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Guatemala

Executive Summary

Guatemala is a multiparty constitutional republic. On January 14, Alejandro Eduardo Giammattei Falla of the We’re Going for a Different Guatemala Party was sworn into office for a four-year term as president. International observers considered the presidential election held in 2019 as generally free and fair.

The National Civil Police, which is overseen by the Ministry of Government and headed by a director general appointed by the minister, is responsible for law enforcement in the country. The Ministry of National Defense oversees the military, which focuses primarily on operations in defense of the country, but the government also used the army to support the National Civil Police in internal security operations, as permitted by the constitution. Civilian authorities, at times, did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings arranged by government officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on the press, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists; widespread corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of indigenous groups, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; and use of forced labor, including child labor.

Impunity continued to be widespread. Corruption, concerted efforts by organized criminal actors, and lack of political will made meaningful investigation and prosecution of crimes difficult.

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 that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. As of August 31, the Public Ministry, which is responsible for the prosecution of all criminal cases, as well as the Office of Professional Responsibility of the National Civil Police (PNC), reported two complaints of homicide by police, the same number of complaints as in 2019. The Public Ministry continued to investigate a case of alleged excessive use of force, in which video security surveillance captured PNC officers shooting and killing Edgar Ic Perez after COVID-19 curfew hours on June 17.

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders alleged that at least 14 members of rural and indigenous activist groups were killed or died in disputed circumstances between January and August. Some of the killings appeared to be politically motivated, and all the cases remained under investigation at year’s end (see section 6, Indigenous People). In 2019, 15 activists or human rights defenders were killed.

The national government’s prosecution of former intelligence chief Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez continued. Rodriguez Sanchez was accused of genocide against the Maya Ixil community during the country’s 36-year internal armed conflict (1960-96). On February 4, a military expert proposed by the Public Ministry testified in the case against Luis Enrique Garcia Mendoza, operations commander under former president Rios Montt. The testimony focused on the chain of command of the Ministry of Defense during that period, both as a means to provide expert witness against the defendants and to identify other officers that might have given the orders. Judge Jimmi Bremer of High-Risk Court C indicted Garcia Mendoza in November 2019 on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

The Public Ministry continued investigation of another case for genocide against the Maya Ixil community from the last months of former president Romeo Lucas Garcia’s government (1978-82). Three high-ranking military officers, Cesar Octavio Noguera Argueta, Manuel Callejas y Callejas, and Benedicto Lucas Garcia, were charged in this case. According to the ministry, the case involved a minimum of 32 massacres, 97 selected killings, 117 deaths due to forced displacement, 37 cases of sexual assault, and 80 cases of forced disappearance. Many victims were children. In November 2019 the courts found sufficient evidence in the Public Ministry’s preliminary investigation to order a deeper investigation. Judge Miguel Angel Galvez scheduled a hearing for September 1 to rule on whether there was sufficient evidence to bring the case to public trial against the three defendants, but the hearing was suspended. The defense filed a request for house arrest for Callejas y Callejas and Lucas Garcia due to the heightened risk of COVID-19 in prison facilities. Judge Galvez denied the request because the defendants’ charges made them ineligible for house arrest under the law. Callejas and Lucas were both previously convicted of serious crimes in the Molina Theissen case and were serving 58-year sentences.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of new disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The Public Ministry continued to investigate and prosecute cases of forced disappearances from the internal armed conflict period. The government did not comply, however, with an order from the high-risk courts, which handle sensitive cases often risky for judges to take on, to create a national commission on the search for disappeared persons and a national registry of victims.

The CREOMPAZ case, named after the Regional Center for UN Peacekeeping Training Institute where a mass burial site for disappeared persons was found, continued for former military officers indicted in 2017 on charges of forced disappearance and crimes against humanity during the 1960-96 armed conflict. The courts needed to resolve several appeals and recusal motions filed in 2016 before a full trial could begin. The defense filed a request for house arrest for two former military officers indicted in the case, Byron Barrientos and Carlos Garavito, due to the heightened risk of COVID-19 in prison facilities. High-Risk Court A denied the request because the defendants’ charges made them ineligible for house arrest under the law. Former congressman Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado, also charged in the case, remained in hiding after the Supreme Court lifted his immunity from prosecution in 2017.

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there were reports alleging government workers employed them at the Federico Mora National Hospital for Mental Health (see section 6). The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that documentation and reporting mechanisms for torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment remained weak, thereby hindering a full understanding of the prevalence of the problem.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, in February an allegation was made that Guatemalan peacekeepers deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission, raped a child. As of October the government was investigating the allegation.

Impunity within the PNC was not a pervasive and systemic issue. Impunity from prosecution for serious crimes within the PNC has generally been in decline for more than a decade, with several high-profile convictions of PNC officers now serving prison sentences. Lesser crimes of negligence and bribery by officers continued, however, with few convictions. Negligence by officers was largely the result of a lack of sufficient training. The law requires officers to hold at least a high school degree, but they often had much less, and some individuals had as little as six months of police training before being sent out on the streets. Small monthly salaries of approximately 4,000 quetzals ($535) created an incentive to extort bribes. A large number of PNC officers were removed from the force over the past three years based on allegations of bribery. There were also anecdotal reports that the military extorted bribes and arbitrarily and temporarily detained persons when acting in support of the PNC. These instances seemed scattered and not related to military orders.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening, with multiple instances of inmates killing other inmates. Sexual assault, inadequate sanitation, poor medical care, and significant overcrowding placed prisoners at significant risk. Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and male with female detainees.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding was a problem. As of October 8, according to prison authorities, there were 25,691 inmates, including 2,883 women, held in facilities designed to hold 6,997 persons. To ease prison overcrowding, the Rehabilitation Sub-Directorate of the penitentiary system processed 1,519 early release requests from April to October. Better coordination between sentencing judges and defense attorneys led to 750 inmates being granted early release by the courts during the same period.

As of September 22, there were 657 juvenile inmates in four traditional detention centers and the halfway house, which were designed for 549 inmates. Another 1,242 juvenile inmates were held in three new alternative measures facilities. Despite a reduction in overcrowding, there were 271 inmates in the Las Gaviotas juvenile detention facility, designed for 175 individuals. The courts had not sentenced approximately 28 percent of juvenile inmates held in detention.

Physical conditions including sanitation facilities, medical care, ventilation, temperature control, and lighting were inadequate. Prisoners had difficulty obtaining potable water, complained of inadequate food, and often had to pay for additional sustenance. Illegal drug sales and use were widespread.

Prison officials acknowledged safety and control problems, including escape attempts, gang fights, inability to control the flow of contraband goods into prisons, inmate possession of firearms and grenades, and the fabrication of weapons. Prisoners conducted criminal activity both inside and outside of prisons. Media reported that transnational criminal gangs and drug trafficking groups controlled major prisons. According to prison authorities, from January through August 31, at least eight inmates died of unnatural causes while in prison. During the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 39 Barrio 18 gang leaders negotiated their transfer to Fraijanes II, the only detention center with a full clinic for treatment of COVID-19. When prison officials began sending Barrio 18 leaders to other facilities to prevent them from operating the gang from Fraijanes II, gang members took 10 prison guards hostage in El Infiernito Prison and four prison guards hostage at the preventive detention center in zone 18, demanding the return of their leaders to Fraijanes II. In both cases the prison guards were released after 24 hours.

Media and NGOs reported female inmates faced physical and sexual abuse. Female inmates reported unnecessary body searches and verbal abuse by prison guards. Children younger than age four could live in prison with their mothers, but the penitentiary system provided inadequate food for young children, and many suffered from illness. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights groups stated that other prisoners often sexually assaulted LGBTI individuals, and there were insufficient facilities to protect LGBTI individuals in custody. NGOs claimed admittance procedures for LGBTI prisoners were not implemented, noting particular concern regarding procedures for transgender individuals.

Administration: While the law requires authorities to permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities failed to investigate most allegations or to document the results of such investigations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by local and international human rights groups, the Organization of American States, public defenders, and religious groups. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) and the National Office for the Prevention of Torture, both independent government bodies responsible for ensuring that the rights and wellbeing of prisoners are respected, also periodically visited prison facilities.

Improvements: The Secretariat of Social Welfare improved the juvenile system by opening a training academy and adding a K-9 unit to search for narcotics and cell phones. The adult penitentiary system moved toward a new correctional model that includes polygraphs and training for prison staff. On October 9, the government announced the creation of a unit for electronic monitoring to ease prison overcrowding through greater use of house arrest.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but there were credible reports of extrajudicial arrests, illegal detentions, and denial of timely access to a magistrate and hearing as required by law. Suspects are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. There was no compensation for those ruled unlawfully detained.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires presentation of a court-issued warrant to a suspect prior to arrest unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. Police may not detain a suspect for more than six hours without bringing the case before a judge. Authorities did not regularly respect this right. After arraigning suspects, the prosecutor generally has three months to complete the investigation if the defendant is in pretrial detention and six months to complete the investigation if the defendant is granted house arrest. The law prohibits the execution of warrants between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless the government has declared a state of siege. Judges may order house arrest for some suspects. The law provides for access to lawyers and bail for most crimes. The government provides legal representation for indigent detainees, and detainees have access to family members. A judge has the discretion to determine whether bail is permissible for pretrial detainees.

Arbitrary Arrest: As of August 31, the PNC Office of Professional Responsibility had received two complaints of illegal detention by police, compared with 26 in 2019. Reports indicated police ignored writs of habeas corpus in cases of illegal detention, particularly during neighborhood antigang operations.

Pretrial Detention: As of October prison system records indicated 49 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention, approximately the same percentage as in 2019 despite court closures due to COVID-19. The law establishes a one-year maximum for pretrial detention, regardless of the stage of the criminal proceeding, but the court has the legal authority to extend pretrial detention without limits as necessary. Authorities regularly held detainees past their legal trial-or-release date. Lengthy investigations and frequent procedural motions by both defense and prosecution often led to lengthy pretrial detention, delaying trials for months or years. Observers noted the slow pace of investigations and lack of judicial resources hampered efforts to reduce pretrial detention and illegal incarceration. Authorities did not release some prisoners after they completed their full sentences due to the failure of judges to issue the necessary court order or other bureaucratic delays.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary. The judicial system generally failed to provide fair or timely trials due to inefficiency, corruption, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses.

Judges, prosecutors, plaintiffs, and witnesses continued to report threats, intimidation, and surveillance, most often from drug trafficking organizations. From January through December 11, the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Judicial Workers and Unionists received 194 complaints of threats or aggression against workers in the judicial branch, compared with 70 from January to August 2019.

The existing selection process for the election by the congress of 13 Supreme Court and 135 appellate court magistrates suffered widespread manipulation of selection committees by politicians, judicial operators, and other influential citizens, resulting in a judiciary that lacked full independence. In September 2019 the Constitutional Court halted the selection process for Supreme Court and appellate court magistrates, ruling that formal evaluation procedures were not followed within the selection committees. The selection committees provided a list to congress of 270 candidates for the appellate courts on February 14 and a list of 26 candidates for the Supreme Court on February 19. Public Ministry investigations found Gustavo Alejos, former chief of staff under President Alvaro Colom in prison on corruption charges, accepted at least 20 visits from officials associated with the selection process in his hospital ward on February 12-16. The Constitutional Court issued a final ruling on May 6 requiring removal of candidates associated with Gustavo Alejos and a voice vote for each position in congress. The new magistrates should have taken office in October 2019. As of November 30, congress had not started the election of judges, and the sitting Supreme Court and appellate court judges remained in their positions.

On June 25, the Supreme Court granted an immunity review/impeachment against four Constitutional Court magistrates and sent the case to congress for further action and a plenary session vote. The Constitutional Court then granted an injunction against the Supreme Court that ordered congress to halt its proceedings. On June 28, Congress responded by filing a criminal complaint against the four Constitutional Court magistrates. Civil society organizations largely interpreted impeachment to be a retaliatory measure against Constitutional Court magistrates that stood in the way of influence peddling in the selection of magistrates.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, the presumption of innocence, the defendant’s right to be present at trial, and the right to legal counsel in a timely manner. The law requires the government to provide attorneys for defendants facing criminal charges if the defendant cannot find or afford an attorney. Defendants and their attorneys may confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The law provides for “abbreviated processing,” similar to plea bargaining, for minor offenses with short-term prison sentences and the right of appeal. Three-judge panels render verdicts. The law provides for oral trials and mandates free language interpretation for those needing it; however, interpreters were not always available, including for indigenous victims in the high-risk courts. Officials conduct trials in Spanish, the official language, although many citizens speak only one of the 23 officially recognized indigenous languages.

The Public Ministry, acting independently of the executive branch but dependent on funding that goes through congress, may initiate criminal proceedings on its own or in response to a complaint. Private parties may participate in the prosecution of criminal cases as plaintiffs.

Most courts closed at the outbreak of COVID-19 in mid-March while the judicial system created sanitation protocols and amended regulations to allow virtual hearings. Courts began reopening in June, with individual judges allowed to decide whether to return to work and whether to hold court virtually. The judicial system reported 40,000 hearings were cancelled by June. The system was working through the backlog, but as a result of the closure, conviction rates for most crimes were lower than in 2019.

International and domestic observers considered the number of judges insufficient. Lack of sufficient personnel, training, and evidence hampered Public Ministry prosecutors’ ability to bring cases to trial.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations have access to administrative and judicial remedies to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation or other alleged wrongs. While the judiciary was generally impartial and independent in civil matters, it suffered from inefficiencies and a legal system that often permits spurious complaints.

Property Restitution

Negotiations between the government and families affected by the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam continued. As of October the government had paid approximately 99 percent of the 200 million quetzals ($26 million) in individual reparations to families affected by the dam. During the dam’s construction from 1975 to 1985, more than 400 individuals died and thousands were displaced.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. The intimidation of, and violence against, journalists resulted in significant self-censorship, however.

Freedom of Speech: Independent journalist Sonny Figueroa claimed harassment after he published a report claiming the director of the presidential commission Centro de Gobierno, Miguel Martinez, engaged in nepotism. Figueroa said the government denied him access to press events, and PNC officers harassed him on multiple occasions after he published the report.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Nonetheless, reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship due to the danger investigative journalism created for them and their families.

Violence and Harassment: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from public officials and criminal organizations regarding the content of their reporting. Online attacks against independent journalists and media outlets continued throughout the year. These included hacking journalists’ private social media accounts, publishing stolen or falsified personal information, and conducting apparent coordinated attempts to undermine specific journalists and the press.

On February 27, unidentified gunmen entered journalist Bryan Guerra’s home and killed him. Before the incident, Guerra had reported threats on social media. On November 10, unidentified assailants on motorcycles attacked television director Mario Ortega in Post San Jose. Ortega died from his injuries on November 15. Media reported he had received telephone calls demanding extortion money.

The PNC arrested Anastasia Mejia, director of a local television and radio service, following her live radio and video reporting on an August 24 protest at the Joyabaj mayor’s office that resulted in damage to municipal property. Mejia was a vocal critic of the mayor and reported on allegations of corrupt practices by the mayor in awarding public contracts. As of November, Mejia’s case was under investigation in the Public Ministry’s Municipal Prosecution Office of Joyabaj. On October 28, Judge Susy Perez formally charged Mejia with sedition, attempted acts of violence, aggravated arson, and aggravated robbery. Judge Perez granted Mejia bail while her trial continued.

Public hearings began on November 16 in the “Journalists Case,” in which former congressman Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez was accused of ordering the murders of two journalists in Suchitepequez in 2015.

The government failed to establish a journalist protection program, a commitment the country accepted in 2012 during the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council. In December 2019 the Public Ministry inaugurated the Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Journalists. The office reported 73 complaints of attacks or threats against journalists from January to August, compared with 51 during the same period of 2019, and one homicide compared with none reported in the same period of 2019.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized crime exerted influence over media outlets and reporters, frequently threatening individuals for reporting on criminal activities.

Internet Freedom

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

Human rights defenders, journalists, as well as judges and lawyers on high-profile cases, reported social media attacks, including the hacking of their private social media accounts, publishing of stolen or falsified personal information, publishing of photographic surveillance of them and family members, and online defamation and hate speech. The government took little action to protect these individuals.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The Giammattei administration made ample use of states of exception, declaring 11 states of siege or prevention in various departments. The stated reasons for states of exception were combatting armed groups, preventing violence, resolving land conflict, and controlling a migrant caravan from Honduras. States of exception limit certain constitutional rights, including freedoms of association, assembly, and movement.

On February 11, congress passed the NGO Reform Law, which allows the government to cancel the registration of NGOs that it judged to be disturbing social order or breaking regulations. Under the law NGOs must register with up to half a dozen ministries, report international donations and income to the tax authority, and reregister any changes in function. President Giammattei signed the bill on February 27, but on March 2, the Constitutional Court granted a provisional injunction against the law for potential unconstitutionality.

Starting on November 21, thousands of demonstrators gathered in the capital and other cities across the country, protesting corruption and an opaque and irregular process used by the congress for the proposed 2021 national budget law. The government generally respected protesters’ right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. When a small group of individuals committed acts of vandalism and arson on November 21, including breaking into and setting fires inside the congressional building, the PNC used tear gas and nonlethal force to disperse the crowd. Protests continued over more than a two-week period. Media reports indicated the PNC displayed excessive use of force, which the PNC Internal Affairs Unit was investigating. On November 27, a justice of the peace ruled that PNC arrests on November 21 lacked merit and ordered a Public Ministry investigation of the PNC officers who participated in the arrests. PNC commanders ordered removal of all officers’ batons to avoid any perception of abuse.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights. States of siege or prevention place limits on freedom of movement. Therefore, at certain points for up to 30 days, citizens in the affected areas did not have this right. As part of the COVID-19 pandemic response, the government also temporarily limited interdepartmental travel.

In support of public health, the government enacted a curfew as part of the state of calamity declared in response to COVID-19, with start times varying from late afternoon to early evening and end times in the early morning hours. During this time only emergency workers and food delivery service were allowed to circulate. The PNC reported 42,842 persons were arrested from March to September for breaking curfew, including two members of congress.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed concern regarding violence against internally displaced persons (IDPs). The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change and natural disasters. The OHCHR reported more than 100 families were displaced from the Maya Biosphere Reserve in 2017. The report added the families had not received adequate government assistance and continued to struggle with poverty and landlessness. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported 21,000 new displacements as of November 15, the majority the result of rainy and cold seasons as well as the impact of hurricanes.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In August, UNHCR reported the violent death of a Salvadoran transgender asylum seeker in Guatemala and highlighted the increased risks and protection needs of the LGBTI community.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate, and despite regulations published in 2019, there continued to be gaps and lack of clarity in the procedures for implementing the legal framework. According to UNHCR, due to the centralized nature of the asylum procedures and documentation issuance, asylum seekers outside the capital faced significant obstacles, especially after the outbreak of the pandemic, which made travel to and from the capital often impossible. In response to the pandemic, the government closed the borders. With the intervention of central authorities and the PDH, those in need of protection were able to access the asylum process, although as of December none of the 440 cases filed during the year were adjudicated. The government and UNHCR signed a memorandum of understanding, published in September 2019, to significantly strengthen the asylum and protection system and increase capacity to process asylum seekers.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR reported documentation needed to access government services, including health care, could cost in excess of 1,500 quetzals ($200), a prohibitive sum for some refugees. The government did not offer exceptions or reduced cost documents. Furthermore, UNHCR reported access to education for refugees was difficult due to the country’s onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin. A 2019 ministerial education agreement helped to ease that burden by creating mechanisms that allow asylum seekers who might not have full documentation of prior education to be integrated into the education system. Adult asylum seekers often could not obtain accreditation of their foreign university degrees to practice their profession.

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 nearly universal and equal suffrage for those aged 18 and older. Members of the armed forces, police, and incarcerated individuals are not eligible to vote.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Organization of American States and other international observers found some irregularities in the electoral process for the June and August 2019 elections, but none was significant enough to discredit the legitimacy and validity of the elections. President Alejandro Giammattei and the elected congressional deputies took office in January 2020 without disturbance. The Public Ministry continued to investigate allegations of illicit campaign financing in the 2015 elections, including a case against Sandra Torres and the National Unity of Hope Party. A substitute judge in High-Risk Court A granted Sandra Torres house arrest during her pretrial detention.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process and they did, to an extent, participate. Traditional and cultural practices, discrimination and institutional bias, and difficulty traveling to polling places in rural areas, however, limited participation of women and members of indigenous groups. There were two women serving in the 13-member cabinet, 31 in the 160-member congress, and nine among the 340 municipal mayors. While the indigenous population constituted an estimated 43 percent of the population, according to the 2018 government census, indigenous representation in national government was minimal. There was one indigenous member on the Constitutional Court and one on the Supreme Court. There were approximately 16 indigenous members of congress, of whom four were women. Indigenous individuals composed approximately one-third (90 of 340) of the mayoral seats elected in 2019.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, including money laundering, illegal political party financing, and bribery, many of which the Public Ministry investigated and prosecuted.

To continue the fight against corruption after the expiration of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala’s mandate on January 21, the Giammattei administration declared the creation of the Presidential Commission against Corruption, with entry into force on January 22. Civil society organizations expressed concern regarding the new commission’s perceived lack of independence from the Giammattei administration.

As of October, Juan Francisco Sandoval, lead prosecutor for the Public Ministry’s Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, had received more than 40 administrative and judicial complaints launched by the former military group Foundation Against Terrorism, Gustavo Alejos, and former Guatemalan ambassador to the United States Julio Ligorria, among others. Three judges in the high-risk courts also incurred a litany of complaints. Civil society organizations noted the lengthy and costly judicial process for the defendants to resolve the complaints, even when the complaints themselves had little or no basis of proof.

Corruption: Former communications minister Alejandro Sinibaldi voluntarily returned to Guatemala and surrendered to authorities on August 24. Sinibaldi was implicated in the Odebrecht case, involving bribes allegedly paid to himself and former presidential candidate Manuel Baldizon; the Construction and Corruption case, in which Sinibaldi was accused of money laundering and paying bribes while communications minister from 2012 to 2014; the Transurbano security case, involving alleged siphoning of approximately one million quetzals ($140,000) from security contracts for public transit; and a case of alleged illegal campaign financing in 2011.

The Transurbano case, involving former president Alvaro Colom, 10 of his ministers, and former chief of staff Gustavo Alejos, was delayed by several complaints filed by Gustavo Alejos against Judge Eduardo Cojulum. In 2008 the ministers signed an agreement that allowed the Urban Bus Company to form anonymous corporations and begin syphoning funds from a prepaid fare program.

The case known as Cooptation of the State continued against former president Otto Perez Molina, former vice president Roxana Baldetti and her chief of staff Juan Carlos Monzon, and dozens of coconspirators for illegal campaign financing, money laundering, and illegal payments for public contracts, among other charges. Several injunctions filed by the multiple defendants continued to stall the case.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials who earn more than 8,000 quetzals ($1,030) per month or who manage public funds are subject to financial disclosure laws overseen and enforced by the Comptroller General’s Office. The financial disclosures were available to the public upon request. Administrative and criminal sanctions apply for inadequate or falsified disclosures of assets.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Many of these groups, however, were the subject of harassment and threats, and they faced pressure and attacks from government actors.

A number of NGOs, human rights workers, and trade unionists reported threats, violence, and intimidation. The NGO Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA) reported 10 killings of human rights defenders from January through June and 677 attacks against human rights defenders in the same period, compared with 494 attacks in all of 2019. According to UDEFEGUA, attacks related to land disputes and exploitation of natural resources, involving mainly indigenous communities, increased drastically after COVID-19 restrictions were implemented, affecting 70 communities between January and June. NGOs asserted the government did little to investigate the reports or prevent further incidents.

NGOs also reported the government, fringe groups, and private entities used threats of legal action as a form of intimidation. According to UDEFEGUA, from January to June, there were at least 13 new unfounded judicial cases filed against human rights defenders. As of October the Foundation Against Terrorism, led by Ricardo Mendez Ruiz, had on file more than 100 cases, both civil and criminal, against human rights and transitional justice NGOs, human rights defenders, and judicial workers.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The mandate of the UN International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) expired in September 2019 and was not renewed as it had been in previous years. CICIG cases were transferred to the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity in the Public Ministry. Subsequently, local CICIG employees reported harassment and spurious lawsuits for performing their duties for CICIG.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The PDH monitors the human rights set forth in the constitution and reports to congress. The PDH opposed several congressional bills during the year, including the NGO law (see section 2.b.). On July 8, the Congressional Committee on Human Rights voted to bring the ombudsman to a congressional plenary session to answer questions regarding the display of the LGBTI pride flag at the PDH offices and the circulation of a reproductive rights pamphlet after the Supreme Court banned the promotion of abortion. Civil society NGOs speculated the PDH was brought to congress as an intimidation tactic, perhaps even to call a dismissal vote. While the PDH attempted to operate independently and issued public reports and recommendations as in past years, congress applied significant political pressure, including threats to withhold the PDH’s funding. NGOs generally considered the Office of the PDH to be an effective institution with limitations in rural areas due to lack of resources.

The Congressional Committee on Human Rights drafts and provides guidance on legislation regarding human rights. The law requires all political parties represented in congress to have a representative on the committee. Some NGOs did not consider the committee to be an effective forum for human rights promotion and protection.

The President’s Commission on Human Rights formulates and promotes human rights policy, represents the country in international human rights forums, enacts international recommendations on human rights, and leads coordination of police protection for human rights and labor activists.

On July 30, President Giammattei announced a new 11-member, ministerial-level Presidential Commission for Peace and Human Rights to replace the President’s Commission; the Secretariat for Peace (created to enact government commitments in the 1996 Peace Accords); and the Secretariat of Agricultural Affairs, which mediates land conflict. Starting on August 1, the three had 90 days to transfer their files to existing institutions such as the PDH and the Secretariat for Planning and Programming. Civil society expressed concern that dissolving the President’s Commission could lead to a lack of mechanisms for enacting the recommendations of international forums, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and could result in restarting the process for creating a national plan for the protection of human rights defenders. It also was not clear which government entity would continue negotiations for Chixoy reparations. Civil society representatives said that dissolving the Secretariat for Peace could lead to a lack of mechanisms for payment of reparations to victims of the armed conflict and the loss of important files that could be used as evidence in transitional justice cases.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and sets penalties between five and 50 years in prison. Police had minimal training or capacity to investigate sexual crimes or assist survivors of such crimes, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape and other sexual offenses remained serious problems.

The government took steps to combat femicide and violence against women. The judiciary continued to operate a 24-hour court in Guatemala City to offer services related to violence directed toward women, including sexual assault, exploitation, and trafficking of women and children. The judiciary also operated specialized courts for violence against women throughout the country, but not in every department. The Public Ministry maintained a 24-hour victim service center to provide medical, psychosocial, and legal support to victims, including restraining orders for their immediate protection. The ministry also maintained a national alert system for finding disappeared women. Sexual violence remained widespread despite these advances. The ministry reported that 3,684 women were victims of rape from January to August, compared with 6,231 women in the previous year. NGOs partially attributed the lower number of cases filed to barriers to accessing the Public Ministry during the COVID-19 pandemic, including modified working hours for Public Ministry offices.

The law establishes penalties for femicide of 25 to 50 years in prison without the possibility of reducing the sentence; however, femicide remained a significant problem. The NGO Mutual Support Group reported that from January to August, 302 women were killed, compared with 477 in the same period in 2019. According to judicial system data, 34 persons were convicted of femicide from January to November.

Violence against women, including sexual and domestic violence, remained widespread and serious. The law establishes penalties of five to eight years for physical, economic, and psychological violence committed against women due to their gender. As the government closed down nonessential businesses and most forms of travel, imposing a strict curfew for COVID-19, several NGOs, international organizations, and the government noted an increase in domestic abuse and violence against women. Data was scarce and difficult to collect, as some analysts noted women were not able to leave their homes to report abuses confidentially to police. Mutual Support Group estimated that domestic violence cases increased by nearly 200 percent compared with the previous year, noting 2,657 cases of “intrafamily violence” in the first six months. The Public Ministry recorded 39,399 instances of violence against women from January to August, compared with 40,993 in the same period of 2019. The ministry noted that the judicial system convicted 424 perpetrators of violence against women from January to August, compared with 1,149 in the same period of 2019.

In January, PNC officers arrested Francisco Cuxum Alvaradeo, 64, immediately after his deportation from the United States. The Public Ministry indicted him on charges of crimes against humanity and aggravated sexual assault against 36 Maya Achi women in Rabinal between 1981 and 1985. The Public Ministry indicted seven other defendants, former members of the civil defense patrols, on the same charges in 2018. The case against Cuxum was in the presentation of evidence phase, awaiting a resolution regarding the opening of a public trial. Cuxum’s case reopened the overall Maya Achi sexual violence case, which had remained blocked after a previous judge dismissed the charges against the seven other defendants and ordered their release. The case remained mired in a series of unresolved appeals.

Sexual Harassment: Although several laws refer to sexual harassment, no single law, including laws against sexual violence, address it in a direct manner. Human rights organizations reported sexual harassment was widespread.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. They did not always have the information and means to do so.

Cultural, geographic, and linguistic barriers hampered access to reproductive health care including contraceptives, particularly for indigenous women in rural areas, where contraceptives were also least likely to be available locally. A lack of culturally sensitive reproductive and maternal health-care service providers deterred some indigenous women from accessing these services.

The government made progress to ensure that survivors of sexual violence who sought medical attention received sexual and reproductive health services, with some hospitals classifying sexual assault as a medical emergency; however, many survivors did not seek medical care due to cultural and geographic barriers.

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

Discrimination: Although the law establishes the principle of gender equality, women, and particularly indigenous women, faced discrimination and were less likely to hold management positions.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country or from their parents. UNICEF described low birth registration as a “serious problem,” and UNHCR reported problems in registering births were especially acute in indigenous communities due to inadequate government registration and documentation systems. Lack of registration restricted children’s access to some public services and created conditions that could lead to statelessness.

Education: While primary education is free and compulsory through age 15, access was limited in many rural areas; education through the secondary level is not obligatory. International observers noted boys were prioritized for high school education in rural communities due to the need to travel long distances and girls’ perceived value in the home. UNICEF criticized the government’s education plan during the COVID-19 pandemic, citing its exclusively distance-learning education plan as unrealistic and discriminatory against most indigenous children, who lacked access to stable internet connections and computers.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. A unit under the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Children and Adolescents handled child abuse cases. The Public Ministry opened an integrated 24-hour care model providing medical, psychosocial, and legal support to children and adolescent victims of violence. The ministry reported 4,001 reports of abuse of minors of all types, approximately 3,000 fewer than in 2019. The ministry reported 14 convictions for child abuse from January through August, compared with 54 during the same period in 2019. Closure of the courts for COVID-19 affected convictions for these cases.

NGOs supporting at-risk youth reported adolescents detained by police were subject to abusive treatment, including physical assaults.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18. There continued to be reports of early and forced marriages in some rural indigenous communities and in the Lev Tahor religious community, but the National Registry of Persons reported no attempted registration of underage marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides sentences ranging from 13 to 24 years in prison, depending on the victim’s age, for engaging in sex with a minor. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18.

The law prohibits child pornography and establishes penalties of six to 10 years in prison for producing, promoting, and selling child pornography and two to four years’ imprisonment for possessing it. The Public Ministry and the PNC conducted several raids against alleged online child pornography networks. The Regional Unit against Trafficking in Persons, responsible for eight departments in the Western Highlands and launched in 2018, expanded the government’s investigative capacity against child pornography offenders. The commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child sex tourism, remained a problem, including in privately run orphanages.

Displaced Children: Criminals and gangs often recruited street children, many of them victims of domestic abuse, for purposes of theft, extortion, prostitution, transporting contraband, and conducting illegal drug activities.

Institutionalized Children: More than 500 children and adolescents lived in shelters operated by the Secretariat for Social Welfare (SBS). In 2019 the Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons transferred control of three shelters to the SBS, as mandated by the government. Observers noted the SBS responsibly maintained and improved the shelters despite fears from human rights observers that the transfer happened too soon and the SBS was not prepared to handle control of the shelters.

Overcrowding was common in both private and SBS shelters, and government funding for orphanages remained limited. Local and international human rights organizations, including Disability Rights International, raised concerns that child abuse was rampant. The OHCHR reported Hogar Esperanza, a private shelter for orphans and child victims of violence, sheltered children with disabilities but had no specialists able to care for them. The OHCHR also reported Hogar Esperanza was housing children in spaces that resembled cages. The OHCHR stated private shelters were often better than SBS shelters, but in cases like Hogar Esperanza, there was a clear need for reform to care adequately for children with disabilities.

Former SBS secretary Carlos Rodas and former deputy secretary for protection and shelter services Anahi Keller remained in pretrial detention with four others on charges of murder, abuse of authority, breach of duty, and abuse against minors following the deaths of 41 girls in a 2017 fire at the Hogar Seguro orphanage. As of October the case remained locked in a series of unresolved appeals and delays. The Constitutional Court ruled in July that the court in charge of the trial must accept evidence on the nature of the fire that was previously rejected in 2018. Some nongovernment analysts noted the judges might be intentionally delaying the Hogar Seguro case to wait for the new appeals court judges to be appointed, a process delayed since 2019. There were also accusations the judges intentionally delayed the case because the defendants were close to former president Jimmy Morales; several judges recused themselves from the case amid allegations of bias in favor of the defendants. The government did not make significant structural changes to the national system following the Hogar Seguro fire.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population numbered approximately 1,500. Jewish community representatives reported no anti-Semitic incidents as of October.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution contains no specific prohibitions against discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The law, however, mandates equal access to public facilities and provides some other legal protections. In many cases, however, the law was not enforced. The law does not mandate that persons with disabilities have access to information or communications.

There was no reliable data on the prevalence of disabilities in the school-age population, but the National Council for Persons with Disabilities reported few persons with disabilities attended educational institutions or held jobs. The council, composed of representatives of relevant government ministries and agencies, is the principal government entity responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Most schools and universities did not have facilities accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Federico Mora National Hospital for Mental Health, the only public health-care provider for persons with mental illness, lacked basic supplies, equipment, hygienic living conditions, and adequate professional staff. The OHCHR reported the hospital housed persons with physical disabilities in the same wards as patients with mental health needs. Media and human rights organizations reported mistreatment of residents, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence by other residents, guards, and hospital staff, especially against women and children with disabilities. Disability Rights International and other human rights organizations continued to monitor the hospital for its history of employees trafficking women into sexual exploitation. Multiple legal actions were pending against the hospital.

The OHCHR reported the government’s COVID-19 response did not adequately address the needs of persons with disabilities. The OHCHR received complaints from individuals with mobility restrictions who could not leave their homes due to the curfew and suffered from profound hunger. The government also did not make exceptions for persons on the autism spectrum and others who suffered distress from lack of physical space during lockdown. One public hospital for persons with disabilities, the Social Security Institute for Physical Rehabilitation, was closed to convert it into a hospital for COVID-19 patients. The OHCHR reported the government did not create a plan to continue rehabilitation care in another location. In response to the November tropical depression and hurricane, the government ordered evacuations but did not have the means to provide information or assist citizens with disabilities. The OHCHR reported one deaf teenager was ordered to evacuate but did not receive information on how to find shelter.

Indigenous People

The government’s National Institute of Statistics estimated indigenous persons from 24 ethnic groups made up 44 percent of the population. The law provides for equal rights for indigenous persons and obliges the government to recognize, respect, and promote the lifestyles, customs, traditions, social organizations, and manner of dress of indigenous persons. The government does not, however, recognize particular indigenous groups as having a special legal status provided by national law.

Indigenous communities were underrepresented in national politics and remained largely outside the political, economic, social, and cultural mainstream. This was mainly due to limited educational opportunities (contrary to law), limited communication regarding their rights, and pervasive discrimination. Government agencies dedicated to supporting indigenous rights lacked political support. These factors contributed to disproportionate poverty and malnutrition among most indigenous populations.

Indigenous lands were not effectively demarcated, making the legal recognition of titles to the land problematic. Indigenous rights advocates asserted that security authorities’ lack of familiarity with indigenous norms and practices engendered misunderstandings.

Indigenous representatives claimed actors in a number of regional development projects failed to consult meaningfully with local communities. In some cases indigenous communities were not able to participate in decisions affecting the exploitation of resources in their communities, including energy, minerals, timber, rivers, or other natural resources. They also lacked effective mechanisms for dialogue with the state to resolve conflicts.

The Russian conglomerate Solway, which bought the Fenix nickel mine in Izabal Department in 2014, continued to stand accused of violence against indigenous activists and illegal extraction of undeclared materials. Observers in Izabal reported that as of September, the mine continued operations despite the 2019 court order to suspend activities. Observers reported that Solway employees were giving baskets of food and other bribes to locals to keep them from protesting the mine, as protests routinely disrupted mine operations. Observers also reported Solway was believed to have bribed municipal officials in El Estor to keep news of a COVID-19 outbreak on the mine compound from becoming public. The 2019 Constitutional Court order required the provisional closure of the mine until the Ministry of Energy and Mines conducted consultations compliant with Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) with local communities.

Xinka authorities reported the court-ordered consultations were not progressing in regards to the San Rafael mine. In 2018 the Constitutional Court ordered the Ministry of Energy and Mines to hold ILO Convention 169-compliant consultations with Xinka populations and upheld the suspension of the operating license of the San Rafael Mine until after conclusion of the consultations.

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

Extreme violence against LGBTI persons remained a persistent issue. According to OHCHR observations, there were more than 13 killings of LGBTI persons from January to October in which the violence could plausibly be linked to the victims’ sexual orientation. The local NGO National Network for Sexual Diversity and HIV, as well as the Lambda Association, reported that 16 LGBTI persons had been killed as of October, including several transgender individuals who the NGOs believed were targeted due to their sexual orientation. Lambda reported that most homicides and general crimes of prejudice against LGBTI persons occurred either in the capital, Guatemala City, or in the regions of Izabal and Jalapa. LGBTI groups claimed LGBTI women experienced specific forms of discrimination, such as forced marriages and “corrective” rape intended to cause pregnancy, although these incidents were rarely, if ever, reported to authorities.

According to LGBTI activists, gay and transgender individuals often experienced police abuse. LGBTI human rights groups stated, for example, that police regularly engaged in extortion and harassed male and transgender individuals whom they alleged to be sex workers.

Lambda and other LGBTI organizations reported a lack of will on the part of police to investigate fully hate crimes and violence against LGBTI persons. In August, for example, assailants killed a Salvadoran transgender woman in Guatemala City, likely due to her LGBTI identity, according to Lambda. The woman was applying for asylum in Guatemala due to discrimination in her own country. Lambda reported that police had largely abandoned investigating the case despite the victim’s mother claiming to have information on the identities of the perpetrators.

The law does not extend specific antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics.

There was general societal discrimination against LGBTI persons in access to education, health care, employment, and housing. The government made minimal efforts to address this discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS status is prohibited by law. Societal discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS remained a problem, however, despite efforts by the Ministry of Health to address it. Forms of discrimination included being required by some government authorities to reveal HIV/AIDS test results to receive certain public benefits or from employers in order to be hired. In addition, patients with HIV or AIDS experienced discrimination from medical personnel when receiving services at some public hospitals and clinics, and they had their right to confidentiality violated by disclosure of their status. Discrimination against LGBTI persons with HIV or AIDS was particularly common and affected access to HIV-prevention programs, especially for transgender individuals.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Vigilante mobs attacked and killed those suspected of crimes such as rape, kidnapping, theft, or extortion on several occasions. The NGO Mutual Support Group reported three persons were lynched and 45 injured in attempted lynchings by vigilante groups from January through August.

On June 6, villagers in San Luis, Peten, killed Domingo Choc, an indigenous spiritual guide and expert on medicinal plants and traditional healing methods. The mob confronted Choc in his house, where they beat him and burned him to death on allegations that he was practicing witchcraft. The mob violence was widely circulated in social media and caught national and international attention, due to its graphic nature and Choc’s ties with the anthropology departments of University of College London and Zurich University for research on indigenous healing practices. Multiple local NGOs and international organizations raised the killing as evidence of continued violent discrimination against indigenous peoples and their belief systems. While police continued to investigate the incident, observers and analysts noted the perpetrators, caught on video, seemed to be primarily motivated by religious animus against traditional Mayan spiritual practices and traditions, accusing Choc of being a witch. President Giammattei strongly condemned the incident and convened an interfaith group to discuss the need to prevent violence against indigenous spiritual guides in the future.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of security force members, to form and join trade unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law, however, places some restrictions on these rights. For example, legal recognition of an industrywide union requires that the membership constitute a majority of the workers in an industry and restricts union leadership to citizens. Ministries and businesses are required to negotiate only with the largest union, as determined by annual membership. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union activities and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed for organizing union activities. A strike must have the support of the majority of a company’s workforce. Workers are not restricted to membership in one union or one industry.

The president and cabinet may suspend any strike deemed “gravely prejudicial to the country’s essential activities and public services.” The government defined “essential services” more broadly than international standards, thus denying the right to strike to a large number of public workers, such as those working in education, postal services, transport, and the production, transportation, and distribution of energy. Public employees may address grievances by means of conciliation for collective disputes and arbitration directly through the labor courts. For sectors considered essential, arbitration is compulsory if there is no agreement after 30 days of conciliation. During the six successive states of calamity declared between March and September 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no union attempted a strike, although were strikes expressly prohibited. The Solidarity Center said the trade union leadership was largely inactive, and only one member of the National Confederation of Christian Trade Unions’ labor observatory continued substantive work during the pandemic.

The law prohibits employer retaliation against workers engaged in legal strikes. If authorities do not recognize a strike as legal, employers may suspend or terminate workers for absence without leave. A factory or business owner is not obligated to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement unless at least 25 percent of workers in the factory or business are union members and request negotiations. Once a strike occurs, companies are required to close during negotiations. Strikes were extremely rare, but work stoppages were common.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Government institutions, such as the Ministry of Labor and the labor courts, did not effectively investigate, prosecute, or punish employers who violated freedom of association and collective bargaining laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Labor courts also failed to compel compliance with reinstatement orders, including payment of back wages, for workers illegally dismissed for engaging in union activities. The Public Ministry was ineffective in responding to labor court referrals for criminal prosecution in cases where employers refused to comply with labor court orders. Like other courts, the labor courts also largely closed from March to June due to COVID-19.

The Ministry of Labor has the authority to sanction employers for violating union and collective bargaining rights. Business groups complained the time frame to investigate and verify compliance with Ministry of Labor remediation orders was too short and resulted in more cases being referred to the labor courts without an opportunity to conciliate. Worker representatives reported no significant improvement in compliance with the law as a result of the new sanction authority, noting that the inspectorate emphasized collection of fines, which now go to the labor inspectorate, over remediation of the underlying violations. Lack of information about the law’s implementation made it difficult to assess its impact on improving labor law enforcement.

The Unit for Crimes against Unionists within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights in the Public Ministry was responsible for investigating attacks and threats against union members as well as for noncompliance with judicial orders in labor cases. Staffing for the unit remained stagnant, and successful prosecutions remained a challenge exacerbated by the pandemic.

The National Tripartite Commission on Labor Relations and Freedom of Association encouraged social dialogue between the Ministry of Labor, unions, and businesses, and monitored and facilitated implementation of the 2013 ILO roadmap and its 2015 indicators.

Three subcommissions established under the National Tripartite Commission–on legislation and labor policy, on mediation and dispute settlement, and on implementation of the roadmap–held meetings during the year. In November the subcommission on implementation of the roadmap presented its full report in Geneva. The mediation and dispute settlement subcommission developed the capacity of governmental, union, and business members to mediate labor conflicts, with the ILO providing technical support and training. The subcommission on labor and legislation made a diagnostic analysis of labor law and drafted reforms.

Prior reports demonstrated a lack of progress in all nine elements of the roadmap except sanctions on labor violations. After being inactive in the first quarter of the year, the National Tripartite Commission met virtually after March. The Ministry of Government did not convene the Interagency Committee to Analyze Attacks against Human Rights Defenders, including trade unionists, on a regular basis due to the pandemic. On October 26, the Ministry of Government reconvened the committee through a published ministerial agreement. Two days later, and without explanation, the committee was closed again through another ministerial agreement.

The country did not demonstrate measurable progress in the effective enforcement of its labor laws, particularly those related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Labor officials pointed to the pandemic as the reason for lack of enforcement. Violence and threats against trade unionists and labor activists remained serious problems, although COVID-19 prevented serious attempts to document cases, and much of the formal sector was inactive from March through September. From January to September, the Solidarity Center registered three violent attacks, 13 death threats, and 10 acts of criminalization and defamation against trade unionists and labor activists. Authorities did not thoroughly investigate most acts of violence and threats and often discarded trade union activity as a motive from the outset of the investigation, allowing these acts to go unprosecuted. Several labor leaders reported death threats and other acts of intimidation. The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Judicial Workers and Unionists reported that by December 11, it had received 244 complaints of crimes or offenses against trade unionists and labor activists compared with 487 complaints from January to August 31, 2019.

Procedural hurdles, restrictions on and delays in forming unions, and impunity for employers rejecting or ignoring court orders limited freedom of association and collective bargaining. Government statistics on attempted union registrations indicated most registrations were initially rejected, and when they were issued, it was after the legally established period. In addition credentials of union leaders were regularly rejected and delayed. As a result union members were left without additional protections against antiunion retaliation.

Employers routinely resisted attempts to form unions, delayed or only partially complied with agreements resulting from direct negotiations, and ignored judicial rulings requiring the employer to negotiate with recognized unions. There were credible reports of retaliation by employers against workers who tried to exercise their rights, including numerous complaints filed with the Ministry of Labor and the Public Ministry alleging employer retaliation for union activity. Common practices included termination and harassment of workers who attempted to form unions, creation of illegal company-supported unions to counter legally established unions, blacklisting of union organizers, threats of factory closures, and deliberate failure to register unionized workers for certain government benefits. Local unions reported businesses used fraudulent bankruptcies, ownership substitution, and reincorporation of companies to circumvent legal obligations to recognize newly formed or established unions, despite legal restrictions on such practices.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government failed to enforce the law effectively. Reports persisted of men and women subjected to forced labor in agriculture and domestic service. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Criminal penalties for forced labor range from eight to 18 years’ imprisonment and a fine. The government has specialized police and prosecutors who handle cases of human trafficking, including forced labor, although local experts reported some prosecutors lacked adequate training. There were also reports of forced child labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The Ministry of Labor regulations set the minimum age for employment at 15 years. The law bars employment of minors younger than age 15, but it also allows the Ministry of Labor to authorize children younger than 15 to work in exceptional cases. The ministry’s inspectorate reported it did not authorize any exceptions during the year. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working in places that serve alcoholic beverages, in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, at night, or beyond the number of hours permitted. The legal workday for persons younger than 14 is six hours; for persons 14 to 17, it is seven hours. Child labor was nonetheless prevalent in the agricultural sector, in dangerous conditions, and with parents’ knowledge and consent.

The Ministry of Labor’s Child Worker Protection Unit is responsible for enforcing restrictions on child labor and educating minors, their parents, and employers on the rights of minors. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government did not effectively enforce the law, a situation exacerbated by the weakness of the labor inspection and labor court systems. The government devoted insufficient resources to prevention programs. During restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, the Protection Unit largely worked from home, ineffectively enforcing the law.

The NGO Conrad Project Association of the Cross estimated the workforce included approximately one million children ages five to 17. Most child labor occurred in rural indigenous areas of extreme poverty. The informal and agricultural sectors regularly employed children younger than 14, usually in small family enterprises, including in the production of broccoli, coffee, corn, fireworks, gravel, and sugar. Indigenous children also worked in street sales and as shoe shiners and bricklayer assistants. An estimated 39,000 children, primarily indigenous girls, worked as domestic servants and were often vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and sex trafficking. Traffickers exploited children in forced begging, street vending, and as street performers, particularly in Guatemala City and along the border with Mexico. Traffickers particularly targeted indigenous individuals, including children, for forced labor, including in tortilla-making shops. Criminal organizations, including gangs, exploited girls in sex trafficking and coerced young males in urban areas to sell or transport drugs or commit extortion.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law explicitly prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, age, and disability. The government did not effectively enforce the law and related regulations. Penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred. Anecdotally, wage discrimination based on race and sex occurred often in rural areas.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets national minimum wages for agricultural and nonagricultural work and for work in garment factories. The minimum wage for agricultural and nonagricultural work and for work in export-sector-regime factories did not meet the minimum food budget for a family of five.

The legal workweek is 48 hours with at least one paid 24-hour rest period. Workers are not to work more than 12 hours a day. The law provides for 12 paid annual holidays and paid vacation of 15 working days after one year’s work. Daily and weekly maximum hour limits do not apply to domestic workers. Workers in the formal sector receive the standard pay for a day’s work for official annual holidays. Time-and-a-half pay is required for overtime work, and the law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets occupational health and safety (OSH) standards that were inadequate and not current for all industries. The government did not effectively enforce OSH laws. Penalties for OSH violations were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. The situation worsened during the pandemic. Many manufacturing facilities, including textile and clothing manufacturing, as well as call centers were exempted from otherwise strict lockdown protocols within days of the March state of calamity. The press reported numerous outbreaks in such facilities until the end of August, when mask usage increased and sanitary measures were properly implemented in the workforce. Among the factories affected was KP Textiles, a garment factory supplying GAP; American Eagle; and Amazon, where more than 200 workers tested positive for COVID-19 and whose owners originally refused to take precautions or allow labor inspectors to enter. While the factory eventually was inspected and shut down, it opened again and was not fined. The law does not provide for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Inspectors often lacked vehicles or fuel to carry out inspections, and in some cases they failed to take effective action to gain access to worksites in response to employers’ refusal to permit labor inspectors access to facilities. Inspectors were encouraged to seek police assistance as required. Inspections were generally not comprehensive, and if complaint driven, focused on investigating the alleged violation rather than attempting to maximize limited resources to determine compliance beyond the individual complaint. From March to early April, Ministry of Labor inspections were suspended. Approximately half the unit returned in April and focused on inspecting possible violations of COVID-19 guidelines and hygiene. By August inspectors had returned to normal operations but with a large backlog of labor hearings due to the closed courts.

The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections to monitor compliance with minimum wage law provisions but often lacked the necessary vehicles or fuel to enable inspectors to enforce the law, especially in the agricultural and informal sectors. The ministry did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors to deter violations, and many of them performed reviews on paper or administrative duties rather than clearly defined inspection duties. During the pandemic the ministry closed its offices to the public, and workers were unable to present complaints in person. The ministry established a hotline to receive complaints, but workers stated that often no one answered their calls. The ministry later developed a web portal for complaints, but not all workers had access to internet. The number of inspections conducted decreased during the pandemic.

On July 9, the Ministry of Labor issued a ministerial accord allowing certain businesses to suspend the payment of worker’s midyear bonus due to financial hardship caused by the pandemic. The Constitutional Court invalidated the accord, however, and ordered businesses to make the bonus payments on time and in full, in accordance with the law. On July 8, the ministry reported that it would enforce compliance with payment of the bonus, which must be paid to all workers during the first two weeks of July, and emphasized the benefit must be paid by companies that continued operations during the COVID-19 emergency. Ministry inspectors shifted focus in July from COVID-19 hygiene inspections to the bonus payments but had limited staff to complete the inspections. In addition the ministry noted it had coordinated with two banks and a federation of credit and savings cooperatives so that employers affected by the pandemic would have access to the working capital credit fund and fulfill their labor obligations. The ministry also announced that employers who were not financially able to pay the bonus had to inform ministry officials through an affidavit as established by law.

Labor inspectors reported uncovering numerous instances of overtime abuse, but effective enforcement was undermined due to inadequate fines and labor courts’ reluctance to use compulsory measures, such as increased fines and referrals to the criminal courts, to obtain compliance. During the pandemic these issues worsened as the labor courts closed to the public, performing minimal administrative duties as officials tried to work from home. Other factors contributing to the lack of effective enforcement included labor court inefficiencies, employer refusal to permit labor inspectors to enter facilities or provide access to payroll records and other documentation, and inspectors’ lack of follow-up inspections in the face of such refusals. In one case in June, a business protested the presence of a congressional deputy and a PDH official in an attempted labor inspection. Members of the business community accused the PDH of performing inspections without permission and without the ministry, although ministry presence is not legally required for the PDH to inspect facilities. The business community agreed the PDH has a right to inspect but said the PDH did not always follow official protocols. Due to inefficient and lengthy court proceedings, the resolution of labor court cases was often delayed, in many instances for several years. Employers failing to provide a safe workplace were rarely sanctioned, and a law requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide onsite medical facilities for their workers was not enforced.

The Solidarity Center explained that almost all organized labor activity ceased during the pandemic as elderly trade union officials were unwilling or unable to venture outside their homes and equally unwilling to cede authority to younger union leaders. Nonetheless, trade union leaders and human rights groups reported employers required workers to work overtime without legally mandated premium pay. Management often manipulated employer-provided transportation to worksites to force employees to work overtime, especially in export processing zones located in isolated areas with limited transportation alternatives. Noncompliance with minimum wage provisions in the agricultural and informal sectors was widespread. Advocacy groups estimated the vast majority of workers in rural areas who engaged in daylong employment did not receive the wages, benefits, or social security allocations required by law. Many employers in the agricultural sector reportedly conditioned payment of the minimum daily wage on excessive production quotas that workers generally were unable to meet. To meet the quota, workers felt compelled to work extra hours, sometimes bringing family members, including children, to help with the work. Because of having to work beyond the maximum allowed hours per day, workers received less than the minimum wage for the day and did not receive the required overtime pay. According to ILO statistics, 74 percent of the workforce worked in the informal sector and outside the basic protections afforded by law.

Local unions highlighted and protested violations by employers who failed to pay employer and employee contributions to the national social security system despite employee contribution deductions from workers’ paychecks. These violations, particularly common in export and agricultural industries, resulted in limiting or denying employees’ access to the public health system and reducing or underpaying workers’ pension benefits during their retirement years.

Many employers of domestic servants routinely paid below minimum wage, failed to register their employees with the Guatemalan Institute of Social Security, and demanded 16-hour days for six or more days a week for live-in staff. Many of these same employees were summarily dismissed at the beginning of the pandemic or advised to stay in the home of their employer without traveling back to their own families or communities for fear of spreading the virus. An undetermined number of dismissed employees returned to their previous employers as conditions stabilized.

Honduras

Executive Summary

Honduras is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country last held national and local elections in November 2017. Voters elected Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party as president for a four-year term beginning in January 2018. International observers generally recognized the elections as free but disputed the fairness and transparency of the results.

The Honduran National Police maintain internal security and report to the Secretariat of Security. The armed forces, which report to the Secretariat of Defense, are responsible for external security but also exercise some domestic security responsibilities in a supporting role to the national police and other civilian authorities. Some larger cities have police forces that operate independently of the national police and report to municipal authorities. The Military Police of Public Order report to military authorities but conduct operations sanctioned by civilian security officials as well as by military leaders. The National Interinstitutional Security Force is an interagency command that coordinates the overlapping responsibilities of the national police, military police of public order, National Intelligence Directorate, and Public Ministry during interagency operations. Although the Interinstitutional Security Force reports to the National Security and Defense Council, it plays a coordinating role and did not exercise broad command and control functions over other security forces except during interagency operations involving those forces. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; killings of and threats to media members by criminal elements; criminalization of libel, although no cases were reported; serious acts of corruption including by high level officials; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; and threats and violence against indigenous, Afro-descendant communities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

The government continued to prosecute some officials who committed abuses, but a weak judicial system and corruption were major obstacles to gaining convictions. The national curfew and shutdown of government offices in response to COVID-19 severely hampered government efforts to address abuses during most of the year.

Organized-crime groups, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of homicide, torture, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, intimidation, and other threats and violence directed against human rights defenders, judicial authorities, lawyers, business community members, journalists, bloggers, women, and other vulnerable populations. The government investigated and prosecuted many of these crimes, particularly through the national police’s Violent Crimes Task Force.

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 several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The reported killings took place during law enforcement operations or were linked to other criminal activity by government agents. The Ministry of Security’s Directorate of Disciplinary Police Affairs (DIDADPOL) investigated members of the Honduran National Police (HNP) accused of human rights abuses. The Office of the Inspector General of the Armed Forces and the Humanitarian Law Directorate investigated and arrested members of the military accused of human rights abuses. Impunity, however, remained a serious problem, with significant delays in some prosecutions and sources alleging corruption in judicial proceedings.

The Autonomous University of Honduras Violence Observatory reported 13 arbitrary or unlawful killings by security forces during the year. The Public Ministry reported five such cases undergoing trial, with four cases in the sentencing phase of trial. Five other cases were under investigation. DIDADPOL conducted internal investigations of HNP members in a continuation of the police purge begun in 2016.

On September 16, the Public Ministry filed an indictment against army military police officer Josue Noe Alvarado Giron for the April 24 murder of Marvin Rolando Alvarado Santiago at a military roadblock in Omoa, Cortes. Josue Alvarado allegedly shot Marvin Alvarado after a heated discussion over Marvin Alvarado’s failure to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. Josue Alvarado was assigned to Task Force Maya Chorti.

On February 4, media reported unknown assailants shot and killed three National Party local leaders in three separate incidents within five days in Tegucigalpa: Oscar Obdulio Licona Ruiz on January 31 and Dagoberto Villalta and Marcial Martinez on February 4.

The government continued to prosecute individuals allegedly involved in the 2016 killing of environmental and indigenous activist Berta Caceres. The legal process against Roberto David Castillo Mejia, one of the alleged intellectual authors of the killing, continued slowly due to motions and appeals by the defense, and Castillo remained incarcerated. On November 23, the court halted the presentation of evidence hearing after the defense filed an appeal. The appeals court would have to rule on the motion before the trial could move forward.

Reports of violence related to land conflicts and criminal activity continued. On April 2, a private security guard for the sugar company La Grecia shot and killed land rights defender Iris Argentina Alvarez Chavez during a confrontation between land rights defenders and private guards. Police later arrested the guard accused of killing Alvarez.

Organized-crime organizations, such as drug traffickers and local and transnational gangs including MS-13 and the 18th Street gang, committed killings, extortion, kidnappings, human trafficking, and intimidation of police, prosecutors, journalists, women, and human rights defenders. Major urban centers and drug-trafficking routes experienced the highest rates of violence.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, government officials received complaints and investigated alleged abuses by members of the security forces on the streets and in detention centers.

The Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) reported 28 cases of alleged torture by security forces through September, while the Public Ministry received three such reports. The quasi-governmental National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (CONAPREV) received 210 complaints of the use of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment, many related to the enforcement of the national curfew during the COVID-19 pandemic. COFADEH reported police beat and smeared a tear gas-covered cloth on the face of an individual detained for violating the national curfew in April in El Paraiso.

Corruption along with a lack of investigative resources and judicial delays led to widespread impunity, including in security forces. DIDADPOL investigated abuses by police forces. The Office of the Inspector General of the Armed Forces and the Humanitarian Law Directorate investigated abuses by the military. The National Human Rights Commission of Honduras received complaints about human rights abuses and referred them to the Public Ministry for investigation. The Secretariat of Human Rights provided training to security forces to increase respect for human rights. Through September the secretariat trained 2,764 law enforcement officials in human rights and international humanitarian law.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life-threatening due to pervasive gang-related violence and the government’s failure to control criminal activity within the prisons. Prisoners suffered from overcrowding, insufficient access to food and water, violence, and alleged abuse by prison officials.

Physical Conditions: Prisoners suffered from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of adequate sanitation and medical care, and, in some prisons, lack of adequate ventilation and lighting. The Secretariat of Human Rights reported that as of September 2, the total prison population was 21,675 in 25 prisons and three detention centers. According to the secretariat, the system had a designed capacity for approximately 10,600 inmates.

The National Prison Institute (INP) reported 12 violent deaths. On June 11, alleged members of the 18th Street gang in the National Women’s Penitentiary in Tegucigalpa killed six alleged members of the MS-13 gang.

As of September the Secretariat of Human Rights reported the country’s three pretrial detention centers held 79 individuals. These INP-administered centers were on military installations and received some support services from the military. The government used pretrial detention centers to hold high-profile suspects and those in need of additional security. Long periods of pretrial detention remained common and problematic, with many other pretrial detainees held in the general population with convicted prisoners.

The government failed to control pervasive gang-related violence and criminal activity within the prisons. Many prisons lacked sufficient security personnel. Many prisoners had access to weapons and other contraband, inmates attacked other inmates with impunity, and inmates and their associates outside prison threatened prison officials and their families. These conditions contributed to an unstable, dangerous environment in the penitentiary system. Media reported prison riots and violent confrontations between gang members in prisons throughout the year.

In response to the pervasive violence in the prison system, the government declared an emergency in the National Penitentiary System in December 2019. The emergency decree instituted the Interinstitutional Force as an auditing commission for the penitentiary system. This force is composed of active members of the army and national police. Despite the emergency decree, CONAPREV reported that violence in the prison system continued unabated.

Authorities did not generally segregate those with tuberculosis or other infectious diseases from the general prison population; as of September the INP reported 153 prisoners were being treated for tuberculosis. The lack of space for social distancing combined with the lack of adequate sanitation made prison conditions even more life threatening during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported 1,695 cases of COVID-19 in 25 prisons as of September, including cases among medical personnel, security personnel, and administrators. CONAPREV reported 27 prisoner deaths due to COVID-19 through August. There was only limited support for persons with mental illnesses or disabilities. CONAPREV reported every prison had a functioning health clinic with at least one medical professional, but basic medical supplies and medicines were in short supply throughout the prison system. In most prisons only inmates who purchased bottled water or had water filters in their cells had access to potable water.

Administration: The judicial system was legally responsible for monitoring prison conditions and providing for the rights of prisoners. The government tasks CONAPREV with visiting prisons and making recommendations for protecting the rights of prisoners. CONAPREV conducted more than 84 visits to adult prisons as of the end of August. Media reports noted that family members often faced long delays or were unable to visit detainees.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent local and international human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Improvements: Through August, CONAPREV trained 494 technical, administrative, and security personnel on topics including prison management and human rights.

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 or her arrest or detention in court. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported that authorities at times failed to enforce these requirements effectively.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides that police may make arrests only with a warrant unless: they make the arrest during the commission of a crime, there is strong suspicion that a person has committed a crime and might otherwise evade criminal prosecution, they catch a person in possession of evidence related to a crime, or a prosecutor has ordered the arrest after obtaining a warrant. The law requires police to inform persons of the grounds for their arrest and bring detainees before a competent judicial authority within 24 hours. It stipulates that a prosecutor has 24 additional hours to decide if there is probable cause for indictment, whereupon a judge has 24 more hours to decide whether to issue a temporary detention order. Such an order may be effective for up to six days, after which the judge must hold a pretrial hearing to examine whether there is probable cause to continue pretrial detention. The law allows persons charged with some felonies to avail themselves of bail and gives prisoners the right of prompt access to family members. The law allows the release of other suspects pending formal charges, on the condition that they periodically report to authorities, although management of this reporting mechanism was often weak. The government generally respected these provisions. Persons suspected of any of 22 specific felonies must remain in custody, pending the conclusion of judicial proceedings against them. Some judges, however, ruled that such suspects may be released on the condition that they continue to report periodically to authorities. The law grants prisoners the right to prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to government-provided counsel, although the public defender mechanism was weak, and authorities did not always abide by these requirements.

Arbitrary Arrest: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government instituted a national curfew, suspending constitutional provisions and limiting the free movement of individuals. Peace Brigades International (PBI) reported more than 34,000 persons were detained for violating the curfew. The Human Rights Board condemned some of these arrests as arbitrary under the guise of curfew enforcement. According to the Center for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights, on March 24, police arbitrarily detained Evelyn Johana Castillo, sub-coordinator of the Women’s Network of Ojojona and member of the National Network of Defenders of Human Rights. Castillo was returning from the market at 3:30 p.m. when a police officer arrested her for violating the curfew, even though the curfew did not start until 7:00 p.m. Castillo said the arrest was a reprisal for an encounter a few days previously, when Castillo confronted the officer who was attempting to expel a vendor from a park. The Public Ministry reported 15 cases of alleged illegal detention or arbitrary arrest as of November.

Pretrial Detention: Judicial inefficiency, corruption, and insufficient resources delayed proceedings in the criminal justice system, and lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem. For crimes with minimum sentences of six years’ imprisonment, the law authorizes pretrial detention of up to two years. The prosecution may request an additional six-month extension, but many detainees remained in pretrial detention much longer, including for more time than the maximum period of incarceration for their alleged crime. The law does not authorize pretrial detention for crimes with a maximum sentence of five years or less. The law mandates that authorities release detainees whose cases have not yet come to trial and whose time in pretrial detention already exceeds the maximum prison sentence for their alleged crime. Even so, many prisoners remained in custody after completing their full sentences, and sometimes even after an acquittal, because officials failed to process their releases expeditiously.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the justice system was poorly funded and staffed, inadequately equipped, often ineffective, and subject to intimidation, corruption, politicization, and patronage. Low salaries and a lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery, although the Supreme Court significantly raised salaries during the year and made improvements in transparency. Powerful special interests, including organized-crime groups, exercised influence on the outcomes of some court proceedings.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary did not always enforce this right.

The law presumes an accused person is innocent. The accused has the right to an initial hearing before a judge, to ask for bail, consult with legal counsel in a timely manner, have a lawyer provided by the state if necessary, and request an appeal. Defendants may receive free assistance from an interpreter. The law permits defendants to confront witnesses against them and offer witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Credible observers noted problems in trial procedures, such as a lack of admissible evidence, judicial corruption, widespread public distrust of the legal system, witness intimidation, and an ineffective witness protection program.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law establishes an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court to seek damages for human rights violations. Litigants may sue a criminal defendant for damages if authorized by a criminal court. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Inter-American Human Rights System.

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

Although the law generally prohibits such actions, a legal exception allows government authorities to enter a private residence to prevent a crime or in case of another emergency. There were credible complaints that police occasionally failed to obtain the required authorization before entering private homes.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, with some restrictions, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

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

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. A small number of powerful business magnates with intersecting commercial, political, and family ties owned most of the major news media.

The government allocated a budget of nearly 12.6 million lempiras ($526,000) for the continued operation of a protection mechanism that included provision of protection to journalists. By August it had provided protection to two journalists, among other types of activists and human rights defenders. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern about weak implementation of the law and limited resources available to operate the government’s protection mechanism. Civil society organizations criticized the government’s failure to investigate threats adequately.

The HNP’s Violent Crimes Task Force investigated crimes against high-profile and particularly vulnerable victims, including journalists as well as judges, human rights activists, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media members and NGOs stated the press self-censored due to fear of retaliation from organized-crime groups or corrupt government officials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Citizens, including public officials, may initiate criminal proceedings for libel and slander. No cases were reported during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some journalists and other members of civil society reported threats from members of organized-crime groups. It was unclear how many of these threats were related to the victims’ professions or activism. Several anonymous social media sites, possibly linked to political parties, criticized journalists (as well as activists and civil society organizations) who were critical of the government or opposition party policies.

On July 1, unknown assailants on a motorcycle shot and killed television journalist German Vallecillo and cameraman Jorge Posas in La Ceiba. Police arrested Ramon David Zelaya Hernandez on July 4 and Edward David Zalavarria Galeas on July 6 as the two main suspects in the killings. Both suspects were alleged members of a criminal organization involved in drug trafficking.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government limited freedom of peaceful assembly under the national curfew imposed in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The law requires a judge to issue an eviction order for individuals occupying public and private property if security forces have not evicted the individuals within a specified period of time. Some local and international civil society organizations, including students, agricultural workers groups, political parties, and indigenous rights groups, alleged that members of the security forces used excessive force to break up demonstrations. The IACHR reported the government at times used a policy of arbitrary detentions or arrests to inhibit protest. Under the national emergency and corresponding curfew, the government suspended the constitutional right to peaceful assembly. The curfew severely limited freedom of movement and banned large gatherings.

COFADEH reported an increase of complaints regarding the use of excessive and disproportionate force by security forces under the national curfew. During April, the first full month of the curfew, COFADEH reported 11,471 complaints of arbitrary actions by security forces, mainly abusive detentions for curfew violators. The PBI reported an incident on April 23 near Tela, Atlantida Department, involving the alleged use of live rounds by police in response to a protest, injuring two individuals. On May 5, the DIDADPOL director noted his office had not received a formal complaint, and he asserted two official police reports from the incident did not corroborate the PBI’s account.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits illicit association, defined as gatherings by persons bearing arms, explosive devices, or dangerous objects with the purpose of committing a crime, and prescribes prison terms of two to four years and a moderate fine for anyone who convokes or directs an illicit meeting or demonstration. There were no reports of such cases during the year, although authorities charged some protesters with sedition. Public-sector unions expressed concern about some officials refusing to honor bargaining agreements and firing union leaders. The law prohibits police from unionizing (see section 7.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The national curfew instituted in response to COVID-19, however, severely limited the freedom of internal movement.

In-country Movement: Under the national curfew from March 16, the government limited freedom of movement by allowing individuals to move outside their homes one day every two weeks. Starting November 9, the government temporarily suspended the curfew to facilitate Tropical Depression Eta response efforts. Unrelated to the curfew, there were areas where authorities could not assure freedom of movement because of criminal activity and a lack of significant government presence.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

In 2019 the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center NGO estimated there were approximately 247,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country due to violence. Internal displacement was generally caused by violence, national and transnational gang activity, and human trafficking. Official data on forced internal displacement was limited in part because gangs controlled many of the neighborhoods that were sources of internal displacement (see section 6, Displaced Children).

The government maintained the Interinstitutional Commission for the Protection of Persons Displaced by Violence and created the Directorate for the Protection of Persons Internally Displaced by Violence within the Secretariat of Human Rights. Both the ministry and the commission focused on developing policies to address IDPs. Under the Regional Integral Framework for Protection and Solutions, with significant support from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the government continued to build capacity to provide services to key population groups, including IDPs, those at risk of forced displacement, refugees, and returned migrants, through 14 commitments and 28 specific actions between 2018 and 2020.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Transiting migrants and asylum seekers with pending cases were vulnerable to abuse by criminal organizations. The legal framework for granting international protection fails to establish long-term safeguards for recognized refugees, since they are issued the same residence permit as other migration categories.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government had a nascent system to provide protection to refugees. The shutdown of government offices in response to the COVID-19 pandemic caused a substantial delay in the processing of asylum cases, with no cases fully adjudicated of 53 new applications received through August. The Refugee Commission suspended operations shortly after the onset of the pandemic but began reviewing applications again as of June. The National Migration Institute secretary general, responsible for final case determinations, had not resumed this function as of October.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the right to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal and equal suffrage. The law does not permit active members of the military or civilian security forces to vote. The constitution prohibits practicing clergy from running for office or participating in political campaigns.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In December 2017 Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party was declared the winner in the November elections. International observers generally agreed the elections were free but disputed the fairness and transparency of the results. The Organization of American States (OAS) and EU observer teams agreed the margin of victory separating incumbent president Hernandez from challenger Salvador Nasralla was extremely narrow. The OAS mission found that the 1.5 percent margin of victory, combined with numerous irregularities in vote processing, left it unable to state with certainty who won the presidential election. The EU mission agreed there were serious irregularities in the process but concluded that safeguards built into the system, including posting of voting results forms on a public website, helped promote transparency. NGOs reported irregularities, including problems with voter rolls, buying and selling of electoral workers’ credentials, and lack of transparency in campaign financing.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Civil society and opposition parties accused officials of using government resources to attract voters.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women held 21 percent of seats in the National Congress, down from 26 percent prior to the 2017 elections. At the local level, only 7 percent of elected mayors were women, but women represented 76 percent of the elected vice mayors.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but authorities did not implement the law effectively, and officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The government took steps to address corruption at high levels in government agencies, including arresting and charging members of congress, judges, prosecutors, sitting and former senior officials, mayors and other local authorities, and police officers. Anticorruption efforts remained an area of concern, as did the government’s ability to protect justice sector officials, such as prosecutors and judges.

Following months of negotiation, the government and the OAS did not reach an agreement to maintain the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), and its mandate expired in January. The Public Ministry created a new anticorruption unit, the Special Prosecution Unit against Corruption Networks, which is charged with pursuing MACCIH legacy corruption cases.

Corruption: On March 13, the Supreme Court of Justice ordered a new trial for former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo, spouse of former president Porfirio Lobo, who was convicted in August 2019 of fraud and misappropriation of public funds and sentenced to 58 years in prison. The Supreme Court of Justice cited the presence of MACCIH personnel during Public Ministry investigations, including in the execution of search warrants in violation of the law. A specialized anticorruption sentencing tribunal ordered her release from pretrial detention on July 23. As of September no new trial date had been set. On August 5, an appeals court dismissed charges against 22 defendants indicted in the so-called Pandora case, a 2013 scheme that allegedly funneled 289.4 million lempiras ($12 million) in government agricultural funds to political campaigns. The appeals court ruled the cases of former agriculture minister Jacobo Regalado and three members of his staff should proceed to trial.

During the year the National Anticorruption Council reported numerous irregularities in the purchase of emergency medical supplies during the pandemic. The council presented 11 reports in a series called, Corruption in the Times of COVID-19. The reports alleged illicit gains of more than 1.64 billion lempiras ($68 million) by government officials in the purchase of medical supplies. Invest-H, the agency in charge of purchasing medical supplies during the pandemic, purchased seven mobile hospitals for 1.13 billion lempiras ($47 million), more than 289.4 million lempiras ($12 million) above the manufacturer’s quoted price. The director of Invest-H, Marco Antonio Bogran Corrales, resigned from his position in July and was indicted in October on two corruption charges for embezzling an estimated 1.3 million lempiras ($54,000) in public funds and funneling a contract for mobile hospitals to his uncle. Authorities arrested Bogran on October 5 and released him on October 8 on bail pending trial. The director of the national disaster management agency, Gabriel Rubi, was removed from his position in April.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to a financial disclosure law but did not always comply. The law mandates that the Supreme Auditing Tribunal monitor and verify disclosures. The tribunal published its reports on its website and cited the names of public officials who did not comply with the disclosure law.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views, but some human rights organizations criticized government officials for lack of access and responsiveness.

Government Human Rights Bodies: A semiautonomous commissioner for human rights, Roberto Herrera Caceres, served as an ombudsman and investigated complaints of human rights abuses. With offices throughout the country, the ombudsman received cases that otherwise might not have risen to national attention. The Secretariat of Human Rights served as an effective advocate for human rights within the government. The Public Ministry’s Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights handled cases involving charges of human rights abuses by government officials. The Public Ministry also has the Special Prosecutor’s Office for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators, and Justice Officials. There is also a Human Rights Committee in the National Congress. The Ministries of Security and Defense both have human rights offices that investigated alleged human rights abuses and coordinated human rights-related activities with the Secretariat of Human Rights.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of rape of women or men, including spousal rape. The government considers rape a crime of public concern, and the state prosecutes rapists even if victims do not press charges. The penalties for rape range from three to nine years’ imprisonment, and the courts enforced these penalties.

According to Autonomous University of Honduras Violence Observatory statistics, killings of women decreased under the national curfew in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Violence Observatory reported 55 killings of women from March 15 to June 6, compared with 102 for the same period in 2019. The Secretariat of Human Rights noted an exponential increase in gender-based violence and domestic violence during the national curfew. Statistics from the National Emergency System’s call center showed the country was on pace for more than 100,000 reports of domestic violence during the year.

The law criminalizes domestic violence and provides penalties of up to four years in prison for domestic violence. If a victim’s physical injuries do not reach the severity required to categorize the violence as a criminal act, the legal penalty for a first offense is a sentence of one to three months of community service. Female victims of domestic violence are entitled to certain protective measures, such as removal of the abuser from the home and prohibiting the abuser from visiting the victim’s work or other frequently visited places. Abusers caught in the act may be detained for up to 24 hours as a preventive measure. The law provides a maximum sentence of three years in prison for disobeying a restraining order connected with the crime of intrafamilial violence.

The law was not effectively enforced, and weak public institutional structures contributed to the inadequate enforcement. With high rates of impunity, including 90 percent for killings of women in the last 15 years according to the Violence Observatory, civil society groups reported that women often did not report domestic violence, or withdrew the charges, because they feared or were economically dependent on the aggressor. In addition, women experienced delays in accessing justice due to police who failed to process complaints in a timely manner or judicial system officials who deferred scheduling hearings. Institutions such as the judiciary, Public Ministry, National Police, and Secretariat of Health attempted to enhance their responses to domestic violence, but obstacles included insufficient political will, inadequate budgets, limited or no services in rural areas, absence of or inadequate training and awareness of domestic violence among police and other authorities, and a pattern of male-dominant culture and norms.

In cooperation with the UN Development Program, the government operated consolidated reporting centers in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula where women could report crimes, seek medical and psychological attention, and receive other services. These reporting centers were in addition to the 298 government-operated women’s offices–one in each municipality–that provided a wide array of services to women, focusing on education, personal finance, health, social and political participation, environmental stewardship, and prevention of gender-based violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes various forms of sexual harassment. Violators face penalties of one to three years in prison and possible suspension of their professional licenses, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Reproductive Rights: Generally, individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of having children and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Contraception supplies continued to be limited by shortages and insufficient funding. NGOs continued to criticize the government prohibition on emergency contraception, including for survivors of sexual violence, although the government did provide victims of sexual violence access to other health care services. Women and girls may face criminal penalties after having miscarriages or abortions, and NGOs reported some women delayed or avoided seeking necessary medical care for fear of being arrested.

Although 74 percent of births were attended by skilled health care personnel, NGOs reported that there were significant gaps in obstetric care, especially in rural areas. The Guttmacher Institute reported 78 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods in 2019. The World Bank reported in 2018 that the adolescent birth rate was 72 births per 1,000 15-19-year-olds.

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

Discrimination: Although the law accords women and men the same legal rights and status, including property rights in divorce cases, many women did not fully enjoy such rights. Most women in the workforce engaged in lower-status and lower-paying informal occupations, such as domestic service, without the benefit of legal protections. By law women have equal access to educational opportunities.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the country, from the citizenship of their parents, or by naturalization.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. The law establishes prison sentences of up to three years for child abuse. As of June the Violence Observatory reported killings of 71 persons younger than 18.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18. According to UNICEF, 8 percent of children were married before age 15, and 34 percent before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children, especially in sex trafficking, remained a problem. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The legal age of consent is 18. There is no statutory rape law, but the penalty for rape of a minor younger than 12 is 15 to 20 years in prison, or nine to 13 years in prison if the victim is 13 or older. Penalties for facilitating child sex trafficking are 10 to 15 years in prison, with substantial fines. The law prohibits the use of children younger than 18 for exhibitions or performances of a sexual nature or in the production of pornography.

Displaced Children: Civil society organizations reported that common causes of forced displacement for youth included death threats for failure to pay extortion, attempted recruitment by gangs, witnessing criminal activity by gangs or organized-crime groups, domestic violence, attempted kidnappings, family members’ involvement in drug dealing, victimization by traffickers, rape including commercial sexual exploitation by gangs, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, sexual harassment, and discrimination for having a chronic medical condition.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered approximately 275 members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The Public Ministry is responsible for prosecuting violations. The law requires that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, but few buildings were accessible, and the national government did not effectively implement laws or programs to provide such access.

The government has an Office for Persons with Disabilities located within the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion, but its ability to provide services to persons with disabilities was limited. Mental health professionals expressed concern about social stigma by families and communities against persons with mental disabilities and a lack of access to mental health care throughout the country.

Children with disabilities attended school at a lower rate than the general population. World Bank statistics put net enrollment for primary school above 90 percent, but the National Center for Social Sector Information stated that 43 percent of persons with disabilities received no formal education.

Indigenous People

In the 2013 census, approximately 8.5 percent of the population identified themselves as members of indigenous communities, but other estimates were higher. Indigenous groups included the Miskito, Tawahkas, Pech, Tolupans, Lencas, Maya-Chortis, Nahual, Bay Islanders, and Garifunas. They had limited representation in the national government and consequently little direct input into decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources.

Indigenous communities continued to report threats and acts of violence against them and against community and environmental activists. Violence was often rooted in a broader context of conflict over land and natural resources, extensive corruption, lack of transparency and community consultation, other criminal activity, and limited state ability to protect the rights of vulnerable communities.

On January 10, unknown assailants shot and killed Tolupan indigenous leader Vicente Saavedra in Morazan, Yoro Department. On June 19, Garifuna leader Antonio Bernardez was found dead from bullet wounds six days after his disappearance. Bernardez was a leader in the Punta Piedra community. Police were investigating the killings.

On July 18, heavily armed men kidnapped five men from their homes in the town of Triunfo de la Cruz. The victims were land-rights defenders from the Afro-descendant Garifuna minority group. According to witnesses, the kidnappers wore police investigative branch uniforms. Authorities launched an investigation and made one arrest in connection with the kidnappings in July and five more arrests in September.

Ethnic minority rights leaders, international NGOs, and farmworker organizations continued to claim the government failed to redress actions taken by security forces, government agencies, and private individuals and businesses to dislodge farmers and indigenous persons from lands over which they claimed ownership based on land reform law or ancestral land titles.

Persons from indigenous and Afro-descendant communities continued to experience discrimination in employment, education, housing, and health services. An IACHR report noted there were insufficient hospital beds and inadequate supplies at the only hospital that services Gracias a Dios Department, home to the majority of the Miskito community.

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

The Association for a Better Life and the Cattrachas Lesbian Network both reported 16 violent deaths of LGBTI persons as of September. On July 10, unidentified assailants shot and killed transgender activist Scarleth Campbell in Tegucigalpa. Campbell was an LGBTI activist and member of the Rainbow Dolls, an organization that fought violence and discrimination against members of the LGBTI community.

The law states that sexual orientation and gender-identity characteristics merit special protection from discrimination and includes these characteristics in a hate crimes amendment to the penal code. Nevertheless, social discrimination against LGBTI persons persisted, as did physical violence. Impunity for such crimes was a problem, as was the impunity rate for all types of crime. According to the Violence Observatory, of the 317 reported cases from 2009 through 2019 of hate crimes and violence against members of the LGBTI population, 92 percent had gone unpunished.

LGBTI rights groups asserted that government agencies and private employers engaged in discriminatory hiring practices. Transgender women were particularly vulnerable to employment and education discrimination; many could find employment only as sex workers, increasing their vulnerability to violence and extortion. The COVID-19 lockdown and curfew affected sex workers’ income and further exacerbated existing vulnerabilities. Underscoring heightened risks facing transgender women involved in sex work, the PBI cited three alleged incidents where security forces degraded transgender women for violating the nationwide COVID-19 curfew, including by striking at least one of the individuals. Transgender individuals noted their inability to update identity documents to reflect their gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV and AIDS continued to be targets of discrimination, and they suffered disproportionately from gender-based violence.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law grants workers the right to form and join unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and strike. It prohibits employer retribution against employees for engaging in trade union activities. The law places restrictions on these rights, such as requiring that a recognized trade union represent at least 30 workers, prohibiting foreign nationals from holding union offices, and requiring that union officials work in the same substantive area of the business as the workers they represent. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police, as well as certain other public employees, from forming labor unions.

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

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

The law permits workers in public health care, social security, staple food production, and public utilities (municipal sanitation, water, electricity, and telecommunications) to strike as long as they continue to provide basic services. The law also requires that public-sector workers involved in the refining, transportation, and distribution of petroleum products submit their grievances to the Secretariat of Labor and Social Security (STSS) before striking. The law permits strikes by workers in export-processing zones and free zones for companies that provide services to industrial parks, but it requires that strikes not impede the operations of other factories in such parks. The STSS has the power to declare a work stoppage illegal, and employers may discipline employees consistent with their internal regulations, including by firing strikers, if the STSS rules that a work stoppage is illegal.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Nearly two years after passage of a comprehensive labor inspection law in 2017, the STSS released implementing regulations based on extensive consultations with the private sector and unions. Employers frequently refused to comply with STSS orders that required them to reinstate workers who had been dismissed for participating in union activities. By law the STSS may fine companies that violate the right to freedom of association. The law permits fines, and while the monetary penalty is commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination, the failure of the government to collect those fines facilitated continued labor law violations. In all of 2019, the STSS levied fines of more than 38.1 million lempiras ($1.58 million) but collected only 755,000 lempiras ($31,300). Both the STSS and the courts may order a company to reinstate workers, but the STSS lacked the means to verify compliance. While there were cases where a worker was reinstated, such as the reinstatement of a union leader in Tegucigalpa following his unlawful dismissal, the reinstatement process in the courts was unduly long, lasting from six months to more than five years.

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

Some employers either refused to engage in collective bargaining or made it very difficult to do so. Some companies also delayed appointing or failed to appoint representatives for required STSS-led mediation, a practice that prolonged the mediation process and impeded the right to strike. There were allegations that companies used collective pacts, which are collective contracts with nonunionized workers, to prevent unionization and collective bargaining because only one collective contract may exist in each workplace. Unions also raised concerns about the use of temporary contracts and part-time employment, suggesting that employers used these mechanisms to prevent unionization and avoid providing full benefits.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced labor, but the government did not effectively implement or enforce the law. Administrative penalties were insufficient to deter violations and were rarely enforced. Penalties for forced labor under antitrafficking law range from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment, commensurate with penalties for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, but authorities often did not enforce them.

Forced labor occurred in street vending, domestic service, the transport of drugs and other illicit goods, other criminal activity, and the informal sector. Victims were primarily impoverished individuals in both rural and urban areas (see section 7.c.). Children, including from indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, particularly Miskito boys, were at risk for forced labor in the fishing, mining, construction, and hospitality industries. The law requiring prisoners to work at least five hours a day, six days a week took effect in 2016. Regulations for implementing the law remained under development as of September. The Secretariat of Human Rights stated it was taking every precaution to protect prisoners’ rights and assure that the work provided opportunities for prisoners to develop skills they could use in legal economic activities after their release.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law regulates child labor, sets the minimum age for employment at age 14, and regulates the hours and types of work that minors younger than 18 may perform. By law all minors between the ages of 14 and 18 in most industries must receive special permission from the STSS to work, and the STSS must perform a home study to verify that there is an economic need for the child to work and that the child not work outside the country or in hazardous conditions, including in offshore fishing. The STSS approved 43 such authorizations through September. The vast majority of children who worked did so without STSS permits. If the STSS grants permission, children between 14 and 16 may work a maximum of four hours a day, and those between 16 and 18 may work up to six hours a day. The law prohibits night work and overtime for minors younger than 18, but the STSS may grant special permission for minors between the ages of 16 to 18 to work in the evening if such employment does not adversely affect their education.

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

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Fines for child labor were not sufficient to deter violations and not commensurate with penalties for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law also imposes prison sentences of three to five years for child labor violations that endanger the life or morality of a child. The STSS completed 13 inspections as of March and did not find any minors working without permission. Due to pandemic restrictions imposed in March, the STSS was very limited in its ability to conduct inspections.

Estimates of the number of children younger than 18 in the country’s workforce ranged from 370,000 to 510,000. Children often worked on melon, coffee, okra, and sugarcane plantations as well as in other agricultural production; scavenged at garbage dumps; worked in the forestry, hunting, and fishing sectors; worked as domestic servants; peddled goods such as fruit; begged; washed cars; hauled goods; and labored in limestone quarrying and lime production. Most child labor occurred in rural areas. Children often worked alongside family members in agriculture and other work, such as fishing, construction, transportation, and small businesses. Some of the worst forms of child labor occurred, including commercial sexual exploitation of children, and NGOs reported that gangs often forced children to commit crimes, including homicide (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or national origin, language, nationality, religion, family affiliation, family or economic situation, disability, health, physical appearance, or any other characteristic that would offend the victim’s human dignity. Penalties include prison sentences of up to five years and monetary fines. The law prohibits employers from requiring pregnancy tests as a prerequisite for employment; penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations, although penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. The law states that a woman’s employment should be appropriate according to her physical state and capacity. There were no reports of this law being used to limit women’s employment.

Many employers discriminated against women. Persons with disabilities, indigenous and Afro-Honduran persons, LGBTI persons, and persons with HIV or AIDS also faced discrimination in employment and occupation (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There are 42 categories of monthly minimum wages, based on the industry and the size of a company’s workforce; the minimum average was above the poverty line. The law does not cover domestic workers.

The law applies equally to citizens and foreigners, regardless of gender, and prescribes a maximum eight-hour shift per day for most workers, a 44-hour workweek, and at least one 24-hour rest period for every six days of work. It also provides for paid national holidays and annual leave. The law requires overtime pay, bans excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to four hours a day for a maximum workday of 12 hours, and prohibits the practice of requiring workers to complete work quotas before leaving their place of employment. The law does not protect domestic workers effectively. In many industries, including agriculture, cleaning, and security, employers did not respect maternity rights or pay minimum wage, overtime, or vacation. In these sectors employers frequently paid workers for the standard 44-hour workweek no matter how many additional hours they worked. In the agricultural sector, companies frequently paid less than minimum wage to most workers, with fewer than 1 percent of agricultural workers receiving the minimum wage. In security and domestic service sectors, workers were frequently forced to work more than 60 hours per week but paid only for 44 hours.

Occupational safety and health standards were current but not effectively enforced. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing continued employment. Under the new inspection law, the STSS has the authority temporarily to shut down workplaces where there is an imminent danger of fatalities; however, there were not enough trained inspectors to deter violations sufficiently. Inspectors suspended inspections in March under the national curfew in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Inspectors began undergoing virtual training in new technology in March in response to the challenges brought about by the pandemic and national curfew.

The STSS is responsible for enforcing the national minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety law, but it did so inconsistently and ineffectively. Civil society continued to raise problems with minimum wage violations, highlighting agricultural companies in the south as frequent violators. The law permits fines, and while the monetary penalty is sufficient to deter violations and commensurate with the penalties for similar crimes, such as fraud, the failure of the government to collect those fines facilitated continued labor code violations. As of September inspectors conducted 4,102 total inspections, including 268 unannounced inspections, compared with 14,039 total inspections for the same time period in 2019. The number of inspections dropped severely from 2019 as a result of the national curfew imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of November the STSS had an insufficient number of inspectors to enforce the law effectively.

Because labor inspectors continued to be concentrated in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, full labor inspections and follow-up visits to confirm compliance were far less frequent in other parts of the country. Many inspectors asked workers to provide them with transportation so that they could conduct inspections, since the STSS could not pay for travel to worksites. Credible allegations of corruption in the Secretariat of Labor continued.

The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health (OSH) standards, particularly in the construction, garment assembly, and agricultural sectors, as well as in the informal economy. Penalties for violations of OSH law were commensurate with penalties for similar crimes. There was no information available on any major industrial accidents. Employers rarely paid the minimum wage in the agricultural sector and paid it inconsistently in other sectors. Employers frequently penalized agricultural workers for taking legally authorized days off. Health-care workers protested the lack of adequate protective equipment and delayed salary payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federation of Agroindustry Workers’ Unions reported massive layoffs and cancelation of contracts in the maquila sector during the pandemic without providing welfare benefits.

While all formal workers are entitled to social security, there were reports that both public- and private-sector employers failed to pay into the social security system. The STSS may levy a fine against companies that fail to pay social security obligations, but the amount was not sufficient to deter violations.

Israel, West Bank and Gaza

Read A Section: Israel

West Bank and Gaza

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Although it has no constitution, its parliament, the unicameral 120-member Knesset, has enacted a series of “Basic Laws” that enumerate fundamental rights. Certain fundamental laws, orders, and regulations legally depend on the existence of a “state of emergency,” which has been in effect since 1948. Under the Basic Laws, the Knesset has the power to dissolve itself and mandate elections. On March 2, Israel held its third general election within a year, which resulted in a coalition government. On December 23, following the government’s failure to pass a budget, the Knesset dissolved itself, which paved the way for new elections scheduled for March 23, 2021.

Under the authority of the prime minister, the Israeli Security Agency combats terrorism and espionage in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. The national police, including the border police and the immigration police, are under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security. The Israeli Defense Forces are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense. Israeli Security Agency forces operating in the West Bank fall under the Israeli Defense Forces for operations and operational debriefing. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security services. The Israeli military and civilian justice systems have on occasion found members of the security forces to have committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including targeted killings of Israeli civilians and soldiers; arbitrary detention, often extraterritorial in Israel, of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza; restrictions on Palestinians residing in Jerusalem including arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, and home; interference with freedom of association, including stigmatizing human rights nongovernmental organizations; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; violence against asylum seekers and irregular migrants; violence or threats of violence against national, racial, or ethnic minority groups; and labor rights abuses against foreign workers and Palestinians from the West Bank.

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

This section of the report covers Israel within the 1949 Armistice Agreement line as well as Golan Heights and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war and where it later extended its domestic law, jurisdiction, and administration. The United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019. Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.

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 several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Ministry of Justice’s Department for Investigations of Police Officers (DIPO) is responsible for investigating alleged unlawful actions involving police, while the Ministry of Justice’s State Attorney’s Office is responsible for investigating alleged unlawful actions involving the prosecution.

According to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), there were 190 instances of rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli territory, 90 of which fell in uninhabited areas. The IDF intercepted 93 percent of the rockets fired at populated areas. In addition the IDF reported it foiled 38 infiltration attempts from Gaza and destroyed one terror tunnel into Israel.

The Israeli Security Agency (ISA, or Shin Bet) foiled 423 significant terror attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem, according to the government. By comparison 563 attacks were thwarted in 2019, 581 in 2018, and 418 in 2017. Of the attacks the ISA prevented, 281 were classified as shootings, 78 as stabbings, 10 as ramming attacks, 58 as bomb attacks, and five as planned kidnapping attacks. Israeli forces engaged in conflict throughout the year with Palestinians militants in Gaza in response to rocket attacks, incendiary balloons and attempted infiltrations. Israeli forces killed 20 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including one person at the Gaza perimeter fence, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (UNOCHA) (see West Bank and Gaza section).

According to the government and media reports, terrorist attacks targeting Israelis killed one person in Israel, in Petah Tikva. The attacker was a Palestinian from the West Bank. In addition the Israeli government reported foiling numerous terrorist attacks during the year.

On June 30, Israeli police in Jerusalem’s Old City fatally shot Iyad Halak, a Palestinian resident with autism, after he allegedly failed to follow police orders to stop. Police stated they believed Halak was carrying a “suspicious object.” Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed regret for the incident and called for a quick investigation. On October 21, DIPO issued a statement that the prosecution intended to indict, pending a hearing, a police officer suspected of the shooting on charges of reckless homicide. According to the Ministry of Justice, investigators carefully examined the circumstances of the incident and determined that Halak had not posed any danger to police and civilians who were at the scene, that the police officer discharged his weapon not in accordance with police procedures, and that the police officer had not taken proportionate alternative measures which were at his disposal.

On September 13, the NGO Adalah and PCATI submitted a request to the Supreme Court demanding the reversal of a decision of the then state attorney to close the investigation into the 2017 police killing of Yaqoub Abu al-Qian in Umm al-Hiran and criminally to indict officers responsible for the death of Abu al-Qian.

In October 2019 the Supreme Court granted a petition filed by the family of Israeli citizen Kheir al-Din Hamdan ordering Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the DIPO to indict police officer Yizhak Begin, who shot and killed Hamdan in 2014, to determine the exact charges. In 2015 the DIPO closed its investigation into Hamdan’s killing. On April 27, the Supreme Court President ordered an expanded panel of justices to review whether an indictment could be ordered against police officers who were questioned without a warning during the DIPO investigation. The review continued at year’s end.

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, the application of physical or psychological pain, and assault or pressure by a public official. Israeli law exempts from prosecution ISA interrogators who use what are termed “exceptional methods” in cases that are determined by the ISA to involve an imminent threat, but the government determined in 2018 that the rules, procedures, and methods of interrogation were confidential for security reasons.

Authorities continued to state the ISA held detainees in isolation only in extreme cases and when there was no alternative option, and that the ISA did not use isolation as a means of augmenting interrogation, forcing a confession, or punishment. An independent Office of the Inspector for Complaints against ISA Interrogators in the Ministry of Justice handled complaints of misconduct and abuse in interrogations. The decision to open an investigation against an ISA employee is at the discretion of the attorney general.

In criminal cases investigated by police involving crimes with a maximum imprisonment for conviction of 10 years or more, regulations require recording the interrogations; however, an extended temporary law exempts the ISA from the audio and video recording requirement for interrogations of suspects related to “security offenses.” In non-security-related cases, ISA interrogation rooms are equipped with closed-circuit cameras, and only supervisors appointed by the Ministry of Justice have access to real-time audiovisual feeds. Supervisors are required to report to the comptroller any irregularities they observe during interrogations. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) criticized this mechanism as insufficient to prevent and identify abuses, arguing that the absence of a recording of an interrogation impedes later accountability and judicial review.

According to PCATI, the government acknowledged that it used “exceptional measures” during interrogation in some cases, but the Ministry of Justice refused to provide information regarding the number of such “necessity interrogations.” These measures, according to PCATI, included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, threats of rape and physical harm, painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms, sleep deprivation, and threats against families of detainees.

PCATI also argued that torture is not enumerated as a specific offense under the criminal code in Israel, despite the government’s statements to the relevant UN treaty bodies it would introduce such a law. According to PCATI, there was an uptick in the use of “special measures” on security detainees in 2019, with at least 15 persons subjected to what it considered physical torture during interrogations between August and November 2019. PCATI stated the government’s system for investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees shows persistent and systematic shortcomings. According to PCATI, the average time it takes authorities to address complaints is more than 44 months. The Ministry of Justice stated that its internal reviews led to the opening of two investigations since 2018. PCATI claims that approximately 1,300 complaints of ISA torture were submitted to the Ministry of Justice since 2001, resulting in one criminal investigation and no indictments.

Israeli security forces arrested Samer al-Arbid, a Palestinian suspect in the August 2019 killing of Rina Shnerb, who was killed near the settlement of Dolev in the West Bank. Security forces placed al-Arbid in solitary confinement, and transferred him to an interrogation center in Jerusalem. Two days later he was admitted to a hospital unconscious and with serious injuries, including the inability to breathe, kidney failure, and broken ribs. According to PCATI, the ISA used “exceptional measures” in interrogating al-Arbid, who was subsequently released from the hospital into an Israeli Prison Service (IPS) medical facility, where his interrogation continued. The Ministry of Justice’s Inspector of Interrogee Complaints opened an investigation into the incident. The investigation was underway at year’s end.

The government stated that requests from prisoners for independent medical examination at the prisoner’s expense are reviewed by an IPS medical team. According to PCATI and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), IPS medics and doctors ignored bruises and injuries resulting from violent arrests and interrogations. In its 2016 review of the country’s compliance with the UN Convention against Torture, the UN Committee against Torture recommended (among 50 other recommendations) that the government provide for independent medical examinations for all detainees.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The law provides prisoners and detainees the right to conditions that do not harm their health or dignity.

Physical Conditions: Local human rights organizations reported Palestinian security prisoners (those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence) often faced more restrictive conditions than prisoners characterized as criminals. Restrictive conditions included increased incidence of administrative detention, restricted family visits, ineligibility for temporary furloughs, and solitary confinement.

A 2019 report by the Public Defender’s Office on 42 prisons and detention centers warned that despite efforts by the IPS to improve prison conditions and correct deficiencies noted in previous reports, grave violations of the rights of detainees continued to occur. The report described thousands of prisoners held in unsuitable living conditions in outdated facilities, some of which were unfit for human habitation. According to the report, many of the prisoners, especially minors, were punished by solitary confinement and disproportionate use of shackling. The Public Defender’s Office found this particularly concerning in cases where prisoners suffered from mental disabilities.

As of December the government had not applied a 2015 law authorizing force-feeding of under specific conditions of prisoners on hunger strikes. The Israel Medical Association declared the law unethical and urged doctors to refuse to implement it. Regulations stipulate that medical treatment must be provided in reasonable quality and time, based on medical considerations, and within the resources and funding available for the IPS. Regulations also allow the IPS to deny medical treatment if there are budgetary concerns, according to the PHRI.

A report published by the PHRI in 2019 pointed to significant failures in the IPS medical system. The report assessed that the separate health care system for prisoners was unable to provide services equivalent to those provided to the general population through enrollment in government-sponsored health maintenance organizations (HMOs). According to the PHRI’s findings, the services do not meet the accepted HMO standards, and in half of the incidents examined, there was a risk posed to the health of the inmates due to substandard treatment or denial of treatment. PHRI recommendations included applying national HMO standards to medical care provided in IPS facilities, establishing a professional and efficient supervision mechanism to govern medical services provided by IPS, and increasing the opportunities for outside medical practitioners to provide care in prisons.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment, except as noted above. On August 25, the Knesset passed a law permitting virtual hearings with prisoners and detainees during the COVID-19 crisis. While authorities usually allowed visits from lawyers and stated that every inmate who requested to meet with an attorney was able to do so, this was not always the case. NGOs monitoring prison conditions reported that adult and juvenile Palestinian detainees were denied access to a lawyer during their initial arrest. The government granted visitation permits to family members of prisoners from the West Bank on a limited basis and restricted those entering from Gaza more severely.

Independent Monitoring: Despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in Israel, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) maintained its visits to detention facilities (including interrogation centers) with adapted visiting modalities to monitor conditions of detention, treatment, and access to family contacts. The ICRC also monitored humanitarian consequences of COVID-19 and related measures on Palestinian detainees and their families, and continued engaging concerned authorities in this regard. The ICRC’s family visit program–through which families of Palestinian detainees may visit their relatives in Israeli custody–remained suspended for families from Gaza due to COVID-19 movement restrictions.

Improvements: In 2018 the Knesset passed a temporary law for three years granting early release of prisoners (excluding security prisoners) in order to facilitate implementation of a Supreme Court verdict requiring prisons to allocate a living space of 48 square feet to each prisoner. According to the NGO Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), each prisoner is allocated 33 square feet, and approximately 40 percent of prisoners were imprisoned in cells that amounted to less than 32 square feet per person. The court ruled that the implementation of the verdict on the ISA detention center must be implemented no later than May 2021. The government notified the court that as of May no more than 40 percent of all prisoners were imprisoned in cells smaller than the minimal space determined to be adequate by the court.

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 or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Authorities applied the same laws to all residents of Jerusalem, regardless of their citizenship status. NGOs and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem alleged that security forces disproportionally devoted enforcement actions to Palestinian neighborhoods, particularly Issawiya, with temporary checkpoints and raids at higher levels than in West Jerusalem. Palestinians also criticized police for devoting fewer resources on a per capita basis to regular crime and community policing in Palestinian neighborhoods. Police did not maintain a permanent presence in areas of Jerusalem outside the barrier and only entered to conduct raids, according to NGOs. Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza detained on security grounds fell under military jurisdiction, even if detained inside Israel (see West Bank and Gaza section).

The law allows the government to detain irregular migrants and asylum seekers who arrived after 2014 from countries to which government policy prohibits deportation, mainly Eritrea and Sudan, for three months “for the purpose of identification and to explore options for relocation of the individual.” The law also states authorities must provide for irregular migrants taken into detention to have a hearing within five days. After three months in detention, authorities must release the migrant on bail, except when the migrant poses a risk to the state or the public, or when there is difficulty in identity verification.

The government may detain without trial and for an indefinite period irregular migrants who were “implicated in criminal proceedings.” According to the NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (HRM), this policy enabled indefinite detention either without a trial or following the completion of time served. According to HRM, during the year the government released 20 irregular migrants, detained under the criminal procedure, due to COVID-19 regulations seeking to reduce overcrowding in prisons. In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that the legality of this policy required additional review, but it had not issued any guidance by year’s end.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police must have a warrant based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official to arrest a suspect. The following applies to detainees, excluding those in administrative detention. Authorities generally informed such persons promptly of charges against them; the law allows authorities to detain suspects without charge for 24 hours prior to appearing before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing for up to 48 hours; authorities generally respected these rights for persons arrested in the country; there was a functioning bail system, and detainees could appeal decisions denying bail; and authorities allowed detainees to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, including one provided by the government for the indigent, and to contact family members promptly.

Authorities detained most Palestinian prisoners within Israel. Authorities prosecuted under Israeli military law Palestinians held in Israel who were not citizens, a practice the government has applied since 1967. The government has asserted in domestic court proceedings that this practice is consistent with international obligations related to occupation. Some human rights groups, including Military Court Watch, claim that Israel’s detention of the majority of convicted Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza in prisons inside Israel is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. According to the circumstances of each case, such as the severity of the alleged offense, status as a minor, risk of escape, or other factors, authorities either granted or denied bail to noncitizens of Palestinian origin detained for security violations.

Authorities may prosecute persons detained on security grounds criminally or hold them as administrative detainees or illegal combatants, according to one of three legal regimes.

First, under a temporary law on criminal procedures, repeatedly renewed since 2006, the IPS may hold persons suspected of a security offense for 48 hours prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing the IPS to detain a suspect for up to 96 hours prior to bringing the suspect before the senior judge of a district court. In security-related cases, authorities may hold a person for up to 35 days without an indictment (versus 30 days for nonsecurity cases). The law allows the court to extend detentions on security grounds for an initial period of up to 20 days for interrogation without an indictment (versus 15 days for nonsecurity cases). Authorities may deny security detainees access to an attorney for up to 21 days under civilian procedures.

Second, the Emergency Powers Law allows the Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely.

Third, the Illegal Combatant Law permits authorities to hold a detainee for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval, and allow indefinite detention, subject to semiannual district court reviews and appeals to the Supreme Court.

The government stated it used separate detention only when a detainee threatened himself or others and authorities had exhausted other options–or in some cases during interrogation, to prevent disclosure of information. In such cases authorities maintained the detainee had the right to meet with International Committee of the Red Cross representatives, IPS personnel, and medical personnel, if necessary. According to the government, the IPS did not hold Palestinian detainees in separate detention punitively or to induce confessions. NGOs including Military Court Watch, the NGO HaMoked, and B’Tselem accused authorities of using isolation to punish or silence politically prominent Palestinian detainees.

The Public Defender’s Office reported in 2019 that prisoners with mental disabilities were often held in conditions that may worsen their mental health. Palestinian sources reported the IPS placed in isolation, without a full medical evaluation, Palestinian detainees with mental disabilities or who were a threat to themselves or others. According to the PHRI, isolation of Palestinian prisoners with mental disabilities was common.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were allegations that authorities arbitrarily arrested Israeli citizens and Palestinians who participated in protests. For example, on October 3, police arrested 35 protesters in demonstrations in Tel Aviv against the government. Many of the arrests, according to protest groups, were carried out in an arbitrary manner. Police stated grounds for the arrests included violation of COVID-19 emergency regulations regarding protests, which required social distancing, remaining within a one-half mile radius of one’s home, and wearing personal protective equipment (see section 2.b.).

In 2018 President Rivlin and then justice minister Ayelet Shaked invited Ethiopian-Israelis whom authorities had previously charged with minor offenses, such as insulting or obstructing a public servant, or participating in prohibited assemblies, to apply for their criminal records to be deleted if they were not imprisoned due to their offenses. According to the Ministry of Justice, since 2018, 115 requests were submitted to remove criminal records, 35 met the minimum requirements, 23 were granted, and eight were being processed at the end of the year.

Pretrial Detention: Administrative detention continued to result in lengthy pretrial detention for security detainees (see above).

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 for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Exceptions to the right for a public trial include national security concerns, protection of the interest of a minor or an individual requiring special protection, and protection of the identity of an accuser or defendant in a sex-offense case. The law permits publishing the identity of a victim of a sex offense, provided the victim gives written consent for publication.

Defendants enjoy the rights to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and to be present at their trial. They may consult with an attorney or, if indigent, have one provided at public expense. They have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants who cannot understand or speak the language used in court have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and may appeal to the Supreme Court.

The prosecution is under a general obligation following an indictment to provide all evidence to the defense. The government may on security grounds withhold from defense lawyers evidence it has gathered that is not for use in its case against the accused. The Supreme Court (with regard to civilian courts) and the Court of Appeals (with regard to military courts) may scrutinize the decision to withhold such evidence. The rules of evidence in espionage cases tried in criminal court do not differ from the normal rules of evidence, and no use of secret evidence is permissible.

Children as young as age 12 may be imprisoned if convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter. The government reported no child was imprisoned under this law as of the end of the year.

The government tried Palestinian residents of the West Bank accused of security offenses in Israeli military courts.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence. Some human rights organizations claimed that Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel should be considered political prisoners.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

An independent and impartial judiciary adjudicates lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies exist, and court orders usually were enforced. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem may file suit against the government of Israel under the same rules that govern access to judicial and administrative remedies by Israeli citizens. By law nonresident Palestinians may file suit in civil courts to obtain compensation in some cases, even when a criminal suit is unsuccessful and the actions against them are considered legal.

Property Restitution

In 2016 the state comptroller recommended the government quickly act to settle land claims, plan resettlement of Bedouin citizens in cooperation with the Bedouin community, develop infrastructure in recognized Bedouin communities, and formulate an enforcement policy regarding illegal construction. A 2017 law increased the government’s power to demolish unpermitted structures. New construction remained illegal in towns that did not have an authorized plan for development. Arab members of the Knesset and human rights organizations condemned the law for increasing enforcement and demolitions without addressing the systemic housing shortages in Arab communities that led to unpermitted construction. According to human rights organizations, approximately 50,000 Arab families lived in unpermitted houses.

Some NGOs criticized the lack of Arab representation on regional planning and zoning approval committees, and stated that planning for Arab areas was much slower than for Jewish municipalities, leading Arab citizens to build or expand their homes without legal authorization, thus risking a government-issued demolition order. Authorities issued approximately 1,770 administrative and judicial demolition orders during the year, overwhelmingly against Arab-owned structures. In cases of demolitions with no agreement from the residents to relocate, the government levied fines against residents to cover costs of demolitions.

A development plan for the Bedouin village of al-Fura’a was not completed as of the end of the year, despite government recognition of the village in 2006. As a result the village lacked basic electricity and water infrastructure, and NGOs reported house demolitions occurred regularly. The government stated that a team from the Ministry of Agriculture’s Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev began working on this issue in the second half of 2018, after completing a survey of 180 Bedouin residential clusters.

Regarding 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev inhabited by approximately 90,000 persons, the government stated it used a “carrot and stick” approach to attempt to compel Bedouin Israelis to move, including demolishing unpermitted structures and offering incentives to move to Bedouin towns. According to a State Comptroller report and information from NGOs, Bedouins often refused to participate because they asserted they owned the land or that the government had given them prior permission to settle in their existing locations. Bedouins also feared losing their traditional livelihoods and way of life, as well as moving onto land claimed by a rival Bedouin clan. The seven Bedouin townships in the Negev were all crowded, especially in comparison with the Jewish towns and cities in the area, and had low-quality infrastructure and inadequate access to services for health, education, welfare, public transportation, mail, and garbage disposal. According to the NGO Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), Bedouins accounted for 34 percent of the population of the Negev, but only 12.5 percent of the residential-zoned land was designated for the Bedouin population.

As of 2019, approximately 31 percent of the 202,620 acres of Arab Bedouin land in the south of the country that was previously under ownership dispute was no longer in dispute as a result of either settlement agreements or following legal proceedings, according to the government.

In 2018 Bedouin residents of the unrecognized village Umm al-Hiran signed an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev to demolish their structures and relocate to vacant plots in the Bedouin town of Hura, following extended legal action and negotiations. Umm al-Hiran was to be replaced with a Jewish community called Hiran. As of September 14, Bedouin residents still resided in the unrecognized village and the government announced it would formulate a solution for Umm al Hiran residents within three months.

The NCF recorded 2,241 demolitions of Bedouin Israelis’ structures in 2019 and stated the demolition policy violated Bedouin Israelis’ right to adequate housing. The NGO Regavim praised the demolitions as combatting illegal construction by squatters. Other civil society contacts stated the demolitions ignored traditional Bedouin seminomadic lifestyles predating the modern state of Israel.

In addition to the Negev, authorities ordered demolition of private property elsewhere, including in Arab towns and villages and in East Jerusalem, stating some structures were built without permits. B’Tselem reported that authorities demolished 121 housing units in East Jerusalem, and owners had demolished 81 units to avoid additional fines by the end of the year. This represented a decrease of 28 percent and an increase of 92 percent, respectively, with the number of owner demolitions the highest since B’Tselem began recording data in 2008. Legal experts pointed to the Kaminitz Law, which reduced administrative processing times for demolitions and increased administrative fines for those failing to demolish their own buildings, as a key factor in the increased number of demolitions in East Jerusalem. There were credible claims that municipal authorities in Jerusalem placed insurmountable obstacles to prevent Palestinian residents from obtaining construction permits, including failure to incorporate community needs into zoning decisions, the requirement that Palestinian residents document land ownership despite the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, the imposition of high application fees, and requirements that new housing be connected to often nonexistent municipal utilities and other physical infrastructure.

In addition, NGOs asserted that there was a continuing policy intended to limit construction to prevent the creation or maintenance of contiguous neighborhoods between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli official policy remained aimed at maintaining an ethnic balance between Jews and non-Jews in Jerusalem, according to civil society and official reports. The Israeli MFA said that the Jerusalem Municipality did not have any such policy. Israeli law no longer prevents non-Jews from purchasing housing units, although cultural, religious, and economic barriers to integrated neighborhoods remain, according to civil society representatives.

According to the government, all land ownership cases are assessed individually by an administrative committee, which is subject to judicial review.

According to Ir Amim and B’Tselem, discrimination is a factor in resolving disputes over land titles acquired before 1948. The law facilitates the resolution of claims by Jewish owners to land owned in East Jerusalem prior to 1948 but does not provide an equal opportunity for Palestinian claimants to land they owned in West Jerusalem or elsewhere in the British Mandate. Additionally, some Jewish and Palestinian landowners in Jerusalem were offered compensation by Israel for property lost prior to 1948. Civil society reports noted that many Palestinian landowners were deemed ineligible for compensation because they had to be residents of Jerusalem as of 1973. Other Palestinian landowners refused to accept compensation because they deemed it to be inadequate or in principle due to their rejection of Israeli administration. Jordanian authorities between 1948 and 1967 housed Palestinians in some property which Jewish owners reclaimed after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. Legal disputes continue regarding many of these properties involving Palestinian residents, who have some protection as tenants under Israeli law.

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

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected those prohibitions.

The 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry, which is renewed annually, prohibits Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, and Lebanese, including those who are Palestinian spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, from obtaining resident status unless the Ministry of the Interior makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds. The government has extended the law annually due to government reports that Palestinian family reunification allows entry to a disproportionate number of persons who are later involved in acts of terrorism. HaMoked asserted that statistics from government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests contradicted these terrorism allegations, and that denial of residency to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza for the purposes of family reunification led to cases of family separation.

According to HaMoked 2018 reports, there were approximately 10,000 Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza living in Israel, including Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the law, with no legal provision that would allow them to continue living with their families. There were also cases of Palestinian spouses living in East Jerusalem without legal status. Authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 war or whose residency permits the government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in Jerusalem. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations called on the government to repeal this law and resume processing family unification applications. The law allows the entry of spouses of Israelis on a “staying permit” if the male spouse is age 35 or older and the female spouse is age 25 or older, for children up to age 14, and a special permit for children ages 14-18, but they may not receive residency and have no path to citizenship. According to the Israeli MFA, the Population & Immigration Authority received 886 family unification requests from East Jerusalem in 2020, and 616 in 2019. Of these 256 were in approved and 540 are pending from 2020, while 373 were approved and 41 pending from 2019.

On March 16, the government issued an emergency regulation based on the country’s state of emergency, allowing the Shin Bet and police to track mobile phones to identify individuals in close contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients and to enforce quarantine orders. The government stated the program was the most effective way to maintain public health and economic stability. Some NGOs argued the regulations violated individual rights, including the right to privacy and dignity, and expressed concern regarding the role of the Shin Bet in monitoring the civilian population. They also questioned the effectiveness of the scheme, citing a low percentage of confirmed COVID-19 cases identified solely through the program and a reportedly high margin of error. On March 19, the Supreme Court issued an interim injunction that halted police tracking and subjected Shin Bet tracking to Knesset oversight. On April 26, the court ruled that the use of Shin Bet surveillance techniques must be authorized through legislation. On July 21, the Knesset passed a law allowing the government to utilize a limited version of the Shin Bet tracking program for 21 days at a time when there were more than 200 confirmed cases per day. On November 17, following an additional petition submitted by ACRI and Adalah on this issue, the Supreme Court ordered the government to explain further why Shin Bet tracking should be used in cases where COVID-19 patients are not cooperating with the epidemiological investigations, and why the government is not promoting an alternative method to Shin Bet tracking, as the law states. The petition was pending as of year’s end.

On March 27, media outlet Yedioth Ahronoth reported that under the auspices of the Shin Bet Law, the Shin Bet had been collecting data from mobile phones of all users of telecom services in Israel for 18 years, including calls, messages, and locations.

On December 13, Haaretz reported that police demanded internet providers to integrate a system that diverts data on police suspects, or on individuals visiting a specific website or IP address, to a police-controlled system. On December 14, Adalah sent an urgent letter to the attorney general and to the minister of public security, demanding they freeze police use of this system and clarify its legality, purpose, and mode of operation.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

The law imposes tort liability on any person who knowingly issues a public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the State of Israel or of institutions or entities in Israel or areas under its control in the West Bank. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the law. The law also permits the finance minister to impose administrative sanctions on those calling for such a boycott, including restrictions on participating in tenders for contracts with the government and denial of government benefits.

The law bars entry to the country of visitors who called for boycotts, and in 2018 the Ministry of Strategic Affairs published a list of 20 organizations whose members would be refused entry. According to September 30 media reports, the Ministry of Interior permitted former Israeli citizen Dror Feiler, who participated in the 2010 Gaza flotilla and was banned from the country since 2010, entry to the country only upon deposit of a 100,000 shekel ($30,600) bond.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender. In cases of speech that are defined as incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.

Conviction of desecrating the Israeli flag carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a monetary fine.

The law prohibits individuals or organizations that initiate political or legal action abroad against IDF soldiers or the state of Israel from holding activities in schools, but the Ministry of Education had not issued regulations necessary to implement the law as of year’s end. Both supporters and opponents of the law stated it was intended to target the NGO Breaking the Silence (BTS), a group of military veterans whose goal is to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. BTS criticized the law as a violation of freedom of political expression.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, with a few exceptions.

Police regulations grant broad authorities to prevent journalists’ access to violent incidents (i.e., riots, demonstrations, protests) if there exists a concern that the entry of journalists would lead to “special circumstances,” such as risking the journalist’s life, furthering violence, disrupting investigative procedures, violating privacy, or violating a closure order. Police must also consider alternatives to minimize the violation of press freedom, for instance by escorting journalists in and out of dangerous situations.

In April the Government Press Office requested journalists to refrain from reporting from ultra-Orthodox areas due to the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Violence and Harassment: Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain entry permits, as well as Jerusalem-based Arab journalists, reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when they sought to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity. In June the Journalists’ Support Committee, a nonprofit journalist advocacy organization, stated security forces committed more than 50 human rights violations against Palestinian journalists working in Jerusalem in the first half of the year, including arrests and expulsions from the city. In May the then public security minister Gilad Erdan extended for six months the closure order against Palestine TV’s East Jerusalem office, according to media reports. In November 2019, Erdan first ordered the closure when police raided the office.

On June 10, Likud officials published a video using the party’s official Twitter account calling for the imprisonment of Channel 13 News journalist Raviv Drucker for his coverage of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s trial. Likud officials accused Drucker of extorting witnesses, broadcasting criminal leaks, and obstructing justice. On July 25, the prime minister took to Facebook to characterize Channel 12 as a propaganda tool against him and his government.

Following a March 15 COVID-19 emergency regulation allowing the Shin Bet to track civilian cell phones for contact tracing purposes, the Union of Journalists in Israel petitioned the Supreme Court to have its members excluded in order to preserve press freedom and protect journalist sources. On April 26, the Supreme Court ruled that a journalist identified as a COVID-19 patient could refuse being tracked by the Shin Bet and instead undergo a manual epidemiological investigation, whereby the journalist would not reveal their sources but commit to notifying health officials regarding their infection.

Police detained, used violence against, and confiscated equipment of journalists during demonstrations throughout the country. On June 8, police officers hit, shoved to the floor, and then detained Haaretz photojournalist Tomer Appelbaum at the end of a demonstration against the extension of Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank. Witnesses indicated that Appelbaum was clearly identified as a journalist; however, police stated they did not notice his press credentials until after the incident. On September 5, police detained two photojournalists, according to the Israeli NGO Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF), after the journalists recorded protesters moving police barriers during a demonstration outside of the prime minister’s residence. Police stated they confiscated the equipment because the cameras contained evidence of an alleged crime committed by the protesters. The photographers and the association of journalists argued the material was privileged. On November 11, a magistrate court rejected the police request to use the footage as evidence, stating that in this case, the public interest of a free, effective, and objective press surpasses the public interest in the criminal investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to military censors any material relating to specific military issues or strategic infrastructure problems, such as oil and water supplies. Organizations may appeal the censor’s decisions to the Supreme Court, and the censor may not appeal a court judgment.

News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government regularly enacted restrictive orders on sensitive security information and continuing investigations, and required foreign correspondents and local media to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the armed forces through a Freedom of Information Act request by +972 Magazine, in 2019 the censor acted on 1,973 articles out of 8,127 articles submitted to it, and banned 202 articles.

According to the Seventh Eye media watchdog group, police automatically requested gag orders during investigations of certain crimes and complex cases, and only on rare occasions did police request rescinding of such orders before the completion of its work in a case. This policy, according to the Seventh Eye, began in 2015, when a former deputy head of Shin Bet began serving as police commissioner. The policy was continued by his successors.

While the government retained the authority to censor publications for security concerns, anecdotal evidence suggested authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Editors and journalists from those publications, however, reported they engaged in self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: According to HRDF, individuals and right-wing NGOs used defamation lawsuits to discourage public criticism of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. For example, on July 13, the Samaria Regional Council sued head of the Zulat Institute Zehava Galon and former member of the Knesset for libel after she criticized on Twitter its granting of a certificate of honor to two settlers who in 2019 allegedly shot and killed a Palestinian attacker. According to B’Tselem, the settlers continued to shoot the Palestinian after he no longer posed a threat. In June an additional libel lawsuit against the Galon and B’Tselem NGOs and three individuals who tweeted on the incident was filed by Yehusha Sherman, who shot the attacker. The lawsuits continued at year’s end.

National Security: The law criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supporting terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” The law authorizes restrictions on the release of bodies of terrorists and their funerals to prevent “incitement to terror or identification with a terrorist organization or an act of terror.”

In 2017 the Supreme Court imposed restrictions on an ISA practice of summoning Israeli political activists suspected of “subversive” activity unrelated to terror or espionage for questioning under caution, indicating they might be charged with a crime. Such summoning may be carried out only after consultation with the legal advisor of the ISA. Police and the ISA must clarify that questioning is voluntary and the person summoned is not required to appear; and the ISA must clarify during questioning that the suspect’s statements may not be used in court for other proceedings.

Internet Freedom

The government monitored electronic communications for security purposes, and censored online content suspected as illegal according to domestic law. The law authorizes district court judges to restrict access to internet sites to prevent the commission of crimes. The Cyber Unit of the State Attorney’s Office further requested that content intermediary companies remove or restrict access to, on a voluntary basis, content and accounts suspected of violating domestic law. The Cyber Unit’s data showed the number of requests for content removal in 2019 increased by 37 percent from 2018. In approximately 90 percent of the 19,606 requests submitted, content intermediaries voluntarily removed content from their platforms. According to the Cyber Unit’s data, 76 percent of the requests were due to offenses related to a terror organization, and 22 percent were due to incitement offenses. A petition by ACRI and Adalah to the Supreme Court against the voluntary track program, arguing that the program violates freedom of expression and the right to due process, was pending as of the year’s end.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were few government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

The law prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the “Nakba,” or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Activities forbidden by the law include rejection of the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” or commemorating “Israel’s Independence Day or the day on which the State was established as a day of mourning.”

In January the Rishon LeTzion municipality removed a civics teacher from his position, following complaints he had expressed “radical left-wing positions” in the classroom and on social media, although the latter was not addressed in his termination hearing. ACRI stated that such incidents could lead to self-censorship by teachers, which stands in contradiction to the mission of educators.

On August 19, Minister of Education Yoav Galant intervened in the bible studies curriculum by cutting out Jewish history satirical sketches from the television show HaYehudim Baim (The Jews are Coming), following a protest from nationalist Orthodox rabbis. On August 21, ACRI demanded that the attorney general instruct the minister that he has no authority to intervene in the school curriculum.

Authorities continued to provide an edited version of the Palestinian Authority (PA) curriculum that deleted certain information on Palestinian history and culture for schools in neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Authorities sought to tie funding for those schools to the use of the Israeli curriculum (see the West Bank and Gaza report for concerns regarding incitement and anti-Semitism in PA textbooks). Some Palestinians expressed concern at what they perceived as Israeli efforts to impose Israeli views on these students. Others welcomed the Israeli curriculum, and the additional resources associated with it, as better preparing students in Jerusalem to work in the Israeli workforce, compared to lower-paying employment in PA-controlled areas in the West Bank or in manual labor and low-wage sectors in Israel.

The government maintained prohibitions on some prominent Jerusalem-based Palestinian institutions, such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and the Orient House, which had been the de facto Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) office. The government renewed a closure order for these and other institutions under a 1994 law which requires the PA to obtain Israeli permission to open a representative office or hold a meeting in areas Israel recognizes as under its sovereignty. The government likewise continued to shut down Palestinian institutions and cultural events in Jerusalem that the government stated had PA participation or support, incited violence against Israel, or had anti-Israel or other objectionable content. Israeli authorities stated they would also detain and ban PA-affiliated officials in Jerusalem from conducting PA-related activities. According to Haaretz, the Ministry of Public Security approved dozens of such orders during the year. PA officials publicly point to the 1993 letter sent by then Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres to his Norwegian counterpart Johan Holst as proof of an agreement to allow Palestinian institutions and activities in East Jerusalem.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

A law passed in April and the subsequent COVID-19 emergency regulations permitted the continuation of demonstrations during the COVID-19 crisis with the stipulation that participants maintain social distancing, but in several instances police placed additional limitations on the ability of individuals to assemble for peaceful protest. On September 29, the Knesset passed an amendment to the law, which led to the limiting of the right to demonstrate to within one-half mile of one’s home, in groups of 20 persons or fewer, for a period of 14 days. On October 12, following a petition against the law filed on September 30 at the Supreme Court, the government announced it would not extend the regulation limiting the ability to protest further than one-half mile from one’s home beyond October 13. The government did not cancel the amendment, allowing it to reinstate the measure. The petition was pending at year’s end.

Police issued fines for alleged violations of COVID-19 regulations during demonstrations against the prime minister. On April 14, police fined two demonstrators in Kfar Saba for illegally gathering. Protesters argued they remained seven feet apart during the protest and viewed the fines as police efforts to deter protected political activity. On July 26, media published a recording in which Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Yadid told Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana, in response to Ohana’s request for police intervention to quell political protests, that police fined 160 individuals for not wearing a mask during a demonstration near the prime minister’s residence.

On November 24, the prosecution filed two indictments against antigovernment protesters. Authorities filed an indictment against Gonen Ben Yitzhak, one of the leaders of the Crime Minister protest group, on charges of illegal assembly and disrupting the activities of a police officer by lying under a water cannon to prevent it from being used against protesters during a July demonstration.

There were reports that police used excessive force in response to protests. For example, on August 22, during a demonstration near the prime minister’s residence, Chief Superintendent Niso Guetta physically attacked protesters, including hitting a protester and dragging him on the ground, and hitting a photographer. Police arrested two protesters for allegedly attacking Guetta, but video footage showed Guetta’s attack was unprovoked; the detained protesters were subsequently released. On November 29, the prosecution indicted Guetta for assault. Prosecutors dismissed additional complaints against Guetta due to lack of evidence.

Police used water cannons and “skunk water” to disperse demonstrations. Video footage from a July 24 demonstration outside of the prime minister’s residence showed a water cannon spraying a protester in the face, despite police regulations that forbid this action. The Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee subsequently held hearings on police tactics during demonstrations and demanded the publication of a reformed police procedure regarding the use of water cannons. A protest group petition against the use of water cannons at demonstrations was deleted on September 9, given the Knesset committee’s discussions. The police procedure published in September relaxed previous restrictions on the use of water cannons, according to Haaretz. Authorities used skunk water to disperse groups of ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrating against military draft requirements. A 2018 petition against the use of skunk water in dense urban areas was deleted by the Supreme Court on August 19, following a change in police procedures limiting the use of the method. On December 23, an ultra-Orthodox activist petitioned for selective police use of skunk water.

In October, ACRI sent letters to the attorney general demanding the government halt police practices during demonstrations which limit the freedom of peaceful assembly, including crowd control during protest marches by restricting demonstrators to small areas, requesting protesters to show their identification cards and registering them, using private cell phones to video record demonstrations, and using undercover police officers to arrest demonstrators.

Freedom of Association

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

The law prohibits registration of an association or a party if its goals include denial of the existence of the State of Israel or of the democratic character of the state.

The law requires NGOs receiving more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments to state this fact in their official publications, applications to attend Knesset meetings, websites, public campaigns, and any communication with the public. The law allows a monetary fine for NGOs that violate these rules. The government had not taken legal action against any NGO for failing to comply with the law by the year’s end.

Local NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights problems and critical of the government, asserted the government sought to intimidate them and prevent them from receiving foreign government funding (see section 5).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

The government imposed restrictions on freedom of movement in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 through emergency regulations.

In-country Movement: The barrier that divided the majority of the West Bank from Israel also divided some communities in Jerusalem, affecting residents’ access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. For example, restrictions on access in Jerusalem had a negative effect on Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offered specialized care, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours. Authorities sometimes restricted internal movement in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City and periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. The government stated that the barrier was needed for security reasons and that restrictions on movement in Jerusalem were temporary and implemented only when necessary for investigative operations, public safety, or public order, and when there was no viable alternative.

According to the NGO Kav LaOved, Ministry of Health COVID-19 guidelines prohibited migrant caregivers from leaving their place of work, which resulted in some caregivers working without any breaks. Following a request by the NGO, since May 8, a government regulation has permitted migrant caregivers to have their weekly day of rest outside of their employers’ residence if they lived in an apartment without roommates, a requirement that these workers could not meet.

Foreign Travel: Citizens generally were free to travel abroad, provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations, unpaid debts, or unresolved divorce proceedings. Authorities do not permit any citizen to travel to any state officially at war with Israel without government permission. This restriction includes travel to Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen. The government limited foreign travel due to COVID-19, but it continued to allow the entry of citizens and Jewish visitors intending to study in religious schools known as yeshivas. The government kept the border with Egypt closed despite Egypt opening its crossings to foreign citizens on July 1. On September 23, a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the opening of this border was rejected.

The government requires all citizens to have a special permit to enter “Area A” in the West Bank (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the PA exercises civil and security responsibility), but the government allowed Arab citizens of Israel access to Area A without permits. The government continued selective revocations of residency permits of some Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. This meant those residents could not return to reside in Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included holding residency or citizenship of another country; living in another country, the West Bank, or Gaza for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs report that as of October 28 the Israeli government had revoked 17 residency permits in Jerusalem on the grounds of regulation 11A of Israel’s Entry Regulations, regarding individuals who stayed outside of Israel for more than 7 years or have acquired Citizenship/ Permanent Residence Status outside of Israel. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status; however, the government denied revoking residency status of anyone who left for the sole purpose of studying abroad. The government added that the residency of individuals who maintained an “affinity to Israel” would not be revoked and that former residents who wished to return to Israel could receive renewed residency status under certain conditions.

Palestinians possessing residency permits issued by the Israeli government, but no PA or Jordanian identity documents, needed special documents to travel abroad.

Citizenship: The law allows administrative courts to approve the minister of interior’s request for revocation of citizenship of a person on grounds of “breach of trust to the State of Israel” or following a conviction for an act of terror. The law grants the minister the authority to revoke permanent residency based on similar grounds. Legal appeals by Adalah and ACRI against the revocation of citizenships of two individuals convicted for an act of terror, which also questioned the constitutionality of the law itself, were pending as of the year’s end.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, except as noted below. The government did not allow UNHCR access to monitor regularly the detention facility at Ben Gurion Airport.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Communities with large concentrations of African migrants were occasionally targets of violence. Additionally, government policies on the legality of work forced many refugees to work in “unofficial” positions, making them more susceptible to poor treatment and questionable work practices by their employers. The Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA), unlike police or the IPS, did not have an external body to which migrants could file complaints if subjected to violence, according to HRM.

On July 20, a district court acquitted IPS officer Ronen Cohen and IDF soldier Yaakov Shamba of charges of aggravated battery against Eritrean asylum seeker Haptom Zerhom in 2015. A security guard at the Beer Sheva central bus station shot Zerhom, mistaking him for a terrorist attacker following a terrorist attack moments earlier. Following the shooting, a group of onlookers beat Zerhom, who later died at the hospital. The security guard was not charged, and two additional individuals received reduced sentences following plea deals in 2018.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened, and stated its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement.

As of September 30, there were 31,012 irregular migrants and asylum seekers in the country, of whom 28,175 were from Eritrea or Sudan, according to PIBA.

The government offered incentives to irregular migrants to leave the country and go to Uganda, including a paid ticket and a stipend. The government claimed the third-country government provided for full rights under secret agreements with Israel, but NGOs and UNHCR confirmed that migrants who arrived at the destination did not receive residency or employment rights. From January 1 to September 30, a total of 663 irregular migrants departed the country under pressure, compared with 2,024 in 2019. NGOs claimed many of those who departed to other countries faced abuses in those countries and that this transfer could amount to refoulement.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but it has rarely granted a refugee status. According to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), out of 64,542 asylum requests submitted to PIBA in 2011-19, 39 requests (0.06 percent) were approved, and 121 (0.2 percent) were rejected following a full examination. Another 16,777 (26 percent) were rejected either outright or were in various expedited processes. A total of 34,624 requests (54 percent) are still pending. There were 12,941 requests (20 percent) closed due to departure or lack of cooperation.

The majority of asylum seekers received a “conditional release visa” that requires frequent renewal in only two locations throughout the country. The government provided these individuals with a limited form of group protection regarding freedom of movement, protection against refoulement, and some access to the labor market. Advocacy groups argued that most government policies were geared toward deterring the arrival of future asylum seekers by pressuring those already in the country to depart, either by leaving them with limited or no access to social and medical services or by not examining their asylum requests.

Irregular migrants subject to deportation, including those claiming but unable to prove citizenship of countries included in Israel’s nonrefoulement policy, were subjected to indefinite detention if they refused to depart after receiving a deportation order. At the end of 2018, there were 165 migrants with undetermined or disputed citizenship in detention.

According to HIAS, as of June 6, PIBA examined only 21 asylum requests of Eritrean citizens despite a 2019 government announcement that it would reexamine all requests from Eritrean asylum seekers, including 3,000 that were previously turned down. PIBA recognized seven Eritreans as refugees in the first half of the year, according to UNHCR. The government continued not to examine asylum claims of Sudanese citizens from Darfur, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile, despite a 2018 PIBA response to the Supreme Court regarding the need to reexamine and request additional information for 1,500 such claims. On August 31, the government informed the Supreme Court that the lack of political clarity regarding Sudan did not allow for the formation of criteria to examine requests and did not allow for a ruling on individual requests of Darfuris.

On October 13, the Supreme Court ruled that 600 Sudanese who were granted special protection status in 2007 would be considered refugees.

Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation or other reasons, such as domestic violence, did not have access to the asylum system in Israel; however, many of them resided in Israel without legal status. NGOs stated this situation left persons who claimed they could not return to the West Bank due to fear of persecution vulnerable to human trafficking, violence, and exploitation. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) Palestinians were able to obtain from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) a temporary permit allowing them to stay in Israel without authorization to work or to access social services. A Supreme Court petition by NGOs demanding these rights was pending as of the year’s end. According to UNHCR, prior to the issuance of permits, COGAT requested proof of efforts to resettle in a third country. The government stated that COGAT examined the issue on a case-by-case basis. Following a HIAS administrative petition, on March 1, PIBA launched a program that allowed Palestinians recognized as trafficking victims to work in Israel.

On February 9, the Supreme Court ordered the government to recognize an Ivoirian family as refugees due to its minor daughters’ fear of being subjected to female genital mutilation in Cote d’Ivoire, and placing the burden of proof regarding a residential alternative on the government.

The government did not accept initial asylum claims at airports.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: PIBA applied a fast-track procedure to reject asylum applications from applicants from Georgia, Ukraine, and Russia, which the Ministry of the Interior determined were “safe” countries.

Freedom of Movement: The law allows the government to detain asylum seekers from countries to which government policy prohibits deportation for a period of three months. The government may detain, without trial and for an indefinite period, irregular migrants who were “implicated in criminal proceedings” (See section 1.d.).

Authorities prohibited asylum seekers released from detention after arrival in the country from residing in Eilat, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Netanya, Ashdod, and Bnei Brak–cities that already had a high concentration of asylum seekers.

Employment: Following a 2019 Supreme Court ruling, the government removed text stipulating “this is not a work visa” from the visas of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. According to HRM, employing asylum seekers remained a felony that is not enforced due to a government commitment to the Supreme Court. According to UNHCR, asylum seekers from countries not listed under Israel’s nonrefoulement policy were restricted from working for three to six months after submitting their requests if they did not have a visa before applying. Asylum seekers are prohibited from working on government contracts, including local government contracts for cleaning and maintenance, which often employed irregular migrants.

On April 23, the Supreme Court struck down a law that required employers to deduct 20 percent of an asylum seeker’s salary as an incentive to encourage their departure from the country. The court deemed the 20 percent deduction as unconstitutional, referring to it as a violation of the right to individual property of a population with little means and low salaries. The court kept in place an additional 16 percent deposit (equal to social benefits) paid solely by employers as an incentive for departure. In addition to halting the practice of salary deductions, the court ordered PIBA to return to asylum seekers the full amount deducted from their salaries within 30 days. The Supreme Court verdict came in response to a 2017 petition by NGOs. As of December, 14,473 asylum seekers received refunds totaling 210.5 million NIS ($63.1 million). 3,445 asylum seekers had not yet applied for their refund by year’s end.

As of February, according to PIBA, a gap of 710 million shekels ($217.6 million) existed between the funds deducted from asylum seekers’ salaries and the funds deposited for them by employers. According to Ministry of Labor information published by Haaretz on August 9, the ministry opened 60 investigation files against employers who deducted but did not deposit funds. Thirty employers received fines, and five criminal proceedings were launched, leading to one indictment.

According to advocacy groups, at least 70 percent of asylum seekers in Israel were left without a job due to COVID-19 and were ineligible for unemployment insurance or other social services.

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

Access to Basic Services: Legally recognized refugees received social services, including access to the national health-care system, but the government for the most part did not provide asylum seekers with public social benefits. Asylum seekers were able to enroll in a health-insurance program only through their employers. Without insurance through employers, or when employers did not arrange a private insurance policy for them as required by law, asylum seekers had access only to emergency care. The Ministry of Health offered medical insurance for minor children of asylum seekers for 120 shekels ($37) per month, but children of undocumented migrants were excluded from this program. On November 30, the Supreme Court ordered the Ministry of Health to allow children of undocumented migrants to be covered by a national health-insurance policy, requested in a petition by the PHRI; however, according to the PHRI, the Ministry of Health continued to exclude these children. The government sponsored a mobile clinic and mother and infant health-care stations in south Tel Aviv, which were accessible to migrants and asylum seekers. Hospitals provided emergency care to migrants and treated them for COVID-19 but often denied follow-up treatment to those who failed to pay, according to the PHRI. Due to COVID-19, the sole government-funded provider of mental health services had to limit its services, which resulted in only 250 patients being served. Asylum seekers who were recognized as victims of trafficking were eligible for rehabilitation and care. The same eligibilities did not apply for victims of torture.

According to A.S.S.A.F, several municipalities illegally segregated children of asylum seekers and other children in schools and kindergartens. For example, the Petah Tikva municipality delayed registration of Eritrean children for specific kindergartens in order for its schools to fill up with other students, and thus for the municipality to place all Eritrean children together, separate from Israeli children. A July 7 administrative petition against the municipality by the organization, Haifa University, and ACRI resulted in placing 140 Eritrean children in integrated kindergartens. On November 19, the petitioners reached an agreement with the municipality and the Education Ministry according to which future registration of children would be done in an integrated manner, and registration conditions would be equal for all children.

Durable Solutions: There is no procedure for recognized refugees to naturalize. According to the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic, only under exceptional humanitarian circumstances may a recognized refugee receive permanent residency.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals whom it did not recognize as refugees, or who may not qualify as refugees, primarily Eritrean and Sudanese irregular migrants as described above.

g. Stateless Persons

Despite being eligible for Israeli citizenship since 1981, an estimated 23,000 Druze living in territory captured from Syria in 1967 largely refused to accept it, and their status as Syrian citizens was unclear. They held Israeli identification cards, which listed their nationality as “undefined.”

Following cases of Bedouins having their citizenship revoked when arriving to receive services at the Ministry of Interior, on August 11, a PIBA official stated in a Knesset Internal Affairs Committee meeting that many of the 2,624 Bedouins whose citizenship had been erroneously revoked by the Ministry of Interior were unable to participate in national elections. According to the PIBA official, out of 500 Bedouins erroneously registered as Israelis since they were children of permanent residents, 362 were naturalized, 134 did not complete the process, and six were not naturalized for other reasons, including security.

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. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Druze of the Golan Heights who have permanent residency status may vote in municipal elections and seek some municipal offices, but that of mayor. They may not vote in general elections or serve in the Knesset.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the March 2 parliamentary elections free and fair. More than 71 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. During the March elections, observers noted minimal irregularities that had no impact on the final outcome.

After the Ministry of Interior retroactively canceled the citizenship of 2,624 Bedouin citizens, many of them were unable to participate in the national elections until their status was resolved (see section 2. g.).

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Basic Laws prohibit the candidacy of any party or individual that denies the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or the democratic character of the state or that incites racism. A political party may not be registered if its goals include support of an armed struggle, enemy state, or terror organization against Israel. Otherwise political parties operated without restriction or interference.

On January 29, the Central Election Commission (CEC) disqualified the candidacy of Joint List member of the Knesset Heba Yazbak, claiming she expressed support on social media for armed struggle. On February 9, the Supreme Court reversed the CEC decision and allowed Yazbak to run. NGOs and the Joint List of Arab parties claimed that the CEC sought to disqualify Arab candidates with the intention to delegitimize the political representation of Israel’s Arab minority.

The Northern Islamic Movement, banned in 2015, continued its practice of boycotting national elections.

The law restricts the funding of individuals and groups that engage in “election activity” during the period of a national election, which is typically three months. The law’s sponsors described it as an effort to prevent organizations and wealthy individuals from bypassing election-funding laws, but some civil society organizations expressed concern the law would stifle political participation.

The law allows dismissal of a member of the Knesset if 90 of 120 Knesset members vote for expulsion, following a request of 70 MKs, including at least 10 from the opposition. The party of an expelled member may replace the member with the next individual on its party list, and the expelled member may run in the next election. Joint List member of the Knesset Yousef Jabareen and some NGOs argued the government intended the law to target Arab legislators and that it harmed democratic principles such as electoral representation and freedom of expression.

In the period preceding the March elections, the NGO Adalah demanded that the CEC and the Ministry of Interior set up polling stations for Arab Bedouin citizens in the unrecognized villages in the Negev or provide the voters with transportation to their assigned polling stations. Authorities denied the request.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides an additional 15 percent in campaign funding to municipal party lists composed of at least one-third women. Women and minorities participated widely in politics, although their representation in the Knesset remained low. Of the 120-member Knesset, there were 30 women members and 20 members from ethnic or religious minorities (11 Muslims, five Druze, two Ethiopian-Israelis, and two Christians). As of December the government’s 36-member cabinet included seven women, one of whom was Ethiopian-Israeli. There were no Arabs. Four members of the 15-member Supreme Court were women, and one was Arab. Of the 257 mayors and local council heads, 14 were women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were reports of government corruption, although impunity was not a problem.

Corruption: The government continued to investigate and prosecute top political figures. In 2019 Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decided to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu for allegedly taking a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust, related to regulation of a telecommunications company. The indictment also covered an alleged attempt to direct authorities to suppress media coverage in exchange for favorable press, and the alleged receipt of inappropriate gifts. On May 24, the prime minister’s trial in the Jerusalem District Court began. On January 26, the attorney general decided to indict member of the Knesset David Bitan for taking a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust in nine cases between 2011 and 2017.

Former minister Haim Katz was indicted for separate offenses of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri and Deputy Minister of Housing and Construction Yakov Litzman are both, separately, under investigation for various alleged offenses.

The law prohibits police from offering a recommendation whether to indict a public official when transferring an investigation to prosecutors. The attorney general or state prosecutor may ask police for a recommendation, however. Detectives or prosecutors convicted of leaking a police recommendation or an investigation summary may be sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment. The law does not apply to investigations in process at the time of the law’s passage.

The NGO Lawyers for Good Governance, which combats corruption in Israel’s 85 Arab municipalities, reported that it received 934 corruption-related complaints in 2019 through its hotline, up 20 percent from 2018. The NGO stated that during 2019 it prevented 48 senior staff appointments on the basis of nepotism or hiring without a public announcement.

Financial Disclosure: Senior officials are subject to comprehensive financial disclosure laws, and the Civil Service Commission verifies their disclosures. According to the NGO Shakuf, 12 ministers and deputy ministers, including the prime minister, did not submit their financial disclosure reports. Authorities do not make information in these disclosures public without the consent of the person who submitted the disclosure. There is no specific criminal sanction for noncompliance.

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

A variety of Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally responsive to their views, and parliamentarians routinely invited NGOs critical of the government to participate in Knesset hearings on proposed legislation. The government stated it made concerted efforts to include civil society in the legislative process, in developing public policy, and in a variety of projects within government ministries, but it did not cooperate with human rights organizations that it deemed “politically affiliated.” Human rights NGOs have standing to petition the Supreme Court directly regarding governmental policies and may appeal individual cases to the Supreme Court.

Domestic NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights issues, continued to view the law requiring disclosure of support from foreign entities on formal publications as an attempt to stigmatize, delegitimize, and silence them. Supporters of the legislation described it as a transparency measure to reveal foreign government influence. Critics noted the law targeted only foreign government funding, without requiring organizations to report funding from private foreign sources.

The law mandates additional scrutiny of requests for National Service volunteers from NGOs that receive more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments. Following a change to the law in 2017, NGOs such as Kav LaOved, which had been able to employ national service volunteers for years, were no longer permitted to do so.

The staffs of domestic NGOs, particularly those calling for an end to the country’s military presence in and occupation of the West Bank and NGOs working for the rights of asylum seekers, stated they received death threats from nongovernmental sources. These threats spiked when government officials spoke out against the NGOs’ activities or criticized them as enemies or traitors for opposing government policy.

On October 12, the Supreme Court rejected Israeli organization Ad Kan’s petition to open a criminal investigation against NGO BTS for suspected espionage based on BTS’s collections of testimonies from IDF soldiers. The Supreme Court’s ruling came after the IDF and the prosecution found there was no need for an investigation, and after the attorney general rejected Ad Kan’s appeal on the matter. According to BTS, Ad Kan’s activities–including an attempt to infiltrate and mislead BTS in 2015–were attempts to delegitimize and silence BTS.

On March 25, Amnesty International submitted a petition to a district court demanding removal of a travel ban against its West Bank campaigner Laith Abu Zeyad imposed in October 2019 for undisclosed “security reasons.” According to Amnesty International, the travel ban is a punitive measure against the organization’s human rights work. Abu Zeyad’s permit to enter Israel has not been renewed since May 2019.

In March, Minister of Justice Amir Ohana barred the coordinator of the Israeli Ministry of Justice’s National Anti-Racism Unit, Kobi Aweke Zena, from participating in an ACRI conference. The minister argued that ACRI is political, controversial, and finances the legal fees to defend alleged terrorists in court. The minister took this action despite several attorney general letters since 2017 attesting to the legitimacy of ACRI as an established civil society organization. On August 9, the attorney general’s office affirmed in response to an ACRI letter the importance in maintaining dialogue between civil society and state authorities, including through public servant participation in NGO-sponsored conferences and events.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally cooperated with the United Nations and other international bodies. The country withdrew from UNESCO in 2018. The government continued its policy of nonengagement with the UN Human Rights Council’s “special rapporteur on the situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” On February 12, the government suspended relations with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), following publication of a United Nations Human Rights Council database of companies and “business activities related to settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” OHCHR staff told news outlet the Middle East Eye that since June the government had not extended OHCHR staff visas due to the suspension of relations and that, as of October 15, nine of the 12 OHCHR foreign staff had left the country. Seventeen human rights and civil society organizations in Israel sent a letter on October 20 to the minister of foreign affairs demanding that the ministry reverse its measures against OHCHR and resume issuing visas.

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a felony for which conviction is punishable by 16 years’ imprisonment. Conviction of rape under aggravated circumstances or rape committed against a relative is punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment. Killing a spouse following abuse is chargeable as murder under aggravated circumstances, with a sentence if convicted of life imprisonment. Authorities generally enforced the law.

In 2019 the number of requests for assistance related to rape to the Association for Rape Crisis Centers was 13 percent higher than in 2018. Authorities opened 1,386 investigations of suspected rape in 2019, compared with 1,480 in 2018. Authorities closed 92 percent of rape cases in 2019 without filing an indictment, mainly due to lack of evidence.

On September 2, police filed indictments against 11 men, including eight minors, for their involvement in the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Eilat. The indictments included rape under aggravated circumstances, aiding and abetting a rape, indecent assault, and failure to prevent a felony. The trial continued at year’s end.

During the year 16 women and girls were killed by their male partners or by other family members. According to police data provided to the Movement for Freedom of Information, 77 percent of domestic assault cases from 2016-19 did not lead to an indictment, and 30,756 cases out of 39,867 cases closed without an indictment.

According to Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services data, the number of reports of domestic violence almost tripled from March-October, compared with the same period in 2019. During the country’s first lockdown due to COVID-19, calls to police regarding violence against women increased by 19 percent from March-May compared with the same period in 2019, according to police data obtained by the Movement for Freedom of Information.

The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services operated 14 shelters for survivors of domestic abuse, including two for the Arab community, two mixed Jewish-Arab shelters, two for the ultra-Orthodox community, and eight for non-ultra-Orthodox-Jewish communities. On May 3, the ministry opened an additional shelter to accommodate women under mandatory quarantine. The ministry also operated a hotline for reporting abuse, and on April 30, it opened a text-message-based hotline to help women access assistance while quarantined with an abusive partner. During the COVID-19 crisis, the Ministry of Justice’s Legal Aid Department represented women seeking restraining and safety orders, and defended them in domestic violence cases.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal. Penalties for sexual harassment depend on the severity of the act and whether the harassment involved blackmail. The law provides that victims may follow the progress on their cases through a computerized system and information call center. In 2019 prosecutors filed 104 indictments for sexual harassment, down from 168 in 2018. According to a Civil Service Commission report, in 2019 there were 214 sexual harassment complaints submitted to its Department of Discipline, compared with 194 complaints in 2018 and 168 in 2017. During 2019 the commission submitted 15 lawsuits to its disciplinary tribunal, compared with 12 in 2018.

On February 10, a magistrate court sentenced former Jerusalem district police chief Niso Shaham to 10 months’ imprisonment, eight months’ probation, a fine, and a compensation payment for sexually harassing female officers under his command. On July 14, a district court rejected Shaham’s appeal to overturn the magistrate court’s decision. Shaham appealed to the Supreme Court, and the appeal continued at year’s end.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of the birth of their children. Generally all individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. According to NGOs, Arab Israeli women, particularly from the Bedouin population; female asylum seekers; and Palestinian women from East Jerusalem had limited access to health-care services. Traditional practices in Orthodox Jewish communities often led women to seek approval from a rabbi to use contraception.

The country maintained a pronatalist policy regarding reproductive care, subsidizing fertility treatments until the age of 45 but for the most part not subsidizing contraceptives, with the exception of women younger than age of 20 and women in the IDF.

The government provided sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. On February 9, the Supreme Court ordered the government to recognize an Ivoirian family as refugees due to its minor daughters’ fear of being subjected to female genital mutilation in Cote d’Ivoire.

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

Discrimination: The law provides generally for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, and national laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing business property. The government generally enforced the law effectively, but a wage gap between women and men persisted. Women and men are treated differently in Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze religious courts responsible for adjudication of family law, including marriage and divorce. For example, although women served as judges in nonreligious courts, they are barred from serving as judges in rabbinical courts.

The law allows a Jewish woman or man to initiate divorce proceedings, and both the husband and wife must give consent to make the divorce final. Sometimes a husband makes divorce contingent on his wife conceding to demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody. Jewish women in this situation could not remarry and any children born to them from another man would be deemed illegitimate by the Rabbinate without a writ of divorce. Rabbinical courts sometimes punished a husband who refused to give his wife a divorce, while also stating they lacked the authority under Jewish religious law to grant the divorce without his consent.

A Muslim man may divorce his wife without her consent and without petitioning the court. A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the sharia courts without her husband’s consent under certain conditions. A marriage contract may provide for other circumstances in which she may obtain a divorce without his consent. Through ecclesiastical courts, Christians may seek official separations or divorces, depending on their denomination. Druze divorces are performed by an oral declaration of the husband or the wife and then registered through the Druze religious courts.

In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, private organizations posted “modesty signs” demanding women obscure themselves from public view to avoid distracting devout men. The Beit Shemesh municipality received several extensions from the Supreme Court, which ordered it to remove such signs in 2018.

Women’s rights organizations reported a continuing trend of gender segregation and women’s exclusion, including in public spaces and events, in the IDF and in academia. In academia segregation in classes originally meant to accommodate the ultra-Orthodox population expanded to entrances, labs, libraries, and hallways, based on the Council of Higher Education inspections, revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request. Petitions to the Supreme Court regarding segregation in the academia were under review at year’s end. Incidents of segregation were also reported in government and local authorities’ events and courses. For example, the Ministry of Transportation prevented women from registering for some men-only defensive driving courses. In June the Ministry of Transportation committed to halt this practice, following a 2018 lawsuit by the Israel Women’s Network.

Children

Birth Registration: Regardless of whether they are born inside or outside of the country, children derive citizenship at birth if at least one parent is a citizen, provided the child resides with the parent who is a citizen or permanent resident. Births should be registered within 10 days of delivery. Births are registered in the country only if the parents are citizens or permanent residents. Any child born in an Israeli hospital receives an official document from the hospital that affirms the birth.

On July 26, the Supreme Court rejected a petition of a same-sex couple who demanded to make the process of registering parenthood for lesbian couples equal to that of heterosexual couples. The Israel LGBTI Task Force criticized the ruling and stated that the government chose to continue wrongful discrimination, which led to what the Task Force called “bureaucratic torture.” A petition by 34 lesbian mothers against the Ministry of Interior’s refusal to list nonbiological mothers on birth certificates, despite court-issued parenting orders, was pending at year’s end. For children of nonresident parents, including those who lack legal status in the country, the Ministry of the Interior issues a confirmation of birth document, which is not a birth certificate. The Supreme Court confirmed in a 2018 ruling that the ministry does not have the authority to issue birth certificates for nonresidents under existing law.

The government registers the births of Palestinians born in Jerusalem, although some Palestinians who have experienced the process reported that administrative delays may last for years. The St. Yves Society estimated that more than 10,000 children in East Jerusalem remained undocumented.

According to the NGO Elem, the number of homeless youth increased by 50 percent in the first three months of the COVID-19 outbreak compared with the same period in 2019.

Education: Primary and secondary education is free and universal through age 17 and compulsory through grade 12.

The government did not enforce compulsory education in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. Bedouin children, particularly girls, continued to have the highest illiteracy rate in the country, and more than 5,000 kindergarten-age children were not enrolled in school, according to the NCF. The government did not grant construction permits in unrecognized villages, including for schools.

Following the nationwide closure of schools in March due to COVID-19, NGOs stated that approximately 50,000 Bedouin students were left without access to distance learning for lack of access to computers and tablets, as well as their schools lacking access to funding and infrastructure to implement Ministry of Health hygiene and social distancing regulations.

There were reportedly insufficient classrooms to accommodate schoolchildren in Jerusalem. Based on population data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the NGO Ir Amim estimated in previous years a shortage of 2,500 classrooms for Palestinian children who are residents in East Jerusalem, and 18,600 Palestinian children in Jerusalem were not enrolled in any school.

The government operated separate public schools for Jewish children, in which classes were conducted in Hebrew, and for Arab children, with classes conducted in Arabic. For Jewish children separate public schools were available for religious and secular families. Individual families could choose a public school system for their children to attend regardless of ethnicity or religious observance.

The government funded approximately 34 percent of the Christian school system budget and restricted the schools’ ability to charge parents tuition, according to church officials. The government offered to fund Christian schools fully if they become part of the public (state) school system, but the churches continued to reject this option, citing concerns that they would lose control over admissions, hiring, and use of church property.

Jewish schoolgirls continued to be denied admission to ultra-Orthodox schools based on their Mizrahi ethnicity (those with ancestry from North Africa or the Middle East) despite a 2009 court ruling prohibiting ethnic segregation of Mizrahi and Ashkenazi schoolgirls, according to the NGO Noar Kahalacha.

There is no Arabic-language school for a population of approximately 3,000 Arab students in Nof Hagalil (formerly Nazareth Ilit), a town where 26 percent of residents are Arab. As a result most Arab students there attended schools in Nazareth and nearby villages. An NGO petition seeking the establishment of an Arabic-language school remained pending at year’s end.

Child Abuse: The law requires mandatory reporting of any suspicion of child abuse. It also requires social service employees, medical and education professionals, and other officials to report indications that minors were victims of, engaged in, or coerced into prostitution, sexual offenses, abandonment, neglect, assault, abuse, or human trafficking. The Ministry of Education operated a special unit for sexuality and for prevention of abuse of children and youth that assisted the education system in prevention and appropriate intervention in cases of suspected abuse of minors. In 2019 the Knesset approved a law extending the statute of limitations on serious crimes against children from 10 to 15 years.

In its annual report, the National Council for the Child (NCC) recorded a 40 percent increase in the number of children at risk of suicide who have been treated by educational psychologists. The report also showed double the number of reports of suspected violence against children (from 609 in 2019 to 1,225). There was a drop from 302 reports in 2019 to 240 reports to school psychologists of children in isolation on suspicion of neglect. The NCC highlighted difficulties with studies, anxiety, and emotional distress among schoolchildren; nearly one-third of Israeli school children did not participate regularly in online learning, or did not have access to online learning. The reported noted that more than one-half of Arab students and approximately 35 percent of students in Jewish schools did not have access to a computer for distance learning.

According to local government officials and human rights organizations, Gaza fence protests, air-raid sirens, and rocket attacks led to psychological distress among children living near Gaza, including nightmares and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18, with some exceptions for minors due to pregnancy and for couples older than age 16 if the court permitted it due to unique circumstances. Some Palestinian girls were coerced by their families into marrying older men who were Arab citizens of Israel, according to government and NGO sources. On September 17, the Supreme Court ordered police to reexamine a request of a Bedouin woman–a victim of two early and forced marriages who killed her second husband–to be recognized as a trafficking victim. The court ruled that while forced marriages do not constitute a trafficking offense in and of themselves, there is a possibility that such marriages would constitute trafficking if their purpose was to allow for sexual exploitation or forced labor, or if they placed an individual at risk of becoming a victim of these offenses.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor and sets a penalty for conviction of seven to 20 years in prison. The law prohibits the possession of child pornography (by downloading) and accessing such material (by streaming). Authorities enforced the law. The Ministry of Public Security operated a hotline to receive complaints of activities that seek to harm children online, such as bullying, dissemination of hurtful materials, extortion, sexual abuse, and pressure to commit suicide.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Consensual sexual relations with a minor between ages 14 and 16 constitute statutory rape for which conviction is punishable by five years’ imprisonment.

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 report Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

Jews constituted close to 75 percent of the population, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. The government often treated crimes targeting Jews as nationalistic crimes relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than as resulting from anti-Semitism.

The government has laws and mechanisms in place regarding claims for the return of or restitution for Holocaust-era assets. Relevant laws refer to assets imported during World War II whose owners did not survive the war. Unclaimed assets were held in trust and not transferred to legal inheritors, who in most cases were not aware that their late relatives had property in Israel.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other government services. The government generally enforced these laws. The law states that by the end of 2019, all public services must be provided from buildings or spaces accessible to persons with disabilities, excluding local authority buildings built before 2019, which should be made accessible by November 2021. The law allows for a one-year extension to the deadline. The Government Housing Administration predicted in November that by the end of the year 62 percent of public buildings would be accessible for individuals with disabilities. The Ministry of Justice published a memo in November, however, that proposed postponing the deadline to the end of 2021, with provision for another one-year extension. The law requires that at least 5 percent of employees of every government agency with more than 100 workers be persons with disabilities. In 2019, according to a report by the Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 60 percent of government agencies met this requirement. Government ministries had not developed regulations regarding the accessibility of health services, roads, sidewalks, and intercity buses by the end of the year.

According to the Civil Society Forum for the Advancement of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Israel, Arab persons with disabilities suffer from a higher percentage of inaccessible public buildings and spaces, due to lack of funding. They also lack access to information in Arabic from the government regarding their rights.

On May 30, a border police officer in Jerusalem chased and then shot and killed Iyad Halak, a Palestinian man with autism, after he had failed to heed calls to stop (see section 1.a.).

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Arab Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Ethiopian citizens faced persistent institutional and societal discrimination.

There were multiple instances of security services or other citizens racially profiling Arab citizens. Some Arab civil society leaders described the government’s attitude toward the Arab minority as ambivalent; others cited examples in which Israeli political leaders incited racism against the Arab community or portrayed it as an enemy.

In 2018 the Knesset passed a basic law referred to as the Nation State Law. The law changes Arabic from an official language, which it had been since Israel adopted prevailing British Mandate law in 1948, to a language with a “special status.” The law also recognizes only the Jewish people as having a national right of self-determination and calls for promotion of “Jewish settlement” within Israel, which Arab organizations and leaders feared would lead to increased discrimination in housing and legal decisions pertaining to land. Druze leaders criticized the law for relegating a minority in the country to second-class-citizen status. Opponents also criticized the law for not mentioning the principle of equality to prevent harm to the rights of non-Jewish minorities.

Supporters of the law stated it was necessary to anchor the country’s Jewish character in a basic law to balance the 1992 Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, which protected individual rights. Supporters noted the Supreme Court had already interpreted the 1992 law as mandating equality. Supporters argued that the Human Dignity and Liberty law continues to safeguard individual civil rights. Political leaders conceded that the criticisms of the Druze community must be addressed. Multiple lawsuits challenging the Nation State Law remained pending with the Supreme Court at year’s end.

On October 1, the PHRI published a report based on Central Bureau of Statistics data and surveys indicating significant health gaps between Jewish and Arab populations. The Arab population was found to be lagging behind in life expectancy, infant mortality, morbidity, self-assessed health, diabetes, obesity, smoking rates and more. The report’s findings point to gaps, sometimes significant, in the quality of health-care services provided to the country’s Arab residents compared to Jewish residents. These gaps emerged particularly with respect to primary care in the community and to a much lesser degree in terms of specialist care. In March further gaps emerged with respect to the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

On June 4, several Jewish Israelis attacked Muhammad Nasasrah, allegedly after they heard him speak Arabic. Joint List Member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi criticized police for failing to investigate the incident. On October 22, police arrested three suspects, and on November 5, the prosecution filed an indictment against the three suspects for “assault under aggravated circumstances.”

Throughout the year there were “price tag” attacks, which refer to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests. The government classifies any association using the phrase “price tag” as an illegal association and a price tag attack as a security (as opposed to criminal) offense. The most common offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, harm to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands. On February 11, for example, 170 cars were vandalized and graffiti was sprayed on a mosque and on walls in Gush Halav saying “Jews wake up” and “stop intermarrying.” On January 24, unknown perpetrators set fire to a mosque in the Sharafat neighborhood of Jerusalem in a suspected hate crime, according to media reports. Graffiti sprayed on the side of the mosque indicated the suspected arson was related to an unpermitted West Bank outpost, portions of which the Israeli Border Police demolished on January 15.

On May 18, a district court convicted Amiram Ben Uliel on three murder charges, two attempted murder charges, arson, and conspiracy to commit a crime motivated by racism, for his role in an arson attack in Duma in 2015 that killed a Palestinian couple and their infant. On September 14, the court sentenced Ben Uliel to three life sentences plus 20 years and ordered him to pay a fine. Ben Uliel appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court, which was pending at year’s end. On September 16, as part of a plea bargain, the Supreme Court convicted and sentenced a minor who involved in arson and additional hate crimes to three and a half years in prison.

The government employed an “appropriate representation” policy for non-Jewish minorities in the civil service. The percentage of Arab employees in the public sector was 12.2 percent (61.5 percent of whom were entry-level employees), according to the Civil Service Commission. The percentage of Arab employees in the 62 government-owned companies was approximately 2.5 percent; however, during the year Arab citizens held 12 percent of director positions in government-owned companies, up from 1 percent in 2000, and Arab workers held 11 percent of government positions, up from 5 percent in 2000, according to the nonpartisan NGO Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality (Sikkuy).

Separate school systems within the public and semipublic domains produced a large variance in education quality. Arab, Druze, and ultra-Orthodox students passed the matriculation exam at lower rates than their non-ultra-Orthodox-Jewish counterparts. The government continued operating educational and scholarship programs to benefit Arab students. Between the academic year of 2009-10 and 2020, the percentage of Arab students enrolled increased significantly: in the undergraduate programs from 13 percent to 19 percent, in master’s degree programs from 7 percent to 15 percent, and in doctoral programs from 5 percent to 7 percent, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Approximately 93 percent of land is in the public domain. This includes approximately 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews. Arab citizens are allowed to participate in bids for JNF land, but the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) grants the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab citizen of Israel wins a bid. In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that the Lands Administration Executive Council must have representation of an Arab, Druze, or Circassian member to prevent discrimination against non-Jews; however, there were no members from these groups on the executive council at year’s end.

The Bedouin segment of the Arab population continued to be the most socioeconomically disadvantaged. More than one-half of the estimated 260,000 Bedouin citizens in the Negev lived in seven government-planned towns. In nine of 11 recognized villages, all residences remained unconnected to the electricity grid or to the water infrastructure system, according to the NCF. Nearly all public buildings in the recognized Bedouin villages were connected to the electricity grid and water infrastructure, as were residences that had received a building permit, but most residences did not have a building permit, according to the government. Each recognized village had at least one elementary school, and eight recognized villages had high schools.

Approximately 90,000 Bedouins lived in 35 unrecognized tent or shack villages without access to any government services (see section 1.e. for issues of demolition and restitution for Bedouin property).

The government generally prohibited Druze citizens and residents from visiting Syria. The government has prevented family visitations to Syria for noncitizen Druze since 1982.

An estimated population of 155,300 Ethiopian Jews experienced persistent societal discrimination, although officials and citizens quickly and publicly criticized discriminatory acts against them.

On February 4, the DIPO submitted an indictment charging an off-duty police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Selomon Teka in June 2019 with negligence. His trial continued at year’s end.

On February 12, the Supreme Court ordered police to explain why the court should not cancel a procedure allowing police to demand identification without reasonable suspicion, which leads to racial profiling and the targeting of Ethiopian-Israelis and other minority populations. The case continued at year’s end.

The IDF Ombudsman’s annual report for 2019 highlighted cases of racism towards Ethiopian soldiers from their commanders.

The Anti-Racism Coordinating Government Unit worked to combat institutional racism by receiving complaints and referring them to the relevant government authorities, and by raising public awareness. For example, following a complaint, the Legal Aid Department in the Ministry of Justice submitted a lawsuit to a magistrate court against an owner of a bed-and-breakfast who refused to host Ethiopians because of their race. The lawsuit demanded 131,800 shekels ($40,300) in compensation. The magistrate court had yet to issue a ruling by the year’s end.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in goods, services, and employment. The government generally enforced the law, although some discrimination in employment and housing persisted against LGBTQI+ persons in general and against transgender persons in particular. On April 20, a magistrate court ordered a company that refused to print materials with LGBTQI+ content for the Israel LGBTI Task Force to compensate the organization.

The trial against two individuals on charges of attempted murder of their 16-year-old brother, whom they stabbed outside an LGBTQI+ youth shelter in 2019, allegedly on the basis of his sexual orientation, was pending at year’s end. Some violent incidents against LGBTQI+ individuals during the year led to arrests and police investigations. For example, on August 12, police indicted two minors for assault and causing injury under aggravated circumstances to LGBTQI+ minors in Jaffa on August 1.

On February 4, then minister of education Rafi Peretz announced he would grant an Israel Prize for Torah literature to Rabbi Yaacov Ariel, the former rabbi of Ramat Gan, who made public statements against LGBTQI+ persons, including a 2014 call not to rent apartments to lesbian couples. On April 26, the Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by the Israel LGBTI Taskforce against the granting of the prize to Ariel, stating the case did not justify the court’s intervention. Ariel refused to retract his statements.

LGBTQI+ activists were able to hold public events and demonstrations but were restricted by COVID-19 emergency regulations limiting such participation (see section 2.b.).

IPS regulations prohibit holding transgender prisoners in solitary confinement. According to ACRI, one transgender woman was held in a separation wing used as a punitive measure for women removed from regular wings, for more than one year. In September she was transferred to a regular wing, following legal work by ACRI.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV is illegal and, according to the Israel AIDS Task Force, institutional discrimination was rare. The AIDS task force received some complaints during the year regarding discrimination in the provision of alternative health care and cosmetic services. According to a poll conducted by the task force in November, social stigma remained a problem.

Following a two-year pilot program to accept blood donations from gay and bisexual men, the Ministry of Health stores blood donations from a gay or bisexual man until the man donates blood again four months later. If both donations pass routine screening tests, including for absence of HIV, both are be accepted.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Individuals and militant or terrorist groups attacked civilians in Israel, including two stabbing attacks characterized by authorities as terror attacks (see section 1.a.), in addition to rockets shot into Israel by Gaza-based terrorist groups. (For issues relating to violence or discrimination against asylum seekers, see section 2.d.)

Arab communities in Israel continued to experience high levels of crime and violence, especially due to organized crime and high numbers of illegal weapons, according to government data and NGOs. Causes included a low level of policing; limited access to capital; easy access to illegal weapons; and socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, unemployment, and the breakdown of traditional family and authority structures, according to the Abraham Fund Initiatives and other NGOs. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on crime and violence exacerbated the situation, and surveys have shown Arab citizens trust police less than do Jewish citizens. Government actions to address the issues included: opening nine police stations in Arab towns since 2016, increasing enforcement to prevent violence, improving communication with Arab citizens through Arabic-language media and social media, enhancing trust with the community, enhancing community policing, and examining legal issues such as weapons control and raising the threshold for punishments.

Israeli authorities investigated reported attacks against Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel, primarily in Jerusalem, by members of organizations that made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements and objected to social relationships between Jews and non-Jews.

The Israeli government and settler organizations in Jerusalem made efforts to increase property ownership by Jewish Israelis. Civil society organizations and representatives of the PA stated the efforts sought to emphasize Jewish history in Palestinian neighborhoods. UNOCHA and NGOs, such as Bimkom and Ir Amim, alleged that the goal of Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies was to decrease the number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Official Israeli government policy aimed to maintain a 60 percent majority of Jews in Jerusalem. Jewish landowners and their descendants, or land trusts representing the families, were entitled to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949, but Palestinians who abandoned property in Israel in the same period had no reciprocal right to stake their legal claim to the property (see section 1.e.). In some cases private Jewish organizations acquired legal ownership of reclaimed Jewish property in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City, and through protracted judicial action sought to evict Palestinian families living there. Authorities designated approximately 30 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli neighborhoods/settlements. Palestinians were able in some cases to rent or purchase Israeli-owned property–including private property on government-owned land–but faced significant barriers to both. NGOs stated that after accounting for Israeli neighborhoods/settlements, government property, and declared national parks, only 13 percent of all land in East Jerusalem was available for construction by Palestinians or others.

Although the law provides that all residents of Jerusalem are fully and equally eligible for public services provided by the municipality and other authorities, the Jerusalem municipality and other authorities failed to provide sufficient social services, education, infrastructure, and emergency planning for Palestinian neighborhoods, especially in the areas between the barrier and the municipal boundary. Approximately 117,000 Palestinians lived in that area, of whom approximately 61,000 were registered as Jerusalem residents, according to government data. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 78 percent of East Jerusalem’s Arab residents and 86 percent of Arab children in East Jerusalem lived in poverty in 2017.

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. After a union declares a labor dispute, there is a 15-day “cooling period” in which the Histadrut, the country’s largest federation of trade unions, negotiates with the employer to resolve the dispute. On the 16th day, employees are permitted to strike. Workers essential to state security, such as members of the military, police, prison service, Mossad, and the ISA, are not permitted to strike. The law prohibits strikes because of political issues and allows the government to declare a state of emergency to block a strike that the government deemed could threaten the economy or trade with foreign states. According to the Histadrut, this law has never been applied.

In May, Palestinian workers in Israel stopped paying an automatic fee to Israeli workers’ organizations, after years in which they had paid trade union fees without representation or treatment, according to the NGO Kav LaOved.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court has discretionary authority to order the reinstatement of a worker fired for union activity.

The government enforced applicable laws effectively, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

According to the International Trade Union Confederation, some employers actively discouraged union participation, delayed or refused to engage in collective bargaining, or harassed workers attempting to form a union. Approval by a minimum of one-third of the employees in a workplace is needed to qualify a trade union to represent all workers in that workplace.

According to Kav LaOved, a growing number of workers in teaching, social work, security, cleaning, and caregiving are employed as contract workers, which infringes on their right to associate, as it reduces their bargaining power and their right to equality.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes forced or compulsory labor and prescribes penalties that are commensurate with those of other serious crimes, but the government did not effectively enforce laws protecting foreign workers and some citizens.

Migrant and Palestinian workers in agriculture and construction and women migrant domestic workers were among the most vulnerable to conditions of forced labor, including bonded labor, domestic servitude, and slavery. NGOs reported some vulnerable workers experienced indicators of forced labor, including the unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on freedom of movement, limited ability to change employers, nonpayment of wages, exceedingly long working hours, threats, sexual assault, and physical intimidation, partly as a result of lack of adequate government oversight and monitoring.

For example, employees of the Turkish construction company Yilmazlar continued to pay a bond to the company before starting to work, received pay slips only intermittently, worked 12 to 24-hour days, lived in overcrowded conditions, and worked without proper safety measures. When trying to escape, workers were chased and beaten by individuals associated with the company, according to NGOs. A lawsuit filed by employees of Yilmazlar, alleging they suffered from abusive employment that amounts to human trafficking had yet to be adjudicated by year’s end. Four of the five workers who have already given testimony in the case had to depart the country during the year after losing their legal status due to unemployment.

On August 20, a total of 15 Thai agricultural workers employed in the south told Kav LaOved that their work conditions included extremely long work hours, lack of sleep, work in extreme heat, poor living conditions, fines for working “too slow,” no protection while working with toxins, late salary payments, and a salary below minimum wage. Kav LaOved asked authorities to investigate the matter, but no action was taken for one month, after which the NGO submitted a Supreme Court petition. On September 30, authorities recognized the workers as trafficking victims and moved them to a shelter.

Gray-market manpower agencies engaged in labor trafficking by exploiting visa waiver agreements between Israel and former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. The traffickers illegally recruited laborers to work in construction, caregiving, and prostitution, charged them exorbitant recruitment fees, and sometimes sold them fake documentation.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, provides for a minimum age of employment, includes limitations on working hours, and specifies occupational safety and health restrictions for children. Children age 14 and older may be employed during official school holidays in nonhazardous light work that does not harm their health. Children ages 15 and 16 who have completed education through grade nine may be employed as apprentices. Those who completed their mandatory education early or who were unable to attend an educational institution regularly may work with a government permit. Regulations restrict working hours for youths between ages 16 and 18 in all sectors. The law prohibits children younger than age 18 from working at construction sites and from working overtime.

The government generally enforced the law and conducted year-round inspections to identify cases of underage employment, with special emphasis on summer and school vacation periods. Penalties for child labor violations were not always commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. During the year authorities imposed a number of sanctions against employers for child labor infractions, including administrative warnings and fines.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on age, race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, and disability. The law prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees, contractors, or persons seeking employment. The Employers of Women law and work safety regulations, however, restrict women from working in jobs deemed hazardous to their health, including through exposure to certain chemicals. The Equal Pay Law provides for equal pay for equal work of male and female employees. The Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities (see section 6). The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of citizenship and HIV or AIDS status.

The government generally enforced applicable law effectively, and penalties were commensurate to those for laws related to civil rights, but civil society organizations reported that discrimination in the employment or pay of women, Ethiopian-Israelis, and Arab citizens persisted. The law charges the Commission for Equal Employment Opportunities with the implementation and civil enforcement of the Equal Employment Opportunities Law. According to the commission’s annual report, in 2019 it received 780 complaints, compared to 748 in 2018.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2018 the average monthly salary of men was 12,500 shekels ($3,800) and 8,540 shekels for women ($2,600). A part of the pay gap reportedly resulted from a differential between the number of hours men and women worked each week on average.

The gender gap in unemployment during the COVID-19 crisis increased significantly throughout the year, from 1 percent in the beginning of the year to 37 percent as of the year’s end. Experts anticipated increased gender inequality in the job market following the COVID-19 crisis due in part to the disparity in unemployment figures of women and men.

According to government and NGO data, migrant workers, irregular African migrants, and Palestinians (both documented and undocumented) were ineligible to receive benefits such as paid leave and legal recourse in cases involving workplace injury.

On April 6, the government issued COVID-19 emergency regulations allowing employers to place pregnant women, women on maternity leave, and women undergoing fertility treatments on leave-without-pay status. Employers were allowed to take this measure despite a law stipulating that such an action may only take place upon receiving a permit from the Ministry of Labor, which may be contested through a legal process. On April 17, the government retracted the regulation following petitions from NGOs. On April 20, NGOs cancelled the petitions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy. The minimum wage was above the poverty income level for individuals but below the poverty level for couples and families. Authorities investigated employers, imposed administrative sanctions, and filed indictments for violations of the Minimum Wage Law during the year.

The law allows a maximum 43-hour workweek at regular pay and provides for paid annual holidays. Premium pay for overtime is set at 125 percent for the first two hours and 150 percent for any hour thereafter up to a limit of 15 hours of overtime per week. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws. According to the National Insurance, the level of noncompliance with the hourly minimum wage law stood at 11 percent of the labor market in 2018. Data from the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services showed that enforcement actions were taken against 156 employers during 2019. Penalties were not always commensurate with those for similar crimes. According to Kav LaOved, 700,000 individuals were employed on an hourly basis, which reduced their social rights and benefits because most lacked an employment contract containing specific protections.

The Labor Inspection Service, along with union representatives and construction site safety officers, enforced labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors, and penalties for violations were seldom applied. Labor inspectors have the right to make unannounced visits, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance, particularly in the construction and agriculture industries, and scaffolding regulations were inadequate to protect workers from falls. No law protects the employment of workers who report on situations that endanger health or safety or remove themselves from such situations. Seventy percent of the labor inspectors were not working in April due to COVID-19 restrictions, according to Haaretz. Employers rather than inspectors were responsible for identifying unsafe situations.

On December 6, the government implemented a 2016 government resolution to issue work permits directly to Palestinian construction workers instead of to Israeli employers to avoid trade in permits and attendant high brokerage fees. This implementation followed a September petition submitted to the Supreme Court by ACRI and Kav LaOved. The government continued to issue work permits to Israeli employers rather than to Palestinian workers in other sectors. According to Kav LaOved, prior to this change approximately 100,000 migrant workers and Palestinian workers lacked mobility in the labor market because their work permits were tied to their employers. The work permits linked the employee to a specific employer, creating a dependence that some employers and employment agencies exploited by charging employees monthly commissions and fees. According to the Bank of Israel’s 2019 report, 30 percent of Palestinian workers in the country and the settlements paid brokerage fees for their permits in monthly payments of approximately 2,000 shekels ($610), or 20 percent of their salary. In many cases the employer of record hired out employees to other workplaces. More than one-half the documented Palestinian workers did not receive written contracts or pay slips, according to the International Labor Organization.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the Ministry of Defense issued an order allowing Palestinians working in essential sectors to continue their work only if they remained in Israel for an extended period of time without returning to the West Bank. The order placed responsibility on employers with regards to employees’ accommodation, but NGOs reported that many Palestinians lived in poor and dangerous conditions. Following a petition by NGOs to the Supreme Court, the government issued emergency regulations on May 5, and the Knesset passed a temporary law on August 5, which defined and regulated employers’ responsibilities towards employers, including regarding housing and health insurance.

The country has bilateral work agreements (BWAs) with Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, and China to employ migrants in the construction sector and with Thailand and Sri Lanka for the agricultural sector. BWAs provided foreign workers with information regarding their labor rights as well as a translated copy of their labor contract prior to arrival in the country. The government continued to help fund a hotline for migrant workers to report violations, and the government’s enforcement bodies claimed all complaints were investigated. The absence of BWAs for foreign caregivers and additional migrant workers not covered by BWAs led to continuing widespread abuses and exploitative working conditions, including excessive recruitment fees, false employment contracts, and lack of legal protections related to housing, nonpayment of wages, physical and sexual violence, and harassment.

Some employers in the agriculture sector circumvented the BWAs by recruiting “volunteers” from developing countries to earn money and learn Israeli agriculture methods. Volunteers worked eight to 10 hours per day at a salary equal to half the minimum wage and without social benefits. The individuals received volunteer visas, which did not permit them to work. Other firms employed foreign students registered for work-study programs that consisted of long hours of manual labor and pay below the minimum wage. Some employers recruited low-skilled foreign workers under the guise of being “experts” in their field. PIBA adopted guidelines for classifying foreign workers as experts. Under these guidelines, the government considers an expert to be highly skilled in a field that does not require higher education or advanced degrees. Additionally, experts may not perform low-skilled jobs, come from a country with a lower GDP than Israel, come from a country listed on the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report as Tier 3 or Tier 2 watch list, or come from a country without a BWA.

A police unit was responsible for investigating workplace accidents that resulted in death or severe injuries, mainly at construction sites; however, according to media reports, the police unit carried out less than 10 investigations since its launch in 2019. On January 26, following an investigation conducted by the police unit, prosecutors indicted two junior workers, but no management workers, in causing a death “by negligence” of a Chinese worker. During the year, 65 workers died in work accidents, and another 423 workers were injured, according to Kav LaOved.

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West Bank and Gaza

Jordan

Executive Summary

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Abdullah II bin Hussein. The constitution grants the king ultimate executive and legislative authority. The multiparty parliament consists of a 130-member popularly elected House of Representatives (Majlis al-Nuwwab) and a Senate (Majlis al-Ayan) appointed by the king. Elections for the House of Representatives occur approximately every four years and last took place on November 10. Local nongovernmental organizations reported some COVID-19-related disruptions during the election process but stated voting was generally free and fair.

Jordan’s security services underwent a significant reorganization in December 2019 when the king combined the previously separate Public Security Directorate (police), the Gendarmerie, and the Civil Defense Directorate into one organization named the Public Security Directorate. The reorganized Public Security Directorate has responsibility for law enforcement and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Public Security Directorate and the General Intelligence Directorate share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The General Intelligence Directorate reports directly to the king. The armed forces report to the Minister of Defense and are responsible for external security, although they also have a support role for internal security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of activists and journalists; infringements on citizens’ privacy rights; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; substantial restrictions on freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly; serious incidents of official corruption; “honor” killings of women; trafficking in persons; and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

Impunity remained widespread, although the government took some limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses. Information on the outcomes of these actions was not publicly available for all 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 of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life by security forces during the year. There were developments regarding custodial death cases from previous years.

Several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported on the 2018 death of Bilal Emoush while in custody. Emoush was arrested in May 2018 by the PSD’s Anti-Narcotics Division and was reportedly beaten and tortured while in custody in order to extract a confession, according to multiple NGOs. He was transferred to the hospital in June 2018, where he died from his injuries. According to one local NGO, no official investigation of police mistreatment was conducted, the police officers involved in the incident were not prosecuted, and the case was dismissed for insufficient evidence. Another NGO reported that multiple health-care workers involved in the case were under investigation for negligence. The PSD reported that three individuals were referred to the Zarqa felony magistrate court at the end of 2019. The case remains pending.

Police officers are tried in police courts when facing either criminal penalties or administrative punishment. The quasi-governmental watchdog National Center for Human Rights demanded that police officers accused of gross violations of human rights be tried in independent civil courts instead of police courts, which fall under the Ministry of Interior and are considered less independent, according to many NGOs.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution bans torture, including psychological harm, by public officials and provides penalties up to three years’ imprisonment for its use, with a penalty of up to 15 years if serious injury occurs. While the law prohibits such practices, international and local NGOs reported incidents of torture and mistreatment in police and security detention centers. Human rights lawyers found the penal code ambiguous and supported amendments to define “torture” more clearly and strengthen sentencing guidelines. According to government officials, all reported allegations of abuse in custody were thoroughly investigated, but human rights NGOs questioned the impartiality of these investigations.

In contrast to 2019, local and international NGOs did not report that Anti-Narcotics Division personnel routinely subjected detainees to severe physical abuse but NGOs reported some instances of abuse. Allegations of abuses were made against the Criminal Investigations Division, which led to criminal charges. While there was no documentation of complaints of mistreatment by the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) during the year, local NGOs said abuse still occurred but citizens did not report abuse due to fear of reprisals.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 18 prisons varied: Old facilities had poor conditions while new prisons met international standards. Authorities held foreigners without legal work or residency permits in the same facilities as citizens. (For information on asylum seekers and refugees, see section 2.f.)

Physical Conditions: International NGOs and legal aid organizations identified problems including overcrowding, limited health care, inadequate legal assistance for inmates, and limited social care for inmates and their families. The PSD opened Qafqafa Prison, with a capacity of 1,050 inmates, to receive detainees from overcrowded prison facilities.

The PSD took steps to monitor detention facilities and to promote compliance with detention policies, and by the end of 2019 were using electronic records to log every case and detainee. According to the PSD’s Human Rights and Transparency Office, the PSD received 39 cases of allegations of torture and mistreatment in prisons and rehabilitation centers between October 2019 and September 2020.

International and domestic NGOs reported that Islamist prisoners faced harsher prison conditions than other inmates.

According to the PSD, authorities designated some facilities to hold only pretrial detainees. The GID held some persons detained on national security charges in a separate detention facility. During the year the National Center for Human Rights (NCHR) made one announced visit to the GID facility. The GID allowed the NCHR to conduct unsupervised meetings with prisoners. Detainees complained of solitary confinement, isolation, and prolonged pretrial detentions of up to six months. According to human rights activists, the GID held detainees in solitary confinement. Local and international NGOs received reports of mistreatment, abuse, and torture in GID detention facilities.

Although basic medical care was available in all correctional facilities, medical staff complained that correctional facilities throughout the country lacked adequate medical facilities, supplies, and staff. Most facilities were unable to conduct blood tests and had limited X-ray capabilities, forcing doctors to rely largely on self-reporting by patients for certain conditions. If an inmate’s condition was too severe for treatment at the prison’s clinic, doctors recommended transfer to a local hospital.

Conditions in the women’s prisons were generally better than conditions in most of the men’s prisons.

Police stations had no separate holding areas for juveniles. Authorities held juveniles in special facilities supervised by the Ministry of Social Development.

Administration: Prosecutors exercised oversight regarding the condition of detainees. From October 2019 to September 2020, the PSD Human Rights and Transparency Office made a total of 519 visits to detention centers accompanied by observers from both local and international organizations. Karamah (a team of government officials and NGOs) and the NCHR also monitored prison conditions. In some cases, both prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities severely restricted the access of detainees to visitors.

In March prison riots broke out in the Bab al-Hawa Correctional Center in the Irbid and Rmeimeen Correctional Center in Jerash following the government’s announcement it would suspend court appearances (effectively extending some individuals’ detentions) and suspend familial prison visits as part of the government’s COVID-19 mitigation response. Two prisoners died after falling and being trampled during the Bab al-Hawa riot.

Authorities sometimes did not inform families regarding the whereabouts of detainees or delayed notification of families between 24 hours and 10 days. The PSD has implemented a new system of electronic record keeping to address this problem.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some local and international human rights observers and lawyers to visit prisons and conduct private interviews. The International Committee of the Red Cross had wide access to visit prisoners and detainees in all prisons, including facilities operated by the GID. Authorities approved some requests by local human rights observers to conduct monitoring visits independently of Karamah and the NCHR.

Improvements: The PSD renovated six prison facilities to improve sanitary facilities, sanitation, ventilation, and temperature control, and to increase access to drinking water, sunlight, and medical care. The Beireen and Aqaba prison facilities improved general maintenance and repairs and increased the number of beds. An outdoor garden for family visits was added to the Juweideh detention center. The PSD also allowed detainees at seven prison facilities to participate in court hearings by video conference. Authorities took steps to use alternatives to prison sentences for nonviolent offenders. From 2018 through August, the Ministry of Justice processed 326 criminals into alternative sentencing.

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 or her arrest or detention in court; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions.

Security services detained political activists for shouting slogans critical of authorities during protests. Some activists were arbitrarily arrested and held without charge, others were charged with insulting the king, undermining the political regime, or slander. Most detentions lasted for days, but some lasted several months. At least five detainees held a hunger strike from February through March to protest their arrest and arbitrary detention. As of October more than 20 individuals remained in detention for reasons connected to freedom of expression, according to media reports and local NGOs.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides a person in custody with the right to appear promptly before a judge or other judicial officer for a judicial determination of the legality of the detention. The law allows authorities to detain suspects for up to 24 hours without a warrant in all cases. It requires that police notify authorities within 24 hours of an arrest and that authorities file formal charges within 15 days of an arrest. Authorities can extend the period to file formal charges to as long as six months for a felony and two months for a misdemeanor. According to local NGOs, prosecutors routinely requested extensions, which judges granted. The State Security Court (SSC) can authorize Judicial Police (part of the PSD) to arrest and keep persons in custody for seven days prior to notification of arrest while conducting criminal investigations. This authority includes arrests for alleged misdemeanors. NGOs alleged that authorities transferred suspects to the SSC to extend the legal time from 24 hours to seven days for investigation prior to notification. NGOs also alleged that authorities transferred suspects from one police station to another to extend the period for investigation. During the year the Ministry of Justice operated an electronic notification system for judicial action to help lawyers remain up-to-date on their cases and reduce the pretrial detention period.

The penal code allows bail, and authorities used it in some cases. In many cases the accused remained in detention without bail during legal proceedings. PSD regulations exempt persons from pretrial detention if they have no existing criminal record and the crime is not a felony. NGOs reported cases of arbitrary administrative detention during the year. In January the Jordanian Bar Association civil liberties committee condemned the Zarqa governor for re-arresting and administratively detaining four Bani Hassan tribe hirak (movement) activists. According to the association, the governor justified arresting the four activists a second time because they allegedly insulted a police officer and blocked public roads.

Many detainees reported not having timely access to a lawyer. Courts appointed lawyers to represent indigent defendants charged with felonies carrying possible life sentences (often interpreted by the judiciary as 20 years) or the death penalty, although for lesser crimes legal aid services remained minimal.

At times authorities held suspects incommunicado for up to one week or placed them under house arrest. Several human rights activists alleged that authorities held arrestees incommunicado to hide evidence of physical abuse by security forces. Courts did not always offer adequate translation services for defendants who could not speak Arabic.

In 2019 Amnesty International reported that virginity testing was commonly requested by male guardians after female relatives had been detained by authorities for being “absent” from the male guardian’s home. Authorities generally complied with those requests despite international consensus that these tests violate women’s rights and are a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Arbitrary Arrest: In cases purportedly involving state security, security forces at times arrested and detained individuals without informing them of the charges against them and either did not allow defendants to meet with their lawyers or did not permit meetings until shortly before trial.

The law allows the 12 provincial governors to detain individuals administratively as they deem necessary for investigation purposes or to protect that individual. Authorities held some individuals in prison or under house arrest without due process and often despite a finding of not guilty in legal proceedings. According to the Ministry of Interior, from January through August, approximately 10,000 persons were held under administrative detention, including 6,152 individuals in Amman, 2,209 in Irbid, 698 in Zarqa, 516 in Balqa, 29 in Karak, 35 in Ma’an, 35 in Mafraq, 25 in Tafileh, 48 in Jerash, 41 in Aqaba, 39 in Madaba, and 23 in Ajloun. Several international and national NGOs, along with the NCHR, alleged governors routinely abused the law, imprisoning individuals when there was not enough evidence to convict them, and prolonging the detention of prisoners whose sentences had been completed.

Governors continued to issue thousands of administrative detention orders under a 1954 law that allows pretrial detention from three days to one year without charge or trial or any means of legal remedy. The Ministry of Interior released a total of 1,366 individuals placed under administrative detention by governors between October 2019 and July 2020 to reduce overcrowding in detention centers.

According to local and international NGOs, authorities routinely engaged in “protective” detention of women (a type of informal detention without trial) to deal with cases ranging from sex outside of marriage to absence from home to being the victim of sexual violence, all of which could put women at risk of so-called honor crimes. Since 2018 women at risk of gender-based violence and “honor” crimes are referred to Ministry of Social Development shelters. While previously authorities held these women in the same administrative detention facilities as criminals, the PSD began transferring some of them directly to the shelter.

According to Ministry of Social Development, since October 2019 approximately 68 women had been transferred to its shelter for varying periods of time. NGOs reported that some women were administratively detained at Juweideh Prison for “absence” from home without permission of a male guardian or for having sex outside of marriage. Juweideh Correctional Center held 412 women, including 102 administrative detainees, as of February (see section 6). Some detained women told a local NGO that self-defense from domestic violence and economic exploitation led to their detention. Most detained women were kept in prison due to a determination by authorities that a family member must provide a guarantee to protect them from attack prior to their release.

During the year local NGOs said that officials detained some foreign laborers; those whose employers did not administratively secure their release were held for working without authorization, being absent from their authorized workplace, or lacking proper residency permits. According to the PSD, a committee was formed to assess the detention of foreign workers. Most foreign workers were exempted from paying fines for overstaying their visas and subsequently were repatriated if they chose to return to their home country.

Pretrial Detention: The law criminalizes detaining any person for more than 24 hours without a prosecutor’s authorization. Rights activists said authorities routinely ignored this limit and, according to human rights organizations, impunity was very common for violations. In 2019, 39 percent of all those in detention were pretrial detainees, according to the University of London’s World Prison Brief, an 11 percent decrease from 2018.

The GID continued to subject individuals to prolonged pretrial detention (in some cases without charges), solitary confinement, and mistreatment, according to the NCHR and other organizations.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law does not have an explicit provision that entitles victims of arbitrary or unlawful detention to restitution. The law does not provide for routine judicial review of administrative detentions ordered by governors. Detainees can bring civil lawsuits for restitution for arbitrary or unlawful detention or bring criminal lawsuits for illegal incarceration; however, the legal community reported such lawsuits seldom occurred. Detainees must hire a lawyer with at least five years’ experience, must pay their own fees, and must present a copy of the order of detention. There were no cases of restitution during the year.

During the year the Ministry of Justice allocated money to provide electronic monitoring bracelets as an alternative to detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary. Since 2018, the judicial training institute has been housed at the Judicial Council and judges enjoy lifetime tenure, which strengthens judicial independence, according to local NGOs.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally sought to enforce this right. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. Officials sometimes did not respect the right of defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them or to a fair and public trial without undue delay. According to the law, all civilian court trials and SSC trials are open to the public unless the court determines that the trial should be closed to protect the public interest.

Authorities occasionally tried defendants in their absence. The country allows defendants to be tried in their absence, but it requires a retrial upon their return. The SSC has more restrictions than the other courts on conducting trials when the defendant is not present.

Defendants are entitled to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, but only at the trial stage. Most criminal defendants lacked legal representation prior to and at trial. Frequently defendants before the SSC met with their attorneys only one or two days before their trial began.

In 2019 the PSD and the Jordanian Bar Association signed a Memorandum of Understanding allowing lawyers access to all detention centers and prison facilities, and to meet with their clients privately in dedicated rooms. Authorities did not uniformly provide foreign residents, especially foreign workers who often did not speak Arabic, with free translation and defense. The Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the Jordanian Bar Association and another human rights NGO, maintained a designated unit to provide legal aid services to witnesses and defendants, as mandated by law. Through August, 353 individuals received legal aid through this program.

Defendants may present witnesses and evidence and may cross-examine witnesses presented against them. Defendants do not have the right to refuse to testify. Although the constitution prohibits the use of confessions extracted by torture, human rights activists noted that courts routinely accepted confessions allegedly extracted under torture or mistreatment.

Defendants can appeal verdicts; appeals are automatic for cases involving the death penalty or a sentence of more than 10 years’ imprisonment. When defendants at trial recant confessions obtained during the criminal investigation, those confessions are not used against the defendant; the trial then relies solely on the evidence collected and presented at trial.

In the SSC, defendants have the right to appeal their sentences to the Court of Cassation, which has the authority to review issues of both fact and law.

The government allowed international observers to visit the SSC and the military and police courts to observe court proceedings throughout the year. For example, in 2019 foreign diplomats observed police court proceedings in many cases, including those involving drug use, unlawful intimidation in a landlord-tenant dispute, domestic violence, and theft from migrant workers during police stops. In January foreign diplomats observed a corruption trial at the SSC.

Civil, criminal, and commercial courts accord equal weight to the testimony of men and women. In sharia courts, which have civil jurisdiction over Muslim marriage, divorce, and inheritance cases, the testimony of one man equals that of two women, with exceptions in certain cases. As a response to local and international human rights recommendations, the Sharia Judicial Institute conducted over 35 training sessions for all its judges and prosecutors as part of the Institute’s newly introduced human rights curriculum.

The law places the age of criminal responsibility at 12 years. The law stipulates that juveniles charged with committing a crime along with an adult be tried in a juvenile court. Juveniles tried at the SSC were held in juvenile detention centers. The law stipulates alternative penalties for juvenile offenders, including vocational training and community service. According to the Ministry of Social Development, a behavior control office at the SSC was established to follow up on cases of juveniles indicted for drug use and trafficking.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were numerous instances of the government detaining and imprisoning activists for political reasons, including criticizing the government, criticizing the government’s foreign policy, publishing criticism of government officials and official bodies, criticizing foreign countries, and chanting slogans against the king. Citizens and NGOs alleged the government used administrative detention for what appeared to be political reasons.

In September the Amman Magistrate’s Court charged the Islamic Action Front’s election campaign director, Badi-al-Rafai’aa, with “impudent/offensive speech against a sisterly country” based on alleged Facebook postings critical of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as well as retweets of four other posts. Rafai’aa was denied bail, leaving him detained until trial. Family members claimed Rafai’aa was innocent and had been charged due to his political work. As of the end of the year, the case remained pending.

In August prominent Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj was detained for publishing in a United Kingdom periodical a caricature critical of UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement. Hajjaj was referred to the SSC and charged with disturbing relations with a foreign country, an offense under the Anti-Terrorism Law. Hajjaj was released from custody shortly after his arrest. Prior to his release, the state security prosecutors changed the charges to defamation and slander under the Cybercrimes Law, and referred the case to the civilian courts. At the end of the year, the case remained pending.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may bring civil lawsuits related to human rights violations through domestic courts.

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

The constitution protects the right to privacy, but allows for surveillance “by a judicial order in accordance with the provisions of the law.” The Anti-Terrorism Law permits the prosecutor general to order surveillance upon receiving “reliable information” that “a person or group of persons is connected to any terrorist activity.”

The law prohibits such actions, but individuals widely believed that security officers monitored telephone conversations and internet communication, read private correspondence, and engaged in surveillance including monitoring online comments by cataloging them by date, internet protocol (IP) address, and location, without court orders.

The NetBlocks internet observatory reported that Facebook Live video streaming features were restricted on multiple internet providers several times in late July and early August coinciding with demonstrations related to the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate.

Some tribes continued to employ the custom of jalwa, where the relatives of a person accused of homicide are displaced to a different geographic area pending resolution between the involved families to prevent further bloodshed and revenge killings. Even though jalwa and tribal law were abolished from the legal system in 1976, security officials sporadically continued to facilitate banishment and other tribal dispute resolution customs.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides, “The State shall guarantee freedom of opinion; and every Jordanian shall freely express his opinion by speech, writing, photography, and the other means of expression, provided that he does not go beyond the limits of the law.” Authorities applied regulations to limit freedom of speech and press in practice. Authorities applied articles of the Anti-Terrorism Law, Cybercrimes Law, Press and Publications Law, and penal code to arrest local journalists.

Freedom of Speech: The law permits punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for insulting the king, slandering the government or foreign leaders, offending religious beliefs, or fomenting sectarian strife and sedition. The government restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government by arresting a number of activists for political expression. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials, blackmail, and libel to restrict public discussion, as well as employed official gag orders issued by the public prosecutor.

In April authorities arrested three activists associated with opposition organizations: Oday Abu Rumman, Ahmad Nuwaifi Khawaldeh, and Hisham Saraheen. Saraheen was released the same day as his arrest. Abu Rumman was released in early May. Khawaldeh was charged with slandering the royal family and for offenses under the Cybercrimes Law.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: All publications must obtain licenses from the government to operate. There were many daily newspapers. Observers considered several as independent of the government, including one regarded as close to the Islamic Action Front (the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s legally registered political party). Observers also judged several daily newspapers to be close to the government.

The independent print and broadcast media largely operated with limited restrictions. Media observers reported government pressure, including the threat of large fines and prison sentences, on media to refrain from criticizing the royal family, discussing the GID, covering ongoing security operations, using language deemed offensive to Islam, or slandering government officials. The government influenced news reporting and commentary through political pressure on editors and control over important editorial positions in government-affiliated media. Journalists of government-affiliated and independent media reported that security officials used bribes, threats, and political pressure to force editors to place articles favorable to the government in online and print newspapers.

In August, Human Rights Watch reported certain local and foreign journalists operating in the country said that over the past few years, they experienced increased restrictions on their reporting in the form of gag orders, harassment by security forces, and withholding of permits to report. In July prosecutors questioned JO24 news website editor Basil Okour after his outlet was accused of publishing articles related to the government’s standoff with the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate in defiance of a prosecutor’s gag order.

The law grants authority to the head of the Media Commission to close any unlicensed theater, satellite channel, or radio channel. In 2019, the Media Commission granted broadcasting licenses to companies owned by citizens and foreigners. Those with licenses may not legally broadcast anything that would harm public order, social security, national security, or the country’s relations with a foreign country; incite hatred, terrorism, or violent sedition; or mislead or deceive the public. The cabinet must justify the reasons for rejecting a license and allow the applicant to appeal the decision to the judiciary. There is a fine for broadcasting without a license.

The government has a majority of seats on the board for the leading semiofficial daily newspaper al-Rai and a share of board seats for the ad-Dustour daily newspaper. According to press freedom advocates, the GID’s Media Department must approve editors in chief of progovernment newspapers.

Media observers noted that when covering controversial subjects, the government-owned Jordan Television, Jordan News Agency, and Radio Jordan reported only the government’s position.

The Media Commission ordered the suspension of Amman-based Iraqi Dijlah TV Satellite channel twice for violating licensing provisions of the Jordanian Audio-Visual Law in January and May by illegally broadcasting from Jordan without a permit. The station was suspended in 2019 for covering the protests in Iraq, according to media sources. The station continued during the suspension to operate online via Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.

By law, any book can be published and distributed freely. Nonetheless, if the Media Commission deems that passages violate public norms and values, are religiously offensive, or are “insulting” to the king, it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book. The Media Commission banned the distribution of selected books for religious and moral reasons.

The Media Commission licenses all public-opinion polls and survey research centers in accordance with the Press and Publications Law.

Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists to harassment and intimidation.

In its report Under the Curfew … The Status of Media Freedom in the Shadow of the Corona Pandemic, the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ), a local NGO, documented 17 specific cases of violations of freedoms against journalists and media organizations between March and June. The CDFJ reported a decline in media freedom this year, attributed primarily to the application of the Defense Law and associated Defense Orders. The CDFJ attributes the decline in specific cases of violations to the government’s denial of access to journalists covering updates and news, as well as self-censorship.

Authorities arrested or temporarily detained some journalists, and government officials or private individuals threatened some journalists.

Police beat two journalists who covered the Teachers Syndicate protests, in violation of the gag order, according to HRW.

In April, Roya TVs General Manager Fares Sayegh and News Director Mohammad Alkhalidi were arrested following a news report on Roya News’ website and social media pages highlighting workers’ complaints about the economic impact of the COVID-19 curfew. Prosecutors charged Sayegh and Alkhalidi under the Anti-Terrorism Law. Both were released on bail three days later, and at the end of the year the case remained pending.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored the media and online activists, reducing the variety of information available on the internet. The government’s efforts to influence journalists, including withholding financial support, scholarships for relatives, and special invitations, led to significant control of media content.

The CDFJ report and journalists noted widespread self-censorship among journalists. Fearing arrest and prosecution, journalists avoided reporting on certain issues, including political opposition based abroad and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

Editors reportedly received telephone calls from security officials instructing them how to cover events or to refrain from covering certain topics or events, especially criticism of political reform. At times, editors in chief censored articles to prevent lawsuits. According to media reports, at least two journalists were denied publication of their articles. Bribery of journalists took place and undermined independent reporting. In an opinion poll conducted by the CDFJ, 44 percent of journalists said the government limited information to certain sources, and 41 percent said movement restrictions limited their ability to conduct investigative reporting. Journalists cited the weak financial condition of media outlets, the threat of detention and imprisonment for defamation for a variety of offenses, and court-ordered fines of as much as 150,000 Jordanian dinars (JD) ($210,000) as factors influencing media content.

During the year the Media Commission circulated official gag orders restricting discussion in all media, including social media. One gag order involved the closure of the Teachers Syndicate and detention of its leadership, and a second gag order involved the killing of a woman in a domestic violence case. For grand felony cases or cases of domestic violence, the public prosecutor may issue a gag order to protect the victims or witnesses involved. The Media Commission also bans publication of any reports about the armed forces outside of statements made by the armed forces’ spokesperson.

Libel/Slander Laws: The Cybercrimes Law allows public prosecutors to detain individuals suspected of violating libel and slander laws. Internet users face at least three months in jail and a maximum fine of 2,000 dinars ($2,800) if they are found guilty of defamation on social or online media. Government prosecutors relied on privately initiated libel, slander, and defamation lawsuits to suppress criticism of public figures and policies. Dozens of journalists, as well as members of parliament, faced libel and slander accusations filed by private citizens. Amendments to the law place the burden of proof for defamation on the complainant. The law forbids any insult of the royal family, state institutions, national symbols, or foreign states, as well as “any writing or speech that aims at or results in causing sectarian or racial strife.” Defamation is also a criminal offense.

In March journalist Hiba Abu Taha was detained for criticizing the prime minister on Facebook. She was charged with “prolonging the tongue” (insulting), opposing the political system, and broadcasting false news. Abu Taha was released on bail, but at the end of the year the case remained pending. In May police officers arrested Yarmouk University political science professor Mohammed Turki Bani Salamah on charges of slander, after he alleged three prime ministry staffers corruptly obtained their appointments. Bani Salamah was released a couple of weeks after the three staffers dropped the charges.

National Security: The government used laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies and officials.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. There were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law requires the licensing and registration of online news websites, holds editors responsible for readers’ comments on their websites, requires that website owners provide the government with the personal data of its users, and mandates that editors in chief be members of the Jordan Press Association. The law gives authorities explicit power to block and censor websites. The Press and Publications Law allows the media commissioner to ban websites without a court order.

The Telecommunications Law requires that telecommunications providers take appropriate measures to enable the tracking of user communications upon a judicial or administrative order.

The government continues to order internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to messaging apps on days that secondary school students sit for their national exam (Tawjihi) in order to prevent cheating. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services are restricted by some ISPs, such as WhatsApp and Viber, while Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and Skype remain accessible.

In February detained activists Bashar al-Rawashdeh and Malek al-Mashagbeh launched hunger strikes while in detention. Rawashdeh was charged with incitement under the Cybercrimes Law for criticizing the U.S. “Vision for Peace” Middle East peace plan on Facebook. He began a hunger strike immediately after his arrest. Mashagbeh was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for “lese-majeste” (the crime of insulting the monarch or monarchy), and launched a hunger strike soon after. Another three activists were released earlier in the year following deterioration of their health as a result of hunger strikes.

Authorities continued to block the website of an online lifestyle magazine with an LGBTI target audience on the grounds that it was an unlicensed publication.

According to the Media Commission, there is no registration fee for a website. News websites must employ editors in chief with at least four years’ membership in the Jordan Press Association. The owner and editor in chief can be fined, in addition to criminal penalties, for website content that “includes humiliation, defamation, or disparagement of individuals in a manner that violates their personal freedoms or spreads false rumors about them.”

According to journalists, security forces demanded that websites remove some posted articles. The government threatened websites and journalists that criticized the government, while it actively supported those that reported favorably on the government. The government monitored electronic correspondence and internet chat sites. Many individuals believed they were unable to express their views fully or freely via the internet, including by personal email.

During the year, according to local and international NGOs, security forces blocked live-streamed videos of protests posted on Facebook.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government placed some limits on academic freedom. Some members of the academic community claimed there was a continuing government intelligence agency presence in academic institutions, including monitoring academic conferences and lectures. The government monitored political meetings, speech on university campuses, and sermons in mosques and churches. Academics reported the GID must clear all university professors before their appointment. Academics also reported university administrators must approve all research papers, forums, reading materials, movies, or seminars. Administrators clear potentially controversial material through the GID. Authorities edited commercial foreign films for objectionable content before screening in commercial theaters.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly but the government sometimes limited this right. Security forces provided security at demonstrations granted permits by government or local authorities.

The law requires a 48-hour notification to the local governor for any meeting or event hosted by any local or international group. While not required by law, several local and international NGOs reported that hotels, allegedly at the request of security officials, required them to present letters of approval from the governor prior to holding training courses, private meetings, or public conferences. There were some reported cases of the governor denying approval requests without explanation, according to local and international human rights NGOs. Without letters of approval from the government, hotels cancelled the events. In some cases, NGOs relocated the events to private offices or residences, and the activities were held without interruption.

Protests regarding economic policies, corruption, and government ineffectiveness occurred across the country throughout the year. The weekly protests by activists that began in 2018 have not been held since March, following the imposition of public health-related government restrictions on gatherings of more than 20 persons to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

On July 25, hundreds of teachers protested in cities across the country after the government suspended the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate (the syndicate). Crowds were not as large as in the previous year, but large protests occurred across the country including in Karak, Tafileh, Jerash, and Madaba. Demonstrations were generally peaceful, with a significant presence of Jordanian security forces. The deputy head of the syndicate, Nasser al-Nawasreh, was cited in a HRW report describing his arrest on the Irbid-Amman highway, when he was surrounded by three unmarked vehicles, and a hood was placed over his head. On July 29 in Amman, hundreds of teachers and supporters held another protest against the July suspension order. Security services prevented protestors from reaching their intended destination and videos showed police using batons to beat back demonstrators who attempted to push through cordons. Authorities arrested over 600 persons during the protests; all were released within 24 hours.

On July 22, hundreds of demonstrators held a sit-in in front of parliament to protest violence against women and so-called honor killings in the wake of the “Ahlam” case (see section 6). Despite regulations mandating masks, social distancing, and groups of fewer than 20 persons, protesters were allowed to gather without interference from security services.

Security services and protesters generally refrained from violence during demonstrations. Occasional scuffles occurred when protesters attempted to break through security cordons intended to limit demonstrations to particular locations. In such situations police occasionally used tear gas.

Security services detained political activists for shouting slogans critical of authorities during protests. Some activists were arbitrarily arrested and held without charge, others were charged with insulting the king, undermining the political regime, or slander.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right of association but the government limited this freedom. The law authorizes the Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Supply to approve or reject applications to register organizations and to prohibit organizations from receiving foreign funding for any reason. It prohibits the use of associations for the benefit of any political organization. The law also gives these ministries significant control over the internal management of associations, including the ability to dissolve associations, approve boards of directors, send government representatives to any board meeting, prevent associations from merging their operations, and appoint an auditor to examine an association’s finances for any reason. The law requires associations to inform the Ministry of Social Development of board meetings, submit all board decisions for approval, disclose members’ names, and obtain security clearances from the Interior Ministry for board members. The law includes penalties, including fines, for violation of the regulations. The Ministry of Social Development is legally empowered to intervene in NGO activities and issue warnings for violation of the law. NGOs that receive a warning are given a two-month probationary period to address violations.

In January the Ministry of Social Development instituted a new system for reviewing foreign fund transfers to local NGOs. Local NGOs feedback was mixed; some reported applications were processed in under 30 days as required by the law, while other NGOs claimed officials reviewing the foreign fund transfers applied arbitrary criteria to delay or reject their fund transfer applications. Some NGOs reported that unexplained, months-long delays in the decision process continued and that there was no formal process to appeal untransparent decisions.

Citizens widely suspected that the government infiltrated civil society organizations, political parties, and human rights organizations and their internal meetings.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although there were some restrictions. Restrictions on freedom of movement due to public health measures designed to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic included the suspending of regular commercial passenger flights from March through September, though a limited number of repatriation flights were permitted; and temporary restrictions on travel between governorates were implemented.

There were continued reports of forced refugee relocations to Azraq refugee camp, including many to Azraq’s restricted Village 5, as an alternative to deportation for offenses by Syrian refugees. Such offenses included “irregular status” (expired registration documents or working without a work permit); criminal activities; and potential security risks, which were not clearly defined.

As of September, Azraq camp hosted more than 40,000 individuals, including more than 9,000 adults and children in the fenced-off Village 5 area. In 2019, NGOs estimated that the government forcibly relocated more than 3,800 refugees to Azraq camp, including more than 2,300 to Village 5 for security reasons. The vast majority of these refugees were not informed of the reasons for their detention and did not receive legal assistance. Residents of Village 5 had access to basic humanitarian assistance inside the village but had limited access to the broader camp facilities, including the camp hospital, which required a security escort.

Although some refugees were permitted to leave Village 5 each month, the process for Village 5 residents to relocate to the larger camp remained irregular and slow; NGOs reported only 1,269 individuals left Village 5 in 2019, leading to a growing resident population which lacked freedom of movement within and outside of the camp. NGOs reported nearly half of Village 5 residents had been there for more than three years.

Civil documents of Palestinian Refugees from Syria (PRS) and other refugees were held by authorities during their stay in the camp, and residents were required to apply for leave in order to go outside the camp, severely limiting their freedom of movement.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

In 2019 the government halted all registrations of new non-Syrian asylum seekers by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), pending a government review of poorly defined registration procedures. As of September, the halt in registrations affected more than 7,000 individuals, primarily from Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, and Yemen. According to UNHCR, there was no backlog of registration for Syrian refugees, and it was possible for Syrians to register with UNHCR at centers in Amman and Irbid. With the COVID-19 pandemic and temporary closures of the centers, the government decided that it would accept expired documentation in support of refugee and asylum seeker requests for access to services, including health care, until the end of the year.

A number of PRS and other refugees resided in King Abdullah Park (KAP), an unused fenced public space repurposed since 2016 to house PRS, mixed Syrian-PRS families, and some individuals of other nationalities who arrived from Syria. As of August, 578 individuals were held in KAP, of whom 391 were PRS, 145 Syrians, 20 Jordanians, and 22 of other nationalities. Refugees in KAP were exposed to a wide range of vulnerabilities, including but not limited to overcrowding and a lack of space and privacy while using common facilities such as latrines, drinking water sources, and kitchens.

PRS who lacked legal status in Jordan limited their movements to avoid coming into contact with authorities. In addition, some PRS with legal documentation reported delays of up to four years for renewal of their documentation.

For PRS with Jordanian citizenship, potential revocation of that citizenship remained a concern. The UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) was aware of at least 50 cases of citizenship revocation since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011. In most cases, authorities provided no information regarding the reasons for the revocation.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government lacked a formal system of protecting refugees. A 1998 memorandum of understanding between the government and UNHCR, renewed in 2014, contains the definition of a refugee, confirms adherence to the principle of nonrefoulement, and allows recognized refugees a maximum stay of one year, during which period UNHCR must find them a durable solution. The time limit is renewable, and the government generally did not force refugees to return to their country of origin. As of 2014 authorities require all Syrians in the country to register with the Ministry of Interior and obtain a ministry-issued identification card.

The country’s border crossings with Syria remained closed to new refugee arrivals. The Jaber-Nassib border crossing with Syria was partially closed in March for COVID-19 prevention. It remained open for commercial traffic only until August, when it closed completely. The Jaber-Nassib crossing reopened for commercial traffic in September. The Rukban border crossing remained closed. The government determined it would not accept additional Syrian refugees after a 2016 suicide attack along the northeast border with Syria, declaring the surrounding area a “closed military zone.” The government restricted humanitarian access to the area. The government’s 2013 announcement that it would not allow entry of PRS remains in effect.

Employment: Since 2016 the government has issued more than 192,000 work permits to UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees, with 95 percent of these work permits being issued to men. More than 28,000 work permits remained active. Syrian refugees are eligible for work permits in a limited number of sectors and occupations. COVID-19 mitigation measures reduced the number of work permits issued to Syrian refugees from 47,766 in 2019 to 23,258 as of September.

Tens of thousands of refugees continued to work in the informal economy. Very few non-Syrian refugees had access to the formal labor market due to difficulty in obtaining documentation, ineligibility for work permits, and costs involved in seeking work.

The Ministries of Interior and Labor, in coordination with the United Nations, permitted Syrian refugees living in the camps to apply for work permits. The agreement allows camp-based refugees to use their work permits as a 30-day leave pass to work outside the camp. Camp-based refugees receiving work permits must report to the camp at least one day per month.

Some Jordan residents of Palestinian descent, such as those referred to as “Gazans” for short, do not have Jordanian citizenship. To accommodate this population of 158,000 individuals, authorities issued two-year temporary Jordanian passports without national identity numbers to Palestinian refugees originally from Gaza. These functioned as travel documents and provided these refugees with permanent residency in Jordan. Without a national identity number, though, Palestinian refugees from Gaza were unable to access national support programs fully and were excluded from key aspects of health and social service support. Those refugees from Gaza who were not registered with UNRWA also experienced restrictions and hindrances in accessing education, obtaining driving licenses, opening bank accounts, and purchasing property.

Since 2017 the government has gradually introduced Cabinet decisions and associated instructions that have eased some restrictions on “ex-Gazans,” especially those holding an ID and residency card issued by the Ministry of Interior. These new decisions allow the ex-Gazans with IDs to benefit from the “bread cash support” by allowing them to apply for Ministry of Social Development and National Aid Fund support schemes including opening bank accounts, accessing health and education services–although still with higher fees–establishing and registering businesses, and purchasing and registering vehicles and property in their own names.

Access to Basic Services: The government allowed UNHCR-registered refugees to access public health and education facilities. In 2019 the government reduced the fees for Syrian refugees to the same rate as uninsured Jordanians pay for access to primary and secondary medical care, and exempted them from paying fees for maternity and childhood care. During the year, this service was also extended to non-Syrian refugees.

The government continued to provide free primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children and to permit all school-age Syrian refugees access to education. As of the end of the 2019-20 academic year, however, an estimated 50,900 Syrians remained out of school due to financial challenges, transportation costs, child labor, early marriage, and administrative challenges. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools and face documentary requirements as barriers to entry. Public schools were overcrowded, particularly in the north of the country, and 201 schools operated on a double-shift schedule to accommodate Syrian students. Through September more than 136,000 Syrian refugee students were enrolled for the 2019-20 school year, representing a 59 percent gross enrollment rate for the K-12 school-aged population.

For those not eligible to access formal education because they have been out of school for three or more years, the Ministry of Education developed a catch-up program for students between the ages of nine and 12. Children age 13 and older who were not eligible to enroll in formal education could participate in informal education through drop-out programs implemented by NGO partners, in close coordination with the Ministry of Education. In 2019, 3,200 Syrian students were enrolled in the Ministry of Education’s informal education program.

Tens of thousands of refugee children faced barriers to attending public schools, including lack of transportation, lack of documentation, long distances to schools, bullying by fellow students and teachers, or child labor.

Palestinian refugees from Gaza and other non-West Bank areas who entered the country following the 1967 war are not entitled to receive any UNRWA services, including access to public assistance and higher education. Refugees from Gaza who came to Jordan between June 1946 and May 1948 are eligible to receive UNRWA services.

Access to basic civil services–including renewal of identity documents and the registration of marriages, deaths, and births–remained highly complex for PRS. These vulnerabilities put undocumented refugees at additional risk of abuse by third parties such as employers and landlords.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government tolerated the prolonged stay of many Iraqis and other refugees beyond the expiration of the visit permits under which they had entered the country. Iraqi and other non-Syrian refugees accrued fines for overstaying their visit permits. Refugees must pay or settle the fines and penalties prior to receiving an exit visa from Jordan and face a five-year ban from re-entry into Jordan.

g. Stateless Persons

Only fathers can transmit citizenship. Women do not have the legal right to transmit citizenship to their children, which can lead to statelessness. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens receive the nationality of the father. Women may not petition for citizenship for noncitizen husbands, who may apply for citizenship only after fulfilling a requirement that they maintain continuous Jordanian residency for 15 years. Once a husband has obtained citizenship, he may apply to transmit citizenship to his children. Such an application could take years, and the government can deny the application.

A large number of Syrian marriages reportedly took place in Jordan without registration due to refugees’ lack of identity documents, which were sometimes lost or destroyed when they fled Syria or confiscated by government authorities when they entered the country. Refugees were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for children born in the country if they could not present an official marriage certificate or other nationality documents. The government opened a legal process for such cases to adjust and obtain registration documents. Refugee households headed by women faced difficulty in certifying nationality of offspring in absence of the father, which increased the risk of statelessness among this population. Civil registry departments and sharia courts in the Za’atri and Azraq camps helped Syrian refugees register births.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their executive branch of government. The king appoints and dismisses the prime minister, cabinet, and upper house of parliament; can dissolve parliament; and directs major public policy initiatives. Citizens have the ability to choose the lower house of parliament in generally credible periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot. Citizens also elect 97 of the 100 mayors, most members of governorate councils, and all members of municipal and local councils. While the voting process was well run, official obstacles to political party activity and campaigning limited participation. International organizations continued to have concerns about the gerrymandering of electoral districts. The cabinet, based on the prime minister’s recommendations, appoints the mayors of Amman, Wadi Musa (Petra), and Aqaba, a special economic zone.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held parliamentary elections on November 10. Local monitors reported the November 10 election was technically well administered and public health procedures were widely followed.

Special voting hours were held for voters in quarantine for COVID-19 exposure but who had not tested positive for the virus. A Defense Order applied criminal penalties for COVID-19-positive citizens who disregarded public health restrictions and did not remain quarantined. The Ministry of Health provided a list of COVID-19-infected patients to the Independent Election Commission. Poll workers briefly closed several polling centers after voters listed by the Ministry of Health as having COVID-19 presented themselves to vote. The Independent Election Commission reported one COVID-19-positive citizen was referred to prosecutors for appearing at a polling center. Observers with the NCHR noted some older voters encountered difficulties accessing some polling centers.

In preparation for November’s parliamentary election, the Ministry of Parliamentary and Political Affairs set out preliminary measures and activities, including six workshops on youth capacity building and political party participation during March. In September the Independent Election Commission (IEC), an autonomous legal entity that supervised elections and administered polls, investigated approximately 25 cases of “political money” (illicit campaign spending) and referred at least four cases to the Amman public prosecutor. The IEC conducted in-person and virtual sessions with youth, women, organizations for persons with disabilities, and others to promote political participation.

The 2017 governorate and municipal elections marked the first time the IEC administered subnational elections, which had previously been managed by the Ministry of Interior. In addition to the election of mayors and local councils, the election seated new governorate-level councils. Many monitors praised the elections as technically well run, but the nongovernmental elections monitoring body Rased registered more than 500 allegedly illegal incidents.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties have been legal since 1992. The law places supervisory authority of political parties in the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs. Political parties must have 150 founding members, all of whom must be citizens habitually resident in the country and who cannot be members of non-Jordanian political organizations, judges, or affiliated with the security services. There is no quota for women when founding a new political party. Parties may not be formed on the basis of religion, sect, race, gender, or origin, meaning that the party may not make membership dependent on any of these factors. The law stipulates citizens may not be prosecuted or discriminated against for their political party affiliation. Many politicians believed that the GID would harass them if they attempted to form or join a political party with a policy platform.

In 2019 the cabinet approved a new bylaw increasing the benchmarks parties must meet to receive funding, in an effort to encourage actual political activity. Previously, all political parties meeting certain membership levels received equal government funding, regardless of whether they participated in elections or conducted any other activities. Some of the benchmarks in the new bylaw include the number of candidates fielded in elections, the percentage of votes won, the number of seats attained, and the number of female and youth candidates who win seats.

The Committee on Political Party Affairs oversees the activities of political parties. The secretary general of the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs chairs the committee, which includes representatives from the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture, NCHR, and civil society. The law grants the committee the authority to approve or reject applications to establish or dissolve parties. It allows party founders to appeal a rejection to the judiciary within 60 days of the decision. According to the law, approved parties can only be dissolved subject to the party’s own bylaws or by a judicial decision for affiliation with a foreign entity, accepting funding from a foreign entity, violating provisions of the law, or violating provisions of the constitution. The law prohibits membership in unlicensed political parties.

There were approximately 49 registered political parties, but many were weak, had vague platforms, and were personality centered. The strongest and most organized political party was the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic Action Front (IAF). According to the Ministry of Parliamentary and Political Affairs, seven new political parties registered with the ministry since October 2019. At the end of the year, these applications remained pending.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process. The electoral law limits parliamentary representation of certain minorities to designated quota seats. Human rights activists cited cultural bias against women as an impediment to women participating in political life on the same scale as men. There are quotas for women in the lower house of parliament, governorate councils, municipal councils, and local councils. Women elected competitively or appointed through quota systems held a small minority of positions in national and local legislative bodies and executive-branch leadership roles.

In August the Ministry of Parliamentary and Political Affairs conducted a training program for women interested in running for election, in collaboration with the Jordanian National Commission for Women.

In January leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector convened for a conference on women’s economic empowerment organized by the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Women’s Empowerment in partnership with parliament. Panel speakers emphasized the need for sustainable empowerment programs.

The 32-member cabinet included three female ministers: the Minister for Institutional Performance Development; the Minister of Industry, Trade, and Supply; and the Minister of Energy and Mineral. Of the 376 governate seats, 53 were held by women. At the municipal council level, women won 28 indirectly elected seats and 57 by quota, out of a total of 1,783 seats. At the local council (village and neighborhood) level, women won 231 seats in free competition and received 324 seats through the quota system, out of a total of 1,179 seats. No women won mayorships.

Citizens of Palestinian origin were underrepresented at all levels of government and the military. The law reserves nine seats in the lower house of parliament for Christians and three seats for the Circassian and Chechen ethnic minorities combined, constituting an overrepresentation of these minorities. The law stipulates that Muslims must hold all parliamentary seats not specifically reserved for Christians. There are no reserved seats for the relatively small Druze population, but its members may hold office under their government classification as Muslims. Christians served as cabinet ministers, senators, and ambassadors. There was one Druze cabinet member.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, although the government did not implement the law effectively. Authorities have shown an increased willingness to open public corruption investigations, some of which implicated former cabinet ministers and agency heads, but these investigations have not resulted in completed trials or convictions as of September. The use of family, business, and other personal connections to advance personal economic interests was widespread.

The Jordan Integrity and Anticorruption Commission (JIACC) is the main body responsible for combating corruption, and the Central Bank’s Anti-Money Laundering Unit is responsible for combating money laundering. Despite increased investigations, some local observers questioned the JIACC’s effectiveness due to its limited jurisdiction and insufficient staff. The law allows the JIACC to request asset seizures, international travel bans, and suspension of officials under investigation for corruption. The JIACC has administrative and operational autonomy, though the prime minister appoints its leadership board.

Corruption: Government officials and prosecutors launched a number of high-profile corruption investigations during the summer. The former minister of agriculture resigned in the spring due to public corruption charges against his staff for their having sold “movement passes” issued selectively to allow certain individuals to conduct essential business during periods of COVID-19 lockdown. In June the government announced a campaign to combat tax evasion which involved tax authorities opening hundreds of investigations and raiding over a dozen firms. On July 1, a former minister of public works and housing pleaded not guilty to charges of abuse of office; his trial was ongoing as of September. In July and August, prosecutors ordered the temporary detention of a major government contractor related to a member of parliament. The businessman was accused of wasting public funds; his case was in the pretrial stage as of September.

In 2019 the SSC began the trial of 54 defendants accused of illegal production and smuggling of tobacco. In 2018, the government announced it had extradited from Turkey the key suspect in the case, businessman Awni Motee, who fled the country before being arrested in 2018. In 2019, the SSC prosecutor ordered the detention of a former customs department director and former minister of water and irrigation as well as four serving officials linked to the case. The former customs director, the former water minister, and the other four officials were released on bail. Other defendants were refused bail and remain in detention including key suspect Motee. The trial is ongoing.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain government officials, their spouses, and dependent children to declare their assets privately to the Ministry of Justice within three months of their assuming a government position. Officials rarely publicly declared their assets. Authorities blocked efforts by transparency activists to identify officials publicly who did not declare their assets. JIACC officials may review disclosure information in the event of a complaint or credible allegation. Under the law, failure to disclose assets may result in a prison sentence from one week to three years or a fine. No officials were punished for failing to submit a disclosure.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country with some restrictions. The law gives the government the ability to control NGOs’ internal affairs, including acceptance of foreign funding. NGOs generally were able to investigate and report publicly on human rights abuses, although government officials were not always cooperative or responsive. In one case security services intimidated staff of a human rights NGO. A legal aid organization reported that lawyers were harassed for following up on cases and threatened with disbarment by the Jordanian Bar Association.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NCHR, a quasi-independent institution established by law, received both government and international funding. The prime minister nominates its board of trustees, and the king ratifies their appointment by royal decree. Its board of trustees appoints NCHR’s commissioner general. In July a new commissioner was appointed by the prime minister based on a recommendation by the NCHR Board of Trustees. The NCHR compiles an annual report assessing compliance with human rights that sometimes criticizes government practices. The NCHR submits the report to the upper and lower houses of parliament and to the cabinet. NCHR recommendations are not legally binding, but the government coordinator for human rights (GCHR) is required to respond to the report’s recommendations and to measure progress towards international human rights standards.

Ministries’ working groups continued to meet and implement their responsibilities under the national human rights action plan, a 10-year comprehensive program launched in 2016 to reform laws in accordance with international standards and best practices, including improving accessibility for persons with disabilities. Developments on the action plan were regularly published on the ministries’ websites. Ministries affirmed commitment to the plan but expressed frustration with the limited resources available to implement it.

To implement the action plan, the GCHR maintained a team of liaison officers from government, NGOs, security agencies, and other institutions to improve collaboration and communication. The minister of justice convened a committee consisting of the GCHR, the Legislative and Opinion Bureau’s director, NCHR’s commissioner, the secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, and the head of the Press Association to reassess the implementation of the objectives of the national plan for human rights. Through September, 20 percent of the plan’s activities were completed, 42 percent remained ongoing, and 38 percent remained pending.

In July the prime minister appointed a new head of the GCHR to replace the previous head, who had resigned in June. The new GCHR head and the Prime Minister’s Office human rights unit coordinate government-wide implementation of the national plan, including drafting and responding to human rights reports. The GCHR office conducted 47 activities during the year under the national human rights plan, including discussions of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations, inclusion of persons with disabilities in the public and private sectors, gender, trafficking in persons, and general human rights awareness workshops.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law stipulates a sentence of at least 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor for the rape of a girl or woman age 15 or older. Spousal rape is not illegal. The law makes prosecution mandatory for felony offenses, including rape. Nonfelony offenses, such as certain cases of domestic violence, are first subjected to mediation by the Family Protection Department (FPD) of the PSD. The law provides options for alternative sentencing in domestic violence cases, with consent of the victim. The government did not effectively enforce the law against rape. Violence against women was prevalent. While the reported number of “honor” crimes decreased, local NGOs reported deaths from domestic violence increased. In August a human rights NGO reported that 15 women died from domestic violence in the year. In September the Euro-Med Monitor reported 21 women murdered in the year, versus seven in 2018.

On August 29, a criminal court prosecutor charged a man with the premeditated murder of his Lebanese wife, whom he killed and set on fire in Madaba.

Women may file complaints of rape or physical abuse with certain NGOs or directly with judicial authorities. However, due to social taboos and degrading treatment at police stations, gender-based crimes often went unreported. The FPD investigated cases but gave preference to mediation, referring almost all cases to the social service office. Some NGOs and lawyers reported pressure against taking physical abuse cases to court. Spousal abuse is technically grounds for divorce, but husbands sometimes claimed cultural authority to strike their wives. Observers noted while judges generally supported a woman’s claim of abuse in court, due to societal and familial pressure and fear of violence such as “honor” killings, few women sought legal remedies. In July the PSD announced a restructuring of the FPD in response to ongoing family violence crimes. New directives expanded the FPD’s jurisdiction to include misdemeanor offenses of premarital sex and adultery, which were previously handled by other PSD departments. The PSD, the judiciary, and Ministries of Justice, Health, and Social Development were jointly developing a formal mediation process, according to the FPD.

NGO representatives reported fewer women at risk of becoming victims of “honor” crimes but more women at risk of domestic violence. According to international human rights organizations operating in the country, gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence, increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Emotional and physical abuse, often perpetrated by an intimate partner or member of the family, were the most common forms of abuse. UN Women reported that 62 percent of women surveyed, particularly those living in households of five or more persons, felt at increased risk of violence as a result of pandemic-related household tensions, including food insecurity.

Governors used the Crime Prevention Law to detain women administratively for their protection. The Ministry of Social Development operated a shelter for women at risk of violence and “honor” crimes. In its second year of operation since opening in 2018, the shelter served 166 women, including administrative detainees from the Juweideh women’s correctional and rehabilitation center, women referred to the shelter by the FPD, and women who were directly referred to the shelter by governors. Children younger than age six were allowed to accompany their mothers, including children reunited with their mothers who had previously been detained under protective custody.

The FPD operated a domestic violence hotline and received inquiries and complaints via email and in person. The Ministry of Social Development maintained a second shelter for female victims of domestic violence in Irbid.

In 2019 the Ministry of Social Development launched a national initiative aimed at preventing and responding to gender-based violence. The ministry also created a manual for providing health care to and treating sexual assault victims. NGOs reported that health-care providers and teachers were still hesitant to report abuse due to the absence of witness protection guarantees. Specialized judges continued expediting and classifying domestic violence cases; misdemeanor cases took approximately three months to resolve, according to legal aid NGOs. A judge must oversee the resolution of each case and confirm consent of both parties, and may order community service or quash criminal charges. Another legal aid NGO assisted the Government of Jordan in developing mediation guidelines.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Civil society organizations stated that many “honor” crimes went unreported, especially in nonurban areas.

In July a family murder that was deemed an “honor” crime by NGOs provoked nationwide protests against gender-based violence. On July 17, a woman in her thirties was murdered by her father. Social media users circulated a video with a hashtag that translated to “screams of Ahlam” that showed a woman (identified as the victim) screaming for help in the vicinity of witnesses, before her father allegedly bludgeoned her to death with a brick. The prosecutor’s office charged the father with murder, and he remains in detention. Prosecutors issued a gag order, stopping reporting on further details on the case, including the victim’s full name. On July 22, hundreds of demonstrators held a sit-in in front of parliament to protest violence against women in the wake of the Ahlam case. Protesters called for stricter penalties for domestic violence and crimes against women.

There were no reported instances of forced marriage as an alternative to a potential “honor” killing during the year, although NGOs noted many cases of forced marriage occurred shortly after an accusation of rape, due to family and societal pressure before any formal trial began. Observers noted that, according to customary belief, if a woman marries her rapist, her family members do not need to kill her to “preserve the family’s honor,” despite a 2017 amendment to the law ending the practice of absolving rapists who married their victims. Nevertheless, NGOs noted that this amendment helped reduce such instances and encouraged more women to report rape, especially since the establishment of the shelter.

Governors referred potential victims of “honor” crimes to the Ministry of Social Development shelter instead of involuntary protective custody in a detention facility. During the year governors directly referred 69 women to the shelter.

The law authorizes DNA tests and scientific means to identify paternity of a newborn associated with “rape, deception, and deceit.”

Sexual Harassment: The law strictly prohibits sexual harassment and does not distinguish between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Both carry a minimum prison sentence of four years’ hard labor. The law also sets penalties for indecent touching and verbal harassment but does not define protections against sexual harassment. Sexual harassment of women and girls in public was widely reported. NGOs reported refugees from Syria and foreign workers, particularly garment workers and domestic workers, were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and sexual assault, in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: The law permits couples the basic right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Contraceptives, except emergency contraceptives, were generally accessible and provided free of charge in public clinics. Advocates have raised concerns over barriers to services for unmarried women and access problems for women and girls with disabilities, including consent for hysterectomies. Human rights groups have raised concerns over the treatment of single women who give birth at hospitals, including hospital staff’s reporting them to authorities. According to estimates in the UN Population Fund’s State of World Population 2020, 21 percent of women aged 15-49 years used a modern method of contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but emergency contraception was generally not available, limiting clinical management of rape.

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

Discrimination: The constitution guarantees equal rights to men and women. However, the law does not necessarily provide for the same legal status, rights, and inheritance provisions for women as for men. Women experienced discrimination in a number of areas, including divorce, child custody, citizenship, the workplace, and, in certain circumstances, the value of their testimony in a sharia court handling civil law matters.

No specialized government office or designated official handles discrimination claims. The Jordanian National Commission for Women, a quasi-governmental organization, operated a hotline to receive discrimination complaints.

Under sharia, daughters inherit half the amount that sons receive, with some exceptional cases. A sole female heir receives only half of her parents’ estate, with the balance going to uncles, whereas a sole male heir inherits all of his parents’ property. Women may seek divorce without the consent of their husbands in limited circumstances such as abandonment, spousal abuse, or in return for waiving financial rights. The law allows retention of financial rights under specific circumstances, such as spousal abuse. Special religious courts for recognized Christian denominations under the Council of Churches adjudicate marriage and divorce for Christians, but for inheritance, sharia applies to all persons, irrespective of religion.

In March the sharia court took COVID-19 response measures in line with the Defense Law. Alimony for women was paid electronically or through the Jordan Post Office. Due to suspension of work and salaries in some cases, the court resorted to the Alimony Credit Fund to pay women and children’s alimony.

The law allows fathers to obtain a court order to prevent their children younger than 18 from leaving the country. This procedure is unavailable to mothers. Authorities did not stop fathers from leaving the country with their children when the mother objected, although divorced mothers may seek injunctions on their former spouses to prevent them taking their children abroad.

The government provided men with more generous social security benefits than women. Family members who inherited the pension payments of deceased civil servants received differing amounts according to the heir’s gender. Laws and regulations governing health insurance for civil servants permit women to extend their health insurance coverage to dependents or spouses, even if the woman is not a citizen. Men must be citizens to extend full insurance benefits to spouses and dependents.

In April 2019 parliament amended the law to allow a non-Muslim mother to retain custody of her Muslim children beyond the age of seven (the previous limit).

Children

Birth Registration: Only fathers can transmit citizenship. The government did not issue birth certificates to all children born in the country during the year. The government deemed some children, including children of unmarried women or interfaith marriages involving a Muslim woman and converts from Islam to another religion, illegitimate and denied them standard registration. Instead, the government issued these children, as well as orphans, special national identification numbers that differed from the standard national identification numbers given to most citizens. This made it difficult for these children to attend school, access health services, or receive other documentation. National identification numbers do not change during a person’s lifetime and are used in all forms of identification. If children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers apply and meet certain criteria, they may gain access to certain services enjoyed by citizens, including subsidized health care; the ability to own property, invest, and obtain a driver’s license; and employment priority over other foreigners. To access these services, children must obtain a special identification card through the Civil Status Bureau. Under the law, children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers who apply for social services must reside in the country and prove the maternal relationship. By law the cabinet may approve citizenship for children of Jordanian mothers and foreign fathers under certain conditions, but this mechanism was not widely known, and approval rarely occurred.

Authorities separated children born out of wedlock from their mothers and placed them in orphanages, regardless of the mother’s desire for custody. NGOs reported two cases of newborns born out of wedlock who were allowed to reunite with their mothers who were residing at the Ministry of Social Development shelter.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six through 16 and free until age 18. No legislation exists to enforce the law or to punish guardians for violating it. Children without legal residency face obstacles enrolling in public school. Some children of female citizens and noncitizen fathers must apply for residency permits every year, and authorities did not assure permission (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). See section 2.f. for information on access to education for refugees.

Child Abuse: No specific law provides protection for children, but other laws specify punishment for child abuse. For example, conviction for rape of a child younger than age 15 potentially carries the death penalty. There were no convictions for rape of a child younger than 15 during the year. Local organizations working with abused children pointed to gaps in the legal system that regularly resulted in lenient sentencing, particularly for family members. In child abuse cases, judges routinely showed leniency in accordance with the wishes of the family. In some cases, authorities failed to intervene when confronted with reports of abuse, resulting in escalating violence and death.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. With the consent of both a judge and a guardian, a child as young as age 16 may be married. Judges have the authority to decide if marriage of girls between age 16 and 18 would be “in their best interest” and to adjudicate the marriage contract. Early and forced marriage among refugee populations remained higher than among the general population. During the year a large number of marriages of Syrians in the country involved an underage bride, according to many sources. According to local and international organizations, some Syrian refugee families initiated early marriages for their daughters to help mitigate the stresses of poverty.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates a penalty for the commercial exploitation of children of six months’ to three years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the distribution of pornography involving persons younger than age 18. The law does not specifically prohibit the possession of child pornography without an intention to sell or distribute. The law penalizes those who use the internet to post or distribute child pornography. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18, although sexual relations between minors whose marriages the courts approved are legal.

Displaced Children: Given the large refugee population, there were significant numbers of displaced children (see section 2.f.).

Institutionalized Children: Authorities automatically referred cases involving violence against persons with disabilities or institutionalized persons to the FPD. The community monitoring committee highlighted the pervasive use of physical discipline; physical and verbal abuse; unacceptable living conditions; and a lack of educational, rehabilitative, or psychosocial services for wards and inmates.

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

Anti-Semitism

Aside from foreigners, there was no resident Jewish community in the country. Anti-Semitism was present in media. Editorial cartoons, articles, and opinion pieces sometimes negatively depicted Jews, without government response. The national school curriculum, including materials on tolerance education, did not mention the Holocaust, but it was taught in some private school curriculums.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law generally provides equal rights to persons with disabilities, but authorities did not uphold such legal protections. Disabilities covered under the law include physical, sensory, psychological, and mental disabilities. The Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities (HCD), a government body, worked with ministries, the private sector, and NGOs to formulate and implement strategies to assist persons with disabilities. Citizens and NGOs universally reported that persons with disabilities faced problems obtaining employment and accessing education, health care, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other services, particularly in rural areas.

The electoral law directs the government to verify that voting facilities are accessible to persons with disabilities and allows such persons to bring a personal assistant to the polling station. In August the HCD signed a Memorandum of Understanding and a joint cooperation protocol with the Independent Election Commission, aimed at expanding the participation of persons with disabilities in the electoral process, and ensuring their right to vote and run for elected office.

In March the HCD criticized the government for the lack of communication for persons with disabilities on the COVID-19 response. HCD issued a statement highlighting the importance of inclusive messaging regarding COVID-19 prevention and healthcare for persons with disabilities. In response to this and calls by other disability advocates, local TV channels added sign-language interpretation to the daily afternoon special COVID-19 news update, including reports by correspondents in the field. Additionally the HCD started posting videos on the Council’s Facebook page that added audiovisual aids and sign-language clips to government announcements.

The law tasks the Special Buildings Code Department with enforcing accessibility provisions and oversees retrofitting existing buildings to comply with building codes. The vast majority of private and public office buildings continued to have limited or no access for persons with disabilities. Municipal infrastructure, such as public transport, streets, sidewalks, and intersections, was largely not accessible.

The PSD’s national 911 emergency call center provided emergency services for citizens with hearing and speech disabilities by using sign language over a video call with specially trained officers on duty. These PSD interpreters were also available for citizens to use when discussing issues with government offices without a representative who could communicate via sign language.

Children with disabilities experienced extreme difficulty in accessing constitutionally protected early and primary education. The NCHR noted school classrooms were not fully accessible and that there was a limited number of qualified teachers for children with disabilities. The NCHR reported that the appointment of qualified teachers was restricted by a Defense Order imposing a temporary moratorium on new appointments and the secondment of personnel in ministries, government departments, and public official institutions and bodies. Families of children with disabilities reported further challenges from COVID-19 prevention measures.

Human rights activists and media reported cases of physical and sexual abuse of children and adults with disabilities in institutions, rehabilitation centers, and other care settings. The government operated some of these institutions.

The HCD did not receive any complaints of abuses of persons with disabilities during the year.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Four distinct groups of Palestinians resided in the country, not including the PRS covered in section 2.f., many of whom faced some discrimination. Those Palestinians and their children who migrated to the country and the Jordan-controlled West Bank after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war received full citizenship, as did those who migrated to the country after the 1967 war and held no residency entitlement in the West Bank. Those Palestinians and their children still holding residency in the West Bank after 1967 were not eligible to claim full citizenship, but they could obtain temporary travel documents without national identification numbers, provided they did not also carry a Palestinian Authority travel document. These individuals had access to some government services; they paid 80 percent of the rate of uninsured foreigners at hospitals and noncitizen rates at educational institutions and training centers. Refugees and their children who fled Gaza after 1967 are not entitled to citizenship, and authorities issued them temporary travel documents without national numbers. These persons had no access to government services and were almost completely dependent on UNRWA services.

Palestinians were underrepresented in parliament and senior positions in the government and the military, as well as in admissions to public universities. They had limited access to university scholarships. They were well represented in the private sector.

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

Authorities can arrest LGBTI individuals for violating public order or public decency ordinances. While consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults is not illegal, societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was prevalent, and LGBTI persons were targets of violence and abuse, including rape, with little legal recourse against perpetrators. Transgender individuals were especially vulnerable to acts of violence and sexual assault. LGBTI persons reported discrimination in housing, employment, education, and access to public services. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI individuals. LGBTI individuals reported the authorities responded appropriately to reports of crime in some cases. Other LGBTI individuals reported their reluctance to engage the legal system due to fear their sexual orientation or gender identity would either provoke hostile reactions from police, disadvantage them in court, or be used to shame them or their families publicly. LGBTI community leaders reported that most LGBTI individuals were not openly gay and feared disclosure of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Media Commission banned books containing LGBTI content.

There were reports of individuals who left the country due to fear that their families would kill them because of their gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV and AIDS were largely taboo subjects. Lack of public awareness remained a problem because many citizens believed the disease exclusively affected foreigners and members of the LGBTI community. Society stigmatized individuals with HIV, and those individuals largely concealed their medical status. The government continued its efforts to inform the public about the disease and eliminate negative attitudes about persons with HIV or AIDS, but it also continued to test all foreigners annually for HIV, as well as for hepatitis B, syphilis, malaria, and tuberculosis. The government deported migrant workers who were diagnosed with HIV.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join trade unions and conduct legal strikes, but with significant restrictions. There is no right to collective bargaining, although the law provides for collective agreements. The law identifies specific groups of public- and private-sector workers who may organize. It also defines 17 industries and professions in which trade unions may be established. The law requires that these 17 trade unions belong to the government-linked General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions, the country’s sole trade union federation. The establishment of new unions requires at least 50 founding members and approval from the Ministry of Labor. The law authorizes additional professions to form professional associations on a case-by-case basis.

There were no reports of threats of violence against union heads, although labor activists alleged that the security services pressured union leaders to refrain from activism that challenged government interests. Strikes generally occurred without advance notice or registration.

In July authorities suspended The Jordanian Teachers Syndicate (the syndicate) and detained its 13-member governing board. All were released on bail following 30 days in detention. Security forces raided several of the syndicate’s offices. Under the suspension, the syndicate is prohibited for two years from conducting any activities or using its headquarters in Amman or its 12 branch offices in the governorates. Authorities stated they had acted against the syndicate because of financial transgressions under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission, inflammatory decisions issued by the syndicate’s council and circulated on social media, and videos of “incendiary” remarks by acting syndicate head Nasser Nawasreh released on social media. All public school teachers belong to the syndicate, which has approximately 100,000 members. On July 25 and 29, hundreds of teachers and their supporters protested in Amman and other cities (see section 2.b.).

On August 3, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) sent a letter to the government in which it denounced the attacks against the syndicate, emphasizing that the international right to freedom of association is protected by law. ITUC called for the government to immediately release the arrested teachers and syndicate council members, to annul the Attorney General’s order to dissolve the syndicate, and to refrain from further attacks against and harassment of the syndicate and its members. The NCHR reported that some detained teachers signed pledges not to participate in protests or disturb the public order.

When conflicts arise during labor negotiations, the law requires that union representatives and employers first attempt to resolve the issue through informal mediation. If the issue remains unresolved, the union is required to submit a request for a Ministry of Labor-appointed mediation. Labor-appointed mediators are assigned to cases for up to 21 days. If initial mediation fails, the issue is referred to a higher mediation council composed of an employer representative, a labor representative, and a chair appointed by the minister of labor. If the council’s adjudication is unsuccessful, this issue is referred to a labor court with a panel of ministry-appointed judges for 21 days.

In March, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended the mandatory legal periods and deadlines regarding labor disputes stipulated in the law. The judiciary resumed operations on June 1.

In December 2019 the General Trade Union of Workers in Textile, Garment and Clothing Industries, along with the Jordan Garments, Accessories & Textiles Exporters’ Association and the Association of Owners of Factories, Workshops and Garments signed a three-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The agreement added new provisions to its previous versions and adopts internal policies proposed by the Ministry of Labor to eliminate abusive behaviors. The new CBA calls for employers to provide medical care for workers and to adopt zero-tolerance policies against sexual harassment. The Ministry of Labor signed a total of 19 CBAs in the year.

The law allows foreign workers to join unions but does not permit them to form unions or hold union office. Authorities did not permit civil servants to form or join unions or engage in collective bargaining. No new trade union has been established since 1976. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects workers from employer retaliation for union affiliation or activities. The law does not explicitly provide the right to reinstatement for workers fired due to antiunion views.

There are limits on the right to strike, including a requirement to provide a minimum of 14 days’ notice to the employer. The law prohibits strikes if a labor dispute is under mediation or arbitration. The law prohibits management from arbitrarily dismissing workers engaged in labor activism or arbitration, but enforcement was inconsistent. Labor organizations reported that some management representatives used threats to intimidate striking workers.

The government did not fully respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Many worker organizations were not independent of the government, and the government influenced union policies and activities.

The government subsidized and audited salaries and activities of the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions and monitored union elections. The government denied recognition to independent unions organized outside the structure of the government-approved federation. The government did not meet with these unions, and the lack of legal recognition hampered their ability to collect dues, obtain meeting space, and otherwise address members’ workplace concerns. Labor organizations also reported difficulty getting government recognition for trade unions in new sectors beyond the 17 sectors established in law, in part because new unions would require approval by a tripartite committee in which the existing 17 union heads are represented.

Some foreign workers whose residency permits are tied to work contracts were vulnerable to retaliation by employers for participating in strikes and sit-ins. Participation in a legally unrecognized strike is counted as an unexcused absence under the law. The law allows employers to consider employment contracts void if a worker is absent more than 10 consecutive days, as long as the employer provides written notice. Labor rights organizations reported instances of refusing to renew foreign workers’ contracts due to attempts to organize in the workplace.

Observers noted that the labor code did not explicitly protect nonunionized workers from retaliation. This was particularly the case for foreign workers in all sectors as well as citizens working as day laborers in the public sector on short-term contracts.

Labor NGOs working to promote the rights of workers generally focused on promoting the rights of migrant workers. Labor NGOs did not face government restrictions in addition to or apart from those discussed in section 2.b.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor except in an emergency such as war or natural disaster or when prison sentences include hard labor. The government enforced the law, although penalties were not commensurate with those prescribed for analogous crimes in all cases. Labor activists noted that law enforcement and judicial officials did not consistently identify victims or open criminal investigations of forced labor.

The government inspected garment factories, a major employer of foreign labor, and investigated allegations of forced labor. A 2019 study by the Global Alliance against Trafficking in Women found that female Bangladeshi garment workers in the country suffered physical, verbal, and psychological abuse and were provided crowded, bedbug-infested living conditions and unsanitary food. Forced labor or conditions indicative of forced labor also occurred among migrant workers in the domestic work and agricultural sectors. Activists highlighted the vulnerability of agricultural workers due to minimal government oversight. Activists also identified domestic workers, most of whom were foreign workers, as particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to inadequate government oversight, social norms that excused forced labor, and workers’ isolation within individual homes. Activists further noted cases where domestic workers who used an employer’s phone to complain to a Ministry of Labor hotline sometimes experienced retaliation when the hotline returned the call to their employers. In 2019 the International Organization for Migration reported the Ministry of Labor’s Countertrafficking Unit preferred to settle potential cases of domestic servitude through mediation rather than referring them for criminal prosecution. High staff turnover at the unit also reportedly made prosecution more difficult.

Government bylaws require recruitment agencies for migrant domestic workers to provide insurance with medical and workplace accident coverage. The bylaws authorize the Ministry of Labor publicly to classify recruitment agencies based on compliance with the labor law, and to close and withdraw the license of poorly ranked agencies. As of August the ministry warned 23 recruitment agencies and transferred 11 domestic helper complaints to the PSD’s Countertrafficking Unit. A closure recommendation is an internal procedure in which inspectors send to the minister of labor their recommendation to close recruitment agencies with multiple labor violations. Based on that recommendation, the minister may issue a closure decision.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law forbids employment of children younger than age 16, except as apprentices in light work. The law bans those between the ages of 16 and 18 from working in hazardous occupations, limits working hours for such children to six hours per day, mandates one-hour breaks for every four consecutive working hours, and prohibits work after 8 p.m., on national or religious holidays, and on weekends.

The Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit was responsible for coordinating government action regarding child labor in collaboration with the National Committee on Child Labor. The Child Labor Unit, with the ministry’s labor inspectors, was responsible for enforcing all aspects of the labor code, including child labor. Authorities referred criminal violations to the magistrate’s penalty court which handles labor cases. The law provides that employers who hire a child younger than age 16 pay a fine which was not clearly prescribed. In 2019 the Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit increased the number of inspectors by more than 25 percent, and established and began using an electronic child labor monitoring system to coordinate government and civil society efforts to remove children from illegal labor and provide them with services. The government increased the number of families receiving assistance through the National Aid Fund, a program that provides cash transfers to families who re-enroll working children in school. In addition, the government provided shelter, education, and financial services to children engaged in child labor. Children continue to be engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including street work and dangerous tasks in agriculture. Despite government measures, Syrian children still face barriers to education due to socioeconomic pressures, bullying, and costs associated with transportation and supplies.

Labor inspectors reportedly monitored cases of legally working children between ages 16 and 18 to issue advice and guidance, provide safe work conditions, and cooperate with employers to permit working children to attend school concurrently. The Labor Ministry had a zero-tolerance policy for labor of children younger than age 16 and hazardous work for children younger than 18.

The government took actions to combat child labor but did not fully and effectively enforce child labor laws. The government did not impose penalties that were commensurate with those for analogous crimes. The government had limited capacity to monitor children working in the informal work sector, such as those working in family businesses and the agricultural sector.

The Ministries of Labor, Education, and Social Development collaborated with NGOs seeking to withdraw children from the worst forms of child labor.

Refugee children worked in the informal sector, sold goods in the streets, worked in the agricultural sector, and begged in urban areas. In 2019 NGOs reported that when government inspectors withdrew Syrian refugee children from child labor, inspectors often took the children to the Azraq refugee camp, even when their families lived in distant urban centers or the Za’atari refugee camp, separating families for days, weeks, or months. NGOs report the reception center has since been shut down and they are aware of a very small number of cases of refugee children engaged in child labor still being sent to Azraq camp.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, disability, language, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, or social status.

The law requires private companies to hire workers with disabilities, forbids employers from firing employees solely because of a disability, and directs employers to make their workplaces accessible to persons with disabilities. Citizens and NGOs, however, reported that persons with disabilities faced problems obtaining employment. In December 2019 a coalition of 20 NGOs, private- and public-sector organizations, and disabilities advocates issued a position paper on labor law related to persons with disabilities. An NGO held discussions between government stakeholders and the HCD to review the Ministry of Labor’s Employment Bylaw. In January a group of disabilities advocates and activists held discussions at the Civil Service Bureau to reassess employment mechanisms for persons with disabilities.

Discrimination in employment and occupation also occurred with respect to gender, national origin, and sexual orientation (see section 6).

The law places restrictions on professions women are allowed to pursue, normally only “socially acceptable” positions such as nursing and teaching. By law the minister of labor issues decisions specifying the industries and economic activities that are prohibited for women, as well as the hours during which they are allowed to work. Women are prohibited from working in quarries and other hazardous environments, and are not allowed to work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. except in hotels, theaters, restaurants, airports, offices of tourism, hospitals, clinics, and some transportation industries. Evening work for women is limited to 30 days per year and a maximum of 10 hours per day. These restrictions limit job competition in favor of men. The Civil Service Ordinance of Jordan discriminates on the allocation of benefits such as the family allowance and cost of living allowance, which are higher for men than for women.

In October 2019 the Ministry of Labor increased the number of professions closed to foreign workers from 11 to 28, with the stated purpose of creating job opportunities in the private sector for Jordanian youth. The decision includes not renewing previously granted foreign worker permits for any of these closed professions. Amendments to the labor law passed during the year prohibit discrimination in wages based solely on gender, and include labor law protections for flexible and part-time work contracts.

Union officials reported that sectors predominantly employing women, such as secretarial work, offered wages below the official minimum wage. The law prohibits women from working in technical roles. Many women reported traditional social pressures discouraged them from pursuing professional careers, especially after marriage. According to the Department of Statistics, for the second quarter of the year, economic participation by women was 14.1 percent, and unemployment among women holding a bachelor’s degree was 78.2 percent, compared with 26 percent for men. The female unemployment rate was 28.6 percent, compared with a male unemployment rate of 21.5 percent and the overall unemployment rate of 23.1 percent.

According to the Employment Ministry, Egyptians make up the majority of foreign workers in the country. Jordan exports highly skilled and educated workers while hosting unskilled migrants to perform lower-level jobs its citizens avoid. NGOs reported foreign workers, including garment workers and domestic workers, were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in the workplace. Lawyers criticized the law on harassment in the workplace, saying it did nothing to hold perpetrators of harassment accountable and only assisted victims by allowing them to resign.

Some persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and access to the workplace despite the law, which requires any workplace over 50 employees to have 4 percent or more of its employees be persons with disabilities. According to the Ministry of Labor, agreements were signed with private sector companies to ensure implementation of the 4-percent requirement and to allow the ministry to conduct inspections. Some migrant workers faced discrimination in wages, housing, and working conditions (see section 7.e.).

The Ministry of Labor implemented a three-year program on “Economic Empowerment and Social Participation of Persons with Disabilities.” Through the program, 13 instructors were certified to train civil society organizations, private sector companies, and the public sector. The ministry continued to implement a sign language program and offer simultaneous interpretation devices across the ministry’s departments. The Ministry also allocated 80,000 dinars ($113,000) from its budget towards the Employment of Persons with Disabilities Department.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage, per month, which is above the poverty line.

The law sets a workweek of 48 hours and requires overtime pay for hours worked in excess of that level. Because there was no limit on mutually agreed overtime, the Ministry of Labor reportedly permitted employees in some industries, such as the garment sector, to work as many as 70 to 75 hours per week, and observers reported many foreign workers requested overtime work. NGOs reported some instances of forced overtime. As part of the COVID-19 pandemic response, the government announced policies for remote work, reduced wages, and suspension of operations for private sector companies. The policies included permission for employers to reduce workers’ salaries up to 50 percent in cases where employees could not report to work.

Employees are entitled to one day off per week. The law provides for 14 days of paid sick leave and 14 days of paid annual leave per year, which increases to 21 days of paid annual leave after five years of service with the same firm. Workers also received additional national and religious holidays designated by the government. The law permits compulsory overtime under certain circumstances, such as conducting an annual inventory, closing accounts, preparing to sell goods at discounted prices, avoiding loss of goods that would otherwise be exposed to damage, and receiving special deliveries. In such cases actual working hours may not exceed 10 hours per day, the employee must be paid overtime, and the period may not last more than 30 days. Observers reported some violations, mostly delays of salary payment during periods when the country was locked down for public health reasons.

Employers are required to abide by all occupational health and safety standards set by the government. The law requires employers to protect workers from hazards caused by the nature of the job or its tools, provide any necessary protective equipment, train workers on hazards and prevention measures, provide first aid as necessitated by the job, and protect employees from explosions or fires by storing flammable materials appropriately.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of labor laws and acceptable conditions of work. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. Labor inspectors did not regularly investigate reports of labor abuses or other abuses of domestic workers in private homes, and inspectors cannot enter a private residence without the owner’s permission except with a court order. Employees may lodge complaints regarding violations of the law directly with the Ministry of Labor or through organizations such as their union or the NCHR. The ministry opened an investigation for each complaint.

In July the ministry temporarily shut down a factory in the Jordan Valley after workers became ill from an accidental insecticide poisoning. In June the Ministry of Labor issued verbal and written warnings to two textile factories in Karak following a notice of concern from foreign investors and complaints from employees of maltreatment and poor working conditions. The ministry placed inspectors at both locations for two weeks.

Labor standards apply to the informal sector, but the Ministry of Labor did not consistently inspect and monitor all workplace violations or apply all the protections of the labor code to domestic and agricultural workers. Authorities were also hampered by barriers to the inspection of homes where domestic workers lived. Labor organizations stated that many freelancing agricultural workers, domestic workers, cooks, and gardeners, most of whom were foreign workers, were not enrolled for social benefits from the Social Security Corporation because only salaried employees were automatically enrolled, and optional enrollment was limited to citizens. Maternity leave is not consistent between the public and private sector. Domestic workers face discrimination by nationality in their wages. Although the law was amended in 2008 to extend certain rights to domestic and agricultural workers, the law required that each group be covered by its own legislation. A regulation on domestic workers enacted in 2009 did not extend collective bargaining rights or the right to form an association. In August bylaws which regulate working conditions for agricultural workers were published for public comment by the Labor Ministry’s Legislation and Opinion Bureau.

The government requires garment-exporting manufacturers to participate in the Better Work Jordan program, a global program implemented by the International Labor Organization and the International Finance Corporation to improve labor standards. All 77 of the foreign-exporting factories required by the government to join Better Work Jordan were active members of the program.

Wage, overtime, safety, and other standards often were not upheld. Some foreign workers faced hazardous and exploitative working conditions in a variety of sectors. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Authorities did not effectively protect all employees who attempted to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health and safety. Labor organizations reported that female citizen workers were more likely than men to encounter labor violations, including wages below the minimum wage and harassment in the workplace.

A local NGO criticized the lack of safety protections for agricultural workers under the labor law, and reported that many migrant worker dormitories were built using combustible materials, putting residents at a greater risk of fire.

In the garment sector, foreign workers were more susceptible than citizens to dangerous or unfair conditions. Better Work Jordan stated that reports of coercion decreased during the year. Indebtedness of foreign garment workers to third parties and involuntary or excessive overtime persisted. While the law sets the minimum wage, according to an international NGO a substantial portion of the standard monthly minimum wage for foreign workers in the garment industry was used to pay employment placement agencies for food, accommodation, and travel for workers from their home countries.

Employers subjected some workers in the agricultural sector, the vast majority of whom are Egyptians, to exploitative conditions. According to a domestic NGO, agricultural workers usually received less than the minimum wage. Some employers in the agricultural sector confiscated passports. Egyptian migrant workers were also vulnerable to exploitation in the construction industry, where employers usually paid migrant workers less than the minimum wage and failed to uphold occupational health and safety standards.

Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions. While domestic workers could file complaints in person with the Ministry of Labor’s Domestic Workers Directorate or the PSD, many domestic workers complained there was no follow-up on their cases. The Counter Trafficking Unit at the PSD operates a 24-hour hotline, with operators available in all languages spoken by migrant domestic workers in the country, including Tagalog, Bengali, and Tamil.

Advocates for migrant domestic workers reported that domestic workers who sought government assistance or made allegations against their employers frequently faced counterclaims of criminal behavior from the employers. Employers could file criminal complaints or flight notifications with police stations against domestic workers. Authorities waived immigration overstay fines for workers deported for criminal allegations or expired work permits. Most of the fleeing domestic workers reportedly fled conditions indicative of forced labor or abuse, including unpaid wages and, to a lesser extent, sexual or physical abuse. By law employers are responsible for renewing foreign employees’ residency and work permits but often failed to do so for domestic employees. In May the government launched an online platform called “Hemaya” to assist expatriate workers who were facing uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic and wanted to return to their countries. Medium and small factories were especially affected by the pandemic; some could not meet commitments to staff, and some cancelled contracts and closed worker dormitories. The government continued its cooperation with foreign embassies to waive overstay fees for migrant domestic workers who wished to repatriate after a two-year stay in the country, a policy that greatly reduced the number of domestic workers stranded at their embassies’ shelters.

Mexico

Executive Summary

Mexico is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement party coalition won the presidential election in July 2018 in generally free and fair multiparty elections and took office in December 2018. Citizens also elected members of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, governors, state legislators, and mayors.

The National Guard, state, and municipal police are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order. The National Guard, which began operations in June 2019, is a civilian institution reporting to the Secretariat of Public Security and Civil Protection. On December 31, 2019, the Federal Police was disbanded, and on May 4, all remaining assets and personnel were transferred to the National Guard. The bulk of National Guard personnel are seconded from the army and navy and have the option to return to their services after five years. State preventive police report to state governors, while municipal police report to mayors. The Secretariat of National Defense and Secretariat of the Navy also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combating organized criminal groups. The constitution was amended in 2019 to grant the president the authority to use the armed forces to protect internal and national security, and courts have upheld the legality of the armed forces’ role in law enforcement activities in support of civilian authorities through 2024. The National Migration Institute, under the authority of the Interior Secretariat, is responsible for enforcing migration law and protecting migrants. Although authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, there were instances in which security force elements acted independently of civilian control. Members of security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of the involvement by police, military, and other government officials and illegal armed groups in unlawful or arbitrary killings and forced disappearance; torture by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions in some prisons; arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention; violence against journalists and human rights defenders; serious acts of corruption; impunity for violence against women; violence targeting persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Impunity and extremely low rates of prosecution remained a problem for all crimes, including human rights abuses. The government’s federal statistics agency estimated 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated. There were reports of some government agents who were complicit with international organized criminal gangs, and there were low prosecution and conviction rates in these abuses.

Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs, and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of homicide, torture, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, bribery, intimidation, and other threats, resulting in high levels of violence, particularly targeting vulnerable groups. The government investigated and prosecuted some of these crimes, but the vast majority remained in 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 several reports government entities or their agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) is responsible for independently investigating security force abuses, including killings, and can issue formal recommendations for prosecution. State human rights commissions investigate state police forces and can issue similar recommendations. State and federal prosecutors are independent of the executive branch and have the final authority to investigate and prosecute security force abuses. Organized criminal groups were implicated in numerous killings, acting with impunity and at times in collusion with corrupt federal, state, local, and security officials.

On May 4, Giovanni Lopez died in police custody after police allegedly beat him for three hours. Municipal police officers from Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, arrested Lopez for resisting arrest and transported him to their precinct after witnesses said he intervened when police attempted to arrest his neighbor. On June 5, the governor announced three municipal police officers had been arrested for Lopez’ death.

On July 3, the newspaper and website El Universal presented a video of soldiers in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, which showed them approaching a truck after a gun battle with suspected cartel members. One of the soldiers discovered a combatant still alive and subsequently received orders to kill the wounded person. A total of 12 persons died in the encounter: nine suspected cartel members who allegedly initiated the gun battle with the army patrol and three bound and gagged kidnapped victims the cartel members were transporting in their trucks when the firefight broke out. The Prosecutor General’s Office and the Secretariat of National Defense launched separate investigations into the incident.

As of September the six federal police agents accused of murder and attempted murder of 16 unarmed civilians in Apatzingan, Michoacan, in 2015 remained in pretrial detention, pending conclusion of the trial.

Environmental activists, the majority from indigenous communities, continued to be targets of violence. In January, Homero Gomez, an indigenous and environmental rights defender, went missing and was later found dead (see section 6, Indigenous People). As of October 15, no suspects had been arrested.

Criminal organizations carried out widespread killings and other illegal activities throughout the country. On April 3, a clash between La Linea cartel and the Sinaloa cartel left 19 persons dead in Madera, Chihuahua.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of numerous forced disappearances by organized crime groups, sometimes with allegations of state collusion. In its data collection, the government often merged statistics on forcibly disappeared persons with missing persons not suspected of being victims of forced disappearance, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.

Investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for the crime of forced disappearance were rare. According to the Attorney General’s Office, from October 2013 to August 2018, courts issued eight convictions and 17 acquittals for forced disappearance, and another 18 sentences were in the appeals process.

At the federal level, the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office for Forced Disappearances was investigating 980 cases of disappeared persons, while other federal offices were investigating 1,000 additional cases as of August, according to the human rights organization SERAPAZ. Some states made progress investigating this crime. From January to July 2019, prosecutors in Veracruz State opened 573 investigations into disappearances, but family members alleged the prosecutors undercounted the actual number of cases.

In February a federal judge in Monterrey sentenced five marines to 22 years in prison and ruled the secretary of the navy should publicly apologize for the 2013 forced disappearance of Armando Humberto del Bosque Villarreal in Colombia, Nuevo Leon. Hunters found the body of del Bosque in a forest outside the naval base two months after he disappeared. The sentences were the first against the armed forces in Nuevo Leon. On December 2, a judge reversed the sentence for failures in the formulation of the accusation, finding that the marines should have been tried according to the General Law on Forced Disappearances of Persons approved in 2017 and not the federal penal code, which was repealed with the passing of the previous rule.

The federal government and states continued to implement the 2017 General Law on Forced Disappearances. By December all 32 states had met the requirement to create state search commissions, according to the National Search Commission (CNB). Through a nationwide assessment process, the CNB revised the government’s official number of missing or disappeared persons repeatedly during the year as additional data became available. As of December the CNB reported there were 79,658 missing or disappeared persons in the country. Some cases dated back to the 1960s, but the vast majority occurred since 2006. The year 2019 had the second-highest number of cases on record, with 8,345 reported missing or disappeared, up from 7,267 cases reported in 2018. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) commended the government for providing a more accurate accounting and urged the government to strengthen efforts to investigate and prosecute cases.

Nationwide, the CNB reported the exhumation of the remains of at least 2,361 persons in 1,413 clandestine graves between December 1, 2018, and November 30, 2020. In July the CNB reported that between January 2006 and June 2020, officials located 3,978 clandestine graves and exhumed 6,625 bodies. The same report noted that between December 1, 2018, and November 2020, of the 894 bodies identified, 506 were returned to families.

In July the CNB launched a public version of the National Registry of Disappeared and Missing Persons. Between January and June, it received 5,905 reports of missing persons and located 3,078 alive and 215 deceased. In December 2019 the government created the Extraordinary Mechanism for Forensic Identification to bring together national and international forensic experts to help identify 37,000 unidentified remains held in government facilities, but as of September it was not fully operational.

During the year the government raised the CNB’s budget to $32.8 million, a 55 percent increase over the 2019 budget. Nonetheless, according to NGOs, the state search committees often lacked the human and financial resources to fulfill their mandate. For example, those in Campeche, Sonora, Tabasco, and Tlaxcala had fewer than five employees on staff, according to an NGO assessment of human rights in the country. Civil society and families of the disappeared stated the government’s actions to prevent and respond to disappearances were largely inadequate and lacked sufficient resources to address the scale of the problem.

On June 26, the bodies of 14 persons were found in Fresnillo, Zacatecas. The state prosecutor general’s office transferred the remains to the Zacatecan Institute of Forensic Sciences, but as of October no arrests had been made.

Jalisco disappearances data remained under scrutiny as more mass graves were discovered. The NGO Mexican Center for Justice for Peace and Development criticized Jalisco’s recordkeeping practices for complaints related to disappeared persons, accusing the Jalisco Prosecutor General’s Office of lacking a methodology for data collection and not being transparent in information sharing. The NGO tallied 2,100 unsolved disappearances from July 2019 to August 2020 (and 9,286 persons unaccounted for overall since the 1960s). The Jalisco Prosecutor General’s Office and the Jalisco Forensics Institute were unable to process increasing numbers of cases, with dozens of sets of human remains discovered during the year.

In November authorities announced the discovery of 113 bodies in a mass grave in El Salto, Jalisco. As of December relatives were able to identify 30 of the bodies. Another mass grave was being excavated in Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, where 25 bodies were found.

The federal government created a National System for the Search of Missing Persons as required by law but as of August had not established the required National Forensic Data Bank. The Prosecutor General’s Office owned a previous genetics database, which consisted of 63,000 profiles, and was responsible for the new database. The previous platform lacked interconnectivity between states and failed to connect family members effectively to the remains of their missing relatives.

Investigations continued into the disappearances of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. Victims’ relatives and civil society continued to criticize handling by the Attorney General’s Office of the original investigation, noting there had been no convictions related to the disappearances of the 43 students. On July 7, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced forensic scientists at the University of Innsbruck conclusively identified the remains of one of the 43 disappeared students, Christian Alfonso Rodriguez Telumbre. This was the first identification made in the case in more than five years.

In June 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office created the Special Unit for the Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa case. As of October the unit brought charges against former officials for failing to conduct an adequate investigation and using torture to coerce confessions but had not charged anyone for the disappearances of the students.

In March a federal judge issued an arrest warrant for Tomas Zeron, who led the investigation of the case by the former criminal investigations unit in the Attorney General’s Office at the time of the students’ disappearances. Zeron was wanted on charges related to his conduct of the investigation, including torturing alleged perpetrators to force confessions, conducting forced disappearances, altering the crime scene, manipulating evidence, and failing to perform his duties. He was believed to be in Israel, and the government requested that the Israeli government issue an arrest warrant and extradite him.

Also in March a federal judge issued arrest warrants against four government officials and a marine for torturing detainee Carlos Canto Salgado and obstruction of justice in the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case. In June the Prosecutor General’s Office arrested Jose Angel Casarrubias, also known as “El Mochomo,” a leader of the Guerreros Unidos cartel that allegedly collaborated with security forces to disappear the students. A judge later ordered his release due to lack of evidence, but the Prosecutor General’s Office detained him again shortly thereafter on separate organized-crime-related charges. As of September the Prosecutor General’s Office detained the head of the Federal Investigative Police, Carlos Gomez Arrieta, who handed himself in, and another high-level official, Blanca Alicia “N” from the Public Ministry, who allegedly tampered with evidence. On November 12, authorities arrested Captain Jose Martinez Crespo, the first arrest of a soldier in the case and one of the officers in charge of the army battalion in Iguala the night of the disappearances. Prosecutors charged him with forced disappearance and colluding with the Guerrero Unidos cartel. By December the Federal Prosecutor’s Office had requested 101 arrest warrants related to the case, of which 63 were issued and 47 carried out, leading to 78 arrests.

In August 2019 a judge dismissed charges against Gildardo Lopez Astudillo for his alleged role in the Ayotzinapa case after finding the evidence collected against him was obtained through torture and arbitrary detention. The Prosecutor General’s Office appealed the dismissal, and as of October the decision was pending.

As of November no alleged perpetrators of the disappearances had been convicted, and 78 of those initially accused were released due to lack of evidence, generally due to irregularities in their detention, including confessions obtained through torture.

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

Federal law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as the admission of confessions obtained through illicit means as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports of security forces torturing suspects.

In November 2019 the NGO Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights released a 12-year study on torture, which registered 27,342 investigations from 2006 to 2018. There were 10,787 federal investigations and 16,555 state-level investigations, of which 50 resulted in sentences, 15 of which were later exonerated.

Between January and August 20, the CNDH registered 25 complaints of torture and 132 for arbitrary detention. The majority of these complaints were against authorities in the Prosecutor General’s Office, Federal Police, Interior Ministry, and the navy. As of April, 20 of 32 states had specialized prosecutor’s offices for torture as called for by law.

On July 27, Adolfo Gomez was found dead in his jail cell in Chiapas. Authorities declared Gomez hanged himself, but his family said his body showed signs of torture. Gomez was arrested with his wife Josefa in an operation that authorities stated uncovered a trafficking ring of 23 children, but later evidence showed the children were all members of the same extended family and were with their relatives. In August the Chiapas State Prosecutor General’s Office confirmed Gomez committed suicide and announced the arrest of the director and two penitentiary center employees accused of flagrant omission in their duty of care. The accused were released shortly after.

Impunity for torture was prevalent among the security forces. NGOs stated authorities failed to investigate torture allegations adequately. As of January 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office was investigating 4,296 torture-related inquiries under the previous inquisitorial legal system (initiated prior to the 2016 transition to an accusatorial system) and 645 investigations under the accusatorial system. A 2019 report by the Prosecutor General’s Office stated it brought charges in one torture case during that year. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) signed an agreement with the government in April 2019 to provide human rights training to the National Guard, but as of October the OHCHR reported no training had been carried out.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers were often harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions: According to the Federal Prison System, as of June there were 210,287 inmates in 295 state and federal facilities with a designed capacity of 221,574. Some prisons were undersubscribed while others were overcrowded. According to online media El Economista, 46 percent of prisoners shared a cell with five or more other inmates and 13 percent shared a cell with 15 or more inmates. The state of Baja California had the highest number of overcrowded cells.

The CNDH’s 2019 National Diagnostic of Penitentiary Supervision reported that state prisons were understaffed and suffered from poor sanitary conditions as well as a lack of opportunities for inmates to develop the skills necessary for social reintegration. The report singled out Guerrero, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz as the states with the worst prison conditions. The CNDH noted significant understaffing at all levels in federal prisons, which affected access to programs, activities, and medical services and promoted segregation of inmates.

Organized criminal groups reportedly continued to oversee illicit activities from within penitentiary walls. The National Prison Administration reported that during an enforcement operation from May to July, it detected nearly 15,000 cell phones in use in 21 prisons around the country and cancelled 16,500 cell phone numbers. On February 20, authorities transferred 27 inmates from Nuevo Laredo’s state prison to Altamiro Federal Prison, according to the Ministry of Public Security in Tamaulipas. This followed an earlier transfer of seven prisoners from Nuevo Laredo to federal prison on January 29. Experts believed the transfers were likely an attempt to break cartel control of Nuevo Laredo’s prisons.

According to civil society groups, migrants at some detention centers faced abuse when commingled with gang members and other criminals.

As of August 17, a total of 2,686 prisoners had contracted COVID-19, 263 had died of the disease, and 3,755 were released to prevent further contagion, according to the NGO Legal Assistance for Human Rights. In response to a civil society organization lawsuit, a Mexico City court ruled authorities must implement COVID-19 detection and preventive health protocols for detainees and their families in prisons in Mexico City and psychiatric wards nationwide. As of September only three states had complied with all or nearly all the court-mandated health measures, according to the NGO Documenta.

The CNDH, in its report on COVID-19 measures in holding facilities, found most detention facilities could not comply with social distancing measures or several other health recommendations due to lack of space, personnel, or equipment.

NGOs alleged the National Migration Institute (INM) failed to take effective steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 among migrants. After initial criticism the INM released or repatriated migrants in its detention facilities to mitigate the spread of infection.

Administration: Authorities did not always conduct investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment. In September the NGOs Citizens in Support of Human Rights and Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the governor of Nuevo Leon urging investigations into reports of abusive conditions in the state’s prisons as well as the deaths of three inmates during the year. The NGOs noted only one of the three deaths was being investigated. As of October the governor had not responded to the letter.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, CNDH, and state human rights commissions.

In January more than 20 NGOs and international organizations stated the INM denied them entry to migratory stations to access migrants who arrived in a caravan on January 18-21, preventing independent oversight and denying information to the NGOs. The INM resumed granting access after public criticism.

Improvements: Federal and state facilities continued to seek or maintain international accreditation from the American Correctional Association. As of August, six state facilities received accreditation, raising the total number of state and federal accredited facilities to 98. The six states demonstrated compliance with numerous standards, including written policies and procedures ensuring continual staff training and increased accountability of staff and inmates.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Federal law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government sometimes failed to observe these requirements. Between January and August, the CNDH recorded 132 complaints of arbitrary detention.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution allows any person to arrest another if the crime is committed in his or her presence. A warrant for arrest is not required if an official has direct evidence regarding a person’s involvement in a crime, such as having witnessed the commission of a crime. In a 2018 report, Mexico Evalua, a domestic think tank, determined 90 percent of all arrests fell under this category. This arrest authority, however, is applicable only in cases involving serious crimes in which there is risk of flight. Bail is available for most crimes, except for those involving organized crime and a limited number of other offenses. In most cases the law requires detainees to appear before a judge for a custody hearing within 48 hours of arrest, during which authorities must produce sufficient evidence to justify continued detention. This requirement was not followed in all cases, particularly in remote areas of the country. In cases involving organized crime, the law allows authorities to hold suspects up to 96 hours before they must seek judicial review.

The procedure known in Spanish as arraigo (a constitutionally permitted form of pretrial detention employed during the investigative phase of a criminal case before probable cause is fully established) allows, with a judge’s approval, for certain suspects to be detained prior to filing formal charges. Following the introduction of the accusatorial justice system, however, there was a significant reduction in the number of persons detained in this manner, falling from more than 1,900 in 2011 to 21 in 2018.

Some detainees complained of a lack of access to family members and to counsel after police held persons incommunicado for several days and made arrests arbitrarily without a warrant. Police occasionally failed to provide impoverished detainees access to counsel during arrests and investigations as provided for by law, although the right to public defense during trial was generally respected. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the potential for it to lead to other human rights abuses.

The Jalisco State Commission for Human Rights reported at least 118 complaints against police for arbitrary detention, forced disappearance, and abuse of power after statewide protests on June 4-9 following the death of Giovanni Lopez, who died in municipal police custody in Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, and authorities did not always release promptly those detained unlawfully. The accusatorial justice system allows for a variety of pretrial measures, including electronic monitoring, travel restrictions, and house arrest, that reduced the use of the prison system overall, including the use of pretrial detention. The law provides time limits and conditions on pretrial detention, but federal authorities sometimes failed to comply with them, since caseloads far exceeded the capacity of the federal judicial system. Violations of time limits on pretrial detention were endemic in state judicial systems. The OHCHR documented cases in the states of Mexico and Chiapas in which detainees remained for more than 12 years in pretrial detention. A constitutional reform passed in February 2019 increased the number of crimes for which pretrial detention is mandatory and bail is not available, including armed robbery, electoral crimes, fuel theft, and weapons possession.

Reports indicated women suffered disproportionately from pretrial detention. As of June, 54 percent of women in federal prison and 46 percent in municipal and state prisons were in pretrial detention, while 39 percent of men in the federal and local judicial system were in pretrial detention, according to a report from the Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection. In October authorities announced they would comply with the recommendation of the OHCHR’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and release Brenda Quevedo Cruz, who had spent 11 years in prison without trial. Quevedo Cruz remained in detention at year’s end.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, court decisions were susceptible to improper influence by both private and public entities, particularly at the state and local level, as well as by transnational criminal organizations. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders, and arrest warrants were sometimes ignored. Across the criminal justice system, many actors lacked the necessary training and resources to carry out their duties fairly and consistently in line with the principle of equal justice.

Trial Procedures

In 2016 all civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatorial trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. In most states alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.

Under the accusatorial system, judges conduct all hearings and trials and follow the principles of public access and cross-examination. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to attend the hearings and to challenge the evidence or testimony presented. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law also provides for the rights of appeal and of bail in most categories of crimes. Defendants have the right to an attorney of their choice at all stages of criminal proceedings. By law attorneys are required to meet professional qualifications to represent a defendant. Not all public defenders were qualified, however, and often the state public defender system was understaffed. The administration of public defender services was the responsibility of either the judicial or the executive branch, depending on the jurisdiction. According to the Center for Economic Research and Teaching, most criminal suspects did not receive representation until after their first custody hearing, thus making individuals vulnerable to coercion to sign false statements prior to appearing before a judge.

Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter, if needed, although interpretation and translation services into indigenous languages were not always available. Indigenous defendants who did not speak Spanish sometimes were unaware of the status of their cases and were convicted without fully understanding the documents they were instructed to sign.

The lack of federal rules of evidence caused confusion and led to disparate judicial rulings.

On July 29, legislators approved a law making all judicial sentences public. The increased transparency could discourage discriminatory and arbitrary sentences, according to various NGOs.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens have access to an independent judiciary in civil matters to seek civil remedies for human rights violations. For a plaintiff to secure damages against a defendant, authorities first must find the defendant guilty in a criminal case, a significant barrier due to the relatively low number of criminal convictions.

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

The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property. By law the government legally collected biometric data from migrants.

According to the NGO Freedom House, “Researchers continued to document cases of journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures targeted with Pegasus spy software. After denying they existed, in February 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office provided evidence of Pegasus licensing contracts in 2016 and 2017.” Freedom House also reported that by March 2019 Citizen Lab and domestic NGOs had documented at least 25 cases of journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures being targeted with the Pegasus software, which is sold exclusively to governments. A 2019 study by WhatsApp and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab found the government continued to use Pegasus.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations were privately owned. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained a significant source of advertising revenue for many media organizations, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, at times constrained freedom of expression.

Freedom of Speech: Journalists could criticize the government and discuss matters of general interest with no restrictions. Politicians publicly discredited and criticized such journalists, however.

On July 16, more than 80 Baja California journalists signed a letter to the CNDH denouncing Governor Jamie Bonilla’s verbal attacks against the newspaper La Voz de la Frontera, newspaper Reforma correspondent Aline Corpus, the regional magazine Semanario Zeta, and its director Adela Navarro.

Sanjuana Martinez Montemayor, the director of NOTIMEX, the government’s news agency, ordered journalists to eliminate or not publish content about certain government institutions and officials, according to the newspaper Aristegui News, the digital media Signa Lab, and the NGO Article 19.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction but often self-censored due to fear of reprisal. Journalists in Nogales, Sonora, said they were aware of unspoken red lines in covering organized crime and that crossing lines, such as mentioning the name of an alleged assailant, could result in personal harm.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were killed or subjected to physical and cyberattacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) in response to their reporting. This limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. High levels of impunity, including for killings or attacks on journalists, resulted in self-censorship and reduced freedom of expression and the press.

Perpetrators of violence against journalists acted with impunity, consistent with high levels of impunity for all crimes. The NGO Article 19 reported that as of December 2019, the impunity rate for crimes against journalists was 99 percent. According to Article 19 and media reporting, as of December, six journalists had been killed because of their reporting.

From January to June, Article 19 documented 406 attacks against journalists and media, a 45 percent increase from the same period in 2019. According to Article 19, between January and June, journalists reported 40 death threats, 91 cases of intimidation or harassment, and 47 physical attacks. Public officials carried out 199 of the recorded attacks, according to Article 19. The NGO recorded 68 attacks carried out by public officials against journalists and media outlets reporting on COVID-19.

Since its creation in 2010, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists, a unit in the Prosecutor General’s Office, secured 19 convictions for various related crimes out of 1,311 cases of attacks against journalists. In 2019, 43 percent of physical attacks against journalists originated with public officials. Although 75 percent of those came from state or local officials, federal officials and members of the armed forces were also suspected in 7 percent of attacks against journalists, according to Article 19’s 2018 report. In March the Interior Ministry recognized government authorities perpetrated attacks against the press.

On August 20, Juan Nelcio Espinosa, an independent journalist in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, died while in police custody. Reports indicated he was detained with a colleague on charges of alleged violence against security forces. The Coahuila State Prosecutor General’s Office reported the journalist experienced breathing problems and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Espinosa’s family accused police of killing him and said police had previously threatened him.

Between 2012 and April 2020, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists received more than 1,200 requests for protection for journalists and human rights defenders. As of June, 398 journalists were beneficiaries of Mechanism protection. Since 2018, seven journalists under Mechanism protection had been killed.

In early August, Pablo Morrugares, journalist and director of the digital news portal PM Noticias, which carried out investigations on criminal operations in Guerrero, was shot and killed by armed men in a restaurant in Iguala. He had received threats since 2015, and the state issued protective measures. The police officer assigned to guard him was also killed in the attack. Hours earlier he reported Tlacos, an organized crime group, was responsible for a recent spate of killings.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported some state and local governments censored media. Journalists reported altering their coverage due to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of media and newsrooms, and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship due to threats from criminal groups and government officials.

In 2018 Article 19 reported the government, despite reductions in its advertising budgets, continued to have a strong financial impact and influence on the largest media companies. According to Article 19, no information was available concerning the criteria through which the government chooses media outlets for public advertising.

Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal criminal laws against defamation, libel, or slander; however, eight states have criminal laws on these acts. In Baja California Sur, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, and Yucatan, the crime of defamation is prosecuted, with penalties ranging from three days to five years in prison and fines ranging from five to 500 days of minimum salary for committing defamation or slander, both considered “crimes against honor.” Slander is punishable under the criminal laws of the states of Campeche, Colima, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Sonora, Yucatan, and Zacatecas, with sentences ranging from three months to six years in prison and monetary fines. In July 2019 the state of Hidalgo abrogated the slander law. Five states have laws that restrict the publishing of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.

In addition to criminal libel and defamation laws, civil law defines “moral damage” as similar to defamation, concerning harm to a person’s “feelings, affections, beliefs, dignity, honor, reputation, and privacy,” according to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists. A 2016 ruling by the Supreme Court removed the cap on fines for moral damages, leaving journalists vulnerable to exorbitant fines. In January a Mexico City court ordered academic Sergio Aguayo, a columnist of the daily newspaper Reforma, to pay a fine of $530,000 in moral damages to former Coahuila governor Humberto Moreira. On July 29, the Supreme Court agreed to analyze the case but as of October had not issued a ruling.

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

On August 22, a federal judge sentenced Juan Carlos “El Larry” Moreno Ochoa to 50 years in prison for the 2019 killing of Miroslava Breach, a prominent newspaper correspondent who reported on organized crime and corruption.

The threat against journalists by organized crime was particularly high in Guerrero. Journalists in Iguala, Guerrero, received messages through social networks, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, from unknown contacts, threatening them and their families, according to Article 19. Following the August 2 killing of Pablo Morrugares, the El Diario de Iguala newspaper published a note blaming organized crime and Governor Hector Astudillo Flores’ administration for violence against journalists and impunity. On August 4, attackers fired multiple shots at the building housing the printing facilities of El Diario de Iguala.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. Freedom House’s 2019 Freedom on the Net report categorized the country’s internet as partly free, noting concerns about online manipulation tactics, high levels of violence against digital reporters, and investigations surrounding abusive surveillance practices. The report noted political partisans launched social media campaigns against journalists who criticized President Lopez Obrador’s daily livestreamed press conferences.

A trend on social media also saw public officials blocking critical journalists and media from following their social media accounts. In March 2019, however, the Supreme Court ordered the Prosecutor General of Veracruz to unblock and allow a journalist to follow his Twitter account.

Article 19 noted that according to Google Transparency reports between 2012 and June 2018, the executive and judiciary branches filed 111 requests to remove content from the web, including two instances in which the reason cited was “criticism of government.”

Digital media journalists covering stories such as crime, corruption, and human rights violations experienced physical violence and online abuse. Online discrimination, harassment, and threats were problems particularly for women journalists and politicians, as well as any individuals and organizations advocating for women’s rights.

NGOs alleged provisions in secondary laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing authorities to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. While the Supreme Court upheld the provisions, it noted the need for authorities to obtain a judicial warrant to access user metadata.

On May 12, Article 19 and ITESO, a Jesuit university in Guadalajara, published a report on attacks against journalists orchestrated by Sanjuana Martinez, director of NOTIMEX. Ten witnesses with direct knowledge of the NOTIMEX newsroom told Article 19 of the existence of a WhatsApp chat called “the Avengers N.” The chat was used by the agency’s executives–at the behest of Martinez–to order journalists to create fake Twitter accounts and post messages against voices critical of NOTIMEX leadership. Former NOTIMEX director of international news Manuel Ortiz said Martinez ordered him and his collaborators to attack prominent journalists who questioned the appointment of Martinez as the head of the state news agency. Article 19 noted the attacks were very serious, putting at risk the lives and careers of journalists.

Journalists who asked difficult questions of the president during the daily press conference received attacks via Twitter. Tweets disseminated their identities and their media outlets and also made veiled threats.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. There were reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators. Twelve states have laws restricting public demonstrations. Government failures to investigate and prosecute attacks on protesters and human rights defenders resulted in impunity for these crimes, consistent with high impunity rates for all crimes.

On July 10, Guanajuato state police detained protesters and supporters during a protest led by women in Guanajuato. From a group of 60 protesters, state police arrested four women and a member of the Guanajuato state human rights commission. All detainees were later released. The CNDH and OHCHR condemned the excessive use of force by police.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of asylum seekers and other migrants, including by threats and acts of kidnapping, extortion, and homicide.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The NGO Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights identified 28 incidents of mass forced internal displacement due to violence in 2019 (defined as the displacement of at least 10 families or 50 individuals). These episodes took place in eight states and displaced 8,664 persons. A total of 16 of the episodes were caused by violence generated by armed organized groups, such as drug cartels. Others were caused by land conflicts, social and ethnic violence, or local political disputes. The government, in conjunction with international organizations, made efforts to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of displaced persons. From December 2019 to September, clashes between factions of the Sinaloa cartel in and around Tepuche, Sinaloa, displaced hundreds of families. While an unknown number of persons returned, the state commission for attention to victims of crime in Sinaloa estimated 25 families remained displaced.

According to civil society organizations, an armed group continued to displace Tzotzil indigenous persons from their homes in Los Altos de Chiapas, placing the group at an elevated risk of malnutrition and health maladies.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The press, international organizations, and NGOs reported victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police, immigration officers, and customs officials. There were numerous instances of criminal armed groups extorting, threatening, or kidnapping asylum seekers and other migrants. In September 2019 the Migrant Organizations Network (Redodem, a group of NGOs that shelter migrants) reported that in 2019, federal, state, and municipal police, as well as INM agents, committed at least 298 robbery and kidnapping crimes against migrants.

Media reported criminal groups kidnapped undocumented migrants to extort money from their relatives or force them into committing criminal acts on the groups’ behalf. Particularly in locations such as Tamaulipas, the government often did not confront organized crime groups targeting migrants. In a June report, Human Rights Watch identified in Tamaulipas alone at least 32 instances of kidnapping or attempted kidnapping of migrants and asylum seekers–mostly by criminal organizations–in the three months between November 2019 and January. Those instances involved at least 80 asylum seekers kidnapped and 19 kidnapping attempts. At least 38 children were among those kidnapped or subjected to kidnapping attempts.

In July 2019 authorities arrested six police officers from the Coahuila Prosecutor General’s Office and detained one on homicide charges, after the officers participated in an operation resulting in the death of a Honduran migrant. Initial police reports indicated the migrant shot at officers conducting a counternarcotics raid, but Coahuila prosecutor general Gerardo Marquez stated in August 2019 that no shots were fired by the migrant. Three days after the shooting, the Prosecutor General’s Office determined police officer Juan Carlos (last name withheld by authorities) was likely responsible for killing the migrant and stated it would recognize the migrant as a victim and pay reparations to the family. As of November an agreement regarding compensation was pending.

Access to Asylum: Federal law provides for granting asylum or refugee status and complementary protection to those fleeing persecution or facing possible torture in their country of origin; this right was generally respected in practice. The government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protections. The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to asylum and the asylum procedure, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, and integration in local communities (including access to school, work, and other social services) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status.

The Secretariat of Government declared the asylum system “essential,” allowing the Mexican Commission to Assist Refugees (COMAR) to continue registering new asylum requests and processing pending claims throughout the COVID-19 crisis. From January to July, COMAR received approximately 22,200 applications for asylum. From January to August, COMAR processed an estimated 17,600 cases, including approximately 26,500 individuals.

Civil society groups reported some migration officials discouraged persons from applying for asylum. NGOs and international organizations stated INM in some instances conducted expedited repatriations without sufficient measures to assure individuals were aware of their right to claim asylum or international protection, but there was no evidence to indicate this was a systemic practice.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: International observers considered the 2018 presidential, legislative, gubernatorial, and other local elections to be generally free and fair, with only minor reports of irregularities. Local commentators pointed to the electoral authorities’ quick and transparent publishing of results as increasing citizen trust in the electoral and democratic system as a whole.

Political Parties and Political Participation: During the electoral season (September 2017 to June 2018), 48 candidates were killed. In Guerrero, 14 candidates were killed, followed by five in Puebla. Of the victims, 12 were members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, 10 belonged to the Party of the Democratic Revolution, seven to the National Regeneration Movement, six to the National Action Party, five to the Citizens’ Movement, two to the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico, and one each to the Social Encounter Party and the Labor Party; the remainder did not have a party affiliation. As of July 2019 the killings resulted in one arrest. In comparison with the 2012 elections, there were 10 times more killings of 2018 candidates.

In October the Electoral Tribunal granted registration to three new political parties: Solitary Encounter Party, Progressive Social Networks, and Social Force for Mexico. The same tribunal rejected registration challenges from four other parties, including former president Felipe Calderon’s Free Mexico Party, which the National Electoral Institute argued did not produce sufficient evidence of the origin of certain funding it received. Authorities declared 10 political parties eligible to participate in the 2021 midterm elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides for the right of indigenous persons to elect representatives to local office according to “uses and customs” law (see section 6, Indigenous People) rather than federal and state electoral law.

In May 2019 congress unanimously approved a constitutional reform on gender parity that establishes a requirement to observe parity in the designation of public officials at every level (federal, state, local) in all three branches of government. The reform states the principle of gender parity should be observed in the designation of cabinet members, selection of candidates for public office by every political party, and designation of members of the judiciary. In accordance with the reform, the Senate elected Monica Fernandez president of the Senate for one year during the legislative session beginning September 1. She became the fourth woman to preside over the Senate and the first since 1999.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to enforce the law more effectively. In February 2019 congress approved a constitutional reform expanding the catalogue of crimes subject to pretrial detention to include acts of corruption (see section 1.d., Pretrial Detention). A 2018 constitutional reform increased the number of illicit activities for which the government may seize assets, including acts of corruption. Although by law elected officials enjoy immunity from prosecution while holding public office, state and federal legislatures have the authority to waive an official’s immunity.

Corruption: On July 8, former governor of Chihuahua Cesar Duarte was arrested in Florida pursuant to a Mexican extradition request on charges he diverted millions of dollars in public funds.

On July 17, authorities extradited Emilio Lozoya, former director of PEMEX, the state-owned petroleum company, from Spain. As of August, Lozoya was being held on pretrial house arrest. In 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a corruption investigation against Lozoya for receiving bribes in connection with the Odebrecht case. The Prosecutor General’s Office also obtained an arrest warrant against Lozoya’s mother, accused of money laundering, and in July 2019 Interpol agents arrested her in Germany. Lozoya accused high-level politicians of multiple parties of complicity in his corrupt acts.

As of September former social development minister Rosario Robles remained in pretrial detention pending criminal proceedings for her participation in an embezzlement scandal known as Estafa Maestra. She faced allegations of involvement in the disappearance of billions of pesos (hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars) allocated for welfare programs during her tenure as minister. The Prosecutor General’s Office was seeking a prison sentence of 21 years.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all federal- and state-level appointed or elected officials to disclose their income and assets, statements of any potential conflicts of interests, and tax returns. The Public Administration Secretariat monitors disclosures with support from each agency. Regulations require disclosures at the beginning and end of employment, as well as annual updates. The law requires declarations be made publicly available unless an official petitions for a waiver to keep the filing private. High-ranking public officials must include information related to their spouses and dependents to prevent conflicts of interest, but this information is to remain private. The Secretariat of Public Function investigated the asset declaration of Federal Electricity commissioner Manuel Bartlett Diaz. In December 2019 the result exonerated him and declared he rightfully excluded from his asset declaration the real estate and business holdings of his adult children and girlfriend.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were mostly cooperative and responsive, with the president, cabinet officials, or both meeting with human rights organizations, such as the OHCHR, IACHR, and CNDH. Some NGOs alleged individuals who organized campaigns to discredit human rights defenders at times acted with tacit support from government officials. As of June the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists protected approximately 865 human rights defenders, 400 journalists, and 1,260 other individuals.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is a semiautonomous federal agency created by the government and funded by the legislature to monitor and act on human rights violations and abuses.

In November 2019 NGOs questioned the independence of Rosario Piedra Ibarra after her election as president of the CNDH, citing her membership in the ruling political party and friendship with President Lopez Obrador.

The CNDH may call on government authorities to impose administrative sanctions or pursue criminal charges against officials, but it is not authorized to impose penalties or legal sanctions. If the relevant authority accepts a CNDH recommendation, the CNDH is required to follow up with the authority to verify it is carrying out the recommendation. The CNDH sends a request to the authority asking for evidence of its compliance and includes this follow-up information in its annual report. When authorities fail to accept a recommendation, the CNDH makes that known publicly. It may exercise its power to call before the Senate government authorities who refuse to accept or enforce its recommendations.

All states have their own human rights commissions. The state commissions are funded by state legislatures and are semiautonomous. State commissions do not have uniform reporting requirements, making it difficult to compare state data and therefore compile nationwide statistics. The CNDH may take on cases from state-level commissions if it receives a complaint that the state commission has not adequately investigated the case.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and conviction carries penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is criminalized in 24 of the 32 states. There were high rates of impunity for these crimes, consistent with high impunity rates for all crimes.

On April 30, authorities arrested Jesus Guerra Hernandez, mayor of Ruiz, Nayarit, for rape of a minor. As of October 20, there was no further information on this case.

Federal law prohibits domestic violence and stipulates penalties for conviction of between six months’ and four years’ imprisonment. Of the 32 states, 29 stipulate similar penalties, although sentences were often more lenient. Federal law criminalizes spousal abuse. State and municipal laws addressing domestic violence largely failed to meet the required federal standards and often were unenforced.

The Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System reported more than 1,600 killings of women, including 375 femicides, from January to June. April set a new record with 263 killings of women in one month. The 911 hotline received almost 108,800 calls reporting incidents of violence against women from January to May, an increase of 20.5 percent over the same months in 2019. The 26,000 calls to the hotline in March (the first month of the quarantine) were the highest number since the creation of the hotline. Calls included reports of relationship aggression, sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape, and intrafamily violence. The National Shelter Network reported the network sheltered more than 12,000 women and children, a 77 percent increase, compared with 2019. Nationwide 69 shelters were at maximum capacity, a 70 percent increase, compared with 2019.

In the first six months of the year, during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, domestic violence cases in Nuevo Laredo increased by 10 percent, according to information published by the state prosecutor’s office.

In March thousands of women participated in a nationwide strike to protest gender-based violence and femicide, demanding government action. The government did not impede participation in the strike by government employees. In September feminist collectives occupied the CNDH’s headquarters in Mexico City, converting it into a shelter for victims. The collectives’ leaders claimed the CNDH had failed to defend women’s rights and provide adequate assistance to those in need. As of December the collectives continued to occupy CNDH headquarters.

Killing a woman because of her gender (femicide) is a federal offense punishable by 40 to 70 years in prison. It is also a criminal offense in all states. The law describes femicide as a gender-based murder under the following seven circumstances: signs of sexual violence, previous violence, emotional connection to the perpetrator, previous threats, harassment history, victim held incommunicado prior to deprivation of life, or victim’s body exposure. According to National Security Secretariat statistics, in the first eight months of the year, prosecutors and attorneys general opened 549 investigations into cases of femicide throughout the country. (Statistics from state-level reports often conflated femicides with all killings of women.) The civil society group, Movement of Nonconforming Citizens, considered 279 of these cases met one or more of these characteristics.

The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence against Women and Trafficking in Persons in the Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for leading government programs to combat domestic violence and prosecuting federal human trafficking cases involving three or fewer suspects. The office had 30 prosecutors, of whom nine were exclusively dedicated to federal cases of violence against women.

In addition to shelters, women’s justice centers provided services including legal, psychological, and protective; however, the number of cases far surpassed institutional capacity. According to multiple NGOs, due to COVID-19’s impact on the economy, funding sources for women’s shelters decreased. The government disbursed funding in March to more than 40 shelters and 30 attention centers, but in August shelter managers reported funding was running out. As a result some NGOs consolidated shelters, limited capacity, and predicted negative long-term impacts.

Sexual Harassment: Federal law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for fines from 250 to 5,000 times the minimum daily wage, but the law was not effectively enforced. Of the 32 states, 16 criminalize sexual harassment, and all states have provisions for punishment when the perpetrator is in a position of power. According to the National Women’s Institute, the federal institution charged with directing national policy on equal opportunity for men and women, sexual harassment in the workplace was a significant problem. Mexico City and the states of Chihuahua, Jalisco, Puebla, and Yucatan criminalize the distribution of “revenge pornography” and “sextortion.” Individuals may be prosecuted if they publish or distribute intimate images, audio, videos, or texts without the consent of the other party. The sentence ranges from six months to four years in prison.

Reproductive Rights: By law couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The right of individuals to manage their reproductive health and to gain access to information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, or violence varies by state.

Federal authorities supported access to contraceptive methods, but states’ efforts varied widely. Barriers to accessing contraceptives stemmed from lack of knowledge, poverty, lack of access to health services, and sexual violence from family members, strangers, or friends. An Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation study on the use of contraceptives in Chiapas (Mexico’s poorest state) found older women were less likely to use family planning methods (13 percent of women ages 35 and up, versus 18 percent of women ages 20-34), while 23 percent of indigenous women opposed birth control for religious, cultural, or social reasons. The National Population Council estimated that between 2020-2021, a total of 1,172,000 women had limited access to contraceptives due to COVID-19, leading to 145,000 pregnancies (20 percent above average), including 21,000 teenage pregnancies. The National Institute of Statistics and Geography found 53 percent of women of reproductive age used modern contraception in 2018 (latest study).

By law Mexican government health providers are obliged to offer sexual and reproductive emergency health services for survivors of sexual violence within 120 hours of the sexual assault. Emergency contraception was available including for survivors of sexual assault. Nevertheless, women nationwide faced obstacles to accessing emergency services due to health providers’ misunderstanding of their legal obligations to provide services or personal objections to contraception. The Information Group on Reproductive Choice NGO assisted 71 victims of rape who were denied legal abortions between 2012 and 2021.

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

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men and “equal pay for equal work performed in equal jobs, hours of work, and conditions of efficiency.” The law establishes penalties of one to three years in prison or 150 to 300 days of work for discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, color, religion, language, pregnancy, political belief, or any other nature that violates human dignity. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Women tended to earn substantially less than men did for the same work. Women were more likely to experience discrimination in wages, working hours, and benefits.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship both by birth within the country’s territory and from their parents. Citizens generally registered the births of newborns with local authorities. Failure to register births could result in the denial of public services, such as education or health care.

Child Abuse: There were numerous reports of child abuse. The National Program for the Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents, mandated by law, is responsible for coordinating the protection of children’s rights at all levels of government.

On February 11, seven-year-old Fatima Aldrighetti Anton was abducted from school. On February 15, her body was found in a plastic bag near Mexico City, showing signs of physical and sexual abuse. On February 19, authorities arrested the couple Mario Reyes and Giovana Cruz in connection with the killing. In November a judge suspended five officials from the Mexico City Attorney General’s Office for failing to search for Fatima within 72 hours after she went missing.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum marriage age is 18. Enforcement, however, was inconsistent across the states. Excluding Baja California, all states prohibit marriage of persons younger than age 18 by law. With a judge’s consent, children may marry at younger ages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the law. Nonetheless, NGOs and media reported on sexual exploitation of minors, as well as child sex tourism in resort towns and northern border areas.

Statutory rape is a federal crime. If an adult is convicted of having sexual relations with a minor, the penalty is between three months’ and 30 years’ imprisonment depending on the age of the victim. Conviction for selling, distributing, or promoting pornography to a minor stipulates a prison term of six months to five years. For involving minors in acts of sexual exhibitionism or the production, facilitation, reproduction, distribution, sale, and purchase of child pornography, the law mandates seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Perpetrators convicted of promoting, publicizing, or facilitating sexual tourism involving minors face seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Conviction for sexual exploitation of a minor carries an eight- to 15-year prison sentence and a fine.

Institutionalized Children: Government and civil society groups expressed concerns regarding abuse of children with mental and physical disabilities in orphanages, migrant centers, and care facilities.

On May 19, the CNDH reported that children were subjected to abuses such as torture, sexual violence, and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment at Ciudad de los Ninos, a private institution in Salamanca, Guanajuato. Despite a 2017 injunction issued by a state district judge to prevent further grave abuses at the institution, the CNDH reported state authorities failed to supervise the conditions in Ciudad de los Ninos.

The NGO Disability Rights International reported various instances of abuse, including the use of prolonged restraints and isolation rooms for children with disabilities in both public and private institutions. According to the NGO, institutional staff in Baja California reported four children with disabilities died within days of each other with no known investigations. The NGO also reported the existence of multiple unregistered private institutions without licenses operating as orphanages.

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

Anti-Semitism

The 67,000-person Jewish community experienced low levels of anti-Semitism, but there were reports of some anti-Semitic expressions through social media. Jewish community representatives reported good cooperation with the government and other religious and civil society organizations in addressing rare instances of such acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Federal law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law requires the Secretariat of Health to promote the creation of long-term institutions for persons with disabilities in distress, and the Secretariat of Social Development must establish specialized institutions to care for, protect, and house poor, neglected, or marginalized persons with disabilities. NGOs reported authorities had not implemented programs for community integration.

In February 2019 the federal government introduced pensions for persons with disabilities in a state of poverty. As of May, of the approximately seven million persons with disabilities in the country, 837,428 persons received the pension, according to the OHCHR. On May 8, a constitutional amendment established the disability pension as a constitutional right, prioritizing children, indigenous, and Afro-Mexican persons with disabilities younger than age 64 who live in poverty.

NGOs reported no changes in the mental health system to create community services nor any efforts by authorities to have independent experts monitor human rights violations in psychiatric institutions. Public buildings and facilities often did not comply with the law requiring access for persons with disabilities. The education system provided education for students with disabilities nationwide. Children with disabilities attended school at a lower rate than those without disabilities. In October the Supreme Court of Justice agreed to hear the case of Elvia, a 10-year-old girl with disabilities. Elvia sued her school in Yucatan for failing to provide reasonable accommodation and discriminating against her. According to Elvia’s legal team, this was the first case of discrimination the Supreme Court was to consider concerning a person of short stature.

Abuses occurred in institutions and care facilities housing persons with mental disabilities, including those for children. Abuses of persons with disabilities included the use of physical and chemical restraints; physical and sexual abuse; human trafficking, including forced labor; disappearance; and the illegal adoption of institutionalized children. They were vulnerable to abuse from staff members, other patients, or guests at facilities where there was inadequate supervision. Documentation supporting the person’s identity and origin was lacking. Access to justice was limited.

Institutionalized persons with disabilities often lacked adequate medical care and rehabilitation services, privacy, and clothing; they often ate, slept, and bathed in unhygienic conditions. For example, Felipe Orozco, hospitalized multiple times for mental health conditions, reported mental health professionals from a psychiatric hospital in Puebla shackled him naked with a padlock during the nights for two and one-half weeks. As a result he was forced to urinate and defecate in his bed, according to Human Rights Watch.

Voting centers for federal elections were generally accessible for persons with disabilities, and ballots were available with a braille overlay for federal elections in Mexico City, but these services were inconsistently available for local elections elsewhere in the country.

Indigenous People

The constitution provides all indigenous persons the right to self-determination, autonomy, and education. Conflicts arose from interpretation of the self-governing “normative systems” laws used by indigenous communities. Uses and customs laws apply traditional practices to resolve disputes, choose local officials, and collect taxes, with limited federal or state government involvement. Communities and NGOs representing indigenous groups reported the government often failed to consult indigenous communities adequately when making decisions regarding development projects intended to exploit energy, minerals, timber, and other natural resources on indigenous lands. The CNDH maintained a formal human rights program to inform and assist members of indigenous communities.

On September 3, the federal government agreed to reparations for the government’s role in the killing of 45 members of the Tzotzil tribe in Acteal, Chiapas, in 1997. Prosecutors found local government officials and police officers permitted the killings to occur and tampered with the crime scene.

Several indigenous communities denounced the government’s plan to build the Mayan Train, an estimated $7.5 billion dual cargo-passenger railroad to run across the Yucatan Peninsula, through indigenous lands. Several indigenous communities brought legal actions to oppose the construction, many of which were dismissed or denied. In December a judge suspended construction on the second section of the railroad until the conclusion of legal cases.

The CNDH reported indigenous women were among the most vulnerable groups in society. They often experienced racism and discrimination and were frequently victims of violence. Indigenous persons generally had limited access to health care and education services.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, indigenous persons faced additional hardships in accessing educational services. Due to low internet penetration and television ownership in indigenous communities, distance learning was often inaccessible. Additionally, some indigenous students did not receive the breakfasts and lunches normally included in the full-time school meal program, according to a UNESCO study.

Some 18 environmental activists were killed in 2019, compared with 14 in 2018, according to a Global Witness report. A majority of the victims came from indigenous communities.

In January prominent indigenous and environmental rights defender Homero Gomez disappeared and was later found killed. Gomez had advocated against illegal logging and the destruction of the Michoacan monarch butterfly habitat. As of October no arrests had been made in the case.

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

According to the OHCHR, in the first six months of the year, there were 25 hate-crime homicides committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI individuals. A Mexico City municipal law provides increased penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Civil society groups claimed police routinely subjected LGBTI persons to mistreatment while in custody.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was prevalent, despite a gradual increase in public acceptance of LGBTI individuals, according to public opinion surveys. There were reports the government did not always investigate and punish those complicit in abuses, especially outside Mexico City. On July 24, Mexico City passed a local law to ban LGBTI conversion therapy. A CNDH poll conducted in 2019 found six of every 10 members of the LGBTI community reported experiencing discrimination in the past 12 months, and more than half suffered hate speech and physical aggression. In July the federal government’s National Commission to Prevent Discrimination wrote a letter condemning the Roman Catholic diocese of Mexicali for inciting homophobia by calling for anti-LGTBI protests.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The Catholic Multimedia Center (CMC) reported criminal groups harassed priests and other religious leaders in some parts of the country and subjected them to extortion, death threats, and intimidation. During the year two evangelical pastors died, one during a home invasion and the other after being kidnapped, according to the NGO Christian Solidarity Worldwide. According to the CMC, in January a group of assailants kidnapped, tortured, and attempted to kill a priest in Puebla. Another Catholic priest received death threats against himself, his family, and his congregation from a presumed cartel member to pressure the priest into accepting the cartel’s authority, according to the CMC. Government officials stated the harassment of Catholic priests and evangelical Protestant pastors reflected high levels of generalized violence throughout the country and not targeted attacks based on religious faith.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The government continued its efforts to strengthen freedom of association protections, promote union democracy, and improve the ability of workers to bargain collectively. In May 2019 President Lopez Obrador signed into law the most comprehensive labor law reforms in more than 100 years. The reforms provide the right for workers freely and independently to elect union representatives and approve or reject collective bargaining agreements before they are registered. The reforms ban the registration of collective bargaining agreements known as “protection contracts,” which were often negotiated and signed without the knowledge of workers and undermined genuine collective bargaining. The reform calls for the creation of independent labor courts to replace the system of Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs) that favor corporatist unions in the resolution of disputes and facilitated the registration of protection contracts. In addition to a more impartial and streamlined judicial process for labor disputes, the reform transfers the registration of unions and collective bargaining agreements from the CABs to an independent Federal Conciliation and Labor Registration Center. The Federal Center also is to carry out conciliation functions at the federal level, and local conciliation centers are to do so at the state level. The reform establishes a four-year timeline for implementation designed to end May 1, 2023. The government demonstrated its prioritization of labor reform through its commitment of budgetary resources, establishment of a rigorous internal implementation schedule, and regular issuance of implementing regulations to bring the new law into force.

The government announced it would implement the labor reforms in a phased manner, with the new entities scheduled to be fully operational in the first eight states by November 18. Phase two is scheduled to be completed by October 1, 2021, with 13 states, and phase three is to be concluded on May 1, 2022, for the remaining states. Unions began amending their statutes in August 2019 to require secret ballot elections to approve collective bargaining agreements and union leaders, as mandated under the reform. As of April, 12 percent of active unions under local jurisdiction had registered their amended statutes with the CABs, compared with 85 percent of unions with active federal registrations with the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS). Responsibility for registration of the amendments shifted to the Federal Conciliation and Labor Registration Center when it began operations on November 18. The deadline for unions to amend and register their statutes, originally set to expire in May, was suspended due to COVID-19. Once the STPS and CABs resume their registration function, unions were expected to have up to 45 days to amend their statutes.

The STPS also began the four-year process of having workers review and vote on existing collective bargaining agreements, following the procedures for free and fair elections in the new labor reform. Under the reform the Federal Center must verify these votes; however, the STPS is scheduled to carry out this function until May 2021, when the Federal Center is scheduled to begin verification operations. According to the STPS, there were almost 532,500 registered workers and more than 200,000 collective bargaining agreements in the country, although many of the latter were not active and would not undergo an approval process by workers. As of June workers had reviewed and voted on 168 collective bargaining agreements with the STPS. The secretariat worked to develop more robust complaint mechanisms due to allegations of unfair labor practices during the voting process.

Federal labor law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive government recognition, unions and their leaders must file for registration with the Federal Center. The Federal Center and the new federal labor courts are designed to handle all matters related to collective bargaining agreements. In the 24 states not in phase one of labor reform implementation, individual labor cases are expected to be handled by the CABs until their states transition to the new system. The CABs operate under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives. Outside observers continued to raise concerns that the boards did not adequately provide for inclusive worker representation and often perpetuated a bias against independent unions. Worker representation on the CABs was based on majority representation, which is held by entrenched or “protection” unions, nondemocratic unions that sign “protection” contracts with complicit employers to secure low wages for workers without their knowledge. “Protection” contracts made up the vast majority of all labor contracts.

By law a union may call for a strike or bargain collectively in accordance with its own statutes. Under the labor reform, to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, the union must first obtain a certificate of representativeness from the Federal Center demonstrating it has support from at least 30 percent of workers to be covered by the agreement. Before a strike may take place, a union must file a “notice to strike” with the appropriate CAB, or the appropriate labor court once they are operational. Workers, the employer, or an interested third party may request the CAB or court to rule on the legality of the strike, which may find the strike is “nonexistent” and therefore illegal. The law prohibits employers from intervening in union affairs or interfering with union activities, including through implicit or explicit reprisals against workers. The law allows for reinstatement of workers if the CAB finds the employer fired the worker without just cause and the worker requests reinstatement; however, the law also exempts broad categories of employees from this protection, including so-called employees of confidence and workers who have been in the job for less than a year.

The government’s common failure to enforce labor and other laws left workers with little recourse for violations of freedom of association, poor working conditions, and other labor problems in states that had not yet implemented the new labor justice aspects of the reform. The CABs’ frequent failures to administer and oversee procedures related to union activity impartially and transparently, such as union elections, registrations, and strikes, undermined worker efforts to exercise freely their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. This responsibility shifted to the Federal Center and the labor courts in November for the eight states in phase one.

Administrative penalties established under pre-2017 law for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining were commensurate with those for other similar laws but were rarely enforced and subject to lengthy delays and appeals. The new labor courts began taking over these cases in the first part of a phased rollout in parts of the country in November.

According to several NGOs and unions, many workers faced violence and intimidation perpetrated by protection union leaders and employers supporting them, as well as other workers, union leaders, and vigilantes hired by a company to enforce a preference for a particular union in bargaining-rights elections. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of pseudo employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union. The CABs were widely alleged to administer these elections with a bias against new, independent unions, resulting in delays and other procedural obstacles that impacted the results and undermined workers’ right to organize. The labor reform is intended to address these matters.

Strikes regarding the integrity of union elections continued following the implementation of the United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement in July. After a nine-month work stoppage in which workers at the San Rafael Mine in Cosala, Sinaloa, demanded health and safety improvements and an election to replace the company-supported union, a vote was scheduled for September. The Canadian company accused Los Mineros, the worker-preferred union, of extortion and threatened to terminate the union’s investment in the mine. Workers in the strike called on the government to guarantee the integrity of the union election. Los Mineros won the vote in September, but the company rejected the results, and the closure of the mine continued.

In February workers at a General Motors factory in Guanajuato accused union leaders of being illegitimate and factory management of intimidation tactics, violations of worker rights, and unjustified layoffs, in reprisal for the workers’ opposition to a collective bargaining agreement. Union leaders signed the collective bargaining agreement without the consent of the majority of the workers, according to press reports. Labor stakeholders in the country and the United States also raised concern about the arrest of and charges filed against labor activist Susana Prieto, allegedly in retaliation for her advocacy on behalf of maquiladora workers in Matamoros and Ciudad Juarez. In addition workers dismissed in 2018 for alleged union activism at the Goodyear plant in San Luis Potosi continued to seek reinstatement.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. While penalties for conviction of forced labor were commensurate with those for similar crimes, very few cases were successfully prosecuted. More than 36 percent of labor inspectorates in prevention and detection of trafficking in persons in agriculture did not report cases, and more than half of labor authorities did not train inspectors in trafficking in persons.

Forced labor persisted in the domestic service, child care, manufacturing, mining, food processing, construction, tourism, begging, street vending, leather goods production, and agriculture sectors, especially in the production of chili peppers and tomatoes. Women and children were subjected to domestic servitude. Women, children, indigenous persons, persons with disabilities, LGBTI persons, and migrants (including men, women, and children) were the most vulnerable to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

Day laborers and their children were the primary victims of forced and child labor in the agricultural sector. In 2016, the most recent data available, the government’s federal statistics agency (INEGI) reported 44 percent of persons working in agriculture were day laborers. Of the day laborers, 33 percent received no financial compensation for their work. Three percent of agricultural day laborers had a formal written contract.

Indigenous persons in isolated regions reported incidents of forced labor, in which cartel members forced them to perform illicit activities or face death. Minors were recruited or forced by cartels to traffic persons, drugs, or other goods across the border. Migrants were also recruited by criminal organizations to conduct illicit activities.

Criminal groups became increasingly involved in the illegal timber trade in Chihuahua, which accounted for 70 percent of the wood consumed in the country. Drug traffickers involved in illegal logging recruited and kidnapped indigenous persons and children in isolated or displaced communities, withheld wages, forced them to conduct illicit activities, and often threatened death if they tried to leave.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The constitution and law prohibit children younger than age 15 from working and allow those ages 15 to 17 to work no more than six daytime hours in nonhazardous conditions daily, and only with parental permission and permission from the labor authority. The law requires children younger than 18 to complete compulsory basic education and to have a medical certificate to work. The minimum age for hazardous work, including all work in the agricultural sector, is 18. The law prohibits minors from working in a broad list of hazardous and unhealthy occupations.

At the federal level, the Secretariat of Social Development, Prosecutor General’s Office, and National System for Integral Family Development share responsibility for inspections to enforce child labor law and to intervene in cases in which employers violate such laws. The STPS is responsible for carrying out child labor inspections and refers cases of child labor to the Prosecutor General’s Office for sanctions. Penalties were commensurate with other similar laws but rarely enforced.

During 2019 the government obtained convictions in 12 cases of child trafficking, established a Commission for the Protection of Migrant Children, and drafted the Plan of Action to Combat Child Labor 2019-24. The government was reasonably effective in enforcing child labor law in large and medium-sized companies, especially in the export-oriented factory (maquiladora) sector and other industries under federal jurisdiction.

Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies, agriculture, and construction, and nearly absent in the informal sector, in which most child laborers worked. Because nearly 60 percent of employment occurred in the informal sector, inspectors could not adequately investigate and deter child labor. Inspectors generally were permitted to examine the informal sector only in response to complaints. Social programs did not address all sectors of child labor. Children performed dangerous tasks in agriculture in the production of beans, coffee, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, onions, and tobacco, and forced child labor was present in the production of chili peppers and tomatoes. Children also produced garments, leather goods, and illicit crops, such as opium poppies, and engaged in illicit activities, such as the production and trafficking of drugs, and sexual exploitation, often as a result of human trafficking.

Underage children in urban areas throughout the country earned money by begging, washing windshields, selling small items, or performing in public places. In April 2019 authorities in Sinaloa announced they had identified 312 children who had worked in the streets of various cities. Authorities found the children had no relatives in the area and were possibly victims of human trafficking.

According to a 2017 INEGI survey, the number of employed children ages five to 17 was 3.2 million, or approximately 11 percent of children in the country. This represented a decrease from 12.4 percent of children in the 2015 INEGI survey. Of these children, 7.1 percent were younger than the minimum age of work or worked under conditions that violated federal labor law, such as performing hazardous work.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings , as well as the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation. Federal law specifically proscribes discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, disability, social status, health, religion, immigration status, political opinion, sexual preference, marital status, or pregnancy. The government did not effectively enforce the law or regulations. A 2019 reform law allows all discrimination cases, including sexual harassment, to bypass formerly mandatory conciliation and proceed directly to the labor courts.

Penalties for violations of the law were commensurate with those for other similar laws. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred against women, indigenous groups, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and migrant workers. According to a 2017 INEGI survey, 12 percent of women were illegally asked to take a pregnancy test as a prerequisite to being hired. Job announcements specifying desired gender, age, marital status, and parental status were common. INEGI reported in 2017 that 23 percent of working women experienced violence in the workplace within the past 12 months and that 6 percent experienced sexual violence. The CNDH reported, however, 1 percent of cases resulted in a sanction for the perpetrator.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission is responsible for establishing minimum salaries. In January the government raised the minimum wage. The new wage applied to all sectors and allowed an earner to reach or exceed the poverty line. Most formal-sector workers received between one and three times the minimum wage.

Federal law sets six eight-hour days and 48 hours per week as the legal workweek. Any work in excess of eight hours in a day is considered overtime, for which a worker is to receive double pay. After accumulating nine hours of overtime in a week, a worker earns triple the hourly wage. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for eight paid public holidays and one week of paid annual leave after completing one year of work. The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations, issued jointly by the STPS and Institute for Social Security. Legally mandated joint management and labor committees set standards and are responsible for overseeing workplace standards in plants and offices. Individual employees or unions may complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The STPS has the authority to order labor inspections at any time in the event of labor law violations, imminent risk to employees, or workplace accidents. The number of labor inspections was not sufficient to secure compliance. Sixty percent of labor authorities at the state level had fewer than 10 inspectors. Criminal cases related to such violations were rarely carried out. Penalties for law violations regarding OSH, hours, and minimum wage were commensurate with those for other similar laws but were rarely enforced.

According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach–requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting down hours when it is light–to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This was a common practice in the maquiladora sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and obliged them to work in peak seasons, including the Christmas holiday period, without the corresponding triple pay mandated by law for voluntary overtime on national holidays. Additionally, many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers through subcontracting regimes or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. From September 2019 to June, federal labor inspectors carried out targeted inspections at 4,709 workplaces suspected of unlawful subcontracting practices and initiated sanction proceedings in 1,200 cases. As of October, INEGI estimated 56 percent of the workforce was engaged in the informal economy, which was an increase from May, when COVID-19 forced many persons into informal labor situations. Approximately one quarter (7.6 million persons) were employed by formal businesses or organizations but paid in cash off the books to evade taxes and social security payments.

Observers from grassroots labor rights groups, international NGOs, and multinational apparel brands reported employers in export-oriented supply chains increasingly used hiring methods that lessened job security. For example, manufacturers commonly hired workers on one- to three-month contracts, and then waited a period of days before rehiring them on another short-term contract, to avoid paying severance and to prevent workers from accruing seniority. This practice violated federal law and restricted workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Observers noted it also increased the likelihood of work-related illness and injury. Outsourcing practices made it difficult for workers to identify their legally registered employer, thus limiting their ability to seek redress of labor grievances.

Citizens hoping to obtain temporary, legal employment in the United States and other countries frequently paid recruiters hundreds or thousands of dollars in prohibited fees to secure jobs, and many prospective workers were promised jobs that did not exist. Allegations of abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices rarely were investigated. Although the law requires entities recruiting for overseas employment to register with the STPS, there is no enforcement mechanism, and only a handful of recruiters complied.

The situation of agricultural workers remained particularly precarious, with similar patterns of exploitation throughout the sector. Labor recruiters enticed families to work during harvests with verbal promises of decent wages and a good standard of living. Rather than receiving daily wages once a week, as mandated by law, day laborers had to meet certain harvest quotas to receive the promised wage. Wages may be illegally withheld until the end of the harvest to ensure the workers do not leave, and civil society organizations alleged workers were prohibited from leaving by threats of violence or by nonpayment of wages. Workers had to buy food and other items at the company store at high markups, at times leaving them with no money at the end of the harvest after settling debts. Civil society groups reported families living in inhuman conditions, with inadequate and cramped housing, no access to clean water or bathrooms, insufficient food, and without medical care. With no access to schools or child care, many workers took their children to work in the fields.

On August 7, indigenous agricultural workers accused agribusiness Empacadora Xipehua in Guanajuato of not paying workers their wages for six weeks, according to press reports.

News reports indicated poor working conditions in some maquiladoras. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, a lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and no freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse.

In April 2019 the Senate unanimously approved legislation requiring paid vacation and annual bonuses for the 2.4 million domestic workers, 90 percent of whom were women. The law permits them to enroll in social security, thereby gaining access to benefits such as medical services, child care, and maternity leave.

According to data from the Mexican Social Security Institute, in 2019 there were approximately 200,500 workplace accidents, resulting in 285 deaths.

During the year hundreds of thousands of workers continued to work in foreign-owned factories, mainly in northern border states, producing electronics, medical equipment, and auto parts. Several outbreaks of COVID-19 resulted in multiple deaths. Some companies reportedly did not implement effective protective measures for employees, and one factory, owned by Eaton Corporation in Baja California, was operating illegally and was closed after it placed chains on its doors to prevent 800 workers from leaving.

Qatar

Executive Summary

Qatar is a constitutional monarchy in which Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani exercises full executive power. The constitution provides for hereditary rule by men in the amir’s branch of the Al Thani family. The most recent elections were in 2019 for the Central Municipal Council, an advisory and consultative body. Observers considered these elections free and fair. All cabinet members, including the prime minister, are appointed by the amir.

The national police and Ministry of Interior forces maintain internal security that addresses, among other matters, terrorism, cyberattacks, and espionage. The national police oversee general law enforcement. The army is responsible for external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Security forces infrequently committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: restrictions on free expression, including criminalization of libel; restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including prohibitions on political parties and labor unions; restrictions on migrant workers’ freedom of movement; limits on the ability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; and reports of forced labor.

The government took limited steps to prosecute those suspected of committing human rights abuses. The government took steps to address forced labor.

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 inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.

The government interprets sharia as allowing corporal punishment for certain criminal offenses, including court-ordered flogging in cases of alcohol consumption and extramarital sex by Muslims. Courts typically reduced sentences to imprisonment or a fine. The Ministry of Interior reported 375 sentences that resulted in flogging as a punishment in 2019. In May authorities executed a death sentence by a firing squad against a Nepalese expatriate who was accused of murdering a Qatari citizen in 2017. The court upheld the sentence after the family of the victim had refused the blood money in return for degrading the sentence.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards. In 2019 the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) conducted 96 field visits to detention and interrogation facilities across the country.

Physical Conditions: In May social media users claimed the spread of COVID-19 among prisoners had created unrest in the Central Prison. Social media users circulated unconfirmed leaked photographs and audio recordings from inside the prison, claiming that there were clashes between prisoners and guards and prisoner strikes. The government denied the allegations. The NHRC conducted a number of visits to detention centers and sent a list of recommendations to the government, including accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), establishing an independent commission within the judiciary to investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment, and replacing corporal punishment with voluntary social work.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment. No statute allows ombudsmen to advocate for prisoners and detainees.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers and international bodies to all facilities except the state security prison. The government routinely provided foreign diplomats access to state security prisoners. NHRC representatives conducted regular visits to all facilities. In 2019 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Doha at the invitation of the government. Following the visit, the working group stated “there was an urgent need for a paradigm shift to guarantee the right of every individual to personal liberty, as well as independent and effective judicial control over detention.”

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reported in 2019 that the detainee tracking system did not allow police to determine the number and status of detainees held in any given institution. At some police stations, the register of persons in police custody did not state the date and time when individuals were taken into custody and transferred to the public prosecution. This lack of record keeping made it difficult to determine how long those detainees had been held. The UN Working Group invited authorities to address “shortcomings” in the detainee registers to prevent arbitrary detention.

In October, Amnesty International published a report detailing the 2018 arrest and detention for five months without charge of Mohamed al-Sulaiti and also posted on Twitter comments that criticized the government for imposing a travel ban on al-Sulaiti. In August, Amnesty International published a report regarding four persons, including al-Sulaiti, who were put under a travel ban without trial. Amnesty International alleged that in all of these cases authorities’ actions were conducted purely administratively, without affording any legal recourse by which the affected individuals could contest or appeal the decisions or present their claims to an independent reviewer.

In 2019 the NHRC reported receiving seven complaints of arbitrary detention and added that after examining the cases and contacting the authorities concerned, all detainees were released.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires that persons be apprehended with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official, be charged within 24 hours, and be brought before a court without undue delay.

The law provides procedures that permit detention without charge for as long as 15 days, renewable for up to six months. The law permits an additional six months’ detention without charge with the approval of the prime minister, who may extend the detention indefinitely in cases of threats to national security. The law allows the Ministry of Interior to detain persons suspected of crimes related to national security, honor, or impudence; in these cases persons detained are generally released within 24 hours or brought before a court within three days of detention. Decisions under this law are subject to appeal to the prime minister only. The law permits the prime minister to adjudicate complaints involving such detentions. The law permits a second six-month period of detention with approval from the criminal court, which may extend a detention indefinitely with review every six months. The state security service may arrest and detain suspects for up to 30 days without referring them to the public prosecutor.

In most cases a judge may order a suspect released, remanded to custody to await trial, held in pretrial detention pending investigation, or released on bail. Although suspects are entitled to bail (except in cases of violent crimes), allowing release on bail was infrequent.

Authorities were more likely to grant bail to citizens than to noncitizens. Noncitizens charged with minor crimes may be released to their employer (or a family member for minors), although they may not leave the country until the case is resolved.

By law in non-security-related cases, the accused is entitled to legal representation throughout the process and prompt access to family members. There are provisions for government-funded legal counsel for indigent prisoners in criminal cases, and authorities generally honored this requirement. There were no new reported cases invoking either the Protection of Society Law or the Combating Terrorism Law.

By law all suspects except those detained under the Protection of Society Law or the Combating Terrorism Law must be presented before the public prosecutor within 24 hours of arrest. If the public prosecutor finds sufficient evidence for further investigation, authorities may detain a suspect for up to 15 days with the approval of a judge, renewable for similar periods not to exceed 45 days, before charges must be filed in the courts. Judges may also extend pretrial detention for one month, renewable for one-month periods not to exceed one-half the maximum punishment for the accused crime. Authorities typically followed these procedures differently for citizens than for noncitizens. The law does not specify a time limit on preventive detention, which the NHRC recommended in 2019 be changed.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the amir, based on recommended selections from the Supreme Judicial Council, appoints all judges, who retain their positions at his discretion. Foreign detainees had access to the legal system, although some complained of opaque legal procedures and complications, mostly stemming from language barriers. Foreign nationals did not uniformly receive translations of legal proceedings, although interpretation was generally provided within courtrooms. Dispute settlement committees were established in 2018 to increase the efficiency and speed of decision making in the overloaded labor courts and included court translators who were present throughout all hearings. The establishment of these committees, however, did not shorten the time from complaint to resolution. Some employers filed successful deportation requests against employees who had lawsuits pending against them, thus denying those employees the right to a fair trial. In May the Supreme Judicial Council established a branch of the Enforcement Court at the worker dispute settlement committees to facilitate the process of implementing the committees’ verdicts. The enforcement cycle of verdicts continued to last for months.

Trial Procedures

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

The law provides defendants the presumption of innocence, and authorities generally inform defendants promptly of the charges brought against them, except for suspects held under the Protection of Society Law and Combating Terrorism Law. The defendant may be present at his or her trial.

Defendants are entitled to choose their legal representation or accept it at public expense throughout the pretrial and trial process. In matters involving family law, Shia and Sunni judges may apply their interpretations of sharia for their religious groups. The law approves implementing the Shiite interpretation of sharia upon the agreement and request of the parties involved in the dispute. In family law matters, a woman’s testimony is deemed one-half of a man’s testimony.

Defendants usually have free language interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, while court documents are provided only in Arabic. Defendants have access to government-held evidence, have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence, and have the opportunity to give a statement at the end of their trial. Defendants have the right to appeal a decision within 15 days; use of the appellate process was common.

The Court of Cassation requires a fee to initiate the appeals process. In some cases courts waived fees if an appellant demonstrated financial hardship.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no substantiated reports of political prisoners or detainees.

On September 22, the wife of Sheikh Talal bin Abdelazeez Al Thani, grandson of former amir of Qatar Sheikh Ahmad Al Thani (1960-72), submitted a complaint to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, requesting the release of her husband from prison. He had been serving a 22-year-imprisonment sentence since 2013 on charges of financial violations. Sheikh Talal’s wife, who deemed the trial politically motivated, claimed her husband had been in incommunicado detention and was suffering from severe medical conditions he developed in prison.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Civil remedies are available for those seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations, but no cases were reported during the year. The law specifies circumstances that necessitate a judge’s removal from a case for conflict of interest, and authorities generally observed this provision. Individuals and organizations may not appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution and the criminal procedures code prohibit such actions. Police and security forces, however, reportedly monitored telephone calls, emails, and social media posts.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press in accordance with the law, but the government limited these rights. Self-censorship remained the primary obstacle to free speech and press.

Freedom of Speech: Citizens did not regularly discuss sensitive political and religious issues in public forums, but they discussed these issues in private and on social media. The law prohibits residents from criticizing the amir. Members of the majority foreign population exercised self-censorship on sensitive topics. The law penalizes by up to three years in prison damaging, removing, or performing an action that expresses hate and contempt to the country’s flag, the Gulf Cooperation Council flag, or the flag of any international organization or authority. The use of the national flag without formal permission from authorities, displaying a damaged or discolored flag, or changing the flag by adding photographs, text, or designs to it are also criminalized.

In January the amir approved new provisions in the law that increase penalties for “crimes against internal state security” as the law defines them. Public figures and international organizations criticized the wording of the amendments and associated penalties as interfering with freedom of expression. The new law criminalizes a broad range of speech and publishing activities both on and offline with penalties including up to five years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine. Amnesty International noted that the law signaled “a worrying regression from commitments made two years ago to guarantee the right to freedom of expression,” referring to the government’s 2018 accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Human Rights Watch called the new regulation “a setback for freedom of expression.”

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law includes restrictive procedures on the establishment of newspapers, their closure, and the confiscation of assets of a publication. The Doha Center for Media Freedom, a government-funded entity known to be vocal on press freedom issues, was closed in 2019 without official explanation.

Members of the ruling family or proprietors who enjoyed close ties to government officials owned all print media. Both private and government-owned television and radio reflected government views, although call-in shows allowed for some citizen criticism of government ministries and policies. While media generally did not criticize authorities or the country’s policies, specific ministries and even individual ministers were regular targets of criticism in print media. The government owned and partially funded the Doha-based al-Jazeera satellite television network, which carried regional, international, and theme-based programming. It also partially funded other media outlets operating in the country. Some observers and former al-Jazeera employees alleged the government influenced the content produced by that news outlet.

In July the al-Arab daily newspaper announced its closure due to financial struggles, leaving only three local Arabic-language newspapers. Local media outlets faced financial difficulty due to COVID-19 countermeasures and consequently underwent massive job cuts, making them depend primarily on the national news agency for content.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Qatar Media Corporation, the Ministry of Culture and Sports, and customs officials censored material. The government reviewed, censored, or banned foreign newspapers, magazines, films, and books for objectionable sexual, religious, and political content. Journalists and publishers continued to self-censor due to political and economic pressures when reporting on government policies or material deemed denigrating to Islam, the ruling family, and relations with neighboring states.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel and slander, including “insult to dignity.” A journalist may be fined and imprisoned for one year for defamation and reporting of “false news.” The law restricts the publication of information that slanders the amir or heir apparent; defames the Abrahamic faiths or includes blasphemy; harms the national currency or the economic situation; or violates the dignity of persons, the proceedings of investigations, and prosecutions in relation to family status, and punishes violators with up to seven years’ imprisonment.

National Security: The law restricts the publication of information that could defame the state or endanger its safety, incite the overthrow of the regime or harm supreme state interests, report official secret agreements, or prejudice heads of state or disturb relations.

Internet Freedom

The maximum punishments for violations of the cybercrime law are up to three years in prison and a fine. The law prohibits any online activity that threatens the safety of the state, its general order, and its local or international peace. It also criminalizes the spread of “false news,” forces internet providers to block objectionable content, and bans the publication of personal or family information.

The law requires internet service providers to block objectionable content upon request from judicial authorities. Internet providers also are obligated to maintain long-term electronic records and traffic data, which must be made available on request by the government. The government-controlled internet service provider Ooredoo restricted the expression of views via the internet and censored the internet for political, religious, and pornographic content through a proxy server, which monitored and blocked websites, email, and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) platforms, including Skype and FaceTime. Users who believed authorities had mistakenly censored a site could request that the site be reviewed by the Ministry of Transportation and Communication for suitability; there were no reports that any websites were unblocked based on this procedure. The Supreme Judicial Council’s statistics showed that in 2019 the courts handled 595 cases related to cybercrimes, up from 104 cases in the previous year.

In June security forces summoned and interrogated a number of social media users in response to tweets critical of government entities and officials. During questioning, those called in were sometimes asked to sign pledges not to repeat such posts, upon which they were released. In other cases authorities deactivated Twitter accounts. In April internal security summoned a lawyer for posting a video criticizing policies of the Qatar Central Bank. He was charged with disrupting the public interest.

In April security authorities announced that five social media users were arrested and charged with “igniting societal strife.” Those charged were accused of making defamatory comments against certain tribes in response to the government’s public naming of individuals who violated home quarantine. At year’s end no further information was available on the progress of the investigations.

On December 9, former al-Arab columnist and social media influencer Faisal Muhamad al-Marzoqi announced that he received a final verdict from the Court of Appeal to serve three months in prison and pay a moderate fine for a tweet that he had put out criticizing some public figures. Al-Marzoqi added that the verdict stipulated a confiscation of his Twitter account.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The constitution provides for freedom of expression and scientific research. Instructors at Qatar University noted they sometimes exercised self-censorship. Instructors at foreign-based universities operating in the country, however, reported they generally enjoyed academic freedom. There were occasional government restrictions on cultural events, including bureaucratic barriers that in some cases resulted in the denial of event permits, and some groups organizing cultural events reported they exercised self-censorship. Authorities censored books, films, and internet sites for political, religious, and sexual content and for vulgar and obscene language.

In February the Qatar Foundation canceled a concert featuring the Lebanese band Mashrou Leila (Leila’s Project) hosted by Northwestern University Qatar. The cancellation came as a response to public online backlash against the organizers because of the sexual orientation of the band’s lead singer, who was openly gay.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but this right is restricted by law, including the General Assembly and Demonstration Law and the Associations and Private Institutions Law. Noncitizens are exempt from the constitutional protections on freedom of assembly. Organizers of public meetings must meet a number of restrictions and conditions and obtain approval from the Ministry of Interior to acquire a permit.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right to form groups, defined by the law as professional associations and private institutions, but the government significantly limited this right. In October the amir passed a new law amending articles in the Professional Association and Private Institutions law to facilitate registration, allowed meetings within an association’s mandate without requiring prior government notification and several other provisions aimed at increasing the ability of associations to operate and cooperate with likeminded organizations domestically and abroad. Despite the amendments, some stakeholders complained the changes were insufficient and multiple obstacles remained to freedom of speech, assembly, and association under local law.

Noncitizens are exempt from the constitutional protections on freedom of association. There were no reports of attempts to organize politically. There were no organized political parties, and authorities prohibited politically oriented associations. The government prohibits professional associations and private institutions from engaging in political matters or affiliating internationally. Civil society organizations must obtain approval from the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, which may deny their establishment if it deems them a threat to the public interest. In 2019 the ministry approved the establishment of seven new associations, bringing the total number to 21 associations working under the ministry’s umbrella.

Informal organizations, such as community support groups and activity clubs, operated without registration, but they may not engage in activities deemed political.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not fully respect these rights.

In-country Movement: Restrictions on in-country movement for citizens concerned sensitive military, oil, and industrial installations. Although there was less emphasis on setting and enforcing “family-only” times at entertainment areas in Doha, several local malls and markets continued to restrict access to certain areas to foreign workers on weekends and those dressed “immodestly.”

As part of the government’s COVID-19 countermeasures, approximately 20 square miles of the Industrial Zone, home to thousands of migrant workers, was completely locked down for two months from March to May. Human rights groups expressed concerns regarding the well-being of workers who were banned from leaving the area, including individuals showing no symptoms of COVID-19, despite reports of limited availability of food and supplies.

Foreign Travel: The government prevented the travel of its citizens only when they were involved in pending court cases. Despite partial exit permit reform, domestic workers were required to obtain permission from employers to exit the country. In 2018 authorities abolished exit permit requirements for 95 percent of the workforce in the private sector, with some exceptions including domestic workers and government employees. Employers may request exit permits for the remaining 5 percent of their workforce not covered by the 2018 law but must provide an explanation to the government justifying why an employee should retain an exit permit restriction. In January the government extended the categories of individuals not required to receive exit permit permission to include government employees and domestic workers. The government retained the right to request that up to 5 percent of private-sector employees and 5 percent of expatriate public-sector employees obtain permits prior to departure. The Ministry of Interior, however, asked domestic workers to notify employers 72 hours before departure from the country. According to the Ministry of Interior, the Exit Permit Grievances Committee received 1,053 complaints from workers who were denied exit permits by their employers. The committee approved 1,039, rejected 10, and archived the remainder.

The law prohibits employers from withholding workers’ passports and penalizes employers who do so, but noncitizen community leaders and officials from labor-exporting countries stated that passport confiscation remained a widespread problem with insufficient enforcement of penalties. The Ministry of Interior fined only six individuals in 11 passport-confiscation cases during the year.

Citizenship: The law allows for the revocation of citizenship. According to statistics of the Ministry of Interior, there were 10 cases of citizenship revocations in 2019. The ministry did not clarify the reason for the revocations.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to assist refugees in other countries.

Access to Asylum: In 2018 the government passed legislation to grant political asylum status to asylum seekers, although there were no reports or official announcements confirming that anyone had received asylum through this legislation, and there were examples annually that violated the spirit of the law. The law stipulates the creation of a specialized committee within the Ministry of Interior to handle requests from asylum seekers. Once granted political asylum, the individual and his or her family are entitled to a range of free services provided by the government, including travel documents, jobs, monthly allowances, medical and educational services, and housing. Previously the government accepted such individuals as “guests” on a temporary basis. The government legally classified the small number of persons granted residence on humanitarian grounds as visitors.

The Syrian Opposition Coalition office in Doha reported approximately 60,000 Syrians were living in Doha, of whom approximately 20,000 came to Doha after the start of the civil war and had been granted repeated extensions to their residency status to allow them to remain in the country. The government provided housing and education to these de facto refugees.

g. Stateless Persons

Citizenship derives solely from the father, and women cannot transmit citizenship to their noncitizen spouse or children. A woman must obtain permission from authorities before marrying a foreign national but does not lose citizenship upon such a marriage. Generally the government did not approve marriage requests between Qatari women and stateless men.

The law allows long-term residents to apply for citizenship after living in the country for 25 consecutive years, but the government rarely approved citizenship applications, which were by law capped at 50 per year. Restrictions and inconsistent application of the law prevented stateless persons from acquiring citizenship. Permanent residents have the right to own property, open businesses without local partners, and receive free education and health services.

According to official statistics provided by the Ministry of Interior, there were 2,461 Bidoon–stateless Arabs residing in the country–although population statistics remained the same since 2018. Official documents do not recognize the term Bidoon but rather “individuals with temporary Qatari identification documents.” Bidoon are a stateless minority in the Gulf states, born in the country, whose families were not included as citizens at the time of the country’s independence or shortly thereafter. The Bidoon, who are afforded residency with the sponsorship of a Qatari resident, were able to register for public services such as education and health care. Bidoon, however, are unable to own property in the country and cannot travel without a visa to other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution does not 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. The government did not allow the formation of political parties or opposition groups. The amir exercises full executive powers, including the appointment of cabinet members. In 2019 the amir issued a decree extending the term of the appointed Shura Council, the country’s titular legislative body, by two years to the end of June 2021. In November 2019 the amir assigned the prime minister to form and lead a committee to regulate the process of the Shura Council elections and announced elections would be held October 2021. According to the law, not every citizen has the right to participate in elections for the Shura Council. The law categorizes Qataris into “genuine” citizens who obtained their nationality before 1930 and “neutralized” citizens who became citizens after 1930. Only genuine citizens have the right to run and vote in the elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 citizens elected the 29 members of the fifth Central Municipal Council, including two women, to four-year terms. The council advises the minister of municipality and environment on local public services. Foreign diplomatic missions noted no apparent irregularities or fraud in the elections, although voter registration was lower than authorities expected, at approximately 9 percent.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not permit the organization of political parties, and there were no attempts to form them during the year. Voting is open to all citizens who are at least 18 years old, including those who have been naturalized for at least 15 years; members of the armed services and employees of the Ministry of Interior may not vote.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Although traditional attitudes and societal roles continued to limit women’s participation in politics, women served in various roles in public office, such as minister of public health, chair of the Qatar Foundation, head of the Qatar Museum Authority, and as ambassadors. In 2017 the amir appointed four women to the Shura Council for the first time in the legislative body’s history. There were five female judges and three female assistant judges, according to 2019 statistics of the Supreme Judicial Council. Noncitizen residents are banned from voting or otherwise participating in political affairs, although they serve as judges and staffers at government ministries.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

The law gives the State Audit Bureau financial authority and independence and allows it to publish parts of its findings provided confidential information is removed.

Corruption: In October the Attorney General’s Office opened investigations on five individuals related to charges of money laundering. The announcement did not include any details of the case or the identities of the accused.

The quasi-governmental commission responsible for the country’s World Cup 2022 bid denied new allegations during the year regarding vote buying in the 2010 FIFA bidding process.

Financial Disclosure: There are no legal requirements for public officials to disclose their income and assets, and they did not do so.

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

Researchers from international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and international unions such as Building and Wood Workers’ International and the International Trade Union Confederation continued to visit and report on the country without interference from authorities. The government was often responsive to requests for meetings and jointly participated in public events hosted by human rights groups, including on sensitive topics such as labor rights.

Several quasi-governmental organizations were under a single entity, Qatar Foundation, which was under the leadership of Sheikha Hind Al Thani, the sister of the amir. These organizations cooperated with the government, rarely criticized it, and did not engage in political activity. Some international NGOs had offices in the country and focused on labor rights with the permission of the government.

In November 2019 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention carried out its first official visit to the country to assess the situation regarding deprivation of liberty. Following the visit, the group stated, “Existing laws that allow prolonged administrative detention without judicial control and due process guarantees ought to be abolished, as these place individuals outside the protection of the law.” The Working Group called on authorities to “immediately repeal the Protection of Community Law, the State Security Law, and the Law on Combating Terrorism.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Interior and the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are mandated to observe, report, and handle human rights issues. The NHRC is mandated by the cabinet to issue an annual report pertaining to the human rights conditions in the country. The NHRC provided mild criticism of abuses and conducted its own investigations into human rights violations. A law regulating the work of the NHRC granted the committee “full independence” in practicing its activities and providing immunity to the committee’s members. The NHRC typically handled petitions by liaising with government institutions to ensure a timely resolution to disputes.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape. Spousal rape is not illegal. Sexual assault and other gender-based crimes were rarely reported, mostly due to social taboo. The penalty for rape is life imprisonment, regardless of the age or gender of the victim. If the perpetrator is a nonspousal relative, teacher, guardian, or caregiver of the victim, the penalty is death. The government enforced the law against rape.

No specific law criminalizes domestic violence, whether against spouses or against any member of a household, including children and domestic workers. According to the NHRC, authorities may prosecute spousal violence as “general” violence under the criminal law. According to the Protection and Social Rehabilitation Center shelter (PSRC), rape and domestic violence against women continued to be a problem. Police treated domestic violence as a private family matter rather than a criminal matter and were reluctant to investigate or prosecute reports.

According to Human Rights Watch, extramarital sex is punishable by up to seven years in prison, flogging (for unmarried persons), or the death penalty (for married persons). A woman who gives birth out of wedlock receives a 12-month jail sentence, on average, which could also include deportation, and even corporal punishment (lashings); however, press reports indicated jail sentences and flogging were rare in such cases. On October 2, authorities at the Hamad International Airport deplaned more than a dozen female foreign nationals from an outbound flight and subjected them to gynecological examinations after a live infant was found in an airport restroom. Human rights groups and several foreign governments condemned the actions of the authorities and requested an investigation into the government’s handling of the situation. The Government Communication Office released a statement expressing regret for the incident and explained that authorities aimed to locate and arrest the mother promptly and prosecute her before she was able to leave the country. Officials underscored that the exams went against protocol and promised that those responsible would be referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The PSRC reported receiving 277 cases of physical violence against women and children and 155 cases of psychological violence in 2019, including 36 cases of sexual harassment. The center hosted 45 survivors at its shelter during the year and provided legal representation of eight victims in courts. Per the center’s statistics, they referred 10 cases to courts and 20 to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The center said one court case received a final verdict during the year.

In August authorities deported a Yemeni woman and her child to Djibouti, from where they could be returned to Yemen. The woman accused the government in a video posted online of kidnapping her and her child and forcefully deporting them to Djibouti. She called on the international community to help her and stop authorities in Djibouti from sending her and her child to Yemen because of the danger she would face there. The woman received a court ruling granting her divorce and custody of her child; however, she was threatened with repatriation to Yemen and separated from her child following the cancellation of her residency. An online campaign encouraged the management of the main Qatari shelter to host them for a short time, but authorities deported them to Djibouti.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and carries penalties of imprisonment or fines. In some cases sponsors sexually harassed and mistreated foreign domestic workers. The Ministry of Interior reported 13 cases of violence against domestic workers and four cases of rape against them in 2019, all of which were under judicial processing at year’s end.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of government interference in the rights of married couples to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. It is illegal to have children out of wedlock and even unmarried female expats risk jail time if they do. Due to the legal prohibitions and social stigma surrounding sex outside of marriage, obtaining documentation for children born out of wedlock is typically not possible.

No legal, social, or cultural barriers adversely affected married women’s access to contraception, or healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth, but women were routinely asked for marriage certificates when seeking prenatal care. According to 2015 estimates by the UN Population Fund, only 37 percent of citizen women ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraceptive, and the government generally encouraged large families through generous benefits. The Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal noted that the top three reasons for not using any family planning method were the desire for more children, potential side effects, and objections raised by husbands.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Unmarried individuals who reported pregnancies risked prosecution by authorities for extramarital sexual relations.

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

Discrimination: The constitution asserts equality between citizens in rights and responsibilities, but social and legal discrimination against women persisted. Sharia, as implemented in the country, discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, freedom of movement, marriage, child custody, and inheritance.

In line with local social norms, male relatives generally represented female relatives in court, although women have the legal right to attend court proceedings and represent themselves. The value of a woman’s testimony is in some cases considered one-half a man’s testimony.

Under the Nationality Law, female citizens face legal discrimination, since they, unlike men, are not permitted to transmit citizenship to their noncitizen spouses or to children born from marriage to a noncitizen. Citizen women are unable to pass citizenship to their offspring. A 2018 residency permit law allows children of citizen mothers to gain permanent status in country, even if the father is not a Qatari national. Citizens must obtain government permission to marry foreigners, which is sometimes not granted for female citizens. Male citizens may apply for residency permits and citizenship for their foreign wives, but female citizens may apply only for residency for their foreign husbands and children, not citizenship. According to official statistics, in 2018 there were 232 requests by citizens to marry foreigners, of which one was rejected, 19 were under processing, and the remainder were approved.

A non-Muslim wife does not have the automatic right to inherit from her Muslim husband. She receives an inheritance only if her husband wills her a portion of his estate, and even then, she is eligible to receive only one-third of the total estate. A female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir; for example, a sister would inherit one-half as much as her brother. In cases of divorce, children generally remain with the mother until age 13 for boys and 15 for girls, at which time custody reverts to the husband’s family, regardless of her religion.

To receive maternity care, a woman is required to present a marriage certificate, although in practice hospitals will generally assist in the birth of children of unwed mothers regardless. There were cases of hospitals reporting unwed mothers to authorities.

The housing law, which pertains to the government housing system, also discriminates against women married to noncitizen men and against divorced women.

A non-Muslim woman is not required to convert to Islam upon marriage to a Muslim, but many did so. The government documents children born to a Muslim father as Muslims, regardless of the religion of the mother.

Single women younger than age 25 require the permission of their male guardian to travel outside the country, although the requirement was rarely enforced. There were sporadic reports via social media that airport authorities prevented women older than 25 from traveling abroad without the approval of the male guardian, although the law allows women older than 25 to travel without a guardian’s permission. Male relatives may prevent married or single adult female family members from leaving the country by seeking and securing a court order.

Adult women were not allowed to leave home without a guardian’s approval. This included a need to obtain their male guardian’s permission to work outside the home, although the requirement was rarely enforced.

There was no specialized government office devoted to women’s equality.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship only from the father. Citizen mothers are unable to transmit citizenship to their children. The government generally registered all births immediately.

Education: Education is free and compulsory for all citizens through age 18 or nine years of education, whichever comes first. Education is compulsory for noncitizen children, but they pay a nominal fee. Islamic instruction is compulsory for Muslims and non-Muslims attending state-sponsored schools.

Child Abuse: There were limited cases of reported child abuse, family violence, and sexual abuse. The PSRC report mentioned 130 cases of violence against minors in 2018.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: By law the minimum age for marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. The law does not permit marriage of persons below these ages except with consent from the legal guardian and with permission from a judge. Underage marriage was rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: No specific law sets a minimum age for consensual sex. The law prohibits sex outside of marriage. In the criminal law, the penalty for sexual relations with a person younger than 16 is life imprisonment. If the individual is the nonspousal relative, guardian, caretaker, or servant of the victim, the penalty is death; there were no reports this sentence was ever implemented. No specific law prohibits child pornography because all pornography is prohibited, but the law specifically criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country does not have an indigenous Jewish community, and there are no official data on the number of Jewish expatriates in the country. Periodic cartoons and opinion articles in local papers carried anti-Semitic messages. In May the government-owned al-Jazeera news channel hosted Dr. Abduljabbar Saeed, head of the Quran and Sunnah Department at the Faculty of Sharia at Qatar University, on one of its talk shows. During the interview the host made negative statements against “the Jews” when discussing Israel.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against–and requires the allocation of resources for–persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, the judicial system, and other government services or other areas. The government is charged with acting on complaints from individuals, and the NHRC has responsibility for enforcing compliance.

Private and independent schools generally provided most of the required services for students with disabilities, but government schools did not. Few public buildings met the required standards of accessibility for persons with disabilities, and new buildings generally did not comply with standards.

The NHRC 2019 report called on authorities to accelerate the issuance of a new law on the rights of persons with disabilities to replace the 2004 law. The report stated the draft law was submitted to authorities in 2015 but had never been issued. The report stated the country became a signatory of International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008 but needed to apply Article 33 of the Convention on the “implementation and monitoring at the national level” in relation to guaranteeing the rights of persons with disabilities under the convention.

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

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced discrimination under the law and in practice. The law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men but does not explicitly prohibit same-sex sexual relations between women. Under the law a man convicted of having sexual relations with a boy younger than age 16 is subject to a sentence of life in prison. A man convicted of having same-sex sexual relations with a male 16 years of age or older may receive a sentence of seven years in prison.

In addition to banning sex outside marriage for all persons, the law provides penalties for any male, Muslim or not, who “instigates” or “entices” another male to commit an act of sodomy or immorality. Under the penal code, “leading, instigating, or seducing a male anyhow for sodomy or dissipation” and “inducing or seducing a male or a female anyhow to commit illegal or immoral actions” is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

There were no public reports of violence against LGBTI persons, who largely hid their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics due to an underlying pattern of discrimination toward LGBTI persons. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination, nor are there antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTI individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics.

Due to social and religious conventions, there were no LGBTI organizations, pride marches, or LGBTI rights advocacy events. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was discrimination against HIV-positive patients. Authorities deported foreigners found to be HIV positive upon arrival. Mandatory medical examinations were required for residents. Since health screenings are required for nonresidents to obtain work visas, some HIV-positive persons were denied work permits prior to arrival. The government quarantined HIV-positive citizens and provided treatment for them.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not allow workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively, which made the exercise of these rights difficult. The law provides local citizen workers in private sector enterprises that have 100 citizen workers age 18 and older a limited right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law excludes government employees, noncitizens, domestic workers, drivers, nurses, cooks, gardeners, casual workers, workers employed at sea, and most workers employed in agriculture and grazing from the right to join worker committees or the national union, effectively banning these workers from organizing, bargaining collectively, or striking.

The law permits the establishment of “joint committees” with an equal number of worker and management representatives to deal with a limited number of workplace problems. Foreign workers may be members of joint labor-management committees. The law offers a means to file collective disputes. If disputes are not settled internally between the employees and employer, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs may mediate a solution. An agreement signed between the ministry and the International Labor Organization (ILO) includes provisions to create these committees with ILO supervision and assistance. Under the umbrella of this agreement and as of August, at least five joint committees initiated operations and held elections to choose employee representatives. Following the formation of “joint committees,” the ILO provided extensive training to the committee members on how to manage the committees, how to establish open channels of communications with workers and management, and the mechanisms to submit complaints to the competent authorities.

The law requires approval by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs for worker organizations to affiliate with groups outside the country. The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining outside of the joint committees.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws or levy penalties commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. For those few workers covered by the law protecting the right to collective bargaining, the government circumscribed the right through its control over the rules and procedures of the bargaining and agreement processes. The labor code allows for only one trade union, the General Union of Workers of Qatar (General Union), which was composed of general committees for workers in various trades or industries. Trade or industry committees were composed of worker committees at the individual firm level. The General Union was not a functioning entity.

Employees could not freely practice collective bargaining, and there were no workers under collective bargaining contracts. While rare, when labor unrest occurred, mostly involving the country’s overwhelmingly foreign workforce, the government reportedly responded by dispatching large numbers of police to the work sites or labor camps involved; the government also requested the assistance of the embassies for the nationals involved. Strikes generally ended after these shows of force and the involvement of embassies to resolve disputes. In many cases the government summarily deported the workers’ leaders and organizers.

Although the law recognizes the right to strike for some workers, restrictive conditions made the likelihood of a legal strike extremely remote. The law requires approval for a strike by three-fourths of the General Committee of the workers in the trade or the industry, and potential strikers also must exhaust a lengthy dispute resolution procedure before a lawful strike may be called. Civil servants and domestic workers do not have the right to strike; the law also prohibits strikes at public utilities and health or security service facilities, including the gas, petroleum, and transportation sectors. The Complaint Department of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, in coordination with the Ministry of Interior, must preauthorize all strikes, including approval of the time and place. In May, several hundred migrant workers staged a protest over unpaid salaries. Security forces surrounded the location of the protest but did not disperse the protesters. The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs released a statement the following day assuring that the ministry would pay salaries in full.

In May the government gave the private sector the right to alter employee contracts without legal liability due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies forced workers to take a combination of unpaid leave, decreased salaries, or premature contract terminations, negatively affecting tens of thousands of workers. In June the Ministry of Finance instructed government ministries, institutions, and state entities to reduce monthly costs for non-Qatari employees by 30 percent, by either cutting salaries or laying off workers with a two-month notice.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. International media and human rights organizations alleged numerous abuses against foreign workers, including withheld wages, unsafe working conditions, poor living accommodations, employers who routinely confiscated worker passports, and a sponsorship system that gave employers inordinate control of workers. In February, National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking statistics recorded the average fine for physical and psychological violence against domestic workers in 2019 as 2,000 Qatari riyals ($550) and a penalty of one month in prison. There were 812 convictions for abuse. During the year Amnesty International reported multiple cases of slow access to justice after three medium-sized companies refused to pay wages, withheld passports, and refused to appear in court. The ILO noted the law allows for the imposition of forced labor on those who hold political views ideologically opposed to the established political and social system.

The government made efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor but did not in all cases effectively enforce the law; the restrictive sponsorship system left some migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation. The law allows employees in the private sector to switch employers at the end of their contract, which can be up to five years, without the permission of their employer. Employees may also switch employers in cases of failure to pay, violation of contract, mutual agreement, filing of a legal case in court, and bankruptcy or death of employer. Legal changes during the year extended the elimination of exit visa requirements to 95 percent of government workers and all domestic workers. In August the country abolished restrictions on migrant workers changing jobs without their employer’s permission and introduced a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275) as a basic salary. While the abolishment of the no-objection certificate was effective immediately, the implementation of the minimum wage provision was scheduled to come into force in March 2021. If fully implemented, these laws will protect migrant workers, who are prone to exploitation in the kafala system.

Workers who are still required to seek their employers’ permission to leave the country may request an exemption from a Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs jointly operated grievance committee in case of the employers’ refusal to grant the permission.

In 2019 the government opened the first trafficking-in-persons shelter, which had assisted 10 victims as of July. On October 27, the Criminal Court sentenced two expatriates to a 10-year prison term, a substantial fine, and deportation for trafficking-in-persons offenses, among other crimes. This was the country’s first conviction since 2016 under its antitrafficking law.

The government arrested and prosecuted individuals for suspected labor law violations. The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, and the NHRC conducted training sessions and distributed to migrant laborers multilingual written explanations of their rights under local labor and sponsorship laws. To combat late and unpaid wages, the government mandated that employers pay wages electronically to all employees subject to the labor law through a system subject to audits by an inspection division at the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties, but enforcement was inconsistent.

There were continuing indications of forced labor, especially among migrant workers in the construction and domestic-labor sectors. Exorbitant recruitment fees incurred abroad entrapped many workers in long-term debt, making them more vulnerable to exploitation. Some foreign workers who voluntarily entered the country to work had their passports, ATM cards, and pay withheld and worked under conditions to which they had not agreed. One migrant worker told an NGO that his employer threatened him and nearly 1,000 other employees with deportation if they refused to sign new contracts with substantially lower wages. Another migrant worker said his company had not paid its workers in five months. Contract substitution remained a problem, according to representatives of the migrant worker community; however, to help eliminate the practice, a government electronic contracting system existed in several third countries where workers are hired. Embassies of labor-sending countries reported this new system helped significantly reduce contract substitution and the number of workers who arrived in Doha without contracts.

Although the country witnessed a nearly total precautionary lockdown of all official and commercial activities from mid-March until mid-June, FIFA World Cup-related facilities continued construction despite crowded worksites and the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Human rights groups and international media condemned the exemption of World Cup projects from the precautionary countermeasures.

The Ministry of Interior received 817 reports of nonpayment of wages, down from 1,164 in the year before, 810 of which were referred to the Office of the Public Prosecutor. Courts issued final verdicts in 495 cases; the rest were under review at year’s end.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 years and stipulates that minors between the ages of 16 and 18 may work with parental or guardian permission. The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. Minors may not work more than six hours a day or more than 36 hours a week. Employers must provide the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs with the names and occupations of their minor employees and obtain permission from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to hire a minor. The education ministry may prohibit the employment of minors in jobs judged dangerous to their health, safety, or morals. The government effectively enforced the applicable law, but penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, language, and religion, but not political opinion, national origin, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Local custom, however, outweighed government enforcement of nondiscrimination laws, and legal, cultural, and institutional discrimination existed against women, noncitizens, and foreign workers. The labor law does not allow women to work in jobs deemed hazardous, dangerous, or morally inappropriate.

By law women are entitled to equal pay for equal work, but this did not always happen, and they often lacked access to decision-making positions in management of private companies and in the public sector. Gender-based violence or harassment occurred in the workplace. In 2019 there were reports of rape, but the outcomes of those cases were pending. The government prohibited lower-paid male workers from residing in specific “family” residential zones throughout the country. The government discriminated against noncitizens in employment, education, housing, and health services (see section 6). Other forms of discrimination targeted certain nationalities in the country. In January the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs gave orders to all private security companies to terminate immediately security guards with Egyptian nationality, causing hundreds of Egyptian residents to lose their jobs. Egyptian residents also reported discrimination in denial of the right to transfer employment, apply for bank loans, and request family visas.

The law requires reserving 2 percent of jobs in government agencies and public institutions for persons with disabilities, and most government entities appeared to conform to this law. Private-sector businesses employing a minimum of 25 persons are also required to hire persons with disabilities as 2 percent of their staff. Employers who violate these employment provisions are subject to moderate fines. There were no reports of violations of the hiring quota requirement during the year.

In December 2019 the UN rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance highlighted the “remarkable and commendable progress” the country had made to end discrimination but raised concerns regarding discrimination against domestic workers and workers from South Asian and sub-Saharan African countries.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor law provides for a 48-hour workweek with a 24-hour rest period and paid annual leave days. The government sets occupational health and safety standards including restrictions on working during the hottest hours of the day during the summer and general restrictions related to temperature during the rest of the day as well. The labor law and provisions for acceptable conditions of work, including overtime pay provisions, do not apply to workers in the public sector or agriculture, or to domestic workers.

Responsibility for laws related to acceptable conditions of work fell primarily to the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs as well as to the Ministry of Municipality and Environment and the Ministry of Public Health. The government did not effectively enforce standards in all sectors; working conditions for citizens were generally adequate, because government agencies and the major private-sector companies employing them generally followed the relevant laws. Enforcement problems were in part due to insufficient training and lack of personnel. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous violations of civil rights.

The government took limited action to prevent violations and improve working conditions. In 2018 the worker dispute settlement committees assumed their duties, chaired by first-instance judges appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council and members of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. In 2019 the committees received a total of 4,922 complaints and issued final 2,781 final verdicts, up from 1,088 in 2018. More than three-quarters of verdicts favored workers.

The Labor Inspection Department conducted monthly and random inspections of foreign worker camps. When inspectors found the camps to be below minimum standards, the operators received a warning, and authorities ordered them to remedy the violations within one month. For example, after inspectors reportedly checked companies’ payrolls and health and safety practices, they returned one month later to verify any recommended changes were made. If a company had not remedied the violations, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs imposed fines, blacklisted the company, and on occasion referred the matter to the public prosecutor for action. Inspections in 2019 fell by nearly half compared with 2018; inspections in 2020 were further limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fear of penalties such as blacklisting appeared to have had some effect as a deterrent to some labor law violations. Blacklisting is an administrative hold on a company or individual that freezes government services such as processing new visa applications from the firms. Firms must pay moderate fine to be removed from the list–even if the dispute is resolved–and the ministry reserves the right to keep companies on the list after the fine is paid as a punitive measure.

The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs inspectors continued to conduct inspection visits to work and labor housing sites. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Officials from the ILO joined labor inspectors on several inspections and assisted in the formation of a new strategic plan for strengthening the Labor Inspections Unit. Violators faced penalties that were insufficient to deter violations.

Employers must pay their employees electronically to provide a digital audit trail for the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties. By law employees have a right to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively provide protection to employees exercising this right. Employers often ignored working-hour restrictions and other laws with respect to domestic workers and unskilled laborers, the majority of whom were foreigners.

The government did not effectively enforce these laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes. Violations of wage, overtime, and safety and health standards were relatively common, especially in sectors employing foreign workers, in which working conditions were often poor. Some employers did not pay workers for overtime or annual leave. Employers housed many unskilled foreign laborers in cramped, dirty, and hazardous conditions, often without running water, electricity, or adequate food. The government continued to serve eviction notices to property owners whose buildings were not up to code. Throughout the year international media alleged some abusive working conditions existed, including work-related deaths of young foreign workers, especially in the construction sector. A Kenyan worker said his employer required him to work unpaid overtime, seven days a week, paid wages months late, and provided insufficient personal protective equipment despite a risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions. Many such workers frequently worked seven days a week and more than 12 hours a day with few or no holidays, no overtime pay, and limited means to redress grievances. Some employers denied domestic workers food or access to a telephone, according to news reports and foreign embassy officials.

International NGOs found that foreign workers faced legal obstacles and lengthy legal processes that prevented them from seeking redress for violations and exploitative conditions. Noncitizen community leaders also highlighted migrant workers’ continued hesitation to report their plight due to fear of reprisals. On June 11, Amnesty International reported that a contracting company constructing the World Cup 2022 al-Bayt Stadium failed to pay the salaries of hundreds of its workers for seven months. On August 24, Human Rights Watch published testimonies of 93 foreign workers who alleged nonpayment of wages, forced labor, manipulation, or fraud.

On October 4, both the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs published the National Policy on Occupational Safety and Health, which aims to prevent accidents, injuries, and diseases arising out of, linked with, or occurring in the course of work. In March the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the body responsible for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, announced that nine laborers working on the World Cup facilities died in 2019, bringing the number of deaths on World Cup projects to 34, since construction began six years ago. According to the committee, 31 of the deaths were classified as “nonwork related.”

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The 1992 Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government, and it provides that the Quran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution. It specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud). In 2015 the country held its most recent municipal elections on a nonparty basis for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats in the 284 municipal councils around the country. Independent polling station observers did not identify significant irregularities with the elections.

The State Security Presidency, National Guard, and Ministries of Defense and Interior, all of which report to the king, are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The State Security Presidency includes the General Directorate of Investigation (Mabahith), Special Security Forces, and Special Emergency Forces; police are under the Ministry of Interior. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Saudi Arabia continued air operations in Yemen throughout the year as leader of a coalition formed to counter the 2014 Houthi takeover of Yemeni government institutions and facilities. Houthi militants conducted missile, rocket, drone, and artillery attacks aimed at Saudi territory on an almost weekly basis. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen reportedly resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on multiple occasions. In June the UN secretary-general noted a “sustained, significant decrease in killing and maiming due to air strikes” and delisted the Saudi-led coalition from the list of parties responsible for grave violations against children in armed conflict. The Joint Incident Assessment Team, an independent investigative body, reviewed allegations of civilian casualties against the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and referred incidents for potential action. (See the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen).

During the year a royal decree abolished discretionary (tazir) death penalty sentences for crimes committed by minors, although the death penalty can still be applied to minors in instances specified by Islamic law (including for murder when the victim’s family seeks the death penalty). The decree also capped prison sentences for minors at 10 years. The Supreme Court instructed courts to end flogging as a discretionary sentence and replace it with prison sentences or fines, which could eliminate flogging in most cases. Authorities continued to expand women’s rights, including a court ruling that a woman living independently did not constitute a criminal act and the Ministry of Education’s decision to drop the requirement that women studying abroad on a government scholarship be accompanied by a male guardian.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including threats of violence or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and engaging in harassment and intimidation against Saudi dissidents living abroad; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to choose their government peacefully through free and fair elections; violence and discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were implemented; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including prohibition of trade unions and collective bargaining.

In several cases the government did not punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity. In September the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced a final verdict in the murder trial of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018. All five defendants previously sentenced to death for their roles had their sentences commuted to a maximum of 20 years in prison, following a pardon from the Khashoggi family. Three others had their prison sentences upheld. The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions called the verdicts a “parody of justice” and stated high-level officials “who organized and embraced the execution of Jamal Khashoggi have walked free from the start.”

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 several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO), which reports to the King, is responsible for investigating whether security force actions were justifiable and pursuing prosecutions.

On April 13, media reported that security forces shot and killed tribal activist Abdulrahim al-Huwaiti in the northwestern town of al-Khuraybah, Tabuk region. Al-Huwaiti reportedly refused to leave his home, which was slated for demolition in preparation for the construction of a new high-tech city to attract foreign investors. He was killed following a clash with authorities at his home. Hours before his death, al-Huwaiti posted YouTube videos in which he criticized the project and claimed his neighbors had been forcibly removed after facing pressure from the government and rejecting financial compensation to move.

An August 13 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Saudi border guards of killing several dozen Ethiopian migrants in April as they crossed over the border from Yemen illegally, fleeing Houthi forces who were forcibly expelling migrant workers.

Under the country’s interpretation and practice of sharia (Islamic law), capital punishment may be imposed for a range of nonviolent offenses, including apostasy, sorcery, and adultery, although in practice death sentences for such offenses were rare and usually reduced on appeal. As of December 31, five of the 25 executions during the year were for crimes not considered “most serious” (drug related). The total number of executions during the year was considerably less than the 185 executions carried out in 2019.

Since the country lacks a comprehensive written penal code listing criminal offenses and the associated penalties for them (see section 1.e.), punishment–including the imposition of capital punishment–is subject to considerable judicial discretion.

On September 7, the Riyadh Criminal Court issued a final verdict in the murder trial of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed in Istanbul in 2018. All five government agents who were previously sentenced to death for their roles had their sentences commuted to a maximum of 20 years in prison. Three other defendants had their sentences of seven to 10 years’ imprisonment upheld. The court’s ruling came after Khashoggi’s sons announced in May they would exercise their right to pardon the five individuals who had been sentenced to death. On September 7, the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, called the final verdict a “parody of justice” and asserted that the high-level officials “who organized and embraced the execution of Jamal Khashoggi have walked free from the start.”

In April a royal decree abolished discretionary (tazir) death penalty sentences for those who committed crimes as minors. (The 2018 Juvenile Law sets the legal age of adulthood at 18 based on the Hijri calendar.) Minor offenders, however, who are convicted in qisas, a category of crimes that includes various types of murder, or hudud, crimes that carry specific penalties under the country’s interpretation of Islamic law, could still face the death penalty, according to HRW. The royal decree also capped prison sentences for minors at 10 years.

On April 8, government authorities in al-Bahah region carried out a qisas death sentence against Abdulmohsen al-Ghamdi, who had been charged with intentional homicide when he was a child, according to the European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR). Al-Ghamdi was reportedly arrested in 2012, at the age of 15, after he had shot and killed a classmate at a high school.

On August 26, the governmental Human Rights Commission (HRC) announced the Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) ordered a review of the death sentences of three Shia activists, Abdullah al-Zaher, Dawood al-Marhoon, and Ali al-Nimr, who were minors at the time of arrest. The statement indicated that the review order was an implementation of the April royal decree and applied retroactively.

In November a judge in the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) ruled to overturn al-Marhoon and al-Zaher’s death sentences, and resentenced them to 10 years. Al-Zaher and al-Marhoon were 16 and 17, respectively, at the time of their arrests in 2012. Both were charged in connection with their involvement in antigovernment protests.

As of December, al-Nimr’s case remained under review. Al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to death in 2014 for crimes allegedly committed when he was 17. He was charged with protesting, aiding and abetting fugitives, attacking security vehicles, and various violent crimes. Human rights organizations reported due process concerns relating to minimum fair-trial standards for his case. Al-Nimr is the nephew of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, executed in 2016.

There was also no update by year’s end as to whether the April royal decree would be applied retroactively in the case of the death sentence against Mustafa al-Darwish for his involvement as a minor in antigovernment protests in 2012. On February 26, Nashet Qatifi, a Shia activist group, claimed the Supreme Court had upheld al-Darwish’s death penalty.

In November the rights group Reprieve expressed concern for 10 minors who remained on death row, including Muhammad al-Faraj. The group reported that prosecutors continued to seek the death penalty in a trial against al-Faraj, who was arrested in 2017 for protest-related crimes when he was 15.

In February a court issued a final verdict reducing Murtaja Qureiris’ sentence from a 12-year prison term handed to him in June 2019 to eight years, followed by a travel ban for a similar period, according to the human rights organization al-Qst (ALQST). According to rights groups including Amnesty International, Qureiris was detained in 2014 for a series of offenses committed when he was between 10 and 13 years old, and the public prosecution had sought the death penalty in his case.

There were terrorist attacks in the country during the year. Iranian-backed Houthis continued to target Saudi civilians and infrastructure with missiles and unmanned aircraft systems launched from Yemen. There were no civilian casualties during the year.

The United Nations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), media, and humanitarian and other international organizations reported what they characterized as disproportionate use of force by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, including the Saudi-led coalition, Houthi militants, and other combatants. The Group of Experts concluded that four airstrikes conducted by the Saudi-led coalition (SLC) between June 2019 and June 2020 were undertaken without proper regard to the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution to protect civilians and civilian objects. A UN report released in June documented 395 instances of killing and 1,052 instances of maiming of children in Yemen between January and December 2019, of which 222 casualties were attributed to the SLC. The UN secretary-general noted this was a “sustained significant decrease in killing and maiming due to air strikes” and delisted the SLC from the list of parties responsible for grave violations against children in armed conflict. (See the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen.)

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances carried out by or on behalf of government authorities.

In early March authorities reportedly detained four senior princes: Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, King Salman’s full brother; his son, Prince Nayef bin Ahmed, a former head of army intelligence; Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, former crown prince and interior minister; and his younger brother, Prince Nawaf bin Nayef. The detentions were not announced by the government, but Reuters reported that the princes were accused of “conducting contacts with foreign powers to carry out a coup d’etat.” The Wall Street Journal reported that at the same time, security forces detained dozens of Interior Ministry officials, senior army officers, and others suspected of supporting the alleged coup attempt. In August lawyers representing Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said they were increasingly concerned about his well-being, alleging that his whereabouts remained unknown five months after he was detained and stating that he had not been allowed visits by his personal doctor. Prince Nawaf’s lawyers stated he was released in August, but there were no updates on the other three as of year’s end.

On March 16, authorities arrested Omar al-Jabri, 21, and Sarah al-Jabri, 20, in Riyadh and held them in incommunicado detention, according to HRW. They are the children of former intelligence official Saad al-Jabri, who has lived in exile in Canada since 2017. Prisoners of Conscience reported that the first trial hearing against Omar and Sarah occurred on September 10. They remained in detention at year’s end.

On March 27, authorities reportedly detained Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al Saud, son of the late king Abdullah and former head of the Saudi Red Crescent Society, and have since held him incommunicado and refused to reveal his whereabouts, according to HRW. The authorities previously detained Prince Faisal during a November 2017 anticorruption campaign.

On March 5, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions contacted the Foreign Ministry to urge the release of Princess Basmah bint Saud, 56, a daughter of the late king Saud. On April 15, a verified Twitter account owned by Princess Basmah issued a series of tweets stating that she and her daughter Suhoud al-Sharif were being held without charge in al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh and that her health was deteriorating, according to HRW. The tweets apparently disappeared after several hours. On May 5, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that family members had received no further information about her well-being or status. On April 6, the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council reported it sent a communication to the government alleging that authorities prevented Princess Basmah and her daughter from traveling to seek medical attention for her daughter’s health condition, that they were subsequently detained and held incommunicado for a period of approximately one month, and that they were being held at the al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh without charge, according to the ESOHR.

On May 17, State Security Presidency (SSP) officers arrested internet activist Amani al-Zain in Jeddah; her whereabouts remained unknown, according to the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and Prisoners of Conscience. They added that al-Zain was arrested after she apparently referred to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as “Abu Munshar,” meaning “father of the saw,” while on a live video chat with Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim in October 2019.

On June 28, the Geneva-based Organization for Rights and Liberties (SAM) called on the government to disclose the fate of five Yemenis it said were being held in its prisons. On June 10, Prisoners of Conscience confirmed Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Zubayri, a member of the Yemeni Congregation for Reform or al-Islah Party had been in Saudi detention since May 20 for participating in an online meeting hosted by Yemeni students in Turkey.

In February disappeared humanitarian aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan was permitted to call his family briefly, at which time he stated he was being held in al-Ha’ir Prison. His family has not heard from him since.

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

The law prohibits torture and makes officers, who are responsible for criminal investigations, liable for any abuse of authority. Sharia, as interpreted in the country, prohibits judges from accepting confessions obtained under duress. Statutory law provides that public investigators shall not subject accused persons to coercive measures to influence their testimony.

Human rights organizations, the United Nations, and independent third parties noted numerous reports of torture and mistreatment of detainees by law enforcement officers. ALQST alleged that authorities continued to use torture in prisons and interrogation rooms. Amnesty International assessed in a February statement that one of the most striking failings of the SCC in trials was “its unquestioning reliance on torture-tainted ‘confessions.’” It alleged at least 20 Shia men tried by the SCC have been sentenced to death on the basis of confessions obtained by torture since 2016, with 17 of them already executed. Former detainees in facilities run by the Mabahith alleged that abuse included beatings, sleep deprivation, and long periods of solitary confinement for nonviolent detainees.

On May 11, seven UN special rapporteurs sent a letter to the government regarding Shia cleric Sheikh Mohammed Hassan al-Habib and Shia teenager Murtaja Qureiris (see section 1.a.), expressing concern at the use of torture and mistreatment to extract confessions and possible incriminating evidence.

On July 11, the ESOHR stated the government continued to hold 49 women activists in detention, including several human rights advocates, and claimed they were subjected to torture and mistreatment.

On August 13, SAM alleged in Middle East Monitor that Jizan Prison authorities subjected hundreds of Yemeni detainees to torture and mistreatment. It said former Yemeni detainees claimed that prison officials subjected them to severe torture including electrocutions, crucifixions, being held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods, denial of health care, and being denied outside contacts, including with lawyers and family. According to the group, at least one detainee died.

Officials from the Ministry of Interior, the PPO, and the HRC, which is responsible for coordinating with other government entities to investigate and respond to alleged human rights violations (see section 5), claimed that rules prohibiting torture prevented such practices from occurring in the penal system. The Ministry of Interior stated it installed surveillance cameras to record interrogations of suspects in some criminal investigation offices, police stations, and prisons where such interrogations allegedly occurred.

Courts continued to sentence individuals to corporal punishment, but in April the Supreme Court instructed all courts to end flogging as a discretionary (ta’zir) criminal sentence and replace it with prison sentences, fines, or a mixture of both. Flogging still could be included in sentences for three hudud crimes: drunkenness, sexual conduct between unmarried persons, and false accusations of adultery. The Supreme Court stated the reform was intended to “bring the Kingdom in line with international human rights norms against corporal punishment.”

Impunity was a problem in the security forces. The ongoing crackdown on corruption, including the investigation of security services personnel, and the announced reform of the legal code indicate efforts to address impunity.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions varied, and some did not meet international standards; reported problems included overcrowding and inadequate conditions.

Physical Conditions: Juveniles constituted less than 1 percent of detainees and were held in separate facilities from adults, according to available information.

Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. They separated persons suspected or convicted of terrorism offenses from the general population but held them in similar facilities. Activists alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals in the same cells as individuals with mental disabilities as a form of punishment and indicated that authorities mistreated persons with disabilities.

Authorities differentiated between violent and nonviolent prisoners, sometimes pardoning nonviolent prisoners to reduce the prison population. Shia inmates were in some cases held in separate wings of prisons and reportedly faced worse conditions than Sunnis.

Certain prisoners convicted on terrorism-related charges were required to participate in government-sponsored rehabilitation programs before consideration of their release.

In a June 7 report, the Guardian newspaper quoted rights groups as saying that al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh has long been associated with physical abuse. An ALQST representative alleged the general criminal area of al-Ha’ir was overcrowded and had poor sanitation and that denial of medical treatment and temporary transfer of political prisoners into the overcrowded general criminal prison were used as punishment.

On March 26, the HRC announced that authorities released 250 foreign detainees held on nonviolent immigration and residency offenses as part of efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

On April 24, human rights defender Abdullah al-Hamid, 69, died in detention. Prisoners of Conscience, which tracks human rights-related cases in the country, asserted his death was due to “intentional health neglect” by prison authorities. According to ALQST and HRW, al-Hamid’s health deteriorated after authorities delayed a necessary heart operation. ALQST and HRW also reported that authorities took steps to prevent him from discussing his health condition with his family. Al-Hamid, cofounder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (known as ACPRA), was serving an 11-year prison sentence following his conviction in 2013 on charges related to his peaceful political and human rights activism. On June 2, UN experts sent the government a letter expressing deep concern over al-Hamid’s death in detention.

Administration: There were multiple legal authorities for prisons and detention centers. The General Directorate of Prisons administered approximately 91 detention centers, prisons, and jails, while the Mabahith administered approximately 20 regional prisons and detention centers for security prisoners. The law of criminal procedure gives the PPO the authority to conduct official visits of prisons and detention facilities “within their jurisdictional areas to ensure that no person is unlawfully imprisoned or detained.”

No ombudsmen were available to register or investigate complaints made by prisoners, although prisoners could and did submit complaints to the HRC, which has offices in a number of prisons, and the quasi-governmental National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) for follow up. The law of criminal procedure provides that “any prisoner or detainee shall have the right to submit, at any time, a written or verbal complaint to the prison or detention center officer and request that he communicate it to a member of the [former] Bureau of Investigations and Public Prosecution [renamed the PPO].” Inmates, however, required approval from prison authorities to submit complaints to an HRC office. Under the law there is no right to submit complaints directly to judicial authorities. There was no information available on whether prisoners were able to submit complaints to prison or prosecutorial authorities without censorship or whether authorities responded or acted upon complaints.

On January 13, the PPO launched Maakom, an electronic service that allows citizens and residents to submit complaints in case of any violation of the rights of detainees. Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Muqbel, the PPO’s assistant undersecretary for prison supervision and enforcement of sentences, declared, “The PPO will follow up on the case, go to where the detainee is held, conduct the necessary investigations, order the detainee’s release if there are irregularities in his arrest, and take necessary measures against perpetrators of the illegal arrest.” There were no updates on implementation of the system by year’s end.

Record keeping on prisoners was inadequate; there were reports authorities held prisoners after they had completed their sentences.

A Ministry of Interior-run website (Nafetha) provided detainees and their relatives access to a database containing information about the legal status of the detainee, including any scheduled trial dates. Activists said the website did not provide information about all detainees.

Authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners twice a week, although certain prisons limited visitation to once or twice a month. Prisoners were typically granted at least one telephone call per week. There were reports that prison, security, or law enforcement officials denied this privilege in some instances, often during investigations. The families of detainees could access the Nafetha website for applications for prison visits, temporary leave from prison (generally approved around post-Ramadan Eid holidays), and release on bail (for pretrial detainees). Some family members of detained persons under investigation said family visits were typically not allowed, while others said allowed visits or calls were extremely brief (less than five minutes). Authorities at times reportedly denied some detainees weekly telephone calls for several months. Some family members of prisoners complained authorities canceled scheduled visits with relatives without reason. Since March human rights groups reported that in-person visitation in prisons was suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Authorities generally permitted Muslim detainees and prisoners to perform religious observances such as prayers.

Independent Monitoring: Independent institutions were not permitted to conduct regular, unannounced visits to places of detention, according to the UN Committee against Torture. During the year the government permitted some foreign diplomats restricted access to some prison facilities in nonconsular cases. In a limited number of cases, foreign diplomats were granted consular visits to individuals in detention, but the visits took place in a separate visitors’ center where conditions may differ from those in the detention facilities holding the prisoners.

The government permitted the HRC and quasi-governmental NSHR to monitor prison conditions. The organizations stated they visited prisons throughout the country and reported on prison conditions. On July 9, local media reported the HRC conducted 2,094 prison visits during the fiscal year 2019-20, including visits to public prisons, security prisons, and various detention centers, as well as “social observation centers” and girls’ welfare institutions.

Improvements: On April 7, King Salman ordered the temporary suspension of execution of final verdicts and judicial orders related to the imprisonment of debtors involved in private rights-related cases in an effort to reduce the prison population and limit the spread of COVID-19. He also ordered the immediate, temporary release of prisoners already serving time for debt-related convictions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law provides that no entity may restrict a person’s actions or imprison a person, except under the provisions of the law. The law of criminal procedure provides that authorities may not detain a person for more than 24 hours, but the Ministry of Interior and the SSP, to which the majority of forces with arrest powers reported, maintained broad authority to arrest and detain persons indefinitely without judicial oversight, notification of charges, or effective access to legal counsel or family.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

On May 11, the Council of Ministers established a new system for the PPO and amended Article 112 of the law of criminal procedure, giving the PPO “complete and independent powers” to identify major crimes that require detention, according to local media. On August 21, Public Prosecutor Saud al-Mu’jab issued a list of 25 major crimes that mandate arrest and pretrial detention, including types of border crimes, corruption, homicide, and offenses against national security, among others.

According to the law of criminal procedure, “no person shall be arrested, searched, detained, or imprisoned except in cases provided by law, and any accused person shall have the right to seek the assistance of a lawyer or a representative to defend him during the investigation and trial stages.” By law authorities may summon any person for investigation and may issue an arrest warrant based on evidence. In practice authorities frequently did not use warrants, and warrants were not required under the law in all cases.

The law requires authorities to file charges within 72 hours of arrest and hold a trial within six months, subject to exceptions specified by amendments to the law of criminal procedure and the counterterrorism law (see section 2.a.). Authorities may not legally detain a person under arrest for more than 24 hours, except pursuant to a written order from a public investigator. Authorities reportedly often failed to observe these legal protections, and there was no requirement to advise suspects of their rights.

The law specifies procedures required for extending the detention period of an accused person beyond the initial five days. Authorities may approve detentions in excess of six months in “exceptional circumstances,” effectively allowing individuals to be held in pretrial detention indefinitely in cases involving terrorism or “violations of state security.” There is a functioning bail system for less serious criminal charges. The PPO may order the detention of any person accused of a crime under the counterterrorism law for up to 30 days, renewable up to 12 months, and in state security cases up to 24 months with a judge’s approval.

By law defendants accused of any crime cited in the law are entitled to hire a lawyer to defend themselves before the court “within an adequate period of time to be decided by the investigatory body.” In cases involving terrorism or state security charges, detainees generally did not have the right to obtain a lawyer of their choice. The government provided lawyers to defendants who made a formal application to the Ministry of Justice to receive a court-appointed lawyer and proved their inability to pay for their legal representation.

There were reports authorities did not always allow legal counsel access to detainees who were under investigation in pretrial detention. Authorities indicated a suspect could be held up to 12 months in investigative detention without access to legal counsel if authorized by prosecutors. Judicial proceedings begin after authorities complete a full investigation.

The king continued the tradition of commuting some judicial punishments. Royal pardons sometimes set aside a conviction and sometimes reduced or eliminated corporal punishment. The remaining sentence could be added to a new sentence if the pardoned prisoner committed a crime subsequent to release.

Authorities commuted the sentences of some who had received prison terms. The counterterrorism law allows the PPO to stop proceedings against an individual who cooperates with investigations or helps thwart a planned terrorist attack. The law authorizes the SSP to release individuals already convicted in such cases.

Arbitrary Arrest: Rights groups received reports from families claiming authorities held their relatives arbitrarily or without notification of charges. During the year authorities detained without charge security suspects, persons who publicly criticized the government, Shia religious leaders, individuals with links to rights activists, and persons accused of violating religious standards.

On September 4, Prisoners of Conscience reported that the SCC sentenced six academics and journalists detained in 2017, including Abdullah al-Maliki, Fahd al-Sunaidi, Khalid al-Ajeemi, Ahmed al-Suwayan, Ibrahim al-Harthi, and Yousef al-Qassem, to prison sentences of three to seven years. Saudi rights activist Yahya al-Assiri stated the men were arbitrarily detained and that their convictions were based on solely on tweets.

Pretrial Detention: In August, ALQST and the Geneva-based MENA Rights Group lodged a complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva over the “arbitrary” detention of Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman and his father. In 2018 Prince Salman was detained along with 11 other princes after they staged what the PPO called a “sit-in” at a royal palace in Riyadh to demand the state continue to pay their electricity and water bills. Sources told AFP that the prince and his father have never been interrogated or charged since their detention began more than two and a half years ago.

Incommunicado detention was also a problem (see section 1.b.). Authorities reportedly did not always respect a detainees’ right to contact family members following detention, and the counterterrorism law allows the investigatory body to hold a defendant for up to 90 days in detention without access to family members or legal counsel (and the SCC may extend such restrictions beyond this period). Security and some other types of prisoners sometimes remained in prolonged solitary detention before family members or associates received information of their whereabouts, particularly for detainees in Mabahith-run facilities.

On September 6, HRW stated authorities denied some prominent detainees, including former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Muslim scholar Salman al-Odah, contact with their family members and lawyers for months. After almost three months in incommunicado detention, according to HRW, family members of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul said authorities allowed her parents to visit on August 31, following her six-day hunger strike; she started another hunger strike October 26 in protest of prison conditions (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Under the law detainees are not entitled to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court. In the case of wrongful detention, the law of criminal procedure, as well as provisions of the counterterrorism law, provide for the right to compensation if detainees are found to have been held unlawfully.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides that judges are independent and not subject to any authority other than the provisions of sharia and the laws in force. Nevertheless, the judiciary, the PPO, and the SSP were not independent entities, as they were required to coordinate their decisions with executive authorities, with the king and crown prince as arbiters. Although public allegations of interference with judicial independence were rare, the judiciary reportedly was subject to influence, particularly in the case of legal decisions rendered by specialized judicial bodies, such as the SCC, which rarely acquitted suspects. Human rights activists reported that SCC judges received implicit instructions to issue harsh sentences against human rights activists, reformers, journalists, and dissidents not engaged in violent activities. Activists also reported that judicial and prosecutorial authorities ignored due process-related complaints, including lack of access by lawyers to their clients at critical stages of the judicial process, particularly during the pretrial investigation phase.

Women’s ability to practice law was limited; there were no women on the High Court or Supreme Judicial Council and no female judges or public prosecutors. On June 17, the Shoura rejected a proposal to study appointing women as judges in personal status courts. In August 2019, however, the PPO announced the appointment of 50 women as public prosecution investigators, marking the first time that women had held this position. On June 4, the PPO appointed an additional 53 women as public prosecution investigators.

Defendants are able to appeal their sentences. The law requires a five-judge appellate court to affirm a death sentence, which a five-judge panel of the Supreme Court must unanimously affirm. Appellate courts may recommend changes to a sentence, including increasing the severity of a lesser sentence (up to the death penalty), if the trial court convicted the defendant of a crime for which capital punishment is permitted.

Defendants possess the right under the law to seek commutation of a death sentence for some crimes and may receive a royal pardon under specific circumstances (see section 1.d.). In some prescribed cases (qisas), the families of the deceased may accept compensation from the family of the person convicted in an unlawful death, sparing the convicted from execution.

On February 6, Amnesty International reported that authorities were using the SCC “to systematically silence dissent.” Amnesty accused the SCC of using overly broad counterterror and anticybercrime laws in unfair trials to hand down prison sentences of up to 30 years as well as the death penalty to human rights defenders, writers, economists, journalists, religious clerics, reformists, and political activists, particularly from the Shia minority. Amnesty asserted that “every stage of the SCC’s judicial process is tainted with human rights abuses, from the denial of access to a lawyer, to incommunicado detention, to convictions based solely on so-called ‘confessions’ extracted through torture.”

On April 17, HRW reported 68 Palestinians and Jordanians on trial before the SCC on the charge of links with an unnamed “terrorist organization” were subjected to a range of abuses, including forced disappearances, long-term solitary confinement, and torture, according to their family members, and that their trial raised serious due process concerns.

Trial Procedures

In the judicial system, there traditionally was no published case law on criminal matters, no uniform criminal code, no presumption of innocence, and no doctrine of stare decisis that binds judges to follow legal precedent. The Justice Ministry continued to expand a project started in 2007 to distribute model judicial decisions to ensure more uniformity of legal application, and as recently as August 2019, the ministry published judicial decisions on its website. The law states that defendants should be treated equally in accordance with sharia. The Council of Senior Scholars, or the ulema, an autonomous advisory body, issues religious opinions (fatwas) that guide how judges interpret sharia.

In the absence of a formalized penal code that details all criminal offenses and punishments, judges in the courts determine many of these penalties through their interpretations of sharia, which varied according to the judge and the circumstances of the case. Because judges have considerable discretion in decision making, rulings and sentences diverged widely from case to case.

Several laws, however, provide sentencing requirements for crimes including terrorism, cybercrimes, trafficking in persons, and domestic abuse. In 2016 the Ministry of Justice issued a compilation of previous decisions that judges could refer to as a point of reference in making rulings and assigning sentences.

Appeals courts cannot independently reverse lower-court judgments; they are limited to affirming judgments or returning them to a lower court for modification. Even when judges did not affirm judgments, appeals judges in some cases remanded the judgment to the judge who originally authored the opinion. This procedure sometimes made it difficult for parties to receive a ruling that differed from the original judgment in cases where judges hesitated to admit error. While judges may base their decisions on any of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, all of which are represented in the Council of Senior Scholars, the Hanbali School predominates and forms the basis for the country’s law and legal interpretations of sharia. Shia citizens use their legal traditions to adjudicate family law cases between Shia parties, although either party can decide to adjudicate a case in state courts, which apply Sunni legal traditions.

While the law states that court hearings shall be public, courts may be closed at the judge’s discretion. As a result, many trials during the year were closed. Since 2018 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs barred foreign diplomatic missions from attending court proceedings at the SCC as well as trials related to security and human rights issues. Diplomatic personnel were generally allowed to attend consular proceedings of their own citizens. Some family members of prisoners complained that neither they nor the legal representatives of the accused were permitted access to trials or notified about the status of trial proceedings. In a number of cases, family members were given only 24 hours’ notice before an SCC trial hearing.

According to the Ministry of Justice, authorities may close a trial depending on the sensitivity of the case to national security, the reputation of the defendant, or the safety of witnesses. Representatives of the HRC sometimes attended trials at the SCC.

According to the law, authorities must offer defendants a lawyer at government expense. In 2017 the Ministry of Justice stated that defendants “enjoy all judicial guarantees they are entitled to, including the right to seek the assistance of lawyers of their choosing to defend them, while the ministry pays the lawyer’s fees when the accused is not able to settle them.” Activists alleged that many political prisoners were not able or allowed to retain an attorney or consult with their attorneys during critical stages of the investigatory and trial proceedings. Detained human rights activists often did not trust the courts to appoint lawyers for them due to concerns of lawyer bias.

The law provides defendants the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney during the trial. The counterterrorism law, however, authorizes the attorney general to limit the right of defendants accused of terrorism to access legal representation while under investigation “whenever the interests of the investigation so require.” There is no right to discovery, nor can defendants view their own file or the minutes from their interrogation. Defendants have the right to call and cross-examine witnesses under the law. Activists reported, however, that SCC judges could decide to restrict this right in “the interests of the case.” The law provides that a PPO-appointed investigator question the witnesses called by the defendant during the investigation phase before the initiation of a trial. The investigator may also hear testimony of additional witnesses he deems necessary to determine the facts. Authorities may not subject a defendant to any coercive measures or compel the taking of an oath. The court must inform convicted persons of their right to appeal rulings.

The law does not provide for a right against self-incrimination.

The law does not provide free interpretation services, although services were often provided in practice. The law of criminal procedure provides that “the court should seek the assistance of interpreters,” but it does not obligate the court to do so from the moment the defendant is charged, nor does the law specify that the state will bear the costs of such services.

While sharia as interpreted by the government applies to all citizens and noncitizens, the law in practice discriminates against women, noncitizens, nonpracticing Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, and persons of other religions. In some cases the testimony of a woman equals half that of a man. Judges have discretion to discount the testimony of nonpracticing Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, or persons of other religions; sources reported judges sometimes completely disregarded or refused to hear testimony by Shia Muslims.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government maintained there were no political prisoners, including detainees who reportedly remained in prolonged detention without charge, while local activists and human rights organizations claimed there were “hundreds” or “thousands.” Credible reporting by advocacy groups and press suggested authorities detained persons for peaceful activism or political opposition, including nonviolent religious figures, women’s rights defenders, and human rights activists, and those who the government claimed posted offensive or antigovernment comments on social media sites.

In many cases it was impossible to determine the legal basis for incarceration and whether the detention complied with international norms and standards. During the year the SCC tried political and human rights activists for nonviolent actions unrelated to terrorism, violence, or espionage against the state. Authorities restricted attorneys’ access to detainees on trial at the SCC.

International NGOs, the United Nations, and others criticized the government for abusing its antiterrorism legal authorities to detain or arrest some dissidents or critics of the government or royal family on security-related grounds, who had not espoused or committed violence. At least 192 persons remained in detention for activism, criticism of government leaders or policies, impugning Islam or religious leaders, or “offensive” internet postings, including prominent activists such as Raif Badawi, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Naimah Abdullah al-Matrod, Maha al-Rafidi, Eman al-Nafjan, Waleed Abu al-Khair, and Nassima al-Sadah; clerics including former grand mosque imam Salih al-Talib; and Sahwa movement figures Safar al-Hawali, Nasser al-Omar, and others.

Between January and March, the Riyadh Criminal Court resumed trials against 11 women activists, including several arrested in 2018. Among them were Nassima al-Sadah, Samar Badawi, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Nouf Abdelaziz al-Jerawi, and Loujain al-Hathloul–all of whom remained detained and faced charges related to their human rights work and contact with international organizations, foreign media, and other activists. The women were accused of violating the cybercrimes law, which prohibits production of materials that harm public order, religious values, or public morals, and carries penalties of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to three million riyals ($800,000). On November 25, all five appeared in criminal court, where the judge referred al-Hathloul’s case to the SCC. There was no information about the outcome of the hearing for al-Sadah, Badawi, al-Zahrani and al-Jerawi.

On August 26, media reported authorities severed contact between some detainees and their families, including Loujain al-Hathloul (see section 1.d.), Princess Basmah bint Saud, and Salman al-Odah.

On December 22, the Riyadh Criminal Court dismissed al-Hathloul’s complaint that she had been tortured during the first months of her detention. On December 28, the SCC found al-Hathloul guilty of violating the antiterrorism law, specifically by “seeking to implement a foreign agenda and change the Basic Law of Governance,” through online activity. She was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison with two years and 10 months of that suspended and credit for time served since her May 2018 arrest.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

In August, Saad al-Jabri, a former high-ranking Saudi intelligence official who fled the country in 2016, filed a suit in Canada alleging that a hit squad (Tiger Squad) had been sent to track and kill him in 2018. The team was reportedly stopped by Canadian border services and refused entry, around the same time that Saudi officials killed Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. The suit also alleged al-Jabri’s family members were held hostage in Saudi Arabia and that spyware was implanted on his smartphone. According to media reports, INTERPOL lifted a Red Notice that Saudi Arabia filed against him in 2017 on the basis that it was politically motivated.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Complainants claiming human rights violations generally sought assistance from the HRC or the NSHR, which either advocated on their behalf or provided courts with opinions on their cases. The HRC generally responded to complaints and could refer cases to the PPO; domestic violence cases were the most common. Individuals or organizations may petition directly for damages or government action to end human rights violations before the Board of Grievances, except in compensation cases related to state security, where the SCC handles remediation. The counterterrorism law contains a provision allowing detainees in Mabahith-run prisons to request financial compensation from the Ministry of Interior/SSP for wrongful detention beyond their prison terms. In some cases the government did not carry out judicially ordered compensation for unlawful detentions in a timely manner.

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

The law prohibits unlawful intrusions into the privacy of persons, their homes, places of work, and vehicles. Criminal investigation officers are required to maintain records of all searches conducted; these records should contain the name of the officer conducting the search, the text of the search warrant (or an explanation of the urgency that necessitated the search without a warrant), and the names and signatures of the persons who were present at the time of search. While the law also provides for the privacy of all mail, telegrams, telephone conversations, and other means of communication, the government did not respect the privacy of correspondence or communications and used the considerable latitude provided by the law to monitor activities legally and intervene where it deemed necessary.

Authorities targeted family members of activists and critics of the government. On May 12, security officers raided the home of Saad al-Jabri’s brother, Abdulrahman, a professor at King Saud University, and detained him without explanation, according to HRW. On August 24, authorities arrested Saad al-Jabri’s son-in-law, Salem Almuzaini. His family said he was arrested without charge or justifiable cause, alleging the detention was in retaliation against and aiming to intimidate Saad al-Jabri for filing a lawsuit against Saudi government officials in a foreign court.

There were reports from human rights activists of governmental monitoring or blocking of mobile telephone or internet usage. The government strictly monitored politically related activities and took punitive actions, including arrest and detention, against persons engaged in certain political activities, such as calling for a constitutional monarchy, publicly criticizing senior members of the royal family by name, forming a political party, or organizing a demonstration (see section 2.a.). Customs officials reportedly routinely opened mail and shipments to search for contraband. In some areas, Ministry of Interior/SSP informants allegedly reported “seditious ideas,” “antigovernment activity,” or “behavior contrary to Islam” in their neighborhoods.

Encrypted communications were banned, and authorities frequently attempted to identify and detain anonymous or pseudonymous users and writers who made critical or controversial remarks. Government authorities regularly surveilled websites, blogs, chat rooms, social media sites, emails, and text messages. Media outlets reported that authorities gained access to dissidents’ Twitter and social media accounts and in some cases questioned, detained, or prosecuted individuals for comments made online. The counterterrorism law allows the Ministry of Interior/SSP to access a terrorism suspect’s private communications and banking information in a manner inconsistent with the legal protections provided by the law of criminal procedure.

The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) is charged with monitoring and regulating public interaction between members of the opposite sex, although in practice CPVPV authorities were greatly curtailed compared with past years.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

For information on Saudi Arabia’s conflict in Yemen previously found in this section, please see the executive summary and section 1.a. of this report and the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law does not provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. The Basic Law specifies, “Mass media and all other vehicles of expression shall employ civil and polite language, contribute towards the education of the nation, and strengthen unity. Media are prohibited from committing acts that lead to disorder and division, affect the security of the state or its public relations, or undermine human dignity and rights.” Authorities are responsible for regulating and determining which speech or expression undermines internal security. The government can ban or suspend media outlets if it concludes they violated the press and publications law, and it monitored and blocked hundreds of thousands of internet sites. There were frequent reports of restrictions on free speech.

The counterterrorism law’s definition of terrorism includes “any conduct…intended to disturb public order…or destabilize the state or endanger its national unity.” The law also penalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the king or crown prince…or anyone who establishes or uses a website or computer program…to commit any of the offenses set out in the law.” Local human rights activists, international human rights organizations, and the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism criticized the law for its overly broad and vague definitions of terrorism and complained the government used it to prosecute peaceful expression and dissent.

Freedom of Speech: The government monitored public expressions of opinion and took advantage of legal controls to impede the free expression of opinion and restrict individuals from engaging in public criticism of the political sphere. The law forbids apostasy and blasphemy, which can carry the death penalty, although there were no recent instances of death sentences being carried out for these crimes (see section 1.a.). Statements that authorities construed as constituting defamation of the king, monarchy, governing system, or Al Saud family resulted in criminal charges for citizens advocating government reform. The government prohibits public employees from directly or indirectly engaging in dialogue with local or foreign media or participating in any meetings intended to oppose state policies.

The government detained a number of individuals for crimes related to their exercise of free speech during the year. On February 27, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged the government to uphold the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly and review convictions of activists, religious leaders, and journalists.

ALQST reported that authorities arrested Hezam al-Ahmari on February 10 for filming and publishing a video complaining about the opening of a nightclub in his neighborhood in Jeddah. It said he was charged with “inciting public opinion,” under Article 6 of the cybercrimes law.

In March the PPO stated it ordered the arrest of “three people who exploited social media to interpret God’s will amid the coronavirus.” The arrestees, including Quran reciter Khaled al-Shahri, preacher Ibrahim al-Duwaish, and health worker Khaled Abdullah, tweeted or appeared in a video claiming the spread of novel coronavirus was a “punishment from Allah (God),” according to Prisoners of Conscience.

On April 8, the PPO announced that the dissemination of misinformation related to COVID-19 would be punishable under the cybercrimes law, adding that the PPO’s Social Media Monitoring Unit would track offensive and illegal social media content and report violations to authorities. Several persons were reportedly arrested and charged for “rumor mongering” and “disrupting order” for comments related to COVID-19. The PPO stated it ordered “the arrest of a person who appeared in a video mocking the COVID-19 crisis and giving misleading information about the current situation.”

On April 1, Prisoners of Conscience reported that authorities arrested a number of social media personalities, including Rakan al-Assiri, Mohammed al-Fawzan, Majed al-Ghamdi, and Mohammed al-Jedaie, over old tweets and videos expressing personal views, while Ministry of Interior spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Talal al-Shalhoub stated they were arrested for breaking COVID-19 curfew restrictions.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The Press and Publications Law governs printed materials; printing presses; bookstores; the import, rental, and sale of films; television and radio; foreign media offices and their correspondents; and online newspapers and journals. Media fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Media. The ministry may permanently close “whenever necessary” any means of communication–defined as any means of expressing a viewpoint that is meant for circulation–that it deems is engaged in a prohibited activity, as set forth in the law.

Media policy statements urged journalists to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage. A 2011 royal decree amended the press law to strengthen penalties, create a special commission to judge violations, and require all online newspapers and bloggers to obtain a license from the ministry. The decree bans publishing anything “contradicting sharia, inciting disruption, serving foreign interests that contradict national interests, and damaging the reputation of the grand mufti, members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, or senior government officials.”

The law states that violators can face substantial fines for each violation of the law, which doubles if the violation is repeated. Other penalties include banning individuals from writing. While the Violations Considerations Committee in the Ministry of Media has formal responsibility for implementing the law, the Ministry of Interior, the CPVPV, and judges considered these issues regularly and exercised wide discretion in interpreting the law. It was unclear which of these institutional processes accords with the law.

Although unlicensed satellite dishes were illegal, the government did not enforce restrictions on them, and their use was widespread. Many foreign satellite stations broadcast a wide range of programs into the country in Arabic and other languages, including foreign news channels. Access to foreign sources of information, including via satellite dishes and the internet, was common. Foreign media were subject to licensing requirements from the Ministry of Media and could not operate freely. Some privately owned satellite television networks, headquartered outside the country, maintained local offices and operated under a system of self-censorship.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists, writers, and bloggers to arrest, imprisonment, and harassment during the year (see sections 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions and 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). NGOs, academics, and the press claimed the government targeted dissidents using automated social media accounts to ensure that progovernment messages dominated social media trend lists and effectively silenced dissenting voices. Automated account activity was reportedly accompanied by online harassment by progovernment accounts in some instances.

On July 19, writer and journalist Saleh al-Shehi died in the hospital two months after his early release from prison due to poor health. Al-Shehi had served more than two years of a five-year sentence for insulting, defaming, and offending the royal court and its staff after accusing the royal court of corruption. Local media reported COVID-19 as the cause of death. According to the GCHR, his health deteriorated while in prison. Reporters without Borders, the GCHR, and ALQST called for an independent international inquiry into al-Shehi’s death.

On July 21, ALQST reported that in late April authorities arrested journalist Aql al-Bahili, writer Abdulaziz al-Dukhail, and activist Sultan al-Ajmi, among other journalists and intellectuals, for tweeting condolences following the death of reformer and rights activist Abdullah al-Hamid (see section 1.a.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines and directly or indirectly censored media by licensing domestic media and by controlling importation of foreign printed material.

All newspapers, blogs, and websites in the country must be government licensed. The Ministry of Media must approve the appointment of all senior editors and has authority to remove them. The government provided guidelines to newspapers regarding controversial issues. The Saudi Press Agency reported official government news. The government owned most print and broadcast media and book publication facilities in the country, and members of the royal family owned or influenced privately owned and nominally independent operations, including various media outlets and widely circulated pan-Arab newspapers published outside the country. Authorities prevented or delayed the distribution of foreign print media covering issues considered sensitive, effectively censoring these publications.

The government censored published online and print material it considered blasphemous, extremist, racist, offensive, or inciting chaos, violence, sectarianism, or harm to the public order, as well as criticism of the royal family or its allies among the Gulf Arab states.

On April 6, local media reported that the governor of Asir Province, Prince Turki bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, ordered the suspension of two episodes of a drama series deemed offensive to the population of Asir.

Online self-censorship was pervasive, as social media users were extremely cautious about what they post, share, or “like” due to the threat of harassment or prosecution under broadly worded antiterrorism and other laws. The government closely monitored and often targeted users who expressed support for liberal ideals, minority rights, or political reform, in addition to those who exposed human rights violations. Questioning religious doctrine was strictly taboo, particularly content related to the Prophet Muhammed. Twitter users were fearful of expressing support for outspoken activists who were detained or received prison sentences. Such pressures reportedly led many users to join social media networks that offer more privacy, such as Snapchat and Path.

In some cases, however, individuals criticized specific government bodies or actions publicly without repercussions.

Libel/Slander Laws: The cybercrimes law provides for a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment for “defamation and infliction of damage upon others through the use of various information technology devices,” including social media and social networks.

National Security: Authorities used the cybercrimes law and the counterterrorism law to restrict freedom of expression, including by prosecuting numerous individuals under these laws on charges related to statements made on social media.

Internet Freedom

The Ministry of Media or its agencies must authorize all websites registered and hosted in the country. The General Commission for Audiovisual Media has responsibility for regulating all audio and video content in the country, including satellite channels, film, music, internet, and mobile applications, independent from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Internet access was widely available.

The press and publications law implicitly covers electronic media, since it extends to any means of expression of a viewpoint meant for circulation, ranging from words to cartoons, photographs, and sounds. Laws, including the cybercrimes law, criminalize a number of internet-related activities, including defamation, hacking, unauthorized access to government websites, and stealing information related to national security as well as the creation or dissemination of a website for a terrorist organization. Security authorities actively monitored internet activity, both to enforce laws, regulations, and societal norms and to monitor recruitment efforts by extremist organizations such as ISIS.

The government reportedly collected information concerning the identity of persons peacefully expressing political, religious, or ideological opinions or beliefs online. According to Freedom House, authorities regularly monitored nonviolent political, social, and religious activists and journalists in the name of national security and maintaining social order.

Multiple rights groups reported that at least six individuals who had anonymous Twitter accounts critical of the government were arrested subsequent to a breach of Twitter user data.

Access to the internet is legally available only through government-authorized internet service providers (ISPs). The government required ISPs to monitor customers and required internet cafes to install hidden cameras and provide identity records of customers. Although authorities blocked websites offering proxies, persistent internet users accessed the unfiltered internet via other means.

On a number of occasions, government officials and senior clerics publicly warned against inaccurate reports on the internet and reminded the public that criticism of the government and its officials should be done through private channels, including official complaint processes.

The government charged those using the internet to express dissent against officials or religious authorities with terrorism, blasphemy, and apostasy.

The press and publications law criminalizes the publication or downloading of offensive sites, and authorities routinely blocked sites containing material perceived as harmful, illegal, offensive, or anti-Islamic. The governmental Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) filtered and blocked access to websites it deemed offensive, including sexual content, as well as pages calling for domestic political, social, or economic reforms or supporting human rights, including websites of expatriate Saudi dissidents.

The CITC coordinated decisions with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency on blocking phishing sites seeking to obtain confidential personal or financial information. Authorities submitted all other requests to block sites to an interagency committee, chaired by the Ministry of Interior, for decision. Under the Telecommunication Act, failure by ISPs to block banned sites can result in a substantial fine.

Several voice-over-internet-protocol call services, including WhatsApp, remained blocked and only accessible using a virtual private network.

Authorities blocked websites of some news and advocacy groups deemed critical of the government, including London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, and the global advocacy organization Avaaz. Authorities also blocked the website of the Islamic Umma Party, which operated underground because political parties are illegal (see section 3).

The government blocked Qatari websites, such as al-Jazeera, since 2017, due to a dispute between Qatar and a group of countries that included Saudi Arabia. In April the government blocked access to the websites of the Turkish official news agency, Anadolu Agency and the Turkish public broadcaster TRT’s Arabic edition. Writing for blocked websites, providing them with materials to publish, or promoting alternative addresses to access them is a crime under the cybercrimes law.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted some public artistic expression but opened up cultural expression in a number of areas. Academics reportedly practiced self-censorship, and authorities prohibited professors and administrators at public universities from hosting meetings at their universities with foreign academics or diplomats without prior government permission (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

On April 14, local media reported that Umm al-Qura University suspended a staff member and a student following their circulation of “deviant ideologies” on Twitter.

In 2016 King Salman issued royal decrees creating the General Entertainment Authority and the General Authority for Culture with a mandate to expand the country’s entertainment and cultural offerings in line with its social and economic reform plan, known as Vision 2030. During the year the General Entertainment Authority sponsored events dedicated to film, comics, music, and dance; however, programs were scaled down due to COVID-19 restrictions.

On February 20, Mecca regional authorities tweeted that the governor had ordered the arrest of female rapper Ayasel al-Bishi, calling the music video of her song “Bint Mecca” (Girl from Mecca) offensive to the customs and traditions of the holy city. Al-Bishi’s Twitter account was suspended, and the video was removed from YouTube. Local media reported that the PPO questioned al-Bishi over filming without a permit and then released her.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law does not provide for freedom of assembly and association, which the government severely limited.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law requires a government permit for an organized public assembly of any type. The government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies, and security forces reportedly arrested demonstrators and detained them for brief periods. Security forces at times allowed a small number of unauthorized demonstrations throughout the country.

In May security authorities arrested Egyptian national Hossam Magdy after he allegedly threatened to protest in front of his country’s embassy to demand a seat on a repatriation flight.

Freedom of Association

The law provided for limited freedom of association, but the government strictly restricted this right. The law provides a comprehensive legal framework to govern the establishment, operation, and supervision of associations and foundations. The government prohibited the establishment of political parties. All associations must be licensed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development and comply with its regulations. Some groups that advocated changing elements of the social or political order reported their licensing requests went unanswered for years, despite repeated inquiries. The ministry reportedly used arbitrary means, such as requiring unreasonable types and quantities of information, to delay and effectively deny licenses to associations. The government also harassed and detained Saudi-based family members and associates of Saudi citizens living abroad who were outspoken critics of the government (see sections 1.b., Disappearances and 1.f., Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence, for more details).

In September, Abdullah al-Maliki, an Islamic intellectual who defended the banned association ACPRA, was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Government-chartered associations limited membership only to citizens.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law does not contain provisions for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the free movement of male citizens within the country. The guardianship system no longer requires a woman to have the permission of her male guardian (normally a father, husband, son, brother, grandfather, uncle, or other male relative) to move freely within the country (see section 6, Women). On July 14, a court ruled in favor of a woman, whose trial lasted three years, after being charged with absenteeism, or taghayyub, under a law that allows guardians to report the unapproved absence of anyone under their guardianship. The court ruled that living independently did not constitute a criminal act subject to “discretionary” punishment (see section 6, Women).

Authorities respected the right of citizens to change residence or workplace, provided they held a national identification card.

Foreign Travel: There are restrictions on foreign travel. Many foreign workers require an exit visa and a valid passport to depart the country. Saudi citizens of both genders younger than 21, other dependents, or foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a guardian’s consent to travel abroad. Royal Decree 134/M of August 2019 stipulates that citizens of either gender older than 21 can obtain and renew a passport and travel abroad without guardian permission.

The government reportedly confiscated passports for political reasons and revoked the rights of some citizens to travel, often without providing them notification or opportunity to contest the restriction. Most travel bans reportedly involved individuals in court cases relating to corruption, state security concerns, or labor, financial, and real estate disputes.

The Washington Post alleged the government increased the use of travel bans as part of a broader effort to suppress dissent within the royal family and business elite. Media estimated that thousands of Saudis were placed under travel restrictions, including relatives of citizens detained in the government’s anticorruption campaign as well as relatives of detained clerics and human rights activists. The government seized the U.S. passports of the wife and children of dual U.S.-Saudi citizen Walid Fitaihi, barring them from leaving the kingdom and freezing their assets following Fitaihi’s detention in 2017. While the international travel ban for family members had been lifted at times during Fitaihi’s detention, it was reinstated following Fitaihi’s release on bond and subsequent charging. Fitaihi was sentenced December 8 to six years in prison; as of year’s end he was out of prison pending appeal.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides that the “state will grant political asylum if public interest so dictates.” There are no regulations implementing this provision. Generally, there is not a codified asylum system for those fleeing persecution, and the country is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. The government permitted refugees recognized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to stay in the country temporarily, pending identification of a durable solution, including third-country resettlement or voluntary repatriation. The government generally did not grant asylum or accept refugees for resettlement from third countries. Government policy is to refuse refugee status to persons in the country illegally, including those who have overstayed a pilgrimage visa. The government strongly encouraged persons without residency to leave, and it threatened or imposed deportation. Access to naturalization was difficult for refugees.

On April 4 and July 5, the government announced free three-month extensions of residency permits of all expatriates inside the country as well as the visas of visitors whose visa validity expired during the period of COVID-19-related suspension of flights. On April 6, the General Directorate of Passports announced electronic renewal of visitor identification cards for Yemeni citizens until May 14 in accordance with royal directives.

In an August report, HRW alleged that “thousands of Ethiopian migrants are now languishing in squalid detention centers in Saudi Arabia or remain stranded at the border” after being pushed out of Yemen by Houthi forces and COVID-19 travel restrictions with their home countries. Multiple media sources claimed the detainees faced overcrowding, abuse, and poor sanitation at immigration detention facilities in Jizan Province, without the ability to legally challenge their detention, according to HRW. On September 15, the International Organization for Migration expressed alarm at reports of the deteriorating situation and called for urgent action.

Media published purported mobile cell phone images received from migrants held inside immigration detention centers in Jizan, showing dozens of emaciated men lying in rows inside small rooms with barred windows. There were claims that one migrant died of heatstroke, a 16-year-old killed himself, and others lacked adequate food and water.

On November 20, HRW reported that two Uyghur men–Hemdullah Abduweli (or Aimidoula Waili on his Chinese passport) and Nurmemet Rozi (or Nuermaimaiti on his Chinese passport)–were arrested and potentially faced deportation to China. Both were residents in Turkey. Abduweli had been in hiding since February. In a November interview with Middle East Eye, Abduweli claimed that the Chinese government wanted him deported back to China.

The government did not recognize the right of Saudi citizens to petition for access to asylum or refugee status in foreign countries. In several cases the government prosecuted and penalized Saudi citizens who sought asylum in foreign countries, according to multiple sources.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers were generally unable to work legally, although Syrian and Yemeni citizens who possessed a temporary visa could obtain a visitor card from the Ministry of Interior, which reportedly allows these persons to work. The renewable permits are valid for up to six months and tied to the validity period of their temporary visas; men between the ages of 18 and 60 were eligible to apply. In 2017 the General Directorate of Passports allowed Yemeni men to convert their visitor identification card to a residency permit if their Yemeni passport and visitor identification card were valid.

Access to Basic Services: The government provides preferential access to education, health care, public housing, and other social services to citizens and certain legal residents. The UNHCR office in Riyadh provided a subsistence allowance covering basic services to a limited number of vulnerable families, based on a needs assessment. Authorities worked with UNHCR to provide medical treatment, also following a needs assessment. On March 30, King Salman ordered free coronavirus treatment for all citizens and residents, regardless of residency status, in all government and private health facilities. In November the government announced all citizens and residents would be provided the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost.

g. Stateless Persons

The country had a number of habitual residents who were legally stateless, but data on the stateless population were incomplete and scarce.

Citizenship is legally derived only from the father. Children born to an unmarried citizen mother who is not legally affiliated with the citizen father may be considered stateless, even if the father recognized the child as his. If the government did not authorize the marriage of a citizen father and a noncitizen mother prior to birth of the children, they may also be considered stateless. The nationality laws do not allow Saudi women married to foreign citizens to pass their nationality to their children, except in certain circumstances, such as fathers who are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish filiation. Sons of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers may apply for citizenship once they turn 18 (if not already granted citizenship at birth under certain circumstances); daughters in such cases can obtain citizenship only through marriage to a Saudi man. A child may lose legal identification and accompanying rights if authorities withdraw identification documents from a parent (possible when a naturalized parent denaturalizes voluntarily or loses citizenship through other acts). Since there is no codified personal status law, judges make decisions regarding family matters based on their own interpretations of Islamic law.

Foreign male spouses of female citizens can obtain permanent residency in the country without needing a sponsor, and they can receive free government education and medical benefits, although in general they cannot apply for citizenship on the basis of their marriage and residence. These spouses are also included in the quota of Saudis employed in private companies under the labor quota system, which improves their employment prospects. Female citizens must be between the ages of 30 and 50 to marry a non-Saudi man. Non-Saudi wives of Saudi men receive more rights if they have children resulting from their marriage with a Saudi man. Male citizens must be between the ages of 40 and 65 to marry a non-Saudi woman. The extent to which those strictures were enforced was unclear; there was anecdotal evidence they were not uniformly enforced. Children of Saudi women married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother.

In past years, UNHCR unofficially estimated there were 70,000 stateless persons in the country, almost all of whom were native-born residents known locally as Bidoon (an Arabic word that means “without” [citizenship]). Updated information on stateless persons was not available. Bidoon are persons whose ancestors failed to obtain nationality, such as descendants of nomadic tribes not counted among the native tribes during the reign of the country’s founder, King Abdulaziz; descendants of foreign-born fathers who arrived before there were laws regulating citizenship; and rural migrants whose parents failed to register their births. As noncitizens, Bidoon are unable to obtain passports. The government sometimes denied them employment and educational opportunities, and their marginalized status made them among the poorest residents of the country. In recent years the Ministry of Education encouraged them to attend school. The government issues Bidoon five-year residency permits to facilitate their social integration in government-provided health care and other services, putting them on similar footing with sponsored foreign workers. The General Directorate of Passports issued special identification cards to Bidoon similar to residency permits issued to foreigners in the country, but with features entitling their holders to additional government services similar to those available to citizens.

Baloch, West African, and Rohingya Muslims from Burma resident in Saudi Arabia were stateless. Some Rohingya had expired passports that their home government refused to renew; others had entered the country with fraudulent travel documents. Many of them had been held in detention for years following their entry into the country under fake passports. UNHCR estimated there were 280,000 Rohingya in the country. Some of these individuals benefited from a prior program to correct their residency status; in 2014 the government issued nearly 200,000 four-year residency permits to Rohingya who entered the country prior to 2008. Rohingya who arrived in the country after 2008 were not eligible for residency permits, although NGOs reported that Rohingya, including those without legal residency, were generally not subject to deportation prior to 2018. In January the government granted more than 190,000 free, four-year residency permits to Rohingya who were sponsored by companies, institutions, and members of their community.

There were reports of growing anti-Rohingya sentiment related to the perception that the Burmese community in Mecca was spreading COVID-19. On May 4, the government began demolitions of 114 buildings in al-Nakasah, in the municipality of Mecca–an impoverished area inhabited primarily by Rohingya residents. The decision garnered praise on social media, with some social media users referring to Rohingya as “garbage” and accusing them of spreading COVID-19.

There also were between 300,000 and 400,000 Palestinian residents not registered as refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not 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; it establishes an absolute monarchy led by the Al Saud family as the political system. The Allegiance Council, composed of up to 34 senior princes appointed by the king, is formally responsible for selecting a king and crown prince upon the death or incapacitation of either. Only select members of the ruling family have a voice in the choice of leaders, the composition of the government, or changes to the political system.

The law provides citizens the right to communicate with public authorities on any matter and establishes the government on the principle of consultation (Shoura). The king and senior officials, including ministers and regional governors, are required to be available through majlis, open-door meetings where in theory any male citizen or noncitizen may express an opinion or a grievance without an appointment.

Most government ministries and agencies had women’s sections to interact with female citizens and noncitizens, and at least two regional governorates hired female employees to receive women’s petitions and arrange meetings for women with complaints for, or requests of, the governor.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 elections were held for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats on 284 municipal councils; the government appointed the remaining third. Council members serve until an intervening election–nominally for four-year terms–but there was no active discussion of holding municipal elections during the year. Women were allowed to vote and run as candidates for the first time in 2015. The voting age was also lowered universally to 18. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs actively encouraged women’s participation in the municipal elections. Election regulations prohibited candidates from contesting under party affiliation. Twenty-one women won seats and 17 were appointed to seats, totaling approximately 1 percent of all available seats.

The NSHR observed the elections, and select international journalists were also permitted to observe. Independent polling station observers identified no irregularities with the election. Prior to the election, several candidates reported they were disqualified for “violating the rules and regulations” without further explanation. They had the right to appeal, and some were reinstated in time for the elections. Uniformed members of the security forces, including the military and police, were ineligible to vote.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no political parties or similar associations. The law does not protect the right of individuals to organize politically and specifically bans a number of organizations with political wings, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as regional and local terrorist groups. The government continued to regard human rights organizations, such as ACPRA, as illegal political movements and treated them accordingly.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The government changed laws and regulations to open new social and economic opportunities for women, but societal and institutional gender discrimination continued to exclude women from some aspects of public life. Political participation remained restricted, and authorities arrested and abused women’s rights activists perceived as critical or independent of the government. Nevertheless, women served in senior advisory positions within government ministries.

In October a royal decree appointed academic Hanan al-Ahmadi to serve as deputy speaker of the Shoura Council, making her the third-ranking official in the Shoura Council and the first woman in that leadership role. Thirty women were members of the Shoura, or Consultative Council, the 150-person royally appointed body that advises the king and may propose but not pass laws.

On January 28, Shorooq bint Mohammed al-Jadaan was appointed as the first woman to assume a leadership position at the country’s Alimony Fund. On February 24, the Saudi Sports for All Federation announced the creation of a female soccer league. On June 7, HRC president Awad Alawad appointed Norah bint Mohammed al-Haqbani as the first spokeswoman for the HRC. On July 3, King Salman issued a royal decree appointing 13 women as members of the HRC’s council, giving them half of the 26 seats.

On August 10, the governor of Tabuk Region, Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, appointed Khulood Mohammed al-Khamis as the secretary general of Tabuk’s regional council, making her the first woman to hold the role in the kingdom. On August 15, the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques appointed 10 female officials to leadership positions for the first time, naming Munira bint Awad al-Jamihi to head the General Directorate for Women’s Affairs.

No laws prevent male citizens from minority groups from participating in political life on the same basis as other male citizens. Societal discrimination, however, marginalized the Shia Saudi population, and tribal factors and longstanding traditions continued to dictate many individual appointments to positions. Unofficially, government authorities will not appoint a Bedouin tribesman to a high-ranking ministerial-level position, and Bedouins can reach only the rank of major general in the armed forces. All Council of Ministers members from tribal communities were members of urbanized “Hamael” tribes, rather than Bedouin tribes. While the religious affiliation of Shoura Council members was not known publicly, the council included an estimated seven or eight Shia members. The Council of Ministers contained one religious minority member, Mohammad bin Faisal Abu Saq, a Shia Ismaili, who had held the position of minister of state for Shoura affairs since 2014. Multiple municipal councils in the Eastern Province, where most Shia Saudis resided, had large proportions of Shia Saudis as members to reflect the local population, including a majority in Qatif and 50 percent in al-Ahsa. Eastern Province Shia judges dealing with intra-Shia personal status and family laws operated specialized courts.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. Some officials engaged in corrupt practices, and perceptions of corruption persisted in some sectors. Government employees who accepted bribes faced 10 years in prison or substantial fines.

The Supreme Anticorruption Committee, the National Anticorruption Commission (Nazaha), the PPO, and the Control and Investigation Board are units of the government with authority to investigate reports of criminal activity, corruption, and “disciplinary cases” involving government employees. These bodies are responsible for investigating potential cases and referring them to the administrative courts. Nazaha’s ministerial-level director reported directly to the king.

Legal authorities for investigation and public prosecution of criminal offenses are consolidated within the PPO; the Control and Investigation Board is responsible for investigation and prosecution of noncriminal cases. Financial audit and control functions are vested in the General Auditing Board. The HRC also responded to and researched complaints of corruption.

In December 2019 King Salman issued three royal decrees consolidating anticorruption responsibilities under a single entity, the new Control and Anticorruption Commission. The decrees consolidate the Control and Investigation Board, Mabahith’s Administrative Investigations Directorate (within the General Investigation Directorate) and Nazaha into the new commission, led by Mazen bin Ibrahim al-Khamous. The consolidated agency is intended to have criminal investigation and prosecutorial authorities that its predecessors lacked. As with Nazaha, the new Control and Anticorruption Commission reports directly to the king. Local press reported in November that the new Control and Anticorruption Commission had launched more than 150 criminal investigations. On July 27, a royal decree approved a Council of Ministers decision that brought the General Auditing Bureau, the country’s oldest audit institution, under the authority of the king.

Provincial governors and other members of the royal family paid compensation to victims of corruption during weekly majlis meetings where citizens raised complaints.

Corruption: Nazaha continued operations and referred cases of possible public corruption to the PPO. On February 12, Nazaha announced it would refer to court the cases of 386 persons accused of financial and administrative corruption. On March 15, Nazaha announced it had criminally investigated 674 state employees and ordered the detention of 298, including eight military officers and two judges, for “financial and administrative corruption, consisting of bribery crimes, embezzlement and waste of public money, misuse of employment powers, and administrative misuse” involving a total of 379 million riyals ($101 million). On May 4, Nazaha stated a court sentenced 14 individuals, including several court employees, to 22 years and 10 months in prison and substantial fines for abuse of power and bribery.

On July 6, Nazaha announced it initiated 105 cases in crimes such as bribery and abuse of power. On August 11, Nazaha stated it had initiated 218 corruption cases involving a current Shoura member, a judge, and a number of security officers, among others, for fraud, bribery, and financial and professional corruption. On August 21, a royal decree fired a number of officials on suspicion of corruption. On August 31, King Salman dismissed high-ranking officials, including the commander of the Joint Forces, Prince Fahd Bin Turki Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and deputy emir of al-Jouf region, Prince Abdulaziz Bin Fahd Bin Turki Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, over corruption charges.

In February 2019, Public Prosecutor Saud al-Mu’jab announced the launch of the Financial Reports Office, part of the General Auditing Bureau. Al-Mu’jab noted the office would monitor state spending and help sustain the fight against corruption after the end of the anticorruption campaign in January 2019.

Human rights organizations criticized the government for using anticorruption campaigns as a pretext to target perceived political opponents and for arbitrarily detaining and abusing individuals targeted in the crackdown (see sections 1.c. and 1.d., Pretrial Detention). On March 17, HRW voiced concern over the arrest of 298 government employees on suspicion of corruption, warning of possible “unfair legal proceedings” in the judicial system.

Financial Disclosure: The government had a uniform schedule of financial disclosure requirements for public officials. These disclosures were not made public.

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

The law provides that “the State shall protect human rights in accordance with Islamic sharia.” The government restricted the activities of domestic and international human rights organizations. The government did not allow international human rights NGOs to be based in the country and restricted their access to the country for visits. International human rights and humanitarian NGOs reported the government was at times unresponsive to requests for information and did not establish a clear mechanism for communication with NGOs on both domestic human rights issues and issues relating to the conflict in Yemen. There were no transparent standards governing visits by international NGO representatives.

The government often cooperated with and sometimes accepted the recommendations of the NSHR, the sole government-licensed domestic human rights organization. The NSHR accepted requests for assistance and complaints about government actions affecting human rights.

The government blocked websites of unlicensed local human rights groups and charged their founders with founding and operating unlicensed organizations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The HRC is part of the government and requires the permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before meeting with diplomats, academics, or researchers with international human rights organizations. The HRC president has ministerial status and reports to the king. The HRC worked directly with the Royal Court and the Council of Ministers, with a committee composed of representatives of the Shoura Council and the Ministries of Labor and Social Development and Interior, and with the Shoura Council committees for the judiciary, Islamic affairs, and human rights.

During the year the HRC and NSHR were more outspoken in areas deemed less politically sensitive, including child abuse, child marriage, and trafficking in persons. While they avoided topics such as protests or cases of political activists that would require directly confronting government authorities, they did inquire into complaints of mistreatment by some high-profile political prisoners, including Loujain al-Hathloul and Raif Badawi. The HRC board’s 18 full-time members included nine women, making up half of the board members for the first time, and at least three Shia members; they received and responded to complaints submitted by their constituencies, including problems related to persons with disabilities, religious freedom, and women’s rights. The Shoura Council’s Human Rights Committee also actively followed cases and included women and Shia among its members; a woman served as chairperson of the committee.

The HRC and NSHR maintained records of complaints and outcomes, but privacy laws protect information about individual cases, and information was not publicly available. On August 12, the HRC said it monitored 243 human rights-related cases in 2019. On September 8, local media reported the HRC received 4,211 complaints in 2019. The NSHR stated it received 3,739 complaints in 2019. Topics of complaints included labor, abuse, citizenship, social welfare, health, and education.

The Board of Grievances, a high-level administrative judicial body that hears cases against government entities and reports directly to the king, is the primary mechanism to seek redress for claims of abuse. During the year the Board of Grievances held hearings and adjudicated claims of wrongdoing, but there were no reported prosecutions of security force members for human rights violations. Military and security courts investigated an unknown number of abuses of authority and security force killings. Citizens may report abuses by security forces at any police station or to the HRC or NSHR. The HRC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, provided materials and training to police, other security forces, the Ministry of Defense, and the CPVPV on protecting human rights.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense under sharia law with a wide range of penalties, from flogging to execution. The law does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. The government enforced the law based on its interpretation of sharia, and, in some cases, courts punished victims as well as perpetrators for illegal “mixing of genders,” even when there was no conviction for rape. Victims also had to prove that the rape was committed, and a woman’s testimony in court was not always accepted.

Due to these legal and social obstacles, authorities brought few cases to trial. Statistics on incidents of, and prosecutions, convictions, or punishments for rape were not available. Most rape cases were likely unreported because victims faced societal and familial reprisal, including diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanctions up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery or sexual relations outside of marriage, which are punishable under sharia.

The law against domestic violence defines domestic abuse broadly and criminalizes domestic abuse with penalties of one month to one year of imprisonment or a fine, unless a court provides a harsher sentence.

Researchers stated it was difficult to gauge the magnitude of domestic abuse, which they believed to be widespread. Recent studies varied widely, finding the rate of domestic abuse to be anywhere between 15 to 60 percent. The National Family Safety Program, a quasi-governmental organization under the Ministry of National Guard, is charged with spreading awareness of and combatting domestic violence, including child abuse, and continued to report abuse cases.

Officials stated the government did not clearly define domestic violence and procedures concerning cases, including thresholds for investigation or prosecution, and thus enforcement varied from one government body to another. Some women’s rights advocates were critical of investigations of domestic violence, claiming investigators were hesitant to enter a home without permission from the male head of household, who may also be the perpetrator of violence. Activists reported the situation had improved in recent years, with greater awareness of resources for domestic violence victims, such as the domestic violence hotline managed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development. They also noted, in the previous two years, increased willingness from authorities to investigate and prosecute domestic violence perpetrators, but they expressed concern that some police departments continued to neglect domestic violence cases.

On May 4, a Riyadh police spokesperson stated security authorities arrested and referred to the PPO a man for allegedly abusing his two sisters, adding that all legal measures were taken against him.

On June 19, Public Prosecutor Saud al-Mu’jab ordered the arrest of a man for physically abusing his wife and locking her up along with their three children in al-Baha Province.

The government made efforts to combat domestic violence. On March 14, the HRC branch in the Northern Borders Province held a workshop on domestic violence that included participants from government ministries as well as from civil society organizations. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development administered government-supported family-protection shelters. Women reported that remaining in the shelters was not always voluntary.

Women reported that domestic abuse in the form of incest was common but seldom reported to authorities due to fears over societal repercussions, according to local sources.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The official government interpretation of sharia prohibits the practice; however, some studies indicated up to 18 percent of women reported having undergone some type of FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The extent of sexual harassment was difficult to measure, with little media reporting and no official government data. No statistics were available on the incidence of sexual harassment due to past reluctance to report violations.

The 2018 sexual harassment law, passed by the Council of Ministers, carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a substantial fine. On August 30, the HRC explained that a legal punishment against sexual harassment is irreversible, even if the victim renounced his or her own rights or did not file a legal complaint.

In May 2019 the PPO issued a statement on its Twitter page explaining the legal definition of harassment, noting that the law provides for penalties of up to two years in prison and substantial fines. Local media reported a number of incidents of harassment during the year. On February 29, the PPO ordered the arrest of a number of individuals who appeared in a video harassing girls outside a mall in Jeddah and filed a criminal lawsuit against the individuals.

Reproductive Rights: Married couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health, and to have access to the information and means to do so is generally free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Premarital sex is illegal under Sharia law, however, and hospitals and health centers may report extramarital pregnancies to police. Sterilization for health reasons was allowed and required spousal consent and a hospital committee’s approval. Sterilization is not a common procedure in the country, and young, healthy women reportedly had a harder time receiving approval for the procedure than older women with health problems.

Although no legal barriers prevent access to contraception, lack of awareness, cultural and religious beliefs, and social pressure for large families likely affected many women, especially those in rural areas.

Almost all women had access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth; however, some women in rural areas had to travel to the closest medical facility to receive treatment, while others in rural communities received health services from Ministry of Health-sponsored mobile health clinics.

Government and quasi-government agencies provided social, medical, and psychological care to survivors of sexual violence.

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

Discrimination: Women continued to face discrimination under law and custom. Regulations issued in 2019 and during the year, however, granted women many of the same rights enjoyed by men pertaining to travel abroad, civil status, and employment.

In August 2019 most restrictions under the guardianship system, which had required women to have permission from close male relatives to conduct certain actions, were eliminated. There were reports, however, that government and nongovernment entities, primarily in rural areas, continued to require women to obtain guardian permission prior to providing services.

Amendments to the Civil Status Regulation, which entered into effect in September 2019, grant women older than 18 the right to perform several actions pertaining to civil status that were previously limited to men. These include registering the birth of a child; registering the death of a spouse or close relative; registering a marriage or divorce (whether initiated by the husband or wife); and being designated “head of household,” thereby allowing women to serve as the guardian of their minor children. Women can also obtain from the Civil Status Administration a “family registry,” which is official documentation of a family’s vital records that verifies the relationship between parents and children. This reform allows mothers to perform administrative transactions for their children, such as registering them for school or obtaining services at a hospital.

On July 14, a court ruled in favor of Maryam al-Otaibi after her family filed a complaint that she was living and traveling in Riyadh. She was charged with absenteeism, or taghayyub, under a law that allows guardians to report unauthorized absence of anyone under their guardianship, which could lead to the arrest, detention, or forcible return of the individual. The court ruled that living independently did not constitute a criminal act subject to discretionary punishment, adding that al-Otaibi was “a sane adult who has the right to decide where she wants to live,” according to court documents.

Women may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their guardian. They can make their own determinations concerning hospital care. In 2018 the Ministry of Commerce and Investment announced women no longer need their male guardian’s permission to start a business. Women still require a guardian’s permission to exit prisons after completing their terms.

The law prohibits women from directly transmitting citizenship to their children, particularly if the children’s father is a noncitizen (see section 2.d. and section 6, Children). The country’s interpretation of sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, but Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women. Women require government permission to marry noncitizens; men must obtain government permission if they intend to marry citizens from countries other than Gulf Cooperation Council-member states (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates). Regulations prohibit men from marrying women from Bangladesh, Burma, Chad, and Pakistan. The government additionally requires Saudi men wishing to marry a second wife who is a foreigner to submit documentation attesting to the fact that his first wife was disabled, had a chronic disease, or was sterile.

Societal pressures restricted women from using some public facilities. Some but not all businesses still required or pressured women to sit in separate, specially designated family sections in public places.

Cultural norms selectively enforced by state institutions require women to wear an abaya (a loose-fitting, full-length cloak) in public. Female foreigners were only required to dress modestly.

In July a Saudi woman was barred from entering a private park in Hail because park employees believed she was not dressed modestly. In a video posted to social media, the woman said she called police who came to the scene and told her the park owner could decide whether to allow her to enter.

Women also faced discrimination in courts, where in some cases the testimony of a woman equals half that of a man. All judges are male, and women faced restrictions on their practice of law (see section 1.e., Denial of Fair Public Trial). In divorce proceedings women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men may divorce without giving cause, citing “irreconcilable differences.” In doing so, men must pay immediately an amount of money agreed at the time of the marriage that serves as a one-time alimony payment. Men may be forced, however, to make subsequent alimony payments by court order. The Ministry of Justice reported it compelled 7,883 fathers to pay alimony in 2018. The government began implementing an identification system based on fingerprints, designed to provide women more access to courts, even if they chose to cover their faces with the niqab covering.

In February, Justice Minister Sheikh Walid al-Samaani issued a decision binding both spouses to appear in court to complete their divorce, ending the so-called secret divorce, whereby men could divorce their wives without the woman’s consent or knowledge. In February the Ministry of Justice also canceled an article in the marriage law that gave a husband the right to force his wife to return to her home against her will.

Women faced discrimination under family law. For example, a woman needs a guardian’s permission to marry or must seek a court order in the case of adhl (male guardians refusing to approve the marriage of women under their charge). In such adhl cases, the judge assumes the role of the guardian and may approve the marriage. During the year courts executed marriage contracts for women whose male guardians refused to approve their marriage, according to informed judicial sources quoted by local media. On February 7, local media reported that courts considered an average of 750 cases annually.

In February local media reported that a male guardian can be imprisoned for up to one year and fined for forcing a woman under his charge to marry against her will. In January media reported that the Personal Status Court in Dammam issued an unprecedented ruling granting a woman in her fifties the right to marry without her guardian’s approval after her son, who was her male guardian, refused to approve her marriage. On May 30, however, the Judicial Committee at the Shoura Council rejected a proposal to allow women to contract their marriage without requiring the permission of a male guardian.

Courts routinely award custody of children when they attain a specified age (seven years for boys and nine years for girls) to the divorced husband or the deceased husband’s family. In numerous cases, former husbands prevented divorced noncitizen women from visiting their children. In 2018 Justice Minister Sheikh Walid al-Samaani directed all courts to drop the requirement for divorced women to file a lawsuit to gain custody of their children. Provided there were no disputes between the parents, mothers may simply submit a request to the relevant court, without the need for legal action.

On February 16, the Ministry of Justice added an article to the regulations of legal proceedings ordering that resolution of custody, alimony and visitation issues in divorce cases be resolved prior to the finalization of a divorce and within 30 days of the initial hearing.

Sharia-based inheritance laws discriminate against women, giving daughters half the inheritance awarded to their brothers.

According to recent surveys, women constituted 52 percent of public education and higher education students. Segregated education through university level was standard. The only exceptions to segregation in higher education were medical schools at the undergraduate level and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a graduate-level research university, where women worked jointly with men, were not required to wear an abaya, and have long driven cars on campus. Other universities, such as al-Faisal University in Riyadh, offered partially segregated classes with students receiving instruction from the same teacher and able to participate together in class discussion, but with the women and men physically separated by dividers.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from the father, and both the father and mother may register a birth. There were cases of authorities denying public services to children of citizen parents, including education and health care, because the government failed to register the birth entirely or had not registered it immediately, sometimes because the father failed to report the birth or did not receive authorization to marry a foreigner. Children of women who were married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons).

Child Abuse: Abuse of children occurred. The National Family Safety Program operated a child helpline dedicated to assisting children in matters ranging from bullying to abuse, providing counseling, tracking, and referrals to social services. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development had 17 social protection units across the country providing social protection to children younger than 18 as well as other vulnerable populations suffering domestic violence and abuse.

In April the spokesperson of Asir Province police said a man was arrested for abusing his 15-year-old daughter, which reportedly led her to take her own life.

In September the ministry’s Domestic Violence Center announced that authorities opened an investigation based on a video, which went viral on social media, showing a father beating his two-year-old son. The Family Protection Unit managed to locate the toddler, and the father was referred to authorities to take legal action against him in line with the child protection law.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: In March the Ministry of Justice set the minimum age for marriage at 18 and stipulated that girls and boys younger than 18 can only marry with court approval. According to local media, the court would ensure several conditions are met before approving a marriage contract for a bride or groom younger than 18, including assessing their psychosocial development and hearing statements from the potential bride, groom, and guardians to determine consent. Previously, marriage officials had the authority to endorse marriage contracts; this reform ended their authority in cases where the potential bride and groom are younger than 18. The HRC and NSHR monitored cases of child marriages, which they reported were rare or at least rarely reported, and took steps to prevent consummation of the marriage. The application for a marriage license must record the bride’s age, and registration of the marriage is a legal prerequisite for consummation.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The cybercrimes law stipulates that punishment for such crimes, including the preparation, publication, and promotion of material for pornographic sites, may be no less than two-and-one-half years’ imprisonment or a substantial fine if the crime includes the exploitation of minors. The law does not define a minimum age for consensual sex. On January 14, the Riyadh Criminal Court sentenced a man to 40 days in prison and 70 lashes, to be administered in two rounds, for sexually harassing a 12-year-old boy online.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were no known data on Jewish citizens and no statistics available concerning the religious denominations of foreigners.

Cases of government-employed imams using anti-Jewish language in their sermons were rare and occurred without authorization by government authorities. The law requires government-employed imams to deliver all sermons in mosques in the country. Sermons are vetted and cleared by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. During the year the ministry issued periodic circulars to clerics and imams in mosques directing them to include messages on the principles of justice, equality, and tolerance and to encourage rejection of bigotry and all forms of racial discrimination in their sermons.

Some NGOs reported that anti-Semitic material remained in school textbooks and online in private web postings and that some journalists, academics, and clerics made anti-Israel comments that sometimes strayed into anti-Semitism, including at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Speaking on the sidelines of the November G20 Summit, Education Minister Hamad Al al-Sheikh claimed the ministry revised school curricula to remove extremist ideas and promote the concept of moderation and tolerance.

Saudi Council of Senior Scholars member and Muslim World League secretary general Mohammed al-Issa condemned anti-Semitism and intolerant speech. On January 23, al-Issa led a delegation of Muslim leaders to visit the Auschwitz death camp to mark the 75th anniversary of its liberation. The visit was part of a joint enterprise between the Muslim World League and the American Jewish Committee. On February 20, King Salman received a delegation from the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue that included Israeli rabbi David Rosen, becoming the first Israeli rabbi to meet with a Saudi king in recent history.

On September 5, shortly after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain agreed to normalize ties with Israel, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Abdulrahman al-Sudais, said in a televised sermon that Muslims should avoid “passionate emotions and fiery enthusiasm” towards Jews and emphasized that the Prophet Muhammad was good to his Jewish neighbors.

In April, Umm Haroun, a Ramadan television series that aired on the state-controlled MBC network, centered around the story of a Jewish midwife in an unspecified multireligious Gulf state. Experts said the series was a sign of shifting discourse on Jews and Israel.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services or other areas. The law does not require public accessibility to buildings, information, and communications. Newer commercial buildings often included such access, as did some newer government buildings. On July 19, the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs ordered all stores and shopping malls to install ramps for persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Vocational rehabilitation projects and social care programs increasingly brought persons with disabilities into the mainstream. Children with disabilities could attend government-supported schools. In June 2019 the Ministry of Education stated it had taken measures to integrate disabled students, including special education programs in regular schools, training faculty members who work with students with disabilities, and providing technological instruments for students with disabilities free of charge.

Persons with disabilities could generally participate in civic affairs, and there were no legal restrictions preventing persons with disabilities from voting in municipal council elections. Persons with disabilities were elected and appointed to municipal councils in 2015, and two individuals with disabilities served on the consultative Shoura Council, which was reconstituted in 2016.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Although racial discrimination is illegal, societal discrimination against members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities was a problem. Descendants of former slaves in the country, who have African lineage, faced discrimination in both employment and society. There was formal and informal discrimination, especially racial discrimination, against foreign workers from Africa and Asia. There was also discrimination based on tribal or nontribal lineage. A tolerance campaign by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue sought to address discrimination, and it provided training during the year to combat discrimination against national, racial, or ethnic groups.

On September 3, a video widely circulated on social media showed black Saudi model Ziad al-Mesfer being assaulted by a group of young men on a street in Riyadh, with some hurling racial slurs during the attack. The video sparked an online debate, with many defending al-Mesfer’s right to dress as he chooses and calling on authorities to hold the attackers accountable. Others said his choice of dress and modeling activities went against customs and traditions.

The government continued its multiyear Tatweer project to revise textbooks, curricula, and teaching methods to promote tolerance and remove content disparaging religions other than Islam.

Local sources claimed that Saudi citizens received preferential access to COVID-19 testing and treatment, with some foreign residents reportedly being refused admittance to hospitals during periods of high rates of infection.

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

Under sharia, as interpreted in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the case. It is illegal for men “to behave like women” or to wear women’s clothes, and vice versa. Due to social conventions and potential persecution, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations did not operate openly, nor were there LGBTI rights advocacy events of any kind. There were reports of official and societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, and health care. Stigma or intimidation limited reports of incidents of abuse. Saudi clerics condemned homosexuality during government-approved Friday sermons at some mosques, most notably at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on August 14.

There were no government efforts to address discrimination. In 2016 newspapers quoted PPO officials as stating the bureau would seek death sentences for anyone using social media to solicit homosexual acts. There were no reports, however, that the PPO sought death sentences in LGBTI cases during the year (see section 1.a.).

During the year local newspapers featured opinion pieces condemning homosexuality and calling on authorities to punish harshly individuals engaging in same-sex relations.

A conversation about homosexuality in a comedy series broadcast on MBC during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan sparked controversy. In a scene from the series, Exit 7, a man and his teenage daughter discussed the topic of homosexuality, with the daughter defending the rights of the LGBTI community.

On April 8, authorities arrested Mohamad al-Bokari, a Yemeni blogger living in Riyadh, for posting a video on social media calling for equal rights, including for gay men. On July 20, a court sentenced him to 10 months in prison and a fine, followed by deportation to Yemen, according to HRW. HRW reported that al-Bokari was charged with violating public morality by promoting homosexuality online and “imitating women.” A source in contact with al-Bokari told HRW that before his trial he was held in solitary confinement for six weeks in al-Malaz Prison in Riyadh, where he was subjected to torture, including beatings and a forced anal exam, an internationally discredited practice used to seek “proof” of homosexual conduct.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. By law the government deported foreign workers who tested positive for HIV/AIDS upon arrival or who tested positive when hospitalized for other reasons. There was no indication that HIV-positive foreigners failed to receive antiretroviral treatment or that authorities isolated them during the year. The Ministry of Health’s HIV/AIDS program worked to counter stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Social, legal, economic, and political discrimination against the country’s Shia minority continued. HRW claimed that some state clerics and institutions “incited hatred and discrimination against religious minorities, including the country’s Shia Muslim minority.”

To address the problem, the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Guard included antidiscrimination training in courses offered by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue for police and other law enforcement officers.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions. The law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining or the right to conduct legal strikes. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There was little information on government efforts to enforce applicable laws and whether penalties were commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. There were no labor unions in the country, and workers faced potential dismissal, imprisonment, or, in the case of migrant workers, deportation for union activities.

The government allowed citizen-only labor committees in workplaces with more than 100 employees, but it placed undue limitations on freedom of association and was heavily involved in the formation and activities of these committees. For example, the ministry approves the committee members and authorizes ministry and employer representatives to attend committee meetings. Committee members must submit the minutes of meetings to management and then transmit them to the minister; the ministry can dissolve committees if they violate regulations or are deemed to threaten public security. Regulations limit committees to making recommendations to company management that are limited to improvements to working conditions, health and safety, productivity, and training programs.

The Saudi National Committee of Workers Committees, an umbrella organization that supports dozens of workers committees and advocates for workers’ rights, chaired the Labor20 engagement group, as the country hosted the year’s G20 meeting.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which can receive up to the death penalty