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Afghanistan

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

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were numerous reports that government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians. Despite legislation prohibiting these acts, independent monitors continued to report credible cases of torture in detention centers. According to local media, lawyers representing detainees in detention centers alleged in July that torture remained commonplace and that detainees were regularly questioned using torture methods.

There were numerous reports of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment by the Taliban, ISIS-K, and other antigovernment groups. UNAMA reported that punishments carried out by the Taliban included beatings, amputations, and executions. The Taliban held detainees in poor conditions and subjected them to forced labor, according to UNAMA.

On January 30, a video was posted showing a woman being stoned to death. The president’s spokesman attributed the attack to the Taliban; the Taliban denied involvement.

Impunity was a significant problem in all branches of the security forces. Despite the testimony of numerous witnesses and advocates that service members were among the most prevalent perpetrators of bacha bazi (the sexual and commercial exploitation of boys, especially by men in positions of power), the government had never prosecuted a security officer for these acts, although eight officers were arrested during the year in connection with bacha bazi incidents.

In July, as a part of a political agreement between President Ghani and Abdullah, the government promoted Abdul Rashid Dostum to the rank of marshal, the country’s highest military rank. Dostum had been accused of gross violations of human rights, including the abduction and rape of a political opponent, but the government did not carry out an investigation.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports the government held political prisoners or political detainees.

During the year the Taliban detained government officials, individuals alleged to be spying for the government, and individuals alleged to have associations with the government. For political cases, according to NGOs, there were no official courts; cases were instead tried by Taliban military commanders.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Continuing internal conflict resulted in civilian deaths, abductions, prisoner abuse, property damage, displacement of residents, and other abuses. The security situation remained a problem largely due to insurgent and terrorist attacks. According to UNAMA, actions by nonstate armed groups, primarily the Taliban and ISIS-K, accounted for the majority of civilian deaths.

After the signing of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement and the issuance of the U.S.-Afghanistan Joint Declaration on February 29, attacks against U.S. and coalition forces largely stopped, but violence against Afghan security forces and civilians continued, even after the start of intra-Afghan negotiations on September 12.

Killings: UNAMA counted 2,117 civilian deaths due to conflict during the first nine months of the year, compared with 2,683 during the same period in 2019. During this period, UNAMA documented 1,274 civilian casualties resulting from nonsuicide improvised explosive device (IED) attacks perpetrated by antigovernment forces (456 deaths and 818 injured). UNAMA attributed 59 percent of civilian casualties in the first nine months of the year to antigovernment forces, including the Taliban and ISIS-K, 27 percent to progovernment forces, and 14 percent to cross fire and other sources. UNAMA documented a 46 percent decrease in the total number of civilian casualties due to all airstrikes in the first nine months of the year, compared with the same period in 2019, but documented a 70 percent increase in civilian casualties (349) and a 50 percent increase in civilians killed (156) from airstrikes by the Afghan Air Force in the first nine months of the year, compared with the same period in 2019.

The AIHRC stated that an airstrike in Takhar Province by Afghan forces on October 21 killed 12 children and wounded 18 others at a religious school and mosque. The mosque’s imam was among the wounded. The attack reportedly targeted Taliban fighters. First Vice President Amrullah Saleh initially rejected reports of civilian casualties, stating the attack had targeted a Taliban installation, but the Ministry of Defense declared it had assigned an investigation team to assess allegations of civilian casualties.

During the year antigovernment forces carried out a number of deadly attacks against religious leaders, particularly those who spoke out against the Taliban. Many progovernment Islamic scholars were killed in attacks during the year for which no group claimed responsibility. In June, three imams and a number of worshippers were killed in separate attacks on two mosques in Kabul, and seven students were killed by a bomb at a seminary in Takhar Province.

Antigovernment elements continued to attack civilian targets. On April 21 in Nangarhar Province, the Taliban detonated an IED inside a private pharmacy, wounding eight civilians, including a doctor from the local hospital. The owners reportedly had refused to provide the Taliban an extortion payment.

Antigovernment elements continued targeting hospitals and aid workers. In the first six months of the year, UNAMA documented 36 incidents affecting health-care facilities and personnel. UNAMA attributed the majority of these incidents to the Taliban.

On May 12, three gunmen attacked a maternity clinic in a Hazara Shia neighborhood in Kabul run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), killing 24 mothers, newborns, and a health-care worker. No group claimed responsibility. In June the MSF announced it would close the clinic.

On May 19, the Afghan Air Force conducted an airstrike in Kunduz Province outside a hospital, killing and wounding Taliban who were seeking medical care, as well as killing at least two civilians at the hospital.

On November 22, gunmen detonated explosives and fired upon students, staff, and others, killing 35 and wounding at least 50, at Kabul University. During the attack students and faculty were taken hostage, according to press reports. The attack was later claimed by ISIS-K.

Antigovernment elements also continued to target government officials and entities, as well as political candidates and election-related activities, throughout the country. Media reported five staff members of the Attorney General’s Office, including two who reportedly had served as prosecutors, were ambushed and killed in their vehicle in Kabul on June 22. No one claimed responsibility, and a Taliban spokesperson denied any involvement, adding that the peace process had many enemies and that the Taliban, too, would “investigate.” On October 3, a car bomb targeting a government administrative building in Nangarhar Province killed at least 15, including at least four children. Most of the casualties were civilians; no group claimed responsibility. On December 15, Kabul deputy governor Mahbubullah Muhibbi was killed in a bomb blast in Kabul. On December 21, at least 10 persons were killed and 52 wounded in an attack on the convoy of lower house of parliament member Khan Mohammad Wardak. No group claimed responsibility for either attack.

Abductions: In January a three-year-old boy was kidnapped for ransom in Kabul. Businesswomen reported they faced a constant threat of having their children abducted and held for ransom. The UN secretary-general’s 2019 Children and Armed Conflict Report, released in June, cited 14 verified incidents of child abduction, all of which were of boys as young as 11. Of the abductions, 12 were attributed to the Taliban and one each to the ANP and a progovernment militia.

Seven reported abductions of currency exchangers in Herat during the year prompted the currency exchangers there to strike in October to protest.

Antigovernment groups regularly targeted civilians, including using IEDs to kill and maim them. Land mines, unexploded ordnance, and explosive remnants of war (ERW) continued to cause deaths and injuries. UNAMA reported 584 civilian casualties caused by unlawful pressure-plate IEDs by antigovernment elements, mostly attributed to the Taliban, during the first nine months of the year, a 44 percent increase compared with the same period in 2019. The state minister for disaster management and humanitarian affairs reported that approximately 125 civilians were killed or wounded by unexploded ordnance per month, and more than 730 square miles still needed to be cleared, which included both previously identified ERW areas as well as newly contaminated ranges. Media regularly reported cases of children killed and injured after finding unexploded ordinance.

UNAMA reported civilian casualties from ERW in the first nine months of the year accounted for 5 percent of all civilian casualties and caused 298 civilian casualties, with 86 deaths and 212 injured. Children comprised more than 80 percent of civilian casualties from ERW.

Child Soldiers: Under the penal code, recruitment of children in military units carries a penalty of six months to one year in prison. UNAMA reported the ANDSF and progovernment militias recruited and used 11 children during the first nine months of the year, all for combat purposes. Media reported that local progovernment commanders recruited children younger than age 16. NGOs reported security forces used child soldiers in sexual slavery roles. The country remained on the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List in the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/. The Taliban and other antigovernment groups regularly recruited and trained children to conduct attacks.

The ANP took steps that included training staff on age-assessment procedures, launching an awareness campaign on underage recruitment, investigating alleged cases of underage recruitment, and establishing centers in some provincial recruitment centers to document cases of attempted child enlistment. The government operated child protection units (CPUs) in all 34 provinces; however, some NGOs reported these units were not sufficiently equipped, staffed, or trained to provide adequate oversight. The difficult security environment in most rural areas prevented oversight of recruitment practices at the district level; CPUs played a limited oversight role in recruiting. Recruits underwent an identity check, including an affidavit from at least two community elders that the recruit was at least 18 years old and eligible to join the ANDSF. The Ministries of Interior and Defense also issued directives meant to prevent the recruitment and sexual abuse of children by the ANDSF. Media reported that in some cases ANDSF units used children as personal servants, support staff, or for sexual purposes. Government security forces reportedly recruited boys specifically for use in bacha bazi in every province of the country.

According to UNAMA, the Taliban and ISIS-K continued to recruit and use children for front-line fighting and setting IEDs. While the law protects trafficking victims from prosecution for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking, there were reports the government treated child former combatants as criminals as opposed to victims of trafficking. Most were incarcerated alongside adult offenders without adequate protections from abuse by other inmates or prison staff.

UNAMA verified the recruitment of 144 boys by the Taliban in the first nine months of the year. In some cases the Taliban and other antigovernment elements used children as suicide bombers, human shields, and to emplace IEDs, particularly in southern provinces. Media, NGOs, and UN agencies reported the Taliban tricked children, promised them money, used false religious pretexts, or forced them to become suicide bombers. UNAMA reported the Taliban deployed three boys in February to conduct a suicide attack against an ALP commander in Baghlan Province. One of the children accidentally detonated his IED before reaching the ceremony, killing all three children. See also the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: The security environment continued to make it difficult for humanitarian organizations to operate freely in many parts of the country. Violence and instability hampered development, relief, and reconstruction efforts. Insurgents targeted government employees and aid workers. NGOs reported insurgents, powerful local individuals, and militia leaders demanded bribes to allow groups to bring relief supplies into their areas and distribute them.

In contrast with previous years, polio vaccination campaigns were not disrupted by the conflict (the Taliban had previously restricted house-to-house vaccination programs). Routine immunization services at health facilities and other immunization campaigns, however, were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and only half of the provinces received vaccination coverage. According to the Ministry of Public Health, there were 46 new reported cases of polio during the year.

The Taliban also attacked schools, radio stations, and government offices. On February 3, the Taliban burned a girls’ school in Takhar Province. In July the Taliban burned a school in the same province after using it as cover to attack ANDSF. On August 20, the Taliban prevented approximately 200 female university applicants in Badakshan Province from taking their university entrance exams by threatening them with fines. Some of these women were ultimately taken to another location in the province to take the exam.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted this right.

Freedom of Speech: The law provides for freedom of speech, and the country has a free press. There were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the central government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial governments was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists. Discussion of a political nature was more dangerous for those living in contested or Taliban-controlled areas. Government security agencies increased their ability to monitor the internet, including social media platforms, although the monitoring did not have a perceptible impact on social media use.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Implementation of the Access to Information Law, which provides for public access to government information, remained inconsistent, and media reported consistent failure by the government to meet the requirements of the law. Government officials often restricted media access to government information or simply ignored requests. UNAMA, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported the government did not fully implement the law, and therefore journalists often did not receive access to information they sought. Furthermore, journalists stated government sources shared information with only a few media outlets. Human Rights Watch criticized the arrest of a government employee who was alleged by First Vice President Amrullah Saleh to have spread false information about the October 21 attack on a school and mosque in Takhar that resulted in civilian deaths.

Journalists faced the threat of harassment and attack by ISIS-K, the Taliban, and government-linked figures attempting to influence how they were covered in the news. The Afghanistan Journalists’ Council said that during the year journalists’ social media accounts were hacked and journalists were threatened by the Office of the National Security Council.

On May 30, a journalist and a driver from Khurshid TV were killed when their vehicle, carrying 15 employees of the station, was hit by a roadside bomb in Kabul. Four other employees of the station were wounded. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack.

On November 12, an explosive in Lashkargah city killed Radio Azadi reporter Ilias Daee, as well as his brother. Journalist Malala Maiwand was killed by gunmen on December 10 in Jalalabad, and journalist Rahmatullah Nekzad was killed in Ghazni on December 21. No group claimed responsibility for the attacks. Journalists reported facing threats of violence from the internal conflict. Politicians, security officials, business owners, and others in positions of power at times threatened or harassed journalists because of their coverage. According to RSF, female journalists were especially vulnerable.

Vida Saghari, a female journalist, faced a series of online harassments, including hate speech and death threats, following her criticism of a cleric’s Ramadan rallies in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions, according to RSF.

Freedom of speech and an independent media were more constrained at the provincial level than in the capital, Kabul. Political and ethnic groups, including those led by former mujahedin leaders, financed many provincial media outlets and used their financial support to control the content. Provincial media was also more susceptible to antigovernment attacks.

Print and online media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, newspapers, and websites. A wide range of editorials and daily newspapers openly criticized the government. Nevertheless, there were concerns that violence and instability threatened journalists’ safety. A greater percentage of the population, including those in rural areas, had easier access to radio than other forms of media. According to The Asia Foundation, rural inhabitants primarily received news and information from family and friends, followed by television and radio.

Violence and Harassment: Government officials and private citizens used threats and violence to intimidate independent and opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out against impunity, crimes, and corruption by powerful local figures. According to RSF, NDS officials arrested Radio Bayan journalist Mahboboalah Hakimi on July 1. Two days after Hakimi’s arrest, the NDS released a video of Hakimi confessing to posting a video critical of the president, an action he had previously denied, and apologizing to the president. Following Hakimi’s release, he alleged the NDS tortured him and forced him to record his confession.

RSF also reported that authorities had harassed Pajhwok Afghan News agency, including through NDS interrogations of its director, following its June 22 reporting that ventilators intended to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak had been stolen and illegally sold to a neighboring country.

At least six journalists were killed during the year, and another died under suspicious circumstances. According to the Afghanistan Journalists’ Council, as of September, three journalists were kidnapped, 12 were injured, and more than 30 were beaten or otherwise threatened.

The Taliban continued to threaten journalists, and civil society alleged the Taliban continued to attack media organizations. The Taliban warned media would be targeted unless they stopped broadcasting what it called “anti-Taliban statements.”

Increased levels of insecurity created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not the specific targets of violence. A radio reporter was killed in police crossfire during a demonstration in Ghor Province on May 9. During the year several journalists reported attacks by unknown gunmen connected, they claimed, to their coverage of powerful individuals.

The law provides guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists, but these guidelines were not fully implemented. The guidelines created a joint national committee in Kabul, chaired by Second Vice President Sarwar Danesh and separate committees in provincial capitals, a coordination center to investigate and identify perpetrators of violence against journalists, and a support committee run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. Press freedom organizations reported the committee met regularly during the year, referred cases to the Attorney General’s Office, and pushed for the resolution of cases, but it did not increase protection for journalists. A journalist advocacy organization reported that due to these pressures and the fact that many journalists were not paid for months at a time, many outlets closed during the year.

Media advocacy groups reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms in both print and social media to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation. According to the Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists, there were no female journalists in five of the country’s 34 provinces: Kunar, Logar, Nuristan, Paktika, and Uruzgan.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Ajmal Ahmady, Afghanistan Bank governor and economic advisor to the president, blocked journalists on his Twitter feed, reportedly for being publicly critical of him. Journalists and NGOs reported that, although the amended 2018 Access to Information Law provided an excellent regulatory framework, enforcement remained inconsistent and that noncompliant officials rarely were held accountable. Most requests for information from journalists who lacked influential connections inside the government or international media credentials were disregarded, and government officials often refused to release information, claiming it was classified. Many journalists asserted that First Vice President Amrullah Saleh’s statement that he would hold those who shared “disinformation” on the victims of the October 21 incident in Takhar criminally responsible was a restriction on freedom of speech.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe prison sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometimes used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the Access to Information law to avoid disclosing information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. Insurgent groups coerced media agencies in insecure areas to prevent them from broadcasting or publishing advertisements and announcements of the security forces, entertainment programming, music, and women’s voices.

Women in some areas of the country said their freedom of expression in choice of attire was limited by conservative social mores and sometimes enforced by Taliban in insurgent-controlled areas as well as religious leaders.

Internet Freedom

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

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high data prices, a lack of local content, and illiteracy.

There were many reports during the year of Taliban attempts to restrict access to information, often by destroying or shutting down telecommunications antennae and other equipment. In June, Human Rights Watch reported that in many Taliban-controlled areas, Taliban authorities limited usage of or otherwise banned smartphones, which generally restricted access to information.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Academic freedom is largely exercised in government-controlled areas. In addition to public schooling, there was growth in private education, with new universities enjoying full autonomy from the government. Both government security forces and the Taliban took over schools to use as military posts.

The expansion of Taliban control in rural areas left an increasing number of public schools outside government control. The Taliban operated an education commission in parallel to the official Ministry of Education. Although their practices varied among areas, some schools under Taliban control reportedly allowed teachers to continue teaching but banned certain subjects and replaced them with Islamic studies; others provided only religious education. The Taliban continued to limit education for girls, especially for those past puberty. A Taliban commander told Human Rights Watch in Helmand Province, “Women’s education is to be banned [while] our country is occupied.”

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; however, the government limited these freedoms in some instances.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year; however, police sometimes fired live ammunition when attempting to break up demonstrations. Protests and rallies were also vulnerable to attacks by ISIS-K and the Taliban. Islamic State actors fired upon a political rally in Kabul on March 6, killing 32 and wounding at least 58, according to government estimates. Islamic State actors claimed to have detonated explosions during presidential inauguration ceremonies in Kabul on March 9, although no casualties were reported.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right to freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. The law on political parties requires political parties to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. The law prohibits employees and officials of security and judicial institutions, specifically the Supreme Court, Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and NDS, from political party membership. Noncompliant employees are subject to dismissal.

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.

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the right to freedom of movement within the borders of the country. Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without a male family member’s consent or a male relative chaperone. The greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country remained the lack of security. Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces and insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers. The Taliban regularly blocked highways completely or imposed illegal taxes on those who attempted to travel. Media reported the Taliban had blocked the highway between Kandahar and Uruzgan and on August 23 had notified private transportation companies operating in the area that the companies would be responsible for civilian deaths should they choose to travel on the road.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Internal population movements continued during the year because of armed conflict and natural disasters, including avalanches, flooding, and landslides. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported more than 172,490 individuals fled their homes due to conflict from January to September 20. Most internally displaced persons (IDPs) left insecure rural areas and small towns to seek relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. Thirty of the country’s 34 provinces hosted IDP populations.

Limited humanitarian access because of the poor security situation caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs, who continued to lack access to basic protection, including personal security and shelter. Many IDPs, especially in households with a female head, faced difficulty obtaining basic services because they did not have identity documents. Many IDPs in urban areas reportedly faced discrimination, lacked adequate sanitation and other basic services, and lived at constant risk of eviction from illegally occupied displacement sites, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Women in IDP sites reported high levels of domestic violence. Limited opportunities to earn a livelihood following the initial displacement often led to secondary displacement, making tracking of vulnerable persons difficult. Even IDPs who had access to local social services sometimes had less access than their non-IDP neighbors, due to distance from the services or other factors. Severe flooding and landslides on August 26 in Parwan Province killed 190 individuals and destroyed nearly 4,000 houses. Media reported that on August 27, the Taliban killed four civilian internally displaced survivors of the floods during clashes with the ANDSF.

Intense fighting in Helmand Province in October resulted in the displacement of thousands of families over a period of just two weeks, reported the AIHRC. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated 35,000 individuals were displaced but had only been able to confirm an estimated 14,000 IDPs because deteriorating security conditions interrupted phone service and prevented access.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance.

The IOM reported undocumented Afghan returns from Iran and Pakistan totaled 449,213 from January 1 to August 15, with 447,206 from Iran and 2,007 from Pakistan. Registered Afghan refugee returns from Pakistan slowed to historically low levels during the year, with just 551 returns as of August 25, in part because UNHCR suspended assisted returns between March 17 and August 10 due to COVID-19 and border closures impeded travel.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Nonetheless, UNHCR registered and provided protection for approximately 170 refugees and 250 asylum seekers in urban areas throughout the country. UNHCR also provided protection for 72,000 persons of concern who fled Pakistan in 2014 and resided in the provinces of Khost and Paktika.

g. Stateless Persons

NGOs noted the lack of official birth registration for refugee children in the country as a significant problem and protection concern, due to the risk of statelessness and potential long-term disadvantage.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The right to vote may be stripped for certain criminal offenses. Violence from the Taliban and other antigovernment groups interfered with, but did not derail, the most recent presidential election, held in 2019.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential elections were held in September 2019. Voter turnout in the presidential election of September 2019 was historically low, at less than 19 percent, reportedly due to security threats, less robust campaigning by candidates, voter apathy, the decoupling of the presidential and provincial elections that traditionally helped drive local mobilization networks, among other factors. Additionally, biometric voter verification determined the validity of ballots in 2019 and reportedly accounted for at least part of the difference in turnout compared with previous elections because of the invalidation of any ballot not biometrically verified. According to the United Nations, the Taliban carried out a deliberate campaign of violence and intimidation, including on polling centers located in schools and health facilities. It found these attacks caused 458 civilian casualties (85 killed and 373 injured) from the start of the top-up registration in June 2019 through September 30, 2019. These figures included 100 incidents on the September 28 election day, resulting in 277 civilian casualties (28 killed and 249 injured). According to the United Nations, civilian casualty levels were higher on election day in 2019 than on the polling days for the first round and second rounds of the 2014 presidential election. On February 18, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced that President Ghani secured re-election with 50.64 percent of the vote, while then chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s chief opponent, received 39.52 percent of the vote. Although election experts noted technical improvements in the electoral procedures, there were concerns regarding the electoral bodies’ ability to ensure transparency during the results tabulation process. Political campaigns disputed the authenticity of 300,000 votes, of a total of 1.8 million votes cast, causing delays and accusations of politicization of election monitoring bodies. Opposition candidates additionally called for the IEC to reject votes cast at polling places that faced discrepancies with biometric verification of voters. The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) investigated approximately 16,500 electoral complaints, ultimately rejecting more than 9,800 complaints, and conducted a recount for nearly 5,400 polling stations. The IEC conducted two audits before finalizing the results it announced in February.

Both President Ghani and Abdullah declared victory and held competing swearing in ceremonies on March 9. Afghan political actors mediated the resulting political impasse, ultimately resulting in a compromise, announced on May 17, in which President Ghani retained the presidency, Abdullah was appointed to lead the High Council for National Reconciliation, and each would select one-half of the cabinet members.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law grants parties the right to exist as formal institutions. The law provides that any citizen 25 years old or older may establish a political party. The law requires parties to have at least 10,000 members from the country’s 34 provinces to register with the Ministry of Justice, conduct official party business, and introduce candidates in elections. Only citizens 18 years old or older and who have the right to vote may join a political party. Certain members of the government, judiciary, military, and government-affiliated commissions are prohibited from political party membership during their tenure in office.

In large areas of the country, political parties could not operate due to insecurity.

On December 23, unknown gunmen shot and killed Yusuf Rashid, the head of the Free and Fair Elections Forum, an independent election monitoring group.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. In the 2019 presidential election, women accounted for 34.5 percent of those registered to vote and 31.5 percent of all votes cast. Absent reliable data, civil society, think tanks, and election monitoring organizations assessed that women’s participation across the country varied according to the security conditions and social norms. There was lower female voter turnout in provinces where communities purposely limited female participation in the democratic process, where lack of security was a concern, or both. Conflict, threats, financial constraints, corruption, and conservative family members put female voters at a disadvantage. There were reports some men declared female voting a sin, and others said women should vote for male candidates. There were reports that a biometric voter identification requirement for all registering voters to have their photograph taken was seen by some as an infringement on women’s modesty and, according to media sources, limited women’s ability to vote.

The constitution specifies a minimum number of seats for women and minorities in the two houses of parliament. For the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the national assembly), the constitution mandates that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). The IEC finalized 2018 parliamentary election results in May 2019, and 418 female candidates contested the 250 seats in the Wolesi Jirga in the 2018 parliamentary election. In Daikundi Province a woman won a seat in open competition against male candidates, making it the only province to have more female representation than mandated by the constitution. The constitution also mandates one-half of presidential appointees must be women. It also sets aside 10 seats in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the nomadic Kuchi minority. In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house), the president’s appointees must include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities, and half of the president’s nominees must be women. One seat in the Meshrano Jirga and one in the Wolesi Jirga is reserved for the appointment or election of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this is not mandated by the constitution. On July 6, the cabinet decreed that each of the country’s 34 provinces should have one female deputy governor. By year’s end, 14 female deputy governors were appointed.

Traditional societal practices limited women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. These factors, in addition to an education and experience gap, likely contributed to the central government’s male-dominated composition. The 2016 electoral law mandates that 25 percent of all provincial, district, and village council seats “shall be allocated to female candidates.” Neither district nor village councils were established by year’s end.

Women active in government and politics continued to face threats and violence and were targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. On March 22, a gunman fired multiple shots into a vehicle carrying Zarifa Ghafari, the mayor of Maidan Shar in Wardak Province, and her fiance. Both were uninjured in the attack.

No laws prevent members of minority groups from participating in political life, although different ethnic groups complained of unequal access to local government jobs in provinces where they were in the minority. Individuals from the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, had more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament, but they did not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence authorities purposely excluded specific societal groups from political participation.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Reports indicated corruption was endemic throughout society, and flows of money from the military, international donors, and the drug trade continued to exacerbate the problem. Local businessmen complained government contracts were routinely steered to companies that paid a bribe or had family or other connections to a contracting official.

According to prisoners and local NGOs, corruption was widespread across the justice system, particularly in connection with the prosecution of criminal cases and in arranging release from prison. There were reports officials received unauthorized payments in exchange for reducing prison sentences, halting investigations, or outright dismissing charges.

Freedom House reported inadequately trained judges and extensive corruption in the judiciary, with judges and lawyers often subject to threats and bribes from local leaders or armed groups.

During the year there were reports of “land grabbing” by both private and public actors. Most commonly, businesses illegally obtained property deeds from corrupt officials and sold the deeds to unsuspecting prospective homeowners who were later prosecuted. Other reports indicated government officials confiscated land without compensation with the intent to exchange it for contracts or political favors. There were reports provincial governments illegally confiscated land without due process or compensation in order to build public facilities.

Corruption: The Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC) reported that since its inception in 2016 to mid-September, the ACJC tried 281 defendants in 76 cases before its trial chamber and 214 defendants in 68 cases before its appellate chamber. Of cases tried in the trial chamber, 199 were sentenced to imprisonment, 23 were fined, and 59 acquitted. Of cases tried in the appellate chamber, 172 were sentenced to imprisonment, 18 were fined, and 24 were acquitted. In January the ACJC appellate court resentenced several former election officials to two and one-half years in prison each, cutting their earlier prison terms by half.

There were reports of political patronage in the government’s COVID-19 response efforts, including accusations of embezzlement and theft of medical equipment by government authorities. On June 22, a media report alleged that 32 ventilators were embezzled from the Ministry of Public Health and subsequently smuggled to Pakistan for a profit. Media reported that on August 24 former minister of public health Ferozuddin Feroz and several former and current deputy ministers were referred to the Attorney General’s Office for suspected misappropriation of funds designated to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Media also reported that in October the governor of Herat Province, the mayor of Herat city, three members of the provincial council, and 17 other top provincial officials were accused of embezzling approximately 20 million afghanis ($260,000) of government funding of COVID-19 response activities. According to ACJC prosecutors, the cases against these officials were sent to the ACJC primary court, but the court sent the case back to the prosecution office to fill investigative gaps. The suspects were released on bail.

Violent attacks by insurgents against judges, prosecutors, and prison officials during the year made members of the judicial sector increasingly fearful in carrying out their duties. According to government and media reports, since 2015 more than 300 judges, prosecutors, prison personnel, and other justice workers were killed, injured, or abducted. During the year, five judges and one administrative official were killed and two judges were abducted. Justice professionals came under threat or attack for pursuing certain cases–particularly corruption or abuse-of-power cases–against politically or economically powerful individuals.

According to various reports, many government officials, including district or provincial governors, ambassadors, and deputy ministers, were suborned. Government officials with reported involvement in corruption, the drug trade, or records of human rights abuses reportedly continued to receive executive appointments and served with relative impunity. On February 6, the Ministry of Interior announced it had arrested five police officers, including Ahmad Ahmadi, the Kabul counternarcotics chief, for involvement in drug trafficking.

On August 17, the primary court of the ACJC convicted a former official of the National Office of Norms and Standards of accepting a bribe of $100,000 from an unidentified company. The court sentenced the former official to 16 years’ imprisonment, a $100,000 fine (the amount of the bribe), as well as an additional fine of 60,000 afghanis ($765) for carrying a firearm without a permit.

There were allegations of widespread corruption and abuse of power by officers at the Ministry of Interior. Provincial police reportedly extorted civilians at checkpoints and received kickbacks from the drug trade. Police reportedly demanded bribes from civilians to gain release from prison or avoid arrest. Senior Interior Ministry officials also refused to sign the execution of arrest warrants.

Financial Disclosure: A 2017 legislative decree established the Administration on Registration and Assets of Government Officials and Employees (Registration Administration) under the Administrative Office of the President. All government officials, employees, and elected officials are required to declare their assets. The Registration Administration was responsible for collecting, verifying, and publishing information from high-ranking government officials. Under the law all government officials and employees must submit financial disclosures on all sources and levels of personal income for themselves and their immediate family annually and when they assume or leave office. Individuals who do not submit forms or are late in submission are subject to suspension of employment, salary, and travel bans. The Attorney General’s Office imposed travel bans on individuals who did not submit their forms; however, the bans were not regularly enforced, especially for high-level officials. For instance, although the website of the Administrative Office of the President showed several high-ranking government officials failed to register their assets, it was public knowledge they frequently travelled internationally. Employment and salary suspensions were not imposed.

As of July 22, the deadline for asset registration, the Registration Administration successfully registered assets of more than 18,000 government employees. Verification of assets was slow and problematic for the administration due to lack of organized systems in some government offices. Public outreach by the Registration Administration allowed civil society and private citizens the opportunity to comment on individual declarations.

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

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. Human rights activists continued to express concern that human rights abusers remained in positions of power within the government.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitutionally mandated AIHRC continued to address human rights problems, but it received minimal government funding and relied almost exclusively on international donor funds. On June 27, an IED killed two members of the AIHRC. Perpetrators of the bombing were not identified. Three Wolesi Jirga committees deal with human rights: the Gender, Civil Society, and Human Rights Committee; the Counternarcotic, Intoxicating Items, and Ethical Abuse Committee; and the Judicial, Administrative Reform, and Anticorruption Committee. In the Meshrano Jirga, the Committee for Gender and Civil Society addresses human rights concerns.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The EVAW presidential decree was first issued in 2009 and was reinforced by another presidential decree in 2018. Implementation and awareness of the decree remained a serious problem. The decree criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women, including rape; battery or beating; forced marriage; humiliation; intimidation; and deprivation of inheritance. The penal code criminalizes rape of both women and men. The law provides for a minimum sentence of five to 16 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape, or up to 20 years if one or more aggravating circumstances is present. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The penal code criminalizes statutory rape and prohibits the prosecution of rape victims for zina. The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for conviction of “aggression to the chastity or honor of a female [that] does not lead to penetration to anus or vagina.” Under the law rape does not include spousal rape. Authorities did not always enforce these laws, although the government was implementing limited aspects of EVAW, including through EVAW prosecution units.

Prosecutors and judges in rural areas were frequently unaware of the EVAW decree or received pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes, or because some religious leaders declared the law un-Islamic. Female victims faced stringent or violent societal reprisal, ranging from imprisonment to extrajudicial killing.

The penal code criminalizes forced gynecological exams, which act as “virginity tests,” except when conducted pursuant to a court order or with the consent of the subject. Awareness and enforcement of the restrictions on forced gynecological exams remained limited. In October the AIHRC reported that more than 90 percent of these exams were conducted without either a court order or the individual’s consent, and were conducted related to accusations including: adultery, murder, theft, and running away from home, among others. The Ministry of Public Health claimed no exam had taken place without a court order and the consent of the individual. There were reports police, prosecutors, and judges continued to order the exams in cases of “moral crimes” such as zina. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape were often subjected to the exams.

The penal code criminalizes assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as under the “injury and disability” and beating provisions in the EVAW decree. According to NGO reports, millions of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, and other individuals. State institutions, including police and judicial systems, failed to adequately address such abuse. Lockdowns due to COVID-19 forced women to spend more time at home, reportedly resulting in increased incidence of domestic violence as well as additional stress on already limited victim support systems. One such incident included a man from Paktika Province who cut off his wife’s nose with a kitchen knife in May. The woman, who regularly faced physical abuse by her husband, was reportedly seeking to leave the abusive relationship when her husband attacked her.

Due to cultural normalization and a view of domestic violence as a “family matter,” domestic violence often remained unreported. The justice system’s response to domestic violence was insufficient, in part due to underreporting, preference toward mediation, sympathy toward perpetrators, corruption, and family or tribal pressure. There were EVAW prosecution units in all 34 provinces, and EVAW court divisions expanded during the year to operate at the primary and appellate levels in all 34 provinces.

Space at the 28 women’s protection centers across the country was sometimes insufficient, particularly in major urban centers, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country. Some women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or being sent back to their family or to the perpetrator. Cultural stigmatization of women who spend even one night outside the home also prevented women from seeking services that may bring “shame” to herself or family.

In 2019 the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) banned for life the Afghanistan Football Federation’s former head, Keramuddin Karim, and fined him one million Swiss francs (one million dollars) after finding him guilty of sexually abusing female players. At least five female soccer players accused Karim of repeated sexual abuse, including rape, from 2013 to 2018 while he served as the federation president. The players stated that Karim threatened them with reputational and additional physical harm if they did not comply with his advances. Women who rebuffed his advances were expelled from the team, according to eight former players who experienced such treatment. Those who went public faced intimidation. The Attorney General’s Office indicted Karim on multiple counts of rape in 2019, but the court sent the case back to the attorney general for further investigation before trial, and Karim was never questioned. Security forces attempted to arrest Karim on August 23 in Panjshir Province (where he was a former governor) but failed after local residents, many of whom were armed, intervened in support of Karim. At year’s end Karim was still at large.

At times women in need of protection ended up in prison, either because their community lacked a protection center or because “running away” was interpreted as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are criminal offenses. Running away is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office issued directives to this effect, but some local authorities continued to detain women and girls for running away from home or “attempted zina.” The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes forced, underage, and baad marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. NGOs reported instances of baad were still practiced, often in rural areas. The practice of exchanging brides between families was not criminalized and remained widespread.

Honor killings continued throughout the year. In May a soldier in Badakhshan Province stabbed his 18-year-old sister to death in an apparent honor killing after she rejected her family’s proposal for an arranged marriage.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes all forms of harassment of women and children, including physical, verbal, psychological, and sexual. By law all government ministries are required to establish a committee to review internal harassment complaints and support appropriate resolution of these claims. Implementation and enforcement of the law remained limited and ineffective. Media reported that the number of women reporting sexual harassment increased compared with prior years, although some speculated this could be an increased willingness to report cases rather than an increase in the incidence of harassment. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced harassment, including groping, catcalling, and being followed. Women with public roles occasionally received threats directed at them or their families.

Businesswomen faced myriad challenges from the traditional nature of society and its norms with regard to acceptable behavior by women. When it was necessary for a businesswoman to approach the government for some form, permit, or authorization, it was common for a male functionary to ask for sexual favors or money in exchange for the authorization. In April, Human Rights Watch reported that a government employee, in front of other colleagues, told a woman with a disability he would process her disability certificate, which provides a stipend, if she had sex with him. The employee’s colleagues, according to her statement, laughed and said, “How do you want to get your disability card when you don’t want to sleep with us?” She reported that other women with disabilities had faced similar experiences when requesting disability certificates.

Reproductive Rights: In 2020 married couples had the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The Family Law (2019), which is in effect by promulgation of presidential proclamation (though parliament has not passed it), outlines individuals’ rights to reproductive health. There were no recent, reliable data regarding reproductive rights in 2020. According to the 2015 Afghanistan Demographic and Health Survey, however, only 5 percent of women made independent decisions about their own health care, while 44 percent reported that their husbands made the decisions for them.

Having a child outside of wedlock is a crime according to the penal code and is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment for both men and women. A mother faced severe social stigma for having a child out of wedlock, even when the pregnancy was a result of rape. Intentionally ending a pregnancy is a crime under both the penal code and the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law and is punishable by three months to one years’ imprisonment.

In 2020 there were no legal barriers to the use of any type of contraception, but there were social and cultural barriers, including the social practice of mandating a woman’s husband consent to the use of contraception. There were no legal barriers that prevent a woman from receiving reproductive health care or obstetrical care, but socially, many men prevented their wives from receiving care from male doctors or from having a male doctor in attendance at the birth of a child.

Families and individuals in cities generally had better access to information and better means to manage their reproductive health than did those living in rural areas. According to the United Nations, the rate of contraceptive use among married women was 35 percent for those living in urban areas compared with 19 percent in rural areas. According to the UN Population Fund, 20 percent of women could not exercise their right to reproductive health due to violence, and 50 percent did not have access to information about their reproductive rights. According to the Ministry of Public Health, while there was wide variance, most clinics offered some type of modern family planning method.

The WHO reported that the country had 638 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017 (the last year of reported data). A survey conducted by the Central Statistics Organization in the provinces of Bamyan, Daikundi, Ghor, Kabul, Kapisa, and Parwan concluded that many factors contributed to the high maternal death rate, including early pregnancy, narrowly spaced births, and high fertility. Some societal norms, such as a tradition of home births and the requirement for some women to be accompanied by a male relative to leave their homes, led to negative reproductive health outcomes, including inadequate prenatal, postpartum, and emergency obstetric care. Access to maternal health care services was constrained by the limited number of female health practitioners, including an insufficient number of skilled birth attendants. Additionally, the conflict environment and other security concerns limited women’s safe access to health services of any kind.

The EVAW law and the Prohibition of Harassment against Women and Children Law (2017) contain provisions to support female victims of violence, including sexual violence. In 2020 the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was charged with raising awareness of gender-based and sexual violence and providing legal support to survivors. According to the ministry, assistance was usually focused on pursuing legal action against the perpetrators but sometimes included general health services.

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

Discrimination: Women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the judicial system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law. Limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected women’s access to and participation in the justice system. Women do not have equal legal rights, compared to men, to inherit assets as a surviving spouse, and daughters do not have equal rights, compared to sons, to inherit assets from their parents.

By law women may not unilaterally divorce their husbands, but they may do so with the husband’s consent to the divorce, although men may unilaterally divorce their wives. Many women petition instead for legal separation. According to the family court in Kabul, during the year women petitioned for legal separation twice as frequently as in the previous year.

Prosecutors and judges in some provinces continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW decree, and judges sometimes replaced those charges with others based on the penal code.

The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupation.

Female political figures and activists were the targets of assassinations and assassination attempts throughout the year. On December 24, unknown gunmen killed women’s rights activist Freshta Kohistani, along with her brother.

Unknown gunmen attacked Fawzia Koofi, a former lawmaker and member of the government negotiating team in intra-Afghan negotiations, who sustained minor injuries.

Similarly, Zarifa Ghafari, the mayor of Maidan Shahr (capital city of Wardak Province), survived two separate assassination attempts. On March 22, unknown gunmen fired on her car; she did not sustain injuries. On October 3, unknown gunmen ambushed her car, but she again escaped unharmed. On November 12, assailants shot and killed Ghafari’s father, an army colonel. The Taliban acknowledged responsibility for the attack. Ghafari claimed the Taliban killed her father to discourage her from serving as mayor.

On August 25, unknown gunmen shot at the car carrying actress and women’s rights campaigner Saba Sahar. Sahar and her companions were injured in the attack.

On November 8, Abdul Sami Yousufi, a prosecutor specializing in EVAW cases, was killed by a group of unidentified gunmen on motorcycles of Herat city. The Herat Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation following the killing.

On November 10, media outlets reported that unidentified assailants attacked and blinded Khatera, a female police officer, for securing a position on the police force. According to media reports, the attackers were tipped off by Khatera’s father. Khatera blamed the Taliban for the attack, although they denied responsibility.

Children

Birth Registration: A citizen father transmits citizenship to his child. Birth in the country or to a citizen mother alone does not bestow citizenship. Adoption is not legally recognized.

Education: Education is mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years in primary school and three years in lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. UNICEF reported that approximately 3.7 million children, 60 percent of whom are girls, were not in school due to discrimination, poverty, lack of access, continuing conflict, and restrictions on girls’ access to education in Taliban-controlled areas, among other reasons. Only 16 percent of the country’s schools were for girls, and many of them lacked proper sanitation facilities. Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, a lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and a lack of nearby schools.

Violent attacks on schoolchildren, particularly girls, hindered access to education, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban and other extremists threatened and attacked school officials, teachers, and students, particularly girls, and burned both boys’ and girls’ schools. In February, Taliban militants set fire to a girls’ school in Takhar Province, burning all equipment, books, and documents.

There were press reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers and school officials, particularly against boys. The government claimed families rarely pressed charges due to shame and doubt that the judicial system would respond. There were reports that both insurgent groups and government forces used school buildings for military purposes. School buildings were damaged and students were injured in Taliban attacks on nearby government facilities.

Child Abuse: The penal code criminalizes child abuse and neglect. The penalty for beating, or physically or mentally disciplining or mistreating a child, ranges from a fine of 10,000 afghanis ($130) to one year in prison if the child does not sustain a serious injury or disability. Conviction of endangering the life of a child carries a penalty of one to two years in prison or a fine of 60,000 to 120,000 afghanis ($800 to $1,600).

Police reportedly beat and sexually abused children. Children who sought police assistance for abuse also reported being further harassed and abused by law enforcement officials, particularly in bacha bazi cases, which deterred victims from reporting their claims.

On September 21, police officers in Kandahar Province beat and raped a 13-year-old boy who died of his injuries. The Attorney General’s Office reported seven suspects were in custody at year’s end and that it filed indictments against them at a Kabul district court in November for assault, rape, and murder.

NGOs reported a predominantly punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice throughout the country. Although it is against the law, corporal punishment in schools, rehabilitation centers, and other public institutions remained common.

In 2019 human rights defenders exposed the sexual abuse of at least 165 schoolboys from three high schools in Logar Province, alleging that teachers, principals, vice principals, fellow students, and at least one local law enforcement official participated in the abuse. The release of videos of some the rapes and exposure of the scandal led to at least five honor killings of the victims. Two human rights defenders were subsequently placed in NDS detention after exposing the allegations, forced to apologize for their reporting, and continued to face threats after their release, prompting them to flee the country. The Attorney General’s Office investigation into the scandal resulted in the identification of 20 perpetrators, 10 of whom had been arrested by year’s end. Nine of the perpetrators were convicted of child sexual assault by the Logar Primary Court, which handed down sentences ranging between five and 22 years’ imprisonment. Another four men were indicted by the Attorney General’s Office in early September of raping a male student. One of the suspects, a high school headmaster, was the first government employee to face charges of child sexual assault related to the Logar bacha bazi case.

There were reports some members of the military and progovernment groups sexually abused and exploited young girls and boys. UNAMA reported children continued to be subjected to sexual violence by parties to the conflict at an “alarming rate.” According to media and NGO reports, many of these cases went unreported or were referred to traditional mediation, which often allowed perpetrators to reoffend.

The government took steps to discourage the abuse of boys and to prosecute or punish those involved. The penal code criminalizes bacha bazi as a separate crime and builds on a 2017 trafficking-in-persons law (TIP law) that includes provisions criminalizing behaviors associated with the sexual exploitation of children. The penal code details the punishment for authorities of security forces involved in bacha bazi with an average punishment of up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Although no police officer had ever been prosecuted for bacha bazi, eight officers were arrested during the year in connection with bacha bazi incidents and charged with “moral crimes,” sodomy, or other crimes.

The Ministry of Interior operated CPUs throughout the country to prevent the recruitment of children into the ANP, although the CPUs played a limited oversight role in recruiting. Nevertheless, recruitment of children continued, including into the ANP, the ALP, progovernment forces, and Taliban. Additionally, the government did not have sufficient resources to reintegrate children into their families once they had been identified by the CPUs.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Despite a law setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 years for girls (15 years with the consent of a parent or guardian or the court) and 18 years for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early and forced marriages throughout the country. By EVAW decree those convicted of entering into, or arranging, forced or underage marriages are subject to at least two years’ imprisonment; however, implementation was limited.

By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is 16 years old (or 15 years old with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children. In addition to outlawing the practice of bacha bazi, the penal code provides that, “[i]f an adult male has intercourse with a person younger than the legal age, his act shall be considered rape and the victim’s consent is invalid.” In the case of an adult female having intercourse with a person younger than the legal age, the law considers the child’s consent invalid and the woman may be prosecuted for adultery. The EVAW decree prescribes a penalty of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for forcing an underage girl into prostitution. Taking possession of a child for sexual exploitation or production of pornographic films or images constitutes trafficking in persons under the TIP law regardless of whether other elements of the crime are present.

Displaced Children: During the year NGOs and government offices reported high numbers of returnee families and their children in border areas, specifically Herat and Jalalabad. The government attempted to follow its policy and action plan for the reintegration of Afghan returnees and IDPs, in partnership with the United Nations; however, the government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, many of them unaccompanied minors, remained limited, and it relied on the international community for assistance. Although the government banned street begging in 2008, NGOs and government offices reported large numbers of children begging and living in the streets of major cities.

Institutionalized Children: Living conditions for children in orphanages were poor. NGOs reported as many as 80 percent of children between ages four and 18 in orphanages were not orphans but from families unable to provide them with food, shelter, schooling, or all three. Children in orphanages reported mental, physical, and sexual abuse and occasionally were victims of trafficking. They did not have regular access to running water, heating in winter, indoor plumbing, health-care services, recreational facilities, or education. Security forces kept child detainees in juvenile detention centers run by the Ministry of Justice, except for a group of children arrested for national security violations who stayed at the detention facility in Parwan, the country’s primary military prison. NGOs reported these children were kept separate from the general population but still were at risk of radicalization.

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 reports of anti-Semitic acts. Reportedly only one Afghan Jew remained in the country.

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 prohibits any kind of discrimination against citizens and requires the state to assist persons with disabilities and to protect their rights, including the rights to health care and financial protection. The constitution also requires the state to adopt measures to reintegrate and provide for the active participation in society of persons with disabilities. The law provides for equal rights to, and the active participation of, such persons in society. Observers reported that both the constitutional provisions and disabilities rights law were mostly ignored and unenforced.

Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, difficulty in acquiring government identification required for many government services and voting, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion due to stigma.

Lack of security remained a problem for disability programs. Insecurity in remote areas, where a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities lived, precluded delivery of assistance in some cases. The majority of buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities, prohibiting many from benefitting from education, health care, and other services.

In the Meshrano Jirga, authorities reserved two of the presidentially appointed seats for persons with disabilities. By law 3 percent of all government positions are reserved for persons with disabilities, but government officials acknowledged the law was not enforced.

Human Rights Watch released a report in April in which a woman with a disability reported that Herat city offered no disability support services, including technical support for wheelchair damage. She told interviewers she was stranded indoors, unable to access recreational activities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Ethnic tensions continued to result in conflict and killings. Societal discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the government frequently assigned Hazara police officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior. NGOs also reported Hazara ANDSF officers were more likely than non-Hazara officers to be posted to insecure areas of the country. During the year ISIS-K continued attacks against Shia, predominately Hazara, communities. On March 6, gunmen attacked a ceremony in Kabul attended primarily by Shia Hazaras, killing 32. On October 24, a suicide bomber killed 40 persons and wounded 72 others at an educational center in a Hazara neighborhood of Kabul. ISIS-K claimed responsibility. Many of the victims were between the ages of 15 and 26.

Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs, harassment in school, and verbal and physical abuse in public places. On March 25, gunmen attacked a Sikh gurdwara (house of worship and community gathering place) in Kabul, killing 25 and injuring 11. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for this attack. On March 26, an IED detonated during funeral services for the victims, injuring one. On March 27, police found and defused another IED near the Kabul gurdwara. In the months that followed, many Sikh families departed the country, going primarily to India, due to threats against Sikhs and what they perceived to be inadequate government protection. At year’s end approximately 400 members of the Sikh and Hindu community remained in the country, down from approximately 600 at the start of the year.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Under Islamic sharia law, conviction of same-sex sexual activity is punishable by death, flogging, or imprisonment. Under the penal code, sex between men is a criminal offense punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and sex between women with up to one year of imprisonment. The law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals reported they continued to face arrest by security forces and discrimination, assault, and rape. There were reports of harassment and violence of LGBTI individuals by society and police. Homosexuality was widely seen as taboo and indecent. LGBTI individuals did not have access to certain health-care services and could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Organizations devoted to protecting the freedom of LGBTI persons remained underground because they could not legally register with the government. Even registered organizations working on health programs for men who have sex with men faced harassment and threats by the Ministry of Economy’s NGO Directorate and NDS officials.

Saboor Husaini, a transgender activist and artist, died in a Herat hospital after being beaten by an unidentified group of men December 25.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV or AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS. While the law allows for the distribution of condoms, the government restricted distribution to married couples.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The labor law provides for the right of workers to join and form independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and the government generally respected these rights, although it lacked enforcement tools. The labor law, however, provides no definition of a union or its relationship with employers and members, nor does it establish a legal method for union registration or penalties for violations. The labor law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Other than protecting the right to participate in a union, the law provides no other legal protection for union workers or workers seeking to unionize.

Although the labor law identifies the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ (Ministry of Labor) Labor High Council as the highest decision-making body on labor-related issues, the lack of implementing regulations prevented the council from performing its function. There was an inspection office within the ministry, but inspectors could only advise and make suggestions. As a result, the application of the labor law remained limited because of a lack of central enforcement authority, implementing regulations that describe procedures and penalties for violations, funding, personnel, and political will.

The government allowed several unions to operate, but it interfered with the National Union of Afghanistan Workers and Employees (NUAWE), forcing its offices to remain closed after several raids in 2018. The Justice Ministry blocked NUAWE from holding a congress, reneged on its promise to unblock union bank accounts, and refused to return confiscated properties until after a union congress. Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were sometimes respected, but most workers were not aware of these rights. This was particularly true of workers in rural areas or the agricultural sector, who had not formed unions. In urban areas the majority of workers participated in the informal sector as day laborers in construction, where there were neither unions nor collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The labor law narrowly defines forced labor and does not sufficiently criminalize forced labor and debt bondage. Men, women, and children were exploited in bonded labor, where an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment was exploited, ultimately entrapping other family members, sometimes for multiple generations. This type of debt bondage was common in the brickworks industry. Some families knowingly sold their children into sex trafficking, including for bacha bazi (see section 7.c.).

Government enforcement of the labor law was ineffective; resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate; and the government made minimal efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government prosecuted and convicted two perpetrators of bacha bazi for kidnapping and increased the number of child protection units at the ANP. Despite consistent reports of bacha bazi perpetrated by Afghan National Army, ANP, and Afghan Local Police officials, however, the government has never prosecuted an official for bacha bazi, although the Attorney General’s Office investigated and filed indictments against seven Kandahar security officers implicated in the sexual abuse and death of a boy in September. The government denied that security forces recruited or used child soldiers. Some victims reported that authorities perpetuated abuse in exchange for pursuing their cases, and authorities continued to arrest, detain, and penalize victims.

Men, women, and children (see section 7.c.) were exploited in bonded and forced labor. Traffickers compelled entire families to work in bonded labor, predominantly in the carpet and brick making industries in the eastern part of the country. Some women who were sold to husbands were exploited in domestic servitude by their husbands. Men were subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture and construction.

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 labor law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 but permits 14-year-old children to work as apprentices, allows children 15 years old and older to do light nonhazardous work, and permits children 15 to 17 to work up to 35 hours per week. The law prohibits children younger than 14 from working under any circumstances. The law was openly flouted, with poverty driving many children into the workforce. The law also bans the employment of children in hazardous work that is likely to threaten their health or cause disability, including mining and garbage collection; work in blast furnaces, waste-processing plants, and large slaughterhouses; work with hospital waste; drug-related work; security-guard services; and work related to war.

Poor institutional capacity was a serious impediment to effective enforcement of the labor law. Labor inspectors do not have legal authority to inspect worksites for compliance with child labor laws or to impose penalties for noncompliance. Other deficiencies included the lack of authority to impose penalties for labor inspectors, inadequate resources, labor inspector understaffing, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations.

Child labor remained a pervasive problem. Most victims of forced labor were children. Child laborers worked as domestic servants, street vendors, peddlers, and shopkeepers. There was child labor in the carpet industry, brick kilns, coal mines, and poppy fields. Children were also heavily engaged in the worst forms of child labor in mining, including mining salt; commercial sexual exploitation including bacha bazi (see section 6, Children); transnational drug smuggling; and organized begging rings. Some forms of child labor exposed children to land mines. Children faced numerous health and safety risks at work. There were reports of recruitment of children by the ANDSF during the year (see section 1.g.). Taliban forces pressed children to take part in hostile acts (see section 6, Children).

Some children were forced by their families into labor with physical violence. Particularly in opium farming, families sold their children into forced labor, begging, or sex trafficking to settle debts with opium traffickers. Some Afghan parents forcibly sent boys to Iran to work to pay for their dowry in an arranged marriage. Children were also subject to forced labor in orphanages run by NGOs and overseen by the government.

According to the International Labor Organization and UNICEF, millions more children were at risk of child labor due to COVID-19, because many families lost their incomes and did not have access to social support. Child labor was a key source of income for many families and the rising poverty, school closures, and decreased availability of social services increased the reliance on child labor. Many children already engaged in child labor were experiencing a worsening of conditions and working longer hours, posing significant harm to their health and safety. Aid and human rights groups reported that child labor laws were often violated, and children frequently faced harassment and abuse and earned very little or nothing for their labor.

Gender inequalities in child labor were also rising, as girls were particularly vulnerable to exploitation in agriculture and domestic work. COVID-19 also increased violent attacks on schools and teachers, which disproportionately impacted girls’ access to education and vulnerability to child labor. The UN Security Council reported that nine attacks against schools occurred between April 1 and June 30. Poverty and security concerns frequently lead parents to pull girls out of school before boys.

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 constitution prohibits discrimination and notes that citizens, both “man and woman,” have equal rights and duties before the law. It expressly prohibits discrimination based on language. The constitution contains no specific provisions addressing discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, or age. The penal code prescribes a term of imprisonment of not more than two years for anyone convicted of spreading discrimination or factionalism, which is commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. A 2018 law criminalized physical, verbal, and nonverbal harassment, punishable with a fine, but the law remained largely ineffective due to underreporting.

Women continued to face discrimination and hardship in the workplace. Women made up only 22 percent of the workforce. Many women faced pressure from relatives to stay at home and encountered hiring practices that favored men. Older and married women reported it was more difficult for them than for younger, single women to find jobs. Women who worked reported they encountered insults, sexual harassment, lack of transportation, and an absence of day-care facilities. Gender-based violence escalated with targeted killings of high-profile women in the public sector. Salary discrimination existed in the private sector. Men earned 30 percent more on average in the same occupations as women and 3.5 times more in agriculture and forestry, where women occupied two-thirds of the workforce. Female journalists, social workers, and police officers reported they were often threatened or abused. Persons with disabilities also suffered from discrimination in hiring.

The Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Public Health jointly adopted a regulation prescribing a list of 244 physically arduous and harmful occupations prohibited to women and children, of which 31 are identified as worst forms of child labor that are prohibited to children younger than 18. It is not permissible for women and children to engage in types of work that are physically arduous, harmful to health, or carried out in underground sites, such as in the mining sector.

Ethnic Hazaras, Sikhs, and Hindus faced discrimination in hiring and work assignments, in addition to broader social discrimination (see section 6, Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage rates for workers in the nonpermanent private sector and for government workers were below the poverty line.

The labor law defines the standard workweek for both public- and private-sector employees as 40 hours: eight hours per day with one hour for lunch and noon prayers. The labor law makes no mention of day workers in the informal sector, leaving them completely unprotected. There are no occupational health and safety regulations or officially adopted standards. The law, however, provides for reduced standard workweeks for children ages 15 to 17, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and miners and workers in other occupations that present health risks. The law provides workers with the right to receive wages, annual vacation time in addition to national holidays, compensation for on-the-job injuries, overtime pay, health insurance for the employee and immediate family members, and other incidental allowances. The law prohibits compulsory work without establishing penalties and stipulates that overtime work be subject to the agreement of the employee. The law requires employers to provide day care and nurseries for children.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime nor occupational health and safety laws. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance, and inspectors have no legal authority to enter premises or impose penalties for violations. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Employers often chose not to comply with the law or preferred to hire workers informally. Most employees worked longer than 40 hours per week, were frequently underpaid, and worked in poor conditions, particularly in the informal sector. Workers were generally unaware of the full extent of their labor rights. Although comprehensive data on workplace accidents were unavailable, there were several reports of poor and dangerous working conditions. Some industries, such as brick kiln facilities, continued to use debt bondage, making it difficult for workers to remove themselves from situations of forced labor that endangered their health or safety.

Albania

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

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such actions, there were allegations that police and prison guards sometimes beat and abused suspects and prisoners, usually in police stations.

In the September 2019 report on its most recent visit in 2018 to a number of the country’s prisons and detention centers, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture reported receiving a significant number of allegations of mistreatment of criminal suspects by police officers. Most allegations involved use of excessive force at the time of or immediately following apprehension. Several allegations also concerned mistreatment during transport or initial questioning, apparently to extract a confession, obtain information, or as punishment. The alleged mistreatment consisted of slaps, punches, kicks, blows with a hard object, and excessively tight handcuffing.

The Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints (SIAC) received complaints of police abuse and corruption that led to investigations of police actions. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent, constitutional entity that serves as a watchdog over the government, reported that most cases of alleged physical or psychological abuse during the year occurred during arrest and interrogation.

Impunity for police misconduct remained a problem, although the government made greater efforts to address it by increasing the use of camera evidence to document and prosecute police misconduct. The SIAC recorded an increase in the number of investigations, prosecutions, and sanctions against officers for criminal and administrative violations.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government usually respected these rights, although defamation is a criminal offense. There were reports that the government, businesses, and criminal groups sought to influence the media in inappropriate ways.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. There were efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including by threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption.

Business owners freely used their media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. There were credible reports of senior media representatives using media outlets to blackmail businesses by threatening unfavorable, sometimes factual and sometimes speculative, media coverage. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Economic insecurity due to a lack of enforceable labor contracts reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. The Albanian Journalists Union (AJU) continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at many media outlets, in some instances of up to 10 months. According to the journalist union, the pandemic worsened these delays. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income, leading to questions of integrity in reporting.

NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for some of the estimated 900-plus news portals in the country, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial, political, and criminal interests. The dramatic growth in online media outlets provided a diversity of views as well as opportunities for corruption.

Violence and Harassment: The AJU reported five cases of violence and intimidation through November against members of the media, and political and business interests subjected journalists to pressure. In March the police detained a reporter following the asylum petition of Turkish citizen Selami Simsek (see subsection on Access to Asylum below) for several hours. In June the police detained a reporter for several hours while he was filming a demolition operation in Lezha. The police gave no reason for the detention. In October an explosion occurred at the gate of the house of News 24 TV correspondent Elidon Ndreka; no injuries were reported. The AJU condemned the incidents and called on authorities to punish perpetrators.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment. The AJU cited censorship and self-censorship as leading problems for journalists. A survey of 800 media professionals published in 2019 found that 62 percent of respondents thought there was interference from individuals or politics, 60 percent thought there was interference from media owners, 39 percent thought there was self-censorship, and 31 percent thought there was corruption in the media. About 78 percent of media professionals thought there were journalists who engaged in corrupt practices to misreport stories.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines were excessive and, combined with the entry of a criminal conviction into the defendant’s record, undermined freedom of expression. The AJU expressed concern that as of August, there were more than 20 lawsuits against journalists, mainly for defamation.

In 2019 the Assembly passed legislation, the so-called antidefamation package, which amended existing media laws to address defamation. NGOs and some international organizations criticized the amendments, sparking public debate, and the president returned the law to parliament on January 11.

Internet Freedom

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: To receive government services, citizens changing place of residence within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many individuals could not provide documentation and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means to register. In September media reported on cases in which the Interior Ministry, while preparing voter lists for national elections scheduled for April 2021, had transferred the residency of some citizens without their knowledge. The ministry corrected a number of these transfers.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported some cases of border police returning migrants to Greece despite indicating an intention to seek asylum.

Authorities detained 7,404 irregular migrants who entered the country between January and August, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; most of those who did not request asylum were deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation. Migrants who claimed asylum were housed at the Babrru open migrant facility. Many of the irregular migrants placed in Babrru were later apprehended again attempting to cross into Montenegro rather than remaining in the country to pursue asylum requests. Karrec and Babrru centers faced funding constraints, and the government closed the Babrru center temporarily to assess wear and tear to the facility and estimate needed repairs.

Police allowed UNHCR, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the NGO Caritas to monitor the access of arrivals to national procedures and return of persons to countries from which they arrived. The ombudsman and Caritas were also allowed to monitor the detention of migrants.

Refoulement: The January 1 expulsion of Harun Celik, a citizen of Turkey and alleged follower of Fethullah Gulen, who the Turkish government claimed was behind the July 2016 attempted coup in Turkey, raised questions about Celik’s access to asylum. Celik had been arrested in 2019 in Tirana International Airport for attempting to travel on a forged Canadian visa. When Celik finished his prison sentence, border authorities expelled him from the country and placed him on a flight to Turkey, despite assertions that Celik had requested asylum. The UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, along with other UN bodies, opened an inquiry, including the question of whether or not this was a case of refoulement.

Celik’s compatriate and alleged follower of Gulen, Selami Simsek, was also arrested in 2019 for attempting to travel on a forged Canadian visa. Simsek was released from prison on March 9 but remained in the Karrec closed-migrant facility. Media reported that Simsek was taken to the Interior Ministry at 9 p.m.–outside working hours–on March 9 after his release from prison for an interview regarding his asylum application. The ministry denied the application the same day, and the National Commission on Asylum and Refugees rejected his appeal on September 10. It was disputed whether Simsek was provided adequate notice of either decision. The Turkish government continues to press for summary return of Simsek and others alleged to be connected to Fethullah Gulen.

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

There were credible reports from NGOs, migrants, and asylum seekers that authorities did not follow due process procedures for some asylum seekers and that in other cases those seeking asylum did not have access to the social care and other services due to limited issuance of identification cards. Caritas and the Office of the Ombudsman were critical of the government’s migrant screening and detention procedures. There were reports of border police pushing migrants back into Greece.

The law on asylum requires authorities to grant or deny asylum within 51 days of an applicant’s initial request. Under the law, asylum seekers cannot face criminal charges of illegal entry if they contact authorities within 10 days of their arrival in the country.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law limits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or being granted refugee status. UNHCR reported that one asylum request had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which included Greece.

Employment: While the law permits refugees to work, they must first obtain Albanian citizenship to receive identification cards and work permits.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR statistics, approximately 700 persons at risk of statelessness were identified under the agency’s statelessness mandate by November. The government does not have data regarding the total number of stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country. The law allows stateless persons to acquire citizenship under certain conditions, although there is no separate legislation that specifically addresses citizenship for stateless persons. UNHCR reported that new legislation on citizenship significantly reduced the risk of statelessness in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national parliamentary elections took place in 2017. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observation mission for the elections reported that contestants “were able to campaign freely and fundamental freedoms were respected.” The OSCE further noted the “continued politicization of election-related bodies and institutions as well as widespread allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters detracted from public trust in the electoral process.” Regarding voting itself, the OSCE mission noted “an overall orderly election day” but found that “important procedures were not fully respected in a considerable number of voting centers observed.”

Local elections took place in June 2019. The main opposition party and others boycotted the elections, alleging government collusion with organized crime to commit electoral fraud. The OSCE election observation mission reported that, as a consequence of the boycott, “voters did not have a meaningful choice between political options” and “there were credible allegations of citizens being pressured by both sides.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Media outlets reported allegations of the use of public resources for partisan campaign purposes in the 2017 parliamentary and 2019 local elections, and there were reports of undue political influence on the media. There were also reports of limited access to voting for persons with disabilities.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Following the 2017 elections, the share of Assembly members who were women increased to a record 29 percent, and following a major cabinet reshuffle the female senior government officials rose to 53 percent. The law governing the election of Assembly members requires that 30 percent of candidates be women and that they occupy 30 percent of appointed and elected positions. According to the OSCE final report on the 2017 elections, however, the largest parties did not always respect the mandated 30 percent quota in their candidate lists. The Central Election Commission fined the parties but nonetheless accepted their lists.

Members of national minorities stood as candidates in both minority and mainstream parties in the 2017 parliamentary elections and 2019 local elections. Observers noted campaigning in the Greek and Macedonian languages without incident. Nevertheless, observers reported that some minorities remained vulnerable to vote buying. One Balkan-Egyptian candidate joined the Assembly as a member when the Central Election Commission replaced members of the opposition who resigned from the body in February 2019.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, and also prohibits individuals with criminal convictions from serving as mayors, parliamentarians, or in government or state positions, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Corruption was pervasive in all branches of government, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Examples include a 2019 mayoral candidate previously convicted of drug trafficking.

The constitution requires judges and prosecutors to undergo vetting for unexplained wealth, ties to organized crime, and professional competence. The Independent Qualification Commission conducted vetting, and the Appeals Chamber reviewed contested decisions. The International Monitoring Operation, composed of international judicial experts, oversaw the process. As of November, 125 judges and prosecutors were dismissed, 103 confirmed, while 48 others had resigned rather than undergo vetting.

Several government agencies investigated corruption cases, but limited resources, investigative leaks, real and perceived political pressure, and a haphazard reassignment system hampered investigations.

Corruption: Between January and September, the prosecutor general’s office registered 20 new corruption cases and dismissed seven. The Department of Administration, Transparency, and Anticorruption investigated 29 cases, resulting in 115 administrative and 153 disciplinary measures.

The December 2019 establishment of the Special Prosecution Office on Corruption and Organized Crime, one of two entities constituting the Special Structure on Anticorruption and Organized Crime, resulted in 327 new criminal investigations and 65 requests sent to court as of November. While prosecutors made significant progress in pursuing low-level public corruption cases, including corrupt prosecutors and judges, prosecution of higher-level suspects remained rare due to investigators’ fear of retribution, a lack of resources, and corruption within the judiciary itself. In September the appellate court remanded the conviction of a former interior minister for retrial. In November the Special Prosecution Office filed charges against a former prosecutor general for hiding assets and seized several of those assets in December.

The High Inspectorate reported that through August, it had referred 60 new cases for prosecution, involving two Assembly members, one deputy minister, three mayors, 32 general directors of public agencies, one head of public procurement at customs, and five heads of regional customs departments. Charges included refusing to declare assets, hiding assets, or falsifying asset declarations; money laundering; tax evasion; falsification of documents; and general corruption.

Police corruption remained a problem. Through June the SIAC received 5,051 complaints via an anticorruption hotline, of which 1,819 were within the jurisdiction of the service and 3,232 were referred to other agencies. Through November the SIAC investigated 1,016 complaints. Most of the complaints alleged a failure to act, violation of standard operating procedures, abuse of office, arbitrary action, police bias, unfair fines, and passive corruption. SIAC referred to the prosecution 202 cases involving 299 officials. The Office of the Ombudsman also processed complaints against police officers, mainly concerning problems with arrests and detentions.

Police did not always enforce the law equitably. Personal associations, political or criminal connections, deficient infrastructure, lack of equipment, and inadequate supervision often influenced law enforcement. Authorities continued to address these problems by renovating police facilities, upgrading vehicles, and publicly highlighting anticorruption measures. The government has established a system of vetting security officials and, as of November, had completed vetting 32 high-level police and SIAC leaders.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to disclose their assets to the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest, which monitored and verified such disclosures and made them available to the public. The law authorizes the High Inspectorate to fine officials who fail to comply with disclosure requirements or to refer them to the prosecutor.

Through August the High Inspectorate fined 10 individuals for not disclosing their assets or conflicts of interest or for violating the law on whistleblower protection. Courts generally upheld fines imposed by the High Inspectorate.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is the main independent institution for promoting and enforcing human rights. It is authorized by law to monitor and report on prisons and detention centers. The office may initiate an investigation based on complaints or on its own authority. Although the ombudsman lacked the power to enforce decisions, it acted as a monitor of human rights violations.

The Office of the Ombudsman was underfunded and understaffed.

The Assembly has committees on legal issues, public administration, and human rights, which review the annual report of the Office of the Ombudsman. The committee was engaged and effective in legislative matters.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime; the law also includes provisions on sexual assault. Penalties for rape and sexual assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the penalty is three to 10 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Authorities did not disaggregate data on prosecutions for spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities often did not consider it a crime.

The law on domestic violence extends protection to victims in a relationship or civil union and provides for issuance of a protective order that automatically covers children as well. In November the Assembly amended the law to provide for ordering the abuser to leave the premises of the victim. Police operated an automated application issuance process within the police case management system, which allows for rapid issuance of protective orders and produces a record of orders issued. Through November the system was used to document the generation of 2,324 protective orders.

In April the Ministry of Health and Social Protection approved a protocol for operating shelters for victims of domestic violence and trafficking during the COVID-19 pandemic. The protocol provides services to victims of domestic violence and trafficking while following guidance on social distancing. The ministry posted a video message reminding citizens to report any case of suspected domestic violence and provided a hotline and police number on its web page.

As of November, investigators and prosecutors had registered 81 cases of alleged sexual assault. Also through November, investigators and prosecutors registered 4,313 cases of domestic violence, six of which were murders. UNICEF reported 370 cases of domestic violence through August, with fewer cases referred in 2020 than in 2019. NGOs reported high levels of domestic violence against women. According to a 2018 survey of women between the ages of 18 and 74 that the UN Development Program released in March 2019, 52.9 percent of women surveyed reported having been subjected to violence or sexual harassment during their lifetimes.

The government operated one shelter to protect survivors of domestic violence and three shelters for victims of human trafficking that also accommodated victims of domestic violence. In 2018 the government began operating a crisis management center for victims of sexual assault at the Tirana University Hospital Center. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection reported that as of December, the center had treated 20 victims, 14 of whom were minors.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but officials rarely enforced it. The commissioner for protection from discrimination generally handled cases of sexual harassment and could impose fines.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. There are no legal barriers to access to contraceptives, which are provided free of charge to insured women. Nevertheless, women and girls often did not use this right for a variety of reasons, including fear of stigma from health-care service providers and members of their community. Some women and girls, particularly those living in remote, rural areas, faced significant challenges in accessing essential sexual and reproductive health services. Women from disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as women with disabilities, LGBTI community members, Roma, and Balkan Egyptian women, were often unaware of their rights to reproductive health services.

In 2018 the Ministry of Health and Social Protection established the Lilium Center with the support of UNDP to provide integrated services to survivors of sexual violence. The center is in a hospital setting and provides health care services, social services, and forensic examinations at a single location by professionals trained in cases of sexual violence. The center functions are based on the model adopted by the Albanian National Council for Gender Equality.

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

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Women were underrepresented in many fields at the highest levels. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, although many private employers did not fully implement this provision. In many communities, women experienced societal discrimination based on traditional social norms subordinating women to men.

There were reports of discrimination in employment. Through August the commissioner for protection from discrimination received 83 complaints of employment discrimination, 54 of which were against public entities and 29 against private entities. The complaints alleged discrimination based mainly on political affiliation, health conditions, or disability. The commissioner ruled in favor of the employee in nine cases, five of which were against public entities and four against private entities. Through August the commissioner had received 11 complaints of discrimination on the basis of gender and ruled in favor of the employee in one case. In that case, the commissioner for protection from discrimination ruled against the Trans Adriatica Spiecapag company for dismissing a female employee due to her pregnancy, status as a parent, and gender.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to official figures, in 2019 the ratio of boys to girls at birth was 108 to 100. There were no government-supported efforts to address the imbalance.

Children

Birth Registration: An individual acquires citizenship by birth in the country or from a citizen parent. There were no reports of discrimination in birth registration, but onerous residency and documentation requirements for registration made it more difficult for the many Romani and Balkan-Egyptian parents who lacked legally documented places of residence to register their children. The law on civil status provides financial incentives for birth registration.

Children born to internal migrants, including some Romani families, or those returning from abroad, frequently had no birth certificates or other legal documents and consequently were unable to attend school or have access to services.

Education: School attendance is mandatory through the ninth grade or until the age of 16, whichever occurs first, but many children, particularly in rural areas, left school earlier to work with their families. Parents must purchase supplies, books, uniforms, and space heaters for some classrooms; these were prohibitively expensive for many families, particularly Roma and members of other minorities.

Children in first through fourth grade are legally entitled to free textbooks. Because of the need to use online class delivery during the pandemic, the government offered free schoolbooks to students from the first to the seventh grade; children with special needs were eligible for free schoolbooks from the first through the twelfth grade.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Although the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, authorities did not always enforce the law. Underage marriages occurred mostly in rural areas and within Romani communities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child range from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. The country has a statutory rape law; the minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for statutory rape is a prison term of five to 15 years. In aggravated circumstances, the penalty may increase to life imprisonment. The law prohibits making or distributing child pornography, which is punishable by imprisonment for three to 10 years. Possession of child pornography is also illegal.

Authorities generally enforced laws against rape and sexual exploitation of minors effectively, but NGOs reported that they rarely enforced laws prohibiting child pornography. The government reported that as of November, 13 children had been sexually exploited none of them involving pornography. In early June, reports emerged of a 14-year-old girl who was raped and later sexually exploited; videos of the abuse were posted online. The case has gone to trial.

Displaced Children: There were many displaced and street children, particularly in the Romani community. Some street children begged and some of them became trafficking victims. Since the law prohibits the prosecution of children younger than 14 for burglary, criminal gangs at times used displaced children to burglarize homes.

Institutionalized Children: NGOs considered the migrant detention facility in Karrec to be unsuitable for children and families. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, sending them instead to the open-migrant facility in Babrru.

Some NGOs raised concerns about the transparency of the treatment of children who were under state residential care. The law allows for moving children out of residential centers and into the care of foster families, but the government and municipalities have not used this option frequently.

Through August the General Directorate of Prisons reported that there were 17 juveniles in the justice system, none of whom had been convicted. The country lacked adequate facilities for pretrial detention of children, although the Juvenile Institute in Kavaja, the only institution in the country for juvenile offenders, was adequate for the population it served. The directorate reported that the number of minors in pretrial detention and detention facilities had decreased because of alternative sentencing.

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.

Anti-Semitism

Reports indicated that there were 40 to 50 Jews living in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. In September Valentina Leskaj, a former government minister, joined the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement Advisory Board, becoming its first Muslim member.

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 and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Nevertheless, employers, schools, health-care providers, and providers of other state services at times engaged in discrimination. The law mandates that new public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government only sporadically enforced the law.

As of August the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received two complaints of alleged discrimination against individuals with disabilities and ruled in favor of the complainants in five cases. In one case the commissioner ruled against the local education office in Elbasan for refusing to hire a teacher because of her disability.

The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies lacked funding to implement their programs adequately. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were in facilities that lacked accessibility or other accommodations. A 2018 study by World Vision and Save the Children reported that none of the 10 municipalities surveyed had a plan to eliminate barriers to information, communication, and mobility for persons with disabilities, or a dedicated budget to address the problem.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

There were allegations of discrimination against members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, including in housing, employment, health care, and education. Some schools resisted accepting Romani and Balkan-Egyptian students, particularly if the students appeared to be poor. Many schools that accepted Romani students marginalized them in the classroom, sometimes by physically setting them apart from other students.

As of August, the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received 12 complaints of discrimination on grounds of race and ethnicity, ruling in favor of the complainant in two cases. In one case the commissioner ruled against Fier municipality and its water and sewage utility for discriminating against Romani households. The commissioner ordered the municipality and utility to supply running water to the families. When the municipality and utility did not respond, the commissioner imposed fines.

The government adopted legislation on official minorities in 2017 but has not passed all the regulations needed for its implementation. The law provides official minority status for nine national minorities without distinguishing between national and ethnolinguistic groups. The government defined Greeks, Macedonians, Aromanians (Vlachs), Roma, Balkan-Egyptians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Serbs, and Bulgarians as national minorities. The legislation provides for minority language education and dual official language use for the local administrative units in which minorities traditionally reside or in which a minority makes up 20 percent of the total population. The ethnic Greek minority complained about the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek communities outside communist-era “minority zones.”

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Enforcement of the law was generally weak. As of August, the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received one case of discrimination based on sexual orientation, which the commission started ex officio and ruled that discrimination had occurred.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are among the classes protected by the country’s hate crime law. Despite the law and the government’s formal support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights, public officials sometimes made homophobic statements.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against individuals with HIV or AIDS. The Association of People Living with HIV or AIDS reported that stigma and discrimination caused individuals to avoid getting tested for HIV, leading to delayed diagnosis and consequently delayed access to care and support. Persons living with HIV or AIDS faced employment discrimination, and children living with HIV faced discrimination in school.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law and related regulations and statutes provide the right for most workers to form independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law prohibits members of the military and senior government officials from joining unions and requires that a trade union have at least 20 members to be registered. The law provides the right to strike for all workers except indispensable medical and hospital personnel, persons providing air traffic control or prison services, and fire brigades. Strike action is prohibited in “special cases,” such as a natural catastrophe, a state of war, extraordinary situations, and cases where the freedom of elections is at risk. Workers not excluded by their positions exercised their right to strike.

The law provides limited protection to domestic and migrant workers. Labor unions were generally weak and politicized. Workers who engage in illegal strikes may be compelled to pay for any damages due to the strike action.

Government enforcement of the law remained largely ineffective, in part due to the extent of informal employment. Resources for conducting inspections and remedying violations were not adequate. Penalties were rarely enforced and were not commensurate to those under other laws related to the denial of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Arbitration procedures allowed for significant delays that limited worker protections against antiunion activity.

Civilian workers in all fields have the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively, and the law establishes procedures for the protection of workers’ rights through collective bargaining agreements. Unions representing public sector employees negotiated directly with the government. Effective collective bargaining remained difficult because employers often resisted union organizing and activities. In this environment collective bargaining agreements, once reached, were difficult to enforce.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not always effectively enforce the law. Lack of coordination among ministries and the sporadic implementation of standard operating procedures hampered enforcement. Penalties for violations were commensurate to those for other serious crimes but were seldom enforced. Some law enforcement organizations and the victim advocates at the prosecutors’ offices received training in a victim-centered approach to victims of human trafficking. The government continued to identify victims of forced labor and prosecuted and convicted a small number of traffickers.

The Labor Inspectorate reported no cases of forced labor in the formal sector during the year. See section 7.c. for cases involving children in forced labor in the informal sector.

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 of employment at 16 but allows children at the age of 15 to be employed in “light” work that does not interfere with school. Children younger than 18 may generally only work in jobs categorized as “light.” Children may work up to two hours per day and up to 10 hours per week when school is in session, and up to six hours per day and 30 hours per week when school is not in session. Children who are 16 or 17 may work up to six hours per day and up to 30 hours per week if the labor is part of their vocational education. By law, the State Inspectorate for Labor and Social Services (SILSS), under the Ministry of Finance and Economy, is responsible for enforcing minimum age requirements through the courts, but it did not adequately enforce the law.

Labor inspectors investigated the formal labor sector, whereas most child labor occurred in the informal sector. Children engaged in gathering recyclable metals and plastic, small-scale agricultural harvesting, selling small goods in the informal sector, serving drinks and food in bars and restaurants, the clothing industry, and mining. There were reports that children worked as shop vendors, vehicle washers, textile factory workers, or shoeshine boys. There were isolated reports of children subjected to forced labor in cannabis fields in 2019. The number of children engaged in street-related activities (such as begging or selling items) increased during the summer, particularly around tourist areas.

Children were subjected to forced begging and criminal activity. Some of the children begging on the street were second- or third-generation beggars. Research suggested that begging started as early as the age of four or five. While the law prohibits the exploitation of children for begging, police generally did not enforce it, although they made greater efforts to do so during the year. In several cases, police detained parents of children found begging in the street and referred children for appropriate child services care. The State Agency on Children’s Rights continued to identify and manage cases of street children identified by mobile identification units.

In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the government’s statistical agency and the International Labor Organization estimated that 54,000 children were engaged in forced labor domestically. An estimated 43,000 children worked in farms and fishing, 4,400 in the services sector, and 2,200 in hotels and restaurants. Nearly 5 percent of children were child laborers.

SILSS did not carry out inspections for child labor unless there was a specific complaint. Most labor inspections occurred in shoe and textile factories, call centers, and retail enterprises; officials found some instances of child labor during their inspections. Penalties were rarely assessed and were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. As of July, SILSS reported 101 children under the age of 18 registered to work, 88 percent of whom were in manufacturing enterprises.

The NGO Terre des Hommes reported that the COVID-19 pandemic may have worsened child labor violations. Restriction of movement and other measures against COVID-19 produced new exploitation trends, such as door-to-door begging and afternoon and night street work.

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

Labor laws prohibit employment discrimination because of race, skin color, gender, age, physical or mental disability, political beliefs, language, nationality, religion, family, HIV/AIDS status, or social origin. The government did not enforce the law and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other laws related to denials of civil rights. The commissioner for protection from discrimination reported that most allegations of discrimination involved race, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability.

There are laws prohibiting women from engaging in work that requires lifting more than 20 kilograms.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was higher than the national poverty threshold. SILSS and tax authorities are responsible for enforcing the minimum wage but had an insufficient number of staff to enforce compliance.

While the law establishes a 40-hour work week, individual or collective agreements typically set the actual work week. The law provides for paid annual holidays, but only employees in the formal labor market had rights to paid holidays. Many persons in the private sector worked six days a week. The law requires rest periods and premium pay for overtime, but employers did not always observe these provisions. The government rarely enforced laws related to maximum work hours, limits on overtime, or premium pay for overtime, especially in the private sector. These laws did not apply to migrant workers or workers in the informal sector, which made up 56 percent of the economy, according to the International Labor Organization’s 2019 Overview of the Informal Economy in Albania.

SILSS is responsible for occupational health and safety standards and regulations, and while these were appropriate for the main industries, enforcement was lacking overall. Violations of wage and occupational safety standards occurred most frequently in the textile, footwear, construction, and mining industries. Resources and inspections were not adequate, and penalties were not commensurate to those of other similar crimes. Law enforcement agencies lacked the tools to enforce collection and consequently rarely charged violators. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors did have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Workers often could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Employers did not effectively protect employees in this situation. Through October there were 137 major industrial accidents that caused death or serious injury to workers.

Algeria

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

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

The law prohibits torture and prescribes prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for government agents found guilty of torture. Human rights activists reported police occasionally used excessive force against suspects, including protestors that could amount to torture or degrading treatment. The Ministry of Justice did not provide figures about prosecutions of police officers for abuse during the year. Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) asserted that impunity in security forces was a problem.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

International and local observers alleged that authorities occasionally used antiterrorism laws and restrictive laws on freedom of expression and public assembly to detain political activists and outspoken critics of the government.

According to the CNLD, 61 political prisoners associated with the Hirak protest movement were in government detention. They included journalists, activists, lawyers, opposition figures, and Hirak protesters. International human rights organizations and local civil society groups repeatedly called on the government to release all political prisoners. On September 8, Minister of Communication and government spokesperson Ammar Belhimer stated there were no political detainees in the country.

On July 10, retired army general and former presidential candidate Ali Ghediri went on a hunger strike to protest his detention. The government arrested Ghediri in June 2019 for “undermining the army’s morale” and imprisoned him on treason and espionage charges. On July 29, the Algiers Court’s Indictments Division dropped the espionage charges. Ghediri claimed that his 13 months in prison had been “a political confinement to keep him away from the political scene and the presidential election.”

In June authorities convicted Amira Bouraoui, founder of two opposition movements (Barakat “Enough” and al-Muwatana “Citizenship”). She received a one-year prison sentence on the charge of “inciting an unarmed gathering, offending Islam, offending the President, publishing content which may harm national unity, publication of fake news that may harm safety and public order, and undermining the lives of others.” After 11 days in prison, authorities released Bouraoui on July 2, and placed her under judicial supervision.

In March the government arrested Slimane Hamitouche, the national coordinator of SOS Disparus (an association advocating for the families of those who disappeared during the Dark Decade, 1991-2002), for “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “harming national unity.” In February authorities released Samir Belarbi, a political activist and Barakat movement founder, from pretrial detention, but arrested him again in March for “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “harming national unity.” The government first arrested Belarbi in September 2019 for “harming national unity” and “advertising that may harm the national interest.” On September 15, authorities released Belarbi and Hamitouche from prison after they completed their sentences.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and independent media outlets regularly criticized and satirized government officials and policies, but the government on some occasions restricted these rights. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts of public sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

Freedom of Speech: While public debate and criticism of the government were widespread, journalists and activists were limited in their ability to criticize the government on topics crossing unwritten “red lines.” Authorities arrested and detained citizens for expressing views deemed damaging to state officials and institutions, including the use of the Berber flag during protests, and citizens practiced self-restraint in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about security force conduct during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in place, although the government said there had never been an arrest or prosecution under the law. A separate law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for publications that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings.

On March 27, authorities arrested Khaled Drareni, correspondent for the international press freedom group Reporters without Borders and cofounder of the independent news website Casbah Tribune. Police held him in a police station for two nights. On March 29, the Sidi M’Hamed criminal court of Algiers ordered Drareni’s detention in El-Harrach Prison. On March 30, authorities moved him to Kolea Prison. Police had first arrested Drareni on March 7 for assembling without a permit and held him for four days. After his release, Drareni continued covering the antigovernment protests, despite authorities forcing him to sign a letter vowing not to do so. On August 10, the Sidi M’Hamed court in Algiers sentenced Drareni to a three-year prison sentence and a fine. On September 8, an appellate court held a hearing and on September 15 upheld the conviction and sentenced him to two years in prison, where he remained at year’s end.

On May 30, police rearrested Issam Sayeh, an engineer and social media activist. On July 20, the court convicted Sayeh for “insulting the president and the army” and sentenced him to 18 months imprisonment. Authorities first arrested Sayeh in July 2019 and released him in September 2019.

On August 27, authorities arrested Mohamed Tadjadit (known as “the poet of the Hirak”) and placed him in pretrial detention. According to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), Tadjadit is under investigation for publications that may undermine national unity, insult the president, and expose lives to danger by inciting a gathering during the lockdown period.

NGOs reported during the year that following suppression of public activities in years past, they no longer hold events outside of private locations. They also report that owners of public gathering spaces have been told not to rent their locations to certain NGOs.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. ANEP CEO Larbi Ounoughi stated in August that the agency represented 60 percent of the total advertising market. Nongovernmental sources assessed most daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. ANEP added it wished to preserve a pluralistic press and freedom of information and noted that it funded opposition newspapers.

In August, Ammar Belhimer, Minister of Communication and government spokesperson, stated ANEP’s public advertising constituted a form of indirect aid to the press that if liberalized, could lead to the collapse of media outlets who would lose their funding. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising, however, permitted it to exert undue influence over print media.

On April 2, parliament adopted amendments to the penal code that criminalized breaking the government-imposed COVID-19 lockdown rules and spreading “false news” that harms national unity. Penalties for convictions under the bill, which does not distinguish between news reports, social media, or other media, entail prison terms of two to five years and fines.

On April 27, police arrested activist Walid Kechida in Setif for posting memes on Facebook. Authorities accused him of “insulting the president,” “insulting police officers during the performance of their duties,” and carrying out an “attack on religion.” His case is pending trial and he is in pretrial detention.

Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the difficulty of receiving information from public officials. Except for several daily newspapers, the majority of print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.

Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, most foreign media were not accredited. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be citizens and prohibit them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation. According to Reporters without Borders, the government intimidated activists and journalists. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists.

On August 19, authorities arrested France 24 correspondent Moncef Ait Kaci and cameraman Ramdane Rahmouni. The gendarmerie had summoned Ait Kaci in November 2019 and in February. Ait Kaci did not provide reasons for the arrests or the summons, but denied they were related to his articles.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government. Press outlets report taking extra caution before publishing articles critical of the government or government officials due to fear of losing revenue from ANEP.

On May 12, authorities blocked the news website Le Matin dAlgerie. On May 12, authorities blocked the news website lAvant-Garde Algerie. No reason was cited to explain the blocks.

On April 9, authorities blocked internet access to Maghreb Emergent and Radio M, news sites belonging to the Interface Media Group. Kadi Ihsan, Maghreb Emergent editor-in-chief, reported the government denied authorization for his journalists to move in Algiers after curfew unlike some other journalists. Minister of Communication and government spokesperson Ammar Belhimer stated the sites received foreign financing through crowdsourcing, and concluded the sites were funded through “foreign soft power.”

In September an El Watan article detailing large-scale alleged corruption by the sons of the late army chief of staff, Ahmed Gaid Salah, prompted the government to suspend El Watans advertising revenue. The newspaper responded by emphasizing its support for the army.

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and stated the definitions in the law failed to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine. The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials. Defamation laws specify that former members of the military who make statements deemed to have damaged the image of the military or to have “harmed the honor and respect due to state institutions” may face prosecution.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.”

Internet Freedom

The government monitored certain email and social media sites.

Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and email. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.

Police arrested Abdelkarim Zeghileche, director of the independent radio station Radio Sarbacane, on June 23 and placed him in pretrial detention. On August 24, the Constantine court convicted and sentenced Zeghileche to two years in prison for “offense to the president of the Republic” and sharing social media posts “undermining national unity.”

There was some disruption of communication prior to planned antigovernment demonstrations during the year, namely internet shutdowns, the blocking of access to certain online news sites and social media platforms, and the restricting or censorship of content. In March parts of the country continued to experience internet outages during hirak protests.

The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of internet service providers (ISPs) to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance to prevent terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.

By law ISPs face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

For a fourth year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school examinations. The decision was in response to previous leaks of examination materials, which were posted on social media.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Academic seminars generally occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for all religious publications. The law gives authorities broad power to ban books that run counter to the constitution, “the Muslim religion and other religions, national sovereignty and unity, the national identity and cultural values of society, national security and defense concerns, public order concerns, and the dignity of the human being and individual and collective rights.” It further prohibits books that “make apology for colonialism, terrorism, crime, and racism.”

Importers must submit to the ministry the title, author’s name, editor’s name, edition, year, International Standard Book Number, and number of copies to be imported. Importers of books covering the “national movement and the Algerian Revolution” must submit the entire text of the books for review, including a secondary review by the Ministry of the Moudjahidine (veterans of the revolution). The Ministry of Culture can also require a full content review of books on other topics if it chooses. The ministry has 30 days to review the importation application; in the absence of a response after 30 days, the importer may proceed with distribution of the publication. After deciding, the ministry notifies the customs service of the decision to allow or ban the importation of the publication. Appeals may be made to the ministry, with no independent or judicial review provided for in the decree.

A 2017 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran stated, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious reference, public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.” The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days. A nonresponse after this period is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government curtailed this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the national government-appointed local governor before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding organizers’ publicity and outreach efforts. The DGSN reported it arrested 3,017 protesters this year.

The Hirak protest movement, which began in February 2019, consisted of mass, peaceful protest marches taking place every Tuesday and Friday in many locations throughout the country. The protests stopped with the onset of COVID-19 but slowly resumed later in the year. Prior to COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of individuals marched peacefully demanding political reforms. The marches occurred mostly without incident, although police at times used tear gas and water cannons as methods of crowd control.

Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering. NGOs reported instances of not receiving the written authorization in time to hold planned meetings. NGOs reported that the government threatened hotel and restaurant owners with penalties if they rented rooms to NGOs without official authorization. In most cases the NGOs continued to hold their meetings and police came to the hotels to end the gatherings.

Throughout the year police dispersed unauthorized gatherings or prevented marching groups of protesters from demonstrating. Police typically dispersed protesters shortly after a protest began and arrested and detained organizers for a few hours. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other NGOs criticized the government’s use of the law to restrict peaceful assembly.

On the day of the presidential election in December 2019, protests occurred at numerous polling stations throughout the country. Security forces fired rubber bullets at antielection demonstrators in Algiers, Bejaia, Tizi-Ouzou, and Bouira. In Bouira protesters started a fire at the ANIE office. Authorities arrested protesters in those cities, as well as in Mostaganem and Setif. Thousands protested in central Algiers, prompting police forces to deploy water cannons and helicopters.

On March 17, President Tebboune banned gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, Hirak protests resumed in the Kabylie cities of Tizi Ouzou, Bejaia, and Bouira. Protesters and police reportedly clashed during the Bejaia protests.

On June 15, protesters in Tin Zaoutine protested a security barrier preventing access to the town’s water supply. One person was killed and four injured during the protest. Prompted by this event, protesters in Tamanrasset and Bordj Badji Mokhtar gathered to denounce the south’s marginalization in general, and the incident in Tin Zaoutine specifically.

On August 30, police arrested 40 demonstrators who attempted to resume Hirak demonstrations across nearly 30 wilayas (provinces), according to the CNLD. While authorities released most of the protesters late in the night, approximately 40 others remained in custody in jurisdictions across the country. In total, the arrests occurred in 28 wilayas.

According to the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, authorities arrested about 200 persons linked to the protests since the coronavirus restrictions came into effect. On June 19, the league reported 500 persons connected to the Hirak movement were arrested in 23 different wilayas. Authorities later released some of the protesters.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government restricted this right.

The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines and up to six months’ imprisonment.

According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation are entitled to receive a response within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for province-level associations, and 30 days for communal organizations. While the Ministry of Interior oversees the accreditation process for most associations, the president of a local assembly approves applications for communal associations. Although the Ministry of Interior is responsible for authorizing associations, the government stated COVID-19 spurred the ministry to relax registration rules, specifically for health-care charities operating on the local level, as these organizations were better positioned to assist during the pandemic.

The Ministry of Interior may deny a license to or dissolve any group regarded as a threat to the government’s authority or to public order, and on several occasions failed to grant, in an expeditious fashion, official recognition to NGOs, associations, religious groups, and political parties. According to the ministry, organizations receive a receipt after submitting their application for accreditation, and after the time periods listed above, this slip is legally sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space. The law does not explicitly include this provision. If the application is approved, the ministry issues a final accreditation document.

Many organizations reported that they never received a deposit slip and that even with the receipt, it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without formal accreditation. Other organizations reported they never received any written response to their application request even after calling the ministry and trying to register at local police stations. The ministry maintained that organizations that were refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified time period could appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.

The ministry did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparus (SOS Disappeared), Djazairouna, the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), the National Association for the Fight against Corruption, and the Youth Action Movement, all of which submitted their renewal applications in prior years.

The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 132,426 local and 1,734 national associations registered as of September, including 39,437 new local associations and 80 new national associations registered since January. Unlicensed NGOs remained active, but rarely received government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.

According to the Ministry of Interior, during the COVID-19 pandemic the government significantly eased local association requirements, giving local organizations the space to operate. The government determined local civil society organizations, specifically health-care-related charities, were better positioned to assist locally than the federal government. The Ministry of Interior relaxed its registration rules, allowing local governments to authorize local associations, resulting in more than 1,000 new local charity associations. National associations must still submit their applications to the Ministry of Interior for authorization.

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 internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted the exercise of these rights.

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

In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” The government requires that foreign diplomats and private sector personnel have armed security escorts from the government if they travel outside of Algiers wilaya, El-Oued, and Illizi, near hydrocarbon industry installations, and the Libyan border. Citing the threat of terrorism, the government also prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi. Newspapers reported that the government restricted foreign tourists from traveling through trails in Tassili and Hoggar, as well as certain areas in and around Tamanrasset, due to security concerns.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states that citizens have the right to enter and exit the country. The law does not permit those younger than 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women younger than 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women older than 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft who had not completed their military service to leave the country without special authorization. The government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

From October 2019 to January, the NGO Alarme Phone Sahara (APS) reported the government deported 4,722 individuals, including 2,582 Nigeriens, from Algeria to Niger. APS reported two types of deportation convoys from Algeria to Niger. Authorities, in coordination with the Nigerian government and pursuant to a bilateral agreement, transfer Nigeriens directly to Nigerien security forces at the Assamaka, Niger, border post. Convoys also leave citizens of various nationalities near Assamaka where they must walk the last 10 to 15 miles into Nigerien territory. APS reported the International Organization on Migration (IOM), Doctors without Borders (MSF), and Nigerien security forces look for deportees lost in the desert. According to APS, deportees include nationals from Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Benin, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Cameroon, Sudan, Somalia, Bangladesh, and Syria.

On October 9, Human Rights Watch reported that the country expelled more than 3,400 migrants of at least 20 nationalities to Niger, including 430 children and 240 women. Security personnel separated children from their families during the arrests, stripped migrants and asylum seekers of their belongings, and failed to allow them to challenge their removal or screen them for refugee status. Numerous asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR were among those arrested and expelled.

According to UNHCR’s March 2019 report on Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, the government protected a significant number of refugees in five large refugee camps in Tindouf and ran two other smaller camps near Tindouf, one surrounding a women’s boarding school, and another used for administrative purposes. UNHCR reported many Sahrawi refugees lost their jobs and other sources of income due to COVID-19. Simultaneously, a pulmonary livestock epidemic killed over 1,700 sheep and goats in the camps this year. Sahrawi refugees rely on these animals to supplement their diets and incomes.

In 2019 the government protected a smaller urban refugee population, primarily in Algiers. The report noted the refugee population included predominantly Syrians (an estimated 85 percent), as well as Yemenis, Congolese, Ivoirians, Palestinians, Malians, Central Africans, and other nationalities. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees.

IOM estimates 90,000 migrants enter the country every year. Authorities typically expel irregular migrants through the border with Niger. Nigerien nationals are brought to Assamaka via official convoys, based on an agreement between Algeria and Niger. They are then transported to Agadez, where IOM Niger provides humanitarian assistance. Authorities accompany third-country nationals (TCNs) of mixed nationalities (mainly from West Africa) to the border at Point Zero, a nine-mile desert location between Ain-Guezzam, Algeria, and Assamaka, Niger. IOM Niger provides assistance through humanitarian rescue operations. No publicly are available data on the number of migrants the government expelled from Algeria through these operations. The government suspended expulsions when COVID-19 necessitated border closures. As of July, IOM Niger assisted 6,546 migrants in Assamaka (19 percent Nigeriens, 81 percent TCNs).

In September, IOM organized a voluntary return flight for 114 migrants from Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Liberia who were stranded in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic. IOM reported Algerian authorities facilitated their efforts.

In July, IOM organized a voluntary return for 84 Malian migrants from Algiers to Bamako, Mali. IOM reported this operation was possible thanks to an agreement between Algerian and Malian authorities to temporarily lift travel restrictions and enable IOM to facilitate the safe return of stranded migrants. Migrants residing outside of Algiers received inland transportation assistance; the inland movement was closely coordinated with and supported by relevant Algerian authorities.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that during government roundup operations of suspected migrants, some of those detained were raped, suffered sexual harassment, or both and that unaccompanied minors were sometimes rounded up and taken to the border for expulsion.

UNHCR reported refugees and migrants traversing land routes to and through the country continue to risk death, kidnapping, sexual- and gender-based violence physical abuse, and other violence.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into the country across the Malian border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements.

In 2019 the CNDH stated the government had dedicated $12 million to ensure the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations (to include accommodation, food, clothing, health care, medicines, and transportation). Authorities conducted repatriations in coordination with consular officials from the migrants’ countries of origin, but the migrants were not permitted to challenge their removal. The government stated that it maintained a policy of not removing migrants registered with UNHCR, and that in a few cases it worked with UNHCR to return registered refugees who were mistakenly removed. Air Algerie signed an agreement with the IOM agreeing to provide charter flights for humanitarian supplies and migrants returning voluntarily.

Access to Asylum: While the law generally provides for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. In 2019, UNHCR offices in Algiers reported an estimated 200 to 300 asylum requests per month, mostly from Syrian, Palestinian, and sub-Saharan African individuals coming from Mali, Guinea, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Those determined by UNHCR to have valid refugee claims were primarily from the DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, and the Central African Republic. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.

In 2019 UNHCR registered more than 10,000 Syrians, but fewer than 7,000 remained registered with UNHCR as of September 2019. The Algerian Red Crescent, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Solidarity, maintained “welcome facilities” that provided food and shelter for those Syrians without means to support themselves. The facilities were in Sidi Fredj. The government did not grant UNHCR access to these reception centers but reported that by 2016 most Syrians no longer used the centers.

Employment: The government does not formally allow refugee employment; however, many worked in the informal market and were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status in the country. Other migrants, asylum seekers, and Malians and Syrians who had a “special status” with the government, relied largely on remittances from family, the support of local family and acquaintances, and assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario)-administered camps near the city of Tindouf. The Polisario (through the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society), UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, and partner NGOs provided basic services including food aid, primary health care, and primary and secondary education. The government invested heavily in developing the camps’ infrastructure and also provided free secondary and university educations, as well as advanced hospital care, to Sahrawi refugees. The remote location of the camps and lack of government presence resulted in a lack of access by police and courts. Other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had access to free public hospitals, but independent NGOs reported instances of migrants being turned away.

School administrators must allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported some children had trouble integrating into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools due to language barriers or cultural differences. NGOs also indicated that some migrants were denied treatment at health-care facilities.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees have not sought local integration or naturalization during their 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and the Polisario Front continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara. The IOM leads an “Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration” program to help migrants return to their homes willingly with economic and social support, including personalized professional training and other socioeconomic assistance. Although the government is not a financial donor to the initiative, they do cooperate.

Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians, 7,000 of whom were registered as of September 2019, and Malians.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

The existing law states that members of local, provincial, and national assemblies are elected for five-year terms and that presidential elections occur in the 30 days prior to the expiration of the presidential term. If Algerians adopt the new constitution, the next legislative elections would be held in accordance with new electoral laws. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two five-year terms. The new constitution maintains term limits. The ANIE, established in 2019 to replace the High Independent Election Monitoring Body, is responsible for organizing the election and voting processes, monitoring elections, and investigating allegations of irregularities.

Recent Elections: On November 1, the country held a constitutional referendum. Official government statements say the new constitution intends to strengthen political freedoms, although the government did not release the text until September 17, after parliament finalized the draft. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as restrictions on political party activities inhibited the activity of opposition groups. The referendum passed with 66.8-percent support and 23.7-percent turnout, according to ANIE President Mohamed Charfi’s announcement on November 2.

The country last held presidential elections in December 2019 after two failed attempts earlier in the year. Voters elected former prime minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune president with 58 percent of the vote, meeting the majority needed to avoid holding a second round. Tebboune was sworn in as president on December 19. Restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly inhibited participation in the process. There were no international observers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Ministry of Interior must approve political parties before they may operate legally.

The government increased undue media influence and opposition political parties claimed they did not have access to public television and radio. Sometimes security forces dispersed political opposition rallies and interfered with the right to organize. During popular protests against the government, security forces sometimes dispersed demonstrations when protesters came near to government buildings. Since taking office in December 2019, Tebboune’s government has blocked foreign funding and pressured media to limit government criticism. The government used COVID-19 restrictions to prevent political opposition meetings; however, the FLN and the Democratic National Rally continued to meet despite restrictions.

Pursuant to the constitution, all parties must have a “national base.” Electoral law requires parties to have received 4 percent of the vote in the preceding election or to collect 250 signatures in the electoral district in order to appear on the ballot, although electoral laws would change if citizens adopt the new constitution. Opposition parties from across the political spectrum criticized the law for creating a more complex process for qualifying for the ballot, as well as for establishing an electoral monitoring body whose members would be appointed by the president and parliament, which is controlled by a coalition headed by the president’s party.

The law prohibits parties based on religion, ethnicity, gender, language, or region, but there were various political parties commonly known to be Islamist, notably members of the Green Alliance. According to the Ministry of Interior, in September there were 71 registered political parties, one more than in 2019. During the year the ministry authorized 13 parties to hold organizational sessions known as party congresses. Parties must hold a party congress to elect a party leader and confirm membership before the Ministry of Interior counts them as a registered party. The ministry reported they approved the Union Democratique et Sociale (UDS) party, but that the UDS did not hold its party congress. In July the government released UDS leader Karim Tabbou from prison.

The law does not place significant restrictions on voter registration.

Membership in the Islamic Salvation Front, a political party banned since 1992, remained illegal. The law also bans political party ties to nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting requirements. By law political parties may not receive direct or indirect financial or material support from any foreign parties. The law also stipulates resources from party members’ domestic contributions, donations, and revenue from party activities, in addition to possible state funding, must be reported to the Ministry of Interior. According to Tebboune’s public statements, his administration is revising political funding laws and the new constitution would change campaign finance and funding laws.

Opposition party leaders complained that the government did not provide timely authorizations to hold rallies or party congresses. In January the government refused the Pact of the Democratic Alternative’s request to assemble for a meeting.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate. The law requires parties to ensure that at least 30 percent of the candidates on their electoral lists are women.

At least 33 percent of seats in elected assemblies are reserved for women. Due to this law after the legislative elections of 2012, the proportion of women in the National People’s Assembly (APN) increased from 8 percent to 32 percent of seats (146 out of 462).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Authorities continued their anticorruption campaign against political, military, and security officials, as well as prominent business leaders from the Bouteflika era.

The law provides for criminal penalties of two to 10 years in prison for official corruption, but the government did not fully implement the law. Although Tebboune’s administration has emphasized rooting out corruption, it remained a problem, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: The government amended and repealed several articles in the Criminal Procedure Code to toughen anticorruption legislation. In December 2019 the government adopted new amendments aimed at protecting public funds through criminal proceedings and removing constraints on judicial police.

The government repealed the criminal code section stipulating that only the board of directors of the institution concerned may initiate charges related to theft, embezzlement, or loss of public and private funds against senior, public sector “economic managers.”

The government repealed four articles regulating criminal proceedings related to crimes involving public funds, and the role of the Military Security Service and Judicial Police in these investigations.

The government amended laws to clarify oversight of the Judicial Police. The previous language limited the Judicial Police’s ability effectively to investigate corruption cases and other criminal offenses. The law stipulates the legal protection, and therefore impunity, of leaders of economic enterprises.

On July 1, the Sidi M’Hamed court sentenced former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal to 12 years in prison after their convictions on corruption charges. Their cases involved illegal campaign financing during Bouteflika’s presidential campaigns. In the same proceedings, the court convicted eight additional former Bouteflika-era ministers and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from two to 20 years.

On July 1, businessman Ali Haddad received an 18-year sentence for “privileges, advantages and public contracts” and squandering public funds. The court confiscated Haddad’s assets and sentenced four of his brothers to four years in jail each. On November 3, an Algiers appellate court reduced Haddad’s prison sentence to 12 years, released a portion of his previously seized assets, and overturned the convictions of Haddad’s four brothers.

In April courts sentenced former police Director General Abdelghani Hamel, detained since July 2019, to 15 years in prison on corruption charges. Hamel used his position to obtain land and real estate for himself and his family in Tlemcen, Oran, Tipaza, and Algiers.

Financial Disclosure: The law stipulates that all elected government officials and those appointed by presidential decree must declare their assets the month they commence their jobs, if there is substantial change in their wealth while they are in office, and at the end of their term. Few government officials made their personal wealth public, and there was no known enforcement of the law.

On July 29, Tebboune dismissed the Minister of Labor Ahmed Chawki Fouad Acheuk Youcef. Although Tebboune did not state the reason for Acheuk Youcef’s dismissal, press reports alleged that he failed to declare overseas property.

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

A variety of domestic human rights groups operated with varying degrees of government restriction and cooperation. The law requires all civil associations to apply for operating permission, and at year’s end several major civil associations remained unrecognized but tolerated.

Amnesty International maintained an office and actively reported on human rights matters, but it did not receive official authorization to operate from the Ministry of Interior. Amnesty International has received authorization to open a bank account, although the organization awaits final documentation from the government to open the account.

Although the government did not renew the accreditation of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, the organization had members countrywide, received independent funding, and was one of the most active independent human rights groups. The Algerian League for Human Rights, a separate but licensed organization based in Constantine, had members throughout the country monitoring individual cases.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government extended an invitation to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2014 and again in 2015, but no visit occurred.

In 2013 government representatives attended a session with the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. The government officially recorded 3,200 forced disappearances during the 1990s and noted families remain unsatisfied with the government’s official response surrounding the disappearances of their family members. The government reported the working group was tasked with addressing questions posed by the families of “the disappeared.” The MFA stated the working group took on the role of a UN investigative body, which was outside its mandate and ran contrary to the country’s constitution. The MFA further added that they extended invitations to the working group in 2014 and again in 2015, but UN financial and scheduling constraints delayed their visit. The MFA claimed that the UN would not be able to visit until at least 2023 due to continued financial and scheduling issues.

The country joined the Human Rights Council in 2014 but continued to deny requests for visits from the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions (pending since 1998) and counterterrorism and human rights (pending since 2006), the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (pending since 2009), and the UN Security Council Mali Panel of Experts on Sanctions (since 2016). The MFA stated that even during the 1990s, the country did not record many extrajudicial executions, but the perception caused numerous human rights groups to request special rapporteurs.

The MFA said it cooperates with the UN and the EU on human rights matters and reports. The MFA reported that during its last Universal Periodic Review in 2017, the country accepted 179 of the 218 UN recommendations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Council (CNDH) has budget autonomy and the constitutional responsibility to investigate alleged human rights abuses, officially comment on laws the government proposes, and publish an annual report that is submitted to the president, the prime minister, and the two speakers of parliament. CNDH releases the report to the public. The CNDH reported representation in 1,548 communes and five regional delegations located in Chlef, Biskra, Setif, Bechar, and Bejaia.

The CNDH reported COVID-19 hampered its activities. Nevertheless, the CNDH noted that during the year it had: assessed children’s right to education; inquired into teachers’ salary demands; conducted webinars with the Arab and African Human Rights Networks; conducted prison visits; and worked on migrant topics related to health and sanitation in a pandemic. Between January 1 and August 31, the CNDH reported receiving 380 complaints, down from 687 in 2019, but did not specify how many it investigated. A CNDH representative reported the organization’s focus during the year was on prison conditions (particularly in the context of COVID-19), vulnerable populations (specifically migrants and the elderly), day laborers, and constitutional proposals.

The government also maintained cooperation with the Algerian Red Crescent Society, a local humanitarian volunteer organization officially recognized by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The local group collaborates with the Ministry of Health, providing medical assistance and analyses to vulnerable groups, including refugees and migrants. The Algerian Red Crescent also promotes tolerance via cultural events supporting migrants, such as Christmas-related events, work to protect vulnerable children, and distribution of food and supplies for education and sanitation.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not specifically address spousal rape. Prison sentences for rape range from five to 10 years and, although sex crimes are rarely reported due to cultural norms, authorities generally enforced the law. A provision of the penal code allows an adult accused of “corruption of a minor” to avoid prosecution if the accused subsequently marries his or her victim and if the crime did not involve violence, threats, or fraud. The law stipulates sentences of one year to life imprisonment for “anyone who voluntarily causes injury or blows to his or her spouse.” It also introduced penalties for verbal and psychological violence, sexual assault, harassment, and indecent assault.

Domestic violence remains a society-wide problem. The law states that a person claiming domestic abuse must visit a “forensic physician” for an examination to document injuries and that the physician must determine the injuries suffered “incapacitated” the victim for 15 days. The law prescribes up to a 20-year imprisonment for the accused, depending on the severity of injuries. If domestic violence results in death, a judge may impose a life sentence.

For the first quarter of the year, the Ministry for National Solidarity, Family, and Women reported that there were 260 logged cases of violence against women, down from 1,734 cases in 2019. The Minister of Solidarity provides psychological care, guidance, and administrative and legal support through their Social Action and Solidarity Departments (DASS) teams, which are in all the country’s provinces. The National Security General Directorate (DGSN) reported there were 6,121 complaints related to violence against women.

According to statistics from women’s advocacy groups published in the local press, between 100 and 200 women die each year from domestic violence. The government maintained two regional women’s shelters and finished building a third shelter in Annaba, which the government said will be operational by the end of the year. These shelters assisted with 300 cases of violence against women during 2019. The Information and Documentation Center on the Rights of Children and Women, a network of local organizations that promoted the rights of women, managed call centers in 15 provinces.

Femicides Algeria, an advocacy group which tracks and publicizes femicides, reported 38 women have been killed because of their gender in the country since the start of the year.

In April media reported several femicides. In Bouzareah a police officer shot and killed his wife in front of their four children. In Zahana a man threw his wife from the window of their second-floor apartment. In Relizane a 25-year-old man stabbed his mother. The women died in these three cases and police arrested the perpetrators. Their cases are still pending.

In October a 19-year-old woman, Chaima Sadou, was kidnapped, raped, and murdered. Authorities arrested a suspect, who confessed to killing Sadou. The suspect previously served three years in prison after authorities convicted him for sexually assaulting and stalking Sadou when she was 15 years old. Sadou’s remains were burned beyond recognition.

During the year a women’s advocacy group, the Wassila Network, received 200 cases of domestic violence. The Wassila Network stated information on domestic violence remains sparse and public authorities have not provided exact statistics on violence against women since 2012. The Wassila Network noted this number is a fraction of actual cases since victims of domestic violence rarely report the abuse to authorities and because of a forgiveness clause provided in the legal code. The clause stipulates that, if the victim forgives his or her aggressor, legal action ceases. The Wassila Network described situations in which a victim goes to police to report a domestic violence incident and family members convince the victim to forgive the aggressor, resulting in no charges.

The Wassila Network reported 16 femicides during the COVID-19 lockdown. According to the NGO, the figure is likely much higher, since many cases are not reported. Women’s groups expressed concerns about the consequences of the lockdown. NGO Femmes Algeriennes vers un Changement pour l’Egalite (FACE) issued a statement highlighting the increase of violence against women within the home. FACE called for authorities to implement emergency measures to protect women from violence.

Two women’s rights activists, Wiam Arras and Narimene Mouaci, launched a Facebook initiative called “Feminicides Algerie” to track femicide in the country. As of August 18, they documented 36 cases of femicide. The initiative’s goal is to publicize the extent of violence against women, specifically violence resulting in death. They began their publicity initiative in 2019, after seeing the discrepancy between official statistics and NGO statistics, the latter of which were almost double that of the authorities.

Women’s rights NGOs maintained call centers and counseling sessions throughout the COVID-19 lockdown. The Wassila Network, which usually averages between 20 calls a week, received an average of 70 calls per week since the COVID-19 lockdown began in March.

The law provides for sentences of one to 20 years’ imprisonment for domestic violence and six months to two years’ incarceration for men who withhold property or financial resources from their spouses.

In 2018 the Ministry for National Solidarity, Family, and Women and UN Women launched an administrative database, named AMANE, to collect information on violence against women. UN Women is using the information collected to assist the government in developing targeted programs to support and protect women in vulnerable situations, including violence, as part of one of its programs funded by the Belgian government. The government reported it uses the data to identify patterns of violence against women, specifically collecting data on family situations, types of violence, and relationship to the perpetrators. The 2019 AMANE data showed women aged 36-50 represent 47 percent of reported cases; women aged 19-35 represent 30 percent of cases; and the most frequent perpetrators are women’s husbands.

Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C): This was not generally practiced in the country but was widely present among immigrant communities in southern sectors, particularly among Sub-Saharan African migrant groups. While this abuse is considered a criminal offense punishable by up to 25 years in prison, there were no reports of any related convictions, nor any official pronouncements by religious or secular leaders proscribing the practice.

Sexual Harassment: The punishment for sexual harassment is one to two years’ imprisonment and a fine; the punishment doubles for a second offense. Women’s groups said that most reported cases of harassment occurred in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their children; have the right to manage their reproductive health; and had access to the information and means to do so. Societal and family pressure restricted women from making independent decisions about their health and reproductive rights.

Conservative elements of society challenged the government’s family planning program, including the provision of free contraception. A 2018 Oran hospital survey showed that a husband’s prohibition or religious disapproval influenced women’s contraceptive practices. Married and unmarried women had access to contraceptives, although some clinics required a prescription before dispensing birth control pills to unmarried women. A doctor in Oran said anecdotally that her colleagues more frequently questioned young women’s motives for seeking birth control, compared to past practice. Women did not need permission to obtain birth control pills, but doctors required permission of the partner for women who sought tubal ligation.

Civil society organizations such as the Wassila Network coordinated medical, psychological, and legal support to victims of sexual violence.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, the maternal mortality rate gradually dropped from 179 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1998 to 112 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017 (the most recent available annual data). The WHO attributed the decline to increased medical training, investments in health care, and specific government initiatives aimed at reducing maternal deaths. A 2018 study by a prominent women’s group found that 75 percent of women who used nonbarrier birth control opted for the birth control pill, while 11 percent opted for an intrauterine device. These figures coincided with the United Nations Population Fund’s most recent data.

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

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for gender equality, aspects of the law and traditional social practices discriminated against women. In addition some religious elements advocated restrictions on women’s behavior, including freedom of movement. The law prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, although authorities did not always enforce this provision.

Women may seek divorce for irreconcilable differences and violation of a prenuptial agreement. In a divorce the law provides for the wife to retain the family’s home until the children reach age 18. Authorities normally awarded custody of children to the mother, but she may not make decisions about education or take the children out of the country without the father’s authorization. The government provided a subsidy for divorced women whose former husbands failed to make child support payments.

The law affirms the religiously based practice of allowing a man to marry as many as four wives. The law permits polygamy only upon the agreement of the previous and future wife, and the determination of a judge as to the husband’s financial ability to support an additional wife. It was unclear whether authorities followed the law in all cases since local authorities had significant discretion and the government did not maintain nationwide statistics.

Women suffered from discrimination in inheritance claims and were entitled to a smaller portion of an estate than male children or a deceased husband’s brothers. Women did not often have exclusive control over assets that they brought to a marriage or that they earned.

Women may own businesses, enter into contracts, and pursue careers similar to those of men. Women enjoyed rights equal to those of men concerning property ownership, and property titles listed female landowners’ names.

Children

Birth registration: The mother or father may transmit citizenship and nationality. By law children born to a Muslim father are Muslim, regardless of the mother’s religion. The law does not differentiate between girls and boys in registration of birth.

On August 8, the prime minister changed the procedure for recognizing children born to an unknown father. The decree stipulates requests must be made through the Ministry of Justice. The decree also states that a “person who has legally fostered a child born to an unknown father, may submit a request, on behalf and for the benefit of this child, to the public prosecutor in order to change the patronymic name of the child and make it match his own.” If the child’s mother is known and alive, her consent is required to change the name. Those born abroad can file a request at the diplomatic or consular center of their place of residence.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal but continues to be a problem. The government devoted increasing resources and attention to it. A national committee is responsible for monitoring and publishing an annual report on the rights of children. The government supported the Qatari NGO Network for the Defense of Children’s Rights. For the first quarter of the year, the Ministry for National Solidarity, Family, and the Status of Women reported that the government intervened in 887 child endangerment cases.

Laws prohibiting parental abduction do not penalize mothers and fathers differently, and the punishment for convicted kidnappers includes the death penalty.

In August, Meriem Chorfi, president of the National Body of the Protection and Promotion of Children (ONPPE), stated her organization’s toll free telephone number received 1,480 reports related to children’s rights abuses. She added that 500 calls occurred during the mandatory COVID-19 curfew period. Chorfi estimated the ONPPE hotline receives 10,000 calls per day, mostly to request information or clarification on specific topics related to child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 19 for both men and women, but minors may marry with parental consent, regardless of gender. The law forbids legal guardians from forcing minors under their care to marry against the minor’s will. The Ministry of Religious Affairs required that couples present a government-issued marriage certificate before permitting imams to conduct religious marriage ceremonies.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits solicitation for prostitution and stipulates prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years when the offense is committed against a minor younger than 18. By law the age for consensual sex is 16. The law stipulates a prison sentence of between 10 and 20 years for rape when the victim is a minor. The DGSN reported there were 1,443 victims of child sexual abuse.

The law established a national council to address children’s matters, which gives judges authority to remove children from an abusive home, and allows sexually abused children to provide testimony on video rather than in court.

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’s Jewish population numbered fewer than 200 persons.

Religious and civil society leaders reported that the Jewish community faced unofficial, religion-based obstacles to government employment and administrative difficulties when working with government bureaucracy.

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 disabilities, although the government did not always effectively enforce these provisions (see also section 7, Worker Rights).

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

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and Women reported that in 2019 it ran 238 centers throughout the country that provided support for persons with intellectual, auditory, vision, and physical disabilities.

Many persons with disabilities struggled to acquire assistive devices and noted the National Office of Apparatus and Accessories for the Handicapped did not have a presence in all provinces.

The ministry stated that it worked with the Ministry of Education to integrate children with disabilities into public schools to promote inclusion. The majority of the ministry’s programs for children with disabilities remained in social centers for children with disabilities rather than in formal educational institutions. Advocacy groups reported that children with disabilities rarely attended school past the secondary level. Many schools lacked teachers trained to work with children with disabilities, threatening the viability of efforts to mainstream children with disabilities into public schools. For the 2020-21 school year, the government reported it created 1,722 positions to assist children with disabilities, including 940 master teachers’, 400 teachers’, and 382 school assistants’ positions. The government also reported it limited class sizes for children with auditory, visual, and mental disabilities.

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

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

The law criminalizes public indecency and consensual same-sex sexual relations between adult men or women, with penalties that include imprisonment of six months to three years and a fine. The law also stipulates penalties that include imprisonment of two months to two years and fines for anyone convicted of having committed a “homosexual act.” If a minor is involved, the adult may face up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. LGBTI activists reported that the vague wording of laws criminalizing “homosexual acts” and “acts against nature” permitted sweeping accusations that resulted in multiple arrests for consensual same-sex sexual relations, but no known prosecutions during the year.

LGBTI status is not, in itself, criminalized; however, LGBTI persons may face criminal prosecution under legal provisions concerning prostitution, public indecency, and associating with bad characters. NGOs reported that judges gave harsher sentences to LGBTI persons for the above crimes compared to non-LGBTI persons. An NGO reported that LGBTI men were targeted more often than women.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI persons based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Officials asserted that the law covers LGBTI individuals through general civil and human rights legislation. Government officials did not take measures specifically to prevent discrimination against LGBTI persons. LGBTI persons faced discrimination in accessing health services such as longer wait times, refusal of treatment, and shaming. Some organizations maintained a list of “LGBTI-friendly” hospitals, and several NGOs operated mobile clinics specifically for vulnerable communities. NGOs reported that employers refused jobs to LGBTI persons, particularly men perceived as effeminate. Community members reported obtaining legal assistance was also a challenge due to similar discrimination.

On July 24, Constantine’s national gendarmerie arrested 44 individuals for supporting a same-sex marriage. On September 3, authorities convicted 44 individuals of same-sex sexual relations, public indecency, and subjecting others to harm by breaking COVID-19-related quarantine measures. Two men received three years in prison and a fine, and the others received a one-year suspended sentence.

In February, two men shared their wedding ceremony on social media. Following the post, Tebessa security authorities arrested the two men, charging them with “displaying shameful images to the public, committing an act of homosexuality in public, and possession of drugs.”

During the year LGBTI NGOs organized virtual meetings. The NGOs reported government harassment, including threats of imprisonment.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Strong social stigma towards the vulnerable groups in which HIV/AIDS was most concentrated–commercial sex workers, men who have sexual relations with men, and drug users–deterred testing of these groups. The government reported it did not take measures to specifically prevent and treat HIV/AIDS in the LGBTI community. Members of the country’s LGBTI community reported pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is not available.

According to UNAIDS the country was close to achieving the UNAIDS’ 90-percent target, with 84 percent of persons living with HIV knowing their status. Civil society organizations are integral to the region’s HIV response, and advocate for HIV prevention, treatment, and funding. Many civil society organizations include individuals affected by HIV, helping these organizations reach key populations.

The government’s National AIDS Committee met during the year. The committee brought together various government and civil society actors to discuss implementation of the national strategy to combat HIV/AIDS.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a professor at El-Hadi Flici Hospital, Algiers’ primary hospital for infectious diseases, stated ambulances were delivering AIDS patients’ medicines to reduce their susceptibility to COVID-19.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution allows workers to join and form unions of their choice, provided they are citizens. The country has ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these conventions fully.

The law requires that workers obtain government approval to form a union, and the Ministry of Labor must approve or disapprove a union application within 30 days. To form a union, an applicant must be Algerian by birth or have held Algerian nationality for 10 years. The law also provides for the creation of independent unions, although the union’s membership must account for at least 20 percent of an enterprise’s workforce. Unions have the right to form and join federations or confederations, and the government recognized four confederations. Unions may recruit members at the workplace. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of employers’ antiunion practices.

The law permits unions to affiliate with international labor bodies and develop relations with foreign labor groups. For example the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), which represented most public-sector workers, is an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation. Nevertheless, the law prohibits unions from associating with political parties and receiving funds from foreign sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage in illegal activities. The government may invalidate a union’s legal status if authorities perceive its objectives to be contrary to the established institutional system, public order, good morals, law, or regulations in force.

The law provides for collective bargaining by all unions, and the government permitted the exercise of this right for authorized unions. Nevertheless, the UGTA remained the only union authorized to negotiate collective bargaining agreements during the annual tripartite meeting. Other authorized unions can bargain with specific ministries but are excluded from the tripartite meeting.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes, and workers exercised this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce. The decision to strike must be approved by majority vote of workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on a number of grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offered to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions reached in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an agreement, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained during public-sector service strikes, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services included banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days to two months’ imprisonment. The law protects union members from discrimination or dismissal based on their union activities. Penalties for abusing union members’ rights are not sufficient to deter abuses. The law says any firing or other employment action based on discrimination against union members is invalid. The government did not effectively enforce these laws.

The government affirmed there were 91 registered trade unions and 47 employers’ organizations, the same number as reported in 2019. The government registered 11 new trade unions between January and September. Many trade unions remained unrecognized by the government; they identified delayed processing and administrative hurdles as the primary obstacles to establishing legal status. The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations reiterated in 2017 that the lengthy registration process seriously impedes the establishment of new unions.

Attempts by new unions to form federations or confederations suffered similar challenges. Representatives of the National Autonomous Union for Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP) stated that the union continued to function without official status.

The government continued to deny recognition to the General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA), an independent trade union confederation that includes public and economic sector unions and committees. CGATA membership included workers from unions representing government administrators, diplomatic personnel, state electricity and gas employees, university professors, public transport and postal workers, and lawyers. The confederation also included migrants working in the country. In December 2019 authorities shut down CGATA’s offices and authorities arrested and jailed an executive member of CGATA, Kaddour Chouicha. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) called for Chouicha’s immediate release, and described his arrest as “a flagrant violation of Algeria’s obligations to respect freedom of association,” and “a deeply troubling indictment of those in power.”

SNAPAP and other independent unions faced government interference throughout the year, including official obstruction of general assembly meetings and police harassment during sit-in protests. Furthermore, the government restricted union activities and the formation of independent unions in certain critical public services sectors, such as oil and gas and telecommunications. The International Trade Union Confederation reported that judicial abuse of trade union leaders had intensified.

On August 11, Numilog company, a subsidiary of Cevital, laid off 196 workers at its facility in Bejaia. The workers were the target of dismissal decisions following a series of cyclical three-day strikes during which they demanded the right to join a trade union.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. NGOs reported that irregular migrants sometimes worked in forced labor and that their lack of work permits made them more vulnerable to exploitation. For example, female migrants were subjected to debt bondage as they worked to repay smuggling debts through domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced prostitution. Designated penalties under this statute were not commensurate with penalties for kidnapping. Construction workers and domestic workers were reportedly vulnerable. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

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 employment by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations, yet the country has not determined by national law or regulation the types of work that are hazardous for children. The country does not bar all of the worst forms of child labor. Under the law there is no legislative provision prohibiting the use, procuring, or offering of a child under 18 years of age for the production and trafficking of drugs. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers younger than 19 from working at night. The ILO noted, however, that the country’s standard of “night” for children is only eight hours, less than the 11 hours recommended by the ILO.

Although specific data was unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sales market, often in family businesses. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and refers violators to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections and, in some cases, investigated companies suspected of hiring underage workers. The ministry’s Labor Inspector Service in 2019 conducted 124,698 inspections and reported 10 children were found working illegally. The Ministry of Labor attributed the low figure to the fact that most children work in the informal economy, and inspections are limited to registered businesses. The law for the protection of the child criminalizes anyone who economically exploits a child, but the penalties are neither sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes. Monitoring and enforcement practices for child labor were ineffective and hampered by an insufficient number of inspectors to examine the formal and informal economy.

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and Women leads a national committee composed of 12 ministries and NGOs that meets yearly to discuss child labor issues. The committee was empowered to propose measures and laws to address child labor as well as conduct awareness campaigns.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment, salary, and work environment based on age, gender, social and marital status, family links, political conviction, disability, national origin, and affiliation with a union. The law restricts women from working during certain hours of the day, and does not permit women to work in jobs deemed arduous. In addition to the legislative provisions in force, employers must ensure that the work entrusted to women, minors, and persons with disabilities does not “require an effort exceeding their strength.”

Women reported facing employment discrimination with job offers being extended to less qualified male applicants. Although the law states women should receive a salary equal to men, leaders of women’s organizations reported that discrimination was common, and women were less likely to receive equal pay for equal work or promotions, particularly in the private sector.

Few businesses abided by the law requiring that they reserve 1 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported that the government did not enforce payment of fines for failing to abide by the law. The government usually highlights its efforts in March to coincide with the National Day of the Disabled. The ministry, however, reported it had increased efforts to enforce the 1-percent quota during the year. From January 2019 to September 2019, the Ministry of Labor audited 160,218 organizations and found that 2,389 companies did not respect the 1-percent quota.

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment based on sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, or religion. The government did not adequately enforce the law, since discrimination reportedly existed, specifically against migrant workers in the informal economy who lacked a legal means to address unfair working conditions. Particularly vulnerable were women, girls, and young men from sub-Saharan Africa who were lured into the country to accept jobs in restaurants and hair salons, but were forced to work in prostitution or engage in other forced labor conditions. The recent roundups and expulsions mark the sharpest spike in these operations since the start of the pandemic in March.

On August 9, President Tebboune directed authorities to monitor and assess foreign traders and their activities, specifically targeting refugees’ activities.

Men held a large percentage of positions of authority in government and the private sector. NGOs reported instances in which unaccompanied migrant female youth were exploited as domestic workers and were known to be loaned out to families for extended periods to work in homes or exploited as prostitutes.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A tripartite social pact among business, government, and the official union established a national, monthly minimum wage which is above the poverty income level. In June President Tebboune directed the Ministry of Labor to increase minimum wage from 18,000 to 20,000 Algerian dinars ($140-$155) per month. He also eliminated tax obligations for low-income workers.

The standard workweek was 40 hours, including one hour for lunch per day. Half of the lunch hour is considered compensated working time. Employees who worked longer than the standard workweek received premium pay on a sliding scale from time-and-a-half to double time, depending on whether the overtime occurred on a normal workday, a weekend, or a holiday.

The law contains occupational health and safety standards that were not fully enforced. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face such conditions, they may renegotiate their contract or, failing that, resort to the courts. While this legal mechanism exists, the high demand for employment in the country gave an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees. Labor standards do not formally allow refugee employment or adequately cover migrant laborers; therefore, many economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere who worked in the informal sector, primarily in construction and as domestic workers, were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status.

The government requires employers to declare their employees to the Ministry of Labor and to pay social security benefits. Penalties for noncompliance are insufficient to deter abuses. The government allowed undeclared workers to gain credit for social security and retirement benefits for time spent in the informal economy if they repay any taxes owed after registering. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Labor Ministry did not employ sufficient inspectors to deter abuses.

On March 22, the government placed 50 percent of its civil servants and private workers on mandatory leave, with full compensation, in accordance with COVID-19 lockdown measures.

The government prioritized pregnant women and women raising children, as well as individuals with chronic illnesses and those with health vulnerabilities, for exceptional leave. On March 24, authorities extended exceptional leave to the private sector.

On August 2, the government enacted a law intended to protect health-care workers following an increase in “physical and verbal attacks” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law also sanctions acts of violence against public assets and medical equipment, with the maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Angola

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but the government did not always enforce these prohibitions.

Periodic reports continued of beatings and other abuses both on the way to and inside police stations during interrogations. The government acknowledged that at times members of the security forces used excessive force when apprehending individuals. Police authorities openly condemned some acts of violence or excessive force against individuals and asked that victims report abuses to the national police or the Office of the Public Defender (Ombudsman).

Several reports indicated that police used excessive force to enforce the state of emergency implemented to combat COVID-19. On March 30, a video shared widely on social media showed police beating several men with nightsticks while the men laid prostrate on the ground inside a police station.

On October 24, a peaceful demonstration against the government demanding employment and local elections was violently repressed with several persons injured, 103 persons detained on charges of disobedience, and unsubstantiated reports of two persons killed. According to one human rights lawyer, Salvador Freire, some of the detainees, in particular the organizers of the demonstration, were subjected to harsh and violent treatment while in custody.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

In Cabinda province authorities detained three activists of the Cabinda Independence Union on June 28 and 29. Authorities detained Mauricio Gimbi, Andre Bonzela, and Joao Mampuela and accused the men of carrying pamphlets with the slogans, “Down to arms, down to the war in Cabinda”; “Cabinda is not Angola”; and “We want to talk”. The men appeared before a government attorney on June 30 who ordered their pretrial detention. Authorities subsequently charged the men with rebellion and criminal association.

The lawyer for the men, Arao Tempo, appealed the pretrial detention. On August 21, the Provincial Court of Cabinda decided to hold Gimbi and Mampuela in pretrial detention and release Bonzela pending the payment of a substantial fine. Tempo said the fine would be an impossible sum to pay due to the poor social and economic conditions of the Cabindan people. The three activists remained in jail. On November 15, human rights lawyer and head of the pro bono organization Associacao Maos Livres, demanded their release.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. State media continued to be the primary source for news and generally reflected a progovernment view. Individuals were increasingly able to use private media and social media platforms to openly criticize government policies and practices.

Freedom of Speech: Individuals reported practicing self-censorship but generally were able to criticize government policies without fear of direct reprisal. Social media was widely used in the larger cities and provided an open forum for discussion.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Private television, radio, and print media operated in the country, although coverage continued to be more extensive in Luanda and in provincial capitals, including Benguela, Huambo, and Lubango, than in the rest of the country.

Online media outlets increased their number of viewers. Private media criticized the government openly. In July and August following the results of an ongoing corruption investigation into the owners of two major private media groups, the state seized two major private media groups and transferred them to state control.

Several important private media outlets returned to state control after a state corruption investigation concluded that the outlets had been illegally funded with public funds through individuals with strong ties to former president Eduardo dos Santos. On July 31, the PGR’s National Service on Assets Recovery seized the Media Nova Group that owned TV Zimbo, Radio Mais, and the newspaper O Pais and returned the outlets to state control. On August 28, the Interative, Empreendimentos e Multimedia group that owned TV Palanca and Radio Global was also seized by the state. On September 4, the government announced that TV Palanca would become a specialized sports channel.

Journalists and opposition parties said the seizure of the media outlets was worrying and would limit independent journalism leading up to national elections in 2022. The government argued that the seized companies were in poor economic shape and needed to be restructured before offering the companies for sale to investors under the government’s privatization program.

Transmission licenses are granted by the minister of telecommunication, technology, and social communication. Journalists criticized the cost of licenses and said high costs impeded media pluralism and the emergence of new players. The base license to operate a television station is $1.4 million, while a radio license costs $136,000. Journalists also criticized the opacity of the process used by the government to grant transmission licenses.

Journalists routinely complained of lack of transparency and communication from government press offices and other government officials.

The president appoints the leadership of all major state-owned media outlets, and state control of these outlets often led to one-sided reporting. State news outlets, including Angolan Public Television (TPA), Radio Nacional, and the Jornal de Angola newspaper, favored the ruling party but increased coverage of opposition political parties’ perspectives, as well as of social problems reflecting poor governance. TPA broadcasted plenary sessions of the National Assembly live, including interventions by opposition parties. TPA also invited opposition politicians and civil society members to comment live on stories featured on nightly newscasts, but private stations were prohibited from filming parliament. Opposition parties also received less overall coverage on state media than the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party, and it was often difficult to distinguish between communications of the government and those of the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported more incidents of violence or harassment compared with the previous year.

On January 23, police arrested two journalists from the Portuguese news agency Lusa near the National Assembly in Luanda. The journalists were covering a protest that demanded local elections in all municipalities of the country. Police said the protest was illegal and journalists were not allowed to cover the protest. Police detained 10 additional protesters. After their arrest the two Lusa journalists were taken to the fourth precinct police station, transferred to the second precinct police station, and then released after one hour with no further explanation. Lusa delivered a formal protest to the government after the release of the journalists.

On February 19, police assaulted two journalists from TV Palanca who were covering a protest against the inauguration of the new president of the National Electoral Commission at the National Assembly. Journalist Jose Kiabolo said five police officers beat him and his cameraman and destroyed their video camera.

During an October 24 demonstration in Luanda, six journalists were detained while covering the protest. Two journalists from TV Zimbo were released after being forced to delete all footage of the demonstration. Four journalists from Radio Essencial and Valor Economico remained in custody for more than 50 hours without any charges. Two journalists from Agence France-Press claimed they were beaten by police and were ordered to carry a special permit to cover the protest. Later that week, President Joao Lourenco criticized the arrests of the journalists and stated it was not a situation he wished to be repeated.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Regulatory Entity for Social Communication (ERCA) is a regulatory body comprised of 11 counselors designated by political parties represented in the parliament, the government, and journalists. ERCA aims to safeguard press freedom and lawful media activity and issues regulations and decisions on those issues. Journalists and opposition political parties criticized ERCA for being controlled by the MPLA ruling party and for issuing regulations that favored the government.

The Ethics and Credentialing Commission (ECC) is a body exclusively comprised of journalists that is authorized to license and delicense journalists. The ECC remained largely inactive due to the lack of funds allocated to ECC operations in the 2020 National Budget. In July the Ministry of Telecommunications, Technology, and Social Communication launched an office to support ECC operations and stated the credentialing of journalists would begin in October.

Journalists reported practicing self-censorship for political and financial reasons.

The minister of social communication, the spokesperson of the presidency, and the national director of information maintained significant decision-making authority over media. It was commonly understood these individuals actively vetted news stories in the state-controlled print, television, and radio media and exercised considerable authority over some privately owned outlets. State-controlled media rarely published or broadcast stories critical of the ruling party, government officials, or government policies. Coverage critical of the previous government of Jose Eduardo dos Santos and of senior-level officials who had been dismissed on allegations of corruption increased significantly during the year.

The newspaper Novo Jornal reported that well-known singer Dog Murras, known as an open critic of the government, was hired by TV Zimbo to host a daily show on societal issues called Angola Speak Out. (Novo Jornal and TV Zimbo were owned by the same parent company.) The report said that TV Zimbo shareholders were warned before Murras’s first show that his presence could bring negative consequences to their business. TV Zimbo broke the contract with Murras and withdrew promotional videos for the show released on April 11.

On August 30, two days after the PGR’s National Service on Assets Recovery seized TV Palanca, the show Angola Urgent, which discussed societal issues, left the airwaves. On September 4, the government announced that TV Palanca would become a specialized sports channel. Following the seizure, several of the seized outlets, including TV Zimbo and Novo Jornal, continued to feature articles critical of the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a crime punishable by imprisonment or a fine. Unlike cases in which defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, defendants in defamation cases have the burden of proving their innocence by providing evidence of the validity of the allegedly damaging material.

Several journalists in print media, radio, and political blogs faced libel and defamation lawsuits. Journalists complained the government used libel laws to limit their ability to report on corruption and nepotistic practices, while the government assessed that some journalists abused their positions and published inaccurate stories regarding government officials without verifying the facts or providing the accused with the right of reply.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly, and the government sometimes respected this right.

The law requires written notification to the local administrator and police three days before public assemblies are to be held. The law does not require government permission to hold public assemblies, but it permits authorities to restrict or stop assemblies in public spaces within 109 yards of public, military, detention, diplomatic, or consular buildings for security reasons. The law also requires public assemblies to start after 7 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

Several civil rights groups challenged the 1991 law on freedom of assembly by holding unannounced protests. The groups said the law restricts the fundamental right to assembly granted by the 2010 constitution and refused to inform the authorities in advance about the time and location of protests and public assemblies.

The number of antigovernment protests increased and the government at times prohibited events based on perceived or claimed security considerations. Police and administrators did not interfere with progovernment gatherings. Politically unaffiliated groups intending to criticize the government or government leaders often encountered the presence of police who prevented them from holding their event or limited their march route. In such cases, authorities claimed the timing or venue requested was problematic or that proper authorities had not received notification.

On January 19, a protest against the inauguration of the new president of the National Electoral Commission at the National Assembly resulted in police violence and the detention of more than 30 protesters. The provincial command of the Angolan National Police said the protesters acted violently and organized an illegal protest without the proper legal procedures. Police also detained two journalists from TV Palanca.

At the Luanda October 24 protest (see section 2.a., Violence and Harassment), police also arrested 97 protesters and six journalists. A total of 71 protesters received a suspended one-month prison sentence for rioting and disobedience and 26 protesters were acquitted. All six journalists were released, and President Lourenco rebuked their arrest. The government stated the protest was unauthorized and that when police tried to disperse the protest, some protestors threw stones and erected road blocks.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for the right of association, but the government did not always respect this right. Extensive delays in the NGO registration process continued to be a problem. NGOs that had not yet received registration were allowed to operate. At times, the government arbitrarily restricted the activities of associations it considered subversive by refusing to grant permits for projects and other activities. Authorities generally permitted opposition parties to organize and hold meetings.

A 2012 law and a 2002 presidential decree regulated NGOs. Despite civil society complaints that requirements were vague, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights actively provided information on registration requirements.

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 and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government at times restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: Document checkpoints in domestic airports and on roads throughout the country were common. Reports by local NGOs suggested that, in spite of an incremental drop in cases, some police officers continued to extort money from civilians at checkpoints and during regular traffic stops. Reports from the diamond-mining provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul indicated some government agents restricted the movements of local communities.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not Applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports throughout the year that Lunda Norte provincial authorities exerted pressure on irregular migrants and refugees to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The government failed to provide adequate protection for asylum seekers and urban refugees in this area.

In May illegal immigrants at a Luanda migrant detention facility posted video footage to social media platforms complaining about their lengthy detention, the facility’s substandard conditions, and their heightened risk of COVID-19 infection due to the facility’s tight quarters. The footage depicted the accommodations and complained about a shortage of food, water, hygiene supplies, and face masks, which are required by Ministry of Health officials when physical distancing is not feasible.

In response, UN agencies and diplomatic missions engaged Ministry of Interior officials, who denied the detainees’ claims but did not provide access to the facility. Government officials said the detainees used the pandemic as a pretext to secure their release and broadcasted a video presentation countering the complaints with footage of spacious facilities and interviews with detainees and community leaders praising the accommodations. Subsequently, most of the detainees were released on a temporary order and were expected to be required to report to Immigration Services until their situations are resolved.

In 2018 security forces launched Operation Rescue, a nationwide law enforcement campaign to address violent crime, illegal migration, unlicensed commercial and religious activity, and road accidents. The campaign affected both legal and undocumented migrants, refugees, and stateless persons who rely on the informal markets to make a living, as job opportunities were limited and the law prohibits refugees from operating businesses. One NGO said the Operation Rescue has not ended and the problems associated with the operation continue.

Under the law authorities issued refugee cards with a five-year validity period. UN agencies advised that the refugee cards expired in July since the government never renewed the cards. The Minister of Interior told UN officials that the government would begin to fully implement the law when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status but the government has not fully implemented the law. The law provides specific procedures for the submission of an asylum application and guidance on the determination of asylum and refugee cases. UNHCR and several NGOs, however, reported that asylum seekers and urban refugees did not have a mechanism to apply for or resolve their status. A 2015 law changed the role of the Committee for the Recognition of the Right to Asylum, the prior implementing mechanism to identify, verify, and legalize asylum seekers, to that of an advisory board. The government had not put into practice an alternative mechanism to adjudicate asylum and refugee cases in the committee’s place. The law also authorized the creation of reception centers for refugees and asylum seekers where they were to receive assistance until the government makes a decision on their cases, but the government had not yet established these centers.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees reported restrictions on freedom of movement in Lunda Norte Province. Police arbitrarily arrested or detained refugees and confiscated or destroyed their registration documents during periodic roundups, particularly in Dundo, the provincial capital. Refugees also reported periodic restrictions on freedom of movement from their resettlement site in Lovua, Lunda Norte province, and cited such restrictions as a factor motivating them to return to the DRC.

Employment: Formal restrictions on a refugee’s ability to seek employment existed. Regulation 273/13 restricted refugees from obtaining the business license required to own and operate a business. Refugees often faced difficulty obtaining employment due to their inability to obtain legal documents required to work in the formal sector. Refugees reported a general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge concerning the rights it was intended to safeguard. Authorities continued to harass asylum seekers and refugees working in the informal market.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with recognized refugee status could at times obtain public services. The government has not implemented key elements of the 2015 asylum law, which included refugee and asylum seekers’ access to basic services and issuance of documents, including new or renewed refugee cards and birth certificates for refugees’ children born in the country. UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees, however, reported that urban refugees in particular were unable to obtain legal documents following passage of the asylum law and at times faced difficulty accessing public services such as health care and education. Corruption by officials compounded these difficulties.

Durable Solutions: In January and February the government cooperated with UNHCR and supported an organized voluntary repatriation of 2,912 refugees from Lunda Norte to the DRC. UNHCR estimated that 6,381 refugees remained at its Lovua, Lunda Norte, resettlement camp.

g. Stateless Persons

There is no study or census related to the number of stateless persons in the country. The government estimated that there are more than 12 million unregistered citizens in the country. Children of undocumented foreign parents born in the country may fall into a stateless status if the parents are unable to register them.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2017 the government held presidential and legislative elections, which the ruling MPLA won with 61 percent of the vote and the country inaugurated MPLA party candidate Joao Lourenco as its third president since independence. The MPLA retained its 68 percent supermajority in the National Assembly in the 2017 elections; however, opposition parties increased their representation by winning 32 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 20 percent in the 2012 elections.

Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. Opposition parties complained to the Constitutional Court about aspects of the electoral process, including the National Electoral Commission’s lack of transparent decision making on key election procedures and perceived irregularities during the provincial-level vote count.

The central government appoints provincial governors. The constitution does not specify a timeline for implementing municipal-level elections. In 2018 the administration of President Lourenco promised municipal-level elections would take place by 2022. The government declared municipal elections would not take place in 2020 because the government had not completed the electoral laws needed to prepare for the elections. The government also stated that COVID-19 had hindered the preparations needed to implement municipal elections. Opposition parties and civil society criticized the government for failing to provide a prospective date when municipal elections were expected to occur.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ruling MPLA party dominated all political institutions. Political power was concentrated in the presidency and the Council of Ministers, through which the president exercised executive power. The council may enact laws, decrees, and resolutions, assuming most functions normally associated with the legislative branch. The National Assembly consists of 220 deputies elected under a party list proportional representation system. The National Assembly has the authority to draft, debate, and pass legislation, but the executive branch often proposed and drafted legislation for the assembly’s approval. The MPLA retained its 68 percent supermajority in the National Assembly in the 2017 elections; however, opposition parties increased their representation by winning 32 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 20 percent in the 2012 elections.

Political parties must be represented in all 18 provinces, but only the MPLA, UNITA, and the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE), to a lesser extent, had truly national constituencies. By law no political party may limit party membership based on ethnicity, race, or gender.

On August 27, the Constitutional Court denied the request by CASA-CE founder Abel Chivukuvuku to form the Angolan Renaissance Party. Chivukuvuku accused the ruling MPLA party of repression and political interference in the court’s decision.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Of the 220 deputies in the national assembly, 65 or 30 percent were women, up from 27 percent for the last three years. Four of 18, or 22 percent, of provincial governors were women which is double the number from both 2018 and 2019, and seven of 21, or 33 percent, of cabinet ministers were women, down from 37.5 percent in 2018 and 2019. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men. The country has multiple linguistic groups, many of which were represented in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

On January 27, a new law on prevention and combatting of money laundering, financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was published. A new penal code was also published on November 11 directly regulating modern financial crimes and increasing penalties for corrupt officials, and will go into effect 90 days after the publication.

President Lourenco dismissed cabinet ministers, provincial governors, senior military officers, and other high-level government officials due to alleged corrupt practices. The PGR launched significantly more corruption investigations and brought criminal charges against several officials. Nonetheless, official impunity and the uniform application of anticorruption legislation remained a serious problem.

In August President Lourenco requested that the National Assembly review the new penal code to ensure it adequately penalizes corrupt activities. In a letter sent to the president of the National Assembly, Lourenco wrote that the penal code “may not be aligned with the current vision and pass a wrong message concerning crimes committed in the exercise of public functions.” Lourenco said he was concerned the new penal code could establish lower penalties for economic crimes, influence peddling, and public sector corruption.

Corruption: Government corruption at all levels was widespread, but accountability improved due to increased focus on developing better checks and balances and institutional capacity. In August the criminal chamber of the Supreme Court convicted Valter Filipe, the former governor of the National Bank of Angola, Jose Filomeno dos Santos (“Zenu”), the former chairman of Angola’s Sovereign Wealth Fund and son of former president Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, and two other partners of influence peddling, money laundering, and fraud. The court gave them sentences ranging from five to eight years in prison. Zenu and his codefendants transferred $500 million from the National Bank of Angola to a private bank account in the United Kingdom. All the defendants’ appeals to the plenary of the Supreme Court were denied.

In December 2019 the Luanda Provincial Court preemptively froze all in-country accounts and several assets owned by former first daughter Isabel dos Santos, her husband Sindika Dokolo, and businessman Mario Leite da Silva on suspicion that the assets, amounting to more than $1 billion, originated from state funds obtained unlawfully. Isabel dos Santos considered the seizure order to be “politically motivated” and said she would use “all the instruments of Angolan and international laws” to fight the order. To date she remains in exile and subsequently demonstrated willingness to negotiate with the Angolan government, something that President Lourenco denied would be an option.

The government commenced legal proceedings against Isabel dos Santos and her associates that aim to recover more than $1 billion in allegedly misappropriated state assets. In December 2019 the Luanda provincial court preemptively froze assets belonging to Isabel and her associates at Unitel, the country’s largest mobile-phone company, and in Banco de Fomento Angola (BFA), one of the largest private banks. In May the government filed criminal charges against Isabel dos Santos on suspicion of embezzlement of state funds while she was head of state-owned oil company Sonangol.

In July the PGR, through its National Service on Assets Recovery, seized three private commercial buildings in Luanda built with funds from state-owned oil company Sonangol. The PGR said the buildings belonged to the Riverstone Oaks Corporation, which is controlled by former vice president and president of Sonangol, Manuel Vicente, and the former director of Sonangol Real Estate and Properties, Orlando Veloso.

Government ministers and other high-level officials commonly and openly owned interests in public and private companies regulated by, or doing business with, their respective ministries. Laws and regulations regarding conflict of interest exist, but they were not enforced. Petty corruption among police, teachers, and other government employees was widespread. Police extorted money from citizens and refugees, and prison officials extorted money from family members of inmates.

Financial Disclosure: The law on public probity requires senior government officials, magistrates and public prosecutors as well as managers of public companies to declare their assets held domestically and abroad to the attorney general. The president and vice president were the first to submit their declarations in 2018. Asset declarations are only disclosed for criminal, disciplinary, and administrative purposes and require a judicial warrant.

According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the financial information of government officials was provided to the appropriate government office. The law treats these reports as confidential. Government officials are to make a declaration within 30 days of assuming a post and every two years thereafter. The law does not stipulate a declaration be made upon leaving office but states that officials must return all government property within 60 days.

Penalties for noncompliance with the law vary depending on which section of the law was violated, but they include removal from office, a bar from government employment for three to five years, a ban on contracting with the government for three years, repayment of the illicitly gained assets, and a fine of up to 100 times the value of the accepted bribe. The National Office of Economic Police is responsible for investigating violations of this law, as well as other financial and economic crimes, and then referring them to the financial court for prosecution. There were no known cases related to this law during the year.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country. Some groups investigating government corruption and human rights abuses alleged government interference in their activities particularly in provinces outside of Luanda. Civil society organizations faced fewer difficulties in contacting detainees than in previous years, and prison authorities permitted civil society work in the prisons.

The Law of Associations requires NGOs to specify their mandate and areas of activity. The government used this provision to prevent or discourage established NGOs from engaging in certain activities, especially those that the government deemed politically sensitive.

The government allowed local NGOs to carry out human-rights-related work, but many NGOs reported they were forced to limit the scope of their work because they faced problems registering, were subjected to subtle forms of intimidation, and risked more serious forms of harassment and closure.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state-funded Interministerial Commission for the Writing of Human Rights Reports included representatives from various government ministries. Leading civil society members decided not to participate on the commission because they did not believe the Commission was independent or effective.

The 10th Commission on Human Rights of the National Assembly is charged with investigating citizen complaints of alleged human rights violations and makes recommendations to the National Assembly.

An Office of the Ombudsman, with a national jurisdiction, existed to mediate between an aggrieved public, including prisoners, and an offending public office or institution. The office had representative offices open in the provinces of Cabinda, Kwanza-Sul, Cunene, Huambo, and Luanda, and had neither decision-making nor adjudicative powers, but helped citizens obtain access to justice, advised government entities on citizen rights, and published reports. These reports are presented annually to the National Assembly. The ombudsman is elected by the majority of the members of the National Assembly.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape and intimate partner rape, is illegal and punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment if convicted. Limited investigative resources, poor forensic capabilities, and an ineffective judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights worked with the Ministry of Interior to increase the number of female police officers and to improve police response to rape allegations.

The law criminalizes domestic violence and penalizes offenders with prison sentences of up to eight years and monetary fines, depending on the severity of their crime. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights maintained a program with the Angolan Bar Association to give free legal assistance to abused women and established counseling centers to help families cope with domestic abuse.

The government reported that cases of domestic violence increased during the period of confinement due to COVID-19. According to a Ministry of Social Action, Family and Promotion of Women (MASFAMU) report between March and May, 567 cases of domestic violence were reported in the second trimester of 2020 versus 444 reported cases in the first trimester. The NGO Gender Observatory started a campaign called “Quarantine without Violence” and urged the National Police to create a hotline for cases of domestic violence. In May MASFAMU launched a partnership with the UN to support a crisis hotline to help victims of gender-based violence.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were anecdotal reports that some communities abused women and children due to accusations the latter practiced witchcraft. The Ministry of Culture and the National Institute for Children (INAC) had educational initiatives and emergency programs to assist children accused of witchcraft.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common and not illegal. It may be prosecuted, however, under assault and battery and defamation statutes.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to freely decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Persons living in rural areas faced more barriers to access of sexual and reproductive health services than urban dwellers due to a lack of resources and health programs in those areas. According to 2015-16 World Health Organization (WHO) data, 62 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 made their own informed decisions regarding reproductive health care, contraceptive use, and sexual relations. Some cultural views, such as the view that women have a responsibility to have children, and religious objections to using contraception, limited access to reproductive health services. According to the UN Population Fund, the country has favorable laws relating to contraceptive services and access to emergency contraception with no restrictions. The WHO reported there were four nursing and midwifery personnel per 10,000 inhabitants in the country (2010-2018 data). For survivors of sexual violence, the law on domestic violence provides for legal and medical assistance, access to shelter spaces, and priority care assistance to obtain legal evidence of the crime. A specific department of the Angolan National Police investigates crimes against women and children.

According to a 2017 WHO report, the country’s maternal mortality rate was 241 deaths per 100,000 live births, which was a significant reduction from 431 deaths in 2007 and 827 deaths in 2000. High maternal mortality was due to inadequate access to health facilities before, during, and after giving birth, a lack of skilled obstetric care, and early pregnancy. The WHO data reported a high adolescent birth rate of 163 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19. According to 2010-19 data, 30 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. No known instances of female genital mutilation have been reported in the country in recent years. UNICEF reported in 2016 that 50 percent of births in the country were attended by skilled health personnel.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. During the year the Angolan branch of Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD) had a public split with the church’s Brazilian leadership. On June 23, a group of Angolan IURD pastors took control over some of the 230 IURD temples in the country after accusing the Brazilian leadership of racism and harassment, including forced vasectomies of Angolan IURD pastors or mandatory abortions if an IURD pastor’s wife became pregnant. Both groups pressed charges against each other, which led to the closure and seizure of at least seven temples in Angola by the attorney general’s office on charges of money laundering. At year’s end, criminal investigations continued.

Discrimination: Under the constitution and law, women enjoy the same rights and legal status as men. The government, however, did not enforce the law effectively as societal discrimination against women remained a problem, particularly in rural areas. Customary law prevailed over civil law, particularly in rural areas, and at times had a negative effect on a woman’s legal right to inherit property.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work, although women generally held low-level positions. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations and industries compared to men, including in jobs deemed hazardous, factory jobs, and those in the mining, agriculture, and energy sectors. The Ministry of Social Assistance, Family, and Promotion of Women led an interministerial information campaign on women’s rights and domestic abuse, and hosted national, provincial, and municipal workshops and training sessions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from one’s parents. The government does not register all births immediately. According to the 2014 census, approximately 13.7 million citizens (46 percent of the population) lacked birth registration documents. During the year the government continued programs to improve the rate of birth registration through on-site registries located in maternity hospitals in all 18 provinces with a campaign called “Born with Registration.” The government also trained midwives in rural areas to complete temporary registration documents for subsequent conversion into official birth certificates. The government permitted children to attend school without birth registration, but only through the sixth grade. The government implemented a mass registration process to issue identification (ID) cards with the goal of providing government-issued IDs to all citizens by the end of 2022.

Education: Education is tuition free and compulsory for documented children through the ninth grade. Students in public schools often faced significant additional expenses such as books or irregular fees paid directly to education officials in order to guarantee a spot. When parents were unable to pay the fees, their children were often unable to attend school. The Ministry of Education estimated that one to two million children did not attend school, because of a shortage of teachers and schools. Due to the “state of emergency” that went into effect on March 27, the government closed schools as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19, and provided some classes as television programs. The government began to reopen schools in October.

There were reports that parents, especially in more rural areas, were more likely to send boys to school rather than girls. According to UNESCO, enrollment rates were higher for boys than for girls, especially at the secondary level.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Reports of physical abuse within the family were commonplace, and local officials largely tolerated abuse due to lack of capacity within institutions to provide appropriate care. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Family and Promotion of Women offers programs for child abuse victims and other vulnerable children. Nevertheless, nationwide implementation of such programs remained a problem.

In June the government launched a hotline called “SOS Child” to report violence against children. In fewer than two weeks, government officials stated the hotline received 19,753 calls relating cases of violence against children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage with parental consent is 15 for girls and 16 for boys. The government did not enforce this restriction effectively, and the traditional age of marriage among lower income groups coincided with the onset of puberty. According to UNICEF, 6 percent of men between the ages of 20 and 24 were married or in union before the age of 18, 30 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married or in union by the age of 18, and 7 percent of women between the age of 20 and 24 were married or in union by the age of 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: All forms of prostitution, including child prostitution, are illegal. Police did not actively enforce laws against prostitution, and local NGOs expressed concern regarding the commercial sexual exploitation of children, which remained a problem. The law prohibits the use of children for the production of pornography; however, it does not prohibit the procuring or offering of a child for the production of pornography, or the use, procuring, or offering of a child for pornographic performances.

Sexual relations between an adult and a child younger than 12 are considered rape, and conviction carries a potential penalty of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment. Sexual relations with a child between the ages of 12 and 17 are considered sexual abuse, and convicted offenders may receive sentences from two to eight years in prison. The legal age for consensual sex is 18. Limited investigative resources and an inadequate judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. There were reports of prosecutions during the year.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There is a Jewish community of approximately 350 persons, primarily resident Israelis. 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, but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. The constitution grants persons with disabilities full rights without restriction and calls on the government to adopt national policies to prevent, treat, rehabilitate, and integrate persons with disabilities to support their families; remove obstacles to their mobility; educate society regarding disability; and encourage learning and training opportunities for persons with disabilities.

The law requires changes to public buildings, transportation, and communications to increase accessibility for persons with disabilities. The law also institutes a quota system to encourage the public and private sectors to employ more persons with disabilities, with the public sector quota at 4 percent of total employees and the private sector set at 2 percent. Civil society organizations and persons with disabilities, however, reported the government failed to enforce the law, and significant barriers to access remained.

The government official responsible for overseeing programs to promote inclusion for persons with disabilities acknowledged that both the private and public sectors fail to meet the quota system established by law. ANDA, an NGO that promotes the rights of persons with disabilities, said in a March interview that discrimination, physical, and psychological barriers impede persons with disabilities from having access to work, education, and public transportation.

Persons with disabilities included more than 80,000 survivors of land mines and other explosive remnants of war. The NGO Handicap International estimated that as many as 500,000 persons had disabilities. Because of limited government resources and uneven availability, only 30 percent of such persons were able to take advantage of state-provided services such as physical rehabilitation, schooling, training, or counseling.

Persons with disabilities found it difficult to access public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to find employment or participate in the education system. Women with disabilities were reported to be vulnerable to sexual abuse and abandonment when pregnant. The Ministry of Social Assistance, Families, and Women’s Promotion sought to address problems facing persons with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, and several government entities supported programs to assist individuals disabled by landmine incidents.

Indigenous People

The constitution does not specifically refer to the rights of indigenous persons, and no specific law protects their rights and ecosystems. One NGO estimated that 14,000 members of the San indigenous group scattered among the southern provinces of Huila, Cunene, Kuando Kubango, and Moxico suffered discrimination and lacked adequate access to basic government services, including medical care, education, and identification cards.

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

The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination but does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity. The new penal code decriminalizes same-sex sexual relations and makes it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Local NGOs reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals faced violence, discrimination, and harassment. The government, through its health agencies, instituted a series of initiatives to decrease discrimination against LGBTI individuals.

Discrimination against LGBTI individuals was rarely reported, and when reported, LGBTI individuals asserted that sometimes police refused to register their grievances. The association continued to collaborate with the Ministry of Health and the National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS to improve access to health services and sexual education for the LGBTI community.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS is illegal, but lack of enforcement allowed employers to discriminate against persons living with HIV. There were no news reports of violence against persons living with HIV. Reports from local and international health NGOs suggested discrimination against persons living with HIV was common. The government’s National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS includes sensitivity and antidiscrimination training for its employees when they are testing and counseling HIV patients.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except members of the armed forces, police, firefighters, members of sovereign bodies, and public prosecutors to form and join independent unions. To establish a trade union, at least 30 percent of workers in an economic sector in a province must follow a registration process and obtain authorization from government officials. The law provides for the right to collective bargaining except in the civil service. The law prohibits strikes by members of the armed forces, police, prosecutors and magistrates of the PGR, prison staff, fire fighters, public-sector employees providing “essential services,” and oil workers. Essential services are broadly defined, including the transport sector, communications, waste management and treatment, and fuel distribution. In exceptional circumstances involving national interests, authorities have the power to requisition workers in the essential services sector. The law does not explicitly prohibit employer interference with union activity.

While the law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference, it also places some restrictions on their ability to strike. Before engaging in a strike, workers must negotiate with their employer for at least 20 days prior to a work stoppage. Should they fail to negotiate, the government may deny the right to strike. The government may intervene in labor disputes that affect national security and energy sectors. Collective labor disputes are to be settled through compulsory arbitration by the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security. The law prohibits employer retribution against strikers, but it permits the government to force workers back to work for “breaches of worker discipline” or participation in unauthorized strikes. Nonetheless, the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and stipulates that worker complaints should be adjudicated in the labor court. The Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security had a hotline and two service centers in Luanda for workers who believed their rights had been violated. By law employers are required to reinstate workers who have been dismissed for union activities.

During the year there were several strikes in the public and private sector over disputes between employers and workers. There were also allegations of retribution against strikers during the year.

In June, three taxi unions agreed to strike and refused to circulate in the municipality of Cacuaco in Luanda province citing lack of designated stopping areas and poor road maintenance. The governor of Luanda, Joana Lina, demanded that the strike be lifted and gave the unions four days to resolve the situation.

The government generally did not effectively enforce applicable labor laws. Labor courts functioned but were overburdened by a backlog of cases and inadequate resources. The law provides for penalties for violations of the law and labor contracts, which are commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, but the penalties were not an effective deterrent due to the inefficient functioning of the courts.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not generally respected. Government approval is required to form and join unions, which were hampered by membership and legalization issues. Labor unions, independent of those run by the government, worked to increase their influence, but the ruling MPLA party continued to dominate the labor movement due to historical connections between the party and labor, and also the superior financial base of the country’s largest labor union (which also constitutes the labor wing of the MPLA). The government is the country’s largest employer, and the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security mandated government worker wages with no negotiation with the unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and sets penalties commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law due in part to an insufficient number of inspectors and to systemic corruption.

Forced labor of men and women occurred in fisheries, agriculture, construction, domestic service, and artisanal diamond-mining sectors, particularly in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul provinces. Migrant workers were subject to seizure of passports, threats, denial of food, and confinement. Forced child labor occurred (see section 7.c).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits children younger than 14 from working. To obtain an employment contract, the law requires youth to submit evidence they are 14 or older. Children can work from age 14 to age 16 with parental permission, or without parental consent if they are married, and the work does not interfere with schooling or harm the physical, mental, and moral development of the minor. The law also allows orphan children who want to work to get official permission in the form of a letter from “an appropriate institution,” but it does not specify the type of institution. The Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security; the Ministry of Social Assistance, Families, and Women’s Promotion; the Ministry of Interior; the Ministry of Labor; INAC; and the national police are the entities responsible for enforcement of child labor laws.

The Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security continued to implement its National Action Plan for the Eradication of Child Labor for 2018-22, which aims to identify the most prevalent areas and types of child labor and to strengthen coordination of child labor investigations, prosecutions, and the imposition of criminal penalties. The government did not effectively monitor the large informal sector, where most child labor occurred.

Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The government did not consistently enforce the law, and child labor, especially in the informal sector, remained a problem. Through March, INAC registered 573 cases of hazardous child labor on farms involving the handling of chemicals, stones, and bricks and reported the cases to law enforcement. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security had oversight of formal work sites in all 18 provinces, but it was unknown whether inspectors checked on the age of workers or conditions of work sites. If the ministry determined a business was using child labor, it transferred the case to the Ministry of Interior to investigate and possibly press charges. It was not known whether the government fined any businesses for using child labor.

Child labor occurred in agriculture on family and commercial farms as well as in fishing, brick making, artisanal diamond mining, charcoal production, domestic labor, construction, and street vending. Exploitive labor practices included involvement in the sale, transport, and offloading of goods in ports and across border posts. Children were forced to work as couriers in the illegal cross-border trade with Namibia. Adult criminals sometimes used children for forced criminal activity, since the justice system prohibits youths younger than 12 from being tried in court.

Street work by children was common, especially in the provinces of Luanda, Benguela, Huambo, Huila, and Kwanza Sul. Investigators found children working in the streets of Luanda. Most of these children shined shoes, washed cars, carried water and other goods, or engaged in other informal labor, but some resorted to petty crime and begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred as well (see section 6).

The incidence of child labor increased in the southern provinces due to a severe drought. In Cunene province, children were forced to leave school and to work as herders or to dig wells and fetch water. The drought and the accompanying economic devastation increased the risk of exploitation of vulnerable persons in the province; one NGO in Cunene said the drought led many boys to seek work in urban areas and led girls to engage in prostitution.

The government, through INAC, worked to create, train, and strengthen child protection networks at the provincial and municipal levels in all 18 provinces. No central mechanism existed to track cases or provide statistics. The government also dedicated resources to the expansion of educational and livelihood opportunities for children and their families.

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 labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, religion, disability, or language, and the government in general effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. The International Labor Organization noted the law did not clearly define discrimination, however. The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination, although it does not specifically address HIV/AIDS status, sexual orientation, or gender identity (see section 6). The law provides for equal pay for equal work, but gender pay disparities in the country still exist. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations considered dangerous, in factories, and in industries such as mining, agriculture, and energy. Women held ministerial posts.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, although penalties, when applied, were commensurate with those for other laws related to civil rights. There were no known prosecutions of official or private-sector gender-based discrimination in employment or occupation. Persons with disabilities found it difficult to gain access to public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to participate in the education system and thus find employment. Reports during the year indicated that persons with albinism also experienced discrimination in employment and access to public services. In the past, there have also been complaints of discrimination against foreign workers. There were no known prosecutions for discrimination in employment. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A minimum wage for the formal sector exists and varies by sector. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights raised concerns about the wide disparities of minimum wage by sector and the possibility this may undervalue work in female-dominated sectors. The lowest minimum wage was for agricultural work and was set below the UN Development Program’s official line of poverty. The minimum wage for the formal sector may be updated annually or when the government assesses economic conditions warrant. The minimum wage law does not cover workers in informal sectors, such as street vendors and subsistence farmers.

The standard workweek in the private sector is 44 hours, while in the public sector it is 37 hours. In both sectors the law mandates at least one unbroken period of 24 hours of rest per week. In the private sector, when employees engage in shift work or a variable weekly schedule, they may work up to 54 hours per week before the employer must pay overtime. In the formal sector, there is a prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, defined as more than two hours a day, 40 hours a month, or 200 hours a year. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. By law employers must provide, at a minimum, a bonus amounting to 50 percent of monthly salary to employees each year in December and an annual vacation. The law did not cover domestic workers, but a 2016 presidential decree extended some protections and enforcement standards to domestic workers. Workweek standards were not enforced unless employees filed a formal complaint with the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security. The law protected foreign workers with permanent legal status or a temporary work visa.

The government effectively enforced the minimum wage law within the formal labor sector, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar infractions. Most workers in the informal sector were not covered by wage or occupational safety standards. An estimated 60 percent of the economy derived from the informal sector, and most wage earners held second jobs or depended on the agricultural or other informal sectors to augment their incomes.

The Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security is charged with implementing and enforcing the law. An insufficient number of adequately trained labor inspectors hampered enforcement efforts. Inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions but some companies received advance warning of impending labor inspections.

Occupational safety and health standards are required for all sectors of the economy. Employees have the right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions without jeopardy to their employment. The government did not always proactively enforce occupational safety and health standards nor investigate private company operations unless complaints were made by NGOs and labor unions. Inspections were reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019 there were 241 major industrial accidents that caused the death or serious injury of workers.

Bulgaria

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports of government officials employing violent and degrading treatment. For example, on July 10, police beat and detained Dimitar Pedev for hooliganism during an antigovernment protest in Sofia, claiming he had provoked them. Pedev, who claimed he was a passerby and not a protester, felt ill in jail and was transferred to a hospital where his mother reported she found him “with a hematoma and concussion, chained to a hospital bed…even his legs.” Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged that the prison administration kept Pedev handcuffed to a bed for more than two days while doctors treated his injuries. As of December authorities were conducting an internal inquiry.

In February, 30-year-old Nikolay Ilkov claimed police in Sofia stopped him in his car, checked his documents, tested him for alcohol and drugs, and searched his vehicle for weapons and drugs. Ilkov passed the inspections but refused to go into the patrol car for an inspection of his underwear and socks. The patrol officers interpreted his refusal as aggression and three police officers held him while another beat him, leaving him with a hemorrhaged eye and a broken tooth. As of December, Sofia police were conducting an internal investigation of the case.

According to the NGO Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), police brutality in prison and detention facilities occurred with impunity. The BHC cited prosecutorial statistics obtained through a court order indicating that in 2019 the prosecution tracked 78 open cases of police violence, closed 67 cases, and carried out 13 investigations that resulted in no prosecutions, no indictments, and no convictions. According to the BHC, physical abuse of detainees by police was widespread and disproportionately affected Romani suspects. Most cases were not included in statistics, since victims often did not report it because most considered reporting abuse to be pointless.

The prosecutor general reported to the National Assembly in September that 15 cases of police violence were under investigation.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Concerns persisted, however, that corporate and political pressure, combined with the growing and nontransparent concentration of media ownership and distribution networks, as well as government regulation of resources–including EU funds–and support for media, gravely damaged media pluralism. In July a media pluralism report conducted by the Center for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom for the European Commission, identified a “particularly high risk” for public media independence, corporate influence over editorial content, and concentration of media ownership.

In August the NGO Ethical Journalism Network reported that press freedom in the country was “under attack” by progovernment tabloid journalism, which silenced critical voices “through financial and security threats,” often forcing ethical journalists to practice self-censorship to avoid harassment and intimidation. In October the representative of Reporters without Borders covering the EU and the Balkans stated the government had no will to change and improve the media environment. The representative also accused the government of reneging on its commitment to protect media freedom.

According to the BHC, freedom of expression was in a “state of free fall,” marked by “severe political pressure on journalists and media” and “taming” of public media. According to Transparency International Bulgaria, media ownership “is often unclear” and many media outlets “are financially dependent on state advertising, which may color their reporting and affect any criticism they may otherwise provide of government authorities.” On September 30, the European Commission’s 2020 Rule of Law Report stated, “Distribution of state advertising expenditure is not based on clear and nondiscriminatory criteria.”

Freedom of Speech: The law provides for one to four years’ imprisonment for use of and incitement to “hate speech.” The law defines hate speech as instigation of hatred, discrimination, or violence based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, social status, or disability. NGOs alleged that politically motivated hate speech, facilitated by the presence of nationalist parties in the government, increased over past years.

According to human rights lawyer Mihail Ekimdjiev, prosecutors used the penal code provision punishing the dissemination of false information to suppress free speech and target government critics. He cited as an example the charges in April against the president of the Bulgarian Pharmaceutical Union, Asena Serbezova, over her public warning of possible medicine shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which, according to the prosecution, “evoked unnecessary alarm.” In July a prosecutor in Sofia indicted Serbezova and requested that the court impose a fine. In September the court rejected the case, stating that the indictment contained numerous procedural violations. At the end of October, the prosecution charged Serbezova again, and a trial was pending as of December.

Individuals generally criticized the government without official reprisal. In July, however, an employee of state-owned Sofia airport alleged that management fired him two days after he had demanded the prime minister’s resignation in a comment to the latter’s social media livestream video. The company’s human resources department justified the employee’s release with “choice of team members” by a newly appointed manager.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Laws restricting “hate speech” also applied to print media. According to the 2020 annual report by the partner organizations to the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists, “Media ownership is opaque and characterized by the capture of the media market by oligarchs who use their media power to exert political influence and attack and denigrate rivals and critics.” The EU Rule of Law Report noted that many media outlets do not comply with the law that requires public disclosure of ownership, and the public did not have easy access to the disclosed information. Domestic and international organizations criticized both print and electronic media for editorial bias, lack of transparency in their financing and ownership, and susceptibility to political influence and economic incentives.

The consolidation of media ownership by oligarchs made news outlets increasingly vulnerable to political influence over editorial policy. Independent media outlets were subject to open attacks from politicians at all levels and from administrative and judicial pressure. Publicly funded Bulgarian National Television and Bulgarian National Radio were subject to attempts to control their editorial policies through politicized influence on their leadership.

Businessman and National Assembly member Delyan Peevski, who officially owns five newspapers, repeatedly used his control over print media distribution channels and advertising revenues to ensure positive coverage of affiliated political actors and the prosecutor general. Media and telecommunications conglomerate United Group offered to purchase these five newspapers from Peevski, but at year’s end the antimonopoly commission had not yet approved the deal.

Violence and Harassment: A Council of Europe report stated that independent journalists and media outlets were regularly subjected to intimidation in person and online. It reported a worsening working environment for journalists due to “open hostility of elected politicians and sustained attacks on independent media through administrative and judicial harassment, as well as physical threats.”

In one example of an attack on journalists, on March 17, three masked men attacked the prominent investigative journalist and chief editor of the 168 Chassa weekly, Slavi Angelov, in front of his home, beating him and inflicting severe injuries. On April 23, the prosecutor general announced that police arrested the alleged attackers, brothers Georgi and Nikola Asenov and Biser Mitov. The prosecutor general further stated that “persons who seek to destabilize the government, are targets of a criminal investigation, and are hiding…outside the country” and had ordered the attack. As of December pretrial proceedings were ongoing; one defendant was released on bail.

On May 22, Reporters without Borders alleged the trial of Economedia publisher Ivo Prokopiev for privatization fraud was an instance of “increasing political pressure against the main independent media group” by “politically controlled bodies” in “response to journalistic investigations that revealed unpleasant truths of corruption cases.” They noted the judicial irregularities behind the case and that the prosecutor general was practicing selective prosecution, pressing charges against Prokopiev but not Delyan Peevski, for example, a controversial oligarch who controls a large segment of the media environment.

In September the Association of European Journalists condemned “the illegal arrest and police violence against journalist Dimitar Kenarov” while Kenarov covered an antigovernment protest. According to Kenarov’s post on social media and eyewitness statements, police grabbed him, threw him on the ground, and kicked his head before snatching his camera and leaving him handcuffed and on the ground for hours. Responding to a media query in December, the Ministry of Interior reported that despite Kenarov’s visible wounds and multiple witness statements, its internal investigation concluded there was no evidence police had used any force against Kenarov, and closed the investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists reported editorial prohibitions on covering specific persons and topics, and the imposition of political points of view by corporate leaders, with the implied support of the government.

In early 2019 oligarch Kiril Domuschiev acquired the country’s largest private media operator, Nova Broadcasting Group. Several respected investigative journalists and employees were fired from its flagship Nova TV station in January and February, and others left due to pressure or disagreements with the new owners. They were replaced by executives and journalists from Kanal 3, a television station believed to be tied to oligarch and National Assembly member Delyan Peevski. Media analysts assessed that Nova Group-affiliated media outlets shifted editorial policy towards a more progovernment stance. Contacts at Nova TV stated the station continued to lose journalists and other professionals after the initial round of firings, discouraged by appointments of a co-CEO and news director from Kanal 3, who were close to Peevski. Nova TV journalists said their copy was being rewritten by the new executives, so they were not allowed any freedom in reporting the news. Other journalists were thought to have been sent on assignments with prepared copy for their reports. Journalists who left Nova TV stated they were looking for jobs in other sectors because they do not feel there is any hope for professional, good journalism in the country.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is illegal and punishable by a fine and public censure. According to the Association of European Journalists’ October survey, 49 percent of journalists viewed slander as a major harassment tool against their work, including lawsuits against their publications.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were reports, however, that the government exceeded its legal authority in monitoring private online communications, and that security services routinely questioned individuals about their social media behavior.

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 and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government mostly respected these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

There were numerous reports and video clips shared on social media of police violence during antigovernment protests in July, August, and September. The BHC and the ombudsman stated they had received numerous reports of “disproportionate use of force” against nonviolent protesters, including punching, kicking, dragging, and beating handcuffed persons. The ombudsman noted that some police officers used brass knuckles, which is illegal. A video shared online showed how on July 10, police grabbed and handcuffed protesting law student Evgeni Marchev and dragged him behind a column where four officers beat him. Marchev was hospitalized with head and chest injuries and bruises covering his body. On July 27, the Ministry of Interior announced that the four police officers involved would receive disciplinary sanctions for “violating basic rights of citizens by use of excessive physical force” but declined to share details of the sanctions.

Two business owners, Marian Kolev of the toy store Hippoland and Yordan Kostadinov of the winery Zagrey, complained that several government bodies conducted thorough inspections of their companies just two days after their employees participated in the September 2 protest in Sofia against the government and the prosecutor general. The Hippoland employees wore company-logo shirts and the Zagrey employees used a company vehicle for transportation to Sofia. The inspections failed to identify any wrongdoing, but the two businessmen expressed skepticism in the ability of so many government agencies to coordinate inspections, suspecting harassment. On November 12, the Commission for Protection of Competition fined Hippoland for unfair competition.

Freedom of Association

Authorities continued to deny registration of ethnic-Macedonian activist groups such as the United Macedonian Organization-Ilinden, the Society of Oppressed Macedonians, Victims of Communist Terror, and the Macedonian Ethnic Tolerance Club in Bulgaria, despite a May judgment and more than 10 prior decisions by the European Court of Human Rights that the denials violated the groups’ freedom of association. On October 1, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture expressed in an interim resolution “deep concern” with regard to authorities’ “formalistic application of legal requirements” applied persistently to refuse registration to the United Macedonian Organization-Ilinden and similar associations since 2006. In November 2019 the prosecutor general acted on Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) leader and defense minister Krasimir Karakachanov’s complaint about attempts by two associations, the Civil Association for Protection of Fundamental Individual Human Rights and Ancient Macedonians, to create a Macedonian minority. The prosecutor general petitioned the court to dissolve the associations, accusing them of a political agenda threatening the unity and security of the nation.

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. During the state of emergency from March to May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government limited internal travel and established police checkpoints to enforce public health orders. Subsequent health emergency orders did not include travel restrictions or checkpoints.

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 (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights organizations continued to report widespread “pushbacks,” violence, robbery, and humiliating practices against migrants and asylum seekers along the border with Turkey. As of December the Ministry of Interior reported 11,751 attempts to enter the country irregularly across the border during which border authorities detained 426 persons. According to the NGO Bordermonitoring, border authorities on February 28 pushed back 60 migrants on the border with Turkey, referring to a press release by the defense minister which stated, “border police stopped two groups of approximately 30 migrants each and prevented them from crossing the border.” The BHC alleged that the government had a strategy of “neglecting to detect and apprehend” a major portion of the asylum seekers entering the country in order to “evade the ensuing responsibilities under the Dublin regulation or a bilateral readmission treaty.”

Refoulement: The BHC alleged that the Migration Directorate deported asylum seekers before completion of their refugee status determination. In July, Radio Free Europe reported that the prime minister and the prosecutor general personally approved the 2016 deportation of businessman Abdullah Buyuk to Turkey on grounds that his identification papers had expired. Radio Free Europe alleged the deportation was in response to the Turkish Embassy’s unofficial request for Buyuk’s extradition for his alleged ties with Fethullah Gulen. In 2016 NGOs accused authorities of violating a court order prohibiting the extradition of Buyuk, who had filed for political asylum, thus breaching due process. On October 9, the minister of interior reported to the National Assembly that authorities had deported Buyuk under the EU-Turkey readmission agreement, in addition to 90 other Turkish citizens in 2016, 105 in 2017, 70 in 2018, 108 in 2019, and 58 in 2020.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for protecting refugees. The president may grant asylum to persons who are persecuted for their belief or activities advocating for internationally recognized rights and freedoms. Asylum seekers who cross the border irregularly are subject to detention. The BHC expressed concerns about the transparency and objectivity of the refugee status determination process, alleging that refugee center directors could alter the case officer’s determination to grant protection or not and even replace a case officer without proper justification.

Freedom of Movement: The law restricts asylum seekers’ movement to the administrative region in which the reception center accommodating them is located. The restriction is valid until the asylum process is completed.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers had access to school education, health-care, and language instruction. The law authorizes mayors to sign integration agreements with persons who have refugee status, specifying the services they will receive–housing, education, language training, health services, professional qualification, and job search assistance–as well as the obligations of the responsible institutions. NGOs claimed the government made inconsistent efforts to integrate refugees. According to the Asylum Information Database report on the country published in February, “No integration activities are planned, funded, or made available to recognized refugees or subsidiary protection holders.”

A safety zone for unaccompanied children seeking asylum was available at two reception centers in Sofia to provide 24-hour care and specialized services in an environment adapted to their needs.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement, offered naturalization to refugees residing on its territory, and assisted in their voluntary return to their homes. In November authorities relocated 17 unaccompanied refugee children from Greece as part of the country’s commitment to accept 70 unaccompanied children, including 20 from Greece.

Temporary Protection: The Council of Ministers may provide temporary protection in case of mass influx of foreign nationals driven by an armed conflict, civil war, violence, or large-scale human rights violations in their country of origin, as determined by the Council of the European Union. The government also provided humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to 443 persons during the year, as of December.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were no reports of major irregularities during the snap general election in 2017 or the 2016 presidential election. Most political commentators, including the election observation mission of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, considered the general election free and fair, while noting that “some parties used inflammatory and xenophobic rhetoric, mainly against Roma and Turkish communities.”

The law prohibits campaigning in languages other than Bulgarian. According to ODIHR, this requirement, as well as the absence of official voter information in minority languages, limited the ability of ethnic minority groups to understand election rules and to participate effectively in the election process. NGOs reported that address registration laws limited the ability of Roma occupying illegal housing to obtain identity cards, which in turn restricted their ability to register for and vote in elections.

Transparency International Bulgaria reported numerous cases of controlled voting and organizational violations that “infringe significantly on voter rights and could be assessed as an indicator of deliberate interference with the electoral process” during the two local election rounds in October and November 2019.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires a political party to have at least 2,500 members to register officially. The constitution prohibits the establishment of political parties along religious, ethnic, or racial lines, but the prohibition did not appear to weaken the role of some ethnic minorities in the political process, as a number of parties represented various ethnic minority groups. NGOs may not engage in political activity.

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. Women held mayoral offices in 37 out of 265 municipalities and 27 percent of elected seats in the National Assembly. There were no Romani members in the National Assembly, and Roma were underrepresented in appointed leadership positions compared to the size of their population. Ethnic Turks, Roma, and Pomaks (descendants of Slavic Bulgarians who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule) held elected positions at the local level.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials in all branches of government reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption, including bribery, conflict of interest, elaborate embezzlement schemes, procurement violations, and influence trading.

In May the EC’s annual European Semester Report identified corruption as a major obstacle to investment, noting that “challenges persist in the fight against corruption,” and that the country “still lacks a solid criminal track record of concrete results on high-level corruption cases.” In its September report, the EC noted that “the legal framework to fight corruption is largely in place” but identified “the complex and formalistic…system of criminal procedural law… as an obstacle to the investigation and prosecution of high-level corruption.”

Corruption: The prosecutor general reported to the National Assembly that as of September prosecutors had opened 525 new investigations, bringing the total number of ongoing corruption cases to 2,282, and they had indicted 283 persons, obtaining 156 convictions. According to the annual report of the prosecution service, less than 5 percent of corruption convictions resulted in prison time. In June the NGO Anticorruption Fund reported that out of 40 high-profile investigations in the previous five years against former ministers, deputy ministers, National Assembly members, and magistrates it has monitored, only three resulted in convictions, resulting in two suspended sentences and one fine, while seven cases ended in acquittal, five cases were pending appeal, and the rest were mostly in an uncertain status.

On July 6, the Specialized Appellate Criminal Court reduced the sentence of the bribery conviction of the former mayor of Sofia’s Mladost district, Desislava Ivancheva, from 20 to eight years in prison, a fine, and a ban on holding high-level public office for 20 years. The prison sentences of Ivancheva’s codefendants Bilyana Pеtrova and Petko Dyulgerov were also reduced from 15 to seven years and 12 to six years, respectively. According to the prosecution, Ivancheva solicited a 500,000 euro ($600,000) bribe from an investor in construction projects, with Dyulgerov serving as intermediary and Petrova as an accomplice.

In September a prosecutor indicted the former head of the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, Petar Haralampiev, and three other employees of the agency for receiving bribes and trading in influence to aid foreign citizens in obtaining the country’s passports. Haralampiev and the first secretary of the agency were also charged with various types of malfeasance. As of December the court had not scheduled a trial.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates that government officials make annual public declarations of their assets and income as well as any circumstances in which they could face accusations of using their position for personal gain. The Commission for Combating Corruption and Forfeiture of Illicit Assets verified and monitored disclosures for all officials except magistrates, whose declarations were monitored by the Supreme Judicial Council’s inspectorate. High-level public officials and magistrates who fail to submit a financial disclosure declaration can incur fines. The provision was enforced.

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. Human rights observers reported uneven levels of cooperation from national and local government officials.

Some political parties, civic movements, and media outlets publicly attacked and advocated closing certain NGOs that defended particular minority groups and obtained funding from foreign donors. In February the government established a Civil Society Development Council headed by a deputy prime minister. In June the Commission for Combating Corruption and Forfeiture of Illicit Assets suspended the formation of the council. The commission challenged the election of council members over concerns that the election was insufficiently publicized and only a small number of NGOs participated, limiting the choice of members and making the body unrepresentative. The commission was also concerned the council would be in a position to disburse a large amount of government grant funds, creating potential conflicts of interest. NGOs dismissed the commission’s arguments and in turn accused the commission of furthering the anti-NGO political agenda of the VMRO party. As of October the government had not responded to the commission, and the council remained suspended.

As in past years, BHC staff reported receiving threats and spontaneous verbal assaults by persons who recognized them.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman is an independent constitutional body elected by the National Assembly, with a five-year mandate. The ombudsman reviews individuals’ complaints against the government for violations of rights and freedoms. The ombudsman can request information from authorities, act as an intermediary in resolving disputes, make proposals to end existing practices, refer information to the prosecution service, and request the Constitutional Court to abolish legal provisions as unconstitutional.

The Commission for Protection against Discrimination is an independent specialized agency for preventing and protecting against discrimination and ensuring equal opportunity.

A National Assembly permanent committee covers religious denominations and human rights.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and authorities generally enforced its provisions when violations came to their attention. Sentences for rape convictions range up to 20 years in prison. There is no specific criminal law against spousal rape; authorities could prosecute spousal rape under the general rape statute, but rarely did so. According to the NGO Bulgarian Fund for Women, domestic violence helplines received up to 50 percent more reports between April and November during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law provides penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for crimes committed in the context of domestic violence. The law defines domestic violence as systematic physical, sexual, or psychological violence; subjection to economic dependence; or coercive restriction of the personal life, personal liberty, and personal rights of a parent or child, a spouse or former spouse, a person with whom one shares a child, a cohabiting partner or former cohabiting partner, or a member or former member of the same household. The law restricts the persons who can report domestic violence to the victim or the victim’s direct relatives, and excludes friends and other unrelated persons. The law empowers courts to impose fines, issue restraining or eviction orders, and to order special counseling. Noncompliance with a restraining order may result in imprisonment for up to three years, or a fine. According to a nationwide study on violence commissioned by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and released in February, 56 percent of the population has experienced domestic violence.

In one example, on June 9, the Sofia regional court sentenced a man to one year in prison for inflicting bodily injuries on his wife of 15 years. The court heard testimony from witnesses including the victim, her daughter, a neighbor, and police who responded to an emergency call during a family altercation. The victim also had medical records showing injuries from two prior assaults. According to the victim, she only filed a complaint after long-term abuse because she noticed that her 10-year-old son had started copying his father’s behavior.

In January the NGO Center for Creative Justice reported concerns that the law does not provide sufficient protection to victims of domestic violence. In addition, a Supreme Cassation Court judgment granting a perpetrator of domestic violence the right to collect rent from the survivor could discourage victims from reporting domestic violence or petitioning for a restraining order. In June the ombudsman criticized the legal provisions exonerating the offending person from prosecution for inflicting a medium injury (e.g., a broken tooth) or a more serious injury, such as deliberately infecting a person with a sexually transmitted disease, and sent the Justice Ministry a proposal for abolishing these legal provisions.

NGOs continued to express concern over an increase in cases in which women or girls were killed as a result of domestic violence. NGOs criticized authorities for not tracking domestic violence cases and not keeping statistics, which NGOs claimed were needed for authorities to assess the risk of abuse turning deadly.

In June, Sofia police reported nine deaths from domestic violence since the beginning of the COVID-19-related state of emergency in mid-March, in addition to receiving 3,500 reports of domestic aggression and the Sofia City Court issuing 600 restraining orders. In September, for example, a man set his partner on fire in the village of Tri Kladentsi while she was sleeping. The woman died in the hospital. According to news reports, the man had previously attempted to drown her in a lake. As of October pretrial proceedings were underway and the perpetrator remained in custody.

The Animus Association Foundation and other NGOs provided short-term protection and counseling to domestic violence survivors in 22 crisis centers and shelters throughout the country. The government funded an NGO-operated 24-hour free helpline that survivors could call for counseling, information, and support, as well as to report abuse. Police and social workers referred domestic violence survivors to NGO-run shelters.

Sexual Harassment: The law identifies sexual harassment as a specific form of discrimination rather than a criminal offense, although prosecutors may identify cases in which harassment involves coercion combined with sexual exploitation. If prosecuted as coercion, sexual harassment is punishable by up to six years in prison.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Women in poor rural areas and Romani communities had less access to contraception due to poverty and lack of information and education. The cost of contraception was not covered by health insurance. Individuals younger than 16 could not schedule an appointment with a gynecologist or have an HIV test performed without parental consent. Lack of health insurance sometimes limited skilled attendance at childbirth. According to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, approximately half of all uninsured women, or between 8 and 9 percent of all women in the country, did not receive prenatal care, and approximately 80 percent of those uninsured (about 12 to 14 percent of all women) did not have access to relevant medical tests. Home births were illegal, and medical personnel could be prosecuted if they assisted them.

There were reports that maternity services were denied during the year due to COVID-19-related restrictions. In November and December, media reported that some hospitals refused to admit women in labor unless they produced a negative polymerase chain reaction test for the disease.

Victims of sexual violence, who NGOs stated were mainly uninsured, often did not have access to sexual and reproductive health services. Trafficking victims had access to health care through NGOs approved by authorities.

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

Discrimination: While the law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, women faced some discrimination in economic participation and political empowerment. The law establishes equal opportunities in all spheres of public, economic, and political life, equal access to public resources, equal treatment, exclusion of gender-based discrimination and violence, balanced representation of men and women in decision-making authorities, and overcoming gender-based stereotypes.

In March the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women identified an increased number of cases in the country of “antigender discourse in the public domain, public backlash in the perception of gender equality, and misogynistic statements in the media, including by high-ranking politicians.” The committee also expressed concern that women facing discrimination had “limited access to justice owing to pervasive corruption, social stigma, the inaccessibility of the judicial system, and gender bias among law enforcement officers.” The committee further noted that women with disabilities and Romani women were “underrepresented in the parliament, ministerial positions, decision-making positions at the municipal level, and high-ranking posts in the foreign service.”

On December 22, the government adopted the new 10-year National Strategy for Encouraging the Equality between Women and Men, which focuses on five priority areas: equality in the labor market and an equal level of economic independence; decreasing the gender pay gap and income gaps; equal participation in decision-making; combating gender-based violence and providing victim protection and support; and overcoming gender stereotypes and sexism.

According to the National Statistical Institute, in 2019 women received on average pensions that were 32 percent lower than those for men. Women faced discrimination in employment, in the workplace, and in access to pension benefits and retirement (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents or by birth within the country’s territory, unless one receives foreign citizenship by heritage. The law requires birth registration within seven days.

Education: Due to a lack of access to appropriate devices or the internet, the Ministry of Education estimated that 35,000 children could not fully participate in education after the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to switch to online learning in mid-March. The Romani NGO Amalipe conducted a survey in 200 schools with majority Romani enrollment and found that in a quarter of them, more than 50 percent of the students did not have devices able to access online content. In 20 percent of the schools, most students could not afford to pay for suitable internet service. The survey found that 13 percent of the schools served neighborhoods where there was no internet service available.

Child Abuse: The law protects children against any type of abuse, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence and exploitation. The law punishes violators with fines, unless the abuses constitute a criminal or more severe administrative offense. Violence against children continued to be a problem.

In February the State Agency for Child Protection announced that it was taking over the national helpline for children from NGOs, explaining that the agency was ready to operate the system and that the public preferred the government to operate the helpline. In an open letter to the prime minister, 76 NGOs expressed concern that the transition would jeopardize the helpline’s operation and put at risk children and parents who seek help. The NGOs voiced suspicion that the decision stemmed from the “propaganda, misinformation, and fake news regarding the work of the helpline” spread throughout 2019 by other NGOs such as March for the Family and Parents United for Children, nationalist political parties such as VMRO and Vazrazhdane, and the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in a campaign against the government’s draft Strategy for the Child 2019-2030.

In June the NGO National Network for Children released its ninth annual “report card,” which concluded that “the government departed from the development of policies supporting children and families.”

In July a video posted on social networks showed a 32-year-old woman from Pernik beating her three-year-old daughter severely “because your father does not love you, he does not love me either.” The mother recorded it herself to “punish” the father. Authorities placed the child in a family-type home and brought charges for domestic abuse against the mother.

According to UNICEF one-third of all schoolchildren had experienced violence or harassment in school at least once within the year.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. In exceptional cases, a person may enter into marriage at 16 with permission from the regional court. In its concluding observations in March, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern about the “persistence of child and/or forced marriages, in particular among Roma girls.” NGOs criticized authorities for treating early marriages as an ethnic Romani rather than a gender problem but acknowledged that child marriage was pervasive in Romani communities. As of September 23, the country’s courts had sentenced 85 adults for cohabiting with girls younger than 16, 11 adults for cohabiting with girls younger than 14, and 11 parents for aiding and abetting such cohabitation.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law differentiates between forcing children into prostitution, which is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine, and child sex trafficking, which is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. The law prohibits child pornography and provides for up to six years in prison and a fine for violations. Authorities enforced the law. The legal minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The report on the April 2019 visit of the UN special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children found that “child sexual exploitation, including sexual abuse within the inner circle of trust and at a residential institution, is real and extensive.” The report acknowledged there was a lack of systematic and reliable data on the scope of the problem and cited evidence gathered from child protection stakeholders. The report also identified insufficient cooperation among the various authorities engaged in child protection as a problem.

Displaced Children: As of November a total of 512 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in the country, almost the same number as during the same period in 2019. As of October the Supreme Administrative Court was reviewing a case based on the 2017 petition from the ombudsman to establish uniform legal treatment of unaccompanied children across the court system. According to the ombudsman, courts apply varying standards for determining whether migrant children are unaccompanied and routinely placed children designated as such in detention centers for irregular migrants.

Institutionalized Children: The government continued to close residential care institutions for children. As of January a total of 476 children remained to be relocated from the 19 legacy facilities and placed in community-based care. According to the government, the focus of the reform was on preventing child abandonment and encouraging reintegration in a family environment. NGOs, however, believed that the new family-type placement centers did not ensure improved quality of life for children and the quality of family support services remained unchanged.

In November 2019, the NGO Disabilities Rights International published a report which concluded that the country’s deinstitutionalization reform had “replaced a system of large, old orphanages with newer, smaller buildings that are still operating as institutions” and that, while physical conditions in group homes were clean, they remained “dehumanizing and dangerous.” Most of the institutions in question housed children with disabilities, and while they provided good physical conditions (having been recently renovated or built), NGOs alleged that the service providers–other NGOs–isolated residents and immobilized them to avoid any trouble. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy described the report’s findings as “biased, nonrepresentative, and seeking to demean the deinstitutionalization process.”

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 2011 census indicated that 1,130 Jews lived in the country, but local Jewish organizations estimated the actual number was 5,000 to 6,000.

Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly on social networking sites and as comments under online media articles. The Organization of Bulgarian Jews, or “Shalom,” reported a trend of increasing online anti-Semitic speech and conspiracy theories in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as periodic vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments. Souvenirs with Nazi insignia were available in tourist areas around the country. According to Shalom, the national coordinator on combating anti-Semitism and the Ministry of Interior “responded unfailingly” to anti-Semitic incidents, but weak laws prevented the authorities from punishing offenders more severely.

In January vandals broke tombstones and fences in the Jewish cemetery in Shumen. As of October authorities had not identified the perpetrators of the incident. In June vandals defaced a playground and the facades of the adjacent houses in Sofia with 56 swastikas. Authorities responded quickly, cleaning up the playground.

In February the Supreme Administrative Court upheld Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandakova’s ban on an annual march which gathers right-wing extremists from across Europe to honor Hristo Lukov, 1940s leader of an anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi organization, the Union of Bulgarian National Legions. The mayor’s ban cited serious concerns that a torchlight march in downtown Sofia would disrupt public order; the ban restricted the event to laying flowers at Lukov’s plaque in front of his house on February 22. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Democratic Bulgaria alliance, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, NGOs, international organizations, and diplomatic missions denounced the rally. On February 10, a prosecutor petitioned the Sofia city court with a claim for deregistration of the rally organizer, Bulgarian National Union-Edelweiss, claiming its activity violated individual rights, incited ethnic, racial, and religious hostility and homophobia, spread anti-Semitic propaganda, and undermined national integrity. As of December the case was ongoing in the Sofia city court.

In June, Shalom reported organizations such as the Revived Bulgaria-Bulgarian National Unity and Military Union-Bulgarian National Movement, or “Shipka,” spread online propaganda alleging Jews were involved in the COVID-19 pandemic in order to provide “a deadly pseudoantidote” that would lead to the “mass extermination of people.” Authorities issued a warning protocol to Shipka leader Lyudmila Kostadinova, informing her that she would be held criminally liable if she persisted in making anti-Semitic statements.

On December 16, Sofia University fired Mihail Mirchev, a part-time professor teaching a course on social work with ethnic groups, after the university’s ethics commission found his lectures included negative ethnic stereotypes and denigrating cliches. The university’s decision came after a student society, Shalom, and other NGOs protested that Mirchev’s lectures featured racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic content such as: “Is it possible that Bulgaria could turn into a Jewish country if they, being fewer than 1 percent, own the state, the capital, the media, and the art?” Mirchev explained to the ethics commission that his words had been taken out of context and he denied sharing such views.

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 physical, mental, intellectual, and sensory disabilities, including their access to health services, education, employment, housing, public infrastructure, transportation, sports and cultural events, public and political events, the judicial system, and other services. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions, focusing most of its efforts on providing disability pensions, social services, and institutional care. According to NGOs, the ongoing deinstitutionalization, which was designed to be a carbon copy of a similar reform of childcare institutions, failed to reintegrate persons with disabilities in the community. Instead, the government allocated domestic and EU resources for institutional care.

In January 2019 the prosecution service opened investigations against members of medical expert evaluation boards for defrauding the country’s social assistance system by approving “fake disability pensions.” As of October the investigations were ongoing.

While the law requires improved access to public and transportation infrastructure for persons with disabilities, enforcement lagged in some new public works projects and existing buildings. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination continued its nationwide campaign of inspecting public buildings, utility providers, telecommunications operators, banks, and insurance companies. Those not in compliance with the law for persons with disabilities were fined. According to the commission, while there was a general consensus on the problems faced by persons with disabilities, solutions took time to implement, and persons with disabilities had difficulty accessing not only public infrastructure, but also employment, health-care services, and education. According to the informal group Accessibility Alliance, the public environment for persons with disabilities remained a problem, as the law does not require accessibility of public development projects.

The law promotes the employment of persons with disabilities and covers 30 to 50 percent of an employer’s related insurance costs in addition to the full cost of modifying and equipping workplaces to accommodate them. The government provided a 24-month program of subsidies for employers who hire unemployed persons with a permanent disability. The law requires that companies with 50 to 99 employees hire at least one person with a permanent disability; in larger companies, persons with permanent disabilities must make up at least 2 percent of the workforce. According to the National Statistical Institute, in 2019 the number of unemployed persons with disabilities dropped by 4.8 percent and the number of employed persons with disabilities increased twofold compared to 2018.

Individuals with mental and physical disabilities were widely stigmatized and often housed in institutions in remote areas under harsh conditions. According to NGOs, the government did not provide adequate medical care for all persons with mental disabilities. In February 2019 the NGOs European Network for Independent Living, the Center for Independent Living, and the Validity Foundation issued a petition that claimed replacing legacy institutions with smaller community-based centers would result in “transinstitutionalization” and fail to deal with the “deeply ingrained discrimination, social exclusion, and segregation of these groups.”

The Ministry of Education transformed most of the 55 “special schools” for students with specific education needs into education support centers, leaving only five segregated schools with approximately 500 students with sensory and hearing disabilities. Most of the remaining 18,000 students with disabilities attended mainstream schools. Those studying in segregated schools received diplomas that higher-level learning establishments did not recognize as qualifying the student for further education.

In July the NGO Life with Down Syndrome Foundation petitioned authorities with a claim that medical certification regulations discriminated against children with Down syndrome, neglected their needs, damaged their entitlement to financial support, and restricted their right to a quality and dignified life. The regulations instruct the assessment committee to assign children with genetic anomalies up to the age of three a 50 percent disability and those older than age three a 30 percent disability, which determines the level of support they are entitled to, including financial benefits, and depriving them of additional opportunities for physical and psychological development.

NGOs believed police and prosecutors lacked training and skills in dealing with persons with mental disabilities and often traumatized them further with their actions.

The law provides specific measures for persons with disabilities to have access to the polls, including mobile ballot boxes, voting in a polling station of their choice, and assisted voting. According to the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, those measures were “not sufficient to ensure equal participation, especially for persons with visual impairments who cannot vote independently.”

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Societal intolerance against minority groups persisted, and manifested in occasional violence against the Roma in particular, as well as societal discrimination against ethnic Turks. Political and government actors sometimes condoned or prompted it. Human rights organizations reported that the level of racial discrimination against Roma persisted and increased during the coronavirus state of emergency. Media outlets often described Roma and other minority groups using discriminatory, denigrating, and abusive language, highlighting instances in which Romani persons had committed a crime. Nationalist parties such as Ataka, VMRO, and the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria routinely resorted to strong anti-Romani, anti-Turkish, and anti-Semitic slogans and rhetoric. In May the UN special rapporteurs on racism and minority issues stated that “racial discrimination and racism within state institutions is a reality,” and called on the government to condemn hate speech and racist and nationalist populism targeting Roma and other minorities.

On May 14, four persons between the ages of 16 and 20 assaulted a 15-year-old Rom, Stefan Stefanov, near a school in Lyaskovets while he was on his way to a local shop. Stefanov subsequently stated that he lost consciousness after the first punch and only remembered waking up later in a park. According to media reports, the attackers’ parents offered to pay Stefanov a settlement if his family withdrew the charges. As of October police were investigating.

According to NGOs, government authorities, pressured by governing coalition member VMRO, imposed ethnically biased measures on Romani neighborhoods during the coronavirus crisis by restricting movement to and from them with police checkpoints even before identifying cases of infection. Local governments quarantined at least nine Romani neighborhoods during the pandemic compared with only three non-Romani communities. NGOs pointed out that while Romani neighborhoods were locked down, which restricted their residents’ access to basic services such as pharmacies and supermarkets, and contributed to higher unemployment, other neighborhoods with the same, or sometimes worse, levels of COVID-19 remained open. After the government lifted the state of emergency in May, VMRO insisted that Romani “ghettos” should remain restricted.

According to the Standing Roma Conference, local authorities disproportionately targeted illegal Romani dwellings for demolition. NGOs frequently petitioned the European Court of Human Rights to order the government to freeze the razing of homes in Romani neighborhoods until authorities provided adequate alternative accommodation for pregnant women, children, the elderly, and sick persons. In August the local government in Stara Zagora demolished 97 illegally built dwellings in the Romani neighborhood of Loznitsa, planning to turn the open space into a pine forest. Residents affected by the demolition told journalists they had been paying taxes on their properties and had no housing alternative, but the municipality had refused to sell them the land and legalize the houses.

The law establishes Bulgarian as the official language of instruction in the country’s public education system but allows instruction in foreign languages, provided that instruction in Bulgarian language and literature is conducted in Bulgarian. The law also permits study of the mother tongue. Local government and school officials reported they were instructed to ensure that primary school classes were conducted only in Bulgarian, even in schools where more than 50 percent of the students had Turkish or Romani as their mother tongue. There were officially approved curricula for the teaching of Armenian, Hebrew, Romani, and Turkish.

According to the National Statistical Institute, the average number of students who learned their mother tongue in public schools declined by nearly 14 percent for a second consecutive year, although there was a 22 percent increase in the number of Romani students studying their mother tongue. However, Romani NGOs claimed there were no students learning Romani and there was no officially approved textbook. The government operates foreign language schools in English, Spanish, German, Hebrew, French, and Italian, but none in Turkish.

On October 14, Kemal Eshref, GERB party regional coordinator and spouse of the deputy regional governor of Shumen, wrote on Facebook that since more than 50 percent of the population in Shumen was Turkish, school instruction in the region should be in Turkish. GERB’s local leadership distanced itself from Eshref’s statement, opposition socialist member of the National Assembly Ivan Ivanov called for prosecutorial investigation, and VMRO National Assembly member Dean Stanchev characterized it as “scandalous provocation, bordering on national treason since it represents an open call to separatism.” After the backlash, Eshref posted an apology on October 17 “to all who felt offended by his previous post,” explaining that it referred to allowing Turkish-speaking students an opportunity to learn their language as part of the elective curriculum.

The law prohibits ethnic segregation in multiethnic schools and kindergartens but allows ethnic segregation of entire schools. Of Romani children, 30 percent (up from 16 percent five years earlier) were enrolled in segregated schools outside mainstream education, according to the European Roma Rights Center. According to the NGO Amalipe, approximately 10 percent of general education schools in the country were ethnically segregated. Romani children often attended de facto segregated schools where they received inferior education. There were instances of ethnic Bulgarian students withdrawing from desegregated schools, thereby effectively resegregating them. Romani NGOs reported that many schools throughout the country refused to enroll Romani students. In March the Blagoevgrad regional court confirmed the Commission for Protection against Discrimination’s sanction on a local school principal for racial segregation and ethnic discrimination. In 2018 the principal refused to enroll new Romani students, arguing that the school had become segregated and she wanted to reverse that trend.

The Education Ministry provided financial support to municipalities that pursued policies for educational desegregation and prevention of resegregation.

According to the NGO Trust for Social Achievement, life expectancy was 10 years lower and infant mortality was twice as high in the Romani community compared with the general population. In addition, one-third of Romani men and two-fifths of Romani women between the ages of 45 and 60 had a disability. Health mediators helped Roma and other marginalized communities improve their access to health care; the National Health Mediators Network employed 245 mediators in 130 municipalities.

According to the BHC, Romani women were routinely segregated within maternity hospital wards. Romani NGOs stated that some municipalities set discriminatory requirements for access to services in order to restrict Romani women’s access to them. For example, the assisted reproduction program in Veliko Turnovo and the one-time allowance for giving birth in Svilengrad both require the mother to have completed secondary school.

NGOs identified an overall rise in the occurrence of hate speech and hate crimes. In September the Commission for Protection against Discrimination opened an inquiry into social media publications alleging the Heaven Hotel in Slanchev Bryag displayed signs advising that the swimming pool was for “white people only” and proclaiming “White Lives Matter.” Hotel owner Georgi Slavov denied to local media the existence of the signs but also expressed regret he had not put them up, since he claimed hotels were allowed that cater to guests based on whether they have children and for gays, so “why not [allow hotels] only for white people?”

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but the government did not effectively enforce this prohibition. No laws protect against hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Societal intolerance to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons persisted.

There were reports of violence against LGBTI persons. On September 27, a group of approximately 30 teenagers, who had a goal of “cleansing” gays and lesbians, reportedly assaulted boys and girls whom they perceived as gay or lesbian with eggs, flour, and punches in the city garden in Plovdiv, shouting homophobic insults. Videos from the incident appeared on social media networks. As of October police had identified the attackers and had referred their names to the local education inspectorate for counseling with school psychologists. Police investigated by collecting evidence, examining videos, and interrogating witnesses. Police prevented similar occurrences in Burgas and Sofia after NGOs alerted them that incidents were being organized on Facebook. LGBTI NGOs expressed concern that authorities underestimated the homophobic threat when police initially provided little security at a scheduled demonstration in support of LGBTI rights on October 10 in Plovdiv. This allowed a group of counterdemonstrators to surround LGBTI activists and block their march for nearly an hour. Graffiti with threats appeared on the facades of the building where the organizer of the Plovdiv event worked and on the home of another local LGBTI activist.

According to LGBTI organizations, courts rejected the right of same-sex partners for protection against domestic violence because the law treats “spousal” only as applying to married persons who cannot legally be the same sex. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported receiving very few cases–two as of October–regarding sexual orientation. In May the Supreme Administrative Court revoked a decision of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination which had dismissed a 2019 complaint regarding homophobic threats and insults on Facebook against the Balkan Pride exhibition in Plovdiv. The court ruled that the commission had not fully utilized its powers to require law enforcement authorities to identify the authors of the offensive posts and had instead accepted the Interior Ministry’s “excuse” that it was unable to obtain data traffic information on user profiles due to Facebook being owned by a foreign company.

In May the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights reported that nearly 30 percent of LGBTI persons had experienced workplace discrimination. Further, nearly 40 percent of the LGBTI persons who had experienced workplace discrimination did not report it due to fear of police discrimination based on their sexual identity. A March study by the NGOs Single Step and Bilitis reported that 83 percent of LGBTI students had experienced homophobic insults, 70 percent had suffered harassment, 34 percent had been physically abused, and 19 percent had been assaulted, while 50 percent never reported incidents. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s annual report released in February, cases where officials publicly used homophobic speech increased.

NGOs stated persons suspected of being gay were often fired from their jobs, and such individuals were reluctant to seek redress in court due to fear of being identified as LGBTI. Many health professionals considered LGBTI status a disease. The general stigma around sexual orientation and gender identity frequently resulted in refusal of health services, particularly to transgender persons. NGOs complained that most political parties in the National Assembly, government ministers, and municipal authorities were reluctant to engage in a dialogue on the challenges facing LGBTI individuals and related policy issues.

NGOs urged the government to discontinue normalization therapies on intersex children, which were funded by the National Health Insurance Fund with consent from their parents.

In June the Sofia city court overturned a Sofia regional court decision to fine a couple and to issue a public reprimand for libelously stating in a complaint to police that the husband’s police officer brother was gay. The Sofia city court found that the trial court had violated the plaintiff’s right to privacy by accepting evidence and requesting a technical examination of his sexual orientation. The court further found that the defendants’ “views on homosexuality or transgenderness are only meaningful to themselves” and that their “discriminatory prejudice cannot stigmatize a certain sexual orientation and its public manifestation.”

On August 5, vandals destroyed posters from an exhibition titled Together Is Super which had been installed hours earlier on Lovers Bridge in Sofia as part of the Summer Festival of Equal Rights. The posters featured photographs of LGBTI, deaf, and Romani persons, and provided information about their communities and the discrimination against them. Authorities did nothing in response.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

NGOs accused the health minister of age discrimination, and a group of lawyers challenged in the court his May 13 order which provided for mandatory isolation and hospitalization of COVID-19 patients who were 60 and older. On May 19, the minister amended the order, removing that provision.

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 labor unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, provides for workers to receive up to six months’ salary as compensation for illegal dismissal, and provides for the right of the employee to demand reinstatement for such dismissal. Workers alleging discrimination based on union affiliation can file complaints with the Commission for Protection against Discrimination. According to the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, despite the constitutional recognition of the right of association, the law did not provide for it, which prevented parties to a dispute from seeking redress in administrative court.

There are some limitations on these rights. The law prohibits Interior Ministry and judicial system officials from membership in national union federations. When employers and labor unions reach a collective agreement at the sector level, they must obtain the agreement of the minister of labor to extend it to cover all enterprises in the sector. The law prohibits most public servants from engaging in collective bargaining. The law also prohibits employees of the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, the State Agency for Intelligence, the National Protection Service, the courts, and prosecutorial and investigative authorities from striking. Those employees are able to take the government to court to provide due process in protecting their rights.

The law gives the right to strike to other public service employees, except for senior public servants, as long as at least 50 percent of the workers support the strike. The law also limits the ability of transport workers to organize their administrative activities and formulate their programs. Labor unions stated that the legal limitations on the right to strike and the lack of criminal liability for employers who abuse their workers’ right of association are contrary to the constitution.

Authorities did not always respect freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Labor unions continued to report cases of employer obstruction, harassment, and intimidation of employees, including relocation, firing, and demotion of union leaders and members. Labor unions also alleged that some employers obstructed negotiations or refused to bargain in good faith or adhere to agreements. In September the regional court in Ruse confirmed the labor inspectorate’s decision to sanction local company Danini, which started mass layoffs in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic without prior consultations with union representatives and representatives of the employees, as required by law, and made no efforts to negotiate an agreement with them that could reduce or mitigate the consequences of the layoffs.

In June the St. Sophia Hospital in Sofia fired nurse Maya Ilieva, leader of the Trade Union of Bulgarian Medical Specialists, who led a series of protests complaining of low pay and difficult working conditions. She was similarly dismissed from Tokuda Hospital in August 2019. In August the Trade Union of Bulgarian Medical Specialists set up a tent camp protest in front of the Health Ministry, accusing authorities of excluding medical specialists other than physicians and dentists from the latest national framework agreement on medical activities.

The government did not effectively enforce the labor law, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other laws related to denials of civil rights. Penalties for discrimination carry lower fines than the fines for labor law violations. The law does not effectively protect against interference by employers in labor union activities.

Judicial and administrative procedures were adequate in settling claims. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria reported that employers broke the law and eroded the value of collective bargaining by letting nonunion members take advantage of the provisions in the collective agreement.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

There were some reports of families and criminal organizations subjecting children to forced work (see section 7.c.). The national antitrafficking commission reported receiving an increased number of labor exploitation complaints. The commission attributed these complaints to the increased number of persons who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis and who exercised less caution in accepting employment opportunities. According to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, “children and adults with disabilities are forced into street begging and petty theft.” As of October authorities registered 26 cases of trafficking in persons for the purpose of labor exploitation, although that was a significant decrease from the same period in 2019.

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 and the minimum age for hazardous work at 18. To employ children younger than 18, employers must obtain a work permit from the government’s General Labor Inspectorate. Employers can hire children younger than 16 with special permits for light work that is not hazardous or harmful to the child’s development and does not interfere with the child’s education or training.

Employment of children without a work permit is a criminal offense but it is not a serious crime and carries a penalty of up to one year imprisonment or a fine. Penalties for the worst forms of child labor, however, are commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The General Labor Inspectorate was generally effective in inspecting working conditions at companies seeking and holding child work permits and applying sanctions regarding child labor in the formal sector. The inspectorate reported a 50 percent decrease in legal employment of children. In 2019 the inspectorate uncovered 236 cases of child employment without prior permission, a twofold increase from 2018.

The government continued programs to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, mounted educational campaigns, and intervened to protect, withdraw, rehabilitate, and reintegrate children engaged in the worst forms of child labor.

NGOs continued to report the exploitation of children in certain industries, particularly small family-owned shops, textile production, restaurants, construction businesses, and periodical sales, and by organized crime–notably for prostitution, pickpocketing, and the distribution of narcotics. Children living in vulnerable situations, particularly Romani children, were exposed to harmful and exploitative work in the informal economy, mainly in agriculture, construction, and the service sector.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation with regard to nationality, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, race, skin color, age, social origin, language, political and religious beliefs, membership in labor unions and civil society organizations, family and marital status, and mental or physical disabilities. Although the government usually effectively enforced these laws, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred across all sectors of the economy with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and minority group status. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported receiving numerous discrimination complaints during the year related to employment of persons with disabilities, citing examples in which employers created hostile and threatening environments towards an employee with a disability or intentionally created mobility obstacles to push the employee to quit.

The government funded programs to encourage employers to overcome stereotypes and prejudice when hiring members of disadvantaged groups such as persons with disabilities.

The law requires the Interior Ministry, the State Agency for National Security, and the State Agency for Technical Operations to allot one percent of their public administration positions to persons with disabilities. Enforcement was poor, however, and the agencies were not motivated to hire persons with disabilities, citing inaccessible infrastructure, lack of sufficient funding for modifying workplaces, and poor qualifications by the applicants. The Center for Independent Living and other NGOs criticized the system of evaluating persons with disabilities based on the degree of their disability, which effectively prevented many persons with disabilities who were able to work from being hired.

The law requires equal pay for equal work. In July the Council of Ministers reported that men received 12.5 percent more pay than women for work in the same position. According to the Commission for Protection against Discrimination, there were twice as many men as women with well paid jobs, and women were more frequently subjected to workplace discrimination than men. As a result of the gender pay gap, according to the National Social Security Institute, women received 32 percent lower pensions. Women continued to face discrimination in regard to pension benefits and retirement. The age at which women and men can access both full and partial pension benefits was not equal, nor was the legal retirement age.

Workplace discrimination against minorities continued to be a problem. Locating work was more difficult for Roma due to general public mistrust, coupled with the Roma’s low average level of education. According to the National Statistical Institute, 64.8 percent of Roma lived in poverty, compared with 31.6 percent of Turks and 16.7 percent of ethnic Bulgarians.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy that was higher than the government’s official poverty line. Labor unions criticized the government for changing the methodology for designation of the official poverty line with a view to preserving the fiscal health of the state budget while neglecting the livelihoods of vulnerable citizens. According to NGOs, giving the labor and social policy minister discretion to set the official poverty line instead of having it determined by macroeconomic factors created risks of limiting the scope of persons entitled to certain social support and could be exploited for political purposes. In July the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria reported that 67 percent of households lived below the livelihood protection threshold and 28.5 percent lived below the poverty line.

In 2019 the General Labor Inspectorate reported that the cases of unpaid wages increased by 1 percent, compared with the previous year. The inspectorate maintained that its authority to initiate bankruptcy proceedings against employers who owed more than two months’ wages to at least one-third of their employees for three years contributed to the effective enforcement of correct payment of wages. During the coronavirus emergency in the first half of the year, labor inspectors compelled employers to pay 2.5 million levs ($1.5 million) out of an identified 4.5 million levs ($2.7 million) of unpaid wages.

The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime and prohibits any overtime work for children younger than 18 and for pregnant women. Persons with disabilities, women with children younger than six, and persons undertaking continuing education may work overtime at the employer’s request if the employee provides written consent. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria stated that employers increasingly “disrespected employees’ working hours and free time.” The confederation criticized the law’s provision for calculating accumulated working time, noting that it gave employers a way to abuse overtime requirements and thus to hire fewer workers. In December the National Assembly passed amendments increasing the amount of annual allowed overtime work within a collective agreement from 150 to 300 hours.

A national labor safety program, with standards established by law, provides employees the right to healthy and nonhazardous working conditions.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy is responsible for enforcing both the minimum wage and the standard workweek. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of similar violations. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

Each year the government adopts a program that outlines its goals and priorities for occupational safety and health. The General Labor Inspectorate, which had 28 regional offices, is responsible for monitoring and enforcing occupational safety and health requirements. Of the violations identified by the inspectorate, 51.8 percent involved safety and health requirements. According to the labor inspectorate, its activity over the past several years increased compliance to 93 percent of inspected companies. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other similar laws. Inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Legal protections and government inspections did not cover informal workers in the gray-market economy, which, according to the National Statistical Institute, accounted for 21 percent of the country’s GDP in 2019. In September the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria said it expected the share of the gray economy to increase as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. During the two-month state of emergency, the law allowed employers to assign teleworking and work at home and force workers to use half of their accrued annual leave. The law also lifted the overtime work ban for workers and civil servants who assisted the health-care system and police.

Conditions in sectors such as construction, mining, chemicals, and transportation continued to pose risks for workers. The number of work-related accidents registered in the first nine months of the year decreased by almost 19 percent over the same period in the previous year. Land transportation violations were the most common causes of occupational accidents. The government strictly enforced the law requiring companies to conduct occupational health and safety risk assessments and to adopt measures to eliminate or reduce any identified risks. Approximately 95 percent of the companies inspected in 2019 had such risk assessments, and 98 percent of those had programs to eliminate the identified risks.

There were 55 work-related deaths as of October, mainly in the construction and transportation sectors, nearly comparable to the 50 deaths reported from January through September 2019.