recruitment fees in countries of origin and to improve living conditions and increase the minimum wage for migrant workers. Some estimates placed migrant workers’ hourly wage at S$2 ($1.40) per hour, only 40 percent of the wage earned by low-skilled citizens and permanent residents.

Thailand

Executive Summary

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with the king serving as head of state. King Bhumibol Adulyadej held this role until his death on October 13. On December 10, his son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, became head of state. In a 2014 bloodless coup, military and police leaders, taking the name National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and led by army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha, overthrew the civilian government administered by the Puea Thai political party, which had governed since 2011 following National Assembly lower house elections that were generally considered free and fair. After the 2014 coup, citizens no longer had the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections.

The military-led NCPO maintained control over the security forces and all government institutions.

The interim constitution, promulgated by the NCPO in 2014, granted immunity to coup leaders and their subordinates for any pre-coup or post-coup actions ordered by the ruling council, regardless of the legality of the action. The NCPO oversaw a lengthy process for developing a new constitution, which voters approved in an August 7 national referendum. The interim constitution remained in effect at year’s end, with the 2016 draft constitution awaiting promulgation with the signature of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. The 2016 constitution stipulates the NCPO remain in office and hold all powers granted by the interim constitution until establishment of a new council of ministers and its assumption of office following the first general election under the new charter. Numerous NCPO decrees limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press, remained in effect during the year. NCPO Order No. 3/2015 grants the military government sweeping power to curb “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability.” The 2016 constitution also stipulates all NCPO orders are “constitutional and lawful” and will remain in effect until revoked by the NCPO, an order from the military-appointed legislative body, the prime minister, or cabinet resolution.

In addition to limitations on civil liberties imposed by the NCPO, the most persistent human rights problems were abuses by government security forces in the continuing ethnic Malay-Muslim insurgency in the southernmost provinces of Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani, and parts of Songkhla, and excessive use of force by government security forces, including harassing or abusing criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners.

Other human rights problems included arbitrary arrests and detention; poor, overcrowded, and unsanitary prison and detention facilities; insufficient protection for vulnerable populations, including refugees; corruption; violence and discrimination against women; sex tourism; sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities, minorities, hill tribe members, and foreign migrant workers; child labor; and some limitations on worker rights.

Authorities occasionally dismissed, arrested, prosecuted, and convicted security force members who committed abuses. Official impunity, however, continued to be a serious problem, especially in the southernmost provinces, where the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in the State of Emergency (2005), hereinafter referred to as “the emergency decree,” and the 2008 Internal Security Act remained in effect.

Insurgents in the southernmost provinces committed human rights abuses and attacks on civilian targets, including in provinces outside their traditional conflict area.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Broad NCPO orders restricting freedom of speech and press, issued following the 2014 coup, remained in effect at year’s end. Invoking these orders, officials suspended media outlets, blocked access to internet sites, and summoned members of media to report to authorities for questioning and “attitude adjustment.” In addition to official restrictions on speech and censorship, NCPO actions resulted in significant self-censorship by the public and media. The NCPO prohibited political figures, analysts, and others from providing interviews or comments to media and banned dissemination of information that could threaten the NCPO or “create conflict” within the country, particularly in advance of the August 7 constitutional referendum.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The NCPO enforced limits on free speech and expression using a variety of regulations and criminal provisions. The Referendum Law, enacted in advance of the August 7 constitutional referendum, criminalized campaigning related to the referendum, and the NCPO used the law almost exclusively to suppress political expression opposed to the draft charter (see section 3). Procharter speech, including comments by senior NCPO officials, was allowed.

The NCPO also invoked criminal sedition statutes to restrict political speech. In April the military charged eight political activists with sedition for posting information on a satirical Facebook page called, “We Love General Prayut.”

Article 112 of the criminal code, the so-called lese majeste law, makes it a crime–punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment for each offense–to criticize, insult, or threaten the king, queen, royal heir apparent, or regent. The government increasingly used this law to prosecute anyone critical of the monarchy or members of the royal family in any way, especially following the October 13 death of King Bhumibol and the December 10 ascension of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. The law also allows citizens to file lese majeste complaints against each other, which they did on numerous occasions. The government regularly conducted lese majeste trials in secret and prohibited public disclosure of the content of the alleged offenses. The government also frequently tried lese majeste cases in military courts that provided fewer rights and protections for civilian defendants, although a September 12 order ended the practice of trying violations of Article 112 in military courts for offenses committed after that date (see section 1.e.). International and domestic human rights organizations and academics expressed concern about the lese majeste law’s chilling effect on freedom of expression.

Official statistics varied by agency, but new lese majeste cases increased dramatically following the 2014 coup. According to local NGO Internet Dialogue on Law Reform, the number of new lese majeste cases filed since the 2014 coup was 68 as of September, although police officials acknowledged dozens of additional investigations following King Bhumibol’s death on October 13. In some of these cases, the accused committed the alleged offense prior to the 2014 coup, but authorities only filed charges afterwards. According to the Department of Corrections, the government detained 103 persons under lese majeste laws as of March 31 (including a number of persons convicted for corruption-related offenses under Article 112 for misuse of royal title to further business interests).

On March 4, a military prosecutor filed lese majeste charges against Thanakorn Siripaiboon for “liking” a Facebook post deemed critical of the king and for writing a Facebook post referring to the king’s dog in a sarcastic manner.

The government also invoked the lese majeste law to censor or ban media publications. On April 8, officials banned the French edition of Marie Claire magazine from distribution in the country after it published a story about the royal family, according to an official government announcement.

Press and Media Freedoms: The 2016 constitution requires owners of newspapers and other mass media to be citizens. Government entities owned and controlled most radio and broadcast television stations, including the 524 officially registered AM and FM stations. The armed forces and police owned another 244 radio stations, ostensibly for national security purposes. Other owners of national broadcast media included the government’s Public Relations Department and the Mass Communication Organization of Thailand Public Company Limited, a former state enterprise in which the government maintained a majority share. Government entities leased nearly all stations to commercial companies that provided commercial content to the stations.

The law provides for the regulation of radio and television frequencies and three categories of broadcast licenses (public service, community service, and commercial). The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) allocates broadcast frequencies and regulates broadcast media. Radio stations must renew their licenses every seven years. The law requires stations to broadcast 30-minute, government-produced newscasts twice daily and to register with the NBTC. Several thousand small community radio stations countrywide also operated under a separate licensing system that requires annual renewal of licenses.

Violence and Harassment: Senior government officials routinely made statements critical of media. Media operators also complained of harassment and monitoring.

On March 14, plainclothes military personnel monitored and recorded a film screening held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), a practice the club’s president, Jonathan Head, complained to the government occurred regularly. In response to FCCT complaints, an NCPO spokesperson stated that the monitoring was legal and conducted to verify the club’s activities were not part of any political movement.

On July 26, Premsak Piyayura, a mayor and former member of parliament, allegedly had his subordinates in the presence of other journalists pull down the pants of a newspaper reporter who had questioned him about a controversial Facebook posting. The incident drew widespread criticism from media as an example of the lack of respect and mistreatment of journalists by government officials. Using his authority under Article 44 of the interim constitution, Prime Minister Prayut later suspended the mayor without pay pending a formal investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The NCPO restricted content deemed critical of or threatening to it, and the media widely practiced self-censorship. NCPO orders remained in effect that prohibited any criticism of military authorities and directed print media, television, radio, cable, and other online media operators not to publish or broadcast any information critical of the military’s actions or criticism likely to cause public misunderstanding made with malice and false information aimed to discredit the NCPO. Authorities monitored media content from all media sources, including international press.

Many media contacts reported concerns about NCPO orders authorizing government officials to limit press freedom and suspend press operations without a court order. On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, the Thai Journalists’ Association and the Thai Broadcast Journalists’ Association issued a joint statement asking the NCPO to revoke any laws that limit or violate freedom of the press, including NCPO orders 97/2557, 103/2557, and 3/2558.

While international media operated relatively freely, in February the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued revised guidelines for issuing visas to journalists and media correspondents. Foreign journalists feared the new guidelines provide discretionary power to deny media visas based on the content of media reporting. According to the FCCT, authorities denied visas to at least five journalists since the 2014 coup.

On September 13, several media organizations petitioned the National Reform Steering Assembly to review a government proposal to form a regulatory organization called the National Media Professional Council to regulate the conduct of media practitioners.

The emergency decree, which remained in effect in the conflict-affected southernmost provinces, empowers the government “to prohibit publication and distribution of news and information that may cause the people to panic or with an intention to distort information.” It also authorizes the government to censor news considered a threat to national security.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum fine of 200,000 baht ($5,600) and two years’ imprisonment. Military and business figures filed criminal defamation and libel cases against political and environmental activists, journalists, and politicians.

There were several high-profile cases of criminal defamation against human rights defenders. In May officials from the military’s Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 filed criminal defamation and computer crimes charges against three of the principal drafters of a report documenting cases of alleged torture by security forces in the southernmost provinces. Numerous national and international human rights groups condemned the charges against Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Anchana Heemmina, and Somchai Homlaor, arguing the charges posed a serious threat to all human rights monitoring and reporting in the country.

In July police in Narathiwat Province charged Naritsarawan Kaewnopparat, the niece of a military conscript killed by fellow soldiers in 2011, with criminal defamation and computer crimes for statements she made demanding the prosecution of soldiers responsible for her uncle’s death. An internal army investigation previously found that a junior officer and other conscripts tortured Naritsarawan’s uncle and caused his death, although no one was criminally charged.

In another case, the Criminal Court on September 20, found British citizen Andy Hall guilty of criminal defamation and computer crimes, based on a Finnwatch report to which he contributed in 2013 that accused a local food company, Natural Fruit, of human and labor rights violations at its factory in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. The report claimed the firm paid wages below the legal minimum and subjected workers to dangerous working conditions and excessive hours. Natural Fruit subsequently filed a criminal defamation complaint against Hall in 2014. The court sentenced Hall to three years in prison and a fine, although it suspended the prison sentence.

National Security: Section 44 of the interim constitution, later extended by the 2016 constitution, provides authorities the right to restrict distribution of material deemed to threaten national security. Media associations expressed alarm regarding the sweeping powers they complained lacked clear criteria for determining what constitutes a threat to national security.

On August 29, the NBTC suspended the broadcast of Voice TV’s Wake Up News program for one week for broadcasting political commentary deemed to violate NCPO orders. Following the suspension announcement, Voice TV executives stated the channel would voluntarily “reduce and tone down its political commentary” to avoid further punishment.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government continued to restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and censored online content. There were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The law establishes procedures for the search and seizure of computers and computer data in certain criminal investigations and gives the information ministry authority to request and enforce the removal of information disseminated via computer. The government may impose a maximum five-year prison sentence and a 100,000 baht ($2,800) fine for posting false content on the internet found to undermine public security, cause public panic, or harm others, based on vague definitions. Authorities may impose a maximum 20-year sentence and 300,000 baht ($8,400) fine if an offense results in the death of a person. The law also obliges internet service providers to preserve all user records for 90 days in case authorities wish to access them. Any service provider that gives consent to or intentionally supports the publishing of illegal content is also liable to punishment. Most prosecutions were for content-related offenses. By law authorities must obtain a court order to ban a website, although officials did not always respect this requirement. Media activists criticized the law, stating it defined offenses too broadly and some penalties were too harsh.

Individuals and groups generally engaged in the peaceful expression of views via the internet, although there were numerous restrictions on content, including proscribing lese majeste, pornography, gambling, and criticism of the NCPO.

The government closely monitored and blocked thousands of websites critical of the monarchy. The successful prosecution of journalists, political activists, and other internet users for criminal defamation for posting content online further fostered an environment of self-censorship. Many political online message boards and discussion forums closely monitored discussions to avoid being blocked. Newspapers disabled or restricted access to their public comment sections to minimize exposure to possible lese majeste or defamation charges. Authorities also lobbied foreign internet content and service providers to remove or locally censor lese majeste content. Human rights contacts reported that police sometimes asked detained political activists to reveal passwords to their social media accounts.

Following the October 13 death of King Bhumibol, the NBTC and other government entities routinely blocked online and broadcast content related to the monarchy. The NBTC also issued instructions encouraging citizens to identify and report any online content that appeared to violate the lese majeste law.

The RTP Technical Crime Suppression Division reported receiving 3,638 complaints from January to September, compared with 2,083 computer-related complaints it reported from January to August 2014 that resulted in 65 criminal actions. Most cases involved alleged defamation, lese majeste, and other illegal activity, such as gambling and pornography.

Internet access was widely available in urban areas and used by citizens, including through a government program to provide limited free Wi-Fi access at 300,000 hotspots in cities and schools. The government also undertook an initiative to expand internet access to rural areas throughout the country. International monitoring groups estimated 29 million citizens (43 percent of the population) had access to the internet during the year.

In December the NCPO-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) unanimously passed an amendment to the 2007 Computer Crimes Act that significantly expanded government powers to control and capture online content and increased criminal sanctions against individuals and internet service providers for false or distorted information posted online.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The NCPO intervened to disrupt academic discussions on college campuses, intimidated scholars, and arrested student leaders critical of the coup. Universities also practiced self-censorship.

In the run-up to the August 7 national referendum on the draft constitution, at least three universities–Khon Kaen University, Mahidol University, and Ubon Ratchatani University–banned public on-campus discussion of the charter. Notwithstanding university policy, students at Khon Kaen University organized a public on-campus discussion of the draft charter. University officials reportedly cut off water and power and removed all chairs in the building where the event was to be held in an effort to stop it. Following the event university staff filed a police complaint accusing the student participants of trespassing.

Election Commission officials reportedly sent a letter to Mahidol University officials complaining that a prominent university faculty member made critical comments about the draft charter. At Ubon Ratchatani University, the dean of the Political Science Faculty canceled a public seminar on the draft constitution under pressure from both university and provincial officials.

In April military officials forced cancelation of a scheduled discussion program on the draft constitution organized by Book Republic, an independent bookstore in Chiang Mai that regularly organizes discussions on various contemporary issues. On October 5, immigration officials detained and deported Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, who had traveled to Bangkok to participate in an academic panel at Chulalongkorn University commemorating the October 6, 1976 massacre of student activists at Thammasat University.

University authorities reported the regular presence of military personnel on campus, monitoring lectures and attending student events. There were numerous accounts of authorities arresting students for exercising freedom of speech and expression, particularly in advance of the August 7 referendum.

The military government continued the process of revising secondary and primary school textbooks and increased instruction on patriotic themes. The military government also continued a civic education curriculum emphasizing General Prayut’s 12 core values of “Thainess.”

Government authorities continued to be sensitive to the content of film and performing arts. Acknowledging government sensitivities, the Thailand International Film Festival 2016 pulled from its lineup four films it feared might present a negative image of the country.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The 2016 constitution grants the freedom to assemble peacefully, subject to restrictions enacted to “protect public interest, peace and order, or good morals, or to protect the rights and liberties of others.”

Invoking authority under Article 44 of the interim constitution, coup leaders prohibited political gatherings of five or more persons and penalized persons supporting any political gatherings. Human rights groups argued the prohibition violated the country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The 2015 Public Assembly Act codified restrictions on freedom of assembly and requires, among other provisions, that protesters obtain permission from police for rallies at least 24 hours in advance. Moreover, it bans all demonstrations within 500 feet of the prime minister’s headquarters, parliament, royal palaces, and courthouses. The emergency decree in effect in the southernmost provinces also provides authority to limit freedom of assembly.

Police arrested citizens assembled in violation of government orders. According to a government watchdog organization, in advance of the August 7 referendum officials arrested and charged more than 150 persons nationwide for violating the prohibition on political gatherings of five or more persons. While the NCPO enforced bans against political gatherings critical of the coup or the NCPO, authorities allowed some pro-coup and pro-military demonstrations. In August police arrested 19 men for violating a ban on political gatherings after they set up a monitoring center to oversee the August 7 constitutional referendum. On December 16, the attorney general charged all 19 with violating the government’s ban and the court accepted the charges. On September 21, local administrators in Pattani Province intervened and stopped approximately 500 people from gathering to celebrate International Peace Day.

Surat Thani, Phuket, and Phang Nga Provinces have their own regulations that prohibit migrant workers–specifically persons from Cambodia, Burma, and Laos–from gathering in groups, while Samut Sakhon Province prohibits migrant gatherings of more than five persons. Authorities did not enforce these provisions strictly, particularly for gatherings on private property. Employers and NGOs may request permission from authorities for migrant workers to hold cultural gatherings.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The interim constitution did not explicitly provide for freedom of association. The 2016 constitution grants individuals the right to free association subject to restrictions by law enacted to “protect public interest, peace and order, or good morals.”

The law prohibits the registration of a political party with the same name or logo as a legally dissolved party.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The interim constitution and the 2016 constitution provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions for “maintaining the security of the state, public peace and order or public welfare, town and country planning, or youth welfare.”

Following the 2014 coup, the NCPO issued orders prohibiting travel outside the country for approximately 155 persons. In May the NCPO lifted the travel ban for approximately 130 of these persons, essentially those who were not otherwise facing criminal charges and subject to judicial travel restrictions. Prior to lifting the travel ban, the NCPO in March refused a request from journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk to travel to Finland to participate in a World Press Freedom Day event.

In addition to those initially subject to travel restrictions by NCPO order, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Center (TLHR) estimated there were an additional 300 persons who, when summoned to appear before the NCPO following the 2014 coup, signed agreements as a condition of their release consenting not to travel abroad without NCPO approval. According to the TLHR, the NCPO has not revoked the restrictions contained in these agreements.

The government usually cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, although with some restrictions. Cooperation with UNHCR to protect certain groups remained uneven, which limited UNHCR’s ability to provide protection to all nationalities.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Media reports, Human Rights Watch, and other sources alleged government officials took bribes from and colluded with human smugglers and traffickers who detained Rohingya on islands and other locations in the south. In 2015 authorities confined in IDCs and shelters approximately 870 Rohingya and Bangladeshi persons who arrived in the country irregularly by boat during the mass movement in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea crisis of May 2015. As of December approximately 330 of them (mostly Rohingya) remained in detention.

Authorities continued to treat refugees and asylum seekers from Burma who lived outside of designated border camps, including Rohingya boat arrivals, as illegal migrants. Multidisciplinary teams conducted interviews and identified some of the Rohingya arrivals as victims of trafficking, and officials subsequently transferred them to shelters under the care of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. Persons categorized as illegal migrants are legally subject to arrest and detention. The government worked in cooperation with donors and international organization partners to provide protection and assistance to Rohingya while in IDCs and shelters. The lack of Rohingya-speaking interpreters within IDCs and shelters remained a concern. Although reinstated in 2013, authorities implemented inconsistently the practice of permitting bail for detained refugees and asylum seekers originally initiated in 2011.

International humanitarian organizations noted concerns about congested conditions, lack of exercise opportunities, and limited freedom of movement in the IDCs. Some IDCs with Rohingya detainees lacked efficient medical referral mechanisms and failed to allow exercise due to fear the detainees would escape.

Authorities allowed some women and children, including unaccompanied minors whom officials certified were victims of trafficking, to stay in shelters operated by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. Persons in these shelters often reported a lack of adequate human resources to meet the needs of running the facilities and providing adequate psychosocial services to shelter residents.

In-country Movement: The government restricted the free internal movement of members of hill tribes and other minority groups who were not citizens but held government-issued identity cards. Authorities prohibited holders of such cards from traveling outside their home districts without prior permission from the district office or outside their home provinces without permission from the provincial governor. Offenders are subject to fines or a jail term of 45 to 60 days. Persons without cards may not travel at all. Human rights organizations reported police at inland checkpoints often asked for bribes in exchange for allowing stateless persons to move from one district to another.

Foreign Travel: Local authorities also required other long-time noncitizen residents, including thousands of ethnic Shan and other non-hill-tribe minorities, to seek permission for foreign travel. A small number of Burmese refugees, who were approved for third-country resettlement but not recognized as refugees by the government because they reside outside the nine refugee camps, have awaited exit permits for years.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers remained inconsistent. Nevertheless, authorities hosted significant numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, generally provided protection against their expulsion or return, and allowed persons fleeing fighting or other incidents of violence in neighboring countries to cross the border and remain until conflict ceased. Moreover, authorities permitted non-Burmese refugees recognized by UNHCR and registered Burmese refugees residing in official refugee camps to resettle to third countries.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Burmese asylum seekers and refugees who reside outside official refugee camps are by law considered illegal migrants, as are all non-Burmese asylum seekers and refugees in the country if they do not hold a valid passport and visa. If arrested they are subject to indefinite detention at IDCs in Bangkok and other provinces.

UNHCR remained limited in its ability to provide protection to Lao Hmong, Uighurs, and Burmese outside the official camps as well as to all North Koreans. Its access to asylum seekers in the main IDC in Bangkok and at Suvarnabhumi International Airport to conduct status interviews and monitor new arrivals varied throughout the year. UNHCR had access to provincial IDCs where authorities detained ethnic Rohingya, including coastal Ranong Province and southern Songkhla Province, to conduct refugee status determinations. Authorities allowed resettlement countries to conduct processing activities in the IDCs, and humanitarian organizations were able to provide health care, nutritional support, and other humanitarian assistance.

The government allowed UNHCR to monitor the protection status of approximately 103,000 Burmese refugees and asylum seekers living in nine camps along the border with Burma but prohibited UNHCR from any assistance role in the camps. NGOs funded by the international community provided basic humanitarian assistance in the camps, including health care, food, education, shelter, water, sanitation, vocational training, and other services. UNHCR issued identification cards to registered refugees living in the camps.

The government facilitated resettlement for 3,479 Burmese refugees from camps as of December. Refugees residing in the nine camps along the border who had not registered with the government were ineligible for third-country resettlement.

An estimated 60,000 Burmese had not registered since the cessation of the Provincial Admissions Boards in 2005. In 2012 the government resumed limited admissions screening to consider only refugee cases under the family reunification criteria (parent/child or spousal relationships) through Fast Track Provincial Admission Boards (FTPAB). As of December authorities had received 3,246 cases with 8,208 persons (including 4,467 FTPAB-registered persons).

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where they would face threats to their lives or freedom because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Outside the camps government officials did not distinguish between asylum-seeking Burmese and other undocumented Burmese, regarding all as illegal migrants. Authorities generally took those arrested outside of the camps to the border and deported them back to their home country. Authorities generally did not deport persons of concern holding valid UNHCR asylum-seeker or refugee status; however, in 2015 authorities forcibly repatriated two Chinese activists to whom UNHCR had granted refugee status, and forcibly deported a vulnerable migrant group of 109 ethnic Uighurs to China. As of December approximately 60 Uighurs remained in detention in the country.

Immigration police in Bangkok arrested and detained asylum seekers and refugees, including women and children. The detained population fluctuated between 250 and 450 persons, depending on immigration raids and the release of detainees on bail. Government officials estimated the IDC in Bangkok repatriated 200 to 300 undocumented immigrant detainees per week. Authorities typically detained Burmese, Cambodian, and Laotian persons for approximately five days before repatriating them. In contrast, authorities often held detainees for a year or longer if they lacked assistance from their respective embassies, sought third-country resettlement, refused to return to their countries of origin, or lacked funds to pay for their trip home.

Freedom of movement: Refugees residing in the nine refugee camps on the border with Burma had no freedom of movement, and authorities confined them to the camps. In previous years authorities did not enforce this policy, and many refugees often left the camps for short periods to find work in the local economy. Following the 2014 coup, camp commanders began enforcing restrictions on camp residents, making freedom of movement outside the camps more difficult. A refugee apprehended outside the official camps is subject to harassment, fines, detention, deregistration, and deportation.

Refugees and asylum seekers were not eligible to participate in the official nationality verification process, which allows migrant workers with verified nationality and passports to travel throughout the country. Authorities restricted those holding only work permits from traveling outside the province where they work unless they first obtained official permission.

Employment: The law prohibits refugees from working in the country. The government allowed undocumented migrant workers from neighboring Burma, Cambodia, and Laos to work legally in certain economic sectors if they registered with authorities and followed a prescribed process to document their status (see section 7.d.). In March the government announced that victims of trafficking who cooperated with pending court cases would receive renewable one-year stay and work permits; however, as of December the program had not been implemented.

Access to Basic Services: The international community provided basic services for refugees living inside the nine camps on the border with Burma. For needs beyond primary care, a complicated medical referral system hampered the ability of refugees to seek some necessary medical services, although coordination among service providers improved the situation. For the urban refugee and asylum seeker population living in Bangkok, access to basic health services was minimal. Since 2014 two NGOs have provided primary and mental health-care services. UNHCR coordinated referrals of the most urgent medical cases to local hospitals.

Since Burmese refugee children living in the camps generally did not have access to the government education system, NGOs provided schooling opportunities, and some were able to coordinate their curriculum with the Ministry of Education. In Bangkok some refugee communities formed their own schools to provide education for their children. Others sought to learn Thai with support from UNHCR, because the law provides that government schools must admit children of any legal status who can speak, read, and write Thai with some degree of proficiency.

Temporary Protection: The government continued to extend temporary protection status to the migrants of Rohingya and Bangladeshi origin who arrived during the 2015 maritime migration crisis in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.

STATELESS PERSONS

The government continued to identify stateless persons, provide documentation to preclude statelessness, and open paths to citizenship for long-time residents. According to the government, an estimated 487,000 persons, mainly residing in the northern region, were likely stateless or at risk of statelessness. Several NGOs reported that most stateless persons, many of whom were members of hill tribes, might be eligible for citizenship (see section 6). Others were migrants from Burma who did not have evidence of Burmese citizenship, ethnic minorities registered with civil authorities, previously undocumented minorities, and displaced persons residing in border camps. The government announced plans to reduce drastically the number of stateless persons, focusing initially on the citizenship applications of approximately 60,000 children.

Birth within the country does not automatically confer citizenship. The law bases citizenship on birth to at least one citizen parent, marriage to a male citizen, or naturalization. Individuals may also acquire citizenship by means of special government-designated criteria implemented by the Ministry of Interior with approval from the cabinet or in accordance with nationality law (see section 6). Amendments to the law during the year allowed ethnic Thai stateless persons and their children, who meet the added definition of “displaced Thai,” to apply for the status of “Thai nationality by birth,” but there were reports of slow, inconsistent implementation due to complicated laws and regulations and the existence of substantial gray areas.

The law stipulates every child born in the country receive an official birth certificate regardless of the parents’ legal status. Many parents did not obtain birth certificates for their children due to the complexity of the process, the need to travel from remote areas to district offices, and a lack of recognition of the importance of the document.

By law stateless members of hill tribes may not vote or own land, and their travel is restricted. Stateless persons also may not participate in certain occupations reserved for citizens, including farming, although authorities permitted noncitizen members of hill tribes to undertake subsistence agriculture. Stateless persons had difficulty accessing credit and government services, such as health care. Although education was technically accessible for all undocumented and stateless children, it was usually of poor quality. School administrators placed the term “non-Thai citizen” on these students’ high school certificates, which severely limited their economic opportunities. Some public universities still charged stateless and undocumented students higher tuition rates than citizens, and administrators commonly denied these students university student loans.

Without legal status stateless persons were particularly vulnerable to various forms of abuse (see section 6).

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights organizations operated in the country. NCPO orders affected NGO operations, including prohibitions on political gatherings and activities as well as media restrictions. NGOs that dealt with sensitive political matters, such as opposition to government-sponsored development projects or border problems, faced periodic harassment.

On September 28, police and Ministry of Labor officials effectively shut down a public event by Amnesty International to roll out a report, Make Him Speak by Tomorrow, documenting allegations of torture and mistreatment by security forces throughout the country. Police and labor officials threatened foreign panelists scheduled to speak at the event with arrest for participating in the event without a work permit. Media and human rights groups condemned the action to shut down the event, arguing that hundreds of foreign persons without work permits regularly participated in nonpolitical events and public seminars without incident.

Human rights workers focusing on violence in the southernmost provinces were particularly vulnerable to harassment and intimidation by government agents and insurgent groups. The government accorded very few NGOs tax-exempt status, which sometimes hampered their ability to secure funding.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government postponed the scheduled visit by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other inhuman treatment. According to UN reports, there were no developments regarding official visits previously requested by the UN working group on disappearances; by the UN special rapporteur on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association; or by the UN special rapporteur on the situations of human rights defenders, migrants, and internally displaced persons. According to the United Nations, the government has not accepted a visit from any expert within the UN special procedures mechanism since 2013. As of September, 18 visit requests from UN special procedures were pending.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The independent NHRCT exists with the mission to protect human rights and to produce an annual country report. The commission received 617 petitions in the first eight months of the year, compared with 472 in 2015. Of these complaints, 69 related to alleged abuses by police, a sharp increase from the previous year. Statistics regarding completed investigations were unavailable. Civil society leaders rated the NHRCT’s performance as moderately better than in previous years, citing constructive NHRCT involvement in working with civil society and the government in conjunction with the UN’s universal periodic review process. Human rights groups continued to criticize the commission for not filing lawsuits against human rights violators on its own behalf or on behalf of complainants.

The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent agency empowered to consider and investigate complaints filed by any citizen. Following an investigation the office may refer a case to a court for further review or provide recommendations for further action to the appropriate agency. The office examines all petitions, but it may not compel agencies to comply with its recommendations. Through September the office received 2,761 new petitions of which 565 related to allegations of police abuses.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The interim constitution did not contain provisions providing for the right of freedom of association or the right to bargain collectively. The 2016 constitution requires the state to set up a labor relations system in which all parties may participate. The Labor Relations Act and State Enterprise Labor Relations Act remained in effect. The Labor Relations Act allows private-sector workers to form and join trade unions of their choosing without prior authorization, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes with a number of restrictions. Under the Labor Relations Act, labor demands can be submitted by workers with the support of at least 15 percent of employees, by unions with the support of at least one fifth of employees, or by the employer. The law prohibits managers or management employees from joining trade unions formed by nonmanagement workers. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides protection to employees and labor unions and their members against criminal or civil charges for carrying out activities (such as negotiation with employers to settle a unions’ demand for rights and benefits or organization of a rally or strike activities) for the benefit of its members.

As of December 2015, there were 1,520 trade unions with 634,778 union members (including 180,097 state-owned enterprise (SOE) employees and 454,681 private-sector employees). Union membership represented 3.5 percent of wage and salary workers, up from 3.1 percent in 2007.

The law also allows employees in private enterprises with more than 50 workers to establish “employee committees” to represent workers’ collective requests and to negotiate with employers and “welfare committees” to represent workers’ collective requests on welfare problems. The law prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against workers for their participation in these committees and from obstructing the work of the committees. The Ministry of Labor’s Department of Labor Protection and Welfare (DLPW) reported there were 704 employee committees in 2015, down from 945 in 2014.

The State Enterprises Labor Relations Act allows SOE workers to form unions. Each SOE may have a maximum of one union. No law allows civil servants, including teachers at public and private schools, university professors, soldiers, and police, to form or register a union. Civil servants may form and register associations, but these associations do not have the right to bargain collectively. The law forbids strikes and lockouts in the public sector and at SOEs, including those providing services deemed essential to continued public health and safety. The law defines “essential” services more broadly than international norms by including sectors such as telecommunications and public transportation.

Noncitizen migrant workers, whether registered or undocumented, do not have the right to form unions or serve as union officials. Registered migrants may be members of unions organized and led by citizens. Migrant worker participation in unions was limited due to language barriers, weak understanding of rights under the law, frequent changes in employment, restrictive labor union regulations, and segregation of citizen workers from migrant workers by industry and by zones (particularly in border and coastal areas). Nonregistered migrant workers do not have the right to form or join unions.

Union members are not legally protected against antiunion actions by employers until their union is registered. To register a union, at least 10 workers must submit their names to the DLPW. The verification process of vetting the names and employment status with the employer exposes the workers to potential retaliation before registration is complete. Moreover, the law requires that union officials be full-time employees of the company or SOE and prohibits permanent union staff. A union is entitled to no more than two advisors, who must register with the Ministry of Labor.

If a SOE union’s membership dips below 25 percent of the eligible workforce, it is subject to administrative dissolution under labor relations regulations. Labor advocates claimed companies exploited this required ratio to avoid unionization by hiring substantial numbers of temporary contract workers.

The law protects employees and union members from criminal or civil charges for participating in negotiations with employers, initiating a strike, organizing a rally, and explaining labor disputes to the public; the law does not protect employees and union members from criminal offenses for endangering the public or for causing loss of life or bodily injury, property damage, and reputational damage. The law does not prohibit lawsuits intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics through costly legal defense. Private companies charged union leaders with civil and criminal defamation for public statements made during collective bargaining and strike action or for efforts by human rights activists to defend the labor rights of migrant laborers who otherwise faced barriers to unionization and association. Human rights defenders said the use of criminal defamation and other actions to camouflage retaliation had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and association.

Workers have access to the courts to contest wrongful termination. A union leader dismissed for any reason may not continue to represent union members.

The law requires employers to begin negotiating within three days from the time a union submits its demands. The law does not require negotiation in good faith and does not penalize employers who refuse to negotiate after the initial meeting. If the parties cannot reach agreement, the government considers it a labor dispute and begins mandatory conciliation. The law permits workers to strike if a deadlock develops between the employer and employees. Workers must submit a letter of notification at least 24 hours in advance of a strike action. The government has authority to restrict private-sector strikes that would affect national security or cause severe negative repercussions for the population at large, but it did not invoke this provision during the year. There were reports some employers chose to submit counterdemands instead of negotiating based on union demands, which further complicated the negotiation process.

The law prohibits termination of employment of legal strikers but permits employers to hire workers or use subcontract workers to replace strikers. The legal requirement to call a general meeting of trade union members and obtain strike approval by at least 50 percent of union members constrained strike action in the private sector. The law provides for penalties, including a maximum of one year’s imprisonment or a fine of 20,000 baht ($560), or both, for strikers in SOEs.

Labor law enforcement was inconsistent, and in some instances ineffective, in protecting workers who participated in union activities. Employers may dismiss workers for any reason except participation in union activities, provided the employer pays severance. Employer discrimination against workers who sought to organize unions included reports of workers dismissed for engaging in union activities, both before and after registration. In some cases labor courts ordered workers reinstated if they proved the grounds for their dismissal were unlawful. The DLPW reported 9,695 unfair dismissal complaints filed with the labor court in 2015, although not all related to union activity. Enforcement of severance payments and reinstatement in cases where authorities found employees were improperly dismissed was inconsistent. Penalties for conviction of labor violations include a maximum of six months’ imprisonment, a fine of 10,000 baht ($280), or both, but authorities rarely applied them. Rights advocates reported that labor inspectors at all levels often attempted to mediate cases, even when there was a finding that labor rights violations requiring penalties occurred.

Employees filed grievances in a number of channels, including the tripartite Labor Relations Board, which adjudicates problems of collective labor relations. Its decisions were subject to labor court review. Workers may also seek redress through the NHRCT. The Ministry of Labor may refer private-sector labor disputes that cannot be resolved through negotiation or voluntary arbitration, or that may affect the national economy or public order, to the Labor Relations Board. The State Enterprise Relations Committee handled redress of grievances for SOE workers. During 2015 the DLPW reported 147 informal conflicts between employers and employees involving 106,699 employees, a decrease from 2014 (149 informal conflicts involving 122,474 employees). Of these disputes, employers and employees resolved 121 conflicts without walkouts–the DLPW referred 10 to a labor court, withdrew six cases after negotiation, and continued five under departmental processing. Most cases referred to a labor court fell under the categories of unfair dismissal (46 percent), violations of labor protection laws (27 percent), breaches of working condition agreements (16 percent), and wrongful acts by employers and employees (4 percent). There were a small number of reported violations of social security law and workers’ compensation laws.

There were reports employers used various techniques to weaken labor union association and collective bargaining efforts. These included replacing striking workers with subcontractors, which the law permits; threatening union leaders and striking workers; pressuring union leaders and striking workers to resign; prohibiting workers from demonstrating in workplace compounds or in industrial estate zones; and inciting violence in order to get a court warrant to prohibit protests. Under the NCPO there were reports striking workers were threatened with charges of trespassing or violation of public-assembly laws and military officers were present in some negotiation proceedings. Some employers also transferred union leaders and striking workers to different, less desirable positions or inactive management positions (with no management authority) to prevent them from leading union activities. There were reports some employers supported the registration of competing unions to circumvent established unions that refused to accept the terms of agreement proposed by employers.

Legal definitions of who may join a union (“employees working for the same employer” or “employees in the same description of work”) and requirements that the union represent at least one-fifth of the workforce hampered collective bargaining efforts. Because the law requires workers be in the same industry to form a union and classifies contract workers as working in the “service industry,” as opposed to the “manufacturing industry,” they may not join an industrial union despite working in the same factory. This restriction on joining with full-time employees of industries often diminished the ability to bargain collectively as a larger group. The law restricts affiliations between SOE unions and private-sector unions because two separate laws govern them. Labor activists claimed the requirement to get agreement from at least 50 percent of union members created a significant barrier to conducting legal strikes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except in the case of national emergency, war, martial law, or imminent public calamity.

In May the NLA approved the new Human Trafficking Criminal Procedure Act, which expedites the judicial process for trafficking cases, including those of forced labor. The act introduced pretrial deposition and video-conferencing for foreign victims and witnesses and extended the statute of limitations indefinitely. The government’s national committee to combat human trafficking, child labor, illegal migration, and illegal fishing began to enforce new laws and regulations in sectors with significant labor concerns. Penalties for conviction under antitrafficking laws amended in 2015 range from four years’ to life imprisonment and fines from 80,000 to 400,000 baht ($2,240 to $11,200). The amended antitrafficking law also provides protection to whistle-blowers and gives authoritative power to halt operations temporarily or suspend licenses of businesses and vehicles involved in human trafficking. The lack of clarity in law and practice on what constitutes forced labor or debt bondage undermined the government’s efforts to identify labor trafficking victims and prosecute forced labor.

In 2015 the government reported investigating 317 trafficking cases (up from 280 cases in 2014) and prosecuting 242 traffickers (up from 155 in 2014), which resulted in 241 convictions (up from 104 in 2014). The government reported 72 investigations (up from 58 in 2014) involving suspected cases of forced labor and prosecuted 33 cases of forced labor involving 71 suspected traffickers. Of convicted traffickers, 64 percent received prison sentences greater than five years (compared with 29 percent in 2014); 84 percent (68 percent in 2014) received sentences of more than three years. The government established an antitrafficking office within the Criminal Court of Justice and an antitrafficking unit for prosecutors under the Office of the Attorney General.

Reports of abusive work environments, including forced labor, continued in many sectors, including agriculture, fishing, food and seafood processing, and domestic work. Foreign, and often undocumented, migrant labor was common in these sectors; an estimated 90 percent of workers in the seafood processing industry were migrant workers. In 2015 the government investigated ship owners, captains, and brokers for labor trafficking in the fishing industry in 41 cases involving 110 victims, with 31 vessels seized. Two dozen of the cases involved Thai-owned carriers operating in the Indonesian islands of Ambon and Benjina with victims of trafficking from Thailand and neighboring countries. Authorities issued arrest warrants for 98 suspects, 19 of whom authorities arrested as of October. The new antitrafficking criminal court sentenced one broker to 12.5 years in prison; 19 cases remained under prosecution.

In 2015, the most recent year for which information was available, the government identified 720 trafficking victims, compared with 595 victims in 2014. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security reported assisting 471 victims at government shelters (compared with 303 in 2014), including 320 victims of forced labor.

Civil society observers criticized government handling of vulnerable migrant workers and undocumented migrants who may have been victims of human trafficking. Lack of legal status, ability to organize, Thai language literacy, and an understanding of local law, along with language barriers and ineffective complaint mechanisms for non-Thai speakers, increased vulnerability to exploitation for the large numbers of migrants from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos.

Migrant workers often assumed debts to informal labor brokers or local moneylenders, some of whom charged interest rates as high as 20 percent. These practices led migrant workers, in some cases, into conditions of debt bondage. Migrant labor advocates reported that employers, subcontractors, and brokers (both formal and informal) charged excessive fees to workers to acquire documentation, such as transportation or identity documents from origin countries, exacerbating vulnerability to debt bondage. There were reports some employers confiscated migrant registration cards, work permits, and travel documents of migrant workers, thus restricting internal movement and contributing to their vulnerability to forced labor with little recourse under the law. Work permits that tied workers to a single employer and required burdensome procedures to change an employer made it difficult for migrant workers to leave unscrupulous employers. The law limited noncitizens in their choice of occupation. To avoid deportation, illegal migrants often paid additional fees or bribes to police and immigration officers.

Some workers on fishing vessels were reportedly unable to return to shore, and their employers forced them to continue working in harsh conditions with low pay and very limited protection and benefits. The Labor Protection Act ministerial regulations require employees in fishing vessels to receive regular wages and rest periods and to report to labor inspectors at least once per year. The 2015 Royal Ordinance on Fisheries imposes sanctions, including fines or revocation of business licenses, for vessels that violate labor protections laws or employ undocumented migrant workers. Migrant labor rights organizations reported a shortage of interpreters, ineffectual inspection techniques, and a lack of clear understanding among officials of new laws and procedures regulating fishing vessels crippled the effectiveness of inspection efforts on sea-going vessels.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law regulates the employment of children younger than 18 years and prohibits employment of children younger than 15 years. Employers may not require children younger than 18 years to work overtime or on a holiday and may not require work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. without prior Ministry of Labor approval. Children younger than 18 years must not be employed in hazardous work, which includes: any activity involving metalwork, hazardous chemicals, poisonous materials, radiation, and harmful temperatures or noise levels; exposure to toxic microorganisms; operation of heavy equipment; work underground or underwater; and work in prohibited workplaces, such as slaughterhouses, gambling establishments, places where alcohol is sold, or massage parlors. The law provides limited coverage to child workers in some informal sectors, such as agricultural farming, and allows for issuance of ministerial regulations to address sectors not covered.

In 2014 the Ministry of Labor increased the minimum age for agricultural work from 13 to 15 years and for work on sea-fishing vessels from 16 to 18 years. In January the DLPW prohibited children younger than 18 years from employment in seafood processing factories and establishments. The laws do not specify the maximum number of hours per day children between 15 and 17 years may legally perform agricultural or domestic work.

The government approved the second phase of its National Policy and Plan to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor, which aims to eradicate child labor in the country by 2020 and includes a three-year action plan to achieve this goal. In an effort to strengthen criminal legislation against the commercial and sexual exploitation of children, the government adopted an amendment to criminalize the production, distribution, and possession of child pornography.

The maximum penalties for conviction of violating child labor laws or regulations is one year in prison or a fine of 200,000 baht ($5,600), or both. The Social Security Office under the Ministry of Labor reported 49,263 children between 15 and 17 years formally working and registered in the social security system in 2014, the latest year for which this data was available. The total estimate of child laborers, legal and illegal, continued to be much larger when it included child laborers in the informal sector, including illegal migrants.

The DLPW and the National Statistical Office issued the country’s first national report on working children in August. The survey found that common hazardous conditions for children included lifting heavy objects, exposure to hazardous temperatures or loud noises, and exposure to dangerous chemical and radioactive substances, such as pesticide or fireworks. Most working children were employed in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, wholesale retail trade, hotels, restaurants, and manufacturing. The government began collaborating with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to ensure future surveys meet globally recognized standards.

The DLPW is the primary agency charged with enforcing child labor laws and policies. In 2015 the DLPW increased efforts to inspect workplaces in the informal sector and found child labor violations in a variety of activities, including food and beverage services, construction, manufacturing, and seafood processing. As a result of these inspections, authorities removed 22 children from unlawful employment. Violations included employing underage child labor, unlawful working hours, and failure to notify the DLPW of employment of child workers between 15 and 17 years. The maximum penalties for conviction of employment of children in hazardous conditions or in prohibited workplaces under the Labor Protection Act is one year in prison or a 200,000 baht ($5,600) fine, or both. While authorities generally subjected child labor law violators to fines, the penalties for conviction were usually less than the maximum penalty prescribed by law. The Ministry of Labor took steps to address the problem by promulgating internal regulations requiring the application of maximum penalties for violations of child labor laws. Observers noted several limiting factors in effective enforcement of child labor laws, including: insufficient labor inspectors, lack of nationwide data or systems to evaluate child labor conditions, and ineffective inspection procedures for informal sector or hard-to-reach workplaces (such as private residences, small family-based business units, farms, and fishing boats). Moreover, a lack of public understanding of child labor laws and standards for hazardous work for children, including dangers from pesticides, heat, and machinery, played a vital role in allowing children to work, particularly in agricultural work or in family-based businesses.

Employers paid some children to fight in Thai boxing matches with no protective equipment. Employers used child labor to produce some garments, plant and harvest sugarcane, and process shrimp, fish, and sugarcane. In urban areas most working children labored in the service sector, including in gasoline stations, small-scale industries, and restaurants. Some children were also sexually exploited as part of the commercial sex and pornography trade. Employers subjected migrant children to forced labor in fishing, production of garments, food and seafood processing, domestic service, and panhandling. Many of these children, predominantly migrants from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos, were in the country illegally, which increased their vulnerability to exploitation.

There were reports children were allegedly bought, rented, or forcibly “borrowed” from their parent(s) or guardian(s) to beg alongside women in the street. Reports also indicated some parents, particularly migrant parents, deployed children to beg during school break, evenings after school, or on weekends to contribute to household income. The revised Begging Control Act, which came into effect in July, enhanced services for beggars and outlawed using, hiring, promoting, or urging others to beg.

Child labor was less evident but still present in larger, export-oriented factories and registered processing facilities, including multiple levels of the food and seafood processing sectors. There were reports some working children were undocumented and did not have employment contracts or that they obtained passports or migrant registration cards from authorities with a falsified age. Despite legal prohibitions children younger than 18 years were exposed to hazardous conditions, such as work with fire, heat, or strong sunlight; damp, malodorous, and dirty workplaces; long working hours (more than eight hours per day); dusty workplaces; hazardous tools; environments with extreme temperatures; and overnight shifts.

There continued to be reports insurgent groups recruited children to commit acts of arson or serve as scouts and informants or to involve them in village defense militias.

Migrant children had access to government schools. The Ministry of Education reported enrollment of noncitizens in public schools increased by 38 percent, from 99,933 students in 2012 to 138,724 students in 2015. Migrant children faced widely varied impediments to enrollment due to language barriers, frequent mobility of migrant parents pursuing seasonal work, lack of awareness of their right to public education or low cultural acceptance, and lack of reciprocity with home-country education systems. In the face of these constraints, parents often enrolled their children in NGO-operated migrant learning centers.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

In previous years, labor laws did not prohibit discrimination in the workplace regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, political opinion, religion, age, social origin, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. In September the 2014 Gender Equality Act came into effect, imposing a maximum jail term of six months, a maximum fine of 20,000 baht ($560), or both, for anyone committing gender or gender identity discrimination, including in employment decisions. Another law requires workplaces with more than 100 employees hire at least one worker with disabilities for every 100 workers. The government did not effectively enforce these laws in all cases.

Discrimination with respect to employment occurred against LGBTI persons, migrant workers, and women (see section 7.e.). Government regulations require employers to pay equal wages and benefits for equal work, regardless of gender. Nonetheless, women received lower pay for equal work in many sectors of the economy. Employers did not allow women to work in all industries available to men. Discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred in employment, access, and training. As of 2014 the government reported that 9,454 of 12,479 enterprises (approximately 76 per cent) complied with the obligations contained in the Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Act.

Although it remained unclear what practical effect the 2014 Gender Equality Act might have, in recent years persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities in the country faced frequent discrimination in the workplace, partly due to common prejudices and a lack of protective laws and policies on discrimination. A 2014 ILO report found discrimination at all stages of the employment process, including education and training, access to jobs, advancement opportunities, social security, and partner benefits. Transgender workers reportedly faced even greater constraints, and their participation in the workforce was often limited to a few professions, such as beauticians and entertainers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national daily minimum wage remained at 300 baht ($8.40). The government last calculated the official poverty line in 2014 at 2,647 baht ($74) per month. In May the government also announced standard wages for skilled laborers ranging from 340 to 550 baht ($10 to $15) per day. The law on minimum wage does not apply to laborers in seasonal agriculture or domestic work.

The maximum workweek by law is 48 hours, or eight hours per day over six days, with an overtime limit of 36 hours per week. Employees engaged in “dangerous” work, such as chemical, mining, or other industries involving heavy machinery, may work a maximum of 42 hours per week and may not work overtime. Petrochemical industry employees may not work more than 12 hours per day and may work continuously for a maximum period of 28 days. By law employers may not change employment conditions without the employee’s consent, unless the changes benefit the employee.

The law requires safe and healthy workplaces, including for home-based businesses, and prohibits pregnant women and children younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions (as detailed in ministerial regulations). The law allows pregnant women to present a physician’s certificate to request a change of duties both prior to and after delivery. The law also requires the employer to inform employees about hazardous working conditions prior to employment. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Legal protections do not apply equally to all sectors. For example, ministerial regulations provide household domestic workers some protections regarding holidays, sick leave, minimum age, and payment of wages, but they do not address minimum wage, regular working hours, or maternity leave. The minimum wage and social security system does not apply to workers in the informal sector and seasonal types of work, such as agriculture. Although the Home Based Worker Protection Act came into force in 2011, the DLPW has not yet issued regulations on wages, working conditions, and prohibited hazardous work for home-based workers.

The DLPW is responsible for verifying that employers adhere to minimum wage requirements in the formal sector as well as inspecting working hours, rest time, holiday and sick leave, and overtime payment. The DLPW also enforces laws related to labor relations and occupational safety and health. The law subjects employers to maximum fines of 100,000 baht ($2,800) and a maximum imprisonment of six months for minimum wage noncompliance, but enforcement was inconsistent. The maximum sentence for conviction of violations of occupational safety and health regulations is one year’s imprisonment and fines of 400,000 baht ($11,200). In 2015 there were approximately 350,961 workplaces employing 8.4 million workers. This estimate did not include informal workplaces, such as family farms and home-based businesses. The DLPW had only 592 labor inspectors nationwide, insufficient to enforce labor laws.

DLPW labor inspectors inspected 44,859 workplaces employing 1.6 million workers during 2015 and found that 663 workplaces failed to comply with labor protection laws. In response, 624 orders were issued, nine employers were subjected to fines, and 30 employers were subjected to criminal charges. Labor inspections took place in various industries but mostly focused on wholesale retail trade (37 percent) and manufacturing (22 percent) with fewer inspections conducted in informal workplaces, such as construction (6 percent) and agriculture (2 percent). Most violations involved failure to pay minimum wage and overtime and holiday pay, failure to provide traditional or annual holidays, failure to provide and announce work rules, and failure to keep records of employee wage payment and hours worked. In 2015 the DLPW received 594 demands from 502,976 employees and 114 labor dispute cases involving 104,654 employees. Limited numbers of inspectors, the practice of interviewing employees at workplace locations, reliance on document-based inspection, and lack of interpreters to accompany inspection teams resulted in ineffective inspections.

On occupational health and safety, in 2015 the DLPW inspected 16,538 workplaces employing 946,621 workers and found that 1,312 workplaces (8 percent) failed to comply with health and safety regulations. Most of these involved failure to establish safety committees; problems with machines, cranes, and boilers; health checkups; and inappropriate levels of heat, light, and noise in construction areas. According to the DLPW, the highest numbers of violations regarding workers’ safety occurred in the manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, construction, and hotel and restaurant industries. After the department issued orders to companies to make amends, companies resolved the majority of violations, although labor inspectors filed at least 189 legal actions after employers failed to make amends or pay the required fine.

Redress for workers injured in industrial accidents generally was untimely and insufficient. Court decisions were rare, and seldom went against management or owners, but isolated cases demonstrated the courts have legal authority to compensate injured workers. NGOs reported several cases of the government denying accident compensation to registered migrants because they had not passed nationality verification. In September 2015 the Supreme Administrative Court ruled to rescind a regulation issued by the Social Security Office that it deemed set out unlawful practices and discriminatory treatment against migrant workers and their access to the Workmen’s Compensation Fund. The court ruled that registered migrants allowed to work temporarily in the country should be entitled to accident compensation.

Some workers received less than the minimum wage, particularly in rural provinces and in enterprises employing less than 50 workers. Labor unions estimated 30 percent of workers received less than the minimum wage. Labor protections apply to undocumented workers, but many employers did not provide the minimum wage to unskilled and semi-skilled undocumented migrant workers. A large income gap remained between formal and informal employment, with workers in the nonagricultural sector earning an average of three times more than those in the agricultural sector. A reported 55 percent of the labor force worked in the informal economy, including in agriculture, forestry, and fishing, with limited protection under labor laws and the social security system.

While there was no reliable count of illegal migrant workers in the country, government and NGO sources estimated the number of both registered and illegal migrant workers to be 2.5 to 3.9 million.

Despite efforts at regularization and renewal of work permits, migrant workers, in particular undocumented migrants, did not enjoy many labor protections accorded to citizen workers and remained vulnerable and without recourse under the law. NGOs reported poor working conditions for both documented and undocumented migrant workers. A substantial number of migrants worked in factories near border-crossing points, where there were frequent reports of labor law violations. In February the government introduced a policy allowing registered migrant workers to renew their work permits every two years for a maximum of eight years without the need to return to their country of origin. This policy reduced the cost and burden for migrant workers and increased incentives for them to register. The Ministry of Labor hired nine full-time, bilingual telephone hotline operators since 2014. The number of migrant worker calls to these hotlines increased significantly. In 2015 Ministry of Labor hotlines received 105,505 calls, of which 79,494 were from Thai speakers and 26,011 were by non-Thai speakers. Most non-Thai callers sought information on the migrant worker registration process, changing employers or workplaces, and work permit renewals. A limited number of calls were complaints regarding labor law violations.

Companies employing migrant workers reportedly made unlawful deductions from migrant worker wages to repay the costs of cross-border travel, registration, permits, and other expenses. Workers also reported several other violations by contractors, including failure to pay holiday overtime; provide equipment, uniforms, or adequate drinking water; or pay daily minimum wages for less than eight hours of work. Workers further reported deductions from wages for sick leave absences and bribes to officials to ignore undocumented workers.

The government requires employers in the fishing industry to keep official records of their workers and worker payroll records as well as to use standardized employment contracts that clearly outline the wage, working hours, benefits, and provisions for welfare while working on board a vessel. The 2014 ministerial regulations for sea-fishing vessels requires the income of fishery workers (base salary plus share from profit) to be equal to the national minimum wage. The law also requires rest periods and annual and holiday leave. It further requires employers to take workers to report to the Ministry of Labor at least once per year. Furthermore, the regulation requires employers to pay at least 50 percent of the daily wage during periods when workers are outside the country without work and unable to return to the country. The new law also mandates that employers cover transportation costs to return workers to a recruitment area if their boat was not operational, if workers are unable to work, if the employer alters or terminates the employment contract before the end of the contract, or when the employment contract ends. Nonetheless, workers in the fishing industry lacked access to social security and accident compensation. To strengthen enforcement in the fishing sector, the government established 28 port-in-port-out (PIPO) centers to check documents and monitor and inspect vessels and workers. As of September multidisciplinary teams led by the Royal Thai Navy inspected 13,504 workers on 999 fishing vessels and found wrongdoing on 25 vessels. Of these, authorities subjected 23 employers to administrative orders and penalties and filed lawsuits against two.

The government previously required local agencies that recruit migrant workers to come into the country to register with the Ministry of Labor’s Department of Employment (DOE). As of September, 274 in-bound recruitment agencies had registered with the DOE. The Royal Ordinance on Importation of Foreign Workers to Work in Thailand took effect in August. The law requires employment agents to inform migrant workers of wage and other benefit information. They must also publish service fees at a rate no higher than 25 percent of the first month’s wages. Employers must pay service fees, costs of transportation to and from the home country, and other associated fees. Employment agents must deposit a five million baht ($140,000) “guarantee” fee, which the DOE is to use as a compensation fund for assisting workers, as needed.

Labor brokerage firms used a “contract labor system” under which workers sign an annual contract. By law businesses must provide contract laborers “fair benefits and welfare without discrimination.” Regardless of whether the contract labor employee was outsourced and collected wages from a separate company, by law the contracting business is the overall employer, and the law requires equal pay and benefits for subcontract and regular employees. Although contract laborers performed the same work as direct-hire workers, employers often paid them less and provided fewer or no benefits.

NGOs noted local moneylenders, mostly informal, offered loans at exorbitant interest rates so citizen workers looking for work abroad could pay recruitment fees, some as high as 500,000 baht ($14,000). DOE regulations limit the maximum charges for recruitment fees, but effective enforcement of the rules remained difficult and inadequate due to workers’ unwillingness to provide information and the lack of legal documentary evidence (loan agreement or written service or lending contract) regarding underground recruitment fees. The DOE regulates in-bound and out-bound recruitment agencies. In 2015 the DOE found bad practices in 10 registered recruitment agencies, subsequently suspending three agencies and filing criminal charges against seven. The DOE also worked with police to investigate 287 complaints from citizen workers employed outside the country. Exploitative employment service agencies persisted in charging citizens working overseas large, illegal recruitment fees that frequently equaled their first- and second-year earnings. Police charged 68 illegal brokers for deceiving people in exchange of money under the Employment and Job-Seeker Protection Act, which allows for a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and/or a maximum fine of 200,000 baht ($5,600).

In 2014, the latest year for which data was available, there were 100,234 reported incidents of diseases and injuries from workplace accidents, including 68,903 minor injuries (resulting in no more than three workdays missed) and 31,331 injuries resulting in more than three workdays missed (including permanent disabilities and deaths). Observers said workplace accidents in the informal and agricultural sectors and among migrant workers were underreported. Employers rarely diagnosed or compensated occupational diseases, and few doctors or clinics specialized in them. Migrant workers and their dependents in both the formal and informal sectors were eligible to buy health insurance. Some migrant workers, however, did not purchase health insurance because they did not understand their rights due to language barriers, an insufficient number of health-care personnel, and other factors. Medium and large factories often applied government health and safety standards, but overall enforcement of safety standards was lax. In the informal sector, health and safety protections were substandard.