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Federated States of Micronesia

Executive Summary

The Federated States of Micronesia is a constitutional republic composed of four states: Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap. Individual states enjoy significant autonomy, and their traditional leaders retain considerable influence, especially in Pohnpei and Yap. The elected unicameral national congress selects the president from among its four members elected for four years from at-large state districts. The latest election for national congress occurred in March 2015, and observers considered the election generally free and fair. The new congress in its first session in 2015 elected Peter M. Christian as president.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included: widespread corruption; discrimination and violence against women; domestic violence; child abuse; and abuse of foreign workers.

The government sometimes took steps to punish officials, but impunity was a problem, particularly for alleged corruption.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: Authorities usually held pretrial detainees in the same facilities but in separate areas from convicted prisoners. Due to a lack of medical facilities or community-based support services for treating persons with mental disabilities, the government used separate jail cells to house persons with mental disabilities who had no criminal background.

There are no separate juvenile detention facilities, but two of the four states have designated cells for juveniles. The states seldom incarcerated juvenile offenders.

Administration: There was no prison ombudsperson to respond to complaints. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but they rarely investigated such allegations.

Independent Monitoring: The government has the obligation to investigate and monitor prison and detention center conditions, but no information was available publicly on whether it did so. The government permits visits by independent human rights observers, but there was no information publicly available on whether independent monitoring occurred.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police are responsible for enforcing national laws, and the Department of Justice (Attorney General’s Office) oversees them. The four state police forces are responsible for law enforcement in their respective states and are under the control of the director of public safety for each state. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over national and state police forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year in Pohnpei, Yap, or Kosrae. The trial for a Chuuk security force member on charges of protecting clan members accused of assaulting a foreign resident remained pending at the end of the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Warrants are required for arrests, and authorities advised detainees promptly of the charges against them. Authorities must bring detainees before a judge for a hearing within 24 hours of arrest, a requirement generally observed. Courts released most arrested persons on bail or after they relinquished their passports. Detainees generally had prompt access to family members and lawyers. Not all detainees who requested help from the public defender’s office received adequate legal assistance due to an insufficient number of trained lawyers. Authorities held no suspects incommunicado.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Authorities allowed closed hearings for cases involving juveniles. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Defendants are presumed innocent, and they cannot be forced to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to counsel and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges; receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; present witnesses and evidence; confront witnesses against them; and appeal. The law extends these rights to all persons. In some cases, however, state governments attempted to deport foreign workers who were victims of a crime before their cases came to trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. The Supreme Court is responsible for hearing lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The national congressional election held in March 2015 was generally free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There are no restrictions on the formation of political groups, but there were no significant efforts to form organized political parties, and none existed. Candidates generally sought political support from family, allied clan groupings, and religious groups.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process; however, cultural factors in the male-dominated society limited women’s representation in government and politics. Women were well represented in the middle and lower ranks of government at both the federal and state level, but they were notably few in the upper ranks. At year’s end three women held cabinet-level positions of secretary of finance and administration, postmaster general, and secretary of health and social affairs. There was one female associate justice on the national Supreme Court and one female associate justice on the Pohnpei State Supreme Court. The country’s first female ambassador served as permanent representative to the United Nations. There were two elected women in the Pohnpei State legislature. There were no female members of other state legislatures or national congress.

The country is a multicultural federation, and both national congress and the executive included persons from various cultural backgrounds.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law, but some officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous anecdotal reports of corruption.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office within the Department of Justice has primary responsibility for combating government corruption, including investigation and prosecution of individual cases. The office had sufficient resources. It operated independently and actively collaborated with civil society via a hotline operated by the Office of the National Public Auditor (ONPA) to encourage reporting of public complaints of corruption. ONPA referred some corruption cases to the Department of Justice during the year, but the department had not yet taken action on them.

Financial Disclosure: No laws, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by public officials.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Sexual assault, including rape, is a crime. There is no specific law against spousal rape. Sexual assault involving a dangerous weapon or serious physical or psychological harm to the victim is punishable by a maximum nine years’ imprisonment in Chuuk and 10 years’ imprisonment in the other three states, and a maximum fine of $20,000 (the U.S. dollar is the national currency) in Kosrae and $10,000 in the other states. If neither a dangerous weapon nor serious physical harm is involved, the assault is punishable in all states by a maximum five years’ imprisonment and a fine. Due in part to social stigma, such crimes were underreported, and authorities prosecuted few cases. According to police and women’s groups, there were several reports of physical and sexual assaults against women, both citizens and foreigners, outside the family context.

Reports of domestic violence, often severe, continued during the year. Although assault is a crime, effective prosecution of offenses was rare. In many cases victims decided not to initiate legal charges against a family member because of family pressure, fear of further assault, or the belief that police would not involve themselves actively in what is seen as a private family problem. The traditional extended family unit deemed violence, abuse, and neglect directed against spouses or children as offenses against the entire family, not just the individual victims, and addressed them by a complex system of familial sanctions. Traditional methods of coping with family discord were breaking down with increasing urbanization, monetization of the economy, and greater emphasis on the nuclear family in which victims were isolated from traditional family support. No institution, including police, has succeeded in replacing the extended family system or in addressing directly the problem of family violence.

There are no governmental facilities to provide shelter and support to women in abusive situations. The Pohnpei Department of Public Safety’s program of domestic violence included a hotline to handle domestic violence cases.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and anecdotal reports suggested it occurred.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Women have equal rights under the law, including the right to own property, and there were no institutional barriers to education or employment for women. The largest employers were the national and state governments, and they paid female employees equal pay for equal work. Societal discrimination against women continued, however, and cultural mores encouraged discriminatory treatment for women.

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship if at least one parent is a citizen. Individual states maintain birth records. Kosrae State requires registration within two weeks after a birth. In the other three states, registration takes place for hospital births, but on remote outer islands, there were no hospitals, and authorities do not register children until and unless they come to a main island for education.

Education: By law education is free and compulsory for children from six through 14 years, or upon completion of eighth grade; however, many students left school before that.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal, although the constitution provides for a right of parental discipline. Cultural attitudes regarding parental discipline limited reporting of abuse, and there were anecdotal reports of child abuse and neglect. The government made no efforts to combat child abuse or neglect. There were no shelters for child victims of domestic abuse. Traditional mediation usually involved agreement among male elders and provided no support for child victims.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 years for boys and 16 years for girls; however, girls younger than 18 years require the consent of at least one parent or a guardian to marry.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The national law against trafficking in persons sets a maximum penalty of 30 years’ imprisonment and a $50,000 fine for child trafficking. The states’ statutory rape laws apply to children 13 years or younger in Yap and Kosrae and 15 years or younger in Pohnpei. On September 23, Chuuk State passed a law increasing the age of consent to 18 years. The maximum penalties vary by state. On Chuuk and Pohnpei, it is five years’ imprisonment and a $5,000 fine, while on Kosrae and Yap it is 10 years’ imprisonment and a $20,000 fine. Only Pohnpei has a statute prohibiting child pornography. Both Chuuk and Pohnpei have provisions against filming explicit movies of underage children, but Yap and Kosrae have no such provisions. Both Chuuk and Pohnpei impose a penalty of six months’ imprisonment for violations.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical disabilities in public service employment. Neither laws nor regulations mandate accessibility to public buildings or services for persons with disabilities. No policies or programs provided access to information and communications for persons with disabilities.

By law students with disabilities have the right to separate education and training until they are 21 years old; however, there are no separate education facilities. The government provided children with disabilities, including learning disabilities, separate education in mainstream schools, and instruction at home if necessary and if foreign funding was available. Separate education programs faced difficulties serving all eligible children.

Due to a lack of facilities and community-based support services for treating persons with mental disabilities, the government housed some persons with mental disabilities but no criminal background in jails. Authorities continued to provide separate rooms in jails for persons with mental disabilities, and state health departments provided medication as part of their programs to provide free treatment to all incarcerated persons with mental disabilities.

The Department of Health and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities but does not provide significant services.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Each of the country’s four states has a different language and culture. Traditionally the state of Yap had a caste-like social system with high-status villages, each of which had an affiliated low-status village. In the past those who came from low-status villages worked without pay for those with higher status in exchange for care and protection by those of higher status. The traditional hierarchical social system has gradually broken down, and capable persons from low-status villages could rise to senior positions in society. Nonetheless, the traditional system affected contemporary life. Authorities sometimes continued to underserve low-status communities.

The national and state constitutions prohibit noncitizens from owning land, and foreign investment laws limit the types of businesses they can own and operate.

ydney resident was the victim of a racist attack near Macquarie University in which the aggressor demanded she take off her niqab and called her a terrorist. The NSW court fined the aggressor A$750 ($596) and ordered supervision by Community Corrections.

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

The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; nor does it prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There were no reports of violence or discrimination against LGBTI persons. The culture stigmatized public acknowledgement or discussion of certain sexual matters, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Persons rarely identified publicly as LGBTI.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Although the law does not specifically provide for the right of workers to join a union, under the constitution citizens have the right to form or join associations, and by law government employees can form associations to “present their views” to the government without being subject to coercion, discrimination, or reprisals. Citizens did not exercise this right. No law deals specifically with trade unions, the right to collective bargaining, or antiunion discrimination. There is no specific right to strike, but no law prohibits strikes.

Although the law does not prohibit workers, including foreign workers, from joining unions, there are no unions and most private-sector employment was in small-scale, family-owned businesses or in subsistence farming and fishing. No nongovernmental organizations focused on unions or labor issues.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law, although resources and inspections were minimal. The national antitrafficking law provides for penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. There were reports foreign workers from Southeast Asian countries worked in conditions indicative of human trafficking on Asian fishing vessels in the country or its territorial waters.

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

National and state laws do not establish a minimum age or prescribe limits on hours or occupations for employment of children. There was no employment of children for wages, but children often assisted their families in subsistence farming and family-owned shops. There were reports of children trafficked by family members for commercial sex, particularly to foreign fishermen and other seafarers.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, and religion. Labor law also prohibits discrimination based on race and gender. The law also provides protections for persons with disabilities, but they are limited in scope. The law does not provide for specific legal protections for age, citizenship, national origin, political opinion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or positive diagnosis of AIDS or other diseases.

There was no pattern of discrimination in most areas, although discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with disabilities. Traditional customs, especially in Yap State, limited professional opportunities for lower-status and outer-island persons. Women were underrepresented in all areas except service.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum hourly wage for employment with the national government was not below the official estimate for the poverty income level.

The law sets a standard of an eight-hour day and a five-day workweek, with premium pay for overtime. There are no legal provisions prohibiting excessive or compulsory overtime. A federal regulation requires that employers provide a safe workplace. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Division of Immigration and Labor within the Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing these standards. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. The tax system monitored the minimum wage effectively. The government generally was effective in its enforcement of these standards and provided sufficient resources for effective enforcement.

Approximately one-half of workers were in the informal economy where the law did not apply, predominantly in subsistence agriculture and fishing. Working conditions aboard some foreign-owned fishing vessels operating in the country’s waters continued to be very poor. Crewmembers reported incidents of injuries, beatings by officers, and nonpayment of salaries.

Iceland

Executive Summary

Iceland is a constitutional parliamentary republic. The president is the head of state, and a prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party, is head of government. There is a unicameral parliament (Althingi). In 2016 voters elected Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson president in a free and fair election. On September 15, the governing coalition collapsed, leading to new parliamentary elections on October 28 that were also considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

There were no reports of officials committing human right abuses in the security forces or elsewhere in the government.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: Men were held in the Akureyri and Reykjavik prisons with women but in different cellblocks. With their mutual consent, men interacted with women only in common areas monitored by prison staff. The law states the government must accommodate juvenile offenders in establishments managed by the Government Agency for Child Protection unless there are special grounds for accommodating them in prison. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

Although overcrowding was generally not a problem, when it occurred in the prisons, authorities held pretrial detainees in jails in local police stations. As of September 28, there was a waiting list of approximately 595 persons convicted of crimes but unable to serve their sentences in prisons due to a lack of prison space. During the year the sentences of 18 convicted persons expired without their serving their sentences.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring of prison conditions by independent local and international human rights groups, the media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and international bodies, but no such visits occurred during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police maintain internal security. In addition the Icelandic Coast Guard (ICG) carries out general law-enforcement duties at sea. The national police, the nine regional police forces, and the ICG fall under the purview of the Ministry of Justice.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police and the ICG, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. In accordance with legislation passed in 2016, on January 1, the minister of justice established an independent supervisory commission for the investigation of allegations of police misconduct.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police may make arrests in a number of circumstances, such as when they believe a prosecutable offense has been committed, when they see a need to prevent further offenses or destruction of evidence, when they need to protect a suspect, or when a person refuses to obey police orders to move. The law explicitly requires warrants only for arresting individuals who fail to appear at court for a hearing or a trial, or at a prison to serve a sentence.

Authorities must promptly inform a person under arrest of his rights and bring him before a judge within 24 hours of arrest, and authorities respected this right. There is no functioning bail system. The judge determines whether a suspect must remain in custody during the investigation. The judge may grant conditional release, subject to assurances that the accused will appear for trial. Upon arrival at the police station, the law entitles detainees to legal counsel, which the government provides for the indigent. There were no reports that authorities held suspects incommunicado or under house arrest.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Arrested or detained persons are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis of their detention. If found to have been unlawfully detained, they may obtain release and compensation. A person may also appeal adverse decisions to the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are presumed innocent. Authorities must inform them of the charges against them promptly and in detail. Trials took place without undue delay. They are generally public, but judges may close them at the defendant’s request or when minors are involved. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to have access to legal counsel of their own choosing. The government covers attorneys’ fees of defendants unable to pay, but the law requires defendants found guilty to reimburse the government. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and they can avail themselves of the free assistance of an interpreter if they cannot understand or speak Icelandic. Defendants can confront the prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. At the discretion of the courts, prosecutors may introduce evidence that police obtained illegally. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal, and the Supreme Court handled appeals expeditiously.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may seek damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation through domestic courts. They can appeal decisions involving alleged violations by the government of the European Convention on Human Rights to the ECHR. Administrative remedies are also available for alleged wrongs.

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

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

Immigration law allows authorities to conduct house searches without a prior court order when there is a significant risk that delay would jeopardize an investigation of immigration fraud. Immigration law also allows authorities to request DNA tests without court supervision in cases of suspected immigration fraud. As of September 30, no tests were requested.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In June 2016 voters elected a new president in elections that were considered free and fair. Due to the collapse of the government coalition in September, new parliamentary elections were held on October 28; they were considered free and fair.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: Most public officials were not subject to financial disclosure laws. The law requires members of parliament and government ministers who are not members of parliament to report their financial interests publicly on parliament’s website and to update this information within one month of receiving new information. As of July 19, all 63 members of parliament elected in 2016 reported their financial interests. There are no criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape carries a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison. Judges typically imposed sentences of two to three years. The law does not explicitly address spousal rape. Activists continued to complain that the burden of proof in rape cases was too heavy and discouraged victims from reporting acts of rape and authorities from prosecuting them. The government did not respond formally to these concerns.

The law criminalizes domestic violence specifically with a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison. Victims of domestic violence can request police to remove perpetrators physically from the home for up to four weeks at a time. Police can also impose a 72-hour restraining order to prevent abusers from coming into proximity with the victim, and courts can extend this restraining order for up to a year. The law entitles victims of sex crimes to a lawyer to advise them of their rights and to help them pursue charges against the alleged assailants. In 2016 a total of 116 women and 79 children sought temporary lodging at the country’s shelter for women, mainly because of domestic violence. The shelter also offered counseling.

The government helped finance the Women’s Shelter, the Counseling and Information Center for Survivors of Sexual Violence, the rape crisis center of the national hospital, and other organizations that assisted victims of domestic or gender-based violence. In addition the government assisted immigrant women in abusive relationships, offering emergency accommodation, counseling, and information on legal rights.

Sexual Harassment: Two laws prohibit sexual harassment. The general penal code makes sexual harassment punishable by imprisonment for up to two years. The law on equal status defines sexual harassment more broadly as any type of unfair or offensive physical, verbal, or symbolic sexual behavior that is unwanted, affects the self-respect of the victim, and is continued despite a clear indication that the behavior is undesired. The law requires employers and organization supervisors to make specific arrangements to prevent employees, students, and clients from becoming victims of gender-based or sexual harassment. The law establishes fines for violations, but more severe penalties could be applicable under other laws. According to the latest available information from the State Prosecutor’s Office, in 2016 prosecutors brought five cases to trial at the district court level and obtained convictions in two, with one case still awaiting trial.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men according to the constitution and the law. The law states that employers and unions should work towards gender equality in the labor market, especially in managerial positions, and that employers should work towards declassifying jobs as primarily female- or male-oriented. Employment discrimination occurred.

In May the Gender Equality Complaints Committee ruled that the Ministry of Finance violated the law on equal status when it hired a male employee over a female applicant of equal qualifications for the position of director of public finance in June 2016.

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires the country’s citizenship at birth if both parents are citizens, if the mother is a citizen, or if the father is a citizen and is married to the child’s foreign mother. If a mixed-nationality couple had obtained a judicial separation at the time when the child was conceived, however, the child acquires the mother’s citizenship. A stateless child can become a citizen at the age of three. In all cases a child’s access to social services depends on whether he or she has a residence permit in the country. Registration of birth was prompt.

Child Abuse: Child abuse, including sexual abuse, remained a problem. The Government Agency for Child Protection operated a diagnostic and short-term treatment center for abused and troubled minors, and was responsible for three long-term treatment facilities. It also coordinated the work of 27 committees throughout the country that were responsible for local management of child-protection cases.

The government maintained a children’s assessment center to accelerate prosecution of child sexual abuse cases and lessen the trauma experienced by the child.

The prime minister appoints the children’s ombudsman, who acts independently of the government. While the ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding on authorities, generally the government adopted them.

Early and Forced Marriage: The country’s minimum age for marriage is 18 for both sexes.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits, with fines or imprisonment for up to two years, the payment, or promise to pay or render consideration of another type, for prostitution involving a child under the age of 18. The law prohibits child pornography, which is punishable by up to two years in prison. The law criminalizes statutory rape with incarceration for one to 16 years. The government effectively enforced these laws. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.

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

Anti-Semitism

Officials estimated the Jewish community to be fewer than 100 individuals, and there is no synagogue or Jewish cultural center in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities.

The law provides that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, information, and communications. Disability rights advocates complained that authorities did not fully implement the law and regulations. While violations of these regulations are punishable by a fine or a jail sentence of up to two years, one of the main associations for persons with disabilities contended that authorities rarely, if ever, assessed penalties for noncompliance.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Immigrants, mainly of non-Western origin or from Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries, and asylum seekers suffered occasional incidents of social harassment based on their ethnicity.

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

While the constitution does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, it does so implicitly. The law prohibits anyone from denying a person goods or services on an equal footing with others on grounds of that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It also prohibits denying a person access to a public meeting place or other places open to the public on the same footing with others on grounds of that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The law further prohibits incitement to hatred against persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and the dissemination of hateful material.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Immigrants and asylum seekers, mainly of non-Western origin, suffered occasional incidents of harassment based on their religious beliefs. The ECRI report noted “the growing incidence of anti-Muslim sentiment” in the country, including on social media.

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 independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and the government generally respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. It is silent on whether workers fired for union activity should be reinstated, but it provides for fining employers who engage in this practice. The law permits the government to pass a provisional law to impose mandatory mediation when strikes threaten key sectors in the economy.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations (damages and fines) were sufficient to deter violations.

The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Collective bargaining agreements covered nearly 100 percent of the formal economy’s workforce. Independent contractors in various industries, but mainly in construction and tourism, sometimes hired subcontractors to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

Authorities in the Directorate of Labor and the Directorate of Immigration effectively enforced the law. Resources were adequate during the year, although there were no prosecutions. The law is sufficiently stringent compared with those on other serious crimes, and penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations.

Traffickers subjected men and women to forced labor in construction, tourism, and restaurants. Foreign “posted workers” were at particular risk of forced labor because traffickers paid them in their home countries and contracted them to work for up to 183 days in Iceland to avoid taxes and union fees, limiting tax authorities’ and union officials’ ability to monitor their work conditions and pay. Traffickers also subjected women to domestic servitude, forced labor, and sex trafficking.

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

According to the law, children who are 13 and 14 may be employed in light work up to 12 hours per week and a maximum of two hours per day outside organized school teaching hours during the school year and up to 35 hours a week or a maximum of seven hours per day during school vacations. They may not work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children between the ages of 15 and 18 who do not attend school may work up to 40 hours per week and a maximum of eight hours per day, but not between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. For children who remain in school, the law limits work to 12 hours per week and a maximum two hours per day during the school year, but up to 40 hours per week and a maximum eight hours per day during school vacations. They may not work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children under 18 may not be employed in work that is likely to be beyond their physical or mental capacity; work that is likely to cause permanent damage to health; work that involves the risk of hazardous radiation; work involving a risk of accidents which it can be assumed that children and teenagers could have difficulty identifying or avoiding due to their lack of awareness or lack of experience or training; or work where there is a risk of violence or other specific risk, except where the young persons work with adults. The government generally enforced the law. There were no known cases of child labor.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not specifically prohibit discrimination with respect to employment on the basis of race, color, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, disability, language, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. Nevertheless, the constitution and other laws prohibit such discrimination in general and provide for fines determined by the courts for violations. The government effectively enforced the law.

Despite laws requiring equal pay for equal work, a pay gap existed between men and women. According to a salary survey of its members conducted by the country’s largest labor union, the VR, and published in July, the gender-based pay gap amounted to 11.3 percent after taking into consideration age, length of employment, profession, job sector, education, number of employees supervised, number of hours worked, and shift work.

According to a salary survey of their members conducted for the Union of Public Servants and the Reykjavik City Municipal Employees Association and published in September, the gender pay gap amounted to 11.8 and 6.0 percent among the unions’ membership, respectively, after taking into consideration age, working hours, length of employment, type of profession, education, shift differential, and type of sector.

Anecdotal evidence suggested some employers might without reason limit their hiring to native Icelandic-speaking individuals. ECRI reported that foreign construction workers, even skilled ones, were usually hired as unskilled workers at the collectively negotiated minimum wage.

Disability rights advocates asserted that persons with disabilities had a more difficult time finding jobs due to prejudice and because fewer job opportunities, especially part-time, were available for persons with disabilities. The positions that persons with disabilities were able to find were usually low-paying, required only a low level of education or skills, and offered limited opportunities for advancement.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not establish a minimum wage. The minimum wages negotiated in various collective bargaining agreements applied automatically to all employees in those occupations, including foreign workers, regardless of union membership. While the agreements can be either industry-wide, sector-wide, or in some cases firm-specific, the type of position defined the negotiated wage levels.

The standard legal workweek is 40 hours, and paid annual holidays include 14 full days and two half-days. The law requires that employers compensate work exceeding eight hours per day as overtime. Overtime pay does not vary significantly across unions, but collective bargaining agreements determine the terms of overtime pay. The law limits the time a worker may work, including overtime, to 48 hours a week on average during each four-month period. The law entitles workers to 11 hours of rest in each 24-hour period and one day off each week. Under specially defined circumstances, employers may reduce the 11-hour rest period to no fewer than eight hours, but they must then compensate workers with corresponding rest time later. They may also postpone a worker’s day off, but the worker must receive the corresponding rest time within 14 days. The Administration of Occupational Safety and Health (AOSH) monitored and enforced these regulations.

The law sets occupational health and safety standards that are appropriate for the main industries, and the Ministry of Welfare administered and enforced them through the AOSH, which conducted both proactive and reactive inspections. The ministry can close workplaces that fail to meet safety and health standards. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The AOSH did not employ a sufficient number of inspectors to enforce standards effectively in all sectors. The AOSH levied daily fines on companies that did not follow instructions, urging them to improve work conditions. Daily fines were generally sufficient to deter violations. With the exception of certain asylum seekers, the government provided universal health-care coverage to all workers, including those in the informal economy.

Violations of wage and overtime standards were most common in the construction and tourism sectors. The Icelandic Federation of Labor stated that young persons in the tourism sector as well as foreign workers–primarily men in the construction industry, some of them undocumented–were paid less than the negotiated minimum wage. Although violations of occupational safety and health standards occurred in all sectors, violations occurred most frequently in the construction and food industries. Young workers and employees who did not understand or speak Icelandic and did not know local rules and regulations were more likely to be subject to hazardous or exploitative working conditions.

Ireland

Executive Summary

Ireland is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with an executive branch headed by a prime minister, a bicameral parliament, and a directly elected president. The country held free and fair parliamentary elections in 2016 and presidential elections in 2011.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, including in the security services and elsewhere in the government.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them.

In August the UN Committee against Torture published its concluding observations following the country’s periodic hearing under the UN Convention against Torture. The committee recognized the country’s positive steps to improve prison facilities, create the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), create alternatives to prisons, and no longer imprison juveniles. The committee recommended that independent monitoring bodies as well as civil society organizations be allowed to make repeated and unannounced visits to all places of deprivation of liberty, to publish reports, and to have the country act on its recommendations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The majority of prisons met international standards, but some failed to meet prisoners’ basic hygiene needs.

Physical Conditions: As of October 10, prisons overall had fewer inmates than the official capacity of the system, although five facilities exceeded capacity.

In 2016 there were nine reported deaths in the prison system.

At times authorities held detainees awaiting trial and detained immigrants in the same facilities as convicts. On March 30, the minister for children and youth affairs ended the sentencing of children to prison. Since that date courts commit children up to age 17 to the Children’s Detention Center at Oberstown. As of September 19, no juveniles were in the custody of the Irish Prison Service.

In November 2016 the Office of the Inspector of Prisons, an independent statutory body, released assessments of the prisoner complaints procedures and health care. The office found significant deficiencies related to the operation of the prisoner complaints procedures, notably that there was no external, independent appeal process. One of the key recommendations in the inspectors’ report was that prisoners’ complaints should be subject to review by the Office of the Ombudsman, who would also be able to deal with complaints directly in case of undue delay.

An August report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA–a government-funded agency that monitors the safety and quality of health care) highlighted shortcomings at the Oberstown facility. It found some residents were forced to spend a week or longer isolated from their peers and without access to fresh air. It also noted that fire safety policy was not fully implemented despite being identified by an HIQA inspection in 2015.

In June a security breach at Oberstown resulted in damage to the facility, physical threats to personnel, and the escape of two youths from the facility. Both youths were recovered and returned within one week.

A small number of prisoners in older facilities continued to lack sanitary facilities in their cells and had to use chamber pots in a practice known as “slopping out,” which national and international humanitarian organizations referred to as inhuman treatment. Human rights groups continued to criticize understaffing and poor working conditions at the Central Mental Health Hospital in Dundrum, the country’s only secure mental health facility.

Administration: The inspector of prisons has oversight of the complaints system. Prisoners can submit complaints about their treatment to the prison service. IHREC’s Human Rights Committee expressed concern in September in their Submission to UN Human Rights Committee that complaint procedures did not provide for a fully independent system to deal with all serious complaints. An August 2016 report by the inspector of prisons said that while the overall complaints system was reliable, it was lacking in several areas due to the failure of employees to observe the agreed protocol, a lack of independent oversight, and a general absence of accountability.

Independent Monitoring: The Office of the Inspector of Prisons, an independent statutory body, conducted multiple inspections and independent reviews of detention facilities and methods. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the prison inspector function was effective.

The government permitted visits and monitoring by independent human rights observers and maintained an open invitation for visits from UN special rapporteurs.

Improvements: On March 30, the minister for children and youth affairs ended the sentencing of children to prison. On April 7, the minister of justice and equality closed the St. Patrick’s Detention Center for Children, a facility with a history of violating detainee rights.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

An Garda Siochana (Garda) is the national police force. It maintains internal security under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality. The defense forces are responsible for external security under the supervision of the Department of Defense but are also authorized certain domestic security responsibilities in support of the Garda.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Garda and the defense forces. Controversies related to the oversight of police continued during the year. In 2015 parliament enacted legislation allowing police officers to disclose allegations of wrongdoing within the police service to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) on a confidential basis. By law the Garda ombudsman is responsible for conducting independent investigations, following referrals from the Garda, in circumstances in which police conduct might have resulted in death or serious harm to a person. In 2016 the ombudsman received 51 referrals, 12 of which involved fatalities. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

In 2016 the GSOC received 1,758 complaints from the public, fewer than the previous year. The most common complaints involved investigations, arrests, road policing, customer service, and searches. The largest number of allegations against police related to abuse of authority or neglect of duty.

When the GSOC directly investigates or supervises investigations involving disciplinary breaches, it may recommend disciplinary proceedings to the Garda commissioner. In 2015 the GSOC made 16 recommendations for disciplinary proceedings. The GSOC refers other cases involving less serious breaches of discipline to the Garda for investigation. In 2015 the GSOC referred 544 cases concerning breaches of discipline to the Garda for investigation.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

An arrest typically requires a warrant issued by a judge, except in situations necessitating immediate action for the protection of the public. The law provides the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of a detention, and authorities respected this right. Authorities must inform detainees promptly of the charges against them and, with few exceptions, may not hold them longer than 24 hours without charge. For crimes involving firearms, explosives, or membership in an unlawful organization, a judge may extend detention for an additional 24 hours upon a police superintendent’s request. The law permits detention without charge for up to seven days in cases involving suspicion of drug trafficking, although police must obtain a judge’s approval to hold such a suspect longer than 48 hours. The law requires authorities to bring a detainee before a district court judge “as soon as possible” to determine bail status pending a hearing. A court may refuse bail to a person charged with a crime carrying a penalty of five years’ imprisonment or longer, or when a judge deems continued detention necessary to prevent the commission of another offense.

The law permits detainees and prisoners, upon arrest, to have access to attorneys. The court appoints an attorney if a detainee does not have one. The law allows detainees prompt access to family members.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy the right to the presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, to be present at their trial, and to be granted a fair, timely, and public trial except in certain cases. Defendants have the right to an attorney of their choice or one provided at public expense. They can confront witnesses and present their own testimony and evidence. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and free assistance of an interpreter. They have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. There is a right to appeal.

The law provides for a nonjury Special Criminal Court (SCC) when the director of public prosecutions certifies a case to be beyond the capabilities of an ordinary court, such as terrorist or criminal gang offenses. A panel of three judges, usually including one High Court judge, one circuit judge, and one district judge, hears such cases. They reach their verdicts by majority vote. The Irish Council on Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, and the UN Human Rights Committee noted that authorities expanded the jurisdiction of the SCC in recent years to cover most offenses related to organized crime. They expressed concern that the SCC used a lower standard for evidence admissibility, and there was no appeal against a prosecuting authority’s decision to send a case to the SCC. In 2015 the justice minister announced the establishment of a second SCC with seven judges appointed during the year to try terrorist and gang-related offenses. The minister cited long delays in processing cases as a reason for the second court. The first trial at Second Special Criminal Court opened in October 2016. Sixty new cases were received in the SCCs in 2016 and 67 were resolved. Most of the cases involved membership in an illegal organization or possession of firearms or explosives. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties and other national and international organizations criticized the move to expand the use of SCCs.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

An independent and impartial judicial system hears civil cases and appeals on civil matters, including damage claims resulting from human rights violations. Complainants may bring such claims before all appropriate courts, including the Supreme Court. Individuals may lodge a complaint or application with the European Court of Human Rights for alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the state if they have exhausted all available legal remedies in the Irish legal system, including an appeal to the Supreme Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

No immovable property was confiscated from Jews or other targeted groups in Ireland during World War II by the Irish government or Nazi Germany. According to the delegation of Ireland to the Holocaust Era Assets Conference, the country had experienced only one case where allegations concerning provenance were made and therefore had not enacted formal implementation mechanisms in this regard. The country’s policy is to monitor these issues as they may evolve in the future and to proceed on a case-by-case basis.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers reported that the 2016 parliamentary and 2011 presidential elections were free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the laws effectively, but officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: There were isolated reports of low-level government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: Elected and appointed officials, as well as civil servants at the higher grades, are required to furnish a statement, in writing, to the Standards in Public Office Commission of their financial interests and the interests of their spouse, civil partner, or child that could materially influence the person in the performance of official functions. The commission verifies the disclosures. The financial disclosures of elected officials were made public. There are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law. Most persons convicted received prison sentences of five to 12 years. The law criminalizes domestic violence. It authorizes prosecution of a violent family member and provides victims with “safety orders,” which prohibit a person from engaging in violent actions or threats, and “barring orders” (restraining orders), which prohibit an offender from entering the family home for up to three years. Anyone found guilty of violating a barring or an interim protection order may receive a fine of up to 4,000 euros ($4,800), a prison sentence of 12 months, or both. A 2014 Garda Inspectorate review found that police did not always correctly record domestic violence cases.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls. The maximum penalty for performing FGM/C in the country or taking a girl to another country to undergo the procedure is a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($12,000), imprisonment for up to 14 years, or both.

Sexual Harassment: The law obliges employers to prevent sexual harassment and prohibits employers from dismissing an employee for making a complaint of sexual harassment. Authorities effectively enforced the law when sexual harassment was reported. The penalties can include an order requiring equal treatment in the future, as well as compensation for the victim up to a maximum of two years’ pay or 40,000 euros ($48,000), whichever is greater. The law prohibits sexual harassment not only in employment but also in the supply of, and access to, goods and services.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men. Inequalities in pay and promotions persisted in both the public and private sectors.

Children

Birth Registration: A person born after 2004 on the island of Ireland (including Northern Ireland) is automatically a citizen if at least one parent was an Irish citizen, a British citizen, a resident of either Ireland or Northern Ireland entitled to reside in either without time limit, or a legal resident of Ireland or Northern Ireland for three of the four years preceding the child’s birth (excluding time spent as a student or an asylum seeker). Authorities register births immediately.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes engaging in, or attempting to engage in, a sexual act with a child younger than 17. The maximum sentence in such cases is five years in prison, which can increase to 10 years if the accused is a person in authority, such as a parent or teacher. The law additionally prohibits any person from engaging in, or attempting to engage in, a sexual act with a juvenile younger than 15; the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. Tusla, the government’s Child and Family Agency, provided child protection, early intervention, and family support services. The government also provided funding to NGOs that carried out information campaigns against child abuse as well as those who provided support services to victims.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years, including for citizens who marry abroad. Persons under 18 must obtain a court exemption order.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. Conviction of trafficking of children and taking a child from home for sexual exploitation carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. A person convicted of meeting a child for the purpose of sexual exploitation faces a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offenses) Act enacted in February set a maximum fine of 5,000 euros ($6,000). The minimum age of consensual sex is 17.

The law provides for a fine of up to 31,000 euros ($37,200), a prison sentence of up to 14 years, or both for a person convicted of allowing a child to be used for pornography. For producing, distributing, printing, or publishing child pornography, the maximum penalty is 5,000 euros ($6,000), 12 months’ imprisonment, or both.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2016 census, the Jewish community numbered 2,557 persons.

On January 29, the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland in association with the Department of Justice and Equality, the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration, and Dublin City Council organized a national Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration in which senior government ministers and other public figures participated.

According to the newspaper Irish Independent, Shmael Heirouche, a Dutch citizen living in the country, was sentenced on May 31 in Cork Circuit Criminal Court to five years’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to the charge of threatening to kill or cause serious harm. He had threatened his two French housemates, praised the Islamic State, and said he would behead Jews.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government effectively enforced these provisions and implemented laws and programs to give persons with disabilities access to buildings, information, and communications.

Children with disabilities generally had full access to educational options at all levels. In a practice condemned by children’s rights and mental health groups, authorities continued to admit minors to adult psychiatric units, with 68 reported admissions of children to adult units, according to the 2016 annual report of the Mental Health Commission.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, which includes color, nationality, ethnicity, and national origins, and the government enforced the law. Societal discrimination and violence against immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities remained a problem. The country’s African population and Muslim community in particular experienced racially motivated physical violence, intimidation, graffiti, and verbal slurs. According to the European Network Against Racism, the number of reported racist incidents rose by 39 percent in 2016 to 435.

Advocacy groups criticized reductions in the accommodation budget for Travellers, an ethnic group with a distinct history and culture, which was cut by 90 percent between 2008 and 2017. The law obliges local officials to develop suitable accommodation sites for Travellers and to solicit Traveller input. Traveller NGOs asserted that many communities provided Travellers with housing that was unsuitable for their nomadic lifestyle or provided transient caravan camping sites that were unsafe and lacking basic services such as sanitary facilities, electricity, and water. Pavee Point criticized the absence of an agency to address the urgent need for improvements in housing and the implementation of existing policies in health, education, and employment.

In 2016 the Council of Europe’s Committee of Social Rights determined that the country’s law and practice violated the human rights of Travellers on the following grounds: inadequate conditions at many Traveller sites, insufficient provision of accommodation for Travellers, inadequate legal safeguards for Travellers threatened with eviction, and evictions carried out without necessary safeguards.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation with respect to employment, goods, services, and education. The law does not include gender identity as an explicit category, but the courts interpreted it as prohibiting discrimination against transgender persons.

Civil liberties and civil society organizations alleged that no specific legislation existed to deal with other forms of hate crimes or to ensure that prejudice was taken into account as an aggravating factor when sentencing criminals.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and the government respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act of 2015 reintroduced a mechanism for the registration of employment agreements between employers and trade unions governing wages and employment conditions.

Police and military personnel may form associations (technically not unions) to represent them in matters of pay, working conditions, and general welfare. The law does not require employers to engage in collective bargaining. The law provides for the right to strike, except for police and military personnel, in both the public and private sectors. Labor unions have the right to pursue collective bargaining and in most instances did so freely, with employers’ cooperation in most cases. While workers are constitutionally protected in forming trade unions, employers are not legally obliged to recognize unions or to negotiate with them. The government facilitates freedom of association and trade union activity through the Labor Relations Commission, which promotes the development and improvement of industrial relations policies, procedures, and practices, and the Labor Court, which provides resolution of industrial relations disputes.

The government enforced laws protecting the right to freedom of association; there were no reports of violations of the law. The country allocated adequate resources to the government to provide oversight of labor relations. The Labor Court is a court of last resort for trade unions and employers and sought to process cases with a minimum of delay. Workers freely exercised these rights. Unions conducted their activities without government interference. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination. Labor leaders did not report any threats or violence from employers.

During the year there were bus strikes and stoppages by staff represented by the National Bus and Rail Union and the Services, Industrial, Professional, and Technical Union. In March, Bus Eireann workers began 21 days of strike action over a disagreement concerning pay and conditions at the company; management had decided to implement cost-cutting measures without union agreement. On April 13, the unions agreed to Labor Court recommendations, which included 200 job cuts, including 120 drivers, as well as cuts to salaries over 60,000 euros ($72,000).

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) monitors compliance with employment rights, inspects workplaces, and has authority to prosecute alleged violations of employment rights.

The law considers forced labor to be human trafficking. The penalty for human trafficking is up to life imprisonment and an unlimited fine. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations. NGOs alleged that employers subjected men and women to forced labor in construction, restaurant work, waste management, commercial fishing, car washes, and agriculture, as well as in private homes as domestic servants. Vietnamese and Chinese men who were prosecuted and sentenced for cannabis cultivation reported indicators of forced labor, such as document retention, restriction of movement, and nonpayment of wages. The Romani community and undocumented migrant workers were high-risk groups susceptible to human trafficking.

The law allows undocumented workers to sue exploitative employers for back wages and compensation in cases of forced or compulsory labor. Trade unions and NGOs contended more needed to be done to identify and support victims and prosecute employers.

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 16 in full-time jobs. Employers may hire children who are 14 to 15 years old for light work on school holidays as part of an approved work experience or educational program. Employers may hire children older than 15 on a part-time basis during the school year. The law establishes rest intervals and maximum working hours, prohibits the employment of children 18 and younger for late-night work, and requires employers to keep detailed records of workers who are under 18. The law identifies hazardous occupations and occupational safety and health restrictions for workers under 18, which generally involve working with hazardous materials or chemicals. Employers must verify there is no significant risk to the safety and health of young persons and take into account the increased risk arising from the lack of maturity and experience in identifying risks to their own safety and health. The law stipulates that exposure to physical, biological, and chemical agents or certain processes be avoided and provides a nonexhaustive list of agents, processes, and types of work from which anyone under 18 may require protection. The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and there were no reports that illegal child labor occurred.

The WRC is responsible for enforcement, and it was generally effective, with adequate resources and investigative and enforcement powers. Employers found guilty of an offense are liable to a fine of up to 2,000 euros ($2,400). Continuing breaches of the act can result in a fine of up to 300 euros ($360) per day. The Health and Safety Authority has responsibility for overseeing hazardous occupations and can impose the same penalties as specified for other workers.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law bans discrimination in a wide range of employment and employment-related areas. It defines discrimination as treating one person in a less favorable way than another person based on color, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, language, or sex; civil status; family status; sexual orientation; religion; age; disability, including physical, intellectual, learning, cognitive, or emotional disability; HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases and a range of other medical conditions; or race and membership in the Traveller community (also see section 6). The law specifically requires equal pay for equal work or work of equal value.

The Employment Equality Act 2015 eliminated certain exemptions for state-affiliated institutions. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community, divorcees, single parents working in state-owned or state-funded schools, and hospitals operated under religious patronage have the same legal protections against discrimination as workers in the private sector.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and the nature of penalties for violations was sufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum hourly wage was increased to 9.25 euros ($11.10) per hour on January 1. Laws establishing and regulating wage levels cover migrant workers. The standard workweek is 39 hours. There are nine public holidays each year, to which full-time workers have immediate entitlement; part-time workers have entitlement when they have worked a total of 40 hours in the previous five weeks. Depending on the hours worked, employees are entitled to paid annual leave. Employees who work at least 1,365 hours are entitled to four weeks of leave, but less time if they work less. The law also provides for parental and maternity leave, caregiver’s leave, and adoptive leave. The Paternity Leave and Benefit Act of 2016 introduced statutory paternity leave of two weeks. The law limits overtime work to two hours per day, 12 hours per week, and 240 hours per year. The government effectively enforced these standards. Although there is no statutory entitlement to premium pay for overtime, it could be arranged between employer and employee. The government sets occupational health and safety standards.

The Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation is responsible for enforcing occupational safety laws, and these laws provided adequate and comprehensive protection. Depending on the seriousness of the violation, courts may impose fines, prison sentences, or both for violating the law. The maximum penalty is three million euros ($3.6 million), imprisonment for up to two years, or both. The law also provides for fines of up to one thousand euros ($1,200) for certain offenses. There were no complaints from either labor or management during the year regarding shortcomings in enforcement.

Minimum wage, hours of work, and health and safety standards were effectively enforced in all sectors of the formal economy. The WRC secures compliance with employment rights legislation through inspection and prosecution. The WRC’s Inspection Services have the authority to carry out employment rights compliance inspections under employment legislation. The WRC has the power under a number of employment laws to prosecute employers who are alleged to be in breach of the law.

By law an employer may not penalize through dismissal, disciplinary action, or less favorable treatment employees who make a complaint or exercise their rights under health and safety legislation. Employers have an obligation to protect an employee’s safety, health, and welfare at work as far as is reasonably practicable. According to a report from the Health and Safety Authority, there were 46 workplace fatalities in 2016, down from 56 in 2015, 18 of them the result of farming accidents. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Italy

Executive Summary

The Italian Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The constitution vests executive authority in the Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister whose official title is president of the Council of Ministers. The president of the Republic, who is the head of state, nominates the prime minister after consulting with political party leaders in parliament. International observers considered the national parliamentary elections in 2013 to be free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included criminalization of libel; and instances of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons authorities generally investigated, and where appropriate prosecuted, such cases.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed abuses including officials in the security forces or elsewhere in the government.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. On July 4, parliament approved a law introducing the crime of torture into the penal code. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were concerned that the new crime can be proven only if violence or serious threats occur multiple times.

On May 18, a judge in Messina indicted two prison guards, Sebastiano Torre and Mario Pante, for the alleged assault on two detainees.

On August 24, during a police operation to evict squatters from a building in central Rome (see section 2.d.), the NGO Doctors without Borders-Italy stated that it treated 13 persons injured in the operation and had to call ambulances to take four women to a hospital.

On June 14, a prosecutor in Massa Carrara detained one Carabinieri officer and placed three more under house arrest as part of an investigation into alleged abuses of foreign and Italian arrestees, including the alleged rape of a sex worker. The officers were also accused of filing inaccurate reports of the crimes committed by their victims.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions mostly met international standards, but some prisons were significantly overcrowded and antiquated.

Physical Conditions: In some prisons overcrowding was severe: prisons in Como, Brescia, and Larino in the province of Campobasso were at 174 to 176 percent of capacity. The law requires the separation of pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, but authorities sometimes held both in the same sections of prisons. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) expressed concern about the living conditions in some overcrowded facilities. It also reported mistreatment, mainly punches, slaps, kicks, and blows with batons, of detainees by prison guards.

All the prisons the CPT visited suffered from structural and material deficiencies. There were problems of water supply at Sassari Prison and evening meals to inmates on Sundays in the Marassi and Turin Prisons in Genoa. The CPT noted the range of purposeful activities remained limited (e.g., on average less than 20 percent of inmates were involved in a remunerated activity), and inmates often spent out-of-cell time circulating in wing corridors and communal rooms.

Administration: On July 4, the Ministry of Justice reported that 732 prisoners, mostly serving sentences related to organized crime or terrorism, were subject to special limitations on their interactions with other prisoners, as well as their own relatives.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent human rights organizations, parliamentarians, and the media to visit prisons and detention centers. The government also provided representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs access to detention centers for migrants and refugees in accordance with UNHCR’s standard procedures. On June 7-13, a delegation from the CPT investigated the situation of detained migrants. As of year’s end, no report on this visit had been published.

Improvements: On February 22, the government announced the closure of the last judiciary psychiatric hospital and the establishment of 30 special centers hosting 569 patients with psychiatric disorders, of whom 245 were pretrial detainees.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police and the Carabinieri national military police maintain internal security. Although it is also one of the five branches of the armed forces, the Carabinieri carry out certain civilian law enforcement duties. The Ministry of Interior coordinates between the National Police and nonmilitary units of the Carabinieri. The army is responsible for external security but also has specific domestic security responsibilities, such as guarding public buildings. The three other police forces are the Prison Police, which operates the prison system; the National Forestry Corps, which enforces the law in parks and forests; and the Financial Police, the customs agency under the Ministry of Economy.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the National Police and the Carabinieri, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year, although long delays by prosecutors and other authorities in completing some investigations reduced the effectiveness of mechanisms to investigate and punish police abuses.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

To detain an individual, police must have a warrant issued by a public prosecutor, unless a criminal act is in progress or there is a specific and immediate danger to which police officers must respond. The law requires authorities to inform a detainee of the reason for arrest. If authorities detain a person without a warrant, an examining prosecutor must decide within 24 hours of detention whether there is enough evidence to request the validation of the arrest. The investigating judge then has 48 hours to confirm the arrest and recommend whether to prosecute. In cases of alleged terrorist activity, authorities may hold suspects up to 48 hours before bringing the case to a magistrate. These rights were generally respected.

There is no provision for bail, but judges may grant provisional liberty to detainees awaiting trial. The government provides a lawyer at government expense to indigent persons. The law requires authorities to allow a detainee to see an attorney within 24 hours, or within 48 hours in cases of suspected terrorist activities. In exceptional circumstances, usually in cases of organized crime or when there is a risk that attorneys may attempt to tamper with evidence, the investigating judge may take up to five days to interrogate the accused before allowing access to an attorney. The law permits family members access to detainees.

According to the CPT report, several persons alleged delays in notifying a third party of their detention and in obtaining access to a lawyer prior to their court hearing. Detained foreign nationals did not systematically receive information on their rights in a language they understood. The confidentiality of medical examinations of detainees was not guaranteed.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention and trial delays were a problem. The maximum term of pretrial detention is two to six years, depending on the severity of the alleged crime. As of September, 34 percent of all prisoners were in either pretrial detention or awaiting a final sentence. According to independent analysts and magistrates, delays resulted from the large number of drug and immigration cases awaiting trial, the lack of judicial remedies, and the presence of more than 18,000 foreign detainees. In some cases these detainees could not be placed under house arrest because they had no legal residence, and there was an insufficient distribution of offices and resources, including shortages of judges and staff.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons who have been arrested or detained are entitled to challenge before a judge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. If the grounds on which they were arrested are found insufficient, they are granted prompt release. Persons found to have been unlawfully detained are able to request compensation. As a safeguard against unjustified detention, detainees may request a panel of judges (a liberty tribunal) to review their cases on a regular basis to determine whether to continue the detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. There were isolated reports that judicial corruption and politically motivated investigations by magistrates impeded justice. A significant number of court cases involved long trial delays.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to the presumption of innocence and to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Trials are fair and public, but they can be delayed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials.

The law provides for defendants to have access to an attorney of their choice in a timely manner, or have one provided at public expense if they are unable to pay. Defendants had adequate time to discuss and prepare cases with their lawyers in appropriate facilities available in all prisons as well as access to interpretation or translation services as needed. All defendants have the right to confront and question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may not be forced to testify or confess guilt, and they have a right to appeal verdicts.

Domestic and European institutions continued to criticize the slow pace of the judicial process. On May 3, the Ministry of Justice reported that the first trial of civil cases lasted an average of 367 days. The country’s “prescription laws” (statutes of limitations) in criminal proceedings require that a trial must end by a certain date. Courts determine when the statute of limitations should apply. Defendants often took advantage of delays in proceedings in order to exceed the statute of limitations. By doing so they could avoid a guilty sentence at trial or gain release pending an appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

By law individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Individuals may bring a case of alleged human rights violations by the government to the European Court of Human Rights once they exhaust all avenues for a remedy in the country’s court system. According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2016 the average length of civil judicial proceedings, including appeals, was 981 days. In the case of appeals to the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court), they lasted more than eight years on average.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Holocaust-era restitution is no longer a significant issue. The government has laws and mechanisms in place and is a signatory of the Terezin Declaration of 2009. The 2001 Anselmi report commissioned by the government found that private property had generally been returned, and that significant progress had been made in dealing with restitution of communal and heirless property, but did not give an exhaustive accounting of efforts regarding these latter two categories. NGOs and advocacy groups reported no significant outstanding Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens, and characterized the government as cooperative and responsive to community concerns in the area of protection and restoration of communal property. The government has not yet responded to the 2016 European Shoah Legacy Institute’s Immovable Property Restitution Study Questionnaire covering past and present restitution regimes.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but there were some reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. The Supreme Court’s lead prosecutor may authorize wiretaps of terrorism suspects at the request of the prime minister. According to independent observers, prosecutors did not always limit the use of wiretaps to cases of absolute necessity as the Supreme Court required. The law allows magistrates to destroy illegal wiretaps that police discover or to seize transcripts of recordings that are irrelevant to the judicial case.

The Ministry of Justice reported that authorities wiretapped 330,327 persons in 2016.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: National and international observers considered the parliamentary elections in 2013 to be free and fair.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government usually implemented these laws effectively, but officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption was a problem, and there were incidents of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: According to the National Anticorruption Authority, in 2016 citizens reported approximately 4,000 cases of corruption to the authority. Authorities registered 2,028 violations of codes of conduct of public offices and 1,241 cases of crimes or other felonies of public employees; they issued 935 sanctions, including 212 layoffs. In 2015 the Financial Police arrested 241 persons and investigated approximately another 3,700 for abuse of power, corruption, and fraud.

On August 8, the Court of Cassation sentenced the former prosecutor of Taranto, Matteo Di Giorgio, to eight years in jail for corruption, embezzlement, and fraud. Authorities accused Di Giorgio of abusing his authority to coerce local city councilmembers to resign in order to isolate and to force the resignation of a rival mayor.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires members of parliament to disclose their assets and incomes. The two chambers created a publicly accessible bulletin on each of their websites containing information on each parliamentarian, but only if the parliamentarian agreed to the online posting. The law stipulates that the presidents of the two chambers may order noncompliant members to submit their statements in 15 days but provides for no other sanctions. Ministers’ disclosures must be posted online.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The prescribed penalty for rape, including spousal rape, is five to 12 years in prison. The law criminalizes the physical abuse of women (including by family members), provides for the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women, and helps shield abused women from publicity. Judicial protective measures for violence occurring within a family allow for an ex parte application to a civil court judge in urgent cases. Police officers and judicial authorities prosecuted perpetrators of violence against women, but survivors frequently declined to press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law. A specific law on stalking includes mandatory detention for acts of sexual violence, including by partners.

Between January and July, police received 2,333 reports of cases of sexual violence and arrested 2,438 alleged perpetrators. According to a 2016 study by the national statistical agency, ISTAT, 31.5 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 70 were victims of physical or sexual violence. Between January and July, 50 women were killed by their partners.

The Department of Equal Opportunity operated a hotline for victims of violence seeking immediate assistance and temporary shelter. The department also operated a hotline for victims of stalking. From January to November 31, the hotline received 29,939 calls.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was a problem in some immigrant communities. It is a crime punishable by up to 12 years’ imprisonment. Most of the mutilations were performed outside the country. The Department for Equal Opportunities operated a hotline for victims and other affected parties who requested the support of authorities and NGOs.

Sexual Harassment: Minor cases of verbal sexual harassment in public are punishable by up to six months’ incarceration and a fine of up to 516 euros ($619). The government effectively enforced the law. By government decree emotional abuse based on gender discrimination is a crime. Police investigated reports of harassment that were submitted to authorities.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men. The government enforced laws prohibiting every form of discrimination in all sectors.

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship automatically when the parents are citizens, when the parents of children born in the country’s territory are unknown or stateless, or when the parents are foreigners whose countries of origin do not recognize the citizenship of their children born abroad. Citizenship is also granted if a child is abandoned in the country and in cases of adoption. Local authorities required immediate birth registration. Unaccompanied minors entering the country automatically receive a residence permit.

Child Abuse: In 2016 Telefono Azzurro, an NGO that advocates for children’s rights, received approximately 4,000 reports of child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18, but juvenile courts may authorize marriages for individuals as young as 16. According to NGOs, hundreds of women were victims of forced marriages. On April 8, local media reported a case in which family members, all of Moroccan origin, allegedly forced their minor daughter to marry an older man. Authorities intervened and brought the alleged victim to a protected community.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Authorities enforced the laws prohibiting sexual exploitation, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Independent observers and the government estimated at least 3,500 foreign minors were victims of sexual exploitation. According to the Ministry of Justice, through September 15, authorities arrested 174 persons (159 citizens and 15 foreigners) for exploiting minors for prostitution.

In 2016 the National Center for the Fight against Child Pornography, a special unit within the postal and communications division of the National Police, monitored more than 410,000 websites and reported 449 persons to prosecutors. Authorities arrested 51 persons for crimes involving online child pornography.

The minimum age for consensual sex varies from 13 to 16, based on the relationship between partners.

Displaced Children: The Ministry of Interior reported that, between January and December 1, approximately 15,540 unaccompanied minors arrived in the country. As of August 31, approximately 8,900 children were hosted in protected communities.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 30,000 Jews in the country. Anti-Semitic societal prejudices persisted. Some extremist fringe groups were responsible for anti-Semitic remarks and actions, including vandalism and publication of anti-Semitic material on the internet.

On June 14, the Observatory on Anti-Semitism of the Foundation Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center reported that there were 130 anti-Semitic incidents in 2016 but no violent assaults. The center reported a growing number of insults on the internet. Most episodes occurred during Jewish holidays or celebrations.

On April 12, in Bologna, when police confronted a man shouting curses in Arabic, he took out a knife and threatened, “You are Jews. I will kill you all.” He injured two police officers while being arrested.

On February 7, a Rome court acquitted two football fans who supported the S.S. Lazio team and were filmed in 2013 chanting anti-Semitic slurs “yellow-red Jew” and “Jewish Roma supporter” in Rome. The court examined the case and determined that the chants did not rise to the level of a crime as they were made “in the context of a sports rivalry.” Jewish community leader Ruth Dureghello, in a letter protesting the dismissal, stated that it was a “dangerous precedent for justice” since it “lends legitimacy to using the word ‘Jew’ in its most negative form” for racist mockery in sports events.

On October 22, fans of the Lazio soccer team left in a section of the Olympic Stadium of Rome stickers depicting Anne Frank wearing the jersey of the rival AS Roma team and anti-Semitic slogans such as “Roma fans are Jews.” The government and soccer authorities unanimously condemned the act. President Sergio Mattarella characterized the episode as “inhuman and alarming for our country” while Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni stated that the stickers were “unbelievable, unacceptable and not to be minimized.” The president of the Lazio team, Claudio Lotito, visited the main synagogue in Rome to place a wreath and to affirm the team’s desire to tackle the problem of anti-Semitism among its fans. He announced that the team would bring groups of young fans to visit concentration camps every year in order to ensure that they understand the history of the Holocaust. On October 24, police announced that some 20 fans responsible for the incident had been identified, including two minors. The Italian soccer federation began all games that week with a reading of a passage from The Diary of Anne Frank, and players gave to the children who accompanied the teams onto the field copies of both the diary and Primo Levi’s Survival at Auschwitz.

Anti-Semitic slogans and graffiti appeared in some cities, including Rome and Viareggio. On September 3, authorities discovered a swastika and graffiti reading “no to Jews” at a bus stop near a Jewish school and shops owned by Jews in Milan. Other examples of vandalism included damage to a flagstone commemorating victims of the Holocaust in Milan on January 27.

Internet hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic attacks, according to the Foundation Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center.

In September the lower house of parliament criminalized fascist fanaticism. The measure provides for imprisonment for the public display of the stiff-armed Roman salute commonly used by fascists and Nazis. Those who display or sell fascist or Nazi memorabilia could also face prison terms of six months to two years, which would increase by eight months if those goods are sold online.

In January the archbishop of Palermo, Corrado Lorefice, transferred to the Jewish community a church-owned facility built atop the ruins of the Great Synagogue of Palermo.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government enforced these provisions, but there were incidents of societal and employment discrimination. Although the law mandates access to government buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities, physical barriers continued to pose challenges.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Societal violence and discrimination against Roma, Sinti, Caminanti, and other ethnic minorities remained a problem. There were reports of discrimination in occupation and employment based on race or ethnicity.

The press and NGOs reported cases of incitement to hatred, violent attacks, forced evictions from unauthorized camps, and mistreatment by municipal authorities. According to the NGO Associazione 21 Luglio, housing remained a serious concern for 29,000 Roma, most of whom were foreigners. A total of 19,000 persons lived in authorized camps, and another 10,000 lived in informal encampments in Rome and elsewhere, where authorities conducted more than 100 evictions between January and August. Local authorities did not always provide adequate alternative housing. On August 27, unknown arsonists set fire to a Romani camp in Naples, destroying shacks and trailers where several families lived.

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

Under the law there is no provision for a victims sexual orientation or gender identity to be considered an aggravating circumstance in hate crime cases. Instances of violence, discrimination, and hate speech were reported during the year by credible NGOs.

The press reported isolated cases of violence against gay and lesbian couples during the year. The Gay Help Line, an NGO that operated a hotline providing support to LGBTI persons, received on average 20,000 calls per year. Approximately 70 percent of callers reported cases of discrimination and homophobia, 13 percent blackmail and threats, and 11 percent violence and physical abuses. Some 300 persons between the ages of 12 and 25 reported episodes of violence at home.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutes, provides for the right of workers to establish and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, and employees fired for union activity have the right to request reinstatement, provided their employer has more than 15 workers in a unit or more than 60 workers in the country.

The law prohibits union organization of the armed forces. The law mandates that strikes affecting essential public services (such as transport, sanitation, and health services) require longer advance notification and precludes multiple strikes within days of each other. The law allows only unions that represent at least half of the transit workforce to call a transit strike.

The government effectively enforced these laws. Employers who violate the law are subject to fines and imprisonment or both. These penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations, although administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes subject to lengthy delays. Judges effectively sanctioned few cases of violations.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Employers generally respected the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively, although there were instances in which employers unilaterally annulled bargaining agreements. Employers continued to use short-term contracts and subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations were sufficiently stringent. The actual sentences given by courts for forced and compulsory labor, however, were significantly lower than those provided by law. The law provides stiff penalties for illicit middlemen and businesses that exploit agricultural workers. It identifies the conditions under which laborers may be considered exploited and includes special programs in support of seasonal agricultural workers. The law punishes illegal recruitment of vulnerable workers and forced work (the so-called caporalato).

Forced labor occurred during the year. Workers were subjected to debt bondage in construction, domestic service, hotels, restaurants, and agriculture, especially in the south. Chinese men and women were forced to work in textile factories, and persons with disabilities from Romania and Albania were coerced into begging. In one example, on June 27, authorities arrested two brothers, owners of a farm in the province of Ragusa, on charges of exploitation of farm laborers. The brothers were suspected of having hired 26 laborers, including 19 asylum seekers, five Romanians, and two Tunisians, and paying them 25 euros ($30) for at least 8 hours of work per day, including weekends and holidays, without paid leave. Seven of them lived in a crumbling apartment on the farm.

There were reports that children were also subjected 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 law prohibits employment of children under the age of 16. There are specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthy occupations for minors, such as activities involving potential exposure to hazardous substances and gas, mining, excavations, and working with power-driven hoisting apparatus. Penalties for employing child labor include heavy fines or the suspension of a company’s commercial activities. Government enforcement was generally effective in the formal economy. Enforcement was not effective in the relatively extensive informal economy, particularly in the south, where family-run businesses were common.

There were reports of child labor during the year. The number of irregular migrants between the ages of 15 and 18 entering the country from Libya and Egypt increased. Those that entered the informal labor market worked primarily in the manufacturing and service industries.

In 2016 labor inspectors reported 236 cases of minors working illegally, 71 percent of whom worked in the service sector. The interior ministry reported that during the year approximately 15,540 unaccompanied minors, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa, arrived in the country after fleeing wars and poverty in conditions of particular vulnerability and fragility.

A law enacted on March 29 provides for the protection of unaccompanied foreign minors, creating a system of protection that manages minors from the time they land in the country until they reach the age of majority and can support themselves. As of April, the Ministry of Labor had identified 15,939 unaccompanied minors, of whom 5,271 had escaped from shelters. Of those assisted, 93 percent were boys and 82 percent were 16 or 17 years of age.

The Ministry of Labor recognized that unaccompanied minors were more vulnerable to becoming child laborers and worked to prevent exploitation by placing them in protected communities that provided education and other services. The March 29 law on unaccompanied minors also created a roster of vetted and trained voluntary guardians at the juvenile court-level to help protect unaccompanied minors.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

There were reports of employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Unions criticized the government for providing insufficient resources to UNAR to intervene in all cases of discrimination and for the lack of adequate legal measures to address new types of discrimination.

Discrimination based on gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity also occurred. The government implemented some information campaigns, promoting diversity and tolerance, including in the workplace.

In many cases victims of discrimination were unwilling to request the forms of protection provided by employment laws or collective contracts. Women were underrepresented among chief judges and prosecutors. Women were mayors in only 14 percent of all cities and towns. The national authority monitoring the Milan stock market reported that during the year approximately 30 percent of the board members of listed companies were women compared with 6 percent in 2008. According to Eurostat, in 2015 women’s gross hourly earnings were on average 5.5 percent lower than those of men. The employment rate of women also remained relatively low in the country.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not provide for a minimum wage. Instead, collective bargaining contracts negotiated between unions and employers set minimum wage levels for different sectors of the economy. In 2016 the government set the official poverty line at 1,061.35 euros ($1,274) per month for a family of two.

The legal workweek is 40 hours. Overtime work may not exceed two hours per day or an average of 12 hours per week. Unless limited by a collective bargaining agreement, the law sets maximum overtime hours in industrial firms at no more than 80 hours per quarter and 250 hours annually. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays. It requires rest periods of one day per week and 11 hours per day. Premium pay is required for overtime.

The law sets basic health and safety standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries. According to the National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work, workers were generally able to remove themselves from dangerous health or safety conditions without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities protected employees in these situations.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement and, with regular union input, effectively enforced standards in the formal sector of the economy. Labor standards were only partially enforced in the informal sector, which employed an estimated 16 percent of the country’s workers.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were generally adequate to ensure compliance in the formal sector only. Penalties for violations include incarceration and fines but were not sufficient to deter violations.

In 2016 labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers effectively inspected 141,920 companies, identifying 62,106 undeclared workers, 1,357 illegal migrants, and 236 underage laborers. Inspectors found 12,800 violations of regulations on working hours and suspended approximately 7,000 companies employing at least 20 percent of workers without a formal contract.

Informal workers were often exploited and underpaid, worked in unhygienic conditions, or were exposed to safety hazards. Such practices occurred in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors.

In November 2016 an independent research center, the CGIA, estimated that there were 3.1 million irregular workers in the country, of whom 40 percent were based in southern regions. Some areas of Calabria, Puglia, Campania, and Sicily reported significant numbers of informal foreign workers living and working in substandard or unsafe conditions.

Japan

Executive Summary

Japan has a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy. Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, became prime minister in 2012. Lower House elections in October, which returned Prime Minister Abe to office with a large majority, were considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government enforced laws prohibiting human rights abuses and prosecuted officials who committed them.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

The government continued to deny death-row inmates advance information about the date of execution and notified family members of executions after the fact. The government held that this policy spared prisoners the anguish of knowing when they were going to die. Some respected psychologists supported this reasoning; others demurred.

Authorities regularly also hold prisoners condemned to death in solitary confinement until their execution. Authorities allow condemned prisoners visits by family, lawyers, and others. The length of such solitary confinement varies from case to case, and may extend for several years. Prisoners accused of crimes that could lead to the death penalty were also held in solitary confinement before trial, according to a nongovernmental organization (NGO) source.

National Public Safety Commission regulations prohibit police from touching suspects (unless unavoidable), exerting force, threatening them, keeping them in fixed postures for long periods, verbally abusing them, or offering them favors in return for a confession. An NGO asserted that authorities did not adequately enforce the regulations and continued in some cases to subject detainees to long interrogation sessions. In March 2016, the Osaka District Court ordered the Osaka Prefectural Police to pay damages to a suspect (who was eventually acquitted) for forcing a confession using coercive techniques during interrogations in 2013.

Hazing, bullying, corporal punishment, and sexual harassment continued in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) despite defense ministry guidelines meant to address these problems. The Ministry of Defense reported it continued to impose disciplinary actions for arbitrarily punishing subordinates on JSDF members.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards, although some lacked adequate medical care and sufficient heating in the winter or cooling in the summer and some facilities were overcrowded.

Physical Conditions: The Ministry of Justice reported that as of the end of 2015 (most recent data available) three of 77 prison facilities were beyond capacity; all three were prisons for women. Authorities held juveniles under age 20 separately from adults in prisons and regular detention centers.

In most institutions, extra clothing and blankets provided instead of heating were insufficient to protect inmates against cold weather, according to some local NGOs. Foreign prisoners in the Tokyo area continued to present chilblains-affected fingers and toes of varying severity resulting from long-term exposure to cold.

From April 2016 through March 2017, independent inspection committees documented inadequate medical treatment, including for detainees and prisoners with pre-existing medical conditions. According to the justice ministry, the number of doctors working for correctional institutions remained more than 20 percent short of the quota in 2016, despite a 2015 law designed to secure a stable and adequate number of doctors in the institutions. Police and prison authorities were slow in providing treatment for mental illness and have no protocol for offering psychiatric therapy. Foreign observers also noted that dental care was minimal, and access to palliative care was lacking.

Administration: While authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of allegations of problematic conditions, they provided the results of such investigations to prisoners in a letter offering little detail beyond a final determination. While there was no prison ombudsman, independent committees (see below, “Monitoring”) played the role of an ombudsman.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed visits by NGOs and international organizations.

Prison management regulations stipulate that independent committees inspect prisons and detention centers operated by the Ministry of Justice and detention facilities operated by police. Authorities permitted the committees, which include physicians, lawyers, local municipal officials, and local citizens, to interview detainees without the presence of prison officers.

By law third-party inspection committees also inspected immigration detention facilities, and their recommendations generally were given serious consideration.

Domestic and international NGOs and international organizations continued to note that this process failed to meet international prison inspection standards. As evidence, they cited the Ministry of Justice’s provision of all logistical support for the inspection committees, the use of ministry interpreters during interviews with detainees, and a lack of transparency about the composition of the committees.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. In previous years credible NGOs and journalists reported that police in large cities employed racial profiling to harass and sometimes arrest “foreign looking” persons, particularly dark-skinned Asians and persons of African descent, without cause.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Public Safety Commission, a cabinet-level entity, oversees the National Police Agency (NPA), and prefectural public safety commissions have responsibility for local police forces. The government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. Some NGOs criticized local public safety commissions for lacking independence from or sufficient authority over police agencies.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities apprehended persons openly with warrants based on evidence and issued by a duly authorized official and brought detainees before an independent judiciary. Foreign and domestic observers continued to claim that warrants were granted at high rates, detention sometimes occurred notwithstanding weak evidentiary grounds, and multiple repeat arrests of suspects were used to facilitate case building by police.

The law allows detainees, their families, or representatives to request that the court release an indicted detainee on bail. Bail is not available prior to indictment. NGOs stated that, although the practice is illegal, interrogators sometimes offered shortened or suspended sentences to a detainee in exchange for a confession.

Suspects in pretrial detention are legally required to face interrogation. NPA guidelines limit interrogations to a maximum of eight hours and prohibit overnight interrogations. Pre-indictment detainees had access to counsel, including at least one consultation with a court-appointed attorney; counsel, however, is not allowed to be present during interrogations.

The law allows police to prohibit detainees from meeting with persons other than counsel if there is probable cause to believe that the suspect may flee or may conceal or destroy evidence (see section 1.d., “Pretrial Detention”). Many detainees, including most charged with drug offenses, were subject to this restriction before indictment, although some were permitted visits from family members in the presence of a detention officer. There is no legal connection between the type of offense and the length of time authorities may deny a detainee visits by family or others. Those detained on drug charges, however, were often denied such visits longer than other suspects, since prosecutors worried that communications with family or others could interfere with investigations.

Prosecutors’ offices and police increasingly recorded entire interrogations for heinous criminal cases, cases involving suspects with intellectual or mental disabilities, and other cases on a trial basis. There was no independent oversight. Recording was not mandatory. Local NGOs continued to allege that suspects confessed under duress, mainly during unrecorded interrogations.

Police inspection offices imposed disciplinary actions against some violators of interrogation guidelines, although the NPA did not release related statistics.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities usually held suspects in police-operated detention centers for an initial 72 hours prior to indictment. By law such detention is allowed only when there is probable cause to suspect that a person has committed a crime and is likely to conceal or destroy evidence or flee, but it was used routinely. After interviewing a suspect at the end of the initial 72-hour period, a judge may extend pre-indictment custody for up to two consecutive 10-day periods. Prosecutors routinely sought and received these extensions. Prosecutors may also apply for an additional five-day extension in exceptional cases, such as insurrection, foreign aggression, or violent public assembly.

Because judges customarily granted prosecutors’ requests for extensions, pretrial detention, known as daiyou kangoku (substitute prison), usually continued for 23 days. Nearly all persons detained during the year were held in daiyou kangoku. Reliable NGOs and foreign observers continued to report that access to persons other than their attorneys and, in the case of foreign arrestees, consular personnel was denied to some persons in daiyou kangoku.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of their detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but credible NGOs and lawyers continued to question whether they were in fact presumed innocent during the legal process. According to NGOs, the majority of indicted detainees confessed while in police custody, although the government continued to assert that convictions were not based primarily on confessions and that interrogation guidelines stipulate that suspects may not be compelled to confess to a crime.

Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges. Each charged individual has the right to a trial without undue delay (though foreign observers noted that trials may be delayed indefinitely for mentally ill prisoners); to access to defense counsel, including an attorney provided at public expense if indigent; and to cross-examine witnesses. There is a lay-judge (jury) system for serious criminal cases, and defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves. Authorities provided free interpretation services to foreign defendants in criminal cases. Foreign defendants in civil cases must pay for interpretation, although a judge may order the plaintiff to pay the charges in accordance with a court’s final decision.

Defendants have the right to appoint their own counsel to prepare a defense, present evidence, and appeal. The court may assist defendants in finding an attorney through a bar association. Defendants may request a court-appointed attorney at state expense if they are unable to afford one.

According to some independent legal scholars, trial procedures favor the prosecution. Observers said a prohibition against defense counsel’s use of electronic recording devices during interviews with clients undermined counsel effectiveness. The law also does not require full disclosure by prosecutors unless the defending attorney satisfies difficult disclosure procedure conditions, which could lead to the suppression of material favorable to the defense.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. Individuals have access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. There are both administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: A snap election for the Lower House of the Diet called by the government on October 22 was regarded as free and fair. Prime Minister Abe was confirmed in office when his Liberal Democratic Party won 47.8 percent of the vote in single-seat districts and 33.2 percent of the proportional representation system, 283 seats of a total 465 seats, and a majority of seats in the Lower House.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women held 47 of 465 seats in the Diet’s Lower House and 50 of 242 seats in the Upper House after the October Lower House election. Women held two of the 20 seats in the cabinet following the August 3 cabinet shuffle but none of the three senior posts in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. At the end of the year, there were three female governors out of 47 prefectures. The reasons for limited female participation in political life were complex and under close scrutiny by the government and academia. Yuriko Koike became the first female governor of Tokyo in 2016, leading an ad-hoc political party, Tokyoites First, and allies to win a majority of seats in municipal elections.

Because some ethnic minority group members are of mixed heritage and did not self-identify, it was difficult to determine their numbers in the Diet, but a number were represented. At least two Diet members were naturalized Japanese citizens.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices.

Independent academic experts stated that ties among politicians, bureaucrats, and businesspersons were close, and corruption remained a concern. NGOs continued to criticize the practice of retired senior public servants taking high-paying jobs with private firms that relied on government contracts. There were regular media reports of investigations into financial and accounting irregularities involving high-profile politicians and government officials.

Several government agencies were involved in combating corruption, including the NPA and the National Tax Administration Agency. In addition, the Fair Trade Commission enforces anti-monopoly law to prevent unreasonable restraint of trade and unfair business practices, such as bid rigging. The Japan Financial Intelligence Center is responsible for preventing money laundering and terrorist financing. The National Public Services Ethics Board polices public servants suspected of ethics violations. The Board of Audit monitors the accounts of corporations in which the government is a majority shareholder. Anticorruption agencies generally operated independently, effectively, and with adequate resources, although some experienced staffing shortfalls.

Corruption: While the media reported allegations that Prime Minister Abe might have attempted to influence government decisions in favor of two educational institutions, Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen, run by his or his wife’s friends, the prime minister categorically denied involvement in the government’s decisions.

On September 11, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office indicted former Yamanashi City mayor Seiki Mochizuki for accepting bribes in exchange for forging a public document to secure a municipal job for the child of a former local education official. The prosecution also indicted the former local official and former Yamanashi City treasurer Hakudo Takizawa on bribery charges in the same case.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires members of the Diet to disclose publicly their income and assets (except for ordinary savings), including ownership of real estate, securities, and transportation means. The law requires governors, prefectural assembly members, mayors, and assembly members of 20 major cities to disclose their incomes and assets based on their local ordinances but does not require assembly members of the remaining approximately 1,720 municipalities to do the same. There are no penalties for false disclosure. The law does not apply to nonelected officials. NGOs and media criticized the law as lax. Separately, the cabinet-approved code provides that cabinet ministers, senior vice-ministers, and parliamentary vice-ministers publicly disclose their, their spouses’, and their dependent children’s assets.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of rape involving force against women. The law does not deny spousal rape, but no court has ever ruled on such a case, except in situations of marital breakdown (i.e., formal or informal separation, etc.). In June the Diet passed legislation that expanded the definition of rape to include forced anal and oral sex with victims regardless of gender and eliminated a clause that required a victim to file a complaint to indict an offender, although the age of consent remains 13 years of age. The law mandates a minimum sentence of five years in prison. In the past, courts interpreted the law to mean that physical resistance by the victim is necessary to find that a sexual encounter was rape. Observers pointed out a lack of training for judges, prosecutors, and lawyers about sexual crimes and victims.

A 2015 Cabinet Office survey (the most recent data) showed that only 4.3 percent of women who suffered forcible sexual intercourse reported the crime to police. Observers attributed women’s reluctance to report rape to a variety of factors, including a lack of victim support, potential secondary victimization through the police response, and court proceedings that lacked understanding for rape victims.

Although prohibited by law, domestic violence against women remained a serious problem, according to multiple sources. Victims of abuse by domestic partners, spouses, and former spouses could receive protection at shelters and seek restraining orders from court.

The government implemented the 2015 agreement with the Republic of Korea on World War II “comfort women” (women trafficked for sexual purposes). The agreement remained controversial with some civil society and survivor groups outside the country. In 2016 the government provided the agreed one-billion-yen ($8.92 million) contribution to a foundation established by the Republic of Korea to provide support for the former “comfort women.”

Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment but includes measures to identify companies that fail to prevent it, and prefectural labor offices and the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare provided these companies with advice, guidance, and recommendations. Companies that fail to comply with government guidance may be publicly identified, and although this is extremely rare, it has begun to happen. Sexual harassment in the workplace remained widespread (see section 7.d.).

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender discrimination and generally provides women the same rights as men. The Gender Equality Bureau in the Cabinet Office continued to examine policies and monitor developments.

Despite these policies, NGOs continued to allege that implementation of antidiscrimination measures was insufficient, pointing to discriminatory provisions in the law, unequal treatment of women in the labor market (see section 7.d.), and low representation of women in high-level elected bodies. NGOs continued to urge the government to eliminate different age minimums for marriage depending on sex, and allow married couples a choice of surnames.

Children

Birth Registration: The law grants citizenship at birth to: a child of a Japanese father who either is married to the child’s mother or recognizes his paternity; a child of a Japanese mother; or, a child born in the country to parents who are both unknown or are stateless. The law requires registration within 14 days after in-country birth or within three months after birth abroad, and these deadlines were generally met. Individuals are allowed to register births after the deadline but are required to pay a fine.

The law requires birth entries in the family registry to specify whether a child was born in or out of wedlock, but the law no longer denies full inheritance rights to children born out of wedlock. The law presumes that a child born within 300 days of a divorce is the divorced man’s child, resulting in the nonregistration of an unknown number of children.

Child Abuse: Reports of child abuse increased due to increased public awareness, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. Sexual abuse of children by teachers was reported.

The government revised the law in May 2016 to simplify the process of inspecting homes where child abuse is suspected; require child welfare offices to have legal, psychological, and medical experts; allow more municipalities to have child welfare offices; and raise the age of eligibility for staying at public homes.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates that to marry, the male partner must be age 18 or older and the female partner, 16 or older. A person under 20 may not marry without at least one parent’s approval.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child prostitution is illegal, with penalties including prison sentences or fines. The continued practice of enjo kosai (compensated dating) and the existence of websites for online dating, social networking, and “delivery health” (a euphemism for call-girl or escort services) facilitated the sex trafficking of children and other commercial sex industries. The government made efforts to crack down on a trend known as “JK business,” which included cafes that featured underage female servers and massage parlors staffed by high school-age girls. NGOs helping girls in “JK business” reported a link between these activities and the exploitation of children in prostitution.

Statutory rape laws criminalize sexual intercourse with a girl younger than 13, notwithstanding her consent. The penalty for statutory rape is not less than three years’ imprisonment with mandatory labor, and the law was enforced. Additionally, national law and local ordinances comprehensively address sexual abuse of minors.

The country was a site for the production of child pornography and the exploitation of children by traffickers. The possession of child pornography is a crime. The commercialization of child pornography is illegal; the penalty is imprisonment with labor for not more than three years or a fine not exceeding three million yen ($26,800), and police continued to crack down on this crime.

NGOs reported a number of cases in which companies deceived women and in some cases men–some of whom were children–with “modeling” contracts that required performance in pornographic videos. The government in March presented measures to counter the issues of coerced appearance in pornographic videos and sexual exploitation of schoolchildren. In October a court sentenced a Japanese man to a three-year prison term with a five-year suspension and a fine for recruiting young women, including girls under 18, and compelling them to sign written consent forms to perform in pornographic videos.

No law addresses the unfettered availability of sexually explicit cartoons, comics, and video games, some of which depicted scenes of violent sexual abuse and the rape of children.

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

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was approximately 2,000. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, intellectual, mental, and other disabilities affecting body and mind and bars infringement of their rights and interests on the grounds of disability in public and private sector. The Act on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, effective in April 2016, requires the public sector to provide reasonable accommodations and the private sector to make best efforts in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other services. Nonetheless, persons with disabilities faced limited access to some public sector services. The laws do not stipulate remedies for persons with disabilities who suffer discriminatory acts or penalties for noncompliance.

The law mandates that the government and private companies hire minimum proportions (2 percent) of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities) or be fined. Disability rights advocates claimed that some companies preferred to pay the fine rather than hire persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.).

Accessibility laws mandate that new construction projects for public use must include provisions for persons with disabilities. The government may grant low interest loans and tax benefits to operators of hospitals, theaters, hotels, and other public facilities if they upgrade or install features to accommodate persons with disabilities.

While some schools provided inclusive education, children with disabilities generally attended specialized schools.

Mental health professionals criticized as insufficient the government’s efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness and inform the public that depression and other mental illnesses are treatable and biologically based. Abuse of persons with disabilities was a serious concern. Persons with disabilities around the country suffered abuse by family members, care facility employees, or employers. Private surveys indicated discrimination against, and sexual abuse of, women with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Minorities experienced varying degrees of societal discrimination.

The Act on the Elimination of Discrimination against Buraku (the descendants of feudal-era outcasts), effective as of December 2016, is the first law solely addressing discrimination against Buraku. According to the act, national and local governments will study discrimination against Buraku, implement awareness education, and enhance the counseling system. Buraku advocacy groups continued to report that, despite socioeconomic improvements achieved by many Buraku, widespread discrimination persisted in employment, marriage, housing, and property assessment. While the Buraku label was no longer officially used to identify individuals, the family registry system could be used to identify them and facilitate discriminatory practices. Buraku advocates expressed concern that employers who required family registry information from job applicants for background checks, including many government agencies, might use this information to identify and discriminate against Buraku applicants.

Despite legal safeguards against discrimination, foreign permanent residents in the country, including many who were born, raised, and educated in the country, were subjected to various forms of entrenched societal discrimination, including restricted access to housing, education, health care, and employment opportunities. Foreign nationals as well as “foreign looking” citizens reported they were prohibited entry, sometimes by signs reading “Japanese Only,” to privately owned facilities serving the public, including hotels and restaurants. Although such discrimination was usually open and direct, NGOs complained of government failure to enforce laws prohibiting such restrictions.

Societal acceptance of ethnic Koreans who were permanent residents or citizens generally continued to improve. Although authorities approved most naturalization applications, advocacy groups continued to complain about excessive bureaucratic hurdles that complicated the naturalization process and a lack of transparent criteria for approval. Ethnic Koreans who chose not to naturalize faced difficulties in terms of civil and political rights and regularly encountered discrimination in access to housing, education, and other benefits.

Senior government officials publicly repudiated the harassment of ethnic groups as inciting discrimination and reaffirmed the protection of individual rights for everyone in the country.

Indigenous People

Although the Ainu enjoy the same rights as all other citizens, Ainu persons reported cases of discrimination in the workplace, schools, and public services, according to a Hokkaido Ainu Association survey of Ainu persons. The law emphasizes preservation of Ainu culture but lacks some provisions that Ainu groups have demanded, including national-level social welfare policies and educational grants, special representation in local and national governments, and a formal government apology for historical injustices. The government recognized the Ainu as an indigenous ethnic group in a unanimous Diet resolution, but the recognition has no legal ramifications.

Although the government does not recognize the Ryukyu (a term that includes residents of Okinawa and portions of Kagoshima Prefecture) as indigenous people, it officially acknowledged their unique culture and history and made efforts to preserve and show respect for those traditions.

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

No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There are no existing penalties associated with such discrimination, and no related statistics were available. The law tends to lead to lower penalties for perpetrators of male rape and greater legal ambiguity surrounding same-sex prostitution.

NGOs that advocate on behalf of LGBTI persons reported no impediments to organization but some instances of bullying, harassment, and violence. Stigma surrounding LGBTI persons remained an impediment to self-reporting of discrimination or abuse, and studies on bullying and violence in schools generally did not take into account the sexual orientation or gender identity of the persons involved. The law allows transgender individuals to change their legal gender, but only after receiving a diagnosis of sexual identity disorder.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

No law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, although nonbinding Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare guidelines state that firms should not terminate or fail to hire individuals based on their HIV status. Courts have awarded damages to individuals fired from positions due to that status.

Concern about discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with the disease, and fear of dismissal, prevented many persons from disclosing their HIV/AIDS status.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private sector workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements and protects their rights to strike and bargain collectively.

The law places limitations on the right of public sector workers and employees of state-owned enterprises to form and join unions of their choice. Public sector employees do not have the right to strike; trade union leaders who incite a strike in the public sector may be dismissed and fined or imprisoned. Public sector employees may participate in public service employee unions, which may negotiate collectively with their employers on wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. Firefighting personnel and prison officers are prohibited from organizing collectively and do not possess the right to conclude a collective bargaining agreement.

Workers in sectors providing essential services, including electric power generation and transmission, transportation and railways, telecommunications, medical care and public health, and the postal service must give 10 days’ advance notice to authorities before organizing a strike. Employees involved in providing essential services do not have the right to collective bargaining. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities.

The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association, collective bargaining, and legal strikes. Government oversight and these penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. In the case of a violation, a worker or union may lodge an objection with the Labor Committee, which may issue a relief order for action by the employer. A plaintiff may then take the matter to a civil court. If the court upholds the relief order and determines that a violation of that order has occurred, it may impose a fine and/or imprisonment.

The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, but increasing use of short-term contracts undermined regular employment and frustrated organizing efforts. Collective bargaining was common in the private sector, although some businesses changed their form of incorporation to a holding company structure, not legally considered employers, to circumvent employee protections under the law.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government effectively enforced the law, although there were small segments of the labor market, such as some categories of foreign workers, where violations persisted and enforcement was lacking. Legal penalties for forced labor varied depending on its form, the victim(s), and the law that prosecutors used to prosecute such offenses. Not all forms of forced or compulsory labor were clearly defined by law, nor did they all carry sufficient penalties. For example, for recruitment for forced labor, the law allows maximum punishment of a fine of 200,000 yen ($1,784), which was not sufficient to deter violations. Some NGOs argued that the legal definition for forced labor cases was too narrow.

Reports of forced labor continued in the manufacturing, construction, and shipbuilding sectors, largely in small- and medium-size enterprises employing foreign nationals through the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP). This program allows foreign workers to enter the country and work for up to five years in a de facto guest worker program that observers assessed to be rife with vulnerabilities to trafficking and other labor abuses. Workers in these jobs experienced restrictions on freedom of movement and communication with persons outside the program, nonpayment of wages, high debts to brokers in countries of origin, and retention of identity documents. Workers were also sometimes subjected to “forced savings” that they forfeited by leaving early or being forcibly repatriated. For example, some technical interns reportedly paid up to one million yen ($8,918) in their home countries for jobs and were reportedly employed under contracts that mandate forfeiture in their home countries of the equivalent of thousands of dollars if workers try to leave, both of which are illegal under the TITP. Workers who entered the country illegally or who overstayed their visas were particularly vulnerable. NGOs maintained government oversight was insufficient.

In November 2016 the Diet approved a revision to the law establishing a new Supervisory Body to oversee entities receiving technical interns, and established new penalties in case of violations. The revision also extended the maximum term of participation in the TITP from three years to five years. The law went into effect on November 1.

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

Children between ages 15 and 18 may perform any job that is not designated as dangerous or harmful, such as handling heavy objects or cleaning, inspecting, or repairing machinery while it is in operation. Children between ages 15 and 18 are prohibited from working late night shifts. Children between 13 and 15 may perform “light labor” only, and children under 13 may work only in the entertainment industry.

The government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties for child labor violations included fines and imprisonment and were sufficient to deter violations.

Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, “Children”).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, sex, personal or political beliefs, national origin or citizenship, social status or origin, disability, age, and some communicable diseases, such as leprosy. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or language. Labor law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on religion. The law also mandates equal pay for men and women. The law mandates that the government and private companies hire minimum proportions (2 percent) of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities). By law companies with more than 200 employees that do not comply with requirements to hire minimum proportions of persons with disabilities must pay a fine per vacant position per month.

Enforcement regulations of the equal employment opportunity law also include prohibitions against policies or practices that were not adopted with discriminatory intent but which have a discriminatory effect (called “indirect discrimination” in law) for all workers in recruitment, hiring, promotion, and changes of job type. Enforcement of these provisions was generally weak.

As of January 1, revisions to leave laws offered greater flexibility in taking family care leave, for example, by allowing employees to divide their permitted leave into three separate instances. The revisions also eased fixed-term contract workers’ eligibility to take child-care leave. The revised employment law obligates employers to take measures to prevent maternity harassment. In March another legal revision made it possible to extend paternity/maternity leave by an additional six months if childcare facilities are not available, enabling parents to take leave for up to two years after a birth. The law requires national and local governments, as well as private sector companies that employ at least 301 people, to analyze women’s employment in their organizations and release action plans to promote women’s participation and advancement. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) releases data reported by individual firms on the state of women’s employment.

In cases of violations, the MHLW may request the employers to report the matter, and the ministry may issue advice, instructions, or corrective guidance. If the employer does not follow the ministry’s guidance, the employer’s name may be disclosed. If the employer fails to report or files a false report, the employer may be subject to a fine.

Government hotlines in prefectural labor bureau equal employment departments handled consultations concerning sexual harassment and mediated disputes when possible.

Women continued to express concern about unequal treatment in the workforce. Women’s average monthly wage was approximately 73 percent of that of men in 2016. Sexual harassment in the workplace remained widespread. In the first survey of its kind, in 2016 the ministry reported that 30 percent of women in full- and part-time employment reported being sexually harassed at work. Among full-time workers, the figure was 35 percent.

There also continued to be cases of employers forcing pregnant women to leave their jobs. The MHLW reported that the number of cases in which people sought advice from labor authorities regarding maternity harassment during fiscal year 2015, the latest year for which such data were available, increased 19 percent from the previous year.

The government increased child-care facilities, along with encouraging private companies to report gender statistics in annual financial reports.

In 2014, the latest year for which such data were available, statistics from the ministry showed that while persons with disabilities comprised approximately 2.2 to 2.3 percent of public sector employees, the private sector did not reach minimum proportions required by law; persons with disabilities comprised approximately 1.8 percent of employees. Disability rights advocates claimed that some companies preferred to pay a fine rather than hire persons with disabilities.

The MHLW said the number of employers or supervisors who abused persons with disabilities fell 13.4 percent in the Japanese fiscal year ending in March. The decrease was attributed to a wider recognition in workplaces of a 2012 law aimed at combating abuse of workers with disabilities and to enforcement efforts by labor standards inspectors.

In August 2016 the Japanese Trade Union Confederation released a survey that noted 23 percent of respondents reported they had personally experienced or observed LGBTI-related harassment at their place of employment or at work-related activities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Beginning in October 2016, the revised minimum wage ranged from 737 yen ($6.57) to 958 yen ($8.54) per hour (depending on the prefecture), up by an average of 25 yen ($0.22) compared with 2015. The poverty line was 1.22 million yen ($10,900) per year.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek for most industries and, with exceptions, limits the number of overtime hours permitted in a fixed period. It mandates premium pay of no less than 25 percent for more than eight hours of work in a day, up to 45 overtime hours per month. For overtime between 45 and 60 hours per month, the law requires companies to “make efforts” to furnish premium pay greater than 25 percent. It mandates premium pay of at least 50 percent for overtime that exceeds 60 hours a month.

The government sets industrial safety and health (ISH) standards. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The MHLW is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations governing wages, hours, and safety and health standards in most industries. The National Personnel Authority covers government officials. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry covers ISH standards for mining, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism is responsible for ISH standards in the maritime industry.

The law provides for a fine for employers who fail to pay a minimum wage, regardless of the number of employees involved or the duration of the violation. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance, although MHLW is making efforts to increase the number of inspectors and the frequency of inspections. Labor unions continued to criticize the government for failing to enforce the law regarding maximum working hours, and workers, including those in government jobs, routinely exceeded the hours outlined in the law.

In general the government effectively enforced applicable ISH law and regulations in all sectors. Penalties for ISH violations included fines and imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations. While inspectors have the authority to suspend unsafe operations immediately in cases of flagrant safety violations, in lesser cases they may provide nonbinding shidou (guidance). MHLW officials frequently stated that their resources were inadequate to oversee more than 4.3 million firms.

Nonregular workers (which include part-time workers, fixed-term contract workers, and dispatch workers) made up approximately 38 percent of the labor force in 2016. They worked for lower wages and often with less job security and fewer benefits than career workers. Some nonregular workers qualified for various benefits, including insurance, pension, and training. Observers reported a rise in four- or five-year contracts and the termination of contracts shortly before five years–measures that could prevent workers from reaching the five-year point when they may ask their employer to make them permanent employees. Workers in academic positions, such as researchers, technical workers, and teachers in universities, were eligible for 10-year contracts.

Reports of abuses in the TITP were common, including injuries due to unsafe equipment and insufficient training, nonpayment of wages and overtime compensation, excessive and often spurious salary deductions, forced repatriation, and substandard living conditions (also see section 7.b.). In addition observers noted that a conflict of interest existed, since the inspectors who oversee the TITP working conditions were employed by two ministries that are members of the interagency group administering the TITP. Some inspectors appeared reluctant to conduct investigations that could cast a negative light on a government program that business owners favored.

There were also reports of informal employment of foreign asylum seekers on provisional release from detention who did not have work permits. Such workers were vulnerable to mistreatment and did not have access to standard labor protections or oversight.

Falls, road traffic accidents, and injuries caused by heavy machinery were the most common causes of workplace fatalities. The MHLW also continued to receive applications from family members seeking the ministry’s recognition of a deceased individual as a karoshi (death from overwork) victim. In October a Tokyo court fined a major advertising agency 500,000 yen ($4,460) for failing to prevent excessive overtime worked by its employees. This court decision followed the Tokyo Labor Bureau’s ruling in 2016 that determined that the 2015 death of a young woman was a case of karoshi, after records showed the employee booked 130 hours of overtime in one month and just 10 hours of sleep per week. This finding against a major advertising agency brought renewed attention to the severe consequences of overwork. In October 2016 the government’s first white paper on karoshi noted that, of 1,700 companies surveyed, 20 percent of them had regular full-time employees who exceeded 80 hours of overtime a month, and 11.9 percent were pushing its workers with overtime exceeding 100 hours.

Kiribati

Executive Summary

Kiribati is a constitutional multiparty republic. The president exercises executive authority. Following legislative elections, the House of Assembly nominates at least three and no more than four presidential candidates from among its members, and the public selects the president for a four-year term. Observers considered parliamentary elections held in 2015 and January 2016 generally free and fair. Citizens elected Taneti Maamau president in March 2016. Observers considered this election free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights problems in the country included: violence against women; child abuse; criminalization of sexual activities between men, although the law was not enforced; and child labor.

The government took steps to investigate officials who committed human rights abuses and impunity was not a problem.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Traditional village practice permits corporal punishment for criminal acts and other transgressions.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: Convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees not granted bail were held together. Juvenile offenders age 17-18 were also held with the general prison population, but children under 16 years usually were not incarcerated. Juveniles age 16-17 generally were detained no longer than one month, although for more serious offenses, such as murder, they could be held in custody longer.

Administration: Community service-based sentences provided alternatives to incarceration for juvenile offenders. Although authorities permitted complaints by inmates about inhuman conditions, the complaints were subject to censorship. Authorities did not report receiving any such complaints or undertake any investigations during the year.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers, but there were no reported visits during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Police and Prisons Service, under the Office of the President, maintains internal security. The country has no military force.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In some cases magistrates issued warrants before authorities made arrests. Authorities must bring persons taken into custody without a warrant before a magistrate within 24 hours, or within a reasonable amount of time when arrests take place in remote locations. Officials generally respected these requirements. Authorities released many individuals charged with minor offenses on their own recognizance pending trial and routinely granted bail for many offenses. The law requires that authorities inform arrested individuals of the charges against them and of their rights, including the right to legal counsel during questioning and the right not to incriminate themselves. Two police officers must be present at all times during the questioning of detainees, who also have the option of writing and reviewing statements given to police. Detainees received prompt access to legal counsel. Arrested persons facing serious charges and others needing legal advice but unable to afford a lawyer received free counsel from the Office of the People’s Lawyer. Suspects were not held incommunicado.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution protects persons from unlawful detention, and detainees are entitled to compensation and may apply to the High Court for redress.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Procedural safeguards include the presumption of innocence and provision of adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, present witnesses and evidence, confront witnesses against them, and appeal convictions. Defendants facing serious criminal charges are entitled to free legal representation; interpretation, if needed, is not provided free and may be difficult to obtain. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. These rights apply to all suspects.

Extrajudicial, traditional communal justice, in which village elders decide cases and mete out punishment, remained a part of village life, especially on remote outer islands. Nonetheless, the incidence of communal justice continued to decline under pressure from the codified national law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The legislature has 45 members. Of that number 43 are elected by universal adult suffrage; the Rabi Island Council of I-Kiribati (persons of Kiribati ancestry) in Fiji elects one; and the attorney general is an ex officio member. Two-step parliamentary elections held in 2015 and January 2016 and the national presidential election held in March 2016 were considered free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women in the political process. Their participation was low, largely due to traditional perceptions of women’s role in society. Three women were elected to the legislature. In 2016 the parliament appointed the country’s first female attorney general, and several women served as permanent secretaries and deputy secretaries.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; the government generally implemented the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Nepotism and favoritism based on tribal and church ties was prevalent. The auditor general is responsible for oversight of government, but lacked sufficient resources. In April the parliamentary Select Committee on Anticorruption tabled three reports resulting in a government minister resigning amid allegations of excessive allowances. With the support of international donors, the government conducted training and consultations with parliamentarians, citizens, and community-based organizations to strengthen capacities to address corruption and implement the Leaders Code of Conduct.

Financial Disclosure: No laws, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Spousal abuse and other forms of violence against women were significant problems. Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime, with a maximum penalty of life in prison, but sentences typically were much shorter. The Te Rau N Te Mwenga Act (also referred to as the Family Peace Act), criminalizes domestic violence, and the government, in partnership with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community Regional Rights Resource Team and development partners, continued training for police, public prosecutors, health, social welfare, education, elected officials, and NGO workers to implement this legislation effectively. The law provides for penalties of up to six months in prison for common assault and up to five years in prison for assault involving bodily harm. While cultural taboos on reporting rape and domestic abuse and police attitudes encouraging reconciliation rather than prosecution existed, prosecutions for these crimes occurred during the year.

The government continued implementing the Eliminating Sexual and Gender-based Violence Policy through a 10-year national action plan launched in 2011. The police force has a Domestic Violence and Sexual Offenses Unit, in which officers participated in a capacity-building program, funded by a foreign government, that provided training in handling such cases. From January through March, there were 33 protection orders issued in South Tarawa out of 179 domestic violence cases throughout the country. Police also ran a 24-hour hotline for victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse. The Catholic Church operated a shelter for women and children in Tarawa. The Ministry of Health operated a clinic in the main hospital in Tarawa for victims of domestic violence and sexual offenses, and an NGO also provided domestic violence victims with counselling and referral services.

Sexual Harassment: The Employment and Industrial Relations Code 2015 prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes an AUD 1,000 ($794) fine for anyone found guilty of the offense. There were no official reports of sexual harassment. The Ministry of Labor is implementing a three-year Gender Access and Equality Plan to promote a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment in workplaces and training institutes.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in employment but not in other areas (see section 7.d.). Women have equal access to education. Property ownership rights are generally the same for men and women, but land inheritance laws are patrilineal, and sons often inherited more land than daughters. The citizenship law contains some discriminatory provisions. For example, the foreign wife of a male citizen acquires citizenship automatically through the marriage, but the foreign husband of a female citizen does not. Mothers cannot confer nationality to their children.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired by birth in the country, unless the child acquires the citizenship of another country at birth through a noncitizen parent. Citizenship may also be acquired through the father. The law requires registration of births within 10 days.

Child Abuse: Child abuse, both physical and occasionally sexual and often exacerbated by chronic alcohol abuse, continued to be a serious problem. The law covers the care and protection of minors and charges the Ministry of Women, Youth, and Social Affairs with implementing the law. The government developed the curriculum and counselling guidelines for teachers to help students.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 21, or 17 with the permission of a parent or guardian.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the procurement of any girl under 18 for the purpose of prostitution and prohibits using a child of either gender under 15 for prostitution. In both cases the maximum penalty is two years in prison. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. Sexual relations with a girl under 13 carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and sexual relations with a girl age 13 to 14 carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The victim’s consent is not a permissible defense under either provision; however, in the latter case, reasonable belief the victim was 15 or older is a permissible defense. While this provision applies only to female children, male-on-male sexual exploitation of children can be prosecuted under provisions against “unnatural” offenses (which cover both male and female persons) and acts of “gross indecency between males,” with maximum penalties of 14 and five years in prison, respectively. The penal code has no specific provision concerning child pornography.

Anecdotal information from local government and nongovernment sources suggested that a small number of underage girls were among groups of women alleged to be engaged in commercial sex with crewmembers from foreign fishing vessels.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abductionat travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The Employment and Industrial Code 2015 prohibits discrimination only in employment against persons with disabilities but does not specify physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Public infrastructure and essential services did not provide for the specific needs of persons with disabilities. Accessibility of buildings, communications, and information for persons with disabilities is not mandated, and there were no specific accommodations for persons with disabilities.

Most children with disabilities did not have access to education. Seven schools in the outer islands, the teacher’s college, and the Ministry of Education headquarters were accessible for children and staff with physical disabilities.

The Ministry of Women, Youth, and Social Welfare is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

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

Consensual sexual conduct between men is illegal, with a maximum penalty of five to 14 years’ imprisonment depending on the nature of the offense. There were no reports of prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons under these provisions.

No law specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

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 independent unions, conduct strikes, and bargain collectively. The government did not control or restrict union activities; however, unions must register with the government. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination at the time of hiring and while employed, but does not specifically provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government effectively enforced the laws. Penalties for violations include fines or imprisonment and were sufficient to deter violations. There were no reports of lengthy delays or appeal processes during dispute resolution.

The law allows for compulsory arbitration in a wider range of cases than generally allowed under international standards. Similarly, the definition of “essential services,” in which the right to strike is limited, includes a broader range of sectors than international practice. The penalty for unlawful strikes in both essential and nonessential sectors includes imprisonment and a fine and were sufficient to deter violations.

The government and the employers in practice respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

In keeping with tradition, negotiations generally were nonconfrontational. There were no known collective bargaining agreements during the year and no instances reported of denial of the right to strike. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and laws prohibit most forms of forced or compulsory labor, with some exceptions regarding times of emergency or “calamity.” The law prescribes penalties of fines and imprisonment that were considered sufficient to deter violations. There were no reports that forced labor occurred.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14 except in light work. The Employment and Industrial Relations Code 2015 (EIRC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, set the standards for minimum age of employment. Employment in the worst forms of child labor is prohibited, including the sale or trafficking of children; compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; use, procuring, or offering for prostitution; use, procuring, or offering of a child for illicit activities; and use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production or trafficking of illegal drugs. Children under 18 are prohibited from hazardous work.

The government effectively enforced the laws. The Ministry of Labor and Human Resource Development conducted enforcement outreach efforts.

Child labor existed primarily in the informal economy. In contrast to previous years, observers noted a decline in the number of children in street vending in Tarawa. There were allegations of minors involved in sexual activity with foreign fishing crews, receiving cash, alcohol, food, or goods (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

There were no formal reports of discrimination in employment and wages. A penalty fine was adequate to deter violations. Cultural barriers, however, sometimes impeded women from playing a more active role in the economy. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to worksites.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In 2016 under the Employment Relations and Industrial Relations Code 2015 (EIRC), the government established the national minimum wage for local businesses and companies at AUD 1.30 ($1.03) per hour, while for overseas-funded projects, the minimum wage was AUD 3.00 ($2.38) per hour. This wage was greater than the poverty income level, but most of the working population worked in the informal subsistence economy. The Public Service Office sets wages in the public sector, which makes up approximately half the employment in the formal economy. In a few statutory bodies and government-owned companies, however, employees could negotiate wages and other conditions. In the private sector, individual employees also could negotiate wages with employers.

The EIRC limits the workweek to 40 hours. The law provides for the possibility of paid annual holidays for all employees except casual workers and 12 weeks for maternity leave, but it leaves the determination up to individual employment contracts, which are then submitted to the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources Development for documentation. Workers in the public sector worked 36.25 hours per week, with required overtime pay for additional hours. There is no law or regulation governing working hours in the private sector, but private sector employers usually followed public sector practice. No law or regulation governs the amount of overtime an employee may work, but there were no known reports of excessive compulsory overtime.

The 2015 Occupational Health and Safety Act set the country’s first comprehensive framework for occupational safety and health standards for the workplace. The Ministry of Labor and Human Resources Development is responsible for enforcing the standards. Employers are liable for the expenses of workers injured on the job. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without threat to their employment.

A lack of qualified personnel hampered the government’s ability to enforce employment laws. The ministry conducted labor inspections and did not receive any work-related injury complaints during the year. The government did not provide any information on penalties for noncompliance. Anecdotal information suggested that workers in the service and hospitality sector worked excessive hours.

Kosovo

Executive Summary

Kosovo is a parliamentary democracy. The constitution and laws provide for an elected unicameral parliament, the Assembly, which in turn elects a president, whose choice of prime minister the Assembly must approve. The country held parliamentary elections on June 11 that international observers considered free and fair. The Assembly elected Hashim Thaci as president in February 2016. The EU’s Rule-of-Law Mission (EULEX), which monitors police and the justice sector, continued to perform some executive functions, with its mission extended until mid-2018. The EU-facilitated Brussels Dialogue on the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia continued fitfully, as the two presidents agreed to implement their 2015 agreement to integrate northern Kosovo judicial structures into the national structures effective October 17.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included assaults on journalists; violence against displaced persons; endemic government corruption; lack of judicial independence, including failures of due process and selective implementation of decisions; and violence against members of ethnic minorities and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Many in the opposition, civil society, and the media believed that senior officials engaged in corruption with impunity.

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

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

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

EULEX and domestic prosecutors continued prosecuting war crimes cases arising from the 1998-99 conflict. As of August EULEX prosecutors were working on 37 war crimes cases. Under the understanding in effect, EULEX may be assigned new cases only in exceptional circumstances, with approval of the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council.

The Special Prosecution of the Republic of Kosovo (SPRK) office was, as of August, investigating approximately 104 war crimes cases, of which 44 had been suspended because the alleged perpetrators’ whereabouts were unknown.

In July, EULEX and Kosovo police arrested four persons in connection with the 2004 killing of a UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) police officer and a Kosovo police officer and the wounding of two others. Prosecutors sought a fifth suspect’s extradition from Germany. Citing police sources, the media identified two of the suspects as members of a major organized crime group involved in postwar political assassinations, terrorist attacks, and extortion.

In July a EULEX-majority panel at the Supreme Court overturned the 2016 conviction of Sami Lushtaku, mayor of Skenderaj/Srbica, on war crimes charges in the so-called Drenica I case. In late 2016 the Appellate Court overturned Lushtaku’s original conviction for murder and convicted him on command responsibility grounds for war crimes committed in a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) detention center. The Supreme Court panel upheld a five-year sentence for Lushtaku’s codefendant, Jahir Demaku, former director of Kosovo Security Force (KSF) Intelligence and Security. On August 18, a EULEX-majority panel at the Supreme Court upheld the convictions of all 10 defendants in the Drenica II war crimes case. In August a retrial began for Kosovo Serb Oliver Ivanovic, sentenced in 2016 to nine years in prison for war crimes against ethnic Albanians committed in 1999. Ivanovic was released on bail pending retrial in April.

The Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) continued to investigate crimes committed during and after the 1999 conflict. The SPO and its predecessor, the EU Special Investigative Task Force, were established following the 2011 release of the Council of Europe report Inhuman Treatment of People and Illicit Trafficking in Human Organs in Kosovo, which alleged crimes by individual KLA leaders. A 2016 agreement providing the legal basis for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers to conduct proceedings in the Netherlands entered into force on January 1. On December 22, a group of parliamentarians from the governing coalition attempted to abrogate the law authorizing the SPO and Specialist Chambers. Some parliamentarians reported doing so under instruction from political leaders. The initiative stalled under pressure from opposition leaders and the international community, but supporters continued to push for abrogation through the end of the year. The SPO had not issued any indictments as of year’s end.

b. Disappearance

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

As of August the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) listed as missing 1,658 persons who disappeared during the 1998-99 conflict and the political violence that followed. Although the ICRC did not distinguish missing persons by ethnic background due to confidentiality restrictions, observers suggested that approximately 70 percent were ethnic Albanians and 30 percent were Serbs, Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians, Bosniaks, or Montenegrins.

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

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

The Police Inspectorate of Kosovo (PIK), an independent body within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, was responsible for reviewing complaints about police behavior. As of July the PIK had reviewed 678 citizen complaints regarding police conduct. The PIK characterized 404 of the complaints as involving disciplinary violations and forwarded them to the Kosovo Police Professional Standards Unit; it judged another 264 complaints to be criminal cases. As of July, 124 police personnel were under investigation, and 135 cases from 2016 remained under investigation. Allegations of excessive use of force by police in dispersing a demonstration in 2015 did not result in criminal charges, although prosecutors continued to review information provided by the PIK.

On May 13, unknown assailants beat former Zeri editor in chief and noted human rights advocate Arbana Xharra. On April 10, Xharra had told police that unknown persons spray-painted red crosses on her front door. An investigation was underway. Xharra told media that religious radicals and activists of opposition parties had attacked her on social media throughout the year.

On June 22, a EULEX-majority panel at the Appellate Court partially amended a 2016 judgement by the Basic Court in Mitrovica against former KLA commander Xhemshit Krasniqi for the torture of civilians in 1999. The Appellate Court reduced the sentence from eight to seven years of imprisonment.

On August 28, two unknown persons attacked Vitore Stavileci, the wife of the Minister of Economic Development Blerand Stavileci, causing serious injuries. The attack came shortly after Minister Stavileci had publicly criticized Pristina’s municipal government as incompetent and corrupt, leading NGOs and other observers to suspect political motivation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions met some international standards, but significant problems persisted in penitentiaries, specifically, the lack of rehabilitative programs, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, corruption, exposure to radical religious or political views, and substandard medical care.

Former director of the Pristina Detention Center Emrush Thaci, indicted in 2016 for helping convicted war criminal Sami Lushtaku to avoid imprisonment, was still awaiting trial.

Physical Conditions: Physical conditions remained substandard in some parts of the Dubrava Prison, which were overcrowded in the first quarter of the year.

During the year the Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims (KRCT) received complaints from prisoners regarding inappropriate behavior, verbal harassment, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and in some cases physical mistreatment by correctional officers, mainly at the Dubrava Prison and the Detention center in Lipjan.

On February 19, three correctional officers assaulted a detainee at the Lipjan Detention Center. The officers involved were reprimanded but not dismissed.

On February 26, two female inmates were involved in a fight in Lipjan Detention Center that resulted in injuries. The KRCT reported the fight took place in the presence of correctional officers, who did not intervene.

National media reported that prisoners raped a fellow inmate at the Lipjan Detention Center on May 15. The victim reportedly received medical and psychiatric care, and prison officials transferred one of the perpetrators to another detention center. The case was under investigation.

As of August the KRCT had received 150 complaints from prisoners that correctional staff verbally or physically abused them in the Dubrava Prison and the High Security Prison.

Due to corruption or political interference, authorities did not always exercise control over the facilities or inmates. According to the KRCT, inmates complained that officials at the Dubrava and the Smrekovnica prisons unlawfully granted furloughs and additional yard time based on nepotism or bribery. The KRCT reported that mobile phones and illicit drugs were regularly smuggled into correctional facilities, with approximately 30 percent of inmates estimated to be addicted to drugs. There were no drug treatment programs.

The KRCT documented delays and errors in the delivery of medical care to prisoners as well as a lack of specialized treatment. In many instances these conditions forced prisoners to procure needed medications through private sources. The KRCT observed gaps in the prison health-care system at the Dubrava facility and reported an insufficient number of mental health professionals.

Facilities and treatment for inmates with disabilities remained substandard. The Kosovo Forensics Psychiatric Institute provided limited treatment and shelter for detained persons with mental disabilities. Advocates for persons with disabilities faulted the government for regularly housing pretrial detainees with diagnosed mental disabilities together with other pretrial detainees. Pretrial detainees were held separately from the convicted prisoner population.

The correctional service continued to operate an interdisciplinary team to address self-inflicted injuries and suicide attempts at correctional facilities, although prisoner advocates were not aware of improvements. The KRCT noted psychosocial services at the Dubrava Prison and High Security Prison were insufficient and unsuitable for the inmates’ needs, despite some improvements at the High Security Prison. There were no legal provisions or administrative instructions for the treatment of prisoners with disabilities. As of August the KCRT reported 21 attempted suicides and 100 self-inflicted injuries. Advocates cited frequent transfers and harsh treatment as contributing factors.

On August 16, masked assailants beat Kosovo Correctional Service (KCS) acting director Sokol Zogaj with metal pipes in Pristina. The Justice Ministry issued a statement soon after the attack calling on authorities to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

The government, with the help of international forensics experts, continued to investigate the death of Vetevendosje party activist Astrit Dehari, who allegedly committed suicide in prison in 2016. In September the Kosovo chief state prosecutor announced that the Austrian Internal Affairs Ministry completed the analysis of the video footage of the surveillance cameras in the Prizren Detention Center at the time of Dehari’s death. The analysis found no sign of manipulation of the raw video surveillance footage. The State Prosecutor’s office stated it would further analyze evidence related to this case.

Administration: Authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of mistreatment. The KRCT noted the internal complaint mechanism mandated by law did not function, as inmates often did not report abuses due to lack of confidentiality and fear of retribution. The KRCT observed several cases where inmates who submitted complaints were merely transferred to other prison facilities. Prisoners in some wards at the Dubrava Prison and the High Security Prison lacked complaint forms, and prison management failed to address reported concerns. Prison authorities could not intervene when some pretrial detainees used ministry of justice connections to obtain transfers to more comfortable facilities, such as the University Clinical Center in Pristina, even when the prison could provide adequate medical services.

The KRCT also noted that authorities did not provide written decisions justifying solitary confinement or confirming transfer to another facility. According to prisoners, such decisions were implemented without notice or explanation. The KRCT noted that authorities’ failure to implement the law on penal sanctions resulted in a lack of clear procedures for leave and parole requests.

Both inmates and social workers characterized the conditional release panel as failing to address requests for early release in a timely fashion and for a lack of clarity in the justification of its denials. Prisoners with good behavior records criticized the panel’s lack of consideration of their individual circumstances. The KCS received seven complaints during the year.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers, but the national Ombudsperson Institution alone had continuous and unfettered access to correctional facilities. The KRCT and the Center for Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms were required to provide 24-hour advance notice of planned visits.

Improvements: In May the government opened an educational correctional center for juveniles at Lipjan Detention Center. Lipjan Detention Center’s existing management administered the center for juveniles, in apparent violation of the legal prohibition against managers running multiple institutions.

In March the government opened a new detention center with a 300-prisoner capacity in Gjilan. Some NGOs stated that the center did not meet basic safety standards, noting poor-quality surveillance systems and cell doors.

The government also renovated Dubrava Prison during the year, partially addressing deficiencies including poor lighting and ventilation, dilapidated kitchens and toilets, lack of hot water, inadequate or no bedding, and significant delay in repairs.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government, EULEX, and Kosovo Force (KFOR), a NATO-led international peacekeeping force, generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Local security forces included the Kosovo Police and the Kosovo Security Force, a lightly armed civil response force that provides disaster response and humanitarian relief, demining, search and rescue, and hazardous material containment. The law provides that police operate under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Police maintained internal security, with assistance from EULEX as a second responder for incidents of unrest and KFOR as a third responder. The border police, part of the Kosovo Police, were responsible for law enforcement related to border management. The Ministry for the Kosovo Security Force managed the KSF.

EULEX’s mandate is to monitor, mentor, and advise local judicial and law enforcement institutions. It also has some operational responsibilities, backing up the police force, including during raids and actions requiring crowd and riot control. Circumstances did not require EULEX to carry out this back-up function during the year. EULEX’s independent mandate for policing operations is limited to cases of organized crime, high-level corruption, war crimes, money laundering, terrorist financing, and international police cooperation. It also engaged in witness protection and in training police in this area. EULEX’s executive role gradually diminished as envisaged in the government’s exchange of letters with the EU in 2014 and as extended in 2016.

KFOR was responsible for providing a safe and secure environment and ensuring freedom of movement in the country. As of May the mission had 4,352 troops from 31 countries.

EULEX and KFOR personnel were not subject to the country’s legal system but were subject to their missions’ and their countries’ disciplinary measures.

The government sometimes investigated abuse and corruption, although mechanisms for doing so were not equally effective throughout the country. Security forces did not ensure compliance with court orders when local officials failed to carry them out. Numerous police officers were arrested on corruption charges during the year, and impunity was a problem.

On September 8, the media reported that the Kosovo Police terminated the contracts of 57 of the 59 officers arrested in 2016 for abuse of office and bribery. Most of them were members of the traffic and highway control unit from Mitrovice/a South and Mitrovice/a North, who reportedly were caught receiving bribes after the PIK installed hidden cameras within their official patrol vehicles.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law, except when a crime is in progress, police may apprehend suspects only with warrants based on evidence and issued by a judge or prosecutor. Within six hours, prosecutors must issue the arrested person a written statement describing the alleged offense and the legal basis for the charges. Authorities must bring arrested persons before a judge within 48 hours and must provide detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice or one provided by the state. There is a bail system, but courts seldom used it. They often released detainees without bail pending trial.

Suspects have the right to refuse to answer questions at all stages of an investigation, except those concerning their identity. Suspects have the right to free assistance of an interpreter and medical and psychiatric treatment. Police may not hold suspects incommunicado.

Following an initial ruling, a court may hold individuals in pretrial detention for 30 days from the date of their arrest and may extend pretrial detention for up to one year. After an indictment and until the conclusion of trial proceedings, only a trial judge or a trial panel can order or terminate detention. The law allows a judge to order house arrest, confiscation of travel documents, and the expanded use of bail as alternatives to pretrial detention.

Although in some instances police were masked or under cover, they generally carried out arrests using warrants. There were no confirmed reports that police abused the 48-hour rule, and prosecutors generally either provided arrested persons with documents describing the reasons for their detention or released them. While officials generally respected the requirement for prompt disposition of cases, the KRCT reported that detainees occasionally faced delays when attorneys were temporarily not available.

NGOs reported that authorities did not always allow detained persons to contact attorneys when initially arrested and in some cases permitted consultation with an attorney only when police investigators began formal questioning. In several cases detainees were allowed access to an attorney only after their formal questioning. Some detained persons complained that, despite requests for lawyers, their first contact with an attorney took place at their initial court appearance.

Arbitrary Arrest: On September 13, police raided offices of the Serbian Red Cross in seven municipalities across Kosovo. Police stated the raids were in response to what they called an illegal census operation, while Serbian Red Cross officials said their data gathering was in support of humanitarian aid delivery and monitoring. Media and international observers reported that in these raids, police relied on “oral warrants” from local prosecutors, in contravention of the law. Police detained a number of Serbian Red Cross employees temporarily. Prosecutors and police were unable to cite specifically any provision of the criminal code that the Serbian Red Cross offices had contravened.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy detention, both before and during judicial proceedings, remained a problem. The law allows judges to detain a defendant pending trial if there is a well grounded suspicion that the defendant is likely to destroy, hide, or forge evidence; influence witnesses; flee; repeat the offense; engage in another criminal offense; or fail to appear at subsequent court proceedings. Judges routinely granted pretrial detention without requiring evidentiary justification. Lengthy detention was also partly due to judicial inefficiency and corruption.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary did not always provide due process. According to the European Commission, NGOs, and the Office of the Ombudsperson, the administration of justice was slow and lacked means of ensuring accountability by judicial officials. Judicial structures were subject to political interference, with disputed appointments and unclear mandates. Efficiency in case resolution improved during the year, but the courts were burdened by a case backlog. During the first six months of the year, the courts resolved 170,000 cases and received 130,000 new ones. According to the Kosovo Judicial Council, 358,135 civil and criminal administrative and commercial cases awaited trial as of July. In addition, 154,596 minor offenses awaited adjudication.

A mechanism for disciplinary proceedings against judges and prosecutors was in place, but it was ineffective. Authorities sometimes failed to carry out court orders, including from the Constitutional Court, particularly for rulings in favor of minorities.

Despite a Constitutional Court ruling confirming the Serbian Orthodox Church’s ownership of more than 24 hectares of land adjacent Visoki Decani Monastery, local authorities in Decan/Decani failed to implement the decision. The Serbian Orthodox Church referred the issue to the Kosovo Cadastral Agency, but the registration was pending. None of the officials involved in failing to carry out the court order was sanctioned.

EULEX prosecutors and judges worked within the country’s judicial system. The head of the SPRK, whose jurisdiction includes trafficking in persons, crimes against humanity, money laundering, war crimes, and terrorism, had a EULEX prosecutor as her deputy. In accordance with an exchange of letters between the government and the EU, EULEX prosecutors may act independently or together with domestic prosecutors in compliance with applicable law. Consequently, EULEX took on some new cases and processed continuing ones.

On October 24, the president issued a decree appointing 40 Kosovo Serb judges and 13 prosecutors as agreed under the Dialogue Agreement on the Judiciary. Courts in Mitrovice/a North, which had previously operated under the Serbian judicial system, were recognized as Kosovo courts and began implementing Kosovo law. A backlog of 8,000 civil and criminal cases from the four Serb-majority municipalities, which had been transferred to Vushtrri in 2016, was returned to Mitrovice/a North for processing

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for a fair and impartial trial, and while there were severe shortfalls in the judiciary system, it generally upheld the law. Trials are public, and the law entitles defendants to the presumption of innocence, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, to be present at their trials, to remain silent and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, to confront adverse witnesses, to see evidence, and to have legal representation. Defendants have the right to appeal. These rights extend to all citizens without exception. The country does not use jury trials.

The constitution guarantees the right to free legal aid, but international observers reported that the Agency for Free Legal Aid, mandated to provide free legal assistance to low-income individuals, was not adequately funded and not functioning as envisioned. The agency offers legal advice but does not represent cases before the court.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There are civil remedies for human rights violations, but victims were unable to avail themselves of this recourse due to complicated bureaucratic procedures and a large backlog of judicial cases. Individuals may appeal to courts to seek damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

Individuals may turn to the Constitutional Court for review of their rights to due process. The constitution incorporates obligations agreed to in numerous international conventions as binding. Individuals may bring alleged violations of these conventions as well as violations of due process under domestic law before the Constitutional Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

A confusing mix of laws, regulations, administrative instructions, and court practices, as well as the illegal reoccupation of properties and multiple claims for the same property, continued to hamper property restitution cases arising from the 1998-99 war. Private citizens and religious communities were largely unsuccessful in petitioning for the return of properties seized or confiscated during the Yugoslav era.

The Kosovo Property Comparison and Verification Agency (KPCVA) created in 2016 has authority to adjudicate claims through the resolution of discrepancies between cadastral documents taken to Serbia in 1999 and Kosovo’s current cadastral records. Claimants have the right to appeal decisions in the courts.

As of December 2016, the Kosovo Property Claims Commission, which falls under the KPCVA, adjudicated 42,114 registered claims, and authorities notified almost all claimants of results. The commission reported that the Kosovo Property Agency (KPA) authorities implemented 39,693 of its decisions. A total of 1,293 of the commission’s decisions were under appeal with the Supreme Court.

The KPA, a quasi-judicial body, had difficulty enforcing its decisions when evicting illegal occupants. The KPA also lacked funds to pay the 3.2 million euros ($3.8 million) compensation called for in the 143 claims decided in favor of persons who lost their properties in the early 1990s due to discriminatory housing practices erratically employed at that time. The agency similarly lacked funds to remove illegal structures constructed on land after claimants had their rights confirmed. As of August the agency submitted 416 criminal charges to the Prosecutor’s Office against illegal occupants who reoccupied properties after KPA evictions; 460 eviction warrants remained pending during this period. The area of the country with the highest proportion of pending evictions was Mitrovice/a, with 337, primarily affecting Kosovo Albanians.

The backlog of cases in municipal courts remained high, and approximately 50 percent of these were related to property claims. Approximately 9,000 claims remained outstanding as of December 2016, most involving compensation claims by Kosovo Serbs for uninhabitable war-damaged property. The country lacked an effective system to allow displaced Kosovo Serbs living outside the country to file property and other claims.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Despite undertaking to dismantle them, the Serbian government continued to operate some illegal parallel government structures in Serb-majority municipalities. Illegal parallel institutions also operated in Serbian and Gorani enclaves throughout the southern part of the country.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Parliamentary elections–including in northern Kosovo–took place on June 11. International and independent observers evaluated the vote as generally free and fair. The campaign was marked, however, by a pattern of intimidation within Kosovo-Serb communities, as some Kosovo Serbs brought pressure to bear on fellow Kosovo Serbs aligned with parties other than pro-Serbian Srpska List (SL). Candidates not affiliated with SL were pressured to withdraw from the race. Isolated incidents of violence occurred, including a gunfire attack on the office of the Party of Kosovo Serbs (PKS) in Leposavic/Leposaviq on May 22 and a violent clash between supporters of PKS and SL resulting in the temporary detention of the PKS leader on June 4.

Delay in forming a governing coalition brought government institutions to a halt for nine weeks following the parliamentary elections, negatively impacting the country’s economy and preventing progress on key issues in international and domestic affairs.

On October 22, Kosovo held municipal elections, which observers regarded as generally free and fair despite isolated irregularities. The precampaign period was marked by several incidents of intimidation within Kosovo-Serb communities. Ahead of local elections, Skenderaj/Srbica assembly candidate Beqir Veliu was physically assaulted in an allegedly politically motivated attack.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Party affiliation played an important role in access to government services and social and employment opportunities. Clan loyalties also played an important role in political organizations. Ethnic minorities’ representation in the Assembly was more than proportionate to their share in the population, but political parties representing ethnic minorities criticized majority parties for not consulting them on important issues. The incidents of violent disruption by Assembly members from some parties that occurred in 2016 did not recur in the current year.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively and corruption remained a serious problem. A lack of effective judicial oversight and general weakness in the rule of law contributed to the problem. Corruption cases were routinely subject to repeated appeal, and the judicial system often allowed statutes of limitation to expire without trying cases.

Corruption: The Kosovo Anticorruption Agency (ACA) and the Office of the Auditor General shared responsibility for combating government corruption. As of June the SPRK had received 38 cases from the ACA. The ACA provided one case to the basic prosecution office in Mitrovica/e. Convictions on corruption charges continued to represent a small proportion of those investigated and charged.

A report by NGOs Cohu and Communication for Social Development identified numerous alleged failures of the judiciary system to prosecute corruption. The report stated that only 13 of 140 cases brought against senior officials resulted in indictments. The NGO Kosovo Justice Institute reported that prosecutors dismissed 55 percent of corruption cases brought before them in the first four months of the year. Sentencing of high-level officials convicted of corruption was often lenient. The institute reported that indictments often failed because prosecutors filed incorrect charges or made procedural errors.

On May 8, the Peja/Pec Basic Prosecution Office filed an indictment against Peja/Pec Mayor Gazmend Muhaxheri for not executing an Appellate Court decision to reinstate an employee after the court determined the employee was protected by whistleblower provisions. Separately, in May the SPRK initiated an investigation against Muhaxheri and three municipal employees for improper accounting of a 152,000 euro ($182,000) security contract.

Financial Disclosure: The law obliges all senior public officials and their family members to declare their property and the origins of their property annually. Senior officials must also report changes in their property holdings when assuming or terminating their public service. The ACA administers the data, verifies disclosures, and publishes them on its website. Based on a random sampling during the year, the agency reported that approximately 98 percent of officials declared their property and finances. Authorities may fine officials charged with minor breaches of the requirement or prohibit them from exercising public functions for up to one year. The ACA referred all charges against those who had not filed to prosecutors.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not specifically address spousal rape. By law rape is punishable by two to 15 years in prison.

EULEX noted that courts often applied more penalties lighter than the legal minimum in rape cases, particularly in cases where the victim was a minor. EULEX found that courts rarely took steps to protect victims and witnesses, nor did they close hearings to the public as required by law. A section of the Office of the Chief State Prosecutor helped to provide access to justice for victims of all crimes, with a special focus on victims of domestic violence, trafficking in persons, child abuse, and rape.

The law treats domestic violence as a civil matter unless the victim suffers bodily harm. Failure to comply with a civil court’s judgment relating to a domestic violence case is a criminal and prosecutable offense, although prosecutions for this offense were rare. According to the Kosovo Women’s Network, more than two-thirds of women had been victims of domestic violence. When victims pressed charges, police domestic violence units conducted investigations and transferred cases to prosecutors, though the rate of prosecution was low. Advocates and court observers asserted that prosecutors and judges favored family unification over victim protection, with protective orders sometimes allowing the perpetrator to remain in the family home while a case was pending. Sentences were frequently lenient, ranging from judicial reprimands to imprisonment of six months to five years.

Kosovo’s judicial system adopted new standard operating procedures and improved priority assignment of prosecutors for domestic violence cases during the year. The law permits individuals who feel threatened to petition for a restraining order, but violation of a restraining order seldom led to criminal charges. Courts rarely gave recidivists enhanced sentences as required by law.

On August 21, the Prizren Municipal Court approved a prosecutor’s appeal in the murder case of Zejnepe Berisha, stabbed to death by her husband, Nebih Berisha, in 2015, and increased his prison sentence from 12 to 17 years. The prosecution appealed the sentence as too lenient following significant media and civil society attention and protests by women’s rights organizations. Zejnepe Berisha’s murder followed a long history of domestic violence marked by at least 16 separate police reports from her prior to her death. Activists criticized the original sentence as too light because the country’s legal framework suggests between 10 years and life in prison as the recommended sentence for the murder of a family member.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare included a unit dedicated to family violence. The government and international donors provided support to seven NGOs to assist children and female victims of domestic violence. There were 10 shelters for victims of domestic violence.

On April 27, the government created an independent committee to verify and recognize the status of survivors of wartime sexual assault. Survivors of wartime sexual violence complained that EULEX prosecutors did not successfully prosecute any cases. The Ministry of Justice led a working group, including EULEX and the SPRK, to prioritize cases, but no action was taken in any case.

Sexual Harassment: In civil proceedings, the law defines sexual harassment. While the criminal code includes the offense of sexual harassment, it does not contain a specific standard or definition. The code stipulates enhanced penalties for sexual harassment against vulnerable victims, including victims of sexual abuse. Varying internal procedures and regulations for reporting sexual harassment hampered implementation of these laws.

According to women’s rights organizations, workplace sexual harassment was common.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law requires equal pay for equivalent work. The law stipulates that the partners in marriage and civil unions have equal rights to own and inherit property, but men commonly inherited family property. In rare instances Kosovo Albanian widows, particularly in rural areas, risked losing custody of their children due to a custom requiring children and property to pass to the deceased father’s family while the widow returned to her birth family.

Relatively few women occupied upper-level management positions in business, police, or government.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the Kosovo Agency for Statistics, in 2012, the date of the most recent census, the male-to-female gender ratio at birth was 110.7 to 100. According to UNICEF, the government did not take steps to address the imbalance.

Children

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship from their parents or by virtue of birth in the country for children born to parents from certain minority communities whose citizenship was not documented. Those not registered were primarily from the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities. UNICEF indicated lack of registration could adversely affect access to social assistance, particularly for repatriated children. Children who were not registered were considered stateless.

Child Abuse: In 2015 UNICEF found that 30 percent of children in the country and 40 percent of ethnic Romani, Ashkali, and Egyptian children were victims of abuse (see data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/violence/ ).

Early and Forced Marriage: The law allows persons to marry at age 16. Child marriage was rare but continued in certain ethnic communities, including among Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians, and Gorani. According to a separate MICS report that focused on these communities, approximately 12 percent of children, mostly girls, married before the age of 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape is a criminal offense punishable by five to 20 years in prison. The law prohibits possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. Persons who produce, use, or involve a child in making or producing pornography may receive a prison sentence of one to five years. Distribution, promotion, transmission, offer, or display of child pornography is punishable by six months’ to five years’ imprisonment. Possession or procurement of child pornography is punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to three years.

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

Anti-Semitism

Approximately 50 Jewish persons resided in the country, according to the Jewish Community of Kosovo. In 2016 the Simon Wiesenthal Center in France issued a public letter to the president criticizing the ready availability in the country of anti-Semitic literature, allegedly translated into Albanian and published in Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Wiesenthal Center stated it had lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Interior. In November 2016 the president announced a decision to prohibit the sale and distribution of anti-Semitic books. As of September no administrative action had been taken to implement the decision.

In July a mayoral candidate in Rahovec/Orahovac stated on social media that Israel will soon be “vanished from the earth” in response to incidents in Jerusalem. After receiving domestic and international criticism, including from the president and from the leader of his own political party, he deleted the post and apologized.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions, and persons with disabilities suffered discrimination.

According to Handi-Kos, a disability rights organization, health, social assistance, rehabilitation, and assistive devices for persons with disabilities remained insufficient, and physical access to public institutions remained difficult even after the implementation of bylaws on building and administrative support.

The law regulates the commitment of persons to psychiatric or social care facilities and protects their rights within such institutions but has not been implemented. The KRCT described mental health facilities as substandard. The KRCT reported that several persons with mental disabilities were in detention without any legal basis but noted courts were reviewing some cases.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities, including the Serb, Romani, Ashkali, Egyptian, Turkish, Bosniak, Gorani, Croat, and Montenegrin communities, faced varying levels of institutional and societal discrimination in employment, education, social services, language use, freedom of movement, the right to return to their homes (for displaced persons), and other basic rights.

The prime minister’s Office of Community Affairs noted discrimination in public-sector employment in almost all local and national institutions. Although the law mandates that 10 percent of employees at the local and national levels of government be members of minorities, their representation remained limited and generally confined to lower-level positions. Smaller communities, such as Gorani, Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians, were particularly underrepresented. There were no legal remedies to address these concerns.

NGOs reported attempts by universities to discriminate in admissions and hiring against persons wearing Muslim religious garb, including hijabs. The law prohibits the wearing of religious symbols in elementary schools, but antidiscrimination statutes protect religious dress at the university level.

Romani, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities experienced pervasive social and economic discrimination. They often lacked access to basic hygiene, medical care, and education and were heavily dependent on humanitarian aid for subsistence.

The law requires equal conditions for all schoolchildren and recognizes minority students’ right to public education in their native languages through secondary school. This law was not enforced, with the country’s Bosniak, Croat, Gorani, Montenegrin, Romani, and Turkish leaders noting that their communities lacked textbooks and other materials.

Access to justice for non-Albanian communities, particularly for Kosovo Serbs and displaced persons, remained a concern. Poor or no translation in proceedings before the courts, a backlog of cases, the nonexecution of decisions, limited numbers of non-Albanian staff, inconsistency between Albanian and Serbian translations of legislation, and the lack of functional judiciary system in northern Kosovo hindered proper delivery of justice. Security incidents against Kosovo Serbs persisted, particularly in the Peje/Pec, Istog/Istok, and Kline/Klina regions. In the first seven months of the year, there were more than 105 incidents involving thefts, break-ins, verbal harassment, and damage to the property of Kosovo Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Kosovo Serb representatives continued to call for increasing the number of Kosovo Serbs on the police force, particularly in returnee areas. The number of Kosovo Serbs in the KSF almost doubled during the year, with 58 additions.

On January 10, a hand grenade detonated in front of Hotel Sasa in North Mitrovica/e North, damaging windows and two parked vehicles. The hotel hosted a small number of government branch offices as part of Brussels Dialogue implementation. An investigation was underway.

On January 14, the government denied entry to a special train from Belgrade emblazoned with nationalistic statements and Serb religious imagery, while Kosovo Police deployed special units in northern Kosovo, increasing tensions between Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. On January 15, almost 2,000 Kosovo Serbs gathered in Mitrovica/e North to protest government and police actions.

On the evening of February 14, a group of 20 young Kosovo Albanians chanted anti-Serb slogans and sprayed anti-Serb graffiti in a Kosovo Serb-inhabited area of Gjilan/Gnjilane, including on the Serbian Orthodox church and a Serbian-language school’s outer walls. The graffiti included “Kill Serbs,” a swastika symbol, and “UCK–Kosovo Liberation Army.” Anti-Serb graffiti also appeared in an ethnically mixed village in nearby Novo Brdo/Novoberde municipality. Kosovo Police arrested one Kosovo Albanian minor.

On May 29, unknown assailants fired a dozen bullets at a building containing PKS offices in the northern Kosovo municipality of Leposavic/q. No injuries were reported, but the bullets damaged windows and a wall. In July, two Kosovo Serb opposition politicians were victims of vehicle arson in Mitrovica/e North. No injuries were reported, and an investigation was underway.

The language commissioner monitored and reported on the implementation of legislation that conferred equal status to the country’s two official languages, Albanian and Serbian, as well as official languages used at the local level, including Bosnian, Romani, and Turkish. In February the commissioner told the media that local municipal administrations did not fully respect the Law on Use of Languages, citing lack of political will. He also noted the lack of translation into Serbian language within several institutions, including the Ministry of Health and the national power company.

Amendments to administrative rulings permit Bosniaks, Roma, and Turks to have identity documents issued in their own languages, but minority representatives often complained of poor implementation.

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

The constitution and law prohibit direct or indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, health care, and education. When the motivation for a crime is based on gender, sexual orientation, or perceived affinity of the victim with persons who are targets of such hostility, the law considers motivation to be an aggravating circumstance.

According to human rights NGOs, the LGBTI community faced overt discrimination in employment, housing, determination of statelessness, and access to education and health care. The NGOs said societal pressure persuaded most LGBTI persons to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs noted that police were insensitive to the needs of their community.

On February 15, a prosecutor filed an assault indictment against a defendant accused of attacking an LGBTI person on the basis of sexual preference in July 2016. According to NGOs, as of September LGBTI persons reported no hate crimes during the year, although they emphasized that fears of retribution discouraged reporting.

An Advisory and Coordinating Group consisting of representatives of eight ministries, the Office of Good Governance, and three NGOs cooperated to protect and promote the rights of the LGBTI community, including by developing an National Action Plan. Government officials signaled support for LGBTI rights by sponsoring and attending numerous public events.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While there were no confirmed reports of official discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS during the year, anecdotal reports of such discrimination persisted.

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 independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and the violation of any individual’s labor rights due to his or her union activities. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, including in essential services. The law applies equally to all individuals working in the public and private sectors, including documented migrants and domestic servants.

Authorities did not effectively enforce the labor law, which includes regulations, and administrative instructions that govern employment relations, including rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. According to the Association of Independent Labor Unions in Kosovo (BSPK), resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties insufficient. As of July the Ministry of Labor and Social Work’s Labor Inspectorate had issued 170 fines during the year. The BSPK described the fines as insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were circuitous and subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

According to the BSPK, the government and employers in the country generally respected the right to form and join unions in both the public and private sectors. Political party interference in trade union organizations and individual worker rights remained a problem. According to union officials, workers in the public sector commonly faced mistreatment, including sexual harassment and the loss of employment, based on their political party affiliation. Employers did not always respect the rights of worker organizations to bargain collectively, particularly in the private sector. The BSPK reported that many private sector employers essentially ignored labor laws. The BSPK reported continued difficulty in establishing unions due to employer interference in workers’ associations and unions, particularly in the banking, construction, and hotel sectors. Representatives from these sectors told the BSPK anonymously that employers used intimidation to prevent the establishment of unions. The Labor Inspectorate reported receiving no formal complaints of discrimination against employees who tried to join unions during the year. The BSPK claimed the inspectorate was not fully functional due to budgetary and staffing shortfalls.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced child labor occurred during the year (see section 7.c.).

Government resources, including remediation, were insufficient to bring about compliance, identify and protect victims, and investigate claims of forced or compulsory labor. There were limited investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of forced labor due, according to the Labor Inspectorate, to inadequate resources. Penalties ranged from imprisonment to a fine of up to 500,000 euros ($600,000) and were sufficiently stringent compared with those for other serious crimes. As of October authorities did not remove any victims from forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for contractual employment is 15, provided the employment is not harmful or prejudicial to school attendance. If the work is likely to jeopardize the health, safety, or morals of a young person, the legal minimum age is 18. In 2013 the government agreed with the International Labor Organization on protections from hazardous labor for children in agriculture, street labor, construction, and the exploitation of natural resources. Regulations forbid exploitation of children in the workplace, including forced or compulsory labor. The government maintained a committee for prevention and elimination of child labor to intervene in cases of forced or hazardous labor. The committee was constrained by limited resources. The government also maintained a National Authority against Trafficking in Persons that investigated cases of children trafficked for labor.

Inspectors immediately notify employers when finding minors working in hazardous conditions. As of May the Municipal Social Work Offices (MSWO) reported only eight cases of minors working in hazardous conditions to the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, but it had no information on whether the children returned to school. The ministry noted that the MSWO often misreported cases of minors working in hazardous conditions to the ministry due to poor understanding of a new reporting tool allowing for simultaneous reporting to the ministry and the MSWO.

NGOs reported that MSWO budgets were insufficient to offer social services to children engaged in street labor. The MSWO continued to request budget support for on-premises centers to offer daily social services to children engaged in elicit labor.

Under the labor code, inspectors may fine employers from 100 euros ($120) to 10,000 euros ($12,000) for subjecting a worker to hazardous working conditions. Fines were double for offenses committed against a minor. Enforcement was poor due to inadequate training and resources. The law provides additional penalties for employers and families that engage children in labor practices or fail to meet their parental obligations resulting in the illegal employment of a minor. The law permits authorities to remove a child from the home if that is determined to be in the best interests of a child.

The Coalition for Protection of Children (KOMF) reported that children working in the farming and mining sectors encountered hazards associated with operating farm equipment and extracting ore from hard-to-reach areas underground. KOMF reported that engagement of children in farming persisted as traditional activity. Government-run social work centers reported that children engaged in farming activities were not prevented from attending school. KOMF also reported that the total number of child beggars remained unknown. While children were rarely their families’ main wage earners, child labor contributed substantially to some family incomes.

Young children in rural areas often assisted their families in agricultural labor, typically including work during school hours. Urban children often worked in a variety of unofficial construction and retail jobs, such as selling newspapers, cigarettes, food, and telephone cards on the street. Some children also engaged in physical labor, such as transportation of goods.

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

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred across sectors with respect to sex, gender, gender identity, disability, religion, and minority status (see section 6). During the year the BSPK received reports from labor unions and individuals also claiming discrimination based on union membership, age, and family status. BSPK claimed to be the only entity where workers reported discrimination due to fear of employer retribution. The BSPK noted that employment often depended on the employee’s political status and affiliation. The BSPK also stated that due to high unemployment, employees were reluctant to report discrimination, fearing retaliation by their employer. Most often employees addressed their work-related matters internally and informally with their employers. The BSPK also reported instances of employers discriminating against female candidates in employment interviews and illegally firing women for being pregnant or requesting maternity leave.

International observers reported discrimination in university employment against individuals wearing hijabs or other symbols of Islam. Universities sometimes rejected candidates on this basis, justifying the practice as a counterradicalization effort.

The law does not protect against discrimination based on HIV status or other communicable diseases. According to the NGO GAP Institute, the penalties were adequate, but enforcement was insufficient for the system to function properly.

By law foreigners must obtain work permits prior to seeking work in the country. According to the Labor Inspectorate, there were no reports of foreign workers denied work permits, and there were no reports of violation of foreign workers’ rights during the year.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government-set minimum wage was higher than the official poverty income line of 1.82 euros ($2.18) per day. The law provides monthly benefits of up to 120 euros ($144) for families eligible for social assistance and up to 40 euros ($48) monthly for individuals. Families and individuals could also receive discounts on up to 400 kilowatt-hours of electricity and free health care.

The law provides for a standard 40-hour workweek, requires rest periods, limits the number of regular hours worked to 12 hours per day, limits overtime to 20 hours per week and 40 hours per month, requires payment of a premium for overtime work, and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The law provides for 20 days’ paid leave per year for employees and 12 months of partially paid maternity leave. The labor law sets appropriate health and safety standards for workplaces and governs all industries in the country.

Ministry of Labor inspectors were responsible for enforcing all labor standards, including those pertaining to wages, hours, and occupational safety and health. Unions and the labor inspectorate considered the fines and the number of inspectors insufficient to monitor the formal and informal sectors effectively.

According to the Labor Inspectorate and the BSPK, the labor code is comprehensive and its provisions on work hours are adequate for the equal protection of public and private sector workers. According to the BSPK, the government’s lack of enforcement stemmed from a paucity of unionized workers as well as resource and capacity limitations of the Labor Inspectorate.

The Ministry of Labor continued efforts to compile amendments to the labor code, needed to implement the government-sponsored Collective Contract. The Collective Contract establishes the rights and obligations of the employer and the employee, including provisions on work hours, night work, annual leave, maternity leave, job safety, and employee health benefits. The contract also includes all of the protections in the labor laws and applies to all workers in the informal as well as formal economies. Observers noted that the agreement was intended to reduce the size of the informal economy, which the government and international organizations estimated at 30 percent of the overall economy, by penalizing employers who do not register employees.

According to the BSPK, employers failed to abide by official labor standards that provided equal standards of protection to public and private sector workers. The BSPK reported a lack of government oversight and enforcement, particularly with regard to the standard workweek and compulsory and unpaid overtime. Many individuals worked long hours in the private sector as “at-will” employees, without employment contracts, regular pay, or contributions to their pensions. The BSPK reported that employers ignored legal provisions and fired workers without cause in violation of the law and refused to respect worker holidays. As of September the Labor Inspectorate received 204 formal complaints of violations of workers’ rights in the public and private sectors. Women’s rights organizations reported that sexual abuse and harassment occurred on the job but went unreported due to fear of dismissal or retaliation.

While the law provides for the protection of employees’ health and working conditions, private and public institutions failed at times to comply. The Labor Inspectorate and BSPK officials reported difficulties in obtaining accurate information about compliance, because workers rarely disclosed the problems due to fear of losing their jobs. The Labor Inspectorate reported 10 private sector workplace fatalities as of October.

No law specifically permits employees to remove themselves from a dangerous work situation, but the law requires every employer to provide adequate work conditions for all employees based upon job requirements. According to the Labor Ministry, informal employer-employee arrangements may address when and whether employees may remove themselves from work due to dangerous work situations. The country’s institutions did not track these arrangements. According to experts, violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were common for men and women, as well as foreign migrant workers, particularly those who faced hazardous or exploitative working conditions.

Kuwait

Executive Summary

Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the Al Sabah family. While there is also a democratically elected parliament, the emir holds ultimate authority over most government decisions. The last parliamentary election was held in November 2016 and was generally free and fair with several members of the opposition winning seats.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included allegations of torture of detainees; political prisoners; restrictions on freedom of speech, including criminalization inter alia of criticism of government officials and defamation of religion; long-term movement and assembly limits on a stateless population referred to as Bidoon; trafficking in persons; criminalization of male same sex sexual activity; and reports of forced labor, especially among foreign workers.

The government took steps in some cases to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was a problem in corruption cases.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there continued to be reports of torture and ill-treatment by police and security forces during prolonged detention of persons in cases relating to terrorism, and against detained members of minority groups and noncitizens.

Several persons claimed police or Kuwait State Security (KSS) force members beat them at police checkpoints or in detention. In July a foreign national in long-term detention in the Kuwait Central Prison reported he was beaten by prison personnel, and diplomatic representatives confirmed the prisoner was denied medical treatment for his injuries for at least 11 days following the incident.

The government stated it investigates complaints against police officers and that disciplinary action is taken when warranted. Disciplinary actions resulted in fines, detention, and some officers being removed from their positions or terminated. The government did not make public all the findings of its investigations or all punishments it imposed. In one publicized case, the Court of Misdemeanors in March sentenced a police officer to one month in jail for illegally detaining and physically abusing an innocent citizen. Although government investigations do not lead to compensation for victims of abuse, the victim can utilize government reports and results of internal disciplinary actions to seek compensation via civil courts.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to the Parliamentary Committee Report on Central Prison Conditions, the prisons lacked the minimum standards of cleanliness and sanitation, were overcrowded, and suffered from widespread corruption in management leading to drug abuse and prisoner safety issues. An international organization that visited the Central Prison corroborated some of the findings from the report.

Government authorities were investigating a February attack by another inmate on former member of parliament (MP) and opposition leader Musallam al-Barrak, who had been convicted in 2015 on charges of insulting the emir. The attack prompted a review by parliament of the prison system, and the inmate accused of attacking the former MP reportedly committed suicide.

Physical Conditions: The Central Prison has a capacity of 2,302 inmates. Approximately 3,634 inmates were housed there. Cells in the male prison held four to 12 persons and cells in the female prison held six to eight; inmates reportedly lived in moderately overcrowded conditions. Although the total capacity of the women’s prison was not reported, both prison authorities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have visited the facility mentioned overcrowding at the women’s prison, which currently houses 192 inmates.

A nursery complex was provided for female inmates with children less than two years old. Officials stated the prison was not designed to accommodate prisoners with disabilities as, by law, any convict with a significant disability cannot be held in the Central Prison.

The number of inmates at the deportation center at Talha was close to 400 on an average day. Observers reported that up to 800 inmates could be housed in the facility for short periods of time. They also reported some overcrowding at the deportation center and poor sanitation as a consequence of the aging facility. Noncitizen women pending deportation were kept at the Central Prison due to lack of segregated facilities at the deportation center.

The Parliamentary Committee Report on Central Prison Conditions indicated there was discrimination between prisoners according to national origin and citizenship status. Bribery of prison workers and poor supervision resulted in a black market trading in drugs, cigarettes, cellphones, electronics, as well as makeshift weapons. Some prisoners complained of having cells raided by unidentified masked men.

Administration: There were some reports of corruption and lack of supervision by the administration of the prison and detention center system. While inmates lodged complaints against prison officials and other inmates, no information was available on the resolution of these complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Interior permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by some nongovernmental observers and international human rights groups and required written approval for visits by local NGOs. Authorities permitted staff from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to visit the prisons and detention centers. The government also allowed local NGOs to visit prisons upon approval from the ministry. The Kuwait Society for Human Rights and the Kuwait Association for the Basic Evaluation of Human Rights were allowed to visit prisons during the year. A government official stated that local and international NGOs visited prisons approximately 70 times during the year.

ICRC hosted training sessions on human rights standards related to arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures for judicial police from the DGSN and National Gendarmerie, as well as for judges.

Improvements: Authorities improved prison conditions to meet international standards. The Ministry of Justice’s Directorate of Penal Affairs and Pardons said that the government alleviated overcrowding by opening new detention centers during the year, including minimum-security centers that permitted prisoners to work. The DGSN announced the creation of a new human rights office in July; one of its functions is to ensure implementation of measures to improve detention conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. There were numerous reports, however, that police made arbitrary arrests, principally as part of sustained action against persons in the country illegally, regardless of their actual residency status.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police have sole responsibility for the enforcement of laws not related to national security, and the KSS oversees national security matters; both are under the purview of civilian authorities at the Ministry of Interior. The armed forces (land forces, air force, and navy) are responsible for external security and are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. The Kuwait National Guard is a separate entity that is responsible for critical infrastructure protection, support for the Ministries of Interior and Defense, and for the maintenance of national readiness. The Kuwait Coast Guard falls under the Ministry of Interior.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

Police were generally effective in carrying out core responsibilities. There were reports some police stations did not take criminal complaints seriously, especially those of foreigners, and of citizen and noncitizen victims of rape and domestic violence. Alleged crimes perpetrated by nationals against nonnationals rarely led to prosecution. Many cases reached an informal resolution through cash settlement. In cases of alleged police abuse, the district chief investigator is responsible for examining abuse allegations and refers cases to the courts for trial.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

A police officer generally must obtain an arrest warrant from a state prosecutor or a judge before making an arrest, except in cases of hot pursuit or observing the commission of a crime. There were numerous reports of police arresting and detaining foreign nationals without a warrant, primarily as part of the government’s action against unlawful residents. The courts usually do not accept cases without warrants issued prior to arrests. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them and allowed access to their lawyers and family members. There were cases of detainees, especially those held for drug crimes, who were detained for periods of one to two weeks, and who were unaware of the charges against them and not allowed access to an attorney.

Diplomatic representatives observed that in some detention cases, authorities permitted lawyers to attend legal proceedings but did not allow direct contact with their clients. Detainees were routinely denied access to their lawyers and translators in advance of hearings. Defendants who do not speak or understand Arabic often learned of charges against them after the trial as they did not have access to a translator when the charges were pressed against them. The law provides the detained person the right to a prompt judicial determination of the detention’s legality. If authorities file charges, a prosecutor may remand a suspect to detention for an additional 10 days for a misdemeanor and 20 days for a felony. Prosecutors also may obtain court orders for up to six months’ detention pending trial. There is a functioning bail system for defendants awaiting trial. The bar association provides lawyers for indigent defendants; in these cases defendants do not have the option of choosing which lawyer is assigned to them. Defendants in drug cases were usually held incommunicado for several days while their case was under investigation.

The Ministry of Interior investigates misdemeanor charges and refers cases to the misdemeanor courts as appropriate. The undersecretary in the Ministry of Interior is responsible for approving all administrative deportation orders.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports that police arbitrarily detained nonnationals during raids, including some who possessed valid residency permits and visas.

Pretrial Detention: Arbitrary lengthy detention before trial sometimes occurred. Authorities held some detainees beyond the maximum detention period of six months. The total staff of 600 judges and 300 prosecutors at the Ministry of Justice was reported as being inadequate to handle cases in a timely manner and was the main cause of delays in processing cases.

Excessive detention at the government-run Talha Deportation Center, in J’leeb al-Shyoukh, where there are no maximum time limits on detention prior to deportation, was also a problem, particularly when the detainee owed money to a citizen or was a citizen from a country without diplomatic representation in the country to facilitate exit documents.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees, and those convicted by a court, were able to challenge their detention. Criminal lawyers reported that defendants were able to challenge their detention successfully, particularly in cases involving cases involving drug and alcohol use, by showing violation of the legal process by law enforcement officers at the time of arrest, resulting in acquittals in court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law and the constitution provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The Supreme Judicial Council nominates all prosecutors and judges and submits nominees to the emir for approval. Judges who were citizens received lifetime appointments until they reached mandatory retirement age; judges who were noncitizens held one to three-year renewable contracts. The Supreme Judicial Council may remove judges for cause. Noncitizen residents involved in legal disputes with citizens frequently alleged the courts showed bias in favor of citizens. While no legal provisions prohibit women from appointment as judges and public prosecutors, the only path to those positions is through work in the prosecutor’s office.

Under the law questions of citizenship or residency status and various provisions of immigration law are not subject to judicial review, so noncitizens arrested, for example, for unlawful residency, or those whose lawful residency is canceled due to an arrest, have no access to the courts. The law subjects noncitizens charged with noncriminal offenses, including some residency and traffic violations, to administrative deportations that cannot be challenged in court; however, noncitizens charged in criminal cases face legal deportations, which can be challenged in court.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The law forbids physical and psychological abuse of the accused. Under the law defendants also enjoy the right to be present at their trial, as well as the provision of prompt, detailed information on charges against them. There were cases where non-Arabic speaking defendants did not understand the charges against them due to language barriers and restrictions on communication between lawyers and their clients. Defendants were not always provided with interpreters as required by law. Criminal trials are public unless a court decides “maintenance of public order” or the “preservation of public morals” necessitates closed proceedings. The bar association is obligated upon court request to appoint an attorney without charge for indigent defendants in civil, commercial, and criminal cases, and defendants used these services. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The public did not have access to most court documents. The Ministry of Justice is required to provide defendants with an interpreter for the entire judicial process, but in practice this did not always occur.

Defendants have the right to confront their accusers, to confront witnesses against them, and to present their own witnesses, although these rights were not always respected in practice. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal verdicts to a higher court, and many persons exercised this right.

Under the new domestic labor law, domestic workers are exempted from litigation fees. If foreign workers had no legal representation, the public prosecutor arranged for it on their behalf, but with little or no involvement by the workers or their families. When workers received third-party assistance to bring a case, the cases were often resolved when the employer paid a monetary settlement to avoid a trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were several instances of persons detained for their political views. Throughout the year the government arrested several individuals on charges such as insulting the emir, insulting leaders of neighboring countries, or insulting the judiciary. While authorities arrested and released some individuals after a few days, they held others for weeks or months pending trial. During the year sentences for insulting or speaking out against the emir or other leaders on social media ranged from a few months in prison to up to 10 years.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary by individuals or organizations in civil matters regarding human rights violations, but authorities occasionally did not enforce such rulings for political reasons. Authorities also occasionally used administrative punishments in civil matters, such as instituting travel bans or deportations. Individuals were able to appeal adverse domestic court decisions to international human rights bodies if they chose to do so.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government respected these prohibitions. Cybercrime agents within the Ministry of Interior, however, regularly monitored publicly accessible social media sites and sought information about owners of accounts, although foreign-owned social media companies denied most requests for information.

In 2015 the government passed a DNA law requiring all persons entering the country, including citizens and noncitizens, to submit DNA samples for security purposes. In October the Constitutional Court ruled that the DNA Law was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the constitution’s articles on personal liberty, leading to the immediate revocation of the law.

The law forbids marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men and requires male citizens serving in police or the military to obtain government approval to marry nonnationals. Nevertheless, the government offered only nonbinding advice on such matters and generally did not prevent marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country’s diplomats were prohibited from marrying noncitizens.

The government may deny a citizenship application by a bidoon resident based on security or criminal violations committed by the individual’s family members. Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status derives from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted this right in the case of noncitizens. The law prohibits them from demonstrating or protesting.

Officials sometimes also restricted the location of planned protests to designated public spaces, citing public safety and traffic concerns. In April, however, hundreds of supporters of the prominent opposition leader Musallam al-Barrak celebrated his release from prison with an impromptu rally and procession from the Central Prison to his house without any government interference. In the past courts have tried and sentenced participants in unlicensed demonstrations to prison terms and deported noncitizens for participating in rallies.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. The law prohibits officially registered groups from engaging in political activities.

The government used its power to register associations as a means of political influence. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor can also reject an NGO’s application if it deems the NGO does not provide a public service. In May there were approximately 115 officially licensed NGOs in the country, including a bar association, other professional groups, and scientific bodies as well as 18 charities. Most charity closings resulted from improper reporting of fund raising activities, which included not getting permission from the ministry or failing to submit annual financial reports. Dozens of unlicensed civic groups, clubs, and unofficial NGOs had no legal status, and many of those chose not to register due to bureaucratic inconvenience or inability to meet the minimum 50-member threshold. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor rejected some license requests, contending established NGOs already provided services similar to those the petitioners proposed. Members of licensed NGOs must obtain permission from the ministry to attend international conferences as official representatives of their organization.

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 generally provides for freedom of internal movement, but numerous laws constrain foreign travel.

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were widespread reports of abuse of migrant workers, especially domestic workers from Asia. Because there is no path to citizenship, all workers are considered expatriates and not labelled as migrants.

The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. There is no system for providing protection to refugees, and the government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year. According to UNHCR there were more than 3,000 registered asylum seekers and recognized refugees in the country. Most of these were from Syria, Iraq, and Somalia, and many were either employed with access to basic services or supported by human rights groups pending resolution of their UNHCR asylum requests and resettlement. Many were increasingly fearful of losing their jobs and/or residency status. Due to populist antiexpatriate sentiments in the country, the cabinet enacted policy making healthcare and education more expensive for foreign workers than for citizens. The immediate effect of this policy was witnessed by human rights organizations who reported that many foreign workers and their families that were receiving medical treatment chose to be discharged from hospitals rather than receive treatment they could no longer afford. Compounded by stagnant wages, higher cost of living, and a lack of job security, more persons–even legally employed workers, especially from conflict zones–began seeking asylum and resettlement in Europe, America, and Australia.

The law does not provide noncitizens, including bidoon, a clear or defined opportunity to gain nationality. The judicial system’s lack of authority to rule on the status of stateless persons further complicated the process for obtaining citizenship, leaving bidoon with no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship. According to 2016 government figures, there were approximately 96,000 bidoon in the country, while Human Rights Watch estimated the bidoon population at more than 105,000.

The naturalization process for bidoon is not transparent, and decisions appeared arbitrary. The Central Agency for Illegal Residents, tasked with monitoring bidoon affairs, had more than 96,000 bidoon citizenship requests under review. According to UNHCR the bidoon population can be broken down into 8,000 who have clear and legitimate claims to citizenship, 35,000 who could possibly be eligible, and the remainder who have little or no claim under current laws.

According to bidoon activists and government officials, many bidoon were unable to provide documentation proving ties to the country sufficient to qualify for citizenship. The government alleged that the vast majority of bidoon concealed their “true” nationalities and were not actually stateless. Agency officials have extended special benefits to bidoon to entice them disclose their true nationality. So far 10,000 bidoon have admitted holding other nationalities. They claimed benefits that include residency that can be renewed every five years, free healthcare and education services as well as ration cards. Other privileges to those that come forward to adjust their status include priority employment after local nationals and obtaining driving licenses.

According to UNHCR some bidoon underwent DNA testing to prove their Kuwaiti nationality. Bidoon are required to submit DNA samples confirming paternity in order to become naturalized, a practice critics said leaves them vulnerable to denial of citizenship based on DNA testing.

The government discriminated against bidoon in some areas. Some bidoon and international NGOs reported that the government did not uniformly grant some government services and subsidies to bidoon, including education, employment, medical care, and the issuance of civil documents, such as birth, marriage, and death certificates. Bidoon activists claimed many bidoon families were unable to obtain birth certificates for their children, which restricted the children’s ability to obtain government-issued identification cards, access adequate medical care, and attend school. The Court of Appeals affirmed court jurisdiction over bidoon complaints against the Central Agency including those related to certificate issuance. The Court of Appeals overturned the ruling issued by a first instance court that dismissed a complaint by a female bidoon against the agency that denied her the right to be issued some certificates over lack of jurisdiction. The agency attorneys pleaded that the agency work falls under the “sovereignty acts” that cannot be challenged in courts (such as citizenship issues).

The Ministry of Education partners with the Charity Fund for Education to pay for bidoon children to attend private schools, but the children must fall into one of seven categories to qualify for an education grant.

Many adult bidoon also lacked identification cards, preventing them from engaging in lawful employment or obtaining travel documents. This restriction resulted in some bidoon children not receiving an education and working as street vendors to help support their families. Many bidoon children who attended school enrolled in substandard private institutions because only citizens may attend public school.

The government allowed bidoon to work in some government positions, as dictated in the 2011 decree, including in the military. In April the government announced a new initiative that would allow the sons of soldiers who served in the military for 30 years and the sons of soldiers killed or missing in action to be eligible to join the military.

Since the government treats them as illegal immigrants, bidoon do not have property rights.

Foreign Travel: Bidoon and foreign workers faced problems with, or restrictions on, foreign travel. The government restricted the ability of some bidoon to travel abroad by not issuing travel documents, although it permitted some bidoon to travel overseas for medical treatment and education, and to visit Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage). The Ministry of Interior has not issued “Article 17” passports (temporary travel documents that do not confer nationality) to bidoon except on humanitarian grounds since 2014.

The law also permits travel bans on citizens and nonnationals accused or suspected of violating the law, including nonpayment of debts, and it allows other citizens to petition authorities to impose one. This provision resulted in delays and difficulties for citizens and foreigners leaving the country.

Exile: While the constitution prohibits exile of citizens, the government can deport foreigners for a number of legal infractions.

Citizenship: By law the government is prohibited from revoking the citizenship of an individual who was born a citizen unless that individual has obtained a second nationality, which is against the law. The country does not give birthright citizenship based on the right of anyone born in the territory to nationality or citizenship. Additionally, the government can revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens for cause, including a felony conviction and, subsequently, deport them. The government has justified the revocation of citizenship by citing a 1959 nationality law that permits withdrawal of citizenship from naturalized Kuwaitis who acquired citizenship dishonestly or threatened to “undermine the economic or social structure of the country.” Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status derives from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights. The Court of Cassation ruled that the courts had jurisdiction over citizen revocation cases. Persons who had their citizenship revoked, and any family members dependent on that individual for their citizenship status, became stateless individuals. Authorities can seize the passports and civil identification cards of persons who lose their citizenship and enter a “block” on their names in government databases. This “block” prevented former citizens from traveling or accessing health care and other government services reserved for citizens. In April the Council of Ministers created a committee presided over by emiri adviser and former speaker Ali al-Rashid to review complaints of citizenship revocations since 1991. The committee restored the citizenships of seven out of 184 families. There were no known revocations of citizenship during the year.

The law prohibits the granting of citizenship to non-Muslims, but it allows non-Muslim male citizens to transmit citizenship to their descendants. According to the law, children derive citizenship solely from the father; children born to citizen mothers and nonnational fathers do not inherit citizenship. Female citizens may sponsor their nonnational children (regardless of age) and husbands for residency permits, and they may petition for naturalization for their children if the mother becomes divorced or widowed from a noncitizen husband.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens had only limited, indirect control of the executive branch because the constitution stipulates the country is a hereditary emirate. The 50 elected members of the National Assembly (along with government-appointed ministers) must, by majority vote based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot providing for the free expression and the will of the people, approve the emir’s choice of crown prince (the future emir). According to the Succession Law, the crown prince must be a male descendant of Sheikh Mubarak Al Sabah and meet three additional requirements: have attained the age of 30, possess a sound mind, and be a legitimate son of Muslim parents. The National Assembly may remove the emir from power by a two-thirds majority vote if it finds that any of these three conditions is or was not met.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers generally considered the 2016 parliamentary election free and fair and found no serious procedural problems. The election followed the emir’s October 2016 order to dissolve the National Assembly because of “mounting security challenges and volatile regional developments.” Most opposition politicians and their supporters who boycotted the 2013 election returned and participated without incident. Official turnout for the 2016 elections was approximately 70 percent.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not recognize any political parties or allow their formation, although no formal law bans political parties. National Assembly candidates must nominate themselves as individuals. Well-organized, unofficial blocs operated as political groupings, and MPs formed loose alliances. The law prohibits primaries during elections, but some tribes continue to hold unofficial primaries to select candidates for the National Assembly elections. In June the National Assembly amended the election law to bar those convicted of insulting the emir and Islam from running for elected office. Voters register to vote every February upon reaching the voting age of 21. Prosecutors and judges from the Ministry of Justice supervise election stations. Women prosecutors served as supervisors for the first time during the 2016 elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Although women gained the right to vote in 2005, they still faced cultural and social barriers to political participation. For example, some tribal leaders have successfully excluded women from participating in local and national elections by banning them from being considered in unofficial tribal primaries. In the 2016 elections, 15 women filed candidate applications. One candidate withdrew resulting in 14 women standing for election with one woman successfully winning a seat. Women voted at a higher rate than men, having registered at 52.4 percent versus 47.6 percent.

No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate in political life. Although women were granted the right to vote and run for office in 2005, there is currently only one elected woman and two appointed women cabinet members in the country’s 65-seat parliament of which 15 seats are held ex-officio for cabinet members. In the 2016 parliamentary elections, candidates from the Shia community, which comprised approximately one-third of the citizen population, won six seats in parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law mandates criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Government observers believed officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

There were many reports that individuals had to pay intermediaries to receive routine government services. Police corruption was a problem, especially when one party to a dispute had a personal relationship with a police official involved in a case. Widespread reports indicated that police favored citizens over noncitizens. There were several reports of corruption in the procurement and bidding processes for lucrative government contracts.

All judicial officers received training on corruption and transparency obligations as part of the Judicial Institute’s official curriculum.

Corruption: The Audit Bureau is an agency responsible for supervising public expenses and revenues and for preventing any misuse or manipulation of public funds. The government distributes reports by the Audit Bureau annually to the emir, prime minister, head of parliament, and minister of finance. The public did not have access to these reports. The parliamentary Committee on the Protection of Public Funds frequently announced inquiries into suspected misuse of public funds, but none resulted in prosecution during the year. In June the Committee recommended the referral of KGL Investment (KGLI) to the Public Prosecution for irregularities found in its contract with the Kuwait Port Authority. It was alleged that KGLI and the Port Authority manipulated ledgers and other documents, allowing KGLI to control almost one million square meters of property in Abdullah Port rent free.

A 2012 law establishing an Anticorruption Authority (ACA) was overturned by the Constitutional Court in 2015 because the law was based on emergency decree. In January 2016 the National Assembly passed a new draft bill to re-establish the ACA, which was implemented in November 2016. The law charges the ACA with receiving and analyzing complaints and forwarding complaints to the appropriate authorities in either the Public Prosecutor’s Office or police for further investigation or action.

Media and government officials reported cases of widespread, visa-related corruption, namely selling visas or visa fraud, at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and Ministry of Interior. According to a study conducted by the Research and Studies Sector at the National Assembly, 73 percent of marginal workers were victims of visa traders. The study criticized the government for failure to curb this illegal trade and bring perpetrators to justice. The study stated that in 2014, 40,000 marginal workers were brought into the country based on 1,000 false commercial licenses.

Financial Disclosure: In November 2016 government officials began filing financial disclosure statements with the ACA after the law came into effect. Approximately 10,000 officials are required to submit this disclosure, and 9,730 officials have complied with the law.

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

The government imposed some limits on the operations of domestic and international human rights groups. A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with limited restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The law permits the existence of NGOs, but the government continued to deny registration to some. NGOs may not engage in political activity or encourage sectarianism. Officially registered groups must demonstrate that their existence is in the public interest. Official NGOs must show they will conduct business beneficial to the country; their work cannot undermine cultural values and norms as defined by the government. Major local independent NGOs dedicated specifically to human rights included the Kuwait Human Rights Society and the Kuwaiti Society for Fundamental Human Rights. The Kuwait Trade Union Federation was the local affiliate of the Solidarity Center. In 2015 the government dissolved the board of directors of the local chapter of Transparency International, accusing the NGO of exaggerating the level of corruption in the country. Since January 2016 the board has been reinstated, but the NGO had its assets sold and employees let go by the interim government-appointed board. The NGO did not receive permission to raise funds from international organizations/donors.

Locally licensed NGOs devoted to the rights or welfare of specific groups–such as women, children, prisoners, and persons with disabilities–operated with little government interference, as did a few dozen local, unregistered human rights groups. The government and various National Assembly committees met occasionally with local NGOs and generally responded to their inquiries.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Assembly’s Human Rights Committee, which operated independently of the government, is an advisory body that primarily hears individual complaints of human rights abuses and worked with the plaintiff and relevant stakeholders to reach a mutual settlement. The committee visited the Central Prison and the central deportation center throughout the year to review overcrowding, prison and detainee treatment, and the condition of both facilities. The committee had adequate resources and was considered effective. In 2015 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs established an office of human rights funded by and under the authority of the ministry’s legal department. The office’s purpose is to produce human rights reports and respond to such reports produced by international organizations and governments that referenced the country.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape carries a maximum penalty of death, which the courts occasionally imposed for the crime; spousal rape and domestic violence are not considered crimes. Authorities did not effectively enforce laws against rape. Violence against women continued to be a problem. The penal code allows for a rapist to elude punishment on the condition that he marry his victim and her guardian consents that the perpetrator not be punished. There were reports alleging that some police stations did not take seriously reports by both citizens and noncitizens of rape and domestic violence.

When reported, police typically arrested and investigated alleged rapists and, in a limited number of cases, prosecuted the accused. In January an Egyptian woman was raped by a fellow Egyptian national. The perpetrator was not arrested, but he was sentenced in his absence to 10 years in prison.

The government does not publish statistics on violence against women. During the year a Kuwait University study found that 40 percent of married women were victims of domestic violence. There were no known shelters specifically for victims of domestic violence.

A woman may petition for divorce based on injury from spousal abuse, but the law does not provide a clear legal standard regarding what constitutes injury. Additionally, a woman must provide at least two male witnesses (or a male witness and two female witnesses) to attest to such injury.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Officials did not report any honor killings during the year. The penal code treats some honor crimes as misdemeanors. The law states that a man who sees his wife, daughter, mother, or sister in the “act of adultery” and immediately kills her or the man with whom she is committing adultery faces a maximum punishment of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 225 dinars ($743).

Sexual Harassment: Human rights groups characterized sexual harassment in the workplace as a pervasive and unreported problem. No specific law addresses sexual harassment, but the law criminalizes “encroachment on honor,” which encompasses everything from touching a woman against her will to rape, and police strictly enforced this law. The government deployed female police officers specifically to combat sexual harassment in shopping malls and other public spaces. Perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault faced fines and imprisonment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Women do not enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, but citizen women enjoyed many political rights, including the right to vote and to serve in parliament and the cabinet (see section 3, Elections and Political Participation). Sharia (Islamic law) courts have jurisdiction over personal status and family law cases for Sunni and Shia Muslims. Sharia, as implemented in the country, discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, freedom of movement, marriage, child custody, and inheritance. There were no known cases of official or private sector discrimination in accessing credit, owning and/or managing a business, and securing housing. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women. Secular courts allow any person to testify and consider male and female testimony equally, but in sharia courts, which govern personal status matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance issues, the testimony of one man equals that of two women.

The 1984 Kuwaiti Family Law Code prohibits marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men. The law does not require a non-Muslim woman to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim man, but many non-Muslim women faced strong economic and societal pressure to convert. In the event of a divorce, the law grants the father or his family sole custody of children of non-Muslim women who do not convert. A non-Muslim woman who does not convert to the religion of her husband is also ineligible for naturalization as a citizen and cannot inherit her husband’s property unless specified as a beneficiary in his will.

Inheritance is also governed by sharia, which varies according to the specific school of Islamic jurisprudence. In the absence of a direct male heir, a Shia woman may inherit all property, while a Sunni woman inherits only a portion, with the balance divided among brothers, uncles, and male cousins of the deceased.

Female citizens are unable to pass citizenship to their noncitizen husbands or their children; however, exceptions were made for some children of widowed or divorced female citizens. Male citizens married to female noncitizens do not face such discrimination.

Women experienced discrimination in the workplace (see section 7.d.).

The law requires segregation by gender of classes at all universities and secondary schools, although it was not always enforced.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives entirely from the father; children born to citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers do not inherit citizenship unless the mother is divorced or widowed from the noncitizen father and may then facilitate the child’s application for citizenship. The government designates religion on birth and marriage certificates. The government often granted citizenship to orphaned or abandoned infants, including bidoon infants. Parents were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for their bidoon children because of extensive administrative requirements that prevented such children from accessing public services such as education and health care.

Education: Education for citizens is free through the university level and compulsory through the secondary level. Education is neither free nor compulsory for noncitizens. A 2011 Council of Ministers decree extended education benefits to bidoon.

Medical Care: Lack of identification papers sometimes restricted bidoon access to public medical care.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 17 for boys and 15 for girls, but girls continued to marry at a younger age in some tribal groups.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There are no laws specific to child pornography, because all pornography is illegal. There is no statutory rape law or minimum age for consensual sexual relations, although premarital sexual relations are illegal.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were no known Jewish citizens and an estimated few dozen Jewish foreign resident workers. Anti-Semitic rhetoric often originated from self-proclaimed Islamists or conservative opinion writers. These columnists often conflated Israeli government actions or views with those of Jews more broadly. Reflecting the government’s nonrecognition of Israel, there are longstanding official instructions to teachers to expunge any references to Israel or the Holocaust from English-language textbooks. The law prohibits companies from conducting business with Israeli citizens, including transporting them on their national airlines.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with permanent physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. It imposes penalties on employers who refrain without reasonable cause from hiring persons with disabilities. The law also mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions. Noncitizens with disabilities neither had access to government-operated facilities nor received stipends paid to citizens with disabilities that covered transportation, housing, job training, and social welfare costs. The government still has not fully implemented social and workplace aides for persons with physical, and in particular, vision disabilities.

There is a disability law, and a parliamentary Committee for Disabled Affairs. Under that law the monthly allowance given to the mother of a disabled child or the wife of a person with disabilities is 600 dinars ($1,980), and families of citizens with disabilities are eligible to receive grants worth up to 20,000 dinars ($66,000).

During the year the government reserved a small number of admissions to Kuwait University for citizens with disabilities, and there was regular media coverage of students with disabilities attending university classes. Nonetheless, authorities did not provide noncitizens with disabilities the same educational opportunities, and noncitizen students with disabilities experienced a lack of accessible materials and lack of reasonable accommodations in schools.

Children with disabilities attended public school. The government supervised and contributed to schools and job training programs oriented to persons with disabilities.

nforce payment of fines. The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and the Status of Women provided some financial support to health-care-oriented NGOs, but for many NGOs, such financial support represented a small fraction of their budgets. The government provided disability benefits to persons with disabilities who registered.

The Ministry of Solidarity reported that it ran 242 centers throughout the country that provided support for persons with intellectual, auditory, vision, and physical disabilities. The ministry stated that it worked with the Ministry of Education to integrate children with disabilities into public schools to promote inclusion. The majority of the ministry’s programs for children with disabilities remained in social centers for children with disabilities rather than in formal educational institutions. Advocacy groups reported that children with disabilities rarely attended school past the secondary level. Many schools lacked teachers trained to work with children with disabilities, threatening the viability of efforts to mainstream children with disabilities into public schools.

Many persons with disabilities faced challenges in voting due to voting centers that lacked accessible features.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Approximately 70 percent of residents were noncitizens, many originating from other parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia. Societal discrimination against noncitizens and bidoon was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment (see section 7.d.), education, housing, social interaction, and health care. As part of expanded activity against illegal residents, police stopped, arrested, and sometimes deported noncitizens believed to be using private automobiles as taxis. This action disproportionately affected the noncitizen laborers who could not afford their own automobiles or taxi fares.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men and crossdressing are illegal. The law punishes consensual same-sex sexual activity between men older than 21 with imprisonment of up of to seven years; those engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity with men younger than 21 may be imprisoned for as long as 10 years. No laws criminalize sexual behavior between women. The law imposes a fine of 1,059 dinars ($3,495) and imprisonment for one to three years for persons imitating the appearance of the opposite sex in public. Transgender persons reported harassment, detention, and abuse by security forces.

Societal discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity occurred; to a lesser extent, officials also practiced such discrimination, usually upon discovering that a person stopped for a traffic violation did not appear to be the gender indicated on the identification card. Transgender men and women often faced rejection by their families and, in some cases, disputes over inheritances.

No registered NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, although unregistered ones existed. Due to social convention and potential repression, LGBTI organizations neither operated openly nor held gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Local human rights NGOs reported no accounts of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but persons with HIV/AIDS did not generally disclose their status due to social stigma associated with the disease.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Unmarried men continued to face housing discrimination based solely on marital status. The law prohibits single men from obtaining accommodation in many urban residential areas. Single noncitizens faced eviction due to a decision by the municipality to enforce this prohibition and remove them from residences allocated for citizens’ families, citing the presence of single men as the reason for increasing crime, a burden on services, and worsening traffic.

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 trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The government, however, did not always respect these rights.

The law does not apply to public-sector employees, domestic workers, or maritime employees. Discrete labor laws set work conditions in the public and private sectors, with the oil industry treated separately. The law permits limited trade union pluralism at the local level, but the government authorized only one federation, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation (KTUF). The law also stipulates any new union must include at least 100 workers and that at least 15 of the total number must be citizens.

The law provides workers, except for domestic workers, maritime workers, and civil servants, a limited right to collective bargaining. There is no minimum number of workers needed to conclude such agreements.

Public-sector workers do not have the right to strike. Private-sector workers have the right to strike, although cumbersome provisions calling for compulsory negotiation and arbitration in the case of disputes limit that right. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers or prevent the government from interfering in union activities, including the right to strike.

According to the Public Authority for Manpower, there were 2.63 million workers in the country. Only 18.1 percent of the total workforce were citizens. Most citizens (76 percent) worked in the public sector, in part because the government provided lucrative bonuses to citizens, including retirement funding.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference with union functions. It provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Nevertheless, the law empowers the courts to dissolve any union for violating labor laws or for threatening “public order and morals,” although a union can appeal such a court decision. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor can request the Court of First Instance to dissolve a union. Additionally, the emir may dissolve a union by decree.

Foreign workers, who constituted more than 80 percent of the workforce, may join unions only as nonvoting members after five years of work in the particular sector the union represents, provided they obtain a certificate of good conduct and moral standing from the government. They cannot run for seats or vote in board elections. Both the International Labor Organization and the International Trade Union Confederation criticized the citizenship requirement for discouraging unions in sectors that employ few citizens, including much of private-sector employment, such as construction.

The government enforced applicable laws, with some exceptions, and procedures were generally not subject to lengthy delay or appeals.

The government treated worker actions by citizens and noncitizens differently. While citizens and public sector union leaders and workers faced no government repercussions for their roles in union or strike activities, companies directly threatened noncitizen workers calling for strikes with termination and deportation.

In February 300 Bangladeshi workers staged a peaceful sit-in protest at their accommodation camp over unpaid salaries and alleged extortionary behavior by their employer in exchange for their residency visas. They claimed that their Bangladeshi supervisor was regularly charging them fees for taking annual leave or renewing residency documents. Labor officers from the Bangladesh Embassy confirmed the labor violations and worked with local authorities to provide for payment of salaries.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminally sanctions forced or compulsory labor “except in cases specified by law for national emergency and with just remuneration.” Although the law prohibits withholding of workers’ passports, the practice remained common among sponsors and employers of foreign workers and the government demonstrated no consistent efforts to enforce this prohibition. Employers confined some domestic and agricultural workers to their workspaces by retaining their passport and, in the case of some domestic workers, locked in their work locations. Workers who fled abusive employers had difficulty retrieving their passports, and authorities deported them in almost all cases. The government usually limited punishment to assessing fines, shutting employment firms, issuing orders for employers to return withheld passports, or requiring employers to pay back wages. In October the government conducted raids on fake and inactive companies that resulted in the suspension of 843 commercially licensed companies with over 5,911 registered workers. These companies were founded only to sell visas to foreign workers; once the workers were registered to the fake companies, they would be unemployed or worked as marginal workers or trafficked.

Some incidents of forced labor and conditions indicative of forced labor occurred, especially among foreign domestic and agricultural workers. Such practices were usually a result of employer abuse of the sponsorship system (kafala) for noncitizen workers. Employers frequently illegally withheld salaries from domestic workers and minimum-wage laborers.

According to various reports, North Korean laborers, estimated to number between 2,500 and 3,000, worked in forced labor conditions, averaging 15-hour days with no freedom of movement and living in squalid conditions. Former North Korean laborers and officials indicated that employers paid worker salaries to a North Korean government-owned company instead of directly to the individual workers. In 2016 the government halted all North Korean flights to Kuwait and ceased issuing new work visas for North Korean workers. In September the government reaffirmed its commitment to the international community and stopped renewing visas for existing workers.

Domestic servitude was the most common type of forced labor, principally involving foreign domestic workers employed under the sponsorship system, but reports of forced labor in the construction and sanitation sectors also existed. Forced labor conditions for migrant workers included nonpayment of wages, long working hours, deprivation of food, threats, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as withholding passports or confinement to the workplace. As of October, employers filed 8,976 “absconding” reports against employees and domestic workers filed 323 complaints against their employers in accordance with the new domestic labor law. Numerous domestic workers who escaped from abusive employers reported waiting several months to regain passports, which employers illegally confiscated when they began their employment.

The Public Authority for Manpower operated a shelter for abused domestic workers. As of October, according to a government source, the shelter had a capacity of 500 victims and housed on average 350 at any one time. International and national organizations had relatively open access to workers residing in the shelter and reported adequate living conditions.

In 2016 the government began implementing the 2015 domestic worker labor law that requires employers to grant domestic workers a maximum 12-hour workday, with one day off per week and 30 days paid leave per year. The law also establishes a minimum wage of 60 dinars ($198), end-of-service benefits–one month’s wage for every year worked–and bans employing domestic workers below age 20 or more than 50 years of age. Parliament also voted in 2015 to establish a shareholding public-sector company for recruiting domestic workers. The company officially launched its services in September and initially planned to bring 120 domestic workers a month from the Philippines and about 100 male workers from India. The government-owned company is mandated to provide training for domestic workers and cut out middlemen to lower recruitment fees for employers. The target recruitment fee is between 120 and 280 dinars ($396 and $924) per worker, depending on experience and skillset. The government regularly conducted information awareness campaigns via media outlets and public events and otherwise informed employers to encourage compliance by the public and private recruiting companies with the new law.

There were numerous media reports throughout the year of sponsors abusing domestic workers or significantly injuring them while they tried to escape; some reports alleged abuse resulted in workers’ deaths. Female domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. Police and courts were reluctant to prosecute citizens for abuse in private residences but prosecuted serious cases of abuse when reported. According to a high-level government official, authorities prosecuted several cases of domestic worker abuse. In April a video of an Ethiopian domestic worker falling out of a 7th floor apartment window went viral. The videographer of the incident was the employer who stood watching and recording as the domestic worker pleaded for help and eventually lost her grip and fell several stories, surviving the fall but sustaining serious injuries. The employer was arrested for failing to help the worker.

Numerous media reports highlighted the problem of visa trading, where companies and recruitment agencies work together to “sell” visas to prospective workers. Often times the jobs and companies attached to these visas do not exist, and the workers are left to be exploited and find work in the black market to earn a living and pay back the cost of the residency visa. Arrests of visa traffickers and illegal labor rings occurred almost weekly. Since workers cannot freely change jobs, they were sometimes willing to leave their initial job due to low wages or unacceptable working conditions and enter into an illegal residency status with the hope of improved working conditions at another job.

Also seethe 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 child labor. The legal minimum age for employment is 18, although employers may obtain permits from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor to employ juveniles between 15 and 18 in some nonhazardous trades. Juveniles may work a maximum of six hours a day with no more than four consecutive hours followed by a one-hour rest period. Juveniles cannot work overtime or between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Although not extensive, there were credible reports that children of South Asian origin worked as domestic laborers. Some underage workers entered the country on travel documents with falsified birth dates.

The government made efforts to enforce laws regulating child labor. Approximately 460 Public Authority for Manpower labor and occupational safety inspectors routinely monitored private firms for labor law compliance, including laws against child labor. Noncompliant employers faced fines or a forced suspension of their company operations. Nevertheless, the government did not consistently enforce child labor laws in the informal sector, such as in street vending.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, sex, gender, and disability. The government immediately deports HIV-positive foreign workers, and there is no protection for workers based on sexual orientation. No laws prohibit labor discrimination based on language, non-HIV communicable diseases, or social status, but there were no reported cases of discrimination in these areas.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women. Domestic workers were at particular risk of discrimination or abuse due to the isolated home environment in which they worked. Shia continued to report government discrimination based on religion. For example, Shia were represented in police force and military/security apparatus, although not in all branches and often not in leadership positions. Some Shia continued to allege that a glass ceiling of discrimination prevented them from obtaining leadership positions in public-sector organizations, including the security services. In the private sector, Shia were generally represented at all levels in proportion to their percentage of the population.

The law states that a woman should receive “remuneration equal to that of a man provided she does the same work,” although it prohibits women from working in “dangerous industries” and in trades “harmful” to health. Educated women contended the conservative nature of society restricted career opportunities, although there were limited improvements. While 72 percent of college graduates from Kuwait University were women, they were underrepresented among the number of students sent to study internationally, likely due to societal concerns about permitting young women to study away from their families. According to government statistics submitted to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women meeting in Geneva in November, women represented 51 percent of the population but had a total female workforce participation rate of 56 percent.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets the national minimum wage in the oil and private sector at 75 dinars ($247) per month. The actual minimum wage for domestic workers was 60 dinars ($198) per month. Most low-wage employees lived and worked in the country without their families, and employers generally provided at least some form of housing.

The law limits the standard workweek to 48 hours (40 hours for the petroleum industry), and gives private-sector workers 30 days of annual leave. The law also forbids requiring employees to work more than 60 hours per week or 10 hours per day. The law provides for 13 designated national holidays annually. Workers are entitled to 125 percent of base pay for working overtime and 150 percent of base pay for working on their designated weekly day off.

The government issued occupational health and safety standards that were current and appropriate for the main industries. For example, the law provides that all outdoor work stop between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. during June, July, and August, or when the temperature rises to more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. A worker could file a complaint against an employer with the Public Authority for Manpower if the worker believed his safety and health were at risk.

The law and regulations governing acceptable conditions of work do not apply to domestic workers. The Ministry of Interior has jurisdiction over domestic worker matters and enforces domestic labor working standards.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcement of wages, hours, overtime, and occupational safety and health regulations of nondomestic workers. Enforcement by the ministry was generally good, but there were gaps in enforcement with respect to unskilled foreign laborers. Several ministry officials cited inadequate numbers of inspectors as the main reason for their inability to enforce the laws to the best of their abilities.

Approximately 460 labor and occupational safety inspectors monitored private firms. The government periodically inspected enterprises to raise awareness among workers and employers and to assure that they abided by existing safety rules, controlled pollution in certain industries, trained workers to use machines, and reported violations.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor monitored work sites to inspect for compliance with rules banning summer work and recorded hundreds of violations during the year. Workers could also report these violations to their embassies, the KTUF, or the Labor Disputes Department. Noncompliant employers faced warnings, fines, or forced suspensions of company operations, but these were not sufficient to deter violators.

In the first 10 months of the year, the Labor Disputes Department received 10,821 complaints from workers of which 3,173 were referred to the courts; these complaints were either about contract issues, such as nonpayment of wages, or about difficulties transferring work visas to new companies. Most of the complaints were resolved in arbitration, with the remaining cases referred to the courts for resolution.

At times the Public Authority for Manpower intervened to resolve labor disputes between foreign workers and their employers. The authority’s labor arbitration panel sometimes ruled in favor of foreign laborers who claimed violations of work contracts by their employers. The government was more effective in resolving unpaid salary disputes involving private sector laborers than those involving domestic workers. By October Minister of Social Affairs and Labor won 58 court cases against visa traders. According to officials the 350 court cases were filed by the ministry against visa traders.

Foreign workers were vulnerable to unacceptable conditions of work. Domestic workers and other unskilled foreign workers in the private sector frequently worked substantially in excess of 48 hours a week, with no day of rest.

Domestic workers had little recourse when employers violated their rights except to seek admittance to the domestic workers shelter where the government mediated between sponsors and workers either to assist the worker in finding an alternate sponsor or to assist in voluntary repatriation. There were no inspections of private residences, the workplace of the majority of the country’s domestic workers. Reports indicated employers forced domestic workers to work overtime without additional compensation.

Some domestic workers did not have the ability to remove themselves from an unhealthy or unsafe situation without endangering their employment. There were reports of domestic workers’ committing or attempting to commit suicide due to desperation over abuse, including sexual violence or poor working conditions. In 2016 the government implemented the domestic labor law that provides legal protections for domestic workers for the first time. The law established a formal grievance process and identified the Domestic Labor Department at the Ministry of Interior as the sole arbitration entity for domestic worker labor disputes. A worker not satisfied with the department’s arbitration decision has the right to file a legal case via the labor court. As of October the department conducted 2,553 inspections of domestic worker recruiting agencies and closed 79 of them for failing to meet the requirements of the new law and shut 15 fake agencies.

Several embassies with large domestic worker populations in the country met with varying degrees of success in pressing the government to prosecute serious cases of domestic worker abuse. Severe cases included those where there were significant, life-threatening injuries.

Kyrgyz Republic

Executive Summary

The Kyrgyz Republic has a parliamentary form of government designed to limit presidential power and enhance the role of parliament and the prime minister. During presidential elections on October 15, the nation elected former prime minister and member of the ruling party, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, to succeed outgoing President Almazbek Atambaev. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described the elections as competitive and well administered, but it noted room for improvement in the legal framework to prevent misuse of public resources in election campaigns and to effectively deter vote buying.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces, particularly in the provinces of Jalal-Abad and Osh.

The most significant human rights issues included law enforcement and security services officers’ use of torture and arbitrary arrest; increasing pressure on independent media; harassment of journalists; selective and politically motivated prosecutions; pervasive corruption; forced labor; and attacks, threats, and systematic police-driven extortion of sexual and ethnic minority groups.

Official impunity was a significant problem. While authorities investigated reports of official abuse in the security services and elsewhere, they rarely prosecuted and punished officials accused of human rights violations, or complicity in trafficking.

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

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

There were no reports during the year that the government or its agents purposefully committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. There were no prominent reports during the year of alleged torture by security force personnel; nonetheless, physical abuse, including inhuman and degrading treatment, reportedly continued in prisons. Police abuse reportedly remained a problem, notably in pretrial detention.

On September 25, local media reported that the ombudsman opened an investigation into torture allegations made by a detainee at a Bishkek pretrial detention facility. The detainee alleged that police officers assaulted him and applied psychological pressure to extract a confession.

As in 2016, defense attorneys, journalists, and human rights monitoring organizations, including Golos Svobody, Bir Duino, and the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), reported incidents of serious abuse or torture by police and other law enforcement agencies. NGOs stated the government established strong torture-monitoring bodies but that the independence of these bodies was under threat.

Golos Svobody played a central role in monitoring allegations of torture and was the central organizer of the Antitorture Coalition, a consortium of 18 NGOs that continued to work with the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) to track complaints of torture.

The Antitorture Coalition also accepted complaints of torture and passed them to the PGO to facilitate investigations. According to members of the Antitorture Coalition, the cases it submitted against alleged torturers did not lead to convictions. In historical cases where police were put on trial for torture, prosecutors, judges, and defendants routinely raised procedural and substantive objections, delaying the cases, often resulting in stale evidence, and ultimately leading to case dismissal. During the year NGOs reported that courts regularly included into evidence confessions allegedly induced through torture.

Defense lawyers stated that, once prosecutors took a case to trial, a conviction was almost certain. According to Golos Svobody, investigators often took two weeks or longer to review torture claims, at which point the physical evidence of torture was no longer visible. Defense attorneys presented most allegations of torture during trial proceedings, and the courts typically rejected them. In some cases detainees who filed torture complaints later recanted, reportedly in the face of intimidation by law enforcement officers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to food and medicine shortages, substandard health care, lack of heat, and mistreatment.

Physical Conditions: Pretrial and temporary detention facilities were particularly overcrowded, and conditions and mistreatment generally were worse than in prisons. Authorities generally held juveniles separately from adults but grouped them in overcrowded temporary detention centers when other facilities were unavailable. Convicted prisoners occasionally remained in pretrial detention centers while their cases were under appeal.

NGOs reported that in some cases prison gangs controlled prison management and discipline, since prison officials lacked capacity and expertise in running a facility. In some instances the gangs controlled items that could be brought into the prison, such as food and clothing, while prison officials looked the other way. According to NGOs, authorities did not try to dismantle these groups because they were too powerful and believed that removing them could lead to chaos. Some prisoners indicated that prison order and safety was left to the prison gangs or prisoners themselves, resulting in instances of violence and intimidation among inmates.

Administration: Persons held in pretrial detention often did not have access to visitors. Prisoners have the right to file complaints with prison officials or with higher authorities. According to the NGO Bir Duino, prison staff inconsistently reported and documented complaints. Many observers believed that the official number of prisoner complaints of mistreatment represented only a small fraction of the actual cases.

Independent Monitoring: NGO leaders reported that prison officials increased openness to allowing monitors into prison and detention facilities, and most monitoring groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), reported receiving unfettered access. Some NGOs, including Bir Duino and Spravedlivost, had the right to visit prisons independently as part of their provision of technical assistance, such as medical and psychological care.

The National Center to Prevent Torture and other Inhuman and Offensive Treatment and Punishment, an independent and impartial body, is empowered to monitor detention facilities. The center consists of 11 government employees spread across seven offices and empowered to make unannounced, unfettered visits to detention facilities. NGO representatives stated that center officials made progress monitoring and documenting some violations in detention facilities, but they stressed, as they had in previous years, that a standardized approach to identifying torture cases and additional resources and staff members, were necessary to conduct its work.

An NGO representative stated that as of this year, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) would be responsible for handling torture investigations, working with the PGO to prosecute cases.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest, it continued to occur. Human rights organizations in Osh reported arrests unfairly targeting ethnic Uzbeks for alleged involvement in banned religious organizations and for alleged “religious extremism activity.” Arrests for lack of proper identification documents were common. Attorneys reported that police frequently arrested individuals on false charges and then solicited bribes in exchange for release.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The investigation of general and local crimes falls under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, while national-level crimes fall under the authority of the GKNB, which also controls the presidential security service. The PGO prosecutes both local and national crimes.

Both local and international observers said the GKNB and law enforcement officers engaged in widespread arbitrary arrests, including some alleged to be politically motivated, detainee abuse, and extortion, particularly in the southern part of the country. Authorities dismissed most cases against Ministry of Internal Affairs officials for corruption or abuse of authority.

NGOs and other legal observers routinely noted the lack of women and ethnic minorities in the police force and in all government positions. Officially, women and ethnic minorities (nonethnic Kyrgyz) made up approximately 6 and 4 percent of the police force, respectively. According to UN statistics, ethnic minorities constituted approximately 27 percent of the population.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

According to the criminal procedure code, only courts have the authority to issue search and seizure warrants. While prosecutors have the burden of proof in persuading a judge that a defendant should be detained pending trial, activists reported detention without a warrant or in contravention of regulatory standards remained common. NGOs reported that police targeted vulnerable defendants from whom they believed they could secure a bribe. Observers alleged incidents in which police targeted ethnic Uzbeks by planting literature and then charging them with possession of banned religious materials. Authorities could legally hold a detainee for 48 to 72 hours before filing charges; authorities generally respected these limits. The law requires investigators to notify a detainee’s family of the detention within 12 hours, but officials inconsistently enforced this provision. Following official charges, the courts have discretion to hold a suspect in pretrial detention for as much as one year, depending on the severity of the charges, after which they are legally required to release the suspect. There is a functioning bail system, and there are no alternatives to the bail system under the law.

Persons arrested or charged with a crime have the right to defense counsel at public expense. By law the accused has the right to consult with defense counsel immediately upon arrest or detention, but in many cases, the first meeting did not occur until the trial. As in past years, human rights groups noted incidents in which authorities denied attorneys to arrested minors, often holding the minors without parental notification and questioning them without parents or attorneys present, despite laws forbidding these practices.

The law authorizes the use of house arrest for certain categories of suspects. Reports indicated that law enforcement officers selectively enforced the law by incarcerating persons suspected of minor crimes while not pursuing those suspected of ones that are more serious.

Arbitrary Arrest: As in previous years, NGOs and monitoring organizations, including Golos Svobody, Bir Duino, HRW, Spravedlivost, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the OSCE, recorded complaints of arbitrary arrest. Most observers asserted it was impossible to know the number of cases because the majority went unreported. According to NGOs in the southern part of the country, arrests and harassment of individuals allegedly involved in extremist religious groups–predominantly ethnic Uzbeks–continued.

On July 2, residents of Kara-Kul, Jalal-Abad Oblast took to the streets to demand the resignation of police chief Kalyk Aytbayev. The residents complained that under Aytbayev, local police frequently planted drugs and banned extremist literature on detainees to justify arrests. On July 13, the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced it started an investigation against Aytbayev, who remained in his post.

On September 21, police and intelligence authorities made several raids in the Chui Oblast. They arrested three individuals on charges related to extremist literature gathered at the scene and weapons that were confiscated. Authorities also found components to make improvised explosives. The arrests related to an unnamed extremist group. Government authorities alleged that those arrested were planning a terrorist attack related to the October presidential election.

There were reports of more than a dozen arrests of individuals suspected of involvement in the banned extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir; such arrests continued a trend that began to increase in 2014. According to Bir Duino, however, some arrests were driven by corruption within the law enforcement system. There were allegations police would enter a home falsely claiming to have a search warrant, plant banned Hizb ut-Tahrir material, and arrest the suspect in the hope of extracting a bribe to secure release.

Pretrial Detention: According to the penal code, authorities may hold a suspect at a pretrial detention facility during the official investigation. Depending on the facility, families may or may not have visitation rights with pretrial detainees. The general legal restriction on the length of investigations is 60 days. Political machinations, complex legal procedures, poor access to lawyers, and limited investigation capacity often lengthened defendants’ time in pretrial detention beyond the 60-day limit, with some being detained legally for as long as one year.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to the Kyrgyz Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), individuals may challenge the lawfulness of their detention at any point. The CPC also outlines instances in which restitution may be made to affected individuals or their heirs following a court’s determination of unlawful detention. These instances happened rarely.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but judges were subject to influence or corruption. Throughout the year there were multiple instances where the conduct and outcomes of trials appeared predetermined. Numerous sources, including NGOs, attorneys, government officials, and private citizens, asserted judges paid bribes to attain their positions. Many attorneys asserted that bribe taking was ubiquitous among judges. Authorities generally respected court orders.

Numerous NGOs described pervasive violations of the right to a fair trial, including coerced confessions, use of torture, denial of access to counsel, and convictions in the absence of sufficiently conclusive evidence or despite exculpatory evidence. International observers reported threats and acts of violence against defendants and defense attorneys within and outside the courtroom, as well as intimidation of trial judges by victims’ relatives and friends.

In August 2016 the president signed the Court Bailiffs Bill into law to enhance the security of the courts.

In the criminal corruption trial of presidential candidate and opposition member of parliament (MP) Omurbek Tekebaev, a number of observers noted that a series of procedural rulings against Tekebaev created an appearance of bias. In particular, rulings to halt the testimony of defense witnesses and prohibit the video broadcast of the trial raised questions regarding the impartiality of the proceedings. On August 16, a Bishkek district court sentenced Tekebaev to eight years’ imprisonment; however, the judge reduced the sentence to four and a half years, citing amnesty. Tekebaev’s lawyers appealed the sentence, and on October 2, the Bishkek city court upheld the lower court’s ruling.

Azimjon Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights activist convicted of murder along with seven codefendants in the 2010 killing of a Bazar Korgon police officer, remained imprisoned at year’s end. In April 2016 the UN Human Rights Committee issued findings that Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhuman conditions, tortured and mistreated, and prevented from adequately preparing his defense. The committee called on the government to annul Askarov’s conviction, release him immediately, and, if necessary, conduct a new trial. Pursuant to the committee’s findings, the Supreme Court convened in July 2016 to reconsider Askarov’s case.

The government invited diplomats, journalists, representatives of international organizations, and human rights groups to attend the hearing. In July 2016 the Supreme Court overturned Askarov’s life sentence and remanded the case to the Chui district lower court for additional review. In October 2016 the Chui District Court commenced a retrial of the Askarov case, calling more than 20 witnesses to testify. Askarov actively participated in the courtroom during these proceedings. On January 24, the court upheld Askarov’s life sentence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

While the law provides for defendants’ rights, the customs and practices of the judicial system regularly contradicted the constitutional presumption of innocence, and pretrial investigations focused on the collection of sufficient evidence to prove guilt. The law requires courts to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, and to provide interpreters as needed. Trials were conducted in the state language, Kyrgyz, or the official language, Russian. In a majority of trials, courtroom procedure required defendants to sit in caged cells. There is no protection against double jeopardy.

Defense attorneys complained that judges routinely returned cases to investigators if there was not enough evidence to prove guilt, during which time suspects could remain in detention. Judges, according to attorneys, typically gave defendants a suspended sentence regardless of how little evidence existed to sustain a prison term.

Trials were generally open to the public, unless they allegedly involved state secrets or privacy concerns of defendants, and courts announced verdicts publicly, even in closed proceedings. State prosecutors submit criminal cases to courts, while judges direct criminal proceedings. Criminal cases feature a single judge, while three-judge panels conduct appellate cases. Judges have full authority to render verdicts and determine sentences. A limited number of judges have clearance to access documents deemed secret, further circumscribing defendants’ access to impartial judicial review in cases purporting to relate to national security.

The law provides for unlimited visits between an attorney and a client during trial, but authorities occasionally did not grant permission for such visits. The government provided indigent defendants with attorneys at public expense, and defendants could refuse legal counsel and defend themselves. HRW, domestic NGOs, and local attorneys reported some state-provided criminal defense lawyers were complicit with prosecutors and did not properly defend their clients. Many observers, particularly in the southern part of the country, described these lawyers as “pocket attorneys” who would help secure bribes from their client to pass to police and judges, which would then secure the client’s eventual release. International observers reported the quality of representation was much worse in rural areas than in the capital. In many cases it was difficult for individuals accused of extremism-related crimes to find an attorney who was not closely connected to police.

The law permits defendants and their counsel to attend all proceedings, question witnesses, present evidence, call witnesses, and access prosecution evidence in advance of trial, but courts frequently did not follow these requirements. Witnesses typically were required to testify in person. Under certain circumstances courts allowed testimony via audio or video recording. Defendants and counsel, by law, have the right to communicate freely, in private, with no limitation on the frequency. Defendants and prosecutors have the right to appeal a court’s decision. An appellate court can increase a lower court’s sentence against a defendant.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Courts convicted opposition party members and ethnic Uzbeks of corruption and politically motivated actions related to violence. On August 16, Omurbek Tekebayev, a presidential candidate for the Ata Meken party, was sentenced to eight years in prison and confiscation of property on charges of corruption. On September 5, the GKNB started criminal proceedings citing perjury against another presidential candidate, Azimbek Beknazarov, who testified at Omurbek’s trial. In addition to the imprisonment verdict of Omurbek Tekebayev, former MP Sadyr Japarov was sentenced in early August on kidnapping charges dating back to the 2013 political unrest in the Issyk-Kul region. Officials reported that on April 2, Japarov attempted suicide in prison. His action reportedly was in protest of his family being allegedly detained and beaten. According to NGO observers and a statement by Tekebayev, the arrests appeared to be politically motivated ahead of the October 15 presidential election. In view of outstanding questions surrounding their connection to the violence and the fairness of the trials and appeals, some observers considered the above-mentioned individuals political prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. As with criminal matters, observers believed the civil judicial system was subject to influence from the outside, including by the government. Local courts address civil, criminal, economic, administrative, and other cases. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority. Among the many articles amended by the December 2016 constitutional referendum was Article 41 of the constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to apply to international human rights bodies seeking protection of violated rights and freedoms in accordance with international treaties. The amendment to Article 41 mandates that the decisions of international bodies are nonbinding and therefore not subject to enforcement by the government.

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

The law requires approval from the prosecutor general for wiretaps, home searches, mail interception, and similar acts, including in cases relating to national security. The law states officials should use wiretapping of electronic communications exclusively to combat crime and only with a court order. Eleven government agencies have legal authority to monitor citizens’ telephone and internet communications.

According to Vozdukh, in May 2016 approximately 20 court officers visited the home of Khadicha Askarova, wife of imprisoned human rights activist Azimjon Askarov, in Bazar-Korgon, Jalal-Abad Province. A court bailiff informed one of Askarova’s lawyers that the court had assigned the officers to make an inventory of the property and house in preparation for its confiscation later that month. According to Askarova, the court officers examined the property without providing documentation of the court order. On August 16, Askarov’s lawyers attended a hearing at the Bazar-Korgon District Court seeking the release of Askarov’s home from government seizure proceedings. The case was unresolved at year’s end. On September 5, the PGO admitted officials had violated procedures in the arrest and seizure of Askarova’s home, and the government released the property to Askarov’s family.

The Law on Defense and Armed Forces authorizes the military to confiscate private property for the purpose of state security.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and citizens generally were free to exercise these rights. NGO leaders and media rights advocates, however, asserted the situation worsened during the year, highlighting the increase in libel lawsuits against independent media outlets and journalists and forced closure of news agencies. Self-censorship was prevalent, and some journalists reported pressure from editors and political figures to bias their reporting on sensitive topics.

Freedom of Expression: As in earlier years, some journalists reported intimidation related to coverage of sensitive topics, such as interethnic relations, “religious extremism,” or the rise of nationalism. The trend was particularly salient against Uzbek-language media outlets. Others were prosecuted or felt threatened for reporting critically on public figures.

On March 18, local and foreign press reported that police disrupted a small rally in support of freedom of speech held in the center of Bishkek. Media rights activists, journalists, and opposition MPs participated in the march, several of whom were detained briefly by police for deviating from the march route and spilling onto the streets of the city. The event, led by a known activist and government critic, Edil Baisalov, was intended to raise awareness of the numerous libel lawsuits and criminal investigations targeting journalists and members of the independent media community.

On September 12, a Bishkek court sentenced journalist Zulpukar Sapanov to four years in prison for inciting “inter-religious strife.” The PGO initiated a criminal investigation of the journalist after representatives of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims filed a complaint in response to the publication of Sapanov’s book, entitled Kydyr’s Namesake. The Spiritual Administration of Muslims and the State Commission on Religious Affairs both publicly condemned the book, which analyzed the ethnic and pagan past of the Kyrgyz people. The court found the book contained content that “diminishes the role of Islam as a religion and creates a negative attitude toward Muslims.” On September 29, a Bishkek court reduced Sapanov’s initial sentence to two years’ probation and ordered his immediate release from prison.

Press and Media Freedom: In recent years there were attempts to proscribe independent media from operating freely in the country. Tight government controls over news content on state television was widely acknowledged. Media rights advocates noted increasing pressure on media outlets in advance of the October presidential elections. Such pressure included civil and criminal lawsuits filed against independent media and journalists in connection with their reporting.

On June 9, the GKNB initiated a criminal case against journalist Ulugbek Babakulov for “inciting ethnic hatred and enmity.” Babakulov published an online article entitled “People Are Like Beasts,” which described nationalist and anti-Uzbek statements of Kyrgyz users on social networks. In response to the article, MPs called for stripping Babakulov’s citizenship, and the journalist became the target of death threats, prompting him to flee the country. Access to the regional news site where the article was originally published, Fergananews.com, was subsequently blocked in the country (see Censorship or Content Restrictions below).

Media reported on February 10 that a Bishkek court terminated the PGO’s criminal case against journalist Dayirbek Orunbekov, which sought to collect two million som ($29,000) in damages for insulting the honor and dignity of the president. Local authorities, however, barred Orunbekov from leaving the country, and he remained legally liable for civil damages. On August 22, a Bishkek court ordered the closure of the opposition television station September for allegedly disseminating extremist material in connection with its airing of a 2016 corruption allegation against former prime minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov. The station broadcast an interview with a former police chief of Osh Oblast, who alleged that Jeenbekov had used state funds to promote interethnic clashes in 2010.

In March the Prosecutor General’s office pursued defamation charges against former member of parliament Cholpon Jakupova, and Zanoza Media (now called Kaktus.Media) co-founders, Dina Maslova and Naryn Aiyp, on behalf of President Atambaev. On November 30, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling requiring the defendants to pay approximately $430,000 in fines to former President Atambaev for “moral compensation.” Also on December 19, media reported that a court ordered an asset freeze on the television channel NTS, the largest private television channel in the country and widely believed to be affiliated with opposition politician Omurbek Babanov.

There was a small degree of foreign ownership of media through local partners. Nonetheless, on June 3, the president signed amendments to the law on mass media that prohibited a foreign entity from forming a media outlet and limited foreign ownership of television stations. Through local partners, Russian-language television stations dominated coverage and local ratings. A number of Russia-based media outlets operated freely in the country, and the government treated them as domestic media.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists were subject to harassment and violence. As an example illustrative of several instances, on May 2, MP Zhyldyz Musabekova reportedly threatened journalist Ypel Ankrulova with violence over corruption allegations published by the journalist. On June 24, Ankrulova filed a complaint against Musabekova with the PGO. The complaint remained pending at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: As in previous years, journalists and NGO leaders alleged some news outlets instructed their reporters not to report critically on certain politicians or government officials. The sources also reported some news outlets received requests from offices of the government to report in a particular way or to ignore specific news stories.

On June 8, in response to a petition from the PGO, a Bishkek court ruled to block access in the country to Fergananews.com for its decision to publish Babkulov’s “People Are Like Beasts” article.

NGO leaders and media contacts reported that state-owned broadcasters continued under pressure to run stories promoting government policies and initiatives and develop narratives critical of NGOs, opposition figures, and civil society activists.

Libel/Slander Laws: While libel is not a criminal offense except in narrowly prescribed instances, NGO leaders described the False Accusations Amendments, passed in 2014, as a practical “recriminalizing of libel.” Journalists noted the law exposed media to libel suits in civil courts that could bankrupt the outlets or journalists in their defense attempts. In 2015 the Supreme Court narrowed the reach of the law, holding that henceforth it would only apply in cases of knowingly making false statements in a police report but not to statements in media. A prominent libel case against the online media outlet Zanoza (see below), however, appeared to contradict the Supreme Court’s 2015 holding. Libel is not a criminal offense.

From March through April, the PGO filed five civil lawsuits against web-based news outlet Zanoza, and two against Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of broadcaster Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty for “offending the honor and dignity” of the president. The suits stemmed from published articles pertaining to statements made by politicians and activists about the president. On May 12, the president requested that the PGO drop the lawsuits against Azattyk, but over the summer, Bishkek courts ruled against Zanoza in separate hearings, finding the outlet liable for damages in the amount of 27 million som ($391,000). One of the co-founders of Zanoza and a defendant in one of the suits, Naryn Ayip, stated that the court’s decisions were designed to force the site to close.

The OSCE’s International Election Observation Mission Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions after the October 15 presidential elections noted that television outlets, including public broadcasters, “failed to provide sufficient and unbiased news coverage of the campaign.” The OSCE also assessed that “defamation claims against media by the incumbent president and other candidates had an adverse effect on public debate and resulted in self-censorship among journalists.”

Freedom House noted “insult” and “insult of public officials” were criminal offenses and that the law is detrimental to the development of freedom of speech and mass media in the country. The head of the Media Policy Institute reported that the organization routinely defended journalists charged with libel and slander, and members of media regularly feared the threat of lawsuits.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally allowed access to the internet, including social media sites, and there were no public credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Nonetheless, NGOs reported police regularly monitored lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) chat rooms and dating sites and arranged meetings with LGBTI users of the sites to extort money from them.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, the internet penetration rate was 34 percent.

According to the PGO, authorities had blocked 86 websites as of the beginning of the year. These sites involved groups that the government deemed to be terrorist or extremist, as well as sites advertising sexual services. Four of the sites involved the banned religious group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

In May 2016 parliament passed an amendment to the law on countering extremist activity that authorizes the Ministry of Transport and Communications to block internet websites spreading extremist and terrorist materials without a court order. During the year there were no reports the government utilized this law.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom. Institutions providing advanced religious education must follow strict reporting policies, but they reported no restrictions on academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for this right, and the government generally respected it, with some exceptions. Organizers and participants are responsible for notifying authorities of planned assemblies, but the constitution prohibits authorities from banning or restricting peaceful assemblies, even in the absence of prior notification. Local authorities, however, have the right to demand an end to a public action and, in the event of noncompliance, are empowered to take measures to end assemblies.

According to media reports in August, a Bishkek court ruled to ban peaceful protests, meetings, and other public gatherings from July 27 to October 20 in certain parts of the capital city where protesters typically gather, including the central Ala-Too Square, the parliament, the Government House (Old Square), the Central Election Commission (CEC) buildings, and the Pervomaisky District Court. On August 9, police arrested a demonstrator at the CEC building for violating the ban.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. NGOs, labor unions, political parties, and cultural associations must register with the Ministry of Justice. NGOs are required to have at least three members and all other organizations at least 10 members. The Ministry of Justice did not refuse to register any domestic NGOs. The law prohibits foreign-funded political parties and NGOs, including their representative offices and branches, from pursuing political goals.

The government continued to maintain bans on approximately 21 “religiously oriented” groups it considered to be extremist, including al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan, the Kurdish People’s Congress, the Organization for the Liberation of Eastern Turkistan, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Union of Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Party of Turkistan, the Unification (Mun San Men) Church, Takfir Jihadist, Jaysh al-Mahdi, Jund al-Khilafah, Ansarullah At-Takfir Val Hidjra, Akromiya, ISIS, Djabhat An Nusra, Katibat al-Imam al-Buhari, Jannat Oshiqlari, and the Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. Authorities also continued the ban on all materials or activities connected to A. A. Tihomirov, also known as Said Buryatsky. On June 15, a Bishkek court added Yakyn Incar to the list of banned extremist groups.

Similar to recent years, numerous human rights activists reported continued arrests and prosecution of persons accused of possessing and distributing Hizb ut-Tahrir literature (see section 1.d.). Most arrests of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members occurred in the southern part of the country and involved ethnic Uzbeks. The government charged the majority of those arrested with possession of illegal religious material. In some cases NGOs alleged police planted Hizb ut-Tahrir literature as evidence against those arrested.

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 law on internal migration provides for freedom of movement. The government generally respected this right, and citizens usually were able to move within the country with ease. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations to provide some protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

A 2016 amendment to the law on combating terrorism and extremism revokes citizenship of anyone convicted of terrorist and extremist activities. The law was not used during the year.

Foreign Travel: The law on migration prohibits travel abroad by citizens who have or had access to information classified as state secrets until the information is declassified.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

As of October UNHCR reported there were 343 refugees in the country. There were continued reports of Uzbek refugees seeking refugee status due to fear of abuse by the Uzbek government.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law on refugees includes nondiscrimination provisions covering persons who were not refugees when they left their country of origin and extends the validity of documents until a final decision on status is determined by a court.

Employment: UN-mandated refugees who lacked official status in the country do not have legal permission to work. They were therefore susceptible to exploitation by employers paying substandard wages, not providing benefits, and not complying with labor regulations. They could not file grievances with authorities. Refugees with official status in the country have legal permission to work.

Access to Basic Services: UN-mandated refugees and asylum seekers who lacked official status were ineligible to receive state-sponsored social benefits. Refugees with official status in the country have access to basic services.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR officials stated the country’s stateless persons fell into several categories. As of October, 2,135 individuals were listed as stateless, a significant decrease from the approximately 11,700 stateless individuals in 2016, due in large part to a country-wide registration and documentation campaign conducted jointly by UNHCR, the government, and nongovernmental partners. As of 2015 there were an estimated 700 Uzbek women who married Kyrgyz citizens but never received Kyrgyz citizenship (many such women allowed their Uzbek passports to expire, and regulations obstructed their efforts to gain Kyrgyz citizenship). Other categories included Roma, individuals with expired Soviet documents, children born to one or both parents who were stateless, and children of migrant workers who renounced their Kyrgyz citizenship in the hope of becoming Russian citizens. The government denied access to social benefits and official work documents to stateless persons, who lacked sufficient legal standing to challenge exploitative labor conditions in court. The State Registration Service maintained its database of stateless persons based only on those who contacted it.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In practice there were some procedural and technical irregularities.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On October 15, voters elected former prime minister of the ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, with approximately 55 percent of the total vote, allowing for the peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected president to another. The OSCE deemed the elections competitive with 11 candidates who were generally able to campaign freely; however, cases of misuse of administrative resources, pressure on voters, and vote buying remained a concern.

Local NGOs deemed the December 2016 municipal elections “competitive,” although reports of technical problems were widespread and media reported alleged isolated incidents of ballot stuffing and other irregularities. The election results reflected no single political party domination. The same NGOs expressed concern about possible misuse of administrative resources to boost voter turnout in a concurrent referendum on amending the constitution. According to the government, 80 percent voted in favor of the amendments with 39 percent voter turnout.

In 2015, in an effort to implement high-tech voting identification as a protection against fraud, parliament passed a law allowing only those who submitted their biometric data, or fingerprints, to register on the voter rolls. A number of human rights and NGO leaders expressed concern about possible disenfranchisement because of required biometric registration. Later in 2015 the constitutional court ruled the biometric registration law constitutional.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Members of the 120-seat parliament are selected through a national “party list” system. After voting has occurred, party leaders regularly reorder the lists, often to the disadvantage of women.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The election code requires the names of male and female candidates be intermixed on party lists and that no more than 70 percent of candidates on a party list can be of the same gender.

By law women must be represented in all branches of government and constitute no less than 30 percent of state bodies and local authorities. The law does not specify the level of the positions at which they must be represented.

National minorities, which made up 35 percent of the population but held only 10 percent of parliamentary seats, remained underrepresented in both elected and appointed government positions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for public officials convicted of corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. According to Transparency International, official corruption cases appeared to be selectively investigated and prosecuted. The payment of bribes to avoid investigation or prosecution was a major problem at all levels of law enforcement. Law enforcement officers, particularly in the southern part of the country, frequently employed arbitrary arrest, torture, and the threat of criminal prosecution as a means of extorting cash payments from citizens (see section 1.d.).

Corruption: The only government body empowered to investigate corruption was the anticorruption branch of the GKNB. It is not an independent government entity, and its budget remained within the operating budget of the GKNB. The agency’s cooperation with civil society was limited, and its investigations led to very few cases going to trial.

On June 7, the PGO announced the prosecution of several former leaders of the GKNB, one of whom is currently the acting head of the State Committee for Defense Affairs. The case implicated the GKNB leaders and members of the housing commission for their role in the illegal distribution of apartments for GKNB staff in 2011. The case continued at the end of the year.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all public officials to publish their income and assets. The State Personnel Service is responsible for making this information public. Officials who do not disclose required information may be dismissed from office, although this punishment was not regularly enforced.

On August 3, the president signed a law on the declaration of incomes, expenditures, liabilities, and property for those holding state and municipal offices. The law took effect October 1.

Since 2016 the law requires that judges and candidates for judgeships declare their property, income, and expenditures to deter corruption in the judicial system.

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

Numerous domestic and international human rights organizations operated actively in the country. Nevertheless, governmental actions at times impeded their ability to operate freely. Government officials were rarely cooperative and responsive to their views.

On July 5, Kyrgyz border guards denied the entry of Russian citizen, Vitaliy Ponomarev, a human rights activist and the Central Asia program director for the human rights center “Memorial,” following his attendance at a human rights conference in the Kyrgyz Republic. After the conference, Ponomarev traveled to Kazakhstan and was later denied re-entry to the Kyrgyz Republic. According to Ponomarev’s lawyer, the GKNB was responsible for the entry ban. In 2009 Ponomarev was barred from entering the Kyrgyz Republic after investigating the 2008 civil disturbances in the southern city of Nookat.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government permitted visits by representatives of the UN and other organizations in connection with the investigation of abuses or monitoring of human rights problems in the country, including those of the OSCE, the ICRC, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The government restricted visits to Azimjon Askarov but otherwise provided international bodies largely unfettered access to civil society activists, detention facilities and detainees, and government officials.

On April 27, the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna downgraded the OSCE Center in the country to a program office. The downgrade resulted in the closure of all OSCE field offices in the country and instituted a consultative mechanism effectively granting the government the ability to approve or deny all proposed OSCE projects.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman acted as an independent advocate for human rights on behalf of private citizens and NGOs and had the authority to recommend cases for court review. Observers noted the atmosphere of impunity surrounding the security forces and their ability to act independently against citizens limited the number and type of complaints submitted to the ombudsman’s office. The government established the Office of the Ombudsman in 2002 and the National Center to Prevent Torture in 2012. The human rights community cooperated with the National Center and effectively conducted routine and unannounced visits to prisons.

During the first half of the year, the ombudsman’s office received 25 torture complaints.

Although the ombudsman’s office exists in part to receive complaints of human rights abuses and pass the complaints to relevant agencies for investigation, both domestic and international observers questioned the office’s efficiency. Parliament took steps to restrict the ombudsman’s independence, voting in June 2015 to remove ombudsman Baktybek Amanbaev–an action Amanbaev called politically motivated. In December 2015 parliament elected Kubat Otorbaev, a former general director of the state-owned television and broadcasting corporation, as ombudsman.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, but as in previous years, the government failed to enforce the law effectively, and rape cases were underreported. Penalties for conviction of sexual assault range from three to eight years’ imprisonment. Prosecutors rarely brought rape cases to court. Police generally regarded spousal rape as an administrative, rather than a criminal, offense.

While the law specifically prohibits domestic violence and spousal abuse, violence against women and girls remained a significant yet underreported problem. Penalties for domestic violence convictions range from fines to 15 years’ imprisonment, the latter if abuse resulted in death. In 2015 HRW catalogued a range of violent forms of domestic violence and found that the government did not sufficiently investigate and prosecute cases, provide services and support for survivors, pursue protection, or penalize perpetrators. In the small number of reported cases reviewed by courts over recent years, many charges were considered administrative offenses rather than crimes, thus carrying a lesser punishment.

On April 28, the president signed a new domestic violence law, which streamlined procedures for the issuance of protective orders and increased protections for the victims of domestic violence. The law requires police to file cases of domestic violence, and recognizes economic violence as a form of abuse in addition to physical and psychological abuse. The law had not yet entered full force by year’s end.

Many crimes against women went unreported due to psychological pressure, economic dependence, cultural traditions, fear of stigma, and apathy among law enforcement officers. There were also reports of spouses retaliating against women who reported abuse.

Organizations assisting battered women lobbied successfully to streamline the legal process for obtaining protective orders. The government provided offices to the Sezim Shelter for victims of domestic abuse and paid its expenses.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe estimated that each year 12,000 young women are kidnapped into forced marriages and 20 percent are raped in the process. Kidnapped brides are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse and are limited in their pursuit of education and employment. The negative effect of the practice extended to children of kidnapped brides. An August study by Duke University reported that children born to kidnapped brides had lower birth weights, an indicator for potential long-term health and development issues. Observers reported there was a greater frequency of early marriage, polygamy, and bride kidnapping in connection with unregistered religious marriages. This also affected data availability on such marriages.

Some victims of bride kidnapping went to the local police to obtain protective orders, but authorities often poorly enforced such orders. Although in 2013 the government strengthened the penalty for conviction of bride kidnapping to a maximum of 10 years in prison, NGOs continued to report no increase in the reporting or prosecution of the crime.

Sexual Harassment: According to the local NGO Shans, sexual harassment was widespread, especially in private-sector workplaces and among university students, but it was rarely reported or prosecuted. The law prohibits physical sexual assault but not verbal sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women and men, but because of poor enforcement of the law, discrimination against women persisted.

As in previous years, data from NGOs working on women’s issues indicated women were less healthy, more abused, less able to work outside the home, and less able than men to determine independently the disposition of their earnings.

Children

Birth Registration: Although the law provides that every child born in the country has the right to receive a birth certificate, local registration, and citizenship, some children were stateless (see section 2.d.). Children of migrant parents who moved to and acquired citizenship of another country had to prove both of their parents were Kyrgyz citizens to acquire Kyrgyz citizenship.

Education: The law provides for compulsory and free education for the first nine years of schooling or until age 14 or 15. Secondary education is free and universal until age 17. The government did not provide free basic education to all students, and the system of residence registration restricted access to social services, including education for children who were refugees, migrants, or noncitizens. Families of children in public school students often paid burdensome and illegal administrative fees.

Child Abuse: According to NGO and UN reports, child abuse, including beatings, child labor, and commercial sexual exploitation of boys and girls, were problems.

Early and Forced Marriage: Children ages 16 and 17 may legally marry with the consent of local authorities, but the law prohibits civil marriages before age 16 under all circumstances. Although illegal, the practice of bride kidnapping continued (see section 6, Women). The kidnapping of underage brides remained underreported. The National Statistics Commission estimated that 15 percent of married women between the ages of 25 and 49 married before age 18, and 1 percent under the age of 15. A 2015 HRW report on domestic abuse found inadequate government attention focused on addressing bride kidnapping or other forms of early and forced marriage. In November 2016 the president signed a law criminalizing religious marriages involving minors. No prosecutions were filed.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The criminal code prohibits the sale of children, child trafficking, child prostitution and child pornography, as well as other sexual crimes against children. The law criminalizes the sale of persons and forced prostitution and provides penalties for conviction of up to 15 years in prison if the victim is a child. The law also makes it a crime to involve someone in prostitution by violence or the threat of violence, blackmail, destroying or damaging property, or fraud.

The criminal code prohibits the distribution of child pornography and the possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute. The law does not specifically define child pornography, and the criminal code does not fully criminalize computer-related use, access to child pornography online, or simple possession of child pornography.

According to UNICEF, children under age 18 in Bishkek were involved in prostitution. Although precise figures were not known, police stated that typical cases of child prostitution involved young girls from rural areas who relocated to Bishkek for educational opportunities or to flee from an abusive family environment. Once in the capital, they entered the sex trade due to financial pressures. There were allegations of law enforcement officials’ complicity in human trafficking; police officers allegedly threatened, extorted, and raped child sex-trafficking victims. The government reportedly has not investigated allegations of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses.

Under the criminal code, it is illegal for persons ages 18 and older to have sexual relations with someone under age 16.

Displaced Children: As in previous years, there were numerous reports of child abandonment due to parents’ lack of resources, and large numbers of children lived in institutions, foster care, or on the streets. Approximately 80 percent of street children were internal migrants. Street children had difficulty accessing educational and medical services. Police detained street children and sent them home if an address was known or to a rehabilitation center or orphanage.

Institutionalized Children: State orphanages and foster homes lacked resources and often were unable to provide proper care, sometimes resulting in, for example, the transfer of older children to mental health-care facilities even when they did not exhibit mental health problems.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to the NGO Open Position, the Jewish population in the country was approximately 500-700. There were no reports of anti-Semitic comments in mainstream media.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but such persons faced. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, requires access to public transportation and parking, and authorizes subsidies to make mass media available to persons with hearing or vision disabilities, and free plots of land for the construction of a home. The government generally did not ensure proper implementation of the law. In addition, persons with disabilities often had difficulty finding employment because of negative societal attitudes and high unemployment among the general population.

A lack of government resources made it difficult for persons with disabilities to receive adequate education. Although children with disabilities have the right to an education, the Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities stated schools often denied them entry. The government funded programs to provide school supplies and textbooks to children with mental or physical disabilities. According to UNICEF one-third of children with disabilities were institutionalized.

As in previous years, conditions at psychiatric hospitals were substandard, stemming largely from inadequate funding. The government did not adequately provide for basic needs, such as food, water, clothing, heating, and health care, and facilities were often overcrowded.

Authorities usually placed children with mental disabilities in psychiatric hospitals rather than integrating them with other children. Other residents were also committed involuntarily, including children without mental disabilities who were too old to remain in orphanages. The Youth Human Rights Group monitored the protection of children’s rights in institutions for children with mental and physical disabilities. The group previously noted gross violations by staff at several institutions, including depriving young residents of sufficient nourishment and physically abusing them.

The PGO is responsible for protecting the rights of psychiatric patients and persons with disabilities. According to local NGO lawyers, members of the PGO had no training and little knowledge of the protection of these rights and were ineffective in assisting citizens with disabilities. Most judges lacked the experience and training to make determinations as to whether it was appropriate to mandate committing persons to psychiatric hospitals, and authorities institutionalized individuals against their will.

Several activists noted authorities still had not implemented a 2008 law requiring employers to provide special hiring quotas for persons with disabilities (approximately 5 percent of work positions).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Tensions between ethnic Uzbeks, who comprised nearly 15 percent of the population, and ethnic Kyrgyz remained problematic, particularly in Southern Osh Oblast where Uzbeks make up almost one-half the population. Discrimination against ethnic Uzbeks in business and government, as well as harassment and reported arbitrary arrests, illustrated these tensions. Ethnic Uzbeks reported large public works and road construction projects in predominantly Uzbek areas, often undertaken without public consultation, interfered with neighborhoods and destroyed homes.

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

LGBTI persons whose sexual orientation or gender identity was publicly known risked physical and verbal abuse, possible loss of jobs, and unwanted attention from police and other authorities. Inmates and officials often openly victimized incarcerated gay men. Forced marriages of lesbians and bisexual women to men also occurred. The Labrys Public Foundation noted the continued practice of “corrective rape” of lesbians to “cure” their homosexuality.

Members of the LGBTI community continued to report attempts to forcibly “out” gays, lesbians and transgender persons on social media. Specifically, secretly recorded LGBTI wedding ceremonies and LGBTI participants were posted on social media pages, drawing unwanted attention and negative comments.

In 2014 HRW released a report based on interviews with 40 LGBTI persons chronicling instances of extortion, beatings, and sexual assault. The report described in detail how police patrolling parks and bars frequented by gay men would threaten them with violence and arrest or threaten to reveal their homosexuality to their families if they did not pay bribes. These practices, according to representatives of the LGBTI community, continued during the year. NGO leaders in the southern part of the country reported an even greater threat.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While the law protects against discrimination and stigmatization of persons with HIV/AIDS, according to UNAIDS, people living with HIV continued to encounter high levels of stigma and discrimination. According to 2015 Stigma Index data, HIV-positive persons felt fear or experienced verbal abuse, harassment and threats, with some reporting incidents of physical abuse and assault. Loss of employment and lack of access to housing were reported due to social stigma of HIV/AIDS status.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers the right to form and join trade unions. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides them the right to organize and bargain collectively. Workers may strike, but the requirement to receive formal approval made striking difficult and complicated. The law on government service prohibits government employees from striking, but the prohibition does not apply to teachers or medical professionals. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers.

Many unions reportedly operated as quasi-official institutions that took state interests into consideration rather than representing workers’ interests exclusively. The Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) remained the only umbrella trade union in the country. Unions were not required to belong to the FTU, and there were several smaller unaffiliated unions.

The government effectively enforced these rights. Workers exercised their right to join and form unions, and unions exercised the right to organize and bargain collectively. Union leaders, however, generally cooperated with the government, and international observers judged that unions represented the interests of their members poorly. In past years some unions alleged unfair dismissals of union leaders and the formation of single-company unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law specifically prohibits the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of sex or labor exploitation and prescribes penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. Forced labor is also prohibited by the labor code and the code on children. The government did not fully implement legal prohibitions, and victim identification remained a concern.

The Ministry of Labor provided a toll-free telephone line to the IOM to provide information to potential migrants and to help victims of labor trafficking.

There were some cases of forced labor, mostly involving children in the agricultural 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 law sets the minimum legal age for basic employment at 16, except for work performed without a signed employment contract or work considered to be “light,” such as selling newspapers, in which children as young as age 14 may work with the permission of a parent or guardian. The law prohibits employment of persons under age 18 at night, underground, or in difficult or dangerous conditions, including in the metal, oil, and gas industries; mining and prospecting; the food industry; entertainment; and machine building. Children ages 14 or 15 may work up to five hours a day, not to exceed 24 hours a week; children ages 16 to 18 may work up to seven hours a day, not exceeding 36 hours a week. These laws also apply to children with disabilities. Violation of the law incurs penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment of up to 10 years, depending on the nature and severity of the offense. Weak enforcement and a lack of prosecution of violations continued to pose challenges to deterrence. Almost all child labor is in agriculture based on the 2014 National Child Labor Survey.

Despite some advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, it remained a problem. According to recent reports, children continued to be engaged in agricultural work in cotton cultivation as well as in selling and transporting goods at bazaars.

The PGO and the State Labor Inspectorate (Inspectorate) are responsible for enforcing employers’ compliance with the labor code. According to the Inspectorate, inspectors conducted infrequent and ineffective child labor inspections to ensure appropriate enforcement of the labor laws. Since many children worked for their families or were self-employed, it was difficult for the government to determine whether work complied with the labor code.

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 law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, language, origin, property, official status, age, place of residence, religion, and political convictions, membership in public organizations, or other circumstances irrelevant to professional capacities. The government did not effectively enforce applicable law, and the nature of penalties for conviction of violations was insufficient to deter violations. Uzbeks in the south also complained it was hard to start a small business due to discriminatory practices in licensing and registering a business with the local authorities.

Average wages for women were substantially less than for men. Women made up the majority of pensioners, a group particularly vulnerable to deteriorating economic conditions. In rural areas traditional attitudes toward women limited them to the roles of wife and mother and curtailed educational opportunities. Members of the LGBTI community reported discrimination in the work place when they were open about their sexual orientation. Persons with HIV-positive status faced discrimination regarding hiring and security of employment. Persons with disabilities were subjected to discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The official national minimum monthly wage was 1,140 som ($17). Employers generally paid somewhat higher wages. The law on minimum wage states it should rise gradually to meet the cost of living. The minimum wage is less than the official government’s 2015 poverty line of 31,573 som ($458) per year. The National Statistics Committee reported the average monthly salary was 14,166 som ($205).

The standard workweek is 40 hours, usually within a five-day week. For state-owned industries, there is a mandated 24-hour rest period in a seven-day workweek. According to the labor code, overtime work cannot exceed four hours per day or 20 hours per week, and workers must receive compensatory leave or premium pay of between 150 and 200 percent of the hourly wage. These provisions were mainly enforced at large companies and organizations with strong trade unions. Employees of small and informal firms fall under the law but generally had no union representation.

The National Statistics Committee defined informal economic activity as household units that produce goods and services primarily to provide jobs and income to their members. The government estimated only 24 percent of the population worked in the formal sector of the economy, while the rest worked in the informal economy.

Safety and health conditions in factories were poor. The law establishes occupational health and safety standards that were appropriate to main industries, but the government generally did not enforce them. Penalties for violation of the law range from community service to fines and were insufficient to deter violations. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment. The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for protecting workers and carrying out inspections for all types of labor problems. Labor inspectors’ activities were limited and insufficient to enforce business compliance. The law does not provide for occupational health and safety standards for workers in the informal economy.

Government licensing rules placed strict requirements on companies recruiting citizens to work abroad, and the Ministry of Labor, Migration, and Youth licensed such companies. The government regularly published a list of licensed and vetted firms. Recruiters were required to monitor employer compliance with employment terms and the working conditions of labor migrants while under contract abroad. Recruiters were also required to provide workers with their employment contract prior to their departure.

Laos

Executive Summary

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is ruled by its only constitutionally legitimate party, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The most recent National Assembly election held in March 2016 was not free and fair. The LPRP selected all candidates, and voting is mandatory for all citizens. Following the election the National Assembly approved Thongloun Sisoulith to be the new prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included: lack of due process, including arbitrary arrest, detention and punishment by the government; government infringements on the right to privacy and on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association; the denial to citizens of the ability to choose their government; trafficking in persons; and restrictions on workers’ rights, including the inability to form independent labor unions not associated with the government.

The government neither prosecuted nor punished officials who committed abuses, and police and security forces committed human rights abuses with impunity.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

There was still no progress in the 2012 abduction of Sombath Somphone, a prominent civil society leader and retired founder of a nonprofit training center, by persons in plainclothes after what appeared to be an orchestrated stop of his vehicle by traffic police in Vientiane. The government denied knowledge of his whereabouts and claimed its investigation was continuing.

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

The constitution and/or law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention facility conditions varied widely and in some prisons were harsh due to minimal food supply, overcrowding, and inadequate medical care.

Physical Conditions: Cells were crowded. Some prisons reportedly held juveniles with adults, although no official or reliable statistics were available on the overall population or gender of prisoners countrywide. There was no information available on the prevalence of death in prisons or pretrial detention centers. Food rations were minimally adequate, and family members were responsible for bringing food to their relatives in prison. Some prisons required inmates to reimburse authorities upon release for the cost of food eaten during incarceration. Prisoners in the larger facilities in the capital generally fared better than did those in smaller, provincial prisons.

Although most prisons had some form of clinic, usually with a doctor or nurse on the staff, medical facilities were usually deficient. Prisoners had access only to basic medical care, and treatment for serious ailments was unavailable. For example, in a Vientiane prison there was a clinic with four sick beds and a staff of three for 700 inmates. Prisoners received vaccinations upon arrival; if sick, they had to pay for necessary medicine. In some facilities, prisoners could arrange for treatment in police hospitals, and authorities sent prisoners to these hospitals in emergencies.

Administration: The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for monitoring prison and detention center conditions. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, although there were no reports of prisoners, detainees, or their family members making such requests due to fear of exacerbating poor detention conditions. During the October 16-November 17 session of Laos’ National Assembly, the legislature’s Justice Committee raised–and the President of the Supreme Court acknowledged–concerns about deteriorating prison conditions, including overcrowding and the detention of suspects alongside convicted criminals.

There was no ombudsperson to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Prison wardens set prison visitation policies. Family members generally had access to prisoners and detainees once per month. Prisoners and detainees could follow some religious observances, but authorities did not provide any facilities.

Independent Monitoring: Government officials did not permit regular independent monitoring of prison conditions. During the June 18 Australia-Laos Human Rights Dialogue, Australian and EU diplomats and other foreign government officials were permitted to visit the only prison that housed foreign prisoners, as well as a drug treatment detention center in Vientiane.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but some government officials did not respect these provisions, and arbitrary arrest and detention persisted.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Public Security maintains internal security but shares the function of external security with the Ministry of Defense’s security forces and with the LPRP and the LPRP’s mass organizations. The Ministry of Public Security oversees local, traffic, immigration, and security police, village police auxiliary, plus other armed police units. The armed forces have domestic security responsibilities, including counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.

Impunity remained a problem; however, there were no statistics available on its prevalence. The Ministry of Public Security’s Inspection Department maintained complaint boxes throughout most of the country for citizens to deposit written complaints, but statistics on utilization were not publicly available. The government revealed no information regarding the existence or nonexistence of a body that investigates abuses by security forces. There were no known actions taken by the government to train security forces on respect for human rights.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Both police and military forces have arrest powers, although generally only police exercised them. The law provides detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of their detention. The law also requires authorities to notify detainees of the charges against them and inform next of kin of their detention within 24 hours of arrest, but this did not always occur in remote provinces. There is a bail system, but authorities implemented it arbitrarily. There were procedures for house arrest of detainees, particularly for health reasons, and there were isolated reports of detainees held under house arrest. The law provides detained, arrested, or jailed persons the right to legal representation upon request. There were no reports of prisoners held incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police continued to exercise wide latitude in making arrests, relying on a provision of the law that permits warrantless arrests in urgent cases. Police reportedly used the threat of arrest as a means to intimidate persons or extract bribes.

At times authorities detained prisoners after they completed their sentences, particularly if prisoners were unable to pay court fines. In some cases officials released prisoners if they agreed to pay fines upon their release. The government sometimes released offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes without formally sentencing them to prison. During the National Assembly’s fall session, legislators called on judicial bodies to investigate instances of arrests without warrants by local police, and to which public prosecutors had turned a blind eye.

Pretrial Detention: The law limits detention without trial to one year. The length of detention without a pretrial hearing or formal charges is also limited to one year. The Office of the Prosecutor General reportedly made efforts to have authorities bring all prisoners to trial within the one-year limit, but officials occasionally did not meet the requirement. The Office of the Prosecutor General must authorize police to hold a suspect pending investigation. It grants authorization in three-month increments, and police must release a suspect after a maximum of one year if they lack sufficient evidence to bring charges.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but corruption and judges acting with impunity continued to be problems. Some judges reportedly accepted bribes. The National Assembly may remove judges from office for impropriety but did not announce any such removals during the year. The legal framework provides for defense counsel, evidentiary review, and the presumption of innocence. Despite these provisions, the country was still developing a formal justice system. Judges usually decided guilt or innocence in advance of trials, basing their decisions on police or prosecutorial investigation reports. The preferred and widely used policy for resolving disputes continued to be the “Harmonious Village Policy” or “No Case Village Policy,” which discouraged villages from referring cases to the formal justice system and provided incentives to village leaders to resolve legal disputes within village mediation units. Village leaders are not lawyers or judges and do not receive training.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, although the judiciary did not always uphold this right. The law provides defendants a presumption of innocence. Most trials, including criminal trials, were primarily pro forma examinations of the accused and reviews of the evidence. Defendants do not have a legal right to know promptly and in detail the charges against them, but the law requires authorities to inform persons of their rights. Trials are public, except for those involving certain types of family law or related to national security, state secrets, or children younger than 16 years.

The law provides defendants the right to defend themselves with the assistance of a lawyer or other persons, but there remained a lack of qualified lawyers. Lawyers sometimes were unwilling to defend sensitive cases due to fear of retaliation by local authorities. A defense attorney may be present during a trial, but his role is passive, such as asking the court for leniency in sentencing or appealing a technical matter, not arguing the merits of the case, challenging evidence, or mounting a true defense for the client. Authorities provided defense attorneys at government expense only in cases involving children, cases likely to result in life imprisonment or the death penalty, and cases considered particularly complicated, such as ones involving foreigners. There is no legal right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense.

The government allows interpreters to provide explanations of laws and defendant’s rights to ethnic minority citizens and foreigners who cannot communicate in the Lao language. Interpreters receive payment based on the court fee system, which the court passes on to the defendant.

Defendants may have someone assist them in preparing written cases and accompany them at trial, but only the defendant may present oral arguments at a criminal trial. Defendants may question, present witnesses, and present evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may refuse to testify, although authorities sometimes imposed harsher penalties on defendants who did not cooperate. Defendants have the right to object to charges brought against them, and they have the right to appeal, but only in civil cases. The Court of Appeals is legally obligated to decide a case within 45 days from the time it receives the appeal; however, appeals often took longer than six months or remained pending indefinitely.

Litigants may select members of the Lao Bar Association to represent them at trial. The bar association was nominally independent but received some direction from the Ministry of Justice. For several reasons, including the general perception that attorneys cannot influence court decisions, most defendants chose not to have attorneys or trained representatives. The government made efforts to train more lawyers and improved the curriculum at the Faculty of Law at the National University. In 2016, 172 students attended the one-year program, and 166 new students enrolled during the year.

Most judges and attorneys were LPRP members. Most had only basic legal training, and some court districts had few or no reference materials available for guidance. The National Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee occasionally reviewed People’s Supreme Court decisions for accuracy and returned cases to it or the Prosecutor General’s Office for review when the committee believed the court made decisions improperly.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no government statistics or reliable estimates available regarding the number of political prisoners, but the government confirmed it had three political prisoners. The criminal court convicted Somphone Phimmasone, Soukan Chaithad, and Lodkham Thammavong in March to 20, 16, and 12 years’ imprisonment respectively on multiple charges including treason, propaganda against the state, and gatherings aimed at causing social disorder.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for judicial independence in civil matters, but enforcement of court orders remained a problem. A person may seek a judicial remedy for violations of civil or political rights in a criminal court or pursue an administrative remedy from the National Assembly. Individuals may seek redress for violations of social and cultural rights in a civil court.

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

The law generally prohibits such actions, including privacy of mail, telephone, and electronic correspondence, but the government continued its broad use of security law exemptions when there was a perceived security threat.

The law prohibits unlawful searches and seizures. Although the law requires police to obtain search authorization from a prosecutor or a panel of judges, police did not always obtain prior approval, especially in rural areas. Security laws allow the government to monitor individuals’ movements and private communications, including via mobile telephones and email (see section 2.a.).

The Ministry of Public Security monitored citizen activities through a surveillance network that included secret police. A police auxiliary program in urban and rural areas, operating under individual village chiefs and local police, shared responsibility for maintaining public order and reported undesirable elements to police. Members of the LPRP’s front organizations, including the Lao Women’s Union (LWU), the Youth Union, and the Lao Front for National Construction, also monitored citizens.

The law allows citizens to marry foreigners only with prior government approval. Authorities may annul marriages entered into without approval, with both parties subject to arrest and fines. The government normally granted permission to marry, but the process was lengthy and burdensome, offering officials opportunity to solicit bribes. Premarital cohabitation with foreigners is illegal, although it was rarely enforced, and generally only when the Lao party complained of some injustice.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law denies citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage, and it did not provide for the free expression of the will of the people. Although the constitution outlines a system comprising executive, legislative, and judicial branches, the LPRP controlled governance and leadership at all levels through its constitutionally designated leading role.

Elections and Political Participation

The National Assembly appointed election committees, which must approve all candidates for local and national elections. Candidates do not need to be LPRP members, but almost all were, and the party vetted all candidates, including those in the March 2016 National Assembly election. In 2016 the National Assembly began to decentralize its power by establishing provincial councils composed of 360 members countrywide selected from 508 candidates. Most candidates were either government staff or party members.

The National Assembly chooses or removes the country’s president, vice president, and other members of the government, generally based on its Standing Committee’s recommendations. The Standing Committee also supervises all administrative and judicial organizations; has sole power to recommend presidential decrees; and appoints the National Election Committee, which has authority over elections, including approval of candidates. The activities of the Standing Committee and the National Election Committee were not transparent. The National Assembly exerted public oversight over the executive branch.

Recent Elections: The most recent national election for National Assembly members was in March 2016. The government allowed independent observers to monitor the election process. Several of the observers were members of the diplomatic corps in the country, as well as foreign press. The government determined which polling stations the various observers could visit, and these selected polling stations were reportedly better prepared and organized than others not under observation.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution legitimizes only the LPRP. The formation of other political parties is illegal.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Although 80 percent of the population lived in rural areas where the village chief and council handled most routine matters, fewer than 3 percent of village chiefs were women. The LPRP’s Party Congress elections in January increased the number of ethnic minority members in the 69-member LPRP Central Committee from seven to 15, and from two to three in the 11-member Politburo. The number of ethnic minority ministers in the 27-member Cabinet increased from two to six, including a deputy prime minister.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials and the government made some progress in addressing corruption. Some officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Government-controlled media repeatedly reported official corruption was an outstanding problem. The government reportedly cracked down on corruption at the national and provincial levels. The State Audit Office (SAO) stated that under the Thongloun government, no officials dared to attempt embezzling funds for the fictitious “ghost” projects seen in prior years. SAO and State Inspection and Anti-Corruption Authority (SIAA) officials also stated that they were operating with an unprecedented level of autonomy and authority to conduct inspections that lead to enforcement actions. The government established an anti-corruption hotline that reportedly was very active, and members of the public frequently raised awareness of government officials’ inappropriate or suspicious activities on social media, without such postings being censored or removed.

Financial Disclosure: There is no legal requirement for public disclosure of assets and income by appointed or elected officials, although LPRP policy requires senior officials, prior to taking their designated positions, to disclose their personal assets and those of their dependents, but not their incomes, to the party’s inspection committee. The committee inspects the officials’ assets before and after they have been in their positions. Persons not compliant with this policy are subject to unspecified measures, although the LPRP used its control of government authorities and media to block public censure of corrupt officials who were party members.

The SIAA implemented a second round of asset declarations requiring all government agencies at the central and provincial levels to declare their assets between March and September.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and provides for penalties of three to five years’ imprisonment. Sentences are significantly longer and may include capital punishment if the victim is younger than 18 years or is seriously injured or killed. Rape cases tried in court generally resulted in convictions with sentences ranging from three years’ imprisonment to execution.

Domestic violence is illegal, but there is no law against marital rape, and domestic violence often went unreported due to social stigma. Penalties for domestic violence, including battery, torture, and detention of persons against their will, may include both fines and imprisonment. The law grants exemption from penal liabilities in cases of physical violence without serious injury or physical damage.

The LWU and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, in cooperation with NGOs, assisted victims of domestic violence. The Counseling and Protection Center for Women and Children in Vientiane operated a countrywide hotline for persons to report incidents of domestic violence and receive telephonic counseling.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment, but indecent sexual behavior toward another person is illegal and may be punished by six months to three years in prison. Victims rarely reported sexual harassment, and its frequency remained difficult to assess.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides equal rights for women as for men and equal pay for equal work (see section 7.d.), but in some regions, traditional attitudes and gender-role stereotyping kept women and girls in subordinate positions and prevented them from equally accessing education, employment, and business opportunities. The law also prohibits discrimination in marriage and inheritance, although varying degrees of cultural-based discrimination against women persisted, with greater discrimination practiced by some ethnic minority groups in remote areas.

The LWU operated countrywide to promote the position of women in society, including conducting programs to strengthen the role of women; the programs were most effective in urban areas. Many women occupied decision-making positions in civil service and private business, and in urban areas their incomes frequently were higher than those of men. Poverty continued to affect women disproportionately, especially in rural and ethnic minority communities.

Children

Birth Registration: Regardless of where they are born, children acquire citizenship if both parents are citizens. Children born of one citizen parent acquire citizenship if born in the country or, when born outside the country’s territory, if one parent has a permanent in-country address. Parents did not register all births immediately. The village chief registers children born in remote areas, and then the local authority adds the name and date of birth of the child in the family registration book. Every family must have a family registration book. If parents failed to register a child at birth, they could request to add the child to the family registration book later.

Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal through fifth grade, but a shortage of teachers and the expectation children will help their parents with farming in rural areas prevented some children from attending school. There were significant differences among ethnic groups in the educational opportunities available to boys and girls. To increase elementary school attendance by ethnic minority children, the government continued to support the establishment of dormitories in rural areas countrywide. School enrollment rates for girls were lower than for boys, although the gender disparity continued to decrease. Overall 17 percent of school-age girls, compared with 11 percent of school-age boys, never attended school.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits violence against children, and offenders are subject to re-education programs and unspecified penal measures in more serious cases. (For statistics on violence against children, see the UNICEF website.)

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for boys and girls is 18 years, but the law allows marriage as young as 15 years with parental consent. Approximately 35 percent of girls married before they reached 18 years, and 9 percent married before they were 15 years old, a practice particularly prevalent among certain ethnic groups and among impoverished rural families.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consensual sex is 15 years. The law does not provide penalties for child prostitution, but the penalty for sex with a child (defined as younger than 15 years) is one to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 to three million kip ($62 to $370). The law does not include statutory rape as a crime distinct from sex with a child or rape of any person. Authorities did not treat child pornography differently from pornography in general, for which the penalty is three months to one year in prison and a fine of 50,000 to 200,000 kip ($6 to $24).

The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The government continued efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex through periodic raids and training workshops. The government and NGOs hosted seminars to train tourism-sector employees, and many major international hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang displayed posters warning against child sex tourism.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant Jewish community resident in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Although constitutional protections against discrimination do not apply specifically to persons with disabilities, regulations promulgated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the Lao National Commission for the Disabled generally sought to protect such persons against discrimination. Authorities rarely enforced these regulations. Little information was available regarding discrimination in the workplace, although persons with disabilities reported it was difficult sometimes to access basic services and obtain employment.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare has primary responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Health is also involved in addressing health-related needs of persons with disabilities and continued to coordinate with international NGOs.

According to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, the law requires construction projects begun after 2009 to provide accessibility for persons with disabilities, particularly buildings, roads, and public places. The law does not mandate accessibility to buildings built before its enactment or government services for persons with disabilities, but the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare regulations resulted in construction of additional sidewalk ramps. Although there was some progress made on accessibility, a lack of resources prevented effective implementation.

The government continued to implement its strategic plan to protect the rights of children with disabilities and enable them to study alongside other children in schools countrywide. The nongovernmental Lao Disabled People’s Association noted that in many cases students with disabilities did not have access to separate education.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law provides for equal rights for all members of national, racial, and ethnic groups and bars discrimination against them, including in employment and occupation. Nonetheless, some societal discrimination persisted. Moreover, some critics continued to charge the government’s resettlement program for ending slash-and-burn agriculture and opium production with adversely affecting many ethnic minority groups, particularly in the north. Some minority groups not involved in resettlement, notably those in remote locations, maintained they had little voice in government decisions affecting their lands and the allocation of natural resources from their areas. In some rural ethnic minority areas, a lack of livelihoods and decent employment contributed to significant migration to urban areas and practices such as illegal logging.

Of the 49 official ethnic groups in the country, the Hmong are one of the largest and most prominent. A number of Hmong officials served in senior ranks of government and the LPRP, including one Politburo member and several members of the LPRP Central Committee. However, some Hmong maintain separatist or irredentist political beliefs, and small, scattered pockets of insurgents and their families remained in rural areas. The government continued to reduce its efforts to combat them actively, while continuing to offer amnesty to those who surrendered. Amnestied insurgents continued to be the focus of official suspicion and scrutiny, and the government leadership remained suspicious of the political objectives of some Hmong.

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

No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no reports of discrimination, but observers believed societal stigma and concern about repercussions led some to withhold reporting incidents of abuse.

There were no legal impediments to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizational activities, but the government discouraged such activities by withholding approval to organizations wishing to hold public awareness activities.

Within lowland society, some societal discrimination in employment and housing persisted, and there were no governmental efforts to address it. Local activists explained that most openly LGBTI persons did not attempt to apply for government or high-level private-sector jobs because there was a tacit understanding that employers were unwilling to hire them. Reports indicated lesbians faced greater societal stigma and discrimination than gay men, while the transgender population faced the highest levels of societal stigma and discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Research conducted in 2012 found people with HIV/AIDS faced significant social stigma, which for some resulted in verbal and physical assault, job loss, and income loss. The Ministry of Health continued to promote tolerance and understanding of persons with HIV/AIDS through public-awareness campaigns. The government took steps to include gay men and transgender persons in its National Strategy and Action plan for HIV/AIDS prevention. Senior government officials stated that society is reducing stigma among some members of the LGBTI community; however, the government did not directly address or support transgender issues.

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 worker organizations. The law defines collective bargaining, but does not set out conditions, and requires the examination of all collective bargaining agreements by the Labor Administration Agency (LAA). The law provides for the right to strike, subject to certain limitations. The law does not permit police, civil servants, foreigners, and members of the armed forces to form and join unions. There is a general prohibition against discrimination against employees for reasons unrelated to performance, although there is no explicit prohibition against antiunion discrimination. There is no explicit requirement for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law requires a workforce of 10 or more workers to elect one or more employee representatives. Where a trade union exists, the head of the union is by default the employee representative. Both representatives and trade union heads may bargain collectively with employers on matters including working conditions or recruitment, wages, welfare, and other benefits.

There was no information on the resources dedicated to enforcement of freedom of association provisions of the labor laws. Penalties under law for infringing on workers’ freedom of association include fines, incarcerations, and/or business license revocation, and they were not considered sufficient to deter violations.

Most workers’ organizations were not independent of the government or its political party and operated within the framework of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), an organ of the LPRP. The government reported the law permits affiliation between independent unions of separate branches of a company but stated the law does not explicitly allow or disallow affiliation at the industry, provincial, or national levels. There were reports unions not affiliated with the LFTU existed in industries, including the garment industry, light manufacturing, and agriculture processing.

Labor disputes reportedly were infrequent, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare generally did not enforce the dispute resolution section of the labor law, especially in dealings with joint ventures in the private sector. Employee representatives and ad hoc workers’ groups tried to resolve complaints, as did, according to some reports, representatives of the LWU and local community leaders. There was little information available on the effectiveness of employee representatives, although anecdotal evidence suggested some had successfully negotiated for higher wages and better benefits.

The law provides for imprisonment penalties for those who join an organization that encourages protests, demonstrations, and other actions that might cause “turmoil or social instability.” The government’s overall prohibition of activities it considered subversive or demonstrations it considered destabilizing, lack of familiarity with the provisions of the amended labor law, and a general aversion to open confrontation continued to make workers extremely unlikely to exercise their right to strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prohibits private employers from using forced labor, and the penalties for perpetrating forced labor can include fines, suspension from work, revocation of business license, and prosecution. There may be civil or criminal prosecutions for forced labor violations. Penalties for trafficking in persons, which includes forced labor, consist of imprisonment, fines, and the confiscation of assets. Such penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. Due to limited numbers of inspectors and resources, the government did not effectively enforce the law.

According to anecdotal reports, the establishment of large-scale, foreign-invested agricultural plantations led to displacement of local farmers, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. Unable to continue traditional practices of subsistence agriculture, many farmers sought employment as day laborers through local brokers.

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 establishes 14 years as the minimum age for employment. The law allows children from 14 to 18 years to work a maximum of eight hours per day, provided such work is not dangerous or difficult. Employers may, however, employ children from ages 12 to 14 years to perform light work. The law applies only to work undertaken in a formal labor relationship, not to self-employment or informal work. The overwhelming majority of trafficking victims (60 percent) were girls between 12 and 18 years and most victims (35 percent) ended up in forced prostitution.

The Ministries of Public Security and Justice, and Labor and Social Welfare are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, including in the informal economy, but enforcement was ineffective due to the lack of inspectors. The law prescribes penalties of imprisonment and fines, which were not sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare conducted public awareness campaigns, organized workshops with the National Commission for Mothers and Children in the northern and southern provinces, and collected data on child labor as part of its effort to implement the National Plan of Action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor.

According to the government’s Child Labor Survey report, released in 2013 and based on 2010 data, approximately 90 percent of child labor occurred in the agricultural, fishing, or forestry sectors, and more than two-thirds of child laborers were involved in work defined as hazardous according to international standards. Many children helped on family farms or in shops and other family businesses, but child labor was rare in industrial (e.g., manufacturing) enterprises. There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits direct or indirect discrimination by employers against employees in the workforce and prohibits all action by the employer that hinders, is biased, or limits opportunities for promotion and confidence on the part of the employee. The law, however, does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on race, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases.

The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination in hiring based on a female employees’ marital status or pregnancy, and it protects against dismissal on these grounds. Women faced challenges in equal access to employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

During the year the government set the monthly minimum wage for all private sector workers at 900,000 kip ($110) per month. The minimum wage for civil servants and state enterprise employees was 1.4 million kip ($170) per month. The government estimated the national poverty line at an average income of 10,000 kip ($1.25) per person per day.

The law provides for a workweek limited to 48 hours (36 hours for employment in dangerous activities). Overtime may not exceed 45 hours per month, and each period of overtime may not exceed three hours. Employers may apply to the government for an exception, which the law stipulates workers or their representatives must also approve.

The law provides for safe working conditions and higher compensation for dangerous work, but it does not explicitly protect a worker’s right to self-remove from a hazardous situation. In case of injury or death on the job, employers are responsible to compensate a worker or the worker’s family. The law requires employers to report accidents causing major injury to or death of an employee, or requiring an employee to take a minimum of four days off work, to the LAA. The law also mandates extensive employer responsibility for workers who became disabled while at work.

The law also prohibits the employment of pregnant women and new mothers in occupations deemed hazardous to women’s reproductive health. The law requires the transfer of women working in such jobs to less demanding positions, and they are entitled to maintain the same salary or wage.

The Department of Labor Management within the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare is responsible for workplace inspections. The government did not always effectively enforce the law. There was an insufficient number of inspectors to enforce compliance as they were only able to inspect a limited number of entities under their purview. The government did not always pay some civil servants on time and delayed salary payments for up to three months. Some piecework employees, especially on construction sites, earned less than the minimum wage. The overtime or wage law was not effectively enforced. The law does not specify penalties for noncompliance with occupational safety and health provisions, but they could include warnings, fines, “re-education,” or suspension of business license.

There were a number of undocumented migrants in the country, particularly from Vietnam and China, who were vulnerable to exploitation by employers. Migrants primarily worked in construction, plantations, logging, casinos, and informal service industries, sectors where wage and occupational safety and health violations were more common. The International Labor Organization reported most garment-sector workers had limited understanding of their contractual rights and obligations and that working conditions in the sector were often difficult, with long hours and compulsory overtime.

Latvia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Latvia is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. A unicameral parliament (Saeima) exercises legislative authority. Observers considered elections in 2014 for the 100-seat parliament to be free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed abuses in some instances, although significant concerns remained regarding accountability for corruption.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were a few allegations that government officials employed them.

During the year the ombudsman received from prison inmates two complaints of prison officials allegedly using violence against them. In the report on its visit to the country in April 2016, released on June 29, the Council of Europe’s (COE’s) Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) stated that it received from detained persons (including juveniles) allegations of excessive use of force during apprehension, such as punches, kicks, or truncheon blows after the detainee had been brought under control, and overly tight handcuffing. Patients transferred against their will to the Strenci Psychiatric Hospital made similar allegations. The CPT also heard some complaints of physical mistreatment and threats to inflict mistreatment during preliminary questioning by officers. In a few cases, medical evidence supported the allegations of physical mistreatment.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The prison system had an aging infrastructure, but mostly provided satisfactory conditions, meeting minimum international requirements. Some reports regarding prison or detention center conditions raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: The minimum standard of living space per prisoner in multiple-occupancy cells was raised to 43 square feet from as little as 27 square feet in some prisons. With few exceptions the CPT observed this standard in all visited establishments.

The CPT noted that most of the prisoner accommodation areas in the unrenovated Griva Section of Daugavgriva Prison were in poor condition and severely affected by humidity due to the absence of a ventilation system. It also found the Valmiera Police Station to be in a “deplorable state of repair.” In the Limbazi Police Station, according to the CPT, custody cells had no natural light due to opaque glass bricks in the windows. In addition, the in-cell toilets were not fully partitioned, and most of them were extremely dirty.

Health care in the prison system remained underfunded, leading to inadequate care and a shortage of medical staff. Prison officials reported that 9 percent of health-care positions were vacant.

Through August the ombudsman received 25 complaints from prisoners regarding living conditions and 11 complaints about health care in prisons. Most patients in the Psychiatric Unit (located in the Olaine Prison Hospital) were locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

Administration: Prison authorities generally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and documented the results of their investigations in a publicly accessible manner. In the first eight months of the year, 122 complaints were forwarded to the Internal Security Bureau for investigation.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by the CPT and independent nongovernmental observers.

Improvements: During the year the prison administration continued its sustained effort to improve prison conditions, most notably by renovating facilities to increase living space and improve ventilation and artificial lighting. Authorities released 50 low-risk prisoners under an electronic monitoring program in the first eight months of the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The State Police, Security Police, and State Border Guards are subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. Municipal police are under local government control. The armed forces, Military Counterintelligence Service, Protective Service, and National Guard are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. The State Police and municipal police forces share responsibility for maintaining public order.

The State Police are generally responsible for conducting criminal investigations, but the Security Police, the financial police, military police, prison authorities, the Bureau for Preventing and Combating Corruption (KNAB), and other government institutions also have specified responsibilities. The Security Police are responsible for combating terrorism and other internal security threats.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the State Police, Security Police, State Border Guards, the armed forces, and other security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In most cases officials require a warrant issued by an authorized judicial official to make an arrest. Exceptions, specifically defined by law, include persons caught committing a crime by officers or identified by eyewitnesses, or persons who pose a flight risk. The law gives prosecutors 48 hours either to release detainees or to charge and bring them before a judge. The CPT found that persons remanded to custody by courts were frequently held in police detention facilities well beyond the statutory limit of 48 hours, in one case for 29 days, pending their transfer to a remand facility.

Officials generally informed detainees promptly of charges against them. Detainees did not usually receive verbal information about their basic rights immediately upon arrest. As a rule detained persons received an information sheet explaining their rights and duties. Nongovernment organizations (NGOs) complained that the information sheet used legalistic language that was difficult for a nonlawyer to understand and was often only available in Latvian. While a bail system exists, judges used it infrequently and did so most often in cases involving economic crimes.

Detainees have the right to an attorney who may be present during questioning. The government generally provided attorneys for indigent defendants. There were no reports that authorities held suspects incommunicado or under house arrest.

Pretrial Detention: For the most serious crimes, the law limits pretrial detention to 15 months from the initial filing of a case. The maximum allowable detention including trial is 21 months. According to Ministry of Justice data, the average length of time between the initial filing and the first court procedure was nearly four months for a criminal case and 10 weeks for an appeal. NGOs continued to express concern about lengthy pretrial detention, hearing postponements, and prosecutorial actions that tended to prolong trials.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court and to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. Detainees successfully challenged their detention in the past.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Most final judgments were available online, although many other court documents were not published. Many of the documents published often included significant redactions (usually due to privacy concerns) that made it difficult to locate and review online court records. In individual cases the fairness of judges’ verdicts remained a concern, and allegations of judicial corruption were widespread, particularly in insolvency cases. Through August the ombudsman received eight complaints about lengthy proceedings, excessive pretrial detention, and detention without timely charges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are presumed innocent, and have the rights to be informed promptly of the charges against them, and to an expeditious and in most cases open trial, although officials may close trials to protect government secrets or the interests of minors. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial as well as to consult with an attorney in a timely manner and, if indigent, at government expense.

The law provides for the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the rights to the free assistance of an interpreter for any defendant who cannot understand or speak Latvian, to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, to refuse to testify or confess guilt, and to appeal.

Both the ombudsman and NGOs expressed concern that long judicial delays often prevented access to the justice system. According to the Ministry of Justice, the problem was especially acute in administrative courts, where up to five months could pass before an initial hearing on even minor matters. Through June the average civil case took eight months in Riga courts and four months in district courts. The average criminal case required six months in Riga courts and four months in district courts. NGOs expressed concern that defendants often exploited these legal protections in order to delay trials, including by repeatedly failing to appear for court hearings, forcing repeated postponement. Several high-profile public corruption trials have lasted nearly a decade, and NGOs were concerned that this contributed to a widespread public belief that high-level officials enjoyed impunity for corruption.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. It is possible to bring a lawsuit seeking damages or remedies for a human rights violation. After exhausting the national court system, individuals may appeal cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Jewish communal property restitution dating from the Holocaust era remained incomplete. While the Jewish community estimated that approximately 270 properties still required restitution, government ministries maintained the number was significantly lower. Some government officials asserted that the issue of restitution had been resolved by the return of five properties seized during World War II under legislation approved in 2016. The unrestituted properties identified by the Jewish community included cemeteries, synagogues, schools, hospitals, and community centers.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights assessed the 2014 elections for the 100-seat parliament as free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Citizens may organize political parties without restriction. The law prohibits the country’s noncitizen residents from organizing political parties without the participation of at least an equal number of citizens. The election law prohibits persons who remained active in the Communist Party or other pro-Soviet organizations after 1991 or who worked for such institutions as the Soviet KGB from holding office.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate. Approximately 30 percent of the ethnic minority population were noncitizens who could not participate in elections and had no representation in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not consistently implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices, and polling data consistently showed that the public believed corruption was widespread and officials were rarely held accountable. According to a European Commission and Eurobarometer report issued in 2016, 73 percent of citizens believed corruption was widespread. Another survey found that 67 percent of citizens believed it would be acceptable to give a gift in return for something they want from a public employee.

KNAB is the primary body responsible for fighting corruption.

Corruption: Corruption was a problem. NGOs expressed concern that prosecutions and convictions of government officials focused on minor violations rather than large-scale corruption. Through June, KNAB initiated 16 criminal cases and recommended eight criminal cases involving 24 persons for prosecution. In June, State Police arrested Maris Spruds and three other insolvency administrators on charges of extortion and money laundering. The arrests took place shortly after parliament passed legislation that anticorruption NGOs believed was intended to remove a rival of Spruds from his role in administering a particular high-profile insolvency case. NGOs and business organizations have long asserted that the insolvency sector was rife with illegal activity, with corrupt administrators protected by political allies. The criminal case remained pending at year’s end.

NGOs further expressed concern that court orders regarding public corruption cases were not always implemented effectively. A court order issued in 2007 and upheld most recently in January prohibited Aivars Lembergs from serving as chairman of the Ventspils city council. Despite the order Lembergs participated in the municipal elections in June, received a majority of votes, and continued to be viewed as the de facto city council chairman; he also regularly participated in leadership meetings of the country’s national governing coalition.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to file income declarations annually. Declarations were public, and there were penalties for noncompliance. While authorities investigated some irregularities, NGOs complained about the lack of effective oversight of the declarations. KNAB is responsible for overseeing the activities of public officials in this area and implementing conflict-of-interest laws. In the first six months of the year, KNAB fined 72 persons a total of 8,175 euros ($9,810) and reprimanded a number of others for conflicts of interest. Most violations involved failure to provide the required income declarations or observe restrictions on outside employment and commercial activities.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law specifically criminalizes rape. Spousal rape is explicitly considered rape with “aggravated circumstances.” When police receive a report of rape, they are required to open an investigation. Criminal penalties for rape range from four years to life imprisonment. Through August police initiated 56 criminal charges for rape, of which six were sent to the prosecutor’s office and five to court. According to the Ministry of Justice, however, no spousal rape case has ever been prosecuted in the country.

The most recent study by the Ministry of Welfare, published in December 2016, showed that half of all hospitalized female trauma victims had injuries inflicted by their partners. Domestic violence is an aggravating factor in certain criminal offenses. There are penalties for causing even “minor” bodily harm when the victim and perpetrator are spouses, former spouses, or civil partners. Domestic violence remained a matter of concern, and authorities prosecuted a number of cases. The NGO Marta Resource Center for Women (Marta Center) received complaints from 168 women during the first eight months of the year. Through August the ombudsman received five complaints of domestic violence.

The law allows victims of domestic violence to request police officers to issue restraining orders and requires police and judges to respond to such requests within one business day. Once a restraining order is issued, it is in force until a court revokes it. The law requires perpetrators to leave the home where the victim resides. It provides a broad definition of violence that includes physical, sexual, psychological, or economic violence.

State and municipal police may issue a decision on separation for eight days. In 2015 courts granted temporary protection to 71 women and one man.

In the first eight months of the year, police initiated 182 criminal proceedings for domestic violence and detained 54 persons; in the first eight months of the year, police issued 394 restraining orders. NGOs complained that, in some domestic violence cases, police were reluctant to act. In his report Commissioner Muiznieks stated that, although police received an average of 13 telephone calls a day reporting cases of “family conflicts,” 97 percent of the cases did not result in criminal proceedings, mostly because police did not qualify them as criminal offenses. Muiznieks quoted police data that in 2014, 144 women were subjected to domestic violence. In the same year, at least five women were killed by their spouses or partners, and four more were killed by other relatives. In some cases, police hesitated to evict alleged perpetrators despite restraining orders. NGOs also criticized police for not arresting perpetrators until the victim signed paperwork, even if officers witnessed abuse. According to the Marta Center, courts rejected two applications for restraining orders during the year.

No government shelters were designated specifically for battered and abused women. There was one government-funded victim support hotline and several NGO-managed crisis hotlines; none was dedicated exclusively to rape or assault.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is prosecuted under discrimination statutes, and penalties range from a reprimand to imprisonment. Victims have the right to submit complaints to the ombudsman and the State Labor Inspectorate. As in 2016 the ombudsman received no complaints of sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides for equal treatment of women under family, property, nationality, and inheritance laws.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents, and only one parent must be a citizen to transmit nationality to a child. Children born in the country to resident noncitizen parents are eligible for citizenship provided one parent requests it when the birth is registered. According to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, through June, 84 children born to noncitizens received automatic citizenship and 20 were granted noncitizen status. In June there were 4,836 noncitizen children younger than 16.

Child Abuse: Violence against children was a problem. Police effectively enforced laws against child abuse, although NGOs observed that coordination among agencies involved in the protection of children’s rights was weak, in particular due to a failure to share information. The law empowers courts to remove vulnerable and abused children from violent homes if parents or guardians cannot do so or are themselves perpetrators of the violence.

In the first eight months of the year, the State Inspectorate for Children’s Rights organized four nationwide hotline campaigns. They received 17,589 calls and provided 9,444 consultations in response to inquiries about cases of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse of children. Approximately 81 of the calls involved the sexual abuse of children, 369 dealt with physical violence, and 791 concerned emotional violence (the remaining calls involved psychological consultations). During the first nine months of the year, the inspectorate investigated 154 cases of alleged violations of children’s rights.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Persons younger than 18 may legally marry only with parental permission and if one party is at least 16 and the other is at least 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. Through August police initiated 99 criminal proceedings for the sexual exploitation of minors younger than 16.

The purchase, display, reproduction, or distribution of child pornography is punishable by up to three years in prison. Involving a minor in the production of pornography is punishable by up to 12 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

Institutionalized Children: The ombudsman and several NGOs raised concerns about the continued use of orphanages despite the provision in the law providing that “every child has the inalienable right to grow up in a family.” During the year approximately 1,216 children remained in orphanages. While the government had a deinstitutionalization plan for these children, NGOs criticized the plan for being unclear and not specifying how or when it would be implemented. There were 1,193 children living with foster families and 4,548 children living with guardians.

In the first eight months of the year, the State Inspectorate for Children’s Rights reported five cases of peer-on-peer physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in government-run orphanages and boarding schools for children with special needs. The inspectorate believed the actual figure was much higher, but cases were underreported due to infrequent visits by social workers and limited opportunities for observation.

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

Anti-Semitism

The CSB reported that there were 4,873 Jewish residents in the country. The 2016 Human Rights Country Report erroneously reported that the CSB agreed with the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs that the Jewish population was 8,659. The CSB actually reported the 2016 Jewish population as 5,013. There were no reports of anti-Semitic attacks against individuals, although there were some anti-Semitic incidents and public references to stereotypes on the internet by some fringe groups.

Three members of parliament from the “All for Latvia” party attended the annual march held on March 16 to commemorate Latvians who fought in German Waffen SS units against the Soviet Army in World War II. No Nazi symbols or insignia were in evidence at the march. Domestically, the march was generally viewed as a commemoration of national identity and remembrance of those who fought for independence rather than as a glorification of Nazism.

On July 4, Jewish community representatives, government officials, and foreign diplomats attended the Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Riga.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions.

Although the law mandates access to public buildings for persons with disabilities, most were not accessible. The NGO Apeirons reported that approximately 80 percent of new and renovated buildings in the country were not accessible to persons with disabilities, and only 2 percent of all buildings were fully accessible. The State Audit Office and NGOs criticized the rules and regulations governing government provision of personal assistance services.

The law grants additional assistance to children with disabilities, allowing them and their caretakers to use public transportation free of charge. The law also permits families of children with disabilities to receive government-funded counseling. Children with disabilities generally attended school, the majority attending specialized schools. While they were also allowed to attend regular schools that could accommodate their needs, very few schools outside of Riga were able to accommodate them. The government provided eligible children with disabilities with assistants in schools. COE Human Rights Commissioner Muiznieks reported that, during the 2015/16 school year, 11,846 students with disabilities attended mainstream schools.

While health and labor services are provided as stipulated by law, NGOs stated that the majority of persons with disabilities had limited access to work and health care due to a lack of personal assistants, poor infrastructure, and the absence of specialized programs for such persons. NGOs also expressed concerns about the technical aid procurement service, which did not allow persons with disabilities to choose their own equipment, such as wheelchairs.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

NGOs representing minority groups claimed that discrimination and harassment of national minorities was underreported to authorities. Through August the ombudsman did not receive any written complaints of racial or ethnic discrimination.

In the first eight months of the year, police initiated three criminal cases for incitement of social hatred and enmity, one of which was referred to prosecutors. Complaints generally involved hate speech on the internet.

The Romani community continued to face widespread societal discrimination and high levels of unemployment and illiteracy. According to the CSB, 5,191 Roma were in the country. Observers criticized the government’s action plan to address unemployment and educational problems in the Romani community as underfunded and insufficient to bring about substantial improvements.

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

The country’s antidiscrimination laws do not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but the labor law does. NGOs expressed concerns about the lack of explicit protection in criminal law against incitement to hatred and violence on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Credible NGOS reported that intolerance of LGBTI persons and discrimination against them continued to be widespread.

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 independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and it provides reinstatement for unlawful dismissal, including dismissal for union activity.

There were several limitations on these rights. Uniformed members of the military, members of the State Security Services, and border guards may not form or join unions. While the law provides for the right to strike, it requires a strike vote by a 3/4 majority at a meeting attended by at least 3/4 of the union’s members. It prohibits strikes in sectors related to public safety and by personnel classified as essential, including judges, prosecutors, police, firefighters, border guards, employees of state security institutions, prison guards, and military personnel. The law prohibits “solidarity” strikes by workers who are not directly involved in a specific labor agreement between strikers and their employers, a restriction criticized by local labor groups. The law provides arbitration mechanisms for essential personnel not permitted to strike.

The government generally enforced applicable labor laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties for violations ranged from a few hundred to several thousand euros but were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor rights organizations expressed concern about employer discrimination against union members.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Worker organizations were sometimes independent of the government or political parties, employers, or employers’ associations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment and were adequate to deter violations. The Ministry of Welfare’s State Labor Inspectorate, the agency responsible for enforcing labor laws, conducted regular inspections of workplaces and reported no incidents of forced labor. Resources were not completely adequate to sustain long-term investigations into forced labor, and a 2016 study uncovered consistent underreporting of forced labor. Government-sponsored NGOs performed educational outreach throughout the country to raise awareness about forced labor.

According to the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report, Latvian men and women were subjected to forced labor, particularly in other parts of Europe. In 2015, the most recent year for which official statistics were available, authorities certified for government assistance seven returned victims of forced labor, all of whom had been subjected to labor exploitation in other European countries. In most of these cases, women were lured outside the country with fake job or marriage offers that resulted in trafficking for forced domestic servitude.

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 employment is 15. Children who are 13 or older may work in certain jobs outside of school hours with written permission from a parent. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing nighttime or overtime work. According to the law, children may not work in jobs that pose a risk to their physical safety, health, or development. There were no reports of labor abuses involving children.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination, but employment discrimination on the basis of citizenship is not prohibited.

There were instances of hiring and pay discrimination against women, particularly in the private sector. Because this type of discrimination was underreported, during the first eight months of the year the ombudsman did not open any cases on employment discrimination. A case opened by the ombudsman in 2016 was closed with no finding of discrimination.

Employment discrimination also occurred with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity. Persons with disabilities experienced limited access to work due to a lack of personal assistants, poor infrastructure, and absence of specialized programs. The Romani community faced discrimination and high levels of unemployment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage is 380 euros ($456). According to the CSB, 8.3 percent of employed persons (and 31 percent of the population) were at risk of falling under the poverty line of 320 euros ($384) in 2015, the most recent year for which figures were available.

The law provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours with at least one 42-hour rest period weekly. The maximum permitted overtime is 144 hours in a four-month period. Employees may not work more than 24 hours consecutively, 56 hours in a week, or overtime on more than six consecutive days. The law requires a minimum of 100 percent premium pay in compensation for overtime, unless the parties agree to other forms of compensation in a contract; however, this was rarely enforced. The law specifies the maximum amount of overtime and prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime. The law entitles workers to 28 calendar days of paid annual leave.

The law establishes minimum occupational health and safety standards for the workplace, which are current and appropriate for the main industries. While the law allows workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, these regulations were not always followed. Workers may complain to the State Labor Inspectorate when they believe their rights are violated.

The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing minimum wage regulations, restrictions on hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards. These standards were not always enforced in the informal economy. Penalties for violations are monetary and vary widely, depending on the severity and frequency of the violation, but they were generally sufficient to deter violations. The inspectorate had adequate resources to inspect and remediate labor standards problems and effectively enforced labor laws.

Through mid-October, the State Labor Inspectorate reported 50 workplace fatalities, the majority of which were classified as due to natural causes, and 141 serious workplace injuries. The State Labor Inspectorate commented that most of the injuries were not severe and that employees were increasingly active in reporting accidents. The majority of workplace injuries and fatalities were in the construction, wood-processing, and lumber industries.

Real wage estimates were difficult to calculate in the sizeable informal economy, which, according to some estimates, accounted for approximately 23 percent of gross domestic product. Workers in low-skilled manufacturing and retail jobs as well as some public sector employees, such as firefighters, were reportedly most vulnerable to poor working conditions, including long work hours, lack of overtime pay, and arbitrary remuneration.

Lesotho

Executive Summary

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliamentary government. Under the constitution, the king is head of state but does not actively participate in political activities. The prime minister is head of government and has executive authority. On March 1, former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili lost a vote of confidence and on June 3, a snap election. All major parties accepted the outcome, and Motsoahae Thomas Thabane of the All Basotho Convention Party formed a coalition government and became prime minister. Mosisili transferred power peacefully to Thabane, and Mosisili’s Democratic Congress party led the parliamentary opposition. Local and international observers assessed the election as peaceful, credible, and transparent.

The extent of civilian control over security forces was unclear at year’s end. In September the government requested additional South African Development Community (SADC) troops to foster stability as the new government moved forward with SADC-recommended security-sector reforms.

The most significant human rights issues included: arbitrary deprivation of life and torture; harsh and potentially life threatening prison and detention center conditions; restrictions on media freedom, including detention of journalists and threats of libel suits and occasional violence against journalists; lack of timely accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and child labor.

Although impunity remained a problem, the government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish army members and police who committed human rights abuses.

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

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

There were credible reports members of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

For example, on July 28, Ha Mofoka police reportedly killed gang member Thelingoane Mota. According to the press, Mota was one of the gang members participating in a funeral procession who were beaten by police. Mota fled the scene with police in pursuit; his badly beaten body was discovered two days later.

There were no reports of arrests or prosecution in the 2016 case of Mamoleboheng Besele, who died after LDF members at Ha Molomo military base beat her, according to a report by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Development for Peace Education.

On November 29, the LMPS arrested and charged eight LDF members in connection with the 2015 incident in which LDF members shot and killed former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao. At year’s end no one had been held accountable for the 2015 alleged torture to force mutiny confessions from 50 soldiers.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the constitution and law expressly prohibit such practices, there were reports of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the LDF and the LMPS. On September 5, the NGO Christian Council of Lesotho stated, “We are aware that some people are arrested and tortured.”

On September 4, former defense minister Mokhosi stated that he was tortured, given a “made up story” to present to the magistrate, and threatened with death if he did not admit to the “story.” He claimed police stripped him naked, beat him, and suffocated him. Police commissioner Holomo Molibel stated that a doctor who examined Mokhosi refuted his claim of torture.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to gross overcrowding; inmate-on-inmate violence occurred, including rape; there was physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions, medical care, ventilation, lighting, and heat. According to the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS), it had no facilities or staff with specialized training to deal with prisoners with disabilities. They depended on voluntary assistance from other prisoners. Prison buildings lacked ramps, railings, and other measures facilitating physical access for prisoners with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: Men and women, juveniles and adults, and pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held separately. According to the Lesotho News Agency, Minister of Justice Mahali Phamotse attributed overcrowding at prisons holding men to high crime rates among the unemployed.

On March 1, authorities completed the release of all military prisoners accused of the 2015 mutiny.

According to the LCS, one inmate died from injuries incurred from fighting between two gangs at Maseru Central Correctional Institution. Eight inmates died of natural causes. In February an inmate was reportedly gang raped at the Leribe Correctional Institution.

Although prisons provided potable water, sanitation was poor in Mokhotlong, Berea, Quthing, and Qacha’s Nek, and facilities generally lacked bedding. Proper ventilation and heating/cooling systems did not exist, and some facilities lacked proper lighting. All prisons had a nurse and a dispensary to attend to minor illnesses, but health care was inadequate. Prisons lacked round-the-clock medical wards; as a result, guards confined sick prisoners to their cells from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Administration: In response to credible allegations of assaults and mistreatment of inmates at the Maseru, Butha Buthe, Qacha’s Nek, and Berea correctional institutions, authorities conducted investigations and took disciplinary measures against three Maseru officers and two Qacha’s Nek officers. Investigation of assault allegations at the Butha Buthe and Berea institutions continued at year’s end.

The Office of the Ombudsman stated it had received no complaints from prisoners during the year; however, prisoners were often unaware they could submit complaints to this office. Additionally, any complaints must go through prison authorities, creating the possibility of retaliation against complainants.

According to the LCS, prisoners and detainees have the right to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The LCS referred no complaints to the magistrate court during the year.

Prisoners generally had reasonable access to visitors. According to families of those LDF soldiers detained on allegations of mutiny, however, visit schedules were sometimes changed or limited arbitrarily.

Independent Monitoring: The Crime Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration of Ex-prisoners Organization and benevolent groups made up of principal chiefs, church ministers, representatives of the business community, advocates of the court, and other citizens, visited prisons to provide toiletries, food, and other items. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) periodically visited a group of foreign nationals detained in the country.

Improvements: The LCS reported completion of the renovation of inmate cells at the Maseru Central Correctional Institution. The LCS in cooperation with the Ministry of Health improved prisoner access to antiretroviral and tuberculosis medication during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The security forces consist of the LDF, the LMPS, the National Security Service (NSS), and the LCS. The LMPS is responsible for internal security. The LDF maintains external security and may assist police when the LMPS commissioner requests aid. The NSS is an intelligence service that provides information on possible threats to internal and external security. The LDF and NSS report to the minister of defense, LMPS to the minister of police, and the LCS to the minister of justice and correctional service. Impunity in the LDF and LMPS was a problem.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the LMPS, NSS, and LCS. The extent of civilian control over the LDF remained unclear. For example, the killing of LDF commander Motsomotso on September 5 led to a government request for the deployment of a rapid-response SADC team. This was followed by a September 14 government request for additional SADC troops to foster stability as the new government moved forward with SADC-recommended reforms.

In general the public viewed the LDF and LMPS as institutions that did not hold officers accountable for their abuses, including killings, torture, and corruption. For example, no progress was reported in the investigation of the 2015 killing of former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao. Nevertheless, several LDF and LMPS members were arrested and charged with other abuses during the year, which some observers viewed as a step forward in addressing LDF and LMPS impunity. On September 28 and October 16, murder charges were filed against former LDF commander Tlali Kamoli, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporal Motloheloa Ntsane, and Lance Corporal Leutsoa Motsieloa for the killing of Subinspector Mokheseng Ramahloko in 2014. Kamoli was also charged with involvement in the 2014 bombings at the residences of the then prime minister’s girlfriend, her neighbor, and the police commissioner.

On August 4, the body of a police constable was exhumed from Lepereng cemetery. In March 2016 Mokalekale Khetheng disappeared following his arrest by police. On August 8, Prosecutor Lesaoana Mohale charged Senior Superintendent Thabo Tsukulu, Senior Inspector Mabitle Matona, Subinspector Haleokoe Taasoane, and Inspector Mothibeli Mofolo with his murder. The High Court denied Tsukulu’s bail application on October 19. On August 30, former defense minister Tseliso Mokhosi was also charged but released on bail. Except for Mokhosi, the accused remained in custody pending prosecution at year’s end.

The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) investigates allegations of police misconduct and abuse. The PCA was ineffective because it lacked authority to fulfill its mandate: It could only investigate cases referred to it by the police commissioner or minister for police and could act on public complaints only with their approval. The PCA also lacked authority to refer cases directly to the Prosecutor’s Office. The PCA did not publish its findings or recommendations.

The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offenses (DCEO) investigates and prosecutes cases of corruption, including police corruption, referred to it by the government or based on substantiated public complaints. DCEO officials complained of insufficient staffing and resources to investigate all complaints received. The DCEO operated only in the capital since it did not have offices in the districts.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police, based on sufficient evidence, to obtain an arrest warrant from a magistrate prior to making an arrest on criminal grounds. Police arrested suspects openly, informed them of their rights, and brought them before an independent judiciary. Police must inform suspects of charges upon arrest and present suspects in court within 48 hours. The law provides that authorities may not hold a suspect in custody for more than 90 days before a trial except in exceptional circumstances.

The law provides for bail, which authorities granted regularly and, in general, fairly. Defendants have the right to legal counsel. Authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer and provided lawyers for indigents in all civil and criminal cases. Free legal counsel was usually available, from either the state or an NGO. The Legal Aid Division under the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Service offered free legal assistance, but a severe lack of resources hampered the division’s effectiveness and resulted in a backlog. NGOs maintained a few legal aid clinics.

There were no reports of suspects detained incommunicado, held under house arrest, or reports of authorities ignoring court orders for their release this year.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees constituted 23 percent of the prison population. The average length of pretrial detention was 60 days, after which authorities usually released pretrial detainees on bail pending trial. Pretrial detention could last for months, however, due to judicial staffing shortages and unavailability of legal counsel.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides the right to a determination of the legality of the detention by a magistrate or judge. The judiciary generally respected this right and did so without undue delay.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. There were no reports that judicial officials, prosecutors, or defense attorneys were intimidated or corrupted. There were no instances in which the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by government or other interference. Authorities generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. In most cases officials informed defendants promptly and in detail of the charges with free interpretation as necessary. In some cases interpreters were not readily available, resulting in delays in the filing of charges.

In civil and criminal matters, a single judge normally hears cases. In constitutional, commercial, and appeals cases, more than one judge is assigned. Trials are open to the public. A backlog of cases in the court system and the failure of defense attorneys to appear in court delayed trials.

Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, to consult with an attorney of their choice, to have an attorney provided by the state if indigent, and to have adequate time to prepare their case. Authorities provide free interpretation as necessary during proceedings at the magistrate and High Court levels but not at other points in the criminal justice process. By law the free assistance of an interpreter is not required for court of appeals cases.

Defendants may confront and question witnesses against them and present witnesses on their own behalf. The law allows defendants to present evidence on their own behalf at the Magistrate Court, but the High Court requires legal representation. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and may appeal a judgment. The law extends the above rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary with jurisdiction over civil matters. Individuals and organizations may freely access the court system to file lawsuits seeking cessation of human rights violations and recovery of damages. There were no regional human rights bodies to which individuals and organizations could appeal adverse domestic decisions.

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

The constitution and laws prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. Although search warrants are required under normal circumstances, the law provides police with the power to stop and search persons and vehicles as well as enter homes and other places without a warrant if the situation is life threatening or if there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect a serious crime has occurred. Additionally, the law states any police officer of the rank of inspector or above may search individuals or homes without a warrant.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On March 1, parliament passed a motion of no confidence in the prime minister, triggering a chain of events that led to early elections. On June 3, parliamentary elections were held in which the opposition All Basotho Convention Party won 48 of 120 seats and formed a coalition government with the Alliance of Democrats, the Basotho National Party, and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho.

On June 16, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili peacefully handed over power to Motsoahae Thomas Thabane. Domestic and international observers characterized the election as peaceful and conducted in a credible, transparent, and professional manner. Observers expressed concern, however, regarding LDF presence at polling places in some constituencies; there were no reports otherwise of the LDF interfering in the electoral process.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process. Women participated in the political process, but there were no members of racial or ethnic minority groups in the National Assembly, Senate, or cabinet. The law provides for the allocation of one-third of the seats in the municipal, urban, and community councils to women. The law also states a political party registered with the Independent Electoral Commission must facilitate the full participation of women, youth, and persons with disabilities. Party lists for the 40 proportional representation seats in the National Assembly must include equal numbers of women and men.

Women held several prominent positions in government. The president of the Senate and minister of police were women, as was the chief justice, governor of the Central Bank of Lesotho, and the chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority. One woman held the rank of brigadier general while another held the rank of colonel in the LDF.

More than 98 percent of the population is ethnic Basotho. On August 14, the prime minister appointed Yan Xie, a naturalized citizen of Chinese origin, to the position of head of special projects and special envoy and trade advisor on China and Asia.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and some officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: According to Lesotho Times newspaper, the DCEO was investigating a 49 million maloti ($3.7 million) fertilizer contract awarded in September to the Machache Trading Company. The contract was awarded at 9.3 million maloti ($705,000) above the closest competitor’s bid. On September 26 and 27, two competitors filed complaints regarding the contract award. In response Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Mahala Molapo cancelled the award and referred the matter to the DCEO for investigation.

In July 2016 former finance minister Mamphono Khaketla was accused of soliciting a four million maloti ($303,000) bribe from Bidvest, a South African company, for awarding the company a no-bid multimillion dollar contract to manage the government’s vehicle fleet. On September 14, the DCEO charged Khaketla with “soliciting a bribe.” The case was pending trial at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires appointed and elected officials to disclose income and assets and prohibits false or misleading declarations. The declaration regime identifies which assets, liabilities, and other financial interests public officials must declare. Officials must file their declarations annually by April 30. The law does not require public declarations or that officials file declarations upon leaving office.

The law provides for disciplinary measures and criminal penalties for failure to comply. The law mandates that the DCEO monitor and verify disclosures. The DCEO claimed it could not effectively implement the law because it lacked adequate resources. Some ministry staff declared their assets and potential conflicts of interest.

On August 31, the leaders of the four-party coalition government signed an agreement to strengthen investigative and judicial enforcement of a revamped policy on declaration of assets and interests. On November 29, the agreement took effect. For the first time, some ministers declared their assets and interests. The DCEO did not question any declaration’s veracity.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Sexual assault and rape were commonplace. The law criminalizes the rape of women or men, including spousal rape, and domestic violence. Rape convictions carry a minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. When informed, police generally enforced the law promptly and effectively; however, those cases prosecuted proceeded slowly in the judiciary. Local and international NGOs reported that most incidents of sexual assault and rape went unreported. From January to August, 247 complaints of sexual assault and rape were filed at magistrate courts in the country’s 10 districts. During that period 40 cases were prosecuted.

Domestic violence against women was widespread. The government Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) did not compile data on domestic violence. The LMPS included reports of domestic violence with assault data but did not break down the data by type of violence. Assault, domestic violence, and spousal abuse are criminal offenses, but few cases were prosecuted. The law does not mandate specific penalties. Judges may authorize release of an offender with a warning, give a suspended sentence, or, depending on the severity of the assault, fine or imprison an offender.

Advocacy and awareness programs by the CGPU, ministries, and the NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) sought to change public perceptions of violence against women and children by arguing that violence was unacceptable. The government had one shelter in Maseru for abused women. The shelter offered psychosocial services but provided help only to women referred to it. The majority of victims were not aware of the shelter. There was no hotline for victims.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were reports of forced elopement, a customary practice whereby men abduct and rape girls or women with the intention of forcing them into marriage; no estimate of its prevalence was available. If a perpetrator’s family was wealthy, the victim’s parents often reached a financial settlement rather than report the incident to police.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment. Victims rarely reported sexual harassment. Penalties for those convicted of sexual harassment are at the discretion of the court. Police believed sexual harassment to be widespread in the workplace and elsewhere. The CGPU produced radio programs to raise public awareness of the problem.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Except for inheritance rights, women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The law prohibits discrimination against women in marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing.

Under the civil legal system, women have the right to make a will and sue for divorce. A customary law marriage does not have legal standing in a civil court unless registered in the civil system. Civil, but not customary law protects inheritance, succession, and property rights. Civil law defers to customary law that does not permit women or girls to inherit property.

Children

Birth Registration: According to the constitution, birth within the country’s territory confers citizenship. The law stipulates registration within three months of birth but allows up to one year without penalty. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: By law primary education, which goes through grade seven, is universal, compulsory, and tuition free beginning at age six. The Ministry of Education set the maximum age for free primary education at 13. Secondary education is not free, but the government offered scholarships for orphans and other vulnerable children. Authorities may impose a fine of not less than 1,000 maloti ($76) or imprisonment on a parent whose child failed to attend school regularly. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Child Abuse: While the law prohibits child abuse, it was nevertheless a problem, especially for orphans and other vulnerable children. Neglect, common assault, sexual assault, and forced elopement–a customary practice of abducting a girl with the intention of marrying her without her consent–occurred.

The Maseru Magistrate’s Court had a children’s court as part of a government initiative to protect children’s rights. The CGPU led the government’s efforts to combat child abuse. The CGPU sought to address sexual and physical abuse, neglect, and abandonment of children, and protection of the property rights of orphans. It also advocated changing cultural norms that encourage forced elopement.

Early and Forced Marriage: Civil law defines a child as a person under age 18 but provides for a girl to marry at age 16. Customary law does not set a minimum age for marriage. (For more information, see UNICEF website)

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law sets the minimum age for consensual sex at 18. Anyone convicted of an offense related to the commercial sexual exploitation of children is liable to imprisonment for a period of not less than 10 years. Child pornography carries a similar sentence. An antitrafficking law criminalizes trafficking of children or adults for the purposes of sexual or physical exploitation and abuse. Offenders convicted of trafficking children into prostitution are liable to a fine of two million maloti ($151,500) or life imprisonment. The death penalty may be applied if a knowingly HIV-positive perpetrator infects a child. Authorities generally enforced the law when cases were reported. (For information on the incidence of sexual exploitation of children, see the UNICEF website.)

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a small Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The national disability policy establishes a framework for inclusion of persons with disabilities in poverty reduction and social development programs, but by year’s end, the government had not incorporated objectives or guidelines for the implementation of these programs.

Laws and regulations stipulate that persons with disabilities should have access to public buildings. Public buildings completed after 1995 generally complied with the law, but many older buildings remained inaccessible. Unlike in prior years, according to the executive director of the ‎Lesotho National Federation of Organizations of the Disabled (LNFOD), air travel services were adequate for persons with disabilities. The executive director stated that the insufficient number of sign language interpreters in the judicial system for hearing-disabled persons who could sign resulted in case postponements. Braille and JAWS (computer software used by persons with vision disabilities) were not widely available. Hearing-disabled persons who signed could not access state services. Children with physical disabilities attended school; however, facilities to accommodate them in primary, secondary, and higher education were limited.

There were no reports of persons with disabilities being abused in a prison, school, or mental health facility, but according to the LNFOD, such abuse likely occurred regularly.

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

The law prohibits consensual sexual relations between men, but authorities did not enforce it. The law does not address consensual sex between women. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced societal discrimination and official insensitivity to this discrimination.

The law prohibits discrimination attributable to sex; it does not explicitly forbid discrimination against LGBTI persons. LGBTI rights groups stated that there was discrimination in access to health care and participation in religious activities. There were no reports of employment discrimination.

The Matrix Association, an LGBTI advocacy and support group, recorded one report of police abuse of LGBTI persons during the year.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Media reported killing of elderly persons, primarily in connection with accusations of witchcraft. On August 16, the Ministry of Social Development launched an Elderly People Protection Program to address this and other abuses faced by the elderly. Sporadic incidents of mob violence targeting suspected ritual killers and other criminals remained a problem.

According to the Post newspaper, local gangsters raped women in a deep gulley between Ha Lebona and Ha Koeshe villages. A nurse based at Ha-Koeshe clinic stated that some patients stopped visiting the clinic due to fear of leaving their neighborhoods. Media continued to report retaliatory killings among competing accordion music artists and gangs of fans in Mafeteng District because of insulting lyrics directed at each other.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

By law workers in the private sector have the right to join and form trade unions of their own choosing without prior authorization or excessive bureaucratic requirements. The law prohibits civil servants and police from joining or forming unions but allows them to form staff associations for collective bargaining and promoting ethical conduct of their members. All trade unions must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference.

The law provides for a limited right to strike. In the private sector, the law requires workers and employers to follow a series of procedures designed to resolve disputes before the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution, an independent government body, authorizes a strike. The law does not permit civil servants to strike.

The law protects collective bargaining and places no restrictions on it. The law permits unions to bargain for wages above the minimum wage. Government approval is not required for collective agreements to be valid. By law the Public Service Joint Advisory Council provides for due process and protects civil servants’ rights. The council consists of an equal number of members appointed by the minister of public service and members of any association representing at least 50 percent of civil servants. The council concludes and enforces collective bargaining agreements, prevents and resolves disputes, and provides procedures for dealing with general grievances. Furthermore, the Public Service Tribunal handles appeals brought by civil servants or their associations.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and other employer interference in union functions. The law provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The law does not exclude particular groups of workers from relevant legal protections.

The government enforces applicable laws with cases typically resolved within one or two months. A minority of cases filed with the Department of Labor, a division within the Ministry of Labor and Employment, the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR), and the Labor Court took up to nine months to be resolved. It was rare for a case to take longer than nine months. The recent appointment of the president of the Labor Court should reduce a backlog of outstanding labor court cases. The DDPR had seven arbitrators nationwide. A decrease in the number of arbitrators was not a binding constraint as the number of arbitration cases had declined due to efficient and effective dispute prevention activities to educate both employers and employees.

Employers generally supported freedom of association and collective bargaining. Although factory workers have bargaining power, only some workers exercised the right to bargain collectively. This is because the law requires any union entering into negotiations with management to represent 50 percent of workers, and only a few factories met that condition. In 2015 the Factory Workers Union (FAWU), the Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union, and the National Union of Textile Workers merged to form the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho to strengthen their bargaining power. The National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union, which separated from FAWU, remained blacklisted by employers who stated the founders had deliberately incited labor strikes. All worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties except the Lesotho Workers Party-affiliated Factory Workers Union. Most unions focused on organizing apparel workers.

Factory owners in the apparel industry were generally willing to bargain collectively on wages and working conditions but only with trade unions that represented at least 50 percent of workers. Factory decisions concerning labor disputes are determined by companies’ headquarters, which are usually located overseas. In the retail sector, employers generally respected freedom to associate and the right to bargain collectively, although retail unions complained employers commonly appealed labor court rulings to delay implementation of the rulings.

Staff at the Avani Lesotho Hotel (Lesotho Sun at the beginning of the strike) were on strike from December 2014 to the end of 2015 over demands for a 14 percent salary increase. Following the strike, employees filed a court case against their employer after they failed to reach a mutual agreement on salaries and working conditions.

In the public sector, while both police and civil servants had associations, no single association represented at least 50 percent of civil servants. According to the Lesotho Public Servants Staff Association (LEPSSA), approximately 34 percent of civil servants belonged to the association. LEPSSA reported most civil servants did not register for the association because they were unaware of it. This low rate of participation made it difficult for LEPSSA to engage with the government on workers’ rights problems.

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 applicable law. Police reported that inadequate resources hampered their investigations and remediation efforts, although penalties for violations, including two million maloti ($151,500) or 25 years’ imprisonment, were sufficient to deter violations.

The CGPU conducted community outreach on forced labor through community gatherings, lectures, workshops, and radio programs. The Human Trafficking Unit of the police targeted high schools to raise awareness of human trafficking and other forms of forced labor. Police reported a potential human trafficking case involving a Mosotho man who deceived a 19-year-old domestic worker in Maseru with a promise of finding her a better job in South Africa. According to police, the suspect took the woman to his home in a village located approximately 24 miles outside of Maseru, where he repeatedly raped her and forced her to work in his fields. On October 26, the suspect was scheduled to appear in court. In a case dating back to 2015, a Nigerian man accused of forcing another Nigerian man to build a house without pay was scheduled to be formally charged and appear in court on August 29, but the case was postponed. A new date had not been set by year’s end.

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 defines the legal minimum age for employment as 15, or 18 for hazardous employment. Hazardous work includes mining and quarrying; carrying heavy loads; manufacturing where chemicals are produced or used; working in places where machines are used, or in places such as bars, hotels, and places of entertainment where a person may be exposed to immoral behavior; herding; and producing or distributing tobacco. While age 15 is the legal minimum age for employment, the law also provides that free and compulsory primary school be completed at age 13, two years before a child is legally allowed to work. The law prohibits illicit activities including drug trafficking, hawking, gambling, or other illegal activities detrimental to the health, welfare, and educational advancement of the child. The law also states a child has a right to be protected from the use of hallucinogens, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco products, psychotropic drugs, and any other substances declared harmful, and from being involved in their production, trafficking, or distribution. Additionally, the law prohibits the use of children for commercial sexual exploitation. While the law protects children working in the informal economy, it excludes self-employed children from relevant legal protections.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum age laws for employment outside the formal economy, since scarce resources hindered labor inspections. The Ministry of Labor and Employment and the CGPU investigated cases of working children. The ministry had only two child labor inspectors. There were no reported cases of child labor.

The NGO Beautiful Dream reported 11 cases of child marriages, seven cases of child sex trafficking, and more than 20 cases of boys being forced to drop out of school to be herdboys.

In 2015 the government approved the guidelines for herdboys, which make a distinction between the concepts of “child work”–work that is not harmful and is acceptable as part of socialization–and “child labor”–those forms of work that are hazardous and exploitative. The guidelines apply to children under age 18 and strictly prohibit the engagement of children at a cattle post, the huts where herders stay when in remote mountain rangelands. Herding is considered illegal child labor only if herding deprives herdboys of the opportunity to attend school, obliges them to leave school prematurely, or requires them to combine school attendance with excessively long hours and difficult working conditions. The highest estimated percentage of working children was in herding.

The most recent data available from the Bureau of Statistics, the 2011 Household Budget Survey, reported 3.5 percent of children ages six to 14 participated in economic activities; this statistic did not include children aiding their families or others without compensation. In its most recent report in 2014, UNICEF estimated 23 percent of children between ages five and 14 were working. Two-thirds of these children were engaged in subsistence farming, while the rest were engaged mainly in domestic service. Child labor was higher among boys (86.6 percent of child workers) than among girls (13.4 percent). The report was based on 2004 data provided by the Ministry of Labor and Employment.

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, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on disability. There is no provision for equal pay for equal work.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred. According to the WLSA, there was no legal basis for discrimination against women in employment, business, and access to credit, although social barriers to equality remained. Both men and women reported that hiring practices often aligned with gender, with men preferentially selected for certain positions (such as mechanics) and women preferentially selected for other positions (such as sewing machine operators).

A 2013 study by the Lesotho Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS found substantial discrimination in employment and occupation against those who are HIV-positive (see section 6). The Ministry of Labor and Employment, however, did not report any cases during the year of such discrimination against those who were HIV-positive. The law prohibits such discrimination.

Migrant workers enjoy the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is a sector-specific minimum wage and a general minimum wage. The general minimum monthly wage varied from 1,402 maloti ($106.21) to 1,530 maloti ($115.91). The Lesotho Bureau of Statistics official estimate for the poverty income level was 246.60 maloti ($18.70) per month. Minimum wage provisions do not cover significant portions of the workforce. Labor laws do not cover workers in agriculture or other informal sectors.

The law stipulates standards for hours of work, including a maximum 45-hour workweek, a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours, a daily minimum rest period of one hour, at least 12 days of paid leave per year, paid sick leave, and public holidays. Required overtime is legal as long as overtime wages for work in excess of the standard 45-hour workweek are paid. The maximum overtime allowed is 11 hours per week; however, there are exemptions under special circumstances. The laws require the premium pay for overtime be at a rate not less than 25 percent more than the employee’s normal hourly wage rate; any employer who requires excessive compulsory overtime is liable to a fine, imprisonment, or both.

The law empowers the Ministry of Labor and Employment to issue regulations on occupational health and safety standards, and the commissioner of labor is responsible for investigating allegations of labor law violations.

The law requires employers to provide adequate light, ventilation, and sanitary facilities for employees and to install and maintain machinery in a manner that minimizes injury. It also requires each employer to have a registered health and safety officer. Employers must provide first aid kits, safety equipment, and protective clothing. The law also provides for a compensation system for industrial injuries and diseases related to employment. Penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations.

Labor inspectors worked in all districts and generally conducted unannounced inspections of a random sample of workplaces on a weekly basis. The ministry began implementing International Labor Organization Recommendation 204 to make the informal sector liable for inspection. The ministry’s inspectorate reported employers, particularly in the security, transport, and construction sectors, did not always observe the minimum wage and hours of work laws. Many locally owned businesses did not keep employees’ records to facilitate labor inspections as required by law. Smaller employers failed to establish safety committees, did not have complete first aid kits, and did not provide protective clothing. With the exception of the mining industry, employers’ compliance with health and safety regulations generally was low. According to the Ministry of Labor and Employment, noncompliance with the health and safety regulations increased especially in construction, where there was an increasing frequency of fatal accidents. The International Labor Organization’s Better Work Lesotho (BWL) also reported some employers paid workers less than required by law for overtime work.

Trade union representatives described textile-sector working conditions as poor or even harsh but not dangerous. Union officials stated most textile factories were in prefabricated metal buildings. Unions reported few examples of dangerous health hazards but noted that in government-constructed factories there was usually improper ventilation due to poor planning and design. Employers, who leased the factories from the government, were not allowed to change the design of government factory buildings to install ventilation systems. Third-party auditors hired by foreign textile buyers conducted spot checks on many exporting factories, customarily sought labor’s input, and briefed the unions on their findings. Unions believed the third-party auditors kept factory owners in line with health and safety regulations. Unions also mentioned compliance with labor law and labor standards was much higher at factories enrolled in the BWL program.

Many workplace policies covered employees with HIV/AIDS. Some of the larger factories maintained health services at the workplace. Where factories did not provide health care, workers had the right to access services at public health centers. Employers provided space for employee examinations and time off for employees to see doctors, receive counseling, and participate in educational and antistigma programs.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment is responsible for enforcing these laws and standards, but limited budget resources constrained enforcement efforts. Inspections did not cover agricultural and other informal sectors, which employed most workers. A recent study on the rural and informal economy estimated that 47.8 percent of workers worked in the informal economy. The ministry’s inspectorate noted penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The BWL supported ministry inspection efforts by providing examples of crucial noncompliance and inconsistent labor law application for inspectors to raise with employers. The BWL also shared experiences and assessment findings with the ministry on a regular basis with a view to work toward industry-wide improvements.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment received 80 reports of workplace fatalities and accidents, 35 percent of which occurred in the textile industry. The ministry attributed an increase in the number of accidents to an improvement in the reporting of accidents compared with previous years. Ministry representatives indicated underreporting was a possibility.

Working conditions for foreign or migrant workers were similar to those of residents.

The law does not explicitly provide that workers may remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Nevertheless, sections of the code on safety in the workplace and dismissal imply such a dismissal would be illegal. Authorities protected employees when violations of the law were reported.

Liberia

Executive Summary

Liberia is a constitutional republic with a bicameral national assembly. A legal challenge to the first round of presidential and legislative elections in October delayed the presidential runoff election pending resolution of the complaint process. In October, 73 legislative seats were contested for the House of Representatives in elections that domestic and international observers considered generally free and fair. On December 7, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the first-round election results. On December 26, George Weah was elected president for a six-year term in a peaceful runoff election that was generally considered to be free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, although lapses occurred.

The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial killings by police; police abuse, harassment, and intimidation of detainees and others; arbitrary arrest and detention; press harassment; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases of violence against women and children, including rape, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and trafficking in persons.

Impunity remained a serious problem for individuals who committed atrocities during the civil wars, as well as for those responsible for current and continuing crimes, despite intermittent and limited government attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of current abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Corruption at all levels of government continued to undermine public trust in state institutions.

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

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

There were a few reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, on February 4, an officer of the Liberia National Police (LNP) assigned in Brewerville, Monrovia, allegedly stabbed and killed civilian Fedesco Chea during an argument that began when the officer was reportedly impounding the victim’s motorcycle for violating a curfew. The Professional Standards Division of the LNP, which is responsible for disciplinary actions, has no record of the victim’s death.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits practices such as torture and inhuman treatment. Sections 5.1 and 5.6 of the penal code provide criminal penalties for excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and address permissible uses of force during arrest or in preventing the escape of a prisoner from custody. Nonetheless, police and other security officers allegedly abused, harassed, and intimidated persons in police custody, as well as those seeking police protection. At least one police officer was convicted of rape of a person seeking police protection.

In February a police officer was tried and found guilty of statutory rape in Bong County after a child sought protection at the local police station; the officer digitally violated her four times during the course of the night. The incident provoked significant community agitation, and the officer was promptly arrested, tried by a jury, convicted, and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment.

In September the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation (BCR) fired 10 officers (including the prison superintendent), demoted one, and banned a Ministry of Health worker from all BCR facilities after a female inmate in Tubmanburg Prison became pregnant; prison officials and the Health Ministry worker attempted a forced abortion to hide the pregnancy, making the woman extremely ill. The investigation revealed a corrections officer had raped the same woman in 2014. As of September the case had been turned over to the solicitor general, but the woman had not filed criminal charges.

In 2015 the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services identified the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) as having a high incidence of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). The UN’s Conduct and Discipline Unit (CDU) of the Department of Field Support identified 85 cases of alleged SEA in the period 2008-14. To address this, between July 2015 and June 2016, 5,042 UNMIL personnel received training in the UN’s “Zero Tolerance Policy” for sexual exploitation and abuse. In October 2016 UNMIL issued new standard operating procedures on reporting and investigating allegations of misconduct to combat further SEA cases. UNMIL also worked with the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection (MoGCSP) to integrate its SEA referral pathway with the ministry’s own sexual and gender-based violence pathway, and it undertook a comprehensive training and awareness campaign through its Anti-SEA Champions program involving prominent representatives from both UNMIL and local communities. A November 2016 special report of the secretary general reported only one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse that took place in 2016 (by a police officer from Zimbabwe). Not all allegations were reported, however, and despite concerted efforts to oppose the practice, UNMIL’s CDU was aware of continued exploitation by personnel who frequented prostitutes.

As of November 20, UNMIL, which plans to close its mission in March 2018, had received six SEA allegations against its military personnel in 2017. One incident allegedly took place in 2017, four prior, and one at an unknown date. Five investigations were pending: One was an allegation of abuse by a military individual from the Philippines and four were allegations of exploitation by military members from Ghana, Pakistan, and Nigeria (two cases). One allegation against a military member from Nepal of attempted sexual assault was substantiated. The United Nations repatriated the individual, and the troop contributing country demoted the individual.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate medical care. Prisoners also complained of inadequate food, although one of the country’s largest prisons, in Zwedru, grew most of its own food (except rice).

Physical Conditions: Inadequate space, bedding and mosquito netting, food, sanitation, ventilation, cooling, lighting, basic and emergency medical care, and potable water contributed to harsh and sometimes life-threatening conditions in the 16 prisons and detention centers. Prison officials misappropriated food and other items intended for inmates; as of August after disciplinary procedures, the Ministry of Justice’s BCR had demoted one superintendent for misappropriation of food and other resources associated with feeding of prisoners. Many prisoners supplemented their meals by purchasing food at the prison or receiving food from visitors in accordance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. According to the BCR, the government’s food allocation is sufficient to meet daily calorie requirements, and both the allocation to prisons and distribution to prisoners were tracked by the BCR and were available upon request. The BCR reported five prisoner deaths through July 31. Four of these deaths were due to natural causes, and one sentenced prisoner was ruled a suicide by medical personnel.

Gross overcrowding continued to be a problem. The UNMIL Human Rights and Protection Section (HRPS) reported the total BCR prison population in the country was 200 percent higher than the planned capacity. In eight of the 16 BCR facilities, detention figures were 200 to 400 percent more than planned capacity. According to the BCR, as of July approximately one-half of the country’s 2,211 prisoners were at the Monrovia Central Prison (MCP). MCP’s official capacity is 375 detainees, but the prison held 1,071 in July of whom 75 percent (805) were pretrial detainees. As of July 26, the prison population countrywide included 51 women, of whom 15 were assigned to the MCP, which also held 25 male juveniles, 22 of whom were in pretrial detention. The BCR administration complained of understaffing, but 137 newly trained corrections officers were hired in August. No comprehensive staffing document exists to verify BCR staffing claims.

In some locations the BCR relied on the LNP to provide court and medical escorts; other locations relied on court officers to transport prisoners to court; still other locations reportedly had to call the county ambulance to transport prisoners and escorts to the hospital. The MCP had adequate vehicles to meet its transportation requirements (18 cars, trucks, and buses, and 11 motorcycles) and receives fuel coupons from the BCR administration when needed.

The Ministry of Justice funded the BCR, which did not have a specific funding allocation beyond those funds under the national budget. The BCR lacked funds for the maintenance of prison facilities, fuel, vehicle maintenance, cellular or internet communications, and regular and timely payment of employees, which remained a government-wide problem. According to the UNMIL HRPS, most prisons and facilities were far below UN minimum standards, in unacceptable condition, and often had leaking roofs, cracks in the walls, and in some cases lacked basic elements like septic tanks or electricity.

Medical services were available at most of the prisons but not on a daily or 24-hour basis. The only location where medical staff was available Monday through Friday was at the MCP. Health-care workers visited most other prisons and detention centers one to two times per week.

The Ministry of Health and County Health Teams had primary responsibility for the provision of medicines. The BCR’s budget included a small line item to supplement medicines to cover those that the Ministry of Health cannot provide. The Carter Center, Don Bosco Catholic Services, and the Catholic Sisters provided medical services, medicines, nutritional supplements, food, and related training to improve basic sanitary conditions at the MCP. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Partners in Health and the Ministry of Health provided health services to all facilities. The supply chain for medicines was weak throughout the country; prison medical staff often did not have access to necessary medicines. NGOs and community groups also provided medicines to treat seizures, skin infections, and mental health conditions. The ministry and county health teams replenished medications to treat malaria and tuberculosis only when stocks were exhausted. Since replenishment sometimes took weeks or months, inmates went without medication for lengthy periods.

There were reports of inadequate treatment for ailing inmates and inmates with disabilities. At the MCP, the BCR works to identify individuals with special needs, including those with tuberculosis through screening provided by the Ministry of Health and Partners in Health. Although the law provides for compassionate release of prisoners who are ill, such release was uncommon. Authorities determined whether to release an ill prisoner on an ad hoc basis, and most were quarantined after presenting symptoms rather than being released. As a result public health in prisons and BCR’s ability to respond and contain disease among the prison population was poor.

Authorities held men and women in separate cellblocks at the MCP, but in counties with smaller detention facilities, authorities designated a single cell for female prisoners and held juveniles in the same cells with adults. In Barclayville the police have one cell while BCR has the other, as there are only two cells in the station. There is no designated cell for females or juveniles, and as of July, one female detainee in Barclayville was being held in the conference room. Except at the MCP, which had a juvenile cellblock, children were held in separate cells within adult cellblocks. Because many minors did not have identity documents at the time the court issued commitment orders, they were sometimes misidentified by the courts as adults, issued confinement orders as adults, and therefore held in adult cellblocks. There were also reports by NGOs and observers of inmates in the juvenile facility reaching age 18 who were not transferred to the adult population. Pretrial detainees were generally held with convicted prisoners.

Conditions for women prisoners were somewhat better than for men; women inmates were less likely to suffer from overcrowding and had more freedom to move within the women’s section of facilities. The UN HRPS stated female inmates’ personal hygiene needs were not accounted for, indicating that many female detainees lacked sanitary items.

Administration: UNMIL’s Corrections Advisory Unit (CAU) departed on June 30. The BCR has its own training staff, which conducted the last two preservice trainings (the CAU and Swedish government provided financial support for logistics and uniforms). To allay the end of UNMIL’s support for BCR’s electronic recordkeeping system, the BCR increased use of its own data collections and systems. BCR reporting expanded to capture data regarding prisoners with mental and physical disabilities. National records officers communicate (via telephone) weekly with facility records officers to collect updated information, and share a monthly roll with county attorneys; however, the transfer of paper records to Monrovia remained inadequate.

Testing of an electronic recordkeeping system and a biometric intake processing system ceased. Developed through a cooperative international initiative by two NGOs and a donor country, progress stopped due to a repeatedly broken computer, inconsistent access to electricity and the internet, lack of computer maintenance, virus attacks, the corrosive effect of salt air on electronic equipment, and insufficient government support.

Authorities sometimes used alternatives to prison sentencing for nonviolent offenders, but courts failed to make adequate efforts to employ alternatives to incarceration at the pretrial stages of criminal proceedings. Courts issued probationary sentences in some cases for nonviolent offenders. In Monrovia as of August, magistrates were sentencing prisoners with minor offenses who otherwise could receive sentences ranging from probation to prison terms up to one year in length. Circuit courts used a supervised pretrial release programs in conjunction with the Magistrate Sitting Program, established to expedite the trials of persons detained at the MCP, but the program was not widely used outside Monrovia. Public defenders continued to use a plea-bargaining system in some courts. The law provides for bail, including release on the detainee’s own recognizance. The bail system, however, was inefficient and susceptible to corruption. No ombudsman system operated on behalf of prisoners and detainees.

Staff complaints prompted a July investigation of the prison system by the BCR in conjunction with the Justice Ministry’s Internal Audit Division that revealed corruption in the distribution of food, including misappropriation. In prior years NGOs reported severe food shortages, but Ministry of Justice central administration records showed sufficient food purchased and sent to facility warehouses. The BCR investigated three superintendents during the year: two received demotions for misappropriation of resources, and one was fired.

The government did not make internal reports and investigations into allegations of inhuman conditions in prisons public; however, the BCR sometimes made prison statistics publicly available. Although not systematically implemented, the BCR has a media policy that dictates the release of information, including in response to requests from the public.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local human rights groups, the UNMIL HRPS, international NGOs, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), diplomatic personnel, and media. Some human rights groups, including domestic and international organizations, regularly visited detainees at police headquarters and prisoners in the MCP. The Liberian Independent National Commission of Human Rights (INCHR) also had access to and visited all facilities.

Improvements: During the first half of the year, UNMIL’s CAU completed a quick-impact project at the MCP that set up a vocational tailoring program for approximately 40 inmates. UNMIL also provided the BCR with assistance in training and identifying officers for deployment on UN Peacekeeping missions. Upon its departure, UNMIL’s CAU donated its computers and other electronic equipment.

The ICRC worked with the BCR through April to train staff at every prison to do a body-mass index check quarterly and to submit the reports to the BCR Administration.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The arbitrary arrest, assault, and detention of citizens continued. In July, two LNP officers assaulted and pepper-sprayed a civilian while attempting an arrest. The victim, Mark Doe, died from his injuries. The officers were dismissed, and a criminal case remained pending.

Police officers or magistrates frequently detained citizens for owing money to a complainant. In August 2016 Chief Justice Francis Korkpor ordered judges and magistrates to stop issuing criminal writs of arrest without the approval of prosecutors from the Ministry of Justice or based on case-specific police requests. Despite Korkpor’s order, some magistrates continued to order writs of arrest in exchange for payment from complainants. This occurred in both civil cases and criminal cases.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Justice has responsibility for enforcing laws and maintaining order through supervision of the LNP and other law enforcement agencies. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, provide external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities, specifically coastal patrolling by the Coast Guard.

The INCHR reported violent police action during arrests was the most common complaint of misconduct. The LNP’s Professional Standards Division is responsible for investigating allegations of police misconduct and referring cases for prosecution. There were instances during the year in which civilian security forces acted with impunity. In 2016 the legislature passed and the president signed a police act that mandates establishment of a civilian complaints review board to improve accountability and oversight, but as of August the board had not been constituted.

An armed forces disciplinary board investigates alleged misconduct and abuses by military personnel. The armed forces administer nonjudicial punishment. As of August the disciplinary board had three active cases. In accordance with a memorandum of understanding between the ministries of justice and defense, the armed forces refer capital cases to the civil court system for adjudication.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In general police must have warrants issued by a magistrate to make arrests. The law allows for arrests without a warrant if necessary paperwork is filed immediately afterwards for review by the appropriate authority. Nonetheless, arrests often were made without judicial authorization, and warrants were sometimes issued without sufficient evidence.

The law provides that authorities either charge or release detainees within 48 hours, and detainees generally were informed of the charges against them upon arrest and sometimes brought before a judge for arraignment within 48 hours. A detainee’s access to a hearing before a judge sometimes depended on whether there was a functioning court in the area. Those arraigned were often held in lengthy pretrial detention. Some detainees, particularly among the majority who lacked the means to hire a lawyer, were held for more than 48 hours without charge. The law also provides that, once detained, a criminal defendant must be indicted during the next succeeding term of court after arrest or, if the indicted defendant is not tried within the next succeeding court term and no cause is given, the case against the defendant is to be dismissed; nevertheless, cases were rarely dismissed on either ground.

Several reforms made to improve detainee access to an attorney included the November 2016 establishment of a public defender’s office at the MCP and the subsequent deployment of additional public defenders to courts around the country. Under the public defender program, each police station maintains an office of court liaison that works with the public defenders’ office in each county. Magistrates or police officers are responsible for contacting the public defender in cases where individuals are arrested on a warrant, whereas the court liaison officer is responsible for contacting the public defender when warrantless arrests are made. According to UNMIL’s HRPS, greater coordination between these offices would improve the likelihood that indigent detainees have access to legal representation.

The law provides for bail for all noncapital or drug-related criminal offenses; it severely limits bail for individuals charged with capital offenses or serious sexual crimes. Bail can be paid in cash, property, insurance, or be granted on personal recognizance. Detainees have the right to prompt access to counsel, visits from family members, and, if indigent, an attorney provided by the state in criminal cases. The government frequently did not respect these rights, and indigent defendants appearing in magistrate courts–the venue in which most cases are initiated–were rarely provided state-funded counsel. Public defender offices remained understaffed and underfunded, and some allegedly charged indigent clients for their services. Although official policy allows suspects detained to communicate with others, including a lawyer or family member, inadequate provision of telephone services resulted in many inmates being unable to communicate with anyone outside of the detention facility. House arrest was rarely used.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces continued to make arbitrary arrests, especially during major holidays, in an effort reportedly to prevent expected criminal activity. In April, five LNP officers in Grand Bassa County were charged with arbitrary arrest, illegal search, and detention of a civilian and suspended for five months after an operation targeting street crime transformed into a private business.

Pretrial Detention: Although the law provides for a defendant to receive an expeditious trial, lengthy pretrial and prearraignment detention remained serious problems. Pretrial detainees continued to account for approximately 63 percent of the prison population. Those arrested for sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes constituted the fastest-growing category of pretrial detainees as of August.

Unavailability of counsel at the early stages of proceedings contributed to prolonged pretrial detention. Data provided by the BCR showed a pretrial detainee population of 1,494 as of August. On average, current pretrial detainees had been held for just over one year.

The Magistrate Sitting Program suffered from poor coordination among judges, prosecutors, defense counsels, and corrections personnel; deficient docket management; inappropriate involvement of extrajudicial actors; and lack of logistical support. In 2016 the program released 696 pretrial detainees. As of July 31, the program had released 234 pretrial detainees during the year.

The corrections system continued to develop its capacity to implement probation, including the use of the supervised pretrial release program. In some cases, however, the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum length of sentence that could be imposed for the alleged crime. A shortage of trained prosecutors and public defenders, poor court administration and file management, inadequate police investigation and evidence collection, and judicial corruption exacerbated the incidence and duration of pretrial detention.

With UNICEF support, the Ministry of Justice and the MoGCSP established procedures to divert many juvenile offenders from the formal criminal justice system and place them in a variety of safe homes and “kinship” care situations. The program has dramatically decreased the number of minors in detention. According to UNICEF, as of June, 68 children had been released from detention and an additional 424 cases had been mediated to avoid confinement.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and to obtain prompt release. The government frequently did not respect these rights, and the court system lacked the capacity to process promptly most cases. Additionally, public defenders lacked the capacity to file the requisite motions, and many clients lacked the means to hire private attorneys to do so.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence and engaged in corruption. Uneven application of the law, unequal distribution of personnel and resources, lack of training, and a poor road network remained problems throughout the judicial system.

Corruption persisted in the legal system. Some judges accepted bribes to award damages in civil cases. Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, or acquit defendants in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors, or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial.

According to the UNMIL HRPS, while the Supreme Court has made provision through the establishment of the Ethics and Grievance Committee for the review of unethical conduct of lawyers and has suspended some lawyers from legal practice for up to five years, the public has brought few cases for fear of retribution. Mechanisms for the public to bring complaints of corruption and malpractice include the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which deals with complaints on judges’ conduct, and the Grievance and Ethics Committee, which deals with lawyers. Both lacked appropriate guidelines to deliver their mandates effectively.

In February the Supreme Court suspended three judges for committing judicial malpractice, including breach of attorney-client privilege and “degrading the dignity and integrity of the judiciary,” after each was accused of corruption. In September the Daily Observer reported the Judicial Inquiry Committee had launched a “massive corruption” investigation of judges and court officers after a criminal court bailiff publicly confessed to colluding with judges to solicit bribes in exchange for predetermined outcomes.

The government continued efforts to harmonize the formal and traditional customary justice systems, in particular through campaigns to encourage trial of criminal cases in formal courts. Traditional leaders were encouraged to defer to police investigators and prosecutors in cases involving murder, rape, and human trafficking, as well as some civil cases that could be resolved in either formal or traditional systems. The Carter Center runs an access to justice program that seeks to strengthen access to justice for historically marginalized rural citizens with the goal of creating a functional and responsive justice system consistent with local needs, practices, and human rights standards. During the year the center successfully mediated a long-standing boundary dispute between residents of Kilepo-Kanweakean in River Gee County and Putu-Pennokon in Grand Gedeh County.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

By law trials are public. Circuit court but not magistrate court proceedings may be by jury. In some cases defendants may select a bench trial. Jurors were subject to influence and corrupt practices that undermined their neutrality. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants have the right to be informed of charges promptly and in detail. If a defendant, complainant, or witness does not speak or understand English, the court provides an interpreter for the trial. The justice system does not provide interpreters throughout the legal process, however. For example, there are no accommodations or sign-language interpreters provided for the deaf, and rarely is interpretation available unless paid for by the defendant. Defendants also have the right to a trial without delay and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, although these rights often were not observed. Defendants are presumed innocent, and they have the right to confront and question prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, present their own evidence and witnesses, and appeal adverse decisions. The law extends the above rights to all defendants. These rights, however, were not observed and were rarely enforced.

Some local NGOs continued to provide legal services to indigent defendants and others who had no representation. The Liberian National Bar Association continued to offer limited pro bono legal services to the indigent. Financial constraints remained a major challenge in recruiting experienced lawyers for this service. Many lawyers also could not practice because they failed to pay bar association dues, further limiting the pool from which the association could draw pro bono attorneys. Ranging from L$20,000 ($223) to L$30,000 ($335) per year, bar dues are very expensive when compared with the World Bank’s 2015 estimated per capita gross national income of L$38,000 ($424) for the country.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

No specialized court exists to address lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Individuals or organizations can seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts or through administrative mechanisms, which include out-of-court conferences, hearings concerning labor disputes at the Ministry of Labor for workers’ rights, and other grievance hearings at the Civil Service Agency of Liberia. While there are civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts, and adverse decisions in human rights cases may be appealed, the majority of human rights cases are brought against nonstate actors. Human rights violations are generally reported to the INCHR, which refers cases to relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Justice. In some cases individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies after all domestic redress options have been exhausted. While there is an Economic Community of West African States human rights court that citizens may access, few could afford to do so.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held presidential and legislative elections on October 10. A runoff presidential election was scheduled for November, but it was delayed due to a legal challenge to the October results. The Supreme Court ruled on December 7 that that there was insufficient evidence presented by the appellant political parties (Unity Party and Liberty Party) to justify a rerun. The court ordered the NEC to schedule the runoff in accordance with the constitution and specified some remedial actions to be taken by the NEC, such as cleaning up duplications in the Final Registration Roll of voters. The NEC scheduled the presidential runoff election for December 26.

On December 26, Senator George Weah won the presidential runoff in elections that were generally considered free and fair. In the first round in October, 75 percent of Liberians voted, and 56 percent participated in the runoff elections.

Some Muslim groups complained that registration procedures unfairly discriminated against them in proving citizenship or completing registration, including by discriminating against traditionally Muslim-sounding names; many women who wear the hijab were required by elections registrars to remove their head covering for registration photos, whereas women in traditional Liberian headdresses were not required to do so.

In controversial decisions in July, the Supreme Court ruled the NEC had improperly disqualified two vice presidential candidates and that the candidates may run but should pay a fine for violating the Code of Conduct. The reversal of the court’s related March 3 decision encouraged some government officials to resign to run for office, and most wishing to run could do so. Several political parties and many local media criticized the July decision.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors limited women’s participation in politics compared with men. Women participated at significantly lower levels than men as party leaders and as elected officials. Election law, however, requires that political parties “endeavor to ensure 30 percent” female participation; while this provision has no enforcement mechanism, there was a 16 percent uptick in the number of female candidates listed for the legislative race of the 2017 election cycle. Preliminary reports from the NEC indicated more women than men voted on October 10.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law calls for integrity in government service and enumerates numerous offenses related to corrupt acts by officials, including making false statements, tampering with public records, obstruction of justice, bribery, intimidation, and abuse of office. The law does not provide explicit criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, although criminal penalties exist for economic sabotage, abuse of office, bribery, obstruction of justice, and other corruption-related acts. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption persisted throughout the government, and the World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Low pay for civil servants, minimal job training, and little judicial accountability exacerbated official corruption and contributed to a culture of impunity. The government dismissed or in some instances suspended officials for alleged corruption and recommended others for prosecution. The government generally failed to charge higher-ranking officials with corruption and tended to recommend prosecution only against low-level civil servants. An audit by the Internal Audit Agency implicated government officials in the misuse of funds from the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning’s Private Sector Development Initiative, which was intended to provide small business loans. The Internal Audit Agency forwarded its audit results to the Office of the President in June, and in August some individuals reportedly were asked privately to make restitution. As of November details regarding whether such payments had been made or who made them had not been made public, and no further action had been taken.

Prosecution continued of those implicated in the Global Witness bribery and corruption case. A special prosecution task force appointed by the president indicted former speaker of the house Alex Tyler, Senator Varney Sherman, and other codefendants for bribery in connection with the award of a concession contract to Sable Mining. As of November the case was pending following replacement of the trial judge and awaited a Supreme Court decision on the admissibility of certain evidence.

Police corruption remained a problem. The LNP investigated reports of police misconduct or corruption, and authorities suspended or dismissed several LNP officers. The most prevalent form of police corruption was solicitation of “on the spot” fines at roadblocks for traffic offenses. In June the LNP launched an antibribery campaign called “Don’t Bribe the Police.” The inspector general of the LNP also worked to strengthen the Professional Standards Division, which is charged with investigating police misconduct. Authorities suspended or dismissed several LNP officers for misconduct, including taking bribes. For example, several police officers were suspended or otherwise disciplined after being recorded soliciting bribes from vehicles during traffic stops.

Financial Disclosure: By law senior political appointees must declare their assets to the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission before taking office and upon leaving. There are administrative sanctions for noncompliance. Financial disclosures are not made public unless the official making the declaration chooses to release them.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, but the government did not enforce the law effectively, and rape remained a serious and pervasive problem. The law’s definition of rape does not specifically criminalize spousal rape. Conviction of first-degree rape–defined as rape involving a minor, rape that results in serious injury or disability, or rape committed with the use of a deadly weapon–is punishable by up to life imprisonment. Conviction of second-degree rape, defined as rape committed without the aggravating circumstances enumerated above, is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

A specialized sexual violence court (Court E) has exclusive original jurisdiction over cases of sexual assault, including abuse of minors, but it was limited in effectiveness by having only one of two authorized judges presiding. Of 121 SGBV cases submitted to the grand jury for prosecution, 117 resulted in indictment. Observers believed the true incidence of statutory rape was much higher than the number of rape cases reported or prosecuted.

The government operated two shelters for SGBV victims, victims of trafficking in persons, and others in need of protection, and established two hotlines for citizens to report SGBV-related crimes. The Sexual Pathways Referral program, a combined initiative of the government and NGOs, improved access to medical, psychosocial, legal, and counseling assistance for victims. LNP officers received training on sexual offenses as part of their initial training.

An overtaxed justice system also prevented timely prosecution, and due to delays in prosecution, many victims chose to cease cooperating with prosecutors. The government raised awareness of rape through billboards, radio broadcasts, and other outreach campaigns.

Although outlawed, domestic violence remained a widespread problem. The maximum penalty for conviction of domestic violence is six months’ imprisonment, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. The Woman and Children Protection Section (WACPS) of the LNP received reports on 560 cases of domestic violence between January and July, thought to reflect only a small fraction of the true number.

During the year the MoGCSP organized workshops and seminars to combat domestic violence. In August the MoGCSP embedded two social workers within the WACPS to assist victimized or abandoned women and children who sought refuge at the LNP headquarters safe house, and the LNP released funds to purchase food, diapers, and other necessities.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C, although the government maintained that a 2011 law protecting children against all forms of violence also proscribes FGM/C. The penal code prohibits causing bodily harm with a deadly weapon. No FGM/C perpetrators, however, were fully prosecuted. In Tapita, Nimba County, a court case charging negligent homicide, criminal solicitation, and criminal conspiracy was brought against four individuals after 16-year-old Zaye Doe died after she was forced to undergo FGM/C (while being forcibly initiated into the Sande society). The accused were arraigned, but the second hearing of the case was postponed because the prosecuting attorney was ill. The case was later suspended.

There was steady movement in prior years toward limiting or prohibiting the practice. Government officials routinely engaged traditional leaders to underscore the government’s commitment to eliminate FGM/C. The president, minister of internal affairs (as overseer of traditional culture), and the minister of gender, children, and social protection spoke out against the practice, and the Ministry of Justice and MoGCSP worked together in an attempt to pass anti-FGM/C legislation. The government routinely decried FGM/C in discussions of violence against women, although there remained some political resistance to passing legislation criminalizing FGM/C because of the public sensitivity of the topic and its association with particular tribes in populous counties.

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

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to a 2015 UN assessment, accusations of witchcraft were common and often had “devastating consequences” for those accused, including “trial by ordeal,” and in some cases, large fines for simple mistakes like inadvertently spilling food when trying to serve it, which is interpreted as a sign of witchcraft. Authorities often failed to investigate or prosecute cases involving trial by ordeal.

Trial by ordeal included: forcing the ingestion of poison; hanging the accused from a tree by the arms or feet for extended periods of time; requiring the accused to retrieve an item from a pot of hot oil; heating a metal object until it glows red and then applying it to the accused’s skin; beatings; rubbing chili pepper and mud into the accused’s bodily orifices (including the vagina); depriving the accused of food and water; requiring the accused to sit in the sun or rain for extended periods; forcing the accused to sit on hot coals; forcing the accused to ingest food or nonfood substances to induce severe vomiting, diarrhea, and other illnesses; and forcing women to parade naked around the community.

On May 16, traditional leaders reportedly held hostage, beat, forced humiliating acts upon, and otherwise abused 13 women in Saclepea, Nimba County, after the women had been accused of witchcraft. LNP officers rescued the women during a “trial” proceeding, and arrested the traditional leaders responsible. The suspects were taken to the Nimba police detachment for investigation on aggravated assault charges, and the case remained pending.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment, which remained a significant problem, including in schools and places of work. Government billboards and notices in government offices warned against harassment in the workplace.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: By law women may inherit land and property, are entitled to equal pay for equal work, have the right of equal access to education, and may own and manage businesses. Under family law, men retain legal custody of children in divorce cases. In rural areas traditional practice or traditional leaders often did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit land. Programs to educate traditional leaders on women’s rights made some progress, but authorities often did not enforce those rights.

Children

Birth Registration: Children of “Negro” descent born in the country to at least one Liberian parent are citizens. Children born outside the country to a Liberian father are also Liberian citizens. Nevertheless, they may lose that citizenship if they do not reside in Liberia prior to age 21, or if residing abroad they do not take an oath of allegiance before a Liberian consul before age 23. Children born to non-Liberian fathers and Liberian mothers outside of the country do not derive citizenship from the mother. If a child born in the country is not of Negro descent, the child may not acquire citizenship. Non-Negro residents, such as members of the large Lebanese community, may not acquire or transmit citizenship. The law requires parents to register their infants within 14 days of birth, but fewer than 5 percent of births were registered. Even more women than usual did not give birth at health facilities during the Ebola crisis, resulting in thousands of unregistered births. The government acknowledged this problem and took steps to register these children. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The law provides for tuition-free and compulsory education in public schools from the primary (grades one-six) through junior secondary (grades seven-nine) levels, but many schools charged informal fees to pay teachers’ salaries and operating costs the government did not fund. These fees prevented many students from attending school. By law fees are required at the senior secondary level (grades 10-12).

Girls accounted for less than one-half of all students and graduates in primary and secondary schools, with their proportion decreasing progressively at higher levels. Sexual harassment of girls in schools was commonplace, and adolescent girls were often denied access to school if they became pregnant. Nonetheless, the country made significant progress in narrowing the gender gap at all levels of education, especially in primary school where the gender parity index went from 88 girls per 100 boys in 2008 to 96 girls for every 100 boys in school in 2015. Students with disabilities and those in rural counties were most likely to encounter significant barriers to education.

Child Abuse: Widespread child abuse persisted, and reports of sexual violence against children continued. The government engaged in public campaigns to combat child rape. The MoGCSP reported removing children from the immediate reach of the perpetrators and placing them in safe homes. During the year the MoGCSP launched a “child hotline.” Because the ministry had not designated a call-answering command center, social workers were responsible for taking calls while working and at home, and they did not always respond.

Early and Forced Marriage: The 2011 National Children’s Act sets the marriage age for all persons at 18, while the Domestic Relations Act sets the minimum marriage age at 21 for men and 18 for women. The Equal Rights of the Traditional Marriage Act of 1998 permits a girl to marry at age 16. For additional information, see Appendix C.

In January the MoGCSP launched a strategic framework and campaign to end child marriage with UNICEF funding. The MoGCSP held working sessions with students in six of the country’s 15 counties, and launched a community-awareness campaign intended to highlight the importance of ending child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities generally enforced the law, although girls continued to be exploited in prostitution in exchange for money, food, and school fees. Additionally, sex in exchange for grades was a pervasive problem in secondary schools, with many teachers forcing female students to exchange sexual favors for passing grades. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Statutory rape is a criminal offense that has a maximum sentence if convicted of life imprisonment. The penalty for conviction of child pornography is up to five years’ imprisonment. Orphaned children remained especially susceptible to exploitation, including sex trafficking.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: There were cases of infanticide. According to the Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Section, children with disabilities were often abandoned, neglected, and exposed to risks (including death). Persons with disabilities suffered torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, or punishment. Families sometimes took their relatives who were mentally ill to “healing centers,” where some were chained, and the legs of children with clubfoot were severely beaten with blunt objects with the aim of straightening the legs.

Displaced Children: Despite international and government attempts to reunite children separated from their families during the civil war, some children–a mix of street children, former combatants, and internally displaced persons–continued to live on the streets of Monrovia.

Institutionalized Children: Regulation of orphanages continued to be very weak and many lacked adequate sanitation, medical care, and nutrition. They relied primarily on private donations and support from international organizations such as UNICEF and the World Food Program for emergency food and medical and psychological care. Many orphans received no assistance from these institutions. According to the NGO National Concern Youth of Liberia, some groups under the guise of operating an orphanage brought children from rural areas with a promise to provide them with education and then sold the children, often to households in the Monrovia area.

Since the country did not have a facility for their care, juvenile offenders outside of the MCP were routinely housed in separate cells in adult offender cellblocks. Guidelines existed and steps occasionally were taken to divert juveniles from the formal criminal justice system and place them in a variety of safe homes and “kinship” care situations.

In July the government successfully prosecuted a trafficking-in-persons case; two young girls were the victims. The perpetrators, two Sierra Leoneans, transported the girls from Sierra Leone with the intent to sell one of them in Liberia. Two Liberian citizens were also prosecuted for their roles as facilitators. The trial was conducted over five months, and the main perpetrator, Sao Kromah, received a 10-year prison sentence. The two victims were in a safe house while the government worked to return them to their families in Sierra Leone.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a small Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but these provisions were not always enforced. Government buildings were not easily accessible to persons with mobility impairment. Sign language interpretation was not provided for deaf persons in criminal proceedings or in the provision of state services.

Few children with disabilities had access to education. Public educational institutions discriminated against students with disabilities, arguing resources and equipment were insufficient to accommodate them. Some students with disabilities attended specialized schools mainly for the blind and deaf–but only through elementary school. During the year the legislature passed and amended a Public Health Law to add a chapter on mental health that seeks to give persons with mental health problems equal access to health care and protect the properties, civil, and social rights of such persons.

Students with more significant disabilities are exempt from compulsory education but may attend school subject to constraints on accommodating them. In reality few such students were able to attend either private or public schools.

The right of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs is legally protected and generally respected. Generally, the inaccessibility of buildings posed problems for persons with limited mobility wishing to exercise these rights.

The law requires that the NEC, to the extent practical, ensure that registration and voting centers are accessible to persons with disabilities. Despite educational sessions held by the NEC on the issue, persons living with disabilities faced challenges during the voter registration and voting periods, including lack of access ramps or transportation to voter registration and polling centers. The NEC, however, does offer tactile ballots for the blind. The MoGCSP and the National Commission on Disabilities are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and implementing measures designed to improve respect for their rights.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although the law prohibits ethnic discrimination, racial discrimination is enshrined in the constitution, which restricts citizenship and land ownership to those of “Negro descent.” While persons of Lebanese and Asian descent who were born or who have lived most of their lives in the country may not by law attain citizenship or own land, there were some exceptions.

The 2017 presidential and legislative election season resulted in an increase in reports of xenophobic incidents. Some citizens with last names associated with neighboring countries were accused of being foreigners who should not participate in Liberian elections. Moreover, several Muslim groups noted other forms of discrimination when trying to register to vote, including a group of women in hijab who were told they had to remove their head coverings completely for their registration photo, when non-Muslim women wearing traditional head coverings were not told to remove them. The case was raised to the level of the National Election Commission and reportedly resolved.

Indigenous People

The law recognizes 16 indigenous ethnic groups; each speaks a distinct primary language and is concentrated regionally. Long-standing disputes regarding land and other resources among ethnic groups continued to contribute to social and political tensions.

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

The law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity. “Voluntary sodomy” is a misdemeanor with a penalty for conviction of up to one year’s imprisonment. LGBTI activists reported LGBTI persons faced difficulty in obtaining redress for crimes committed against them, including at police stations, because those accused of criminal acts used the victim’s LGBTI status as a defense. In February a senior LNP officer stated officers should not protect LGBTI individuals because their identity as LGBTI persons violated the law, although there is no such law.

In June an LGBTI individual described respectful treatment by police after she reported a violent assault by a neighbor with a history of harassing and whose family had justified the assault by calling the victim an “aggressive lesbian.” Cases of abuse against LGBTI persons can be reported via the Ministry of Justice, National Aids Commission, and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights; however, no official action was taken.

The law prohibits same-sex couples, regardless of citizenship, from adopting children. LGBTI persons were cautious about revealing their sexual orientation or gender identities. A few civil society groups promoted the rights of LGBTI individuals, but most groups maintained a very low profile due to fear of mistreatment. Additionally, societal stigma and fear of official reprisal prevented some victims from reporting violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, one transgender woman reported being attacked in her apartment by five men who robbed, bound, beat, and raped her. One of the attackers then threatened to kill all transgender individuals in the country. The victim did not report the crime to police. LGBTI persons rarely reported rapes to police due to fear and social stigma surrounding both sexual orientation and rape.

LGBTI individuals faced discrimination in accessing housing, health care, employment, and education. In November 2016 an NGO promoting LGBTI rights was denied reregistration by the Liberia Business Registry for “activity which is not allowed in Liberia.” The registration request continued to be denied.

According to testimonies provided during an assessment conducted in seven communities by a local LGBTI NGO, discrimination against LGBTI persons is prevalent throughout the society, and violence against the community continued to be a concern.

There were press and civil society reports of harassment of persons perceived to be LGBTI, with some newspapers targeting the LGBTI community. Hate speech was a persistent issue. In August, Senate President Pro Tempore Jallah released a statement claiming, “homosexuals and lesbians are using the dollars to ruin the sanity of young people” [sic]. Later that same month, five presidential candidates contesting the October elections stated they would criminalize homosexuality if elected; two others said they would support the LGBTI community.

The Ministry of Health created a coordinator to assist minority groups–including LGBTI persons–in obtaining access to health care and police assistance. Two civil society groups were training 100 police officers in human rights as part of an effort to educate police on the rights of these communities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits “discrimination and vilification on the basis of actual and perceived HIV status” in the workplace, school, and health facilities, with conviction of offenses punishable by a fine of no less than L$1,000 ($12).

The most recent demographic and health survey in 2013 found no measurable change since 2007 in popular attitudes, which remained broadly discriminatory, toward those with HIV. HIV-related social stigma and discrimination discouraged persons from testing for their HIV status, thus limiting HIV prevention and treatment services. Children orphaned because of AIDS faced similar social stigma.

Government ministries developed, adopted, and implemented several strategic plans to combat social stigma and discrimination based on HIV status. The Ministry of Labor continued to promote a supportive environment for persons with HIV. The Ministry of Education continued implementation of its strategic plan to destigmatize and safeguard HIV-positive persons against discrimination in its recruitment, employment, admission, and termination processes.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The penal code classifies mob violence as a crime, Nevertheless, mob violence and vigilantism, due in part to the public’s lack of confidence in police and the judicial system, often resulted in deaths and injuries. Although mob violence usually targeted alleged criminals, it was difficult to determine underlying reasons since cases were rarely prosecuted.

There were also reports of continued stigmatization of Ebola survivors and their families and health-care workers who had worked in Ebola treatment facilities. According to the Ebola Survivors Network, survivors and their families confronted discrimination from landlords, neighbors, health-care providers, and employers. In a widely reported incident in February, a nurse who survived Ebola and immediately returned to work to help other Ebola patients died during complications of childbirth after local health workers refused to administer injections that might have brought them in contact with the nurse’s bodily fluids.

Ritual killings reportedly increased, but it was difficult to ascertain exact numbers since ritual killings were attributed to homicide, accidents, or suicide. There were reports of killings in which body parts were removed from the victim, a practice possibly related to ritual killings. In February a five-year-old boy reportedly survived attempted ritualistic killing in Lofa County after unknown attackers allegedly attempted to remove his penis. A woman from a nearby farm rescued the child, but the attackers escaped.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers, except public servants and employees of state-owned enterprises, the right to freely form or join independent unions of their choice without prior authorization or excessive requirements. It allows unions to conduct their activities without interference by employers, parties or government. The law provides that labor organizations and associations have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules with regard to electing their representatives, organizing their activities, and formulating their programs.

The law provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively. The law also provides for the right of workers to conduct legal strikes. Workers have the right to strike, provided they give the Ministry of Labor 48 hours’ notice of their intent to strike. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and the issuance of threats against union leaders. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law prohibits unions from engaging in partisan political activity and prohibits agricultural workers from joining industrial workers’ organizations. The law prohibits strikes under certain circumstances as follows: if the disputed parties have agreed to refer the issue to arbitration; if the issue is already under arbitration or in court; and if the parties engage in essential services as designated by the National Tripartite Council comprising the Ministry of Labor, Liberian Chamber of Commerce, and the Liberian Labor Union. The National Tripartite Council has not published a list of essential services.

While the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity, it allows for dismissal without cause if the company provides the mandated severance package. It also does not prohibit retaliation against strikers whose strikes comply with the law if they commit “an act that constitutes defamation or a criminal offense, or if the proceedings arise from an employee being dismissed for a valid reason.”

In general the government effectively enforced applicable laws, and workers exercised their rights. Employees enjoy freedom of association, and they have the right to establish and become members of organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization or coercion. The law, however, does not provide adequate protection, and protections depend on whether property damage has occurred and is measurable. Penalties were inadequate to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays or appeals and to outside interference.

Union influence continued to increase during the year through increased membership at plantations; however, only a small fraction of the workforce was employed in the formal sector, and more than 80 percent of workers did not enjoy any formal legal labor protections. The lack of formal protections caused tensions in particular in the iron ore and rubber industries, where companies drastically reduced operations due to the global downturn in demand for these commodities. Labor unions called on the legislature to pass laws that would improve work conditions across the country and succeeded with the publication of the Decent Work Act into law in 2016.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce such laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. The law prescribes a minimum sentence of one year’s imprisonment for the trafficking of adults but does not prescribe a maximum sentence; these penalties were not sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

Forced labor occurred. Families living in the interior sometimes sent young women and children to stay with relatives in Monrovia or other cities with the promise that the relatives would assist the women and children to pursue educational or other opportunities. In some instances these women and children were forced to work as street vendors, domestic servants, or beggars. While there are no official records regarding labor, young women and children also were subject to forced labor on rubber plantations and in gold mines, rock-crushing quarries, and alluvial diamond mines. Forced labor continued despite efforts by the government, NGOs, and other organizations to eliminate the practice.

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

Under the Decent Work Act, most full-time employment for children under the age of 15 is prohibited. Children above age 13 but under age 15 may be employed to perform “light work” for a maximum of two hours per day and not more than 14 hours per week. “Light work” is defined as work that does not prejudice the child’s attendance at school and is not likely to be harmful to a child’s health or safety and moral or material welfare or development as defined by law. There is an exception to the law for artistic performances, where the law leaves the determination of work hours to the minister of labor. Under the act, children age 15 and over are not allowed to work more than seven hours a day or more than 42 hours in a week. There are mandatory rest periods of one hour, and the child may not work more than four hours consecutively. The law also prohibits the employment of children under age 16 during school hours, unless the employer keeps a registry of the child’s school certificate to illustrate the child attended school regularly and can demonstrate the child was able to read and write simple sentences. The law prohibits the employment of apprentices under age 16. The compulsory education requirement extends through grade nine or until age 15.

The law provides that an employer must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Labor before engaging a child in a proscribed form of labor. There was no evidence, however, such permits were requested or issued.

According to the law, “a parent, caregiver, guardian, or relative who engages in any act or connives with any other person to subject a child to sexual molestation, prohibited child labor, or such other act, that places the well-being of a child at risk is guilty of a second-degree felony.”

The Child Labor Commission (NACOMAL) is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies, although it did not do so effectively, in part due to inadequate staff and funding. As a result, while inspectors were trained, none was specifically assigned to monitor and address child labor. The government charged the National Steering Committee for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (National Child Labor Committee)–comprising the Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Secretariat (which includes NACOMAL); the Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Division; the MoGCSP’s Human Rights Division; and the LNP’s Women’s and Children’s Protection Section–with investigating and referring for prosecution allegations of child labor; however, inspections and remediation were inadequate. Although the National Child Labor Committee convenes regular meetings, coordination of their activities remained a serious challenge.

The law penalizes employers that violate the minimum age provision of child labor laws with a fine of L$100 ($1.25), and imprisonment until the fine is paid. The law also penalizes parents or guardians who violate this minimum age provision with a minimum fine of L$15 ($0.17) but not more than L$25 ($0.28), and imprisonment until such fine is paid. These penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Child labor was widespread in almost every economic sector. In urban areas children assisted their parents as vendors in markets or hawked goods on the streets. There were reports that children tapped rubber on smaller plantations and private farms. There were also reports that children worked in conditions likely to harm their health and safety, such as rock crushing or work that required carrying heavy loads. Some children were engaged in hazardous labor in alluvial diamond and gold mining as well as in the agriculture sector. Some children in Monrovia, particularly girls, worked in domestic service after being sent from rural communities by their parents or guardians. There were also reports of children working in motorcycle repair and tire repair shops and selling goods on Monrovia streets.

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

Section 2.4(b) of the Decent Work Act prohibits discrimination with respect to equal opportunity for work and employment and calls for equal pay for equal work. The government did not in general effectively enforce the law.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, HIV-positive status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in hiring based on gender, and women experienced economic discrimination based on cultural traditions resisting their employment outside the home in rural areas. Anecdotal evidence indicates women’s pay lagged behind that for men. Individuals with disabilities faced hiring discrimination, as well as difficulty with workplace access and accommodation (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Decent Work Act requires a minimum wage of $0.43 per hour (increased from $0.17 prior to the Decent Work Act’s passage), or $3.50 per day (not exceeding eight hours per day), excluding benefits, for unskilled laborers. This applies to the informal economic sector including domestic, agricultural, and casual workers. The minimum wage for the formal economic sector is $0.68 per hour, or $5.50 per day (not exceeding eight hours per day), excluding benefits. Although the law does fix a minimum wage for agricultural workers, it allows that they be paid at the rate agreed in the collective bargaining agreement between workers’ unions and management, excluding benefits (provided the amounts agreed to should not be less than the legally stipulated minimums).

Many families paid minimum-wage incomes were also engaged in subsistence farming, small-scale marketing, and begging. The national poverty line is $1.39 per day. According to the United Nations, 64 percent of citizens lived below the poverty line.

The law provides for a 48-hour, six-day regular workweek with a one hour rest period for every five hours of work. The six-day workweek may be extended to 56 hours for service occupations and 72 hours for miners. The law provides for pay for overtime and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.

The law provides for paid leave, severance benefits, and occupational health and safety standards; the standards are current and appropriate for the intended industries. Workers cannot remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, however, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. For certain categories of industries, however, the law requires employers to employ safety and health officers and establish a safety and health committee in the workplace.

The Ministry of Labor’s Labor Inspection Department enforced government-established health and safety standards. These standards were not enforced in all sectors, including the informal economy. Every county has a labor commissioner, and depending on the county, one to two labor inspectors. These inspectors are responsible only for monitoring labor in the formal sector, however, and there is no system for monitoring the informal sector. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance.

Most citizens were unable to find work in the formal sector and therefore did not benefit from any of the formal labor laws and protections. The vast majority (estimated at 85 percent) had no other option than to work in the (largely unregulated) informal sector, where they faced widely varying and often harsh working conditions. Informal workers included rock crushers, artisanal miners, agricultural workers, street sellers, domestic workers, and others. In the diamond and gold mines, in addition to physical danger and poor working conditions, the industry is unregulated, leaving minors vulnerable to exploitive brokers, dealers, and intermediaries.

Liechtenstein

Executive Summary

The Principality of Liechtenstein is a multiparty constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government. The unicameral parliament (Landtag) nominates, and the monarch appoints, members of the government. Five ministers, three from the Progressive Citizens’ Party and two from the Patriotic Union, formed a coalition government following free and fair parliamentary elections on February 5.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns. Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

Physical Conditions: According to bilateral treaties with Austria and Switzerland, those two countries incarcerated Liechtensteiner prisoners sentenced to more than two years’ imprisonment. The country’s only prison had a 20-bed capacity (16 single and two double cells). Since the facility served primarily as a short-term prison, authorities asserted they could not always separate different categories of prisoners. Female prisoners had their own section with a total of four beds. Due to a lack of space and the generally very low number of juvenile offenders, authorities usually accommodated juveniles in the women’s ward so that any underage prisoners or detainees would not be socially isolated. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) called on the government to expand the prison’s range of recreational activities. The committee also criticized the lack of medical screening for newly arrived inmates.

There were no deaths in custody reported through October.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers and granted access to monitor prison conditions to the independent Corrections Commission, which organized at least one unannounced visit to the country’s prison each quarter. The country also in principle permitted prison visits by the CPT, which last visited the country in 2016.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police maintain internal security and report to the Office of Civil Defense. The country does not have an army. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the regular and auxiliary national police, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police arrest a suspect based on an arrest warrant issued by the national court. Within 48 hours of arrest, police must bring suspects before an examining magistrate, who must either file formal charges or order the suspect’s release. Authorities respected this right. The law permits the release of suspects on personal recognizance or bail unless the examining magistrate has reason to believe that the suspect represents a danger to society or will not appear for trial. Alternatives to bail include supervision by a probation officer and restrictions on movement. The law grants suspects the right to a lawyer of their own choosing during pretrial detention, and the government provided lawyers at its own expense to indigent persons. According to the criminal procedure code, every detainee must be informed of the reasons for the detention at the time of detention or immediately thereafter. Authorities also must advise detainees of their right to contact legal counsel and a relative. During investigative detention authorities may monitor visits to prevent tampering with evidence. The CPT expressed concern that police can question juveniles and request them to sign statements in the absence of a lawyer or trusted person, and that inmates, including juveniles, could be held in solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons for up to four weeks. The committee also criticized authorities’ ability to surveil conversations between detainees and their lawyers, and called on the government to re-establish a register at the police station for recording information related to a person’s incarceration.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Arrested or detained persons are entitled to challenge in court the legal or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release. The constitution provides for unlawfully detained persons and persons found innocent to appeal to the courts for compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges. While most trials were public, some were closed proceedings. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial.

The law grants defendants the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice. The government provided attorneys at its own expense or pro bono for indigent persons. Defendants are allotted adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have access to free interpretation as necessary from the moment they are charged through all appeals. Defendants may challenge witnesses and evidence and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt. Convicted persons have the right to appeal, ultimately to the Supreme Court.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Individuals and organizations may appeal cases involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

As a hereditary monarchy, the country’s line of succession is restricted to male descendants of the Liechtenstein dynasty. Prince Hans Adam II is the official head of state, although in 2004 Hereditary Prince Alois assumed the day-to-day duties of head of state, exercising the rights of office on behalf of the reigning prince. All legislation enacted by the parliament must have the concurrence of the monarch and the prime minister.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On February 5, the country held parliamentary elections. There were no reports of serious irregularities.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. Bribery in the private sector is also a criminal offense. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are not subject to comprehensive financial disclosure laws.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a criminal offense. Penalties for rape and sexual violence vary between one and 15 years’ imprisonment, depending on the degree of violence and humiliation of the victim, and between 10 years’ and lifetime imprisonment if the victim is killed. The government effectively prosecuted individuals accused of such crimes.

The law prohibits all forms of domestic violence and provides for restraining orders against violent family members. There were reports of violence against women, including spousal abuse. Police may prohibit an abuser from returning to the site.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by up to six months in prison or a fine, and the government effectively enforced these prohibitions. Stalking is a criminal offense. The government also considers “mobbing”–pressure, harassment, or blackmail tactics–in the workplace to be a crime. In 2016 the national police recorded six cases of sexual harassment, and Infra assisted in eight cases of sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, but the government’s enforcement of the labor contract law and equal opportunity law was not entirely effective.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived at birth from a child’s parents. Either parent may convey citizenship. A child born in the country to stateless parents may acquire citizenship after five years of residence. Children are registered at birth.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both girls and boys is 18 years.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the prostitution of minors. Penalties for the sexual exploitation of minors range from one to 10 years’ imprisonment. Possession or distribution of child pornography is a criminal offense, with penalties including up to three years in prison. In 2016 the national police recorded 10 cases of child sexual exploitation. The law sets the minimum age for consensual sex at 14; penalties for statutory rape are between one and 10 years’ imprisonment.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community consisted of approximately 30 individuals. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that Liechtenstein was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities.

The law requires public buildings constructed before 2002 to be barrier-free by 2019 and public buildings constructed between 2002 and 2007 to be barrier-free by 2027. The government effectively implemented laws and programs to ensure that persons with disabilities readily had access to buildings, information, and communications. The law mandates that public kindergartens and schools as well as public transportation systems must be accessible to persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities were able to attend public schools or a special school established by the country’s remedial center. According to the Liechtenstein Association for Disabled Persons, however, only a third of all public kindergartens and schools were barrier-free.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

In 2016 authorities recorded five criminal offenses under the penal code’s antiracial discrimination article.

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

The law defines discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation as a criminal offense. Laws prohibit incitement to hate and bias-motivated crimes based on an individual’s gender and sexual orientation.

While the country’s LGBTI community issued no formal complaints of abuse or discrimination, the country’s only LGBTI organization, Flay (an NGO), continued to criticize regulations that do not allow gay men to donate blood. Many LGBTI individuals known to Flay were reluctant to acknowledge publicly their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of experiencing social backlash and isolation.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of all workers, including foreigners, domestic workers, agricultural workers, and public-sector employees, to form and join independent unions of their choice, to select their own union representatives freely, and to bargain collectively. There are no provisions in the constitution or in labor laws explicitly banning the right to strike, including for public servants and essential services. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination. The law does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government adequately enforced applicable laws. Penalties in the form of monetary fines were adequate to deter violations. The resources, inspections, and remediation were also adequate and sufficient to deter violations. Freedom of association and collective bargaining were respected in practice by government and employers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations include prison sentences of up to 10 years. The resources, inspections, and remediation, including penalties for violations, were adequate and sufficient to deter violations, and there were no reports that forced labor occurred in practice.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 16, with exceptions for limited employment of children 14 years old. Children 14 and older may engage in certain categories of light work, including running errands, housework, and babysitting, for no more than eight hours per week during the school year and 35 hours per week during school vacations. Children aged 15 years and younger may be employed for the purposes of cultural, artistic, sport, and advertising events. Working hours for youths between the ages of 15 and 18 who have completed compulsory education are not to exceed 40 hours a week. The labor law prohibits children under the age of 17 from working overtime and prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in night work and Sunday shifts. The labor law stipulates that an employer must consider the health of minors and provide them a proper moral environment within the workplace; the law also stipulates that employers may not overexert minors and that employers must protect the child from “bad influences” within the workplace.

The Department for Worker Safety of the Office of the National Economy effectively enforced child labor laws and devoted adequate resources and oversight to child labor policies. Legal penalties, which take the form of monetary fines or prison sentences of up to six months, were sufficient to deter violations. There were no reports of illegal child labor.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination against men, women, persons with disabilities, race, nationality, and sexual orientation, among other characteristics.

The government’s enforcement of the law was not entirely effective. Violations may result in the award of compensation to a prospective or dismissed employee equal to at least three months’ salary. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Women, particularly migrant and Muslim women wearing headscarves, experienced discrimination in the labor market.

While the law explicitly requires equal pay for equal work, women still experienced discrimination in the workplace (see also section 6, Women). According to Infra, a marked difference between men and women persisted in professional promotions, and women were severely underrepresented in top-level management positions in private industry and the national administration.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. The Liechtenstein Workers Association negotiates voluntary collective bargaining agreements annually with the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber for Economic Affairs on a sector-by-sector basis. In 2016, 36 households were registered as “working poor.”

The law sets the maximum workweek at 45 hours for white-collar workers, employees of industrial firms, and sales personnel, and 48 hours for other workers. The law provides for a daily mandatory one-hour break and an 11-hour rest period between workdays for full-time workers. With few exceptions, the law does not allow work on Sunday. The law covers all professions, but some exceptions to overtime limits were authorized in the areas of nursing and medical treatment. The law requires overtime pay of at least 25 percent higher than the standard rate, and overtime is generally restricted to two hours per day. Overtime may also be compensated with additional time off. The law provides for a standard workweek, including overtime, which may not exceed an average of 48 hours a week over a period of four consecutive months. Employers must grant workers at least four weeks of paid vacation per year and at least five weeks to workers under the age of 20.

Labor laws set occupational safety and health standards, which were appropriate for the main industries in the country. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and not with workers. The labor standards also cover the thousands of workers who commuted daily from neighboring countries. There were additional safeguards for youths, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and employees with family duties.

The Office of Labor Inspection, a part of the Department of National Economy, is responsible for enforcing labor laws, including regulations that mandate a healthy work environment, work hours, holidays, and workplace safety, in all sectors, including the informal economy. The agency had three inspectors: one inspector for examining workplace conditions, such as wages and occupational health and safety, and two inspectors for controlling construction sites or work permits. Three inspectors were sufficient to enforce compliance with labor laws. Penalties took the form of fines and prison sentences between three and six months and were sufficient to deter violations.

There were no reports of violations of these labor laws.

Lithuania

Executive Summary

The Republic of Lithuania is a constitutional, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority resides in a unicameral parliament (Seimas), and executive authority resides in the Office of the President. Observers evaluated the 2014 presidential elections and the parliamentary elections in October 2016 as generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

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

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Some prison and detention center conditions did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: Prisoners complained of confined spaces, improper hygiene, inadequate medical care, poor food, substandard sanitary conditions, limited supplies of personal hygiene products, and overly limited hours of operation of shops located in prisons.

In September media reported that during the first half of the year the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court examined 1,022 complaints from prisoners about poor prison conditions and awarded inmates 284,876 euros ($341,851) in compensation. During the same period, this court received 622 new complains about prison conditions.

On July 18, Malta rejected the government’s request to extradite a wanted person, on the grounds of the risk of inhuman and degrading treatment in the country’s detention centers.

In its 2014 report, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) noted that access to natural light in most detention facilities and prisons was inadequate, and in-cell toilets were partitioned only partly or not at all.

Administration: The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman generally investigated credible prisoner complaints and attempted to resolve them, usually by making recommendations to the institutions concerned and monitoring their implementation. The ombudsman’s office reported that institutions were responsive to all of its interventions. The ombudsman’s office found seven of 17 complaints investigated by September 1 to be justified. The parliamentary ombudsman visited prisons six times and detention facilities 46 times.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. As of year’s end, the report of the CPT’s visit to the country in September 2016 was not public.

Improvements: Between January and September, the government spent approximately 417,700 euros ($501,200) to renovate prison facilities. The improvements included renovations of housing, medical units, and food services in facilities in Marijampole, Alytus, Vilnius, and Kaunas.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in courts. The government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police and the State Border Guards Service are subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior. The Special Investigative Service, the main anticorruption agency, reports to the president and parliament. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Except for persons arrested during the commission of a crime, warrants are generally required for arrests, and judges may issue them only upon the presentation of reliable evidence of criminal activity. Police may detain suspects for up to 48 hours before formally charging them. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them at the time of their arrest or their first interrogation, and there were no complaints of failure to comply with this requirement.

Bail is available and was widely used. The law provides for access to an attorney, and the government provides one to indigent persons. In its 2014 report, the CPT noted that, while most of the detainees interviewed claimed they had legal counsel at the first investigative interview, it appeared that police rarely granted access to an attorney at earlier stages of police custody. Some detainees who had appointed attorneys complained that they met their attorney for the first time at the court hearing, even in instances when they requested an attorney shortly after their arrest. Detainees had prompt access to family members.

Pretrial Detention: The law permits authorities to hold suspects under house arrest for up to six months, a period that a judge may extend at his discretion. A pretrial judge may order that a suspect facing felony charges be detained for up to three months, but only to prevent the accused from fleeing, committing new crimes, or hindering the investigation; or to comply with extradition requests. In many cases the law permits detention to be extended to 18 months (six months for juveniles), subject to appeal to a higher court. Judges frequently granted such extensions, often based on the allegation that the defendant would pose a danger to society or influence witnesses. The maximum period authorities may detain a person charged with minor offenses is nine months and six months for juveniles.

In the first half of the year, the average length of pretrial detention was approximately 13 months. As of September 1, approximately 52 percent of incarcerated persons were pretrial detainees. The law allows defense attorneys access to the evidence prosecutors use to justify pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution provides the right to challenge the validity of a detention before a court and subsequent compensation for any damages resulting from the unlawful deprivation of liberty. Authorities respected this right.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants have the rights to a presumption of innocence, prompt and detailed information about the charges against them, a fair and public trial without undue delay and to be present at their trial. Defendants have the rights to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense), adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and free assistance of an interpreter as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. They are entitled to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, and to be free of compulsion to testify or confess guilt. They enjoy the right of appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Plaintiffs may sue for legal relief or temporary protection measures from human rights violations. Persons alleging human rights abuses may also appeal to the parliamentary ombudsman for a determination of the merits of their claims. Although the ombudsman may only make recommendations to an offending institution, such institutions generally implemented the ombudsman’s recommendations. Individuals alleging that the government violated the European Convention on Human Rights can, after exhausting domestic legal remedies, appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government has laws and mechanisms in place, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups reported that the government made some progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. A philanthropic foundation created in 2011 to receive government compensation for Communist and Nazi seizures of Jewish community-owned property distributed funds to individuals and to Jewish educational, cultural, scientific, and religious projects. According to an agreement between the government and the Jewish community, the foundation was to disburse the equivalent of 128 million litas (then the national currency–$44 million) by 2023. The foundation distributed a one-time payment of three million litas ($1 million) to individual survivors in 2013 and 2014. The remaining funds were allocated to support Jewish educational, cultural, scientific, and religious projects, as decided by the foundation board. As in the previous year, the foundation received 3.62 million euros ($4.34 million) for this purpose, which brought the total received since 2011 to 19 million euros ($23 million). Jewish and ethnic Polish communities continued to advocate for private property restitution because there has been no opportunity to submit individual claims since 2001.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

The law requires authorities to obtain a judge’s authorization before searching an individual’s premises. It prohibits indiscriminate monitoring, including email, text messages, or other digital communications intended to remain private. Domestic human rights groups alleged that the government did not properly enforce the law. In the first nine months of the year, the State Data Protection Inspectorate investigated 435 allegations of privacy violations, compared with 189 such allegations in the first six months of 2016. Most complaints involved claims by individuals that their personal information, such as identity numbers, was collected without a legal justification.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

ELECTIONS AND POLITICAL PARTICIPATION

Recent Elections: Presidential elections, including a runoff between the top two candidates, took place in 2014. Parliamentary elections took place in October 2016. Observers evaluated these elections as generally free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government continued to prohibit the Communist Party.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year. In June parliament enacted a law providing for criminal liability of legal persons in corruption crimes.

Corruption: Authorities opened investigations of corruption against two parties represented in parliament and of a possible conflict of interest of one member of parliament’s energy interests.

The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman investigated allegations of corruption and issued 29 recommendations to impose penalties for official abuse of office.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets and incomes annually. The declarations were available to the public. There were administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape and domestic violence are criminal offenses. Penalties for domestic violence depend on the level of injury to the victim, ranging from required public service to life imprisonment. In the first eight months of the year, authorities received 100 reports of rape, compared with 74 during the same period in 2016. Convicted rapists generally received prison sentences of three to five years. NGOs reported that sexual violence against women, including from intimate partners, remained a problem. No law specifically criminalizes spousal rape, and no data on spousal rape was available.

The law permits rapid government action in domestic violence cases. For example, police and other law enforcement officials may, with court approval, require perpetrators to live apart from their victims, avoid all contact with them, and surrender any weapons they may possess.

Domestic violence remained a pervasive problem. In the first eight months of the year, police received 23,026 domestic violence calls and started 6,150 pretrial investigations, 30 of which were for killings, including of three infants.

The country has a 24/7 national hotline and 29 crisis centers for victims of domestic violence. On April 18, the Ministry of Social Security and Labor approved an Action Plan for Domestic Violence Prevention and Assistance to Victims for 2017-2020 and allocated 928,750 euros ($1.1 million) for the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but observers claimed that such cases were rarely investigated. On May 11, parliament amended the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men to strengthen protection from harassment, including sexual harassment, for a person seeking employment.

As of September 28, the equal opportunities ombudsman received one complaint of sexual harassment, by an actress against a theater director, and determined it to be well founded, despite initial inaction by police. After the media reported the ombudsman’s finding in May, the Ministry of Culture fired the theater director.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Men and women have the same legal status and rights. Women nevertheless continued to face discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship can be acquired either by birth in the country or from one’s parents. The government registered all births promptly.

Child Abuse: Child abuse continued to be a significant problem. The Department of Statistics stated that 2,474 children allegedly suffered violence in 2016. The children’s rights ombudsman reported receiving 201 complaints in the first eight months of the year.

On January 24, a four-year-old boy was beaten to death by his mother and her partner in the town of Kedainiai. Following the incident, on February 14 parliament met in a special session devoted to the protection of children’s rights. During the session it banned all forms of violence against children, including corporal punishment.

The ombudsman for children’s rights reported that government efforts to combat child abuse and aid abused children were ineffective. In the first eight months of the year, Child Line (a hotline for children and youth) received 235,471 telephone calls from children but, because of limited human and financial resources, could respond to only 121,259 calls. Child Line also answered 838 letters from children, whose concerns ranged from relations with their parents and friends to family violence and sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse of children remained a problem despite prison sentences of up to 13 years for the crime. In the first eight months of the year, the Ministry of the Interior recorded 47 cases of child rape and 135 cases involving other forms of child sexual abuse. The government operated a children’s support center to provide special care for children who suffered from violence, including sexual violence. It also operated a center in Vilnius to provide legal, psychological, and medical assistance to sexually abused children and their families.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriages for girls and boys is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Individuals involving a child in pornographic events or using a child in the production of pornographic material are subject to imprisonment for up to five years. The Office of the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights reported receiving four complaints of alleged sexual exploitation of children. According to the Ministry of the Interior, officials opened five criminal cases involving child pornography during the first eight months of the year. The age of consent is 16.

Displaced Children: Street children were widely scattered among the country’s cities. Most were runaways or from dysfunctional families. According to the Statistics Department, 2,209 children were missing in 2016.

A number of free, government-sponsored programs assisted displaced children. Government bodies and numerous NGOs administered 60 agencies protecting children’s rights to aid vulnerable children.

Institutionalized Children: As of January 1, temporary guardianship of a child (foster care) may not last longer than 12 months, and guardianship of a child under three years of age may take place in a child care institution only in exceptional cases and for no longer than three months.

In 2016 approximately 3,000 orphans and other children in need of care resided in the country’s 95 orphanages, including 17 operated by NGOs and 54 large-family foster homes. There were five boarding schools for children with disabilities. As of September 1, the children’s rights ombudsman received seven complaints and started three investigations regarding children’s rights violations in these institutions.

Under the law children under the age of three are sent to guardianship institutions only in exceptional cases when they need specialized health care, nursing, or when the family or municipality cannot provide a child with proper care. To speed up the adoption process, the law also limits a child’s stay in an orphanage to 12 months as opposed to the longstanding pattern of temporary care in orphanages lasting five years or longer, representing one of the main obstacles to children’s adoption by new families.

NGOs, child welfare experts, and psychologists contended that the country’s orphanages were detrimental to child development and led to a wide range of social problems, such as delinquency, social exclusion, and vulnerability to trafficking and prostitution. During the year courts issued decisions on abuse allegations in two institutions. The court sentenced the former director of the Viesvile orphanage to three years and 10 months, with a postponement for three years for sexually exploiting boys in his care. The court sentenced four men from the Sveksna residential institution to from two to 4.5 years in prison for sex with minors.

The Ministry of Social Security and Labor began the reorganization of institutional care, financed with 77.4 million euros ($92.3 million) until 2020. As part of this process, the ministry reorganized or closed childcare homes in eight municipalities and provided funding to increase the number of foster parents and improve services to children and families.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community consisted of approximately 3,000 persons. There were reports of anti-Semitic expression, especially on the internet.

Police had instructions to take preemptive measures against illegal activities, giving special attention to maintaining order on specific historical dates and certain religious or cultural holidays.

On February 16, the Lithuanian Nationalist Union held its annual march in Kaunas. Media estimated that 150 participants marched, fewer than in 2016. Police were present to monitor the event, and there were no reports of violence. As in past years, participants chanted the slogan “Lithuania for Lithuanians.”

Following a year of more open public conversations about the country’s participation in the Holocaust, the annual Lithuanian Shrovetide festival or Carnival, “Uzgavenes,” received more media scrutiny than in prior years regarding the tradition of including anti-Semitic and anti-Roma stereotypes among various masked characters depicted during the celebration. For instance, organizers of an Uzgavenes event in Naisiai village published on social media illustrations reminiscent of anti-Semitic propaganda used by the Nazis. On February 24, the media reported that the chairman of the Parliamentary Culture Committee shared the post, drawing strong public rebukes from the Jewish community.

In January actress Asta Baukute gave a Nazi salute during a song contest, sparking concerns. The Jewish community criticized Baukute’s actions as inappropriate, and the Lithuanian National Radio and Television LRT subsequently cancelled the show.

The law enables Jews of Lithuanian descent and others to obtain citizenship. The law reduces bureaucratic obstacles by making it easier for applicants to prove their departure from the country prior to World War II.

On September 11, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis highlighted to American Jewish Congress International Relations director Rabbi Andy Baker his government’s support for Holocaust education and the need to preserve Jewish heritage.

Throughout the year, Lithuanian officials and citizens took part in ceremonies around the country to honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. On April 26, the March of the Living took place at the Paneriai Memorial in Vilnius. The march retraced the route of residents of the Vilnius ghetto to the site of their massacre in the Paneriai Forest. In September the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in cooperation with tolerance education centers organized commemoration marches to mark the National Holocaust Remembrance day in Paneriai and 120 other places in the country. Prime Minister Skvernelis participated in both the April and September marches at Paneriai, together with other senior officials. During the September march, the prime minister stressed the need for increased Holocaust awareness in all areas of the country. On September 27, President Dalia Grybauskaite awarded Life Saving Crosses to 43 Lithuanians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. There was no proactive enforcement of these requirements. By September 28, the equal opportunities ombudsman investigated 31 cases of alleged discrimination based on disability (see section 7.d.).

Although the law mandates that buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, according to the Lithuanian Disability Forum, approximately 50 percent of public buildings were not accessible for persons with disabilities.

On January 3, the equal opportunity ombudsperson found that 65 percent of voting stations were not accessible for persons with disabilities.

According to the Council of Europe, there were an estimated 15,000 persons under 18 with disabilities in the country. The law requires that all schools that provide compulsory and universally accessible education make available education to students with disabilities. The country has a tradition of separate schools for children with various disabilities, and the majority of children attended separate schools segregated from the mainstream educational facilities and system. According to the Lithuanian Disability Forum, only 16.5 percent of 109 schools inspected in the 2011-2015 period were accessible to persons with disabilities, with 31.2 percent having limited accessibility and 52.3 percent being completely inaccessible. The inspection also found only 40 percent of the buildings of establishments of higher education adapted to the needs of students with reduced mobility.

The law prohibits persons with disabilities who have been deprived of their legal capacity from voting or standing for election.

On January 1, amendments to the civil code and the code of civil procedure to afford persons with mental disabilities greater rights during competency hearings and to address shortcomings found by the ECHR in a 2012 decision came into effect. The government continued implementation of the National Strategy for Social Integration of Persons with Disabilities for 2013-19. During the year the Department for the Affairs of the Disabled obligated 16 million euros ($19 million) as part of this strategy, which provided support to social care institutions for persons with disabilities and funding for civil society organizations to improve services for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits discrimination against ethnic or national minorities, but intolerance and societal discrimination persisted. According to the 2011 census, approximately 14 percent of the population were members of minority ethnic groups, including Russians, Poles, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Karaites, and Jews.

According to a former Vilnius County prosecutor, judges and other law enforcement officials seldom prosecuted discrimination and incitement of racial, ethnic, religious, or other hatred on the internet, giving priority to “real-life” crimes with identifiable victims.

In April 2016 the Vilnius City Council began a Romani integration plan to move residents from their settlement to government housing in other parts of the city. As of October 11, it moved nine families.

Representatives of the Polish minority, approximately 200,000 persons according to the 2011 census, continued to raise concerns about education for ethnic minorities in the country. They also complained about a legal requirement that all students, whether native Lithuanian speakers or not, complete a single, uniform Lithuanian-language examination at the end of their studies. Restrictions on the use of Polish in street signs and on official documents, particularly passports, remained contentious.

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

The antidiscrimination laws apply to LGBTI persons, however societal attitudes toward LGBTI persons remained largely negative.

On June 16, the ECHR informed the government that it would consider a petition by Pijus Beizaras and Mangirdas Levickas regarding authorities’ refusal to investigate instances of homophobic hate speech online. The complainants claimed that the prosecutor’s office and the national courts unlawfully refused to open a pretrial investigation regarding homophobic online comments in response to a 2014 picture on a personal Facebook profile. The picture engendered more than 800 comments on the social network, with the majority of comments inciting violence against the two men pictured and the LGBTI community in general.

The law permits individuals to go through gender reassignment procedure, but civil authorities refused to register gender reassignment, since there was no corresponding legislation to enable gender reassignment procedures. On April 7 and May 2, the Vilnius City District Court ordered the Vilnius Civil Registry to change the personal identification documents of two transgender men.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The NGO community reported that individuals with HIV/AIDS were often subject to discrimination, including in employment, and treated with fear and aversion.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

A new labor code implemented on July 1 provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits employer discrimination against union organizers and members and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. These provisions also apply to migrant workers.

There were some specific legal limits to these rights. The law prohibits law enforcement officials, first aid medical workers, and other security-related personnel from collective bargaining and striking, although they may join unions. The law does not afford workers in essential services, whose right to strike is restricted or prohibited, alternative procedures for impartial and rapid settlement of their claims or a voice in developing such procedures.

In the event of a disagreement between management and labor, any such disputes are to be settled by a labor arbitration board formed under the jurisdiction of the district court where the registered office of the enterprise or entity involved in the collective dispute is located. Labor-code procedures make it difficult for some workers to exercise the right to strike. The law prohibits sympathy strikes and allows an employer to hire replacement workers in certain sectors to provide for minimum services during strikes.

Penalties ranged from fines to imprisonment and were insufficient to deter violations. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the judicial system was slow to respond to cases of unfair dismissal, and no employer ever faced the penal sanctions for antiunion discrimination envisaged in the law. No courts or judges specialized in labor disputes.

The government generally respected freedom of association but did not enforce the previous labor code effectively. Employers did not always respect collective bargaining rights, and managers often determined wages without regard to union preferences except in large factories with well-organized unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. Penalties ranged from a fine to imprisonment, which were sufficient to deter violations.

There were instances of forced labor, most of which involved Lithuanian men who were subjected to forced labor abroad.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for most employment at 16 but allows the employment of children as young as 14 for light labor with the written consent of the child’s parents and school. The law mandates reduced work hours for children, allowing up to two hours per day or 12 hours per week during the school year and up to seven hours per day or 32 hours per week when school is not in session. According to the law, hazardous work is any environment that may cause disease or pose a danger to the employee’s life, such as heavy construction or working with industrial chemicals.

The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for receiving complaints related to employment of persons younger than 18. In the first eight months of the year, the inspectorate identified eight instances in which children were working illegally, without work contracts, in the wholesale, retail, agriculture, forestry, fishery, and construction sectors.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination but does not address HIV-positive or other communicable disease status, or gender identity. The new labor code, which entered into force on January 1, obliges the employer to implement the principles of gender equality and nondiscrimination, which prohibit direct and indirect discrimination, and psychological and sexual harassment. The employer must apply the same selection criteria and conditions when hiring new employees; provide equal working conditions, opportunities for professional development, and benefits; apply equal and uniform criteria for dismissal; pay equal wages for the same work and for work of equal value; and take measures to prevent psychological and sexual harassment in the workplace.

The government effectively enforced the law, issuing penalties adequate to deter violations.

The law stipulates that discrimination on the basis of sex should also cover discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and maternity (childbirth and breastfeeding). In 2016 women occupied 56.2 percent of senior administrative positions at government institutions. According to the Department of Statistics, the pay gap between men and women in 2016 was 13.4 percent, compared with 14.7 percent in 2015. The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, noted in particular discrimination against women in academic fields, where men occupied the highest positions and women the lowest.

The EOO monitored the implementation of discrimination laws. As of September 28, the EOO received 190 complaints. To address gender equality problems, in December 2016, the EOO in cooperation with the Association of Municipalities and the Lithuanian Women’s Lobby Organization started a three-year project to visit all 60 municipalities to give presentations on discrimination and gender equality problems.

NGOs reported that workers in the Romani, LGBTI, and HIV-positive communities faced social and employment discrimination (see section 6). Non-Lithuanian speakers and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and workplace access.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

According to the National Department of Statistics, the minimum monthly wage remained the same as the previous year at 380 euros ($456). The official “poverty risk level” in 2016 was 282 euros ($338) per person per month in comparison with 259 euros ($311) in 2015.

The new labor code incorporates the principle of respect of the employee’s family commitments (work-life balance) and obliges the employer to take measures to help the employee fulfill his or her family commitments. The new law also simplifies dismissal procedures, increases annual maximum overtime hours from 120 to 180, and establishes different categories of work contracts, such as permanent, fixed-term, temporary agency, apprenticeship, project work, job sharing, employee sharing, and seasonal work. The occupational safety and health standards are current and appropriate for the main industries. The labor laws apply to both national and foreign workers. According to the law, employees can refuse unsafe work without fear of discrimination or retaliation.

The government enforced standards effectively across all sectors including the informal economy, which included an estimated 25 percent of the economy. The State Labor Inspectorate, which is responsible for implementing labor laws, had a staff sufficient to enforce compliance. In the first eight months of the year under the previous labor law, the inspectorate received 4,231 complaints, mostly related to labor-contract violations and wages in arrears, and conducted 6,543 inspections at companies and other institutions. The most numerous abuses it found were violations of work contracts, underpayment or late payment of wages, and worker safety. Workers dissatisfied with the results of an investigation can appeal to the court system. The State Labor Inspectorate continued to conduct seminars for managers of companies, local communities, and persons looking for work. The seminars dealt with preventing and combating illegal employment, the administration of labor contracts, and worker’s rights.

According to the State Labor Inspectorate, violations of wage, overtime, safety, and health standards occurred primarily in the construction, retail, and manufacturing sectors. The inspectorate received complaints about hazardous conditions from workers in the construction and manufacturing sectors. As of September 1, the State Labor Inspectorate recorded 28 fatal accidents at work and 93 severe work-related injuries, compared with 28 and 92, respectively, in 2016. Most accidents occurred in the transport, construction, processing, and agricultural sectors. To address the problem, the inspectorate continued conducting a series of training seminars for inspectors on technical labor inspection. The law protects the rights of workers to remove themselves from work situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment. Workers did not regularly exercise this right. Workers also have the legal right to request compensation for health concerns arising from dangerous working conditions.

Luxembourg

Executive Summary

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has a constitutional monarchy and a democratic parliamentary form of government with a popularly elected unicameral Chamber of Deputies (parliament). The prime minister is the leader of the dominant party or party coalition in parliament. In 2013 the country held parliamentary elections that were considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government prosecuted officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government who committed abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: The country has one prison, Schrassig Prison, in addition to a state socioeducational center (CSEE) for juveniles with facilities at Schrassig and Dreiborn and a semi-open rehabilitation center in Givenich. The Givenich Prison Center is designed for prisoners nearing the end of their sentences or for those with short prison terms. Work is required, either at the facility’s workshops or outside the prison, for those who obtain employment contracts. These prisoners are allowed to leave the prison, go to their jobs, and return to the prison at night. The government also operated a detention center for rejected asylum seekers and undocumented migrants awaiting deportation.

In July the parliament authorized the opening of the National Socioeducational Center, a closed prison for minors. Judges still have the legal authority to place children in Schrassig Prison.

In a 2015 report on its visit to the country, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) noted a worrying problem of interprisoner violence at Schrassig Prison. The CPT also found that care for inmates suffering from serious psychiatric disorders was unsatisfactory and criticized the practice of holding detained minors at Schrassig Prison. The CPT observed problems of violence between minors at both the Schrassig and Dreiborn CSEE facilities. Subsequently, after the former director’s retirement, the government appointed a new director of Schrassig Prison with a background in prison reform.

In its 2015 report the CPT noted allegations of verbal abuse and excessively tight handcuffing. The CPT also criticized the police practice of handcuffing detainees to fixed points prior to or during questioning. For purportedly hygienic reasons, authorities at local police stations did not provide mattresses in cells reserved for intoxicated persons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent human rights observers, including the CPT, through the country’s ombudsman.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Grand Ducal Police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of Internal Security. The Luxembourg Army is responsible for external security and reports to the Directorate of Defense of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Grand Ducal Police and Luxembourg Army, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Warrants issued by a duly authorized official are required for arrests in most cases. Police must inform detainees of charges against them within 24 hours of their arrest and bring them before a judge for a determination of the detention’s legality. There is a functioning bail system, which judges regularly employed.

According to law, detainees must be provided access to an attorney immediately prior to their initial interrogation. In cases of indigent detainees the attorney is paid for by the government. A 2015 CPT report found that access to a lawyer had improved and that in most cases lawyers were able to consult with their clients before the initial interrogation by police. No suspects were detained incommunicado or held under house arrest.

Pretrial Detention: Approximately one-half of prisoners in the closed prison in Schrassig were awaiting trial. Trial procedures are lengthy because most cases involve collaboration with foreign authorities, as most detainees are noncitizens.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention in court and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. A defendant has the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary). Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Trials are public, except for those involving sexual or child abuse cases. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice in a timely manner. Defendants and their attorneys have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Persons who do not speak or understand the language of the proceedings are entitled to free assistance of an interpreter as soon as they are questioned as a suspect, whether in the course of an investigation or preliminary investigation, or are charged in criminal proceedings. Defendants may confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. They are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right of appeal.

The law extends the above rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Magistrate courts serve as an independent and impartial judiciary in civil and commercial matters and were available to individuals who wished to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Citizens may appeal cases involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the state to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting all routes for appeal in the country’s court system.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

According to the Jewish community, all claims by Luxembourg citizens for Holocaust-era property restitution have been settled. Only citizens of Luxembourg were compensated. There are open questions about compensation for destroyed property owned by Holocaust survivors who were either citizens of a foreign country or had no citizenship at all. There are also open questions about bank accounts and insurance contracts of Holocaust survivors for banks and insurance companies based in the country.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2013 the country held Chamber of Deputies elections that observers considered free and fair.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Financial Disclosure: By executive order, cabinet members must disclose any company assets, in the form of shares or otherwise, that they own. The order requires that future ministers submit the information before they assume office. The declarations are made public on the government’s internet website. There are no criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance, and no particular agency has a mandate to monitor disclosures.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. Penalties for violations range from five to 10 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits domestic violence, and the government effectively enforced the law. The law is gender neutral and provides for the removal of abusers from their residences for a 10-day period that can be extended for an additional three months. Penalties may include fines and imprisonment. If an individual approaches an NGO for assistance in cases involving domestic abuse, police are required to investigate.

The government funded organizations that provided shelter, counseling, psychosocial assistance, and hotlines. Three specialized hotlines were available to assist men, women, and children who were victims of domestic abuse. The government provided financial assistance to domestic violence victims.

In 2016 authorities prosecuted 135 cases of indecent assault and 106 cases of rape, representing increases compared with 2015. In 2016 police intervened 789 times in domestic violence situations, and prosecutors authorized 256 evictions as a result of these incidents. According to the public prosecutor’s office, domestic violence mostly occurs between married couples.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and requires employers to protect employees from such harassment. The law prohibits gender-based job discrimination and harassment of subordinates by superiors. Disciplinary measures against offenders, including dismissal, are available. The law considers an employer’s failure to take measures to protect employees from sexual harassment a breach of contract, and an affected employee is entitled to paid leave until the situation is rectified.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is governed by the principle of descent, according to which a father or mother who is a citizen automatically conveys citizenship to offspring at birth. The law allows for citizenship via naturalization and, as of 2008, allows dual citizenship. Citizenship for minor children is automatically conveyed when a parent naturalizes. All residents, regardless of citizenship, are required to register in the commune of residence.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is 18 for men and 16 for women, provided one of the partners is a resident of the country. Permission of at least one parent is required if one of the partners is under 16.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, the offering or procuring of a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities enforced the law. Penalties for the sexual exploitation of children range from five years’ to life imprisonment. The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 16.

Displaced Children: In its June report the country’s Ombudsman Committee for the Rights of Children noted that there were 50 asylum requests for unaccompanied children in 2016, down from 105 in 2015. In November 2016 the government opened two new specialized housing shelters specifically for unaccompanied children, in addition to the three shelters that already existed, and the government placed unaccompanied children in these shelters whenever feasible.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered approximately 1,500 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government mostly enforced these provisions. The law requires all new government-owned buildings and buildings undergoing renovation to be accessible to persons with disabilities. Private facilities and services as well as existing government-owned buildings are not subject to the law. The accessibility of public transportation outside the capital was limited.

Parents have the right to decide whether their children with disabilities will attend their regular local school or a specialized school for children with disabilities.

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

The law prohibits all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and applies to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons. There were no reports of cases of violations of the law during the year.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers, including foreign workers and workers in the informal sector, to form and join independent unions of their choice, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Workers exercised these rights freely, and the government protected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The right to strike excludes government workers who provide essential services. Legal strikes may occur only after a lengthy conciliation procedure between the parties. For a strike to be legal, the government’s national conciliation office must certify that conciliation efforts have ended.

The government effectively enforced the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were adequate. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in practice.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. While its resources and inspections were limited, the government pursued suspected cases and effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations included imprisonment under criminal law and were sufficient to deter violations.

There were reports that foreign men, women, and children were engaged in forced labor, chiefly in the construction and restaurant sectors. Some children were engaged in 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 law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 16. Apprentices who are 16 must attend school in addition to their job training. The law also prohibits the employment of workers under 18 in hazardous work environments, on Sundays and official holidays, or for nighttime work. The Ministries of Labor and Education effectively enforced the child labor laws.

Forced child labor occurred in restaurants and the construction sector. Romani children from neighboring countries were sometimes brought into the country during the day and trafficked for the purpose of forced begging.

Government resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were adequate. Under the law, persons who employ children under 16 may be subject to a fine and prison sentences. The penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, color, political opinion, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations. The labor code prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, national extraction, or social origin.

Employers occasionally discriminated against persons with disabilities in employment (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). The law establishes quotas that require businesses employing more than 25 persons to hire workers with disabilities and pay them prevailing wages, but the government acknowledged it had not applied or enforced these laws consistently.

The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including rights under labor law and in the judicial system. The law mandates equal pay for equal work. According to information provided by the Ministry of Equal Opportunities, during the year employers paid women 8.6 percent less on average than men for comparable work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

As of January 1, the national minimum wage for a worker over the age of 18 was greater than the estimated poverty income level of 1,650 euros ($1,980) per month in 2011, the last year for which information was publicly available. Minimum wage provisions apply to all employees, including foreign, migrant, temporary, and contract workers.

The Labor Inspection Court, the social security ministry, and the Superior Court of Justice are responsible for enforcing laws governing maximum hours of work and mandatory holidays. The government regularly conducted investigations and transferred cases to judicial authorities. The majority of alleged violations occurred in the construction sector. The law mandates a safe working environment. Workers can remove themselves from situations endangering health and safety without jeopardizing their employment. Authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

The labor inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor and the accident insurance agency of the social security ministry are responsible for inspecting workplaces, but the labor inspectorate did not have adequate skilled inspectors to fulfill this responsibility effectively. Workers have the right to ask the labor inspectorate to make a determination regarding workplace safety. Penalties for violations included fines and imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations. Accidents occurred most frequently in the construction and catering sectors.

Malaysia

Executive Summary

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy. It has a parliamentary system of government selected through regular, multiparty elections and is headed by a prime minister. The king is the head of state and serves a largely ceremonial role; he serves a five-year term, and the kingship rotates among the sultans of the nine states with hereditary rulers. The United Malays National Organization, together with a coalition of political parties known as the National Front (BN), has held power since independence in 1957. In the 2013 general election, the BN lost the popular vote to the opposition coalition but was re-elected in the country’s first-past-the-post system. The opposition and civil society organizations alleged electoral irregularities and systemic disadvantages for opposition groups due to lack of media access and malapportioned districts favoring the ruling coalition.

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

The most significant human rights issues included: an incident of forced disappearance; abusive and degrading treatment by security officials that in some cases led to death; the use of caning as a legal punishment; indefinite detention without warrant or judicial review for persons suspected of certain security-related crimes; arbitrary arrest and detention of government critics; limits on the freedoms of expression, including for the press, assembly, and association; limits on political rights and privacy; corruption; violence against transgender persons and criminalization of same-sex sexual activities, although the law was rarely enforced; and child and forced labor, especially for migrant workers.

The government arrested and prosecuted some officials engaged in corruption, malfeasance, and human rights abuses, although civil society groups alleged continued impunity.

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to the National Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM), 521 individuals died in prison from 2015 through 2016, including more than 100 individuals in immigration detention centers. The government claimed that deaths in police custody, particularly those caused by police, were rare, but civil society activists disputed this claim.

In February a 44-year-old man died in police custody after responsible officers did not comply with a court order for the suspect to be released and taken to the hospital. Witnesses testified at a public inquiry held by the Enforcement Agencies Integrity Commission that police officers slapped, punched, and beat the detainee with a bamboo stick and rubber hose. The National Human Rights Commission described the individual’s treatment as “without reasonable and credible justification.” The government has taken no action to date.

Investigation into use of deadly force by a police officer occurs only if the attorney general initiates the investigation or if the attorney general approves an application for an investigation by family members of the deceased. When the attorney general orders an official inquiry, a coroner’s court convenes, and the hearing is open to the public. In such cases, courts generally issued an “open verdict,” meaning that there would be no further action against police.

b. Disappearance

In February a group of highly organized individuals abducted Raymond Koh, a Christian pastor, from his vehicle on a suburban Kuala Lumpur highway. Despite closed-circuit television footage of the kidnapping, police investigation made little progress, leading to widespread public speculation, denied by police, that government officials were involved. The inspector general of police later announced that police would investigate reports that Koh was involved in proselytizing to Muslims, adding, “It would not be fair if we only investigated Raymond’s disappearance.”

Police made little progress in investigating the separate disappearances in November 2016 of Christian pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth, and of Amir Che Mat, a Muslim activist alleged to be linked to Shiite teachings. In May the United Nations said in a statement, “Enforced disappearances are rare in Malaysia and it is deeply concerning that little progress has been made into” the cases of the Kohs and Amir Che Mat. In October, SUHAKAM convened a public inquiry into the disappearances, but police witnesses refused to share key evidence and notes, although police did participate in the inquiry process. Police said that SUHAKAM should work through the attorney general’s chambers in order to compel testimony.

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

No law specifically prohibits torture; however, laws that prohibit “committing grievous hurt” encompass torture. More than 60 offenses are subject to caning, sometimes in conjunction with imprisonment, and judges routinely mandated caning in response to crimes including kidnapping, rape, robbery, and nonviolent offenses such as narcotics possession, criminal breach of trust, migrant smuggling, immigration offenses, and others.

Civil and criminal law exempts men older than 50 years, unless convicted of rape, and all women from caning. Male children between 10 and 18 years may receive a maximum of 10 strokes of a “light cane” in a public courtroom.

Some states’ sharia provisions, which govern family issues and certain crimes under Islam and apply to all Muslims, also prescribe caning for certain offenses. Women are not exempt from caning under sharia, and national courts have not resolved issues involving conflicts among the constitution, the penal code, and sharia.

In July the state assembly of Kelantan voted to permit courts to sentence individuals to public caning for certain civil offenses.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers operated by the government’s Immigration Department were harsh. In August, SUHAKAM described the conditions at one police detention center as “cruel, inhumane, and degrading.”

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons and immigration detention centers, particularly in facilities near major cities, remained a serious problem.

In February inmates at the Sungai Buloh prison submitted a petition to the government detailing poor prison conditions, including contaminated food and water and widespread diseases due to lack of medical care. The government has not responded publicly to the allegations.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia, a human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), documented 15 cases of custodial deaths in the year through October, eight of which occurred in police custody and five of which occurred in prisons.

In June a detainee collapsed in court, but police claimed he was well enough to proceed with the hearing. The suspect, however, died in court shortly after the proceedings. Police conducted a postmortem without informing the family, and pronounced the cause of death to be a congenital heart defect. Human rights groups challenged the government’s claims.

A May report in international media quoted refugees who claimed to have been beaten and forced to drink water from toilets out of desperation, although the government has called the allegations “grossly misleading.”

Administration: Law enforcement officers found responsible for deaths in custody do not generally face punishment. In April, four police officers who were charged with the 2013 murder of a 32-year-old man were acquitted, despite the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission concluding that the victim died from police use of physical force.

Rights to religious observance were restricted for members of Islamic sects the government bans as “deviant.”

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally did not permit NGOs and media to monitor prison conditions; the law allows judges to visit prisons to examine conditions and ask prisoners and prison officials about conditions. The government provided prison access to the International Committee of the Red Cross and SUHAKAM, the government human rights commission, on a case-by-case basis.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) generally had access to registered refugees and asylum seekers, and to unregistered persons of concern who may have claims to asylum and refugee status held in immigration detention centers and prisons. This access, however, was not always timely.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Police may use certain preventive detention laws to detain persons suspected of terrorism, organized crime, gang activity, and trafficking in drugs or persons without a warrant or judicial review for two-year terms, renewable indefinitely. Within seven days of the initial detention, however, police must present the case for detention to a public prosecutor. If the prosecutor agrees “sufficient evidence exists to justify” continued detention and further investigation, a fact-finding inquiry officer appointed by the minister of home affairs must report within 59 days to a detention board appointed by the king. The board may renew the detention order or impose an order to restrict, for a maximum of five years, a suspect’s place of residence, travel, access to communications facilities, and use of the internet. Details on the numbers of those detained or under restriction orders were not generally available.

In other cases, the law allows investigative detention to prevent a criminal suspect from fleeing or destroying evidence during an investigation.

Immigration law allows authorities to arrest and detain noncitizens for 30 days pending a deportation decision.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security services. The Royal Malaysia Police force, with approximately 102,000 members, reports to the home affairs minister. The inspector general of police is responsible for organizing and administering the police force. The Ministry of Home Affairs also oversees immigration and border enforcement. State-level Islamic religious enforcement officers have authority to accompany police on raids or conduct their own raids of private premises and public establishments to enforce sharia, including bans on indecent dress, alcohol consumption, sale of restricted books, or close proximity to unrelated members of the opposite sex. Religious authorities at the state level administer sharia for civil and family law through Islamic courts and have jurisdiction for all Muslims. The Ministry of Home Affairs also oversees the People’s Volunteer Corps (RELA), a paramilitary civilian volunteer corps. NGOs remained concerned inadequate training left RELA members poorly equipped to perform their duties.

The government has some mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and SUHAKAM played a role in investigating alleged abuses committed by the security forces (see section 1.b. re: Koh investigation). NGOs and media reported that, despite investigation into some incidents, security forces often acted with impunity.

Police officers are subject to trial by criminal and civil courts, but convictions were infrequent. Police representatives reported disciplinary actions against police officers; punishments included suspension, dismissal, and demotion. Civil society groups and NGOs continued to call for establishment of an independent police complaints and misconduct commission. Government officials and police opposed the idea. Police training included human rights awareness in its courses. SUHAKAM also conducted human rights training and workshops for police and prison officials.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law permits police to arrest and detain individuals for some offenses without a warrant, even outside situations of a crime in progress or other urgent circumstances. To facilitate investigations, police can hold a suspect for 24 hours, which can be extended for up to 14 days by court order under general criminal law provisions. NGOs reported the police practice of releasing suspects and then quickly rearresting them in order to continue investigative custody without seeking judicial authorization. In June human rights group Suaram alleged police arrested and rearrested a man suspected of gang activity six times, while also holding the suspect in different jurisdictions after courts denied the application to extend his detention. Police also arrested the suspect under different laws in order to extend his detention.

Some NGOs asserted that a police approach of “arrest first, investigate later” was prevalent, particularly in cases involving allegations of terrorism. By law a person must be informed of the grounds for arrest by the arresting officer.

Bail is usually available for persons accused of crimes not punishable by life imprisonment or death. The amount and availability of bail is at the judge’s discretion. Persons granted bail usually must surrender their passports to the court.

Police must inform detainees of the right to contact family members and to consult a lawyer of their choice. Nonetheless, police often denied detainees’ access to legal counsel and questioned suspects without allowing a lawyer to be present. Police justified this practice as necessary to prevent interference in investigations in progress, and the courts generally upheld the practice.

While authorities generally treated attorney-client communications as privileged, in August the Federal Court ruled that Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) officials could question lawyers who accompanied their clients to MACC hearings (which are nonjudicial) about their interaction with their clients.

On occasion police did not allow prompt access to family members or other visitors.

The law allows the detention of a material witness in a criminal case if that person is likely to flee.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities sometimes used their powers to intimidate and punish opponents of the government. Activists and government critics were often subject to late-night arrests, long hours of questioning, and lengthy remand periods, even if they were not ultimately charged with an offense. In June, Bersih, a coalition of NGOs campaigning for electoral reform, submitted a memorandum to SUHAKAM reporting that police conducted 119 arrests or investigations of Bersih-related activities between 2016 and May 2017.

Pretrial Detention: Crowded and understaffed courts often resulted in lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes lasting several years. The International Center for Prison Studies reported that pretrial detainees made up approximately 26 percent of the prisoner population as of mid-2015.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to challenge their detention by filing a habeas corpus application, although they are rarely successful, especially when charged under preventative detention laws.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Three constitutional articles provide the basis for an independent judiciary; however, other constitutional provisions, legislation restricting judicial review, and executive influence over the judicial appointments limited judicial independence and strengthened executive influence over the judiciary. The politicized judiciary frequently deferred to police or executive authority in cases those parties deemed as affecting their interests.

Members of the Malaysian Bar Council, NGO representatives, and other observers expressed serious concern about significant limitations on judicial independence, citing a number of high-profile instances of arbitrary verdicts, selective prosecution, and preferential treatment of some litigants and lawyers.

In August the Malaysian Bar Council called the government’s extension of the term in office for the chief justice and president of the Court of Appeal “unconstitutional, null, and void” as the two judges had reached the constitutionally mandated retirement age. Critics alleged the extensions were politically motivated and were enacted to limit the independence of the judiciary.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Constitutional provisions enshrine the rights of citizens in a trial. The civil law system is based on English common law and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Trials are public, although judges may order restrictions on press coverage. Defendants have the right to counsel at public expense if they face charges that carry the death penalty and may apply for a public defender in certain other cases.

According to the Malaysian Bar Council, defendants generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense if they have the means to engage private counsel. Otherwise, defendants must rely on legal aid and the amount of time to prepare for trial is at the discretion of the judge. Authorities provide defendants free interpretation in Mandarin, Tamil, and some other commonly used dialects from the moment charged through all appeals. Strict rules of evidence apply in court.

Defendants have the right to be present at their own trial. The right to confront witnesses is limited by provisions allowing the identity of prosecution witnesses to be kept secret from the defense before a trial, which inhibits cross-examination of those witnesses. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Limited pretrial discovery in criminal cases impeded defendants’ ability to defend themselves.

Defendants may appeal court decisions to higher courts, but only if the appeal raises a question of law or if material circumstances raise a reasonable doubt regarding conviction or sentencing. The Malaysian Bar Council claimed these restrictions were excessive.