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Qatar

Executive Summary

Qatar is a constitutional monarchy in which Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani exercises full executive power. The constitution provides for hereditary rule by men in the amir’s branch of the Al Thani family. The most recent elections were in 2019 for the Central Municipal Council, an advisory and consultative body. Observers considered these elections free and fair. All cabinet members are appointed by the amir, including the prime minister.

The national police and ministry of interior forces maintain internal security that addresses, among other matters, terrorism, cyberattacks, and espionage. The national police oversee general law enforcement. The army is responsible for external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: criminalization of libel; restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including prohibitions on political parties and labor unions; restrictions on the freedom of movement for migrant workers’ travel abroad; refusal to grant asylum despite risk of arrest and torture; limits on the ability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and reports of forced labor.

The government took limited steps to prosecute those suspected of committing human rights abuses. The government took steps to address forced labor.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press in accordance with the law, but the government limited these rights. Self-censorship remained the primary obstacle to free speech and press.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens did not regularly discuss sensitive political and religious issues in public forums, but citizens discussed these issues in private and on social media. The law prohibits residents from criticizing the amir. Members of the majority foreign population exercised self-censorship on sensitive topics. The law penalizes by up to three years in prison damaging, removing, or performing an action that expresses hate and contempt to the country’s flag, the Gulf Cooperation Council flag, or the flag of any international organization or authority. The use of the national flag without formal permission from authorities, displaying a damaged or discolored flag, or changing the flag by adding photographs, text, or designs to it are also criminalized.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law includes restrictive procedures on the establishment of newspapers, their closure, and the confiscation of assets of a publication. The Doha Center for Media Freedom, a government-funded entity known to be vocal on press freedom issues, was closed during the year without official explanation.

Members of the ruling family or proprietors who enjoyed close ties to government officials owned all print media. Both private and government-owned television and radio reflected government views, although call-in shows allowed for some citizen criticism of government ministries and policies. While media generally did not criticize authorities or the country’s policies, specific ministries and even individual ministers were regular targets of criticism in print media. The government owned and partially funded the Doha-based al-Jazeera satellite television network, which carried regional, international, and theme-based programming. It also partially funded other media outlets operating in the country. Some observers and former al-Jazeera employees alleged that the government influenced the content produced by that news outlet.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Qatar Media Corporation, the Ministry of Culture and Sports, and customs officials censored material. The government reviewed, censored, or banned foreign newspapers, magazines, films, and books for objectionable sexual, religious, and political content. Journalists and publishers continued to self-censor due to political and economic pressures when reporting on government policies or material deemed denigrating to Islam, the ruling family, and relations with neighboring states.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel and slander, including “insult to dignity.” A journalist may be fined up to 100,000 Qatari riyals (QAR) ($27,500) and imprisoned for a year for defamation and reporting of “false news.” Laws restrict the publication of information that slanders the amir or heir apparent; defames the Abrahamic faiths or includes blasphemy; harms the national currency or the economic situation; violates the dignity of persons, the proceedings of investigations, and prosecutions in relation to family status; and punishes violators with up to seven years’ imprisonment.

National Security: Laws restrict the publication of information that could defame the state or endanger its safety; incite the overthrow of the regime or harm supreme state interests; report official secret agreements; or prejudice heads of state or disturb relations.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not fully respect these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to assist internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Restrictions on in-country movement for citizens concerned sensitive military, oil, and industrial installations. Although there was less emphasis on setting and enforcing “family-only” times at entertainment areas in Doha, several local malls and markets continued to restrict access to certain areas to foreign workers on weekends and those dressed “immodestly.”

Foreign Travel: The government prevented the travel of its citizens only when they were involved in ongoing court cases. Despite partial exit permit reform, domestic workers were required to obtain permission from employers to exit the country. In 2018 authorities abolished exit permit requirements for 95 percent of the workforce in the private sector, with some exceptions including domestic workers and government employees. Employers may still request exit permits for the remaining 5 percent of their workforce not covered by the 2018 law but must provide an explanation to the government justifying why an employee should retain an exit permit restriction. In 2018 the Exit Permit Grievances Committee received 1,869 requests by workers who were denied exit permits by their employers; of the total number of requests, the committee approved 1,850, rejected seven, and archived the remainder, a common practice when a worker leaves the country for any reason during the lengthy adjudication process.

The law prohibits employers from withholding workers’ passports and penalizes employers who do so, but noncitizen community leaders and officials from labor-exporting countries stated that passport confiscation remained a widespread problem with insufficient enforcement of penalties. The Ministry of Interior fined only two individuals in passport-confiscation cases during the year.

Citizenship: The law allows for the revocation of citizenship. In September 2018 representatives from the al-Ghufran tribe submitted a complaint to the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, accusing the government of arbitrarily revoking the citizenship of 6,000 members of the tribe. Representatives from the government and the NHRC acknowledged that the citizenship of some of the tribe’s members was revoked but stated that revocations were only for dual citizens.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: In September 2018 the government passed legislation to grant political asylum status to asylum seekers, although to date no one has received asylum through this legislation. The law stipulates the creation of a specialized committee within the Ministry of Interior to handle requests from asylum seekers. Once granted political asylum, the individual and his or her family are entitled to a range of free services provided by the government, including travel documents, jobs, monthly allowances, medical and educational services, and housing. Previously, the government accepted such individuals as “guests” on a temporary basis. The government legally classified the small number of persons granted residence on humanitarian grounds as visitors. During the year a Yemeni national’s claim for asylum was not granted despite credible fears of arrest and persecution if he were to return to Yemen. The government instead requested that the individual and his family seek refuge in a third country, despite the September 2018 law.

The Syrian Opposition Coalition office in Doha reported approximately 60,000 Syrians were living in Doha, of whom approximately 20,000 came to Doha after the start of the civil war and have been granted repeated extensions to their residency status to allow them to remain in country. The government provided housing and education to these de facto refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The government did not allow the formation of political parties or opposition groups. The amir exercises full executive powers, including the appointment of cabinet members. During the year the amir issued a decree extending the term of the appointed Shura Council, the country’s titular legislative body, by two years to end in June 2021. In November the amir assigned the prime minister to form and lead a committee to regulate the process of the Shura Council elections.

The constitutional provisions for electing two-thirds of the Shura Council’s members and initiation of legislation by the Shura Council remain unimplemented.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were reports, however, of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The law gives the State Audit Bureau financial authority and independence and allows it to publish parts of its findings provided confidential information is removed. Official statistics from 2017, the last officially released numbers, showed 10 cases of embezzlement of which five had been closed.

Financial Disclosure: There are no legal requirements for public officials to disclose their income and assets, and they did not do so.

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

Researchers from international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and international unions such as Building and Wood Workers’ International and the International Trade Union Confederation continued to visit and report on the country without interference from authorities. The government was often responsive to requests for meetings and jointly participated in public events hosted by human rights groups, including on sensitive topics such as labor rights.

Several quasi-governmental organizations are under a single entity, Qatar Foundation, which is under the leadership of Sheikha Hind Al Thani, the sister of the amir. These organizations cooperated with the government, rarely criticized it, and did not engage in political activity. Some international NGOs have offices in the country focused on labor rights with the permission of the government.

The NHRC provided some mild criticism of abuses and conducted its own investigations into human rights violations. A law regulating the work of the NHRC granted the committee “full independence” in practicing its activities and providing immunity to the committee’s members. The NHRC typically handled petitions by liaising with government institutions to ensure a timely resolution to disputes.

In November the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention carried out its first official visit to the country to assess the situation regarding deprivation of liberty. Following the visit, the group stated, “Existing laws that allow prolonged administrative detention without judicial control and due process guarantees ought to be abolished, as these place individuals outside the protection of the law.” The Working Group called on authorities to “immediately repeal the Protection of Community Law, the State Security Law, and the Law on Combating Terrorism.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Interior and the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are mandated to observe, report, and handle human rights issues. The NHRC is mandated by the cabinet to issue an annual report pertaining to the human rights conditions in the country.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not adequately protect the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively, which made the exercise of these rights difficult. The law provides local citizen workers in private sector enterprises that have 100 citizen workers age 18 and older a limited right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law excludes government employees, noncitizens, domestic workers, drivers, nurses, cooks, gardeners, casual workers, workers employed at sea, and most workers employed in agriculture and grazing from the right to join worker committees or the national union, effectively banning these workers from organizing, bargaining collectively, or striking.

In May the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs issued a decision regulating the formation of the “joint labor committees” within the private sector. In organizations with more than 30 workers, the law permits the establishment of “joint committees” with an equal number of worker and management representatives to deal with a limited number of workplace problems. Foreign workers may be members of joint labor-management committees. The law offers a means to file collective disputes. If disputes are not settled internally between the employees and employer, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs may mediate a solution. An agreement signed between the ministry and the International Labor Organization (ILO) includes provisions to create these committees with ILO supervision and assistance. Under the umbrella of this agreement and as of August, at least five joint committees have initiated operation and held elections to choose employee representatives. Following the formation of “joint committees,” the ILO provided extensive trainings to the committee members on how to manage the committees, how to establish open channels of communications with workers and management, and the mechanisms to submit complaints to the competent authorities.

The law requires approval by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs for worker organizations to affiliate with groups outside the country. The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining outside of the joint committees.

For those few workers covered by the law protecting the right to collective bargaining, the government circumscribed the right through its control over the rules and procedures of the bargaining and agreement processes. The labor code allows for only one trade union, the General Union of Workers of Qatar (General Union), which was composed of general committees for workers in various trades or industries. Trade or industry committees were composed of worker committees at the individual firm level. The General Union was not a functioning entity.

Employees could not freely practice collective bargaining, and there were no workers under collective bargaining contracts. While rare, when labor unrest occurred, mostly involving the country’s overwhelmingly foreign workforce, the government reportedly responded by dispatching large numbers of police to the work sites or labor camps involved; the government also requested the assistance of the embassies for the nationals involved. Strikes generally ended after these shows of force and the involvement of embassies to resolve disputes. In many cases the government summarily deported the workers’ leaders and organizers. International labor NGOs were able to send researchers into the country under the sponsorship of academic institutions and quasi-governmental organizations such as the NHRC.

Although the law recognizes the right to strike for some workers, restrictive conditions made the likelihood of a legal strike extremely remote. The law requires approval for a strike by three-fourths of the General Committee of the workers in the trade or the industry, and potential strikers also must exhaust a lengthy dispute resolution procedure before a lawful strike may be called. Civil servants and domestic workers do not have the right to strike; the law also prohibits strikes at public utilities and health or security service facilities, including the gas, petroleum, and transportation sectors. The Complaint Department of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, in coordination with the Ministry of Interior, must preauthorize all strikes, including approval of the time and place. In August several thousand migrant workers staged a strike against delayed wage payment and blocked a highway in a remote area outside the capital Doha. The government dispersed the protests and convinced the company to pay the workers one-half of their wages within 48 hours, and the remainder of their wages within the week. There were no reports of security forces arresting or clashing with the protesters.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. International media and human rights organizations alleged numerous abuses against foreign workers, including forced or compulsory labor, withheld wages, unsafe working conditions, poor living accommodations, employers who routinely confiscated worker passports, and a sponsorship system that gave employers inordinate control of workers. During the year Amnesty International reported multiple cases of slow access to justice after three medium-sized companies refused to pay wages, withheld passports, and refused to appear in court. The ILO noted the law allows for the imposition of forced labor on those who hold political views ideologically opposed to the established political and social system.

The government made efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor, although the restrictive sponsorship system left some migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation. The law allows employees in the private sector to switch employers at the end of their contract, which can be up to five years, without the permission of their employer. Employees may also switch employers in cases of failure to pay, violation of contract, mutual agreement, filing of a legal case in court, and bankruptcy or death of employer. In 2018 the exit visa requirement for most workers covered under the labor law was rescinded. The law does not extend to domestic workers, who are required to obtain their employers’ permission to leave the country. All workers subjected to exit permit requirements are allowed to seek the removal of such restrictions through a Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs jointly operated grievance committee.

During the year the government opened the first trafficking-in-persons shelter. The government arrested and prosecuted individuals for suspected labor law violations. The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, and the NHRC conducted training sessions and distributed to migrant laborers multilingual written explanations of their rights under local labor and sponsorship laws. To combat late and unpaid wages, the government mandated that employers pay wages electronically to all employees subject to the labor law through a system subject to audits by an inspection division at the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties, but enforcement was inconsistent.

There were continuing indications of forced labor, especially in the construction and domestic-labor sectors, which disproportionately affected migrant workers. Exorbitant recruitment fees incurred abroad entrapped many workers in long-term debt, making them more vulnerable to exploitation. Some foreign workers who voluntarily entered the country to work had their passports and pay withheld and worked under conditions to which they had not agreed. Contract substitution remained a problem according to representatives of the migrant worker community; however, to help eliminate the practice, a government electronic contracting system exists in several third countries where workers are hired. Embassies of labor-sending countries reported this new system helped significantly reduce contract substitution and the number of workers who arrive in Doha without contracts.

The Residency Affairs Prosecution received 1,164 complaints for nonpayment in 2018, of which 1,155 were referred to courts and nine complaints were archived.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 years and stipulates that minors between the ages of 16 and 18 years may work with parental or guardian permission. The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. Minors may not work more than six hours a day or more than 36 hours a week. Employers must provide the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs with the names and occupations of their minor employees and obtain permission from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to hire a minor. The ministry may prohibit the employment of minors in jobs judged dangerous to their health, safety, or morals. The government generally enforced relevant laws effectively, and child labor rarely occurred. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, language, and religion, but not political opinion, national origin, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Local custom, however, outweighed government enforcement of nondiscrimination laws, and legal, cultural, and institutional discrimination existed against women, noncitizens, and foreign workers. By law women are entitled to equal pay for equal work, but this did not always happen in practice, and they often lacked access to decision-making positions in management of private companies and in the public sector. The government prohibited lower-paid male workers from residing in specific “family” residential zones throughout the country. The government discriminated against noncitizens in employment, education, housing, and health services (see section 6).

The law requires reserving 2 percent of jobs in government agencies and public institutions for persons with disabilities, and most government entities appeared to conform to this law. Private-sector businesses employing a minimum of 25 persons are also required to hire persons with disabilities as 2 percent of their staff. Employers who violate these employment provisions are subject to fines of up to 20,000 QAR ($5,500). There were no reports of violations of the hiring quota requirement during the year.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor law provides for a 48-hour workweek with a 24-hour rest period and paid annual leave days. The law requires premium pay for overtime and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Employees who work more than 48 hours per week, or 36 hours per week during the month of Ramadan are entitled to an overtime pay supplement of at least 25 percent. The government sets occupational health and safety standards including restrictions on working during the hottest hours of the day during the summer and general restrictions related to temperature during the rest of the day as well. The labor law and provisions for acceptable conditions of work do not apply to workers in the public sector or agriculture, or to domestic workers.

Responsibility for laws related to acceptable conditions of work fell primarily to the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs as well as to the Ministry of Municipality and Environment and the Ministry of Public Health. The government did not effectively enforce standards in all sectors; working conditions for citizens were generally adequate, because government agencies and the major private-sector companies employing them generally followed the relevant laws. Enforcement problems were in part due to insufficient training and lack of personnel. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The government took limited action to prevent violations and improve working conditions. In March 2018 the worker dispute settlement committees assumed their duties, chaired by first-instance judges appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council and members of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. In 2018 the committees issued final verdicts in 1,339 cases, archived 1,088 cases for no-show of workers, and settled 93 cases amicably.

The Labor Inspection Department conducted monthly and random inspections of foreign worker camps. When inspectors found the camps to be below minimum standards, the operators received a warning, and authorities ordered them to remedy the violations within one month. For example, after inspectors reportedly checked companies’ payrolls and health and safety practices, they returned one month later to ensure any recommended changes were made. If a company had not remedied the violations, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs imposed fines, blacklisted the company, and on occasion referred the matter to the public prosecutor for action. Official statistics showed that the Ministry’s inspectors conducted 43,366 visits to work sites and 2,515 visits to labor accommodations in 2018.

Fear of penalties such as blacklisting appeared to have had some effect as a deterrent to some labor law violations. Blacklisting is an administrative hold on a company or individual that freezes government services such as processing new visa applications from the firms. Firms must pay a 3,000 QAR ($825) fine to be removed from the list–even if the dispute is resolved–and the ministry reserves the right to keep companies on the list after the fine is paid as a punitive measure.

The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs inspectors continued to conduct inspection visits to work and labor housing sites. Officials from the ILO joined labor inspectors on several inspections and assisted in the formation of a new strategic plan for strengthening the Labor Inspections Unit. Violators faced penalties that were insufficient to deter violations. The ministry maintained an office in Doha’s industrial area, where most unskilled foreign workers resided, to receive complaints about worker safety or nonpayment of wages.

Violations of wage, overtime, and safety and health standards were relatively common, especially in sectors employing foreign workers, in which working conditions were often poor. The government did not effectively enforce these laws. Employers must pay their employees electronically to provide a digital audit trail for the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties which were insufficient to deter violations. By law employees have a right to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively provide protection to employees exercising this right. Employers often ignored working-hour restrictions and other laws with respect to domestic workers and unskilled laborers, the majority of whom were foreigners.

Some employers did not pay workers for overtime or annual leave. Employers housed many unskilled foreign laborers in cramped, dirty, and hazardous conditions, often without running water, electricity, or adequate food. The government continued to serve eviction notices to property owners whose buildings were not up to code. Throughout the year international media alleged some abusive working conditions existed, including work-related deaths of young foreign workers, especially in the construction sector.

Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions. Many such workers frequently worked seven days a week and more than 12 hours a day with few or no holidays, no overtime pay, and limited means to redress grievances. Some employers denied domestic workers food or access to a telephone, according to news reports and foreign embassy officials.

International NGOs found that foreign workers faced legal obstacles and lengthy legal processes that prevented them from seeking redress for violations and exploitative conditions. Noncitizen community leaders also highlighted migrant workers’ continued hesitation to report their plight due to fear of reprisals.

Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Republic of the Congo (ROC) is a presidential republic in which the constitution vests most decision-making authority and political power in the president and prime minister. In 2015 the Republic of the Congo adopted a new constitution that extended the maximum number of presidential terms and years to three terms of five years and provided complete immunity to former presidents. In 2016 the Constitutional Court proclaimed the incumbent, Denis Sassou N’Guesso, the winner of the 2016 presidential election, despite opposition and international criticisms of electoral irregularities. The government last held legislative and local elections in 2017, with legislative election irregularities sufficient to restrict the ability of citizens to choose their government. While the country has a multiparty political system, members of the president’s Congolese Labor Party (PCT) and its allies retained 68 percent of legislative seats, and PCT members occupied almost all senior government positions.

National police, gendarmes, and the military have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The national police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of Interior. The gendarmerie reports to the Ministry of Defense and conducts domestic paramilitary and law enforcement activities. The army, navy, and air force, which also report to the Ministry of Defense, secure the country from external threat but also conduct limited domestic security activities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; infringement of citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; restrictions on the ability of citizens to change their government peacefully; corruption by government officials; violence against women and girls to which government negligence significantly contributed; trafficking in persons; and forced child labor, including the worst forms.

The government took limited steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, and official impunity was a problem.

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.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately but feared reprisal. The constitution provides for freedom of expression in all forms of communication and prohibits censorship. The constitution, however, criminalizes speech that incites ethnic hatred, violence, or civil war and makes it punishable by no less than five years in prison. It also criminalizes any act or event that promotes racism or xenophobia.

Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restrictions. Press and media outlets regularly published criticism and satire of the government and senior officials. Most citizens obtained their news from local retransmission of international media and local radio or television stations. There was greater space in electronic media for open discussion of government policy, including critical discussion. International radio broadcasts and satellite television services were available and encouraged discussions of public policy.

Violence and Harassment: There were unconfirmed reports of direct and indirect intimidation of journalists by the government, including telephone calls from official and anonymous persons warning journalists not to use footage of politically sensitive events, and pressure on news outlets not to run certain stories or footage.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets were required to register with the Superior Council for Liberty of Communication (CSLC), an official regulatory body. Media outlets that violated council regulations were subject to financial sanctions or temporary shutdown. The president appoints the director of the council.

Many journalists and editors at larger circulation media outlets practiced self-censorship and promoted the editorial views of media owners. Newspapers published open letters written by government opponents.

There were no reports the government revoked journalists’ accreditations if their reporting reflected adversely on the government’s image. An international NGO reported that the CSLC threatened closure of the general news weekly Manager Horizon due to a series of reports it published about alleged embezzlement of public funds by the National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC). The CSLC summoned Manager Horizon’s editor for questioning on June 24 and August 8 and told him to produce hard evidence of the publication’s claims or refrain from further coverage. The editor received a formal warning notice to comply with the CSLC’s instructions on August 9. As of October 16, the newspaper remained in operation.

Libel/Slander Laws: The press law provides for monetary penalties and suspension of a publication’s permission to print for defamation and incitement to violence.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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. The government sometimes respected these rights.

Foreign Travel: The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. There were reports the government attempted to restrict foreign travel.

According to UN officials, the government did not allow the executive director of a prominent local NGO to leave the country on May 11 to participate in a UN-funded conference in June that included the Congolese minister of justice. The executive director could not provide required proof the NGO did not owe arrears to the Caisse Nationale de Securite Sociale (CNSS) on behalf of its employees before boarding his flight.

By law all citizens are eligible for a national passport. The government, however, lacked the capacity to produce passports in sufficient numbers to meet demand and prioritized providing passports to those individuals who could demonstrate imminent need to travel or who had strong government connections. Obtaining a passport was a time consuming and difficult process for most persons.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. UNHCR conducted training sessions on international protection with representatives from law enforcement, the immigration service, the judiciary, and local police during the year. Authorities arrested 81 refugees between January and August on suspicion of criminal offenses including rape, false documentation, poaching, and breach of public order. Although refugees had equal access to community health centers and hospitals, there were reports of refugees receiving discriminatory treatment at some hospitals, including insults by medical personnel and long waiting times for treatment without regard to priority relative to their medical conditions.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees but not asylum seekers. There are no laws recognizing asylum seekers nor any laws implementing the protections afforded in the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which the government is a signatory. According to UNHCR the country hosted approximately 43,500 refugees, 13,825 asylum seekers, and 11,728 other persons of concern during the year. From January to July, UNHCR facilitated the voluntary repatriation of more than 1,797 CAR refugees from Congo to the CAR.

The National Refugee Assistance Committee (CNAR), a joint committee under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, handled applications for refugee status. The CNAR received most of its operating budget from UNHCR.

According to UNHCR the CNAR eligibility board processed 200 asylum cases between June and July, granting refugee status to none of the cases. As of July 1, CNAR placed 11 cases on hold pending further processing and denied 189.

Beginning in December 2018 the country saw an influx to the districts of Makotipoko and Bouemba of persons fleeing violence in the DRC. UNHCR registered 8,452 refugees and an estimated 10,000 more sought asylum. According to UNHCR, as of August 30, the country hosted 19,831 CAR refugees and asylum seekers.

In 2015 the government stopped granting prima facie status to refugees fleeing from the CAR. During the year UNHCR registered 3,645 CAR asylum seekers. With the support of UNHCR, the CNAR adopted an expedited procedure to process asylum requests. As of August the government registered 1,490 asylum-seeking families from the CAR.

Employment: The law does not address employment for refugees, but various government decrees prohibit foreigners, including refugees, from practicing small trade activities and working in the public transportation sector.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR-funded primary schooling was accessible to most refugees. During the academic year, primary schools enrolled 2,945 refugee children, including 1,419 girls. Authorities severely limited access to secondary and vocational education for refugees. Most secondary education teachers at such schools were refugees who volunteered to teach or received payment from parents of refugee children.

Durable Solutions: As of September the country hosted 12,436 former Rwandan refugees. Former Rwandan refugees may obtain permanent status in Congo if they apply for a Rwandan passport. Many former Rwandan refugees in Congo feared deportation if they received a passport, despite the assurances of local authorities and UNHCR this would not be the case. The government did not deport any former Rwandan refugees as of October.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not apply the anticorruption law evenly, however, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The government prosecuted one low-level official for corruption during the year.

Corruption: Local and international organizations regularly accused government officials, including the president, his family, and senior ministers of corruption. The accusations generally alleged officials divert revenues from their official portfolios into private, overseas accounts before officially declaring the remaining revenues.

In September international media reported the government of San Marino seized 19 million euros from 36 bank accounts belonging to President Sassou Nguesso and members of his family. The funds were seized from deposits made between 2006 and 2011.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution mandates elected and senior appointed officials disclose their financial interests before taking office and upon leaving office. Failure to do so constitutes legal grounds for dismissal from a senior position. The constitution does not require that financial disclosure statements be made public.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups occasionally faced government restrictions during their investigations and when publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were not cooperative with or responsive to international or domestic human rights groups. Some domestic human rights groups did not report on specific incidents due to fear of reprisal by the government.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with the United Nations and other international bodies during the year. For example, the government hosted major international conferences, partnered with resident UN agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance, and consulted regularly with the Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Central Africa, focusing on regional peace, security, and environmental issues.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government-sponsored Human Rights Commission (HRC) is the government human rights watchdog and is responsible for addressing public concerns about human rights problems. The HRC had little effectiveness or independence; it did not undertake any activities directly responding to human rights problems during the year.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The government generally did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government did not provide adequate inspections or remediation. There are no penalties for violations.

The law allows workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, with the exception of members of the security forces and other services “essential for protecting the general interest.” The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference.

Workers have the right to strike, provided they have exhausted all lengthy and complex conciliation and nonbinding arbitration procedures and given seven business days’ notice. Participation in an unlawful strike constitutes serious misconduct and can result in criminal prosecution and forced prison labor. The law requires the continuation of a minimum service in all public services as essential to protect the general interest.

There have been employers who used hiring practices, such as subcontracting and short-term contracts, to circumvent laws prohibiting antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor unless imposed pursuant to a criminal penalty lawfully mandated by a court. The law, however, allows authorities to requisition persons to work in the public interest and permits imprisonment if they refuse. The government practiced forced prison labor, including of prisoners held for political offenses.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred (see section 7.c.), including in agriculture. In previous years NGOs in Bambama, Sibiti, and Dolisie reported the majority Bantu population forced adult indigenous persons to harvest manioc and other crops with limited or no pay and under the threat of physical abuse or death. Some reports suggested some servitude might be hereditary. Beginning in October, the government conducted an awareness campaign with a focus on government officials, NGOs, and members of the indigenous communities to inform key stakeholders about amendments intended to improve the legal regime governing the rights of indigenous persons in the country.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Under the law employers may not hire children under age 16, even as apprentices, without a waiver from the minister of national education. Minimum age protections, however, do not extend to children under the age of 18 who engage in hazardous work, but who do so without an employment contract. The law criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children, as well as forced labor, trafficking, and all forms of slavery. In June the government adopted a comprehensive antitrafficking law making all forms of human trafficking illegal. The law prohibits child soldiering and forced recruitment for child soldiering but does not set a minimum age for voluntary enlistment into the military service.

The law includes specific ranges of penalties for violators of the worst forms of child labor. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The government did not provide adequate staff, and labor inspections were not conducted in some parts of the country, especially in rural areas where child labor was prevalent. Existing penalties for the worst forms of child labor may not be severe enough to serve as deterrents because they are not commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes. Child labor was a problem, particularly in the informal sector. Internal child trafficking brought children from rural areas to urban centers for forced labor in domestic work and market vending. Children also engaged in agricultural work and the catching and smoking of fish. NGOs working with indigenous communities reported children were forced to work in fields for low or no wages harvesting manioc under the threat of physical abuse or death. Children from West Africa worked in forced domestic servitude for West African families in Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville. Children also engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation and forced recruitment for armed conflict.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on family background, ethnicity, social condition, age, political or philosophical beliefs, gender, religion, region of origin within the country, place of residence in the country, language, HIV-positive status, or disability. The law does not specifically protect persons from discrimination based on national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, or having communicable diseases other than HIV.

In July the government adopted six decrees on the Protection and Promotion of Indigenous Peoples. These decrees created an interministerial committee for the monitoring and evaluation of indigenous rights, protection of cultural property, the status of certain civil measures, and promotion of education, literacy, and basic social services. The government enforced these laws. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Workers in the public sector are accorded a national minimum wage, which exceeds the poverty line. The minimum wage for private sector employees exceeds the poverty line. No official minimum wage exists in the agricultural or informal sectors. The government enforced the minimum wage law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The labor law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours and provides for overtime pay for hours worked in excess of the 40-hour limit. Labor law does not limit the maximum number of hours one can work per week, although it does call for a minimum of 24 hours without work per week. The law provides for 10 paid holidays per year and 15 weeks of maternity leave.

The Ministry of Labor sets health and safety regulations that correspond with international standards. While health and safety regulations require biannual Ministry of Labor inspections of businesses, businesses reported the visits occurred much less frequently. The Ministry of Labor employed an insufficient number of inspectors to enforce the law. Inspectors only conducted inspections in the formal sector. The size of the inspectorate was not sufficient to enforce compliance with labor law.

Workers have no specific right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. NGOs reported safety violations commonly occurred in commercial fishing, logging, quarries, and at private construction sites.

Romania

Executive Summary

Romania is a constitutional republic with a democratic, multiparty parliamentary system. The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, both elected by popular vote. Observers considered presidential elections held on November 10 and 24 and parliamentary elections in 2016 to have been generally free and fair and without significant irregularities.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police, the gendarmerie, border police, the General Directorate for Internal Protection (DGPI), and the Directorate General for Anticorruption (DGA). The DGPI has responsibility for intelligence gathering, counterintelligence, and preventing and combatting vulnerabilities and risks that could seriously disrupt public order or target Ministry of Internal Affairs operations. The minister of interior appoints the head of DGPI. The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), the domestic security agency, investigates terrorism and national security threats. The president nominates and the parliament confirms the SRI director. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over SRI and the security agencies that reported to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Significant human rights issues included: police violence against Roma; endemic official corruption; law enforcement authorities condoning violence against women and girls; and abuse against institutionalized persons with disabilities.

The judiciary took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but authorities did not have effective mechanisms to do so and delayed proceedings involving alleged police abuse and corruption, with the result that many of the cases ended in acquittals. Impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses was a continuing problem.

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 partially respected this right. Independent media organizations noted excessive politicization of the media, corrupt financing mechanisms, and editorial policies subordinated to the former elected ruling party and owners’ interests. Reporters said their freedom of expression was also limited by restricted access to information of public interest issued by the previous government and public institutions, including expenses, contracts, or bids involving public funds, and officials’ academic records. Reporters and NGOs often had to sue state-controlled ministries, agencies, or local entities to access public information.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits denying the Holocaust and promoting or using the symbols of fascist, racist, xenophobic, or Legionnaire ideologies, the last being the nationalist, extremist, anti-Semitic interwar movement. Various government bodies, mainly the gendarmerie, continued to fine, place under temporary arrest, ban, or block individuals who protested in the streets against corruption, the government, the early release of inmates, or child abuse and for better health, education, and social services. When fines were challenged, some courts ruled in favor of the protesters. On May 5, in a high-profile case, the Bucharest Court rejected the gendarmerie’s appeal in the case of Ioan Duia, who is deaf and mute and was fined 2,000 lei ($500) by the gendarmerie for shouting slogans against the ruling party.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction, politicians or persons with close ties to politicians and political groups either owned or indirectly controlled numerous media outlets at the national and local levels. The news and editorial stance of these outlets frequently reflected their owners’ views and targeted criticism at political opponents and other media organizations.

Violence and Harassment: Dozens of reporters throughout the country continued to be harassed, sued, or threatened by the authorities they investigated or by their proxies. On March 22, former justice minister Tudorel Toader refused to renew accreditation for private ProTV’s reporter Ovidiu Oanta and Realitatea TV’s Ionela Arcanu, both of whom covered justice issues. Toader invoked a law stating that an accreditation can be refused if the reporter “disturbs the activity of that institution.” The two journalists were known for their tough questions during his news conferences. Following NGO and independent media protests and allegations that the minister might have violated the constitution, Oanta’s accreditations were returned. Arcanu was reaccredited on May 8, after Toader left office.

On April 15, journalist Emilia Șercan, who investigated cases of plagiarism by government officials, reported that she had received death threats. She filed a criminal complaint, and on September 18, DGA prosecutors charged the former rector of the National Police Academy, Adrian Iacob, and the former deputy rector, Mihail-Petrica Marcoci, with instigating blackmail and instructing police officer Gheorghe Adrian Barbulescu to issue death threats against the reporter to stop her investigations. On December 10, Bucharest Court sentenced Barbulescu to one year in prison. Because he collaborated with prosecutors and disclosed the superiors who ordered him to issue the threats, he was not sent to jail. Instead, the court mandated that he would be monitored by the probation service for two years. The ruling in Barbulescu’s case was not final.

On June 11, reporter Diana Oncioiu of the Let There Be Light (Sa Fie Lumina) media project received death threats while she was investigating the sexual abuse of students at Husi Theological Seminary in Vaslui County. An unknown individual told the reporter that her head would be “ripped off” if she continued to document private matters of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Following the reporter’s criminal complaint, police identified the suspect as Dragos T., a former student of the Husi Seminary. In September, however, prosecutors decided not to pursue criminal charges against Dragos T., as the threats “were not premeditated but a spontaneous gesture” and ordered him to perform 50 days of community service. In Dela0.ro, Oncioiu published an investigation into sexual child abuse cases that found courts determined three out of four cases were considered consensual. In November the Superior Council of Magistrates chair Lia Savonea requested the Judicial Inspection to investigate whether another article by Oncioiu published in Dela0.ro affected “judicial independence” and “magistrates’ impartiality.” The Judicial Inspectorate’s investigation against the reporter and the outlet remained pending.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, but the government occasionally restricted freedom of peaceful assembly.

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

In-country Movement: The internal movement of beneficiaries of international protection and stateless persons was generally not restricted. Asylum seekers may be subject to measures limiting their freedom of movement and to detention in specific circumstances. The law and implementing regulations provide that the General Inspectorate for Immigration may designate a specific place of residence for an applicant for asylum while authorities determine his or her eligibility, or may take restrictive measures, subject to approval by the prosecutor’s office, that amount to administrative detention in “specially arranged closed areas.” According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of October no such cases of asylum detention were recorded during the year. Applicants who do not qualify for asylum are treated as aliens without a right to stay in the country and may be taken into custody pending deportation. According to the law, those applying for asylum while in public custody were released from detention if granted access to the ordinary procedure. Detention in public custody centers is subject to regular review and should not exceed six months unless there are specific circumstances, in which case detention may be extended for up to 18 months. Applicants for or beneficiaries of international protection in certain circumstances, particularly those declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, may be subject to administrative detention in public custody centers.

The government may grant “tolerated status” to persons who do not meet the requirements for refugee status or subsidiary protection, but who cannot be returned for various reasons. These reasons include cases where stateless persons are not accepted by their former country of habitual residence or where the lives or well-being of returnees could be at risk. Persons with “tolerated status” have the right to work but not to benefit from any other social protection or inclusion provisions, and the government restricted their freedom of movement to a specific region of the country.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR, several incidents of harassment, discrimination, and crimes against refugees and migrants were reported throughout the year in Bucharest and other parts of the country, although most incidents were not reported because of fear, lack of information, inadequate support services, and inefficient redress mechanisms.

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, which could include irregular migrants potentially in need of international protection.

Refoulement: The law establishes exceptions to the principle of nonrefoulement and the withdrawal of the right to stay following a declaration of a person as “undesirable.” This may occur, for example, when classified information or “well founded indications” suggest that aliens (including applicants for asylum, or persons granted asylum) intend to commit terrorist acts or favor terrorism. Applicants for protection declared “undesirable” on national security grounds were taken into custody pending the finalization of their asylum procedure and then deported.

Access to Asylum: The law provides access to asylum procedures to foreign nationals and stateless persons who express their desire for protection, which may be in the form of refugee status or temporary “subsidiary protection” status. The asylum law prohibits the expulsion, extradition, or forced return of any asylum seeker at the country’s border or from within the country’s territory, but this was not without exception, particularly in cases that fell under the country’s national security and terrorism laws.

The law also refers to the concept of a safe third country. The law extends to irregular migrants who transited and were offered protection in a third country considered safe or who had the opportunity at the border or on the soil of a safe third country to contact authorities for the purpose of obtaining protection. In such cases authorities could deny access to asylum procedures if the designated safe third country agreed to readmit the applicant to its territory and grant access to asylum procedures.

Freedom of Movement: The law incorporates four “restrictive” measures under which the internal movement of applicants for asylum may be limited. The first two establish an obligation to report regularly to the General Inspectorate for Immigration or to reside at a regional reception center. A third restrictive measure allows authorities to place applicants in “specially arranged closed areas” for a maximum of 60 days, either to access the asylum procedure or if the asylum seeker is deemed to pose a danger to national security. There was no case of an asylum applicant being placed in a specially arranged closed area through October. Authorities may also place asylum applicants in administrative detention in a public custody center if they are subject to a transfer to another EU member state under the Dublin Regulations or if they have been declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, pending their removal from the country.

According to UNHCR, irregular migrants, persons declared as “undesirable,” asylum seekers deemed to pose a “risk of absconding,” as well as other categories of foreigners may face detention in public custody centers. Under provisions of the law to limit “abuse to the asylum procedure,” irregular migrants who submitted their first application for international protection while in custody were released from detention only if granted access to the ordinary asylum application procedure. The provisions raised concerns among UN agencies and civil society due to the ambiguity in the phrases “abuse of the asylum procedure” and “risk of absconding.”

The period of detention in a public custody center could be prolonged up to a maximum of 18 months.

Employment: While persons granted international protection have the legal right to work, job scarcity, low wages, lack of language proficiency, and lack of recognized academic degrees and other certifications often resulted in unemployment or employment without a legal contract and its related benefits and protections. Obtaining a legal work contract remained difficult for various reasons, including tax concerns and the reluctance of employers to hire refugees.

Access to Basic Services: Effective access by persons with refugee status or subsidiary protection to education, housing, lifelong learning and employment, public health care, and social security varied across the country, depending on the level of awareness of various public and private actors responsible for ensuring access to these services.

Recipients of subsidiary protection complained of problems regarding their freedom of movement to other countries due to the additional visa requirements. UNHCR reported that refugees saw citizenship acquisition as a cumbersome, costly, and difficult process, with some requirements, particularly related to the applicant’s financial situation, that were difficult to meet.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. Nevertheless, corrupt practices remained widespread despite several high-profile prosecutions. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

According to World Bank indicators and other expert opinion, corruption remained a problem. Bribery was common in the public sector. Laws were not always implemented effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: The DGA continued to investigate and prosecute corruption cases involving political and administrative officials throughout the year. In June the Senate rejected the DGA’s request to open a criminal investigation of Senate President Calin Popescu Tariceanu for bribery, and in September the Senate rejected the DGA’s request to open a criminal investigation of former health minister Florian Bodog for abuse of office. In February the High Court convicted and sentenced former Constanta mayor Radu Mazare and 31 other codefendants to nine years in prison for fraudulent real estate transactions. In May the High Court convicted speaker and party chair Liviu Dragnea to three and one-half years in prison for instigation to abuse of office.

Verdicts in corruption cases were often inconsistent, with sentences varying widely for similar offenses. Enforcement of court procedures lagged mostly due to procedural and administrative problems, especially with respect to asset forfeiture.

A series of emergency ordinances and other legislative amendments to judicial statutes enacted in 2018 created several conflicting provisions and triggered legislative confusion and public protests from a significant number of judges and prosecutors during the year. While the former government repealed some of provisions, it left in place provisions establishing the Section to Investigate Offenses in the Judiciary, an entity that judicial and law-enforcement stakeholders publicly criticized as having the potential to intimidate judges and prosecutors.

Corruption was widespread in public procurement. A 2016 law provides for a comprehensive software mechanism to flag potential conflicts of interest in public procurement, but the law was not implemented. Bribery was common in the public sector, especially in health care. Individual executive agencies were slow in enforcing sanctions, and agencies’ own inspection bodies were generally inactive. Despite the emphasis on prevention in the latest National Anticorruption Strategy, individual agencies and the government did not take significant action in this area.

Financial Disclosure: The law empowers the National Integrity Agency (ANI) to administer and audit financial disclosure statements for all public officials and to monitor conflicts of interest. The law stipulates that the agency may identify “significant discrepancies” between an official’s income and assets, defined as more than 45,000 lei ($11,250), and allows for seizure and forfeiture of unjustified assets. The mechanism for confiscation of “unjustified assets” was cumbersome. Through September 15, ANI identified three cases of “significant discrepancies” totaling 3.3 million lei ($825,000). Through September 15, ANI identified 97 cases of incompatibilities, 26 cases of conflicts of interest, and eight cases with strong indications of criminal or corruption offenses. During the year ANI reviewed 14,000 public procurement procedures and issued 25 integrity warnings.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally met with human rights NGOs and were cooperative and sometimes responsive to their views.

There were some reports that government officials were reluctant to cooperate with NGOs that focused on institutionalized persons with disabilities or to accept NGO criticism of institutions for persons with disabilities. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor and Social Justice ceased to allow representatives of the Center for Legal Resources (CLR) to visit institutions for persons with disabilities, stating that the ministry’s agreement with the CLR would not be renewed. In March the National Center for Mental Health and Antidrug Fight, a governmental agency subordinated to the Ministry of Health, revoked a recently issued authorization allowing the CLR to visit institutions for persons with disabilities. The CLR is an NGO that reports on alleged abuse of institutionalized persons with disabilities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsperson has limited power and no authority to protect citizens’ constitutional rights in cases requiring judicial action. The Office of the Ombudsperson is the only institution that may challenge emergency ordinances in the Constitutional Court and did so for several controversial ordinances. The ombudsperson is the national preventive mechanism implementing the optional protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. This gives the ombudsperson the power to conduct monitoring visits to places where individuals are deprived of their liberty, including prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and asylum centers. As of September the ombudsperson issued 77 recommendations to penitentiaries, schools, law enforcement agencies, and other governmental institutions.

In 2017 the government established the Office of the Children’s Ombudsperson empowered to examine human rights complaints made by children or their legal representatives. In 2016 parliament established the Council for Monitoring the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The council was authorized to make unannounced visits in centers and hospitals for persons with disabilities to check if the rights of these persons were respected, issue recommendations, and submit criminal complaints. As of September the council had issued 37 reports during the year with recommendations based on visits to residential centers for persons with disabilities. Observers reported the council’s recommendations and reports were inaccurate and noted that conditions had not improved. Human rights activists and media regarded the institution as ineffective and believed that the inspectors who drafted the reports lacked the necessary human rights expertise.

Each chamber of parliament has a human rights committee tasked with drafting reports on bills pertaining to human rights. On several occasions members of these committees expressed the views of their political parties rather than addressing problems impartially.

The National Council for Combating Discrimination (CNCD) is the government agency responsible for applying domestic and EU antidiscrimination laws. The CNCD reports to parliament. The CNCD operated with the government’s cooperation and, for the most part, without government or party interference. According to the CNCD, the institution did not receive adequate resources. Observers generally regarded the CNCD as effective, but some criticized it for a lack of efficiency and political independence.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent labor unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Unions can affiliate with regional, national, or EU union federations, but they may affiliate with only one national organization. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows workers fired for union activity to challenge in court for reinstatement. The law provides for protection of freedom of association and collective bargaining, but unions complained there was little enforcement to protect against violations of these rights.

Civil servants generally have the right to establish and join unions. Employees of the Ministry of National Defense, certain categories of civilian employees of the Ministries of Interior and Justice, judges, prosecutors, intelligence personnel, and senior public servants, including the president, parliamentarians, mayors, prime minister, ministers, employees involved in security-related activities, and president of the Supreme Court, however, do not have the right to unionize. Unions complained about the requirement that they submit lists of union members with their registration application. Since employers also had access to the list, union officials feared this could lead to reprisals against individual unionized employees, particularly dismissals, hindering the formation of new unions.

The law requires employers with more than 21 employees to negotiate a collective labor agreement but provides no basis for national collective labor agreements. Employers refusing to initiate negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement can receive fines. The law permits, but does not impose, collective labor agreements for groups of employers or sectors of activity. The law requires employers to consult with unions on such topics as imposing leave without pay or reducing the workweek due to economic reasons.

Unions may strike only if they give employers 48 hours’ notice, and employers can challenge the right in court, effectively suspending a strike for months. Military personnel and certain categories of staff within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, such as medical personnel, are not permitted to strike. Although not compulsory, unions and employers can seek arbitration and mediation from the Labor Ministry’s Office for Mediation and Arbitration. In one case unions criticized the ministry for failing to intervene effectively during a six-week strike at a household appliances production plant in Satu Mare in northwestern Romania. Workers were demanding a two-lei ($0.50) per hour increase in wages; unions claimed that the employer made little effort to engage constructively with employees.

Companies may claim damages from strike organizers if a court deems a strike illegal. The law permits strikes only in defense of workers’ economic, social, and professional interests and not for the modification or change of a law. As a result, workers may not challenge any condition of work established by law, such as salaries for public servants, limiting the effectiveness of unions in the public sector.

Unions complained that the legal requirement for representativeness, which states that the right to collective bargaining and to strike can be asserted only by a union that represents 50 percent plus one of the workers in an enterprise, is overly burdensome and limits the rights of workers to participate in collective bargaining and to strike. In the absence of this clear majority, an employer can appoint a worker representative of its choosing to negotiate the agreement. Some companies created separate legal entities to which they transferred employees, thereby preventing them from reaching the threshold for representation.

Unions complained that the government’s general prohibition on union engagement in political activities was intended to prohibit unions from entering unofficial agreements to support political parties. The law provides for this control due to past abuses by union officials. Authorities could exercise excessive control over union finances, although the government asserted that national fiscal laws apply to all organizations. The International Labor Organization’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations identified fiscal laws as an area of concern.

Official reports of incidents of antiunion discrimination remained minimal, as it was difficult to prove legally that employers laid off employees in retaliation for union activities. The CNCD fines employers for antiunion discrimination, although it lacks the power to order reinstatement or other penalties. In 2018 the CNCD issued fines in 19 cases involving access to employment and profession, which includes antiunion discrimination and collective bargaining agreement infringement. The law prohibits public authorities, employers, or organizations from interfering, limiting, or preventing unions from organizing, developing internal regulations, and selecting representatives. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations, and employees must usually seek a court order to obtain reinstatement.

The government and employers generally respected the right of association and collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Nevertheless, there were reports such practices continued to occur, often involving Roma, persons with disabilities, and children. The government did not effectively enforce the law and took limited measures to prevent forced or compulsory labor. The law criminalizes forced labor, but penalties have been insufficient to deter violations.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 100 of the 497 victims of trafficking officially identified in 2018 were exploited specifically for labor purposes. Of these, 42 were trafficked for agricultural work and 26 victims were forced into begging.

Men, women, and children were subjected to labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, domestic service, hotels, and manufacturing. Organized rings, often involving family members, forced persons, including significant numbers of Romani women and children, to engage in begging and petty theft (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for most forms of employment is 16. Children may work with the consent of parents or guardians at age 15 if the activities do not endanger their health, morality, or safety. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions, includes a list of dangerous jobs, and specifies penalties for offenders. Some examples of hazardous jobs for children include those posing a high risk of accident or damage to health, exposure to psychological or sexual risk, night shifts, exposure to harmful temperatures, and those requiring use of hazardous equipment. Parents whose children carry out hazardous activities are required to attend parental education programs or counseling and may be fined if they fail to do so.

Minors who work have the right to continue their education, and the law obliges employers to assist in this regard. Minors between the ages of 15 and 18 may work a maximum of six hours per day and no more than 30 hours per week, provided their school attendance is not affected. Businesses that impose tasks incommensurate with minors’ physical abilities or fail to respect restrictions on minors’ working hours can face fines. Many minors reportedly did not attend school while working. Minors have the right to an additional three days of annual leave.

The law requires schools to notify social services immediately if children miss class to work, but schools often did not comply. Social welfare services have the responsibility to reintegrate such children into the educational system.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection may impose fines and close businesses where it finds exploitation of child labor. The National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and Adoption (ANPFDC) in the Labor Ministry has responsibility for investigating reports of child labor abuse, but enforcement of child labor laws tended to be lax, especially in rural areas with many agricultural households and where social welfare services lacked personnel and capacity to address child labor violations. The ANPFDC is responsible for monitoring and coordinating all programs for the prevention and elimination of child labor.

The government did not effectively enforce laws, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Government efforts focused on reacting to reported cases, and the ANPFDC dedicated limited resources to prevention programs. According to the ANPFDC, 260 children were subject to child labor in 2018. The incidence of child labor was widely believed to be much higher than official statistics reflected. Child labor, including begging, selling trinkets on the street, and washing windshields, remained widespread in Romani communities, especially in urban areas. Children as young as five engaged in such activities, and cases were usually documented only when police became involved. Children whose parents work abroad remain vulnerable to neglect and abuse. In 2018 a total of 92,027 children had at least one parent working abroad. In nearly a fifth of these cases, both parents were abroad. Of the 260 documented cases of child labor in 2018, authorities prosecuted only one alleged perpetrator, while an additional 135 cases remained under investigation at the end of 2018.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation because of race, sex, gender, age, religion, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive or other communicable disease status, social status, or refugee or stateless status. The government did not enforce these laws effectively, reacting to claims of discrimination rather than adequately engaging in programs to prevent discrimination. Although the CNCD and the Labor Inspectorate investigated reported cases of discrimination, penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, and HIV status. Discrimination against Roma and migrant workers also occurred. With respect to employment discrimination, the CNCD processed 365 cases in 2018 and 278 in the first half of the year. The CNCD addressed cases in both the public and private sectors.

According to Eurostat, the pay gap between men and women in the country was 3.5 percent in 2017. While the law provides female employees re-entering the workforce after maternity leave the right to return to their previous or a similar job, pregnant women and other women of childbearing age could still suffer unacknowledged discrimination in the labor market.

Although systematic discrimination against persons with disabilities did not exist, the public had a bias against persons with disabilities. NGOs worked actively to change attitudes and assist persons with disabilities to gain skills and employment, but the government lacked adequate programs to prevent discrimination. The law requires companies or institutions with more than 50 employees to employ workers with disabilities for at least 4 percent of their workforce or pay a fine for lack of compliance. Before the ordinance was adopted, the law allowed companies not in compliance with the quota to fulfill their legal obligation by buying products from NGOs or firms, known as “sheltered units,” where large numbers of persons with disabilities were employed. NGOs reported that sheltered units lost an important source of income as a result. Local labor offices had limited success in facilitating employment for persons with disabilities, finding employment for 402 individuals in 2018 and 85 during the first quarter of the year.

NGOs reported that patients suffering from cancer and tuberculosis faced unacknowledged discrimination in the workplace. Almost one-third of employees with cancer reported they postponed informing their employer of their illness; after treatment, 17 percent reported a substantial reduction in job duties and responsibilities upon returning to work. The law supports tuberculosis patients by providing monthly food allowances, medical leave, and psychological support but does not contain measures to protect patients from workplace discrimination.

As authorities allow greater numbers of non-EU citizens to live and work in the country, reports of discrimination against migrant workers have become more prevalent. In Arad local workers went on strike in solidarity with their colleagues from India after a rail car manufacturer deducted the transportation costs from India to Romania as a lump sum from monthly wages without prior notice to the employees. After media reported that a major construction company in Bucharest housed many Vietnamese workers in unsuitable conditions, the company canceled their labor contracts, claiming the workers made public statements against company regulations and damaged its public image. The Health Inspectorate subsequently fined the company 45,000 lei ($11,000) for providing housing to non-EU workers that failed to meet sanitary conditions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage that is greater than the official estimate for the poverty income level. The minimum wage has nearly tripled in nominal terms since 2012. In addition a government decision issued in December 2018 introduced a differentiated minimum wage, decreeing that employees with a university degree and at least one year on the job must receive at least 13 percent more than other minimum wage workers earn. The government also introduced a significantly higher minimum wage for construction workers. Up to 60 percent of employees earn the minimum wage according to the Labor Ministry. Authorities enforced wage laws adequately, although a significant informal economy existed. According to Eurostat data, in 2018 nearly a third of the population (32.5 percent) was at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Despite minimum wage increases, nearly one in seven employed Romanians was at risk of poverty.

The law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours or five days. Workers are entitled to overtime pay for weekend or holiday work or work of more than 40 hours. An employee’s workweek may not exceed 48 hours per week on average over a four-month reference period, although exceptions are allowed for certain sectors or professions. The law requires a 48-hour rest period in the workweek, although most workers received two days off per week. During reductions in workplace activity for economic or technical reasons, the law allows employers to shorten an employee’s workweek and reduce the associated salary. Excessive overtime may lead to fines for employers if workers file a complaint, but complaints were rare. The law prohibits compulsory overtime.

The law gives employers wide discretion regarding the performance-based evaluation of employees. The law permits 90-day probationary periods for new employees and simplifies termination procedures during this period.

The law provides for temporary and seasonal work and sets penalties for work performed without a labor contract in either the formal or the informal economy. In accordance with EU regulations, the maximum duration of a temporary contract is 36 months.

The Labor Ministry, through the Labor Inspectorate, is responsible for enforcing the law on working conditions, health and safety, and minimum wage rates, but it does not effectively enforce all aspects consistently. The inspectorate was understaffed and inspectors underpaid; consequently, the inspectorate had high turnover and limited capacity. Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were not effectively enforced in all sectors. The construction, agriculture, and small manufacturers sectors were particularly problematic sectors for both labor underreporting and neglecting health and safety standards. The Labor Inspectorate increased inspections in 2018, identifying 14,568 undeclared workers and fining employers 119.2 million lei ($29.8 million). Through June the Labor Inspectorate identified 5,004 undeclared workers and fined employers 50.5 million lei ($12.6 million).

According to trade union reports, many employers paid supplemental salaries under the table to reduce both tax burdens for employees and employers alike. To address underreported labor, in 2017 the government increased the minimum required payroll taxes that employers must pay for their part-time employees to equal those of a full-time employee earning minimum wage. In addition the Labor Inspectorate collaborated with the National Authority for Fiscal Administration to conduct joint operations to check employers in sectors prone to underreported labor, including the textile, construction, security, cleaning, food preparation, transportation, and storage industries. These investigations often focused on underpayment of taxes rather than workers’ rights.

The government did not effectively enforce overtime standards. Union leaders complained that overtime violations were the main problem facing their members, since employers often required employees to work longer than the legal maximum without always receiving mandatory overtime compensation. This practice was especially prevalent in the textile, banking and finance, and construction sectors.

Russia

Executive Summary

The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin. The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and an appointed upper house (Federation Council), both of which lack independence from the executive. The 2016 State Duma elections and the 2018 presidential election were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process, including the exclusion of meaningful opposition candidates.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Investigative Committee, the Office of the Prosecutor General, and the National Guard are responsible for law enforcement. The FSB is responsible for state security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism as well as for fighting organized crime and corruption. The national police force, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for combating all crime. The National Guard assists the FSB Border Guard Service in securing borders, administers gun control, combats terrorism and organized crime, protects public order, and guards important state facilities. The National Guard also participates in armed defense of the country’s territory in coordination with Ministry of Defense forces. Except in rare cases, security forces generally reported to civilian authorities. National-level civilian authorities, however, had, at best, limited control over security forces in the Republic of Chechnya, which were accountable only to the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

The country’s occupation and purported annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation there significantly and negatively. The Russian government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine. Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as numerous abuses, to Russia-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine). Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured.

Significant human rights issues included: extrajudicial killings, including of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in Chechnya by local government authorities; enforced disappearances; pervasive torture by government law enforcement personnel that sometimes resulted in death and occasionally involved sexual violence or punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; severe arbitrary interference with privacy; severe suppression of freedom of expression and media, including the use of “antiextremism” and other laws to prosecute peaceful dissent; violence against journalists; blocking and filtering of internet content and banning of online anonymity; severe suppression of the right of peaceful assembly; severe suppression of freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organizations”; severe restrictions of religious freedom; refoulement of refugees; severe limits on participation in the political process, including restrictions on opposition candidates’ ability to seek public office and conduct political campaigns, and on the ability of civil society to monitor election processes; widespread corruption at all levels and in all branches of government; coerced abortion and sterilization; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence against persons with disabilities, LGBTI persons, and members of ethnic minorities.

The government failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government increasingly restricted this right. During the year the government instituted several new laws restricting both freedom of expression and of the press, particularly in regards to online expression. Regional and local authorities used procedural violations and restrictive or vague legislation to detain, harass, or prosecute persons who criticized the government or institutions it favored, such as the Russian Orthodox Church. The government exercised editorial control over media, creating a media landscape in which most citizens were exposed to predominantly government-approved narratives. Significant government pressure on independent media constrained coverage of numerous topics, especially of Ukraine and Syria, LGBTI persons, the environment, elections, criticism of local or federal leadership, as well as secessionism or federalism. Censorship and self-censorship in television and print media and on the internet was widespread, particularly regarding points of view critical of the government or its policies. The government used direct ownership or ownership by large private companies with government links to control or influence major national media and regional media outlets, especially television.

Freedom of Expression: Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism as a tool to stifle dissent. As of December the Ministry of Justice had expanded its list of extremist materials to include 5,003 books, videos, websites, social media pages, musical compositions, and other items, an increase of more than 450 items from 2018. According to the prosecutor general, authorities prosecuted 1,200 extremism cases in 2018, the majority of which included charges of “extremism” levied against individuals for exercising free speech on social media and elsewhere.

At the same time, in December 2018, President Putin signed legislation that partially decriminalized the expression of “extremist” views, stipulating that speech that “incited hatred or enmity” or denigrated a person or group be treated as an administrative misdemeanor, not a crime, for a first-time offense. Several persons were previously charged with extremism under criminal law for comments and images posted in online forums or social networks. Following the amendment to the antiextremist legislation, however, courts dropped charges against some of the defendants. On January 15, for example, authorities dropped charges against Eduard Nikitin, a doctor in the Khabarovsk region who faced up to five years in prison on extremism charges. He was accused of “liking” an image condemning the country’s aggression in eastern Ukraine posted on the Odnoklassniki social network in 2015.

Although the amendment was expected to have a retroactive effect, not all individuals imprisoned on extremism charges saw charges dropped or sentences commuted. For example, on August 28, a court in the Belgorod region denied a request for parole from 23-year-old doctoral student Aleksandr Kruze. In February 2018, a court in Stariy Oskol sentenced him to 2.5 years in prison for extremism for reposting four nationalist images on social media in 2016. Kruze had been writing a dissertation on radicalization and maintained that the posts had been a part of a research experiment in online discourse around radicalism.

By law authorities may close any organization that a court determines to be extremist, including media outlets and websites. Roskomnadzor, the country’s media oversight agency, routinely issued warnings to newspapers and internet outlets it suspected of publishing extremist materials. Three warnings in one year sufficed to initiate a closure lawsuit.

During the year authorities invoked a 2013 law prohibiting the “propaganda” of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors to punish the exercise of free speech by LGBTI persons and their supporters. For example, on October 28, the Moscow branch of the Ministry of Internal Affairs opened an administrative case for suspected “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” against the producers and participants of a YouTube video in which children interviewed a gay man, Maksim Pankratov, about his life. The video contained no discussion of sex, but included questions on Pankratov’s sexual orientation, how he would like other individuals to treat him, and his vision for his life in the future. On November 2, the Moscow Region Investigative Committee launched a criminal investigation into the video’s producers and participants on suspicion of “violent sexual assault of a minor” younger than age 14, a crime punishable by 12 to 20 years in prison. According to press reports, the parents of the children in the video have experienced pressure from authorities to testify against the video’s producers and received visits from child protective services, which they interpreted as a threat to terminate their parental rights. Pankratov reported receiving threats of physical violence from unknown persons following the opening of the criminal case. As of December Pankratov was in hiding in an undisclosed location in Russia, while the video’s producer, popular online celebrity Victoria Pich, had fled the country.

During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech allegedly violating a law that prohibits “offending the feelings of religious believers.” For example, on September 30, a court in Irkutsk sentenced Dmitriy Litvin to 100 hours of community service for social media postings in 2015 of caricatures that allegedly offended the feelings of Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and shamanists.

During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech that allegedly violated the law prohibiting the “rehabilitation of Nazism.” For example, on April 5, the Investigative Committee for the Chuvash Republic opened a criminal case against opposition blogger Konstantin Ishutov for material he had posted on social media in 2010 criticizing authorities’ poor maintenance of local cemeteries and contrasting it with the maintenance of cemeteries in Germany. Investigators claimed this material attempted to justify the actions of Nazis during World War II and diminish the significance of the Soviet victory. Ishutov was charged under the same statute in 2018 for posting a photo of a Nazi leaflet with the phrase, “When the Third Reich treats the Soviet people better than Putin treats the Russian people.” As he awaited trial, a court prohibited Ishutov from using the internet, traveling, or leaving his home after 10 p.m. On November 8, the Supreme Court of the Chuvash Republic started reviewing Ishutov’s case. On December 18, the Chuvash Supreme Court found Ishutov guilty of “rehabilitating Nazism” and other charges. He faces up to seven years in prison.

The law bans the display of Nazi symbols and the symbols of groups placed on the government’s list of “extremist” organizations. There was no official register or list of banned symbols. On July 30, a district court in St. Petersburg sentenced Fyodor Belov to five days’ administrative arrest for publicly displaying a tattoo of a swastika.

On March 18, a new law entered into force that stipulated fines of up to 100,000 rubles ($1,570) for showing “disrespect” online for the state, authorities, the public, flag, or constitution. According to the Agora International Human Rights Group, in the first six months after the law’s entry into force, authorities opened 45 cases, 26 of which dealt with insults against President Putin. For example, on April 22, a court in the Novgorod region fined unemployed machinist Yuriy Kartyzhev 30,000 rubles ($471) for posting insulting comments about President Putin on social media.

On March 18, a new law, commonly characterized as a ban on “creating and spreading fake news,” also came into force. It prohibits “incorrect socially meaningful information, distributed under the guise of correct information, which creates the threat of damage to the lives and/or health of citizens or property, the threat of mass disruption of public order and/or public security, or the threat of the creation of an impediment to the functioning of life support facilities, transport infrastructure, banking, energy, industry, or communications.” The fine for violating the law is up to 100,000 rubles ($1,570) for individuals, up to 200,000 rubles ($3,140) for officials, and up to 500,000 rubles ($7,850) for legal entities. In the event of repeated violations or violations with grave consequences, fines may go up to 1.5 million rubles ($23,600).

The law on “fake news” was applied multiple times during the year. For example, on July 29, a court in Nazran, Ingushetia, fined Murad Daskiyev, the head of the Council of Clans of the Ingush People, 15,000 rubles ($236). According to the court, Daskiyev knowingly distributed false information indicating that the head of the Republic of Ingushetia was preparing to sign a border agreement with the neighboring Republic of North Ossetia. Daskiyev maintained that the information he published was true. According to free expression watchdogs, authorities were motivated by a desire to suppress this information, following a large protest movement that emerged in Ingushetia in late 2018 after it signed a border agreement ceding land to the Republic of Chechnya.

During the year authorities enforced a law banning the “propaganda of narcotics” to prosecute or threaten to block independent outlets. For example, on August 19, Roskomnadzor threatened to block access to independent media outlet Meduza unless it deleted an August 8 article debunking myths about drug use, which Roskomnadzor claimed promoted drug use. Meduza restricted access to the article for its users in the country.

During the year authorities enforced a law banning the “propaganda of suicide” to prosecute or threaten to block independent media outlets. In August, Roskomnadzor issued three letters threatening to block access to the independent outlet Batenka, da vy Transformer unless it deleted several articles about the problem of suicide in the country. According to Roskomnadzor, the articles, which discussed the prevalence of and motivations behind suicide, promoted suicide. The outlet complied with the demands.

During the year authorities used a law banning cooperation with “undesirable foreign organizations” to restrict free expression. For example, on June 27, a court in the city of Saransk fined Idris Yusupov 6,000 rubles ($94) for organizing a screening of a film about Anastasiya Shevchenko, an activist under criminal prosecution for purported “cooperation” with the Open Russia movement, which had been declared an “undesirable foreign organization.” The court considered the film screening to be evidence of Yusupov’s own “cooperation” with Open Russia.

Government-controlled media frequently used derogatory terms such as “traitor,” “foreign agent,” and “fifth column” to describe individuals expressing views critical of or different from government policy, leading to a societal climate intolerant of dissent.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government continued to restrict press and media freedom. More than 80 percent of country’s mass media was funded by the government or progovernment actors. Government-friendly oligarchs owned most other outlets, which were permitted to determine what they publish within formal or informal boundaries set by the government. In the regions each governor also controlled regional media through funding, either directly or through affiliated structures. The federal government or progovernment individuals completely or partially owned all so-called federal television channels, the only stations with nationwide reach. The 29 most-watched stations together commanded 86 percent of television viewership; all were owned at least in part by the federal or local governments or by progovernment individuals. Government-owned media outlets often received preferential benefits, such as rent-free occupancy of government-owned buildings, and a preferential tax rate. On a regional level, state-owned and progovernment television channels received subsidies from the Ministry of Finance for broadcasting in cities with a population of less than 100,000 and on the creation and production of content. At many government-owned or -controlled outlets, the state increasingly dictated editorial policy. While the law restricts foreign ownership of media outlets to no more than 20 percent, another provision of the ambiguously worded law apparently bans foreign ownership entirely. The government used these provisions to consolidate ownership of independent outlets under progovernment oligarchs and to exert pressure on outlets that retained foreign backers. In its annual report on freedom of the press, Freedom House rated the country “not free.”

By law the Ministry of Justice is required to maintain a list of media outlets that are designated “foreign agents.” As of December there were 10 outlets listed. The decision to designate media outlets as foreign agents may be made outside of court by other government bodies, including law enforcement agencies.

On December 2, President Putin signed a law allowing authorities to label individuals (both Russian and foreign citizens) as “foreign agents” if they disseminate foreign media to an unspecified number of persons and receive funding from abroad. Human rights defenders expressed concern that this situation would further restrict the activities of or selectively punish journalists, bloggers, and social media users. Individuals labeled a “foreign agent” are required to register with the Ministry of Justice, and those living abroad also must create and register a legal entity inside the country in order to publish materials inside the country. All information published by the “foreign agent” individual would also have to be marked as having been produced by a “foreign agent.” Fines for noncompliance with the new law range from 10,000 ($157) and five million rubles ($78,500).

On August 19, the State Duma created a commission to investigate alleged foreign interference into Russian domestic affairs. On September 27, the commission determined that German media outlet Deutsche Welle violated the law by reporting on unauthorized protests in Moscow and allegedly calling on individuals to take part in them. The commission urged the government to revoke Deutsche Welle’s license to operate in Russia, although as of December it continued to operate in the country. The commission also accused other foreign media outlets, such as Radio Liberty, BBC, Voice of America, and others, of violations during the “day of silence” that preceded the Moscow City Duma elections on September 8.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to be subjected to arrest, imprisonment, physical attack, harassment, and intimidation as a result of their reporting. According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation, as of December incidents of violence and harassment against journalists included three killings, 62 attacks, 169 detentions by law enforcement officers, 28 prosecutions, 30 threats, 14 politically motivated firings, and two attacks on media offices. Journalists and bloggers who uncovered government malfeasance or who criticized the government often faced harassment, either in the form of direct threats to their physical safety or threats to their security or livelihood, frequently through legal prosecution.

There were reports of attacks on journalists by government officials and police. According to press reports, on May 5, Sergey Zaytsev, head of the Shirinskiy region of the Republic of Khakasia, shoved and body-slammed Ivan Litoman, a journalist from the state Rossiya-24 television channel. Litoman was interviewing Zaitsev and had asked him about allegedly poor-quality housing provided to persons left homeless by the 2015 wildfires. On May 27, the local Investigative Committee announced it had opened an investigation into the incident.

There were reports of police briefly detaining journalists in order to interfere with or punish them for their reporting. For example, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, during protests in Moscow on July 27 and August 3, police threatened journalists, obstructed their work, damaged their equipment, and forcefully detained them. According to freedom of assembly monitor OVD-Info, 14 journalists were detained in Moscow on August 3 alone. The Committee to Protect Journalists called these detentions, “a clear attempt to intimidate journalists and censor coverage.”

There were reports of police framing journalists for serious crimes, such as drug possession, in order to interfere with or punish them for their reporting. In one such incident, on June 7, Moscow police detained investigative journalist Ivan Golunov and charged him with possessing and attempting to sell illegal drugs after purportedly finding amphetamines in his backpack. Following his arrest, officers reportedly beat Golunov and denied him access to his lawyer for 14 hours. Police also purportedly found drugs in Golunov’s apartment, which they searched following his arrest. Police posted nine photos of the alleged narcotics, but then took all but one of the photos down after evidence emerged indicating that the photos were taken in places other than Golunov’s apartment. Golunov and human rights advocates maintained that the drugs were planted on him in an attempt to imprison him in retaliation for his coverage of corruption, particularly in the funeral business. Following significant public outcry, police on July 11 dropped charges, released Golunov, and announced an investigation into the fabrication of charges against him. On December 19, during his annual year-end press conference, President Putin announced that five police officers who arrested Golunov were being investigated on felony charges. According to Meduza, the outlet for which Golunov worked, the investigation began on December 18.

There were reports of journalists being fired for their political views or unfavorable reporting about powerful political figures. For example, according to Reporters without Borders (RSF), on May 20, the leadership of the Moscow business daily Kommersant fired journalists Maxim Ivanov and Ivan Safronov for writing an article predicting that the influential speaker of the Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko, would soon be replaced. Eleven other journalists at the newspaper resigned in protest, and more than 200 others issued a joint statement warning that its readers would as of then be denied unbiased coverage. The newspaper denied that its owner, progovernment oligarch Alisher Usmanov, played a role in the decision, but sources that spoke to RSF and other media outlets indicated that Usmanov had made the decision. Human Rights Watch called the firing “the latest episode in the gutting” of the country’s independent media.

There were reports of police raids on the offices of independent media outlets that observers believed were designed to punish or pressure the outlets. For example, on April 18, police raided the St. Petersburg office of the independent news website Rosbalt and seized several computers. According to the newspaper’s lawyer, the search was purportedly in connection with a libel allegation made by Usmanov, although the lawyer maintained that Rosbalt had not published anything about Usmanov. The newspaper’s editor noted that the computers seized were the ones used in a continuing investigation into a crime boss named Young Shakro. Police also searched the home of Rosbalt reporter Aleksandr Shvarev the same day.

There were reports of authorities using “tax inspections” that observers believed were intended to punish or pressure independent outlets. For example, on August 1, the editor of the independent media outlet Dozhd announced that it had received a notice of an unscheduled tax inspection, which she feared may have been in retaliation for the outlet’s extensive coverage of election-related protests in Moscow on July 27.

There were reports of attacks on journalists by unknown persons. On August 9, an unknown assailant in St. Petersburg attacked photojournalist Georgiy Markov, who specialized in photographing opposition protests. The assailant sprayed him with pepper spray and hit him on his head and chest. Law enforcement officials had detained Markov several times while he was photographing opposition protests, beating him at one in May.

There were reports of unidentified individuals or groups of individuals attacking the offices of independent media outlets. For example, on April 1, unknown persons ransacked the office of the newspaper Kommersant in Yekaterinburg, smashed the computers of the chief editor and accountant, took several hard drives, and left a message containing a death threat on the desk of the director of the newspaper. The journalists believed the attack was related to a book published with the participation of the newspaper’s staff about local criminal groups.

Journalists reported threats in connection with their reporting. For example, in late February a relative of Anatoliy Popov, the head of the Dobrovskiy region administration in Lipetsk oblast, threatened local journalist Dmitriy Pashinov over his critical reporting about Popov. On May 11, Pashinov was arrested and charged with “insulting a representative of the state” for allegedly cursing at a regional prosecutor in 2017, remarks Pashinov denied making.

There was no progress during the year in establishing accountability in a number of high-profile killings of journalists, including the 2004 killing of Paul Klebnikov, the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskaya, and the 2009 killing of Natalia Estemirova.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored media, much of which occurred online (also see section 2.a., Internet Freedom, and Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).

There were multiple reports that the government retaliated against those who produced or published content it disliked. For example, on September 24, Izvestiya published online but subsequently removed an article by military reporter Ilya Kramnik critical of Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu. Within two days the newspaper removed Kramnik from its editorial staff and informed him that his contract would not be renewed. The country’s charge d’affaires in Great Britain accused the Ministry of Defense press service of pressuring Izvestiya to fire Kramnik.

There were reports that the government placed restrictions on printing presses to prevent them from printing materials for the political opposition. For example, on August 7, press reports indicated that police in St. Petersburg had distributed notices to local printing presses, informing them that it is unacceptable to fulfill orders for materials that discredit the government or political figures, that offend a person’s honor and dignity, or that promote unsanctioned demonstrations during the pre-electoral period. The printing presses were instructed to turn over orders for any such materials to police.

On January 28, after allegedly receiving information that the business was about to print “extremist” material, police arrived at the St. Petersburg printing house where activist Mikhail Borisov worked. It later became known that Borisov had been preparing to print posters criticizing acting governor Aleksandr Beglov. Police seized four computers but did not detain Borisov since he had not yet printed the posters. The printing house later fired him from his job.

Self-censorship in independent media was also reportedly widespread. For example, on January 21, the Yaroslavl affiliate of the radio station Ekho Moskvy canceled a planned interview with LGBTI activists after receiving threats, including from local officials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Officials at all levels used their authority to restrict the work of and to retaliate against journalists and bloggers who criticized them, including taking legal action for alleged slander or libel, which are criminal offenses. For example, on March 23, the press reported that the head of the federal space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, had filed a libel complaint against two websites with the Prosecutor General’s Office, which referred the matter to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The ministry opened a criminal libel investigation into the two websites, RusPress and Kompromat-Ural, which had alleged in late 2018 that Rogozin had used money from the Roscosmos budget to pay for public relations campaigns to burnish his personal reputation and had bribed the heads of media outlets to remove unfavorable coverage of him.

National Security: Authorities cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of government policies or officials.

There were reports that authorities charged journalists with terrorism offenses in retaliation for their reporting. For example, on June 14, security services in Dagestan arrested Abdulmumin Gadzhiev, a journalist and head of the religious affairs section of the independent newspaper Chernovik, at his home. Chernovik had long reported threats, politically motivated prosecutions, and other pressure for its work uncovering corruption and wrongdoing by local officials. In 2012 the newspaper’s editor in chief fled the country after receiving death threats, and its founder was shot 14 times outside the newspaper’s office in 2011, a crime that remained unsolved. Authorities charged Gadzhiev and 10 codefendants with “taking part in the activities of a terrorist organization” and “organizing the financing of a terrorist organization” for purportedly diverting charitable donations to support the Islamic State in Syria. The charges carry up to a 20-year prison term. Human rights defenders emphasized that the charges were entirely based on a confession by a suspect who subsequently maintained that it was false and coerced, that Gadzhiev had written critically of the Islamic State, and that there were other contradictions in the state’s case, and they maintained that the case against him was fabricated. As of December Gadzhiev remained in detention awaiting trial after a court in Makhachkala extended his pretrial detention through January 13, 2020. Memorial declared him to be a political prisoner.

There were reports that critics of the government’s counterterrorism policies were themselves charged with “justifying terrorism.” On September 20, authorities charged Pskov-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) contributor Svetlana Prokopyeva with “public justification of terrorism in the media.” She faced up to seven years in jail for comments she made on a local radio station in November 2018 about a suicide bombing at an FSB building in Arkhangelsk. Although she never voiced approval of the bomber’s actions, she suggested that the government’s restrictions on peaceful expressions of dissent may make individuals more likely to resort to violence. In July before these charges were brought, the Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring) added Prokopyeva to its list of terrorists and extremists because of her comments, resulting in the freezing of her bank accounts and the seizure of her passport. According to press reports, in early October officials at the Pskov Investigative Committee summoned for interrogation several journalists and public figures who had spoken out in support of Prokopyeva and forced them to sign nondisclosure agreements about the contents of their conversation.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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, but in some cases authorities restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: Although the law gives citizens the right to choose their place of residence, adult citizens must carry government-issued internal passports while traveling domestically and must register with local authorities after arriving at a new location. To have their files transferred, persons with official refugee or asylum status must notify the Ministry of Internal Affairs in advance of relocating to a district other than the one that originally granted them status. Authorities often refused to provide government services to individuals without internal passports or proper registration, and many regional governments continued to restrict this right through residential registration rules.

Authorities imposed in-country travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes.

Foreign Travel: The law provides for freedom to travel abroad, but the government restricted this right for certain groups. The law stipulates, for example, that a person who violates a court decision does not have a right to leave the country. A court may also prohibit a person from leaving the country for failure to satisfy debts; if the individual is suspected, accused, or convicted of a crime; or if the individual had access to classified material. The law allows for the temporary restriction of the right to leave the country for citizens with outstanding debts. According to press reports citing statistics from the Federal Bailiff Service, approximately 3.5 million citizens are unable to leave the country because of debts.

Since 2014 the government restricted the foreign travel of millions of its employees, prescribing which countries they are and are not allowed to visit. The restriction applies to employees of agencies including the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Federal Prison Service, the Federal Drug Control Service, the Federal Bailiff Service, the General Administration for Migration Issues (GAMI), and the Ministry of Emergency Situations. On June 4, the Supreme Court upheld this policy.

Citizenship: There were reports that the government revoked citizenship on an arbitrary basis. For example, according to human rights groups, on January 29, Sverdlovsk region authorities canceled a 2005 decision to grant citizenship to Blagoveshchensk resident Evgeniy Kim, rendering him stateless since he had given up his Uzbek citizenship earlier. Kim was serving a 3-year, 9-month prison sentence for “extremism” for studying the works of Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi and was considered by Memorial to be a political prisoner. Upon his release from prison on April 10, Kim was notified that he was present in the country in violation of migration law. As of September he was held in a migration detention center awaiting deportation to Uzbekistan, the country of his birth, although Uzbek authorities refused to accept him since he no longer held citizenship there.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported that police detained, fined, and threatened with deportation migrants, refugees, and stateless persons. NGOs also reported racially motivated assaults by civilians.

UNHCR reported it had a working relationship with the government on asylum and refugee problems.

NGOs reported, however, that the government failed to provide protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. The government considered Ukrainian asylum seekers to be separate from asylum seekers from other countries, such as Afghanistan, Georgia, Syria, and Yemen. In some cases temporary asylum holders who received refugee status from third countries were not granted exit visas or allowed to depart the country.

Refoulement: The concept of nonrefoulement is not explicitly stated within the law. The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The responsible agency, the GAMI, did not maintain a presence at airports or other border points and did not adequately publicize that asylum seekers may request access to the agency. Asylum seekers had to rely on the goodwill of border guards and airline personnel to call immigration officials. Otherwise, they faced immediate deportation to neighboring countries or return to their countries of origin, including in some cases to countries where they may have had a reasonable ground to fear persecution. There were no statistics available on the number of persons subjected to such actions.

Human rights groups continued to allege that authorities made improper use of international agreements that permit them to detain, and possibly repatriate, persons with outstanding arrest warrants from other former Soviet states. This system, enforced by informal ties between senior law enforcement officials of the countries concerned, permitted authorities to detain individuals for up to one month while the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated the nature of the warrants. International organizations reported six cases of refoulement of asylum seekers in 2018, and NGOs cited cases in which officials detained persons (most commonly from Central Asia) and returned them clandestinely to their country of origin. UNHCR reported several cases of refoulement during the year but could not provide data on its extent.

In one example of clandestine detention and repatriation, on February 14, officials arbitrarily detained and forcibly returned to Tajikistan opposition activist Sharofiddin Gadoyev, who had been living as a refugee in the Netherlands since 2015. He traveled to Moscow to attend a conference but claimed authorities acting at the behest of the Tajik government detained him and put him on a plane to Dushanbe. According to Human Rights Watch, Tajik security services were present at his detention, and during the flight they put a bag over his head and beat him. After two weeks in Tajikistan, authorities released Gadoyev and allowed him to return to the Netherlands after the intervention of European governments and human rights activists.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. NGOs reported applicants commonly paid informal “facilitation fees” of approximately 33,000 rubles ($520) to GAMI adjudicators to have their application reviewed. Applicants who did not speak Russian often had to pay for a private interpreter. Human rights organizations noted that nearly all newly arrived refugees and temporary asylum seekers in large cities, particularly Moscow and St. Petersburg, were forced to apply in other regions, allegedly due to full quotas. Except for Ukrainians, GAMI approved a small percentage of applications for refugee status and temporary asylum.

Human rights organizations noted the country’s tendency during the year not to accept more Ukrainian and Syrian applicants for refugee status and temporary asylum. NGOs also reported that authorities encouraged applicants to return to their countries of origin. Authorities reportedly also had blanket authority to grant temporary asylum to Syrians, but local migration experts noted a decrease in the number of Syrians afforded temporary asylum, suggesting that GAMI had not renewed the temporary asylum of hundreds of Syrians and, in some cases, encouraged applicants to return to Syria.

Employment: Employers frequently refused to hire applicants who lacked residential registration. UNHCR reported that employers frequently were not familiar with laws permitting employment for refugees without work permits and refused to hire them.

Access to Basic Services: By law successful temporary asylum seekers and persons whose applications were being processed have the right to work, to receive medical care, and to attend school. NGOs reported authorities provided some services to Ukrainian asylum seekers, but there were instances in which applicants from other countries were denied the same service, including access to medical care and food banks.

While federal law provides for education for all children, regional authorities occasionally denied access to schools to children of temporary asylum and refugee applicants who lacked residential registration. The NGO Civic Action Committee reported that approximately a third of the children of refugees were enrolled in schools. When parents encountered difficulties enrolling their children in school, authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR to resolve the problem.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection in the form of temporary asylum to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately 6,000 persons during the year. A person who did not satisfy the criteria for refugee status, but who for humanitarian reasons could not be expelled or deported, may receive temporary asylum after submitting a separate application. There were reports, however, of authorities not upholding the principle of temporary protection.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, citizens could not fully do so because the government limited the ability of opposition parties to organize, to register candidates for public office, to access media outlets, and to conduct political campaigns.

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 in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their concerns. Official harassment of independent NGOs continued and in many instances intensified, particularly of groups that focused on election monitoring, exposing corruption, and addressing human rights abuses. NGO activities and international humanitarian assistance in the North Caucasus were severely restricted. Some officials, including the ombudsman for human rights, regional ombudsman representatives, and Mikhail Fedotov, who was the chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council until late October, regularly interacted and cooperated with NGOs.

Authorities continued to use a variety of laws to harass, stigmatize, and in some cases halt the operation of domestic and foreign human rights NGOs (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Officials often displayed hostility towards the activities of human rights organizations and suggested that their work was unpatriotic and detrimental to national security. For example, on May 15, the head of the Federal Prison Service, Gennadiy Kornienko, called human rights defenders who brought cases to the ECHR that involved abuses taking place in prisons “odious persons.”

Authorities continued to apply a number of indirect tactics to suppress or close domestic NGOs, including the application of various laws and harassment in the form of prosecution, investigations, fines, and raids (see sections 1.e. and 2.b.).

Authorities generally refused to cooperate with NGOs that were critical of their activities or listed as a foreign agent. International human rights NGOs had almost no presence east of the Ural Mountains. A few local NGOs addressed human rights problems in these regions but often chose not to work on politically sensitive topics to avoid retaliation by local authorities.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Authorities refused to cooperate with the OSCE Moscow Mechanism rapporteur investigating human rights abuses in the Republic of Chechnya in 2018 and did not permit him to visit the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Some government institutions continued to promote human rights and intervened in selected abuse complaints, despite widespread doubt as to these institutions’ effectiveness.

Many observers did not consider the 126-member Civic Chamber, composed of government-appointed members from civil society organizations, to be an effective check on the government.

The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC) is an advisory body to the president tasked with monitoring systemic problems in legislation and individual human rights cases, developing proposals to submit to the president and government, and monitoring their implementation. The president selects some council members by decree, and not all members operated independently. On October 21, President Putin overhauled the HRC, replacing its head, Mikhail Fedotov, with Valeriy Fadeyev, a senior member of the ruling United Russia party. Officially, Fedotov was dismissed because he had turned 70, the age limit for service in the government. President Putin could have issued a waiver that would have allowed him to stay on, leading human rights activists to speculate that authorities wanted an HRC head who would be more loyal to the president and less critical of restrictions on political freedoms. Some members of the HRC who were well-respected human rights defenders were also dismissed at the same time as Fedotov, compounding observers’ concerns.

Human rights ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova was viewed as a figure with very limited autonomy. The country had regional ombudsmen in all its regions with responsibilities similar to Moskalkova’s. Their effectiveness varied significantly, and local authorities often undermined their independence.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that workers may form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, but it does not require employers to reinstate workers fired due to their union activity. The law prohibits reprisals against striking workers. Unions must register with the Federal Registration Service, often a cumbersome process that includes lengthy delays and convoluted bureaucracy. The grounds on which trade union registration may be denied are not defined and can be arbitrary or unjustified. Active members of the military, civil servants, customs workers, judges, prosecutors, and persons working under civil contracts are excluded from the right to organize. The law requires labor unions to be independent of government bodies, employers, political parties, and NGOs.

The law places several restrictions on the right to bargain collectively. For example, only one collective bargaining agreement is permitted per enterprise, and only a union or group of unions representing at least one-half the workforce may bargain collectively. The law allows workers to elect representatives if there is no union. The law does not specify who has authority to bargain collectively when there is no trade union in an enterprise.

The law prohibits strikes in the military and emergency response services. It also prohibits strikes in essential public-service sectors, including utilities and transportation, and strikes that would threaten the country’s defense, safety, and the life and health of its workers. The law also prohibits some nonessential public servants from striking and imposes compulsory arbitration for railroad, postal, and municipal workers as well as other public servants in roles other than law enforcement.

Laws regulating workers’ strikes remained extremely restrictive, making it difficult to declare a strike but easy for authorities to rule a strike illegal and punish the workers. It was also very difficult for those without a labor contract to go on a legal strike. For example, in October 2018, 99 gold miners in Kamchatka walked off their jobs at Zoloto Kamchatki to protest their poor working conditions and low pay. According to media reports, the governor urged the miners not to speak to journalists, while other miners reported threats from police. After a few weeks, the company agreed to raise salaries but fired 54 of the 99 strikers. The company also initiated a lawsuit to declare the strike illegal. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia noted that they were unable to do anything since the miners were not unionized.

Union members must follow extensive legal requirements and engage in consultations with employers before acquiring the right to strike. Solidarity strikes and strikes on matters related to state policies are illegal, as are strikes that do not respect the onerous time limits, procedures, and requirements mandated by law. Employers may hire workers to replace strikers. Workers must give prior notice of the following aspects of a proposed strike: a list of the differences of opinion between the parties that triggered the strike; the date and time at which the strike was intended to start, its duration, and the number of anticipated participants; the name of the body that is leading the strike and the representatives authorized to participate in the conciliation procedures; and proposals for the minimum service to be provided during the strike. In the event a declared strike is ruled illegal and takes place, courts may confiscate union property to cover employers’ losses.

The Federal Labor and Employment Service (RosTrud) regulates employer compliance with labor law and is responsible for “controlling and supervising compliance with labor laws and other legal acts which deal with labor norms” by employers. Several state agencies, including the Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor’s Office, RosTrud, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are responsible for enforcing the law. These agencies, however, frequently failed to enforce the law, and violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining provisions were common. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Employers frequently engaged in reprisals against workers for independent union activity, including threatening to assign them to night shifts, denying benefits, and blacklisting or firing them. Although unions were occasionally successful in court, in most cases managers who engaged in antiunion activities did not face penalties.

For example, in March and April, the medical workers’ union in Anzhero-Sudzhensk led a series of strikes, including a hunger strike by nurses, to protest layoffs and staff transfers. Authorities publicly criticized the striking personnel, with Kemerovo governor Sergey Tsiliyev accusing them of “discrediting the honor of the region.” After the first picket on March 11, police ordered the interrogation of all participants. On April 11, the city’s mayor demanded that nurses give up their union membership.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor but allows for it as a penal sentence, in some cases as prison labor contracted to private enterprises.

The government was generally effective in enforcing laws against forced labor, but gaps remained in protecting migrant laborers, particularly from North Korea who generally earned 40 percent less than the average salary. Migrant forced labor occurred in the construction and service industries, logging industry (timber), textile shops, brick making, and the agricultural sector (see section 7.c.). Migrant workers at times experienced exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as withholding of identity documents, nonpayment for services rendered, physical abuse, and extremely poor living conditions.

Under a state-to-state agreement in effect since 2009, North Korean citizens worked in the country in a variety of sectors, including the logging and construction industries in the Far East. In order to comply with the 2017 UN international sanctions prohibiting the employment of North Koreans, the country reduced the number of North Korean laborers who work in the country legally. According to the Foreign Ministry, as of September approximately 4,000 North Koreans were employed in the country legally, a significant drop from 40,000 in 2017. Although the government announced that it intended to return all North Korean workers to their country by December 22, a significant number of North Korean nationals continued to travel to and reside in Russia under student and tourist visas, especially in the Far East.

Authorities failed to screen departing North Korean workers for human trafficking and indications of forced labor.

There were reports of forced labor in the production of bricks and sawmills, primarily in Dagestan. Both men and women were exploited for forced labor in these industries in the Northern Caucasus region; however, victims were primarily male job seekers recruited in Moscow. Media outlet Coda also reported on forced labor in illegal sheep farms in the Stavropol region.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 16 in most cases and regulates the working conditions of children younger than 18. The law permits children to work at age 14 under certain conditions and with the approval of a parent or guardian. Such work must not threaten the child’s health or welfare. The law lists occupations restricted for children younger than age 18, including work in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, underground work, or jobs that might endanger a child’s health and moral development.

Child labor was uncommon, but it could occur in the informal service, construction, and retail sectors. Some children, both Russian and foreign, were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation and forced participation in the production of pornography (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, gender identity, or disability. Although the country placed a general ban on discrimination, the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Discrimination based on gender in compensation, professional training, hiring, and dismissal was common. Employers often preferred to hire men to save on maternity and child-care costs and to avoid the perceived unreliability associated with women with small children. Such discrimination was often very difficult to prove.

The law prohibits employer discrimination in posting job vacancy information. It also prohibits employers from requesting workers with specific gender, race, nationality, address registration, age, and other factors unrelated to personal skills and competencies. Notwithstanding the law, vacancy announcements sometimes specified gender and age requirements, and some also specified a desired physical appearance.

According to the Center for Social and Labor Rights, courts often ruled in favor of employees filing complaints, but the sums awarded were often seen as not worth the cost and time to take a legal action. In an uncommon case, on September 9, an entrepreneur who refused to hire a 49-year-old woman in Volgograd because of her age was fined up to 100,000 rubles ($1,570). The court ruled that the entrepreneur represented a legal entity, instead of an individual, which stipulated the relatively large fine.

The law restricts women’s employment in jobs with “harmful or dangerous conditions or work underground, except in nonphysical jobs or sanitary and consumer services,” and forbids women’s employment in “manual handling of bulk weights that exceed the limits set for their handling.”

The law includes hundreds of tasks prohibited for women and includes restrictions on women’s employment in mining, manufacturing, and construction. Women were banned from 456 jobs during the year. According to the Ministry of Labor, women on average earned 28.3 percent less than men in 2017.

The law requires applicants to undergo mandatory medical screenings when entering into a labor agreement or when enrolling at educational institutions. The medical commission may restrict or prohibit access to jobs and secondary or higher education if it finds signs of physical or mental problems. Persons with disabilities were subjected to employment discrimination. Companies with 35 to 100 employees have an employment quota of 1 to 3 percent for persons with disabilities, while those with more than 100 employees have a 2 to 4 percent quota. An NGO noted that some companies kept persons with disabilities on the payroll in order to fulfill the quotas but did not actually provide employment for them. Inadequate workplace access for persons with disabilities also limited their work opportunities.

Many migrants regularly faced discrimination and hazardous or exploitative working conditions. Union organizers faced employment discrimination, limits on workplace access, and pressure to give up their union membership.

Employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was a problem, especially in the public sector and education. Employers fired LGBTI persons for their sexual orientation, gender identity, or public activism in support of LGBTI rights. Primary and secondary school teachers were often the targets of such pressure due to the law on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” targeted at minors (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). On April 9, a St. Petersburg court ruled that a printing house illegally fired Anna Grigoryeva, a transgender woman who had worked there for years as a man. This was the first time that a court ruled in favor of a person fired for their transgender identity.

Persons with HIV/AIDS were prohibited from working in some areas of medical research and medicine. For example, the Ministry of Transport prohibited HIV-positive persons from working as aviation dispatchers until the Supreme Court lifted the ban on September 10.

In September 2018 as part of broader pension reform, amendments to criminal law were adopted to establish criminal liability for employers who dismiss workers due to approaching pension age.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage increased to the official “subsistence” level on January 1. Some local governments enacted minimum wage rates higher than the national rate.

Nonpayment of wages is a criminal offense and is punishable by fines, compulsory labor, or imprisonment. Federal law provides for administrative fines of employers who fail to pay salaries and sets progressive compensation scales for workers affected by wage arrears. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and nonpayment or late payment of wages remained widespread. According to Rosstat, as of September 1, wage arrears amounted to approximately 2.6 billion rubles ($40.8 million). As of September 17, the State Unitary Enterprise Chuvashavtotrans had a debt of 39.8 million rubles ($625,000) for 707 employees, one of the largest wage arrears for a single organization.

The law provides for standard workhours, overtime, and annual leave. The standard workweek may not exceed 40 hours. Employers may not request overtime work from pregnant women, workers younger than age 18, and other categories of employees specified by federal law. Standard annual paid leave is 28 calendar days. Employees who perform work involving harmful or dangerous labor conditions and employees in the Far North regions receive additional annual paid leave. Organizations have discretion to grant additional leave to employees.

The law stipulates that payment for overtime must be at least 150 percent for the first two hours and not less than 200 percent after that. At an employee’s request, overtime may be compensated by additional holiday leave. Overtime work may not exceed four hours in a two-day period or 120 hours in a year for each employee.

The law establishes minimum conditions for workplace safety and worker health, but it does not explicitly allow workers to remove themselves from hazardous workplaces without threat to their employment. The law entitles foreigners working to the same rights and protections as citizens.

Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate within the main industries. Government inspectors are responsible for enforcement and generally applied the law in the formal sector. Serious breaches of occupational safety and health provisions are criminal offenses. Experts generally pointed to prevention of these offenses, rather than adequacy of available punishment, as the main challenge to protection of worker rights. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law in all sectors. RosTrud, the agency that enforces the provisions, noted that state labor inspectors needed additional professional training and additional inspectors to enforce consistent compliance.

At the end of 2018, an estimated 14 million persons were informally employed. Employment in the informal sector was concentrated in the southern regions. The largest share of laborers in the informal economy was concentrated in the trade, construction, and agricultural sectors, where workers were more vulnerable to exploitative working conditions. Labor migrants worked in low-quality jobs in construction but also in housing, utilities, agriculture, and retail trade sectors, often informally. Labor law and protections apply to workers in the informal sector.

No national-level information was available on the number of workplace accidents or fatalities during the year. According to Rosstat, in 2018 approximately 25,400 workers were injured in industrial accidents, including 1,140 deaths.

Rwanda

Executive Summary

Rwanda is a constitutional republic dominated by a strong presidency. The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led a governing coalition that included four smaller parties. In 2017 voters elected President Paul Kagame to a third seven-year term with a reported 99 percent of the vote and a reported 98 percent turnout. One independent candidate and one candidate from an opposition political party participated in the presidential election, but authorities disqualified three other candidates. In the September 2018 elections for parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, candidates from the RPF coalition and two other parties supporting RPF policies won all except four of the open seats. For the first time, independent parties won seats in the chamber, with the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) and the Social Party Imberakuri (PS-Imberakuri) winning two seats each. In both the 2017 and 2018 elections, international monitors reported numerous flaws, including irregularities in the vote tabulation process. In September, 12 new senators were elected to the 26-member Senate via indirect elections. Faculty at public and private universities elected two other senators. President Kagame appointed another four senators, and the National Consultative Forum for Political Organizations designated two, in accordance with the constitution.

The Rwanda National Police (RNP), under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for internal security. The Rwanda Defense Force (RDF), under the Ministry of Defense, is in charge of providing external security, although the RDF also works on internal security and intelligence matters alongside the RNP. Since April 2018 the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) has carried out many of the investigative functions formerly performed by the RNP, including counterterrorism investigations, investigation of economic and financial crimes, and judicial police functions. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over state security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by state security forces; forced disappearance by state security forces; torture by state security forces; arbitrary detention by state security forces; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, press, and the internet, including threats of violence against journalists, censorship, website blocking, and criminal libel and slander laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; and restrictions on political participation; criminal violence against women and girls, which the government took insufficient action to prevent or prosecute.

The government occasionally took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, including within the security services, but impunity involving civilian officials and some members of the state security forces was a problem.

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 “in conditions prescribed by the law,” but the government severely restricted this right. Journalists reported government officials questioned, threatened, and at times arrested journalists who expressed views deemed critical of the government on sensitive topics.

The Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), a self-regulatory body, sometimes intervened on journalists’ behalf but was generally viewed as biased towards the government. Journalists reported most positions on the RMC board were filled in close consultation with the government and called into question the board’s independence.

Freedom of Expression: There were no official restrictions on individuals’ right to criticize the government publicly or privately on policy implementation and other issues, but broad interpretation of provisions in the penal code had a chilling effect on such criticism. The government generally did not tolerate criticism of the presidency and government policy on security, human rights, and other matters deemed sensitive.

Joseph Nkusi, a founding member of the Ishema party, remained in prison after being convicted of inciting civil disobedience and spreading rumors and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment by the Kigali High Court in 2018. Nkusi moved to Norway in 2009 where he applied for asylum and started a blog that was blocked by the Rwandan government. In 2016 he was deported back to his country of origin where he was arrested and charged. On July 17, an appellate court heard his appeal, but the court had not issued a ruling as of August 15.

Laws prohibiting divisionism, genocide ideology, and genocide denial were broadly applied and discouraged citizens, residents, and visitors to the country from expressing viewpoints that could be construed as promoting societal divisions. For example, in January journalist Rene Hubert Nsengiyumva was arrested after he hosted a television program in which a speaker argued some candidates in the Miss Rwanda competition deserved to lose because they looked more like “Ethiopians” than “real Rwandans.” The National Commission for the Fight against Genocide condemned the comments, recalling that perpetrators of the 1994 genocide had often characterized their Tutsi victims as “Ethiopian” intruders. Nsengiyumva was released approximately two months after his arrest. The law prohibits making use of speech, writing, or any other act that divides the populace or may set them against each other or cause civil unrest because of discrimination. Conviction of “instigating divisions” is punishable by five to seven years’ imprisonment and fines of 500,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($550 to $1,100). Authorities applied the laws broadly, including to silence political dissent and to shut down investigative journalism. The law also prohibits spreading “false information or harmful propaganda with intent to cause public disaffection against the government,” for which conviction is punishable by seven to 10 years’ imprisonment. The government investigated and prosecuted individuals accused of threatening or harming genocide survivors and witnesses or of espousing genocide ideology.

A revised genocide ideology law enacted in 2018 incorporated international definitions for genocide and outlined the scope of what constitutes “genocide ideology” and related offenses. Specifically, the law provides that any person convicted of denying, minimizing, or justifying the 1994 genocide is liable to a prison term of five to seven years and a fine of 500,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($550 to $1,100). Authorities applied the statute broadly, and there were numerous reports of its use to silence persons critical of government policy.

The RNP reported fewer individuals were arrested in April during the genocide commemoration period for spreading genocide ideology than in the preceding year.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Vendors sold newspapers published in English, French, and Kinyarwanda. According to the RMC, there were 36 print media outlets registered with the government, although many of these did not publish regularly. Sporadically published independent newspapers maintained positions in support of, or critical of, the government but a lack of advertisement revenue and funds remained serious challenges to continuing operations. Most independent newspapers opted not to publish print editions and released their stories online instead. There were 34 radio stations (six government-owned community radio stations and 28 independent radio stations) and more than 13 television stations, according to the RMC. Independent media reported a difficult operating environment and highlighted the reluctance of the business community to advertise on radio stations that might be critical of the government.

Media professionals reported government officials sought to influence reporting and warned journalists against reporting information deemed sensitive or critical of the government.

The law provides journalists the freedom to investigate, express opinions, and “seek, receive, give, and broadcast information and ideas through any media.” The law explicitly prohibits censorship of information, but censorship occurred. The laws restrict these freedoms if journalists “jeopardize the general public order and good morals, an individual’s right to honor and reputation in the public eye and to the right to inviolability of a person’s private life and family.” By law authorities may seize journalists’ material and information if a “media offense” occurs but only under a court order. Courts may compel journalists to reveal confidential sources in the event of an investigation or criminal proceeding. Persons wanting to start a media outlet must apply with the “competent public organ.” All media rights and prohibitions apply to persons writing for websites.

Violence and Harassment: Media professionals reported the government continued to use threats of arrests and physical violence to silence media outlets and journalists. Journalist Jean Bosco Kabakura remained outside the country after fleeing in 2018 because of threats related to his publication of an article examining the roles of police, military, and civilian authorities in the shooting of refugees from the Kiziba refugee camp earlier in 2018. Several other journalists who fled in prior years remained outside the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law allows the government to restrict access to some government documents and information, including information on individual privacy and information or statements deemed to constitute defamation. Reporters Without Borders reported that while the number of abuses registered against journalists had fallen in prior years, censorship remained ubiquitous, and self-censorship was widely used to avoid running afoul of the regime. Reporters without Borders also reported that foreign journalists were often unable to obtain the visas and accreditation needed to report in Rwanda.

Radio stations broadcast some criticism of government policies, including on popular citizen call-in shows; however, criticism tended to focus on provincial leaders and local implementation of policies rather than on the president or ruling party leadership. Some radio stations, including Radio 1, Radio Isango Star, and Radio Salus, had regular call-in shows that featured discussion of government programs or policies. For example, Radio Flash and Radio Isango Star hosted a number of debates in which participants criticized government policies on human rights and social issues.

Libel/Slander Laws: On April 24, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional provisions of the penal code that made it illegal to use words, gestures, writings, or cartoons to humiliate members of parliament, members of the cabinet, security officers, or any other public servant. The court upheld a provision stating that conviction of insulting or defaming the president is punishable by five to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of five million to seven million Rwandan francs ($5,490 to $7,690). In response the Office of the President issued a statement taking issue with the court’s decision to uphold that provision and called for continued debate of the issue, explaining that the president believed this should be a civil matter, not a criminal matter. Parliament began considering revisions to the penal code to reflect the Supreme Court decision and the president’s views, but it had not completed those deliberations as of October 1. Defamation of foreign and international officials and dignitaries remains illegal under the law, with sentences if convicted of three to five years’ imprisonment. The penal code does not contain provisions criminalizing public defamation and public insult in general.

National Security: Under media laws, journalists must refrain from reporting items that violate “confidentiality in the national security and national integrity” and “confidentiality of judicial proceedings, parliamentary sessions, and cabinet deliberations in camera.” Authorities used these laws to intimidate critics of the government and journalists covering politically sensitive topics and matters under government investigation.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution, law, or both provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited these rights.

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, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government accepted former Rwandan combatants who returned from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Rwandan Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, with international support, placed adult former combatants in a three-month re-education program at the Mutobo Demobilization Center in Northern Province. After completion, each adult former combatant was enrolled automatically in the RDF Reserve Force and received a cash allowance. On May 28, 569 adults were discharged from the center under this program. The Musanze Child Rehabilitation Center treated former child combatants.

Foreign Travel: The law allows a judge to deprive convicted persons of the right to travel abroad as a stand-alone punishment or as punishment following imprisonment. Government officials must obtain written permission from the Office of the Prime Minister or the president before traveling abroad for official or personal reasons. The government restricted the travel of existing and former security-sector officials. In March the government advised citizens to avoid traveling to Uganda due to safety concerns. The minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation told press the government did so because some Rwandan citizens had been harassed and arrested without cause in Uganda. The government characterized the travel warning as an advisory rather than a prohibition, but there were reports authorities prevented some Rwandans from traveling to Uganda and Burundi.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. As of August the government hosted more than 72,000 Burundian refugees and asylum seekers and more than 76,000 Congolese refugees and asylum seekers. The government continued to grant prima facie refugee status to Burundian refugees fleeing instability after Burundi’s 2015 presidential election. For other nationalities significant delays existed in the application of individual refugee status determinations; UNHCR reported working with the government to improve the process.

UNHCR supported the Mahama Camp for Burundian refugees and five camps primarily for Congolese refugees with international and national NGOs, providing for basic health, water, sanitation, housing, food, and educational needs, in coordination with the government. Authorities sometimes restricted access to the camps. The government continued to implement the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2016, and UNHCR reported good cooperation with the government and local community. The government continued to work with UNHCR on expanding the integration of refugees into the national education system, as well as on increasing livelihood opportunities. The government also collaborated with UNHCR on an exercise to verify the refugee status of presumed refugees in urban areas and in the six camps, issue refugees identification cards, and enroll refugees in social service programs.

UNHCR, under an agreement with the government and 14 host countries, recommended in 2015 the invocation of the “ceased circumstances” clause for Rwandans who fled the country between 1959 and 1998 with an agreement with African states hosting Rwandan refugees that refugees were to be assisted in returning to Rwanda or obtaining legal permanent residency in host countries by the end of 2017. The cessation clause forms part of the 1951 Refugee Convention and may be applied when fundamental and durable changes in a refugee’s country of origin, such that they no longer have a well-founded fear of persecution, remove the need for international protection. As of September more than three million exiled Rwandans had returned. The government worked with UNHCR and other aid organizations to assist the returnees, most of whom resettled in their districts of origin.

Authorities generally provided adequate security and physical protection within refugee camps. The RNP worked with UNHCR to maintain police posts on the edge of and station police officers in refugee camps. Refugees were free to file complaints at both camp and area police stations. In March a court acquitted 12 refugees of charges related to their involvement in a February 2018 clash with police that resulted in at least 10 deaths and multiple injuries; the confrontation had erupted after approximately 500 refugees left Kiziba refugee camp and marched to the UNHCR office in Kibuye to protest ration cuts and discrimination in the local labor market and to voice other grievances. Three other refugees were convicted. Their appeals of their convictions remained pending as of October 1.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. UNHCR, with government and donor support, assisted approximately 149,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from Burundi and the DRC. An interagency committee that makes individual refugee status determinations in cases where claimants are not eligible for prima facie refugee status met infrequently.

Freedom of Movement: The law does not restrict freedom of movement of asylum seekers, but refugees continued to experience delays in the issuance of identity cards and convention travel documents. As part of the joint verification exercise the government conducted with UNHCR, eligible refugees received identity cards allowing them to move around the country and open bank accounts.

Employment: No laws restrict refugee employment, and in 2016 the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs launched a livelihoods strategy with UNHCR aimed at increasing the ability of refugees to work on the local economy. As of August implementation continued, but many refugees were unable to find local employment. A World Bank study published during the year found that local authorities and businesses often were unaware of refugees’ rights with respect to employment.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees had access to public education through grade nine, public health care, housing within the refugee camps, the law enforcement system, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance. A limited number of refugees completed secondary education and were enrolled in universities. Kepler, a nonprofit higher education program, collaborated with UNHCR and Southern New Hampshire University to operate a campus in the Kiziba camp.

Refugees in the camps received basic health care from humanitarian agencies and had access to secondary and tertiary care coordinated by UNHCR. Some refugee children in urban areas had access to government health-care services, as did elderly urban refugees. On June 25, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with UNHCR to extend government health-care services to urban refugees of all ages, as well as refugees studying at boarding schools and universities.

Durable Solutions: The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their countries of origin and sought to improve local integration of refugees in protracted stays by permitting them to accept local employment and move freely in the country and by establishing markets to facilitate trade between refugees and local citizens. On September 10, the government, UNHCR, and the African Union signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a transit mechanism for evacuating refugees from Libya. UNHCR announced on September 11 that Rwandan authorities planned to receive as many as 500 persons at one time, and that these individuals would eventually be resettled in third countries, helped to return to countries where asylum had previously been granted, helped to return to their home countries, or granted permission to remain in Rwanda. On September 26, the first group of 66 refugees and other persons of concern arrived in Rwanda under the transit mechanism.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage, but government restrictions on the formation of opposition parties and harassment of critics and political dissidents limited that ability. The law provides for voting by secret ballot in presidential and parliamentary–but not local–elections. The RPF and allied parties controlled the government and legislature, and RPF candidates dominated elections at all levels.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials and private persons transacting business with the government that include imprisonment and fines. The law also provides for citizens who report requests for bribes by government officials to receive financial rewards when officials are prosecuted and convicted. While the government implemented anticorruption laws and encouraged citizens to report requests for bribes, corruption remained a problem.

Corruption: The government investigated and prosecuted reports of corruption among police and government officials. Police frequently conducted internal investigations of police corruption, including sting operations, and authorities punished offenders. For example, in June the RNP dismissed 20 senior officers for corruption and bribery and suspended 101 junior officers for corruption-related offenses. Also in June a court sentenced the former chief executive officer of the Development Bank of Rwanda to six years in prison for soliciting and receiving illegal benefits in conjunction with a loan application.

Investors reported that contract disputes with the government; late payments for services; pressure to renegotiate existing contracts; and arbitrary enforcement of tax, immigration, and investment rules hindered their ability to run and expand their businesses.

The NPPA prosecuted civil servants, police, and other officials for fraud, petty corruption, awarding of public tenders illegally, and mismanagement of public assets. A 2018 anticorruption law states corruption offenses are not subject to any statute of limitations. Specialized chambers at the intermediate court level handled corruption cases. Under the Ministry of Justice, the NPPA is also responsible for prosecuting police abuse cases. The RNP Inspectorate of Services investigated cases of police misconduct.

The government utilized a “bagging and tagging” system to aid companies with regional and international due diligence requirements related to conflict minerals. The law prohibits the purchase or sale of undocumented minerals from neighboring countries. Observers and government officials reported smugglers trafficked an unknown amount of undocumented minerals through the country.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution and law require annual reporting of income and assets by public officials as well as reporting them upon entering and leaving office. There is no requirement for public disclosure of those assets, except in cases where irregularities are discovered. The Office of the Ombudsman, which monitors and verifies disclosures, reported 99 percent of officials complied with the requirement. In cases of noncompliance, the Office of the Ombudsman has the power to garnish wages and impose administrative sanctions that often involved loss of position or prosecution.

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

Several domestic human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, and international groups also published reports on human rights abuses. The government was often intolerant of public reports of human rights abuses and suspicious of local and international human rights observers, and it often impeded independent investigations and rejected criticism as biased and uninformed. Human rights NGOs expressed fear of the government, reported state security forces monitored their activities, and self-censored their comments. NGOs, such as HRW, working on human rights and deemed to be critical of the government experienced difficulties securing or renewing required legal registration. As of October 1, the government had not renewed its lapsed memorandum of understanding with HRW, and HRW had no representatives operating in the country.

The government conducted surveillance on some international and domestic NGOs. Some NGOs expressed concern that intelligence agents infiltrated their organizations to gather information, influence leadership decisions, or create internal problems.

Individuals who contributed to international reports on human rights reported continued government harassment including short-term detention without charges, questioning, and threats of arrest and prosecution for the contents of their work.

Some domestic NGOs nominally focused on human rights abuses, but self-censorship limited their effectiveness. Most NGOs that focused on human rights, access to justice, and governance issues vetted their research and reports with the government and refrained from publishing their findings without government approval. Those NGOs that refused to coordinate their activities with progovernment organizations and vet their research with the government reported they were excluded from government-led initiatives to engage civil society.

A progovernment NGO, the Rwanda Civil Society Platform, managed and directed some NGOs through umbrella groups that theoretically aggregated NGOs working in particular thematic sectors. Many observers believed the government controlled some of the umbrella groups. Regulations required NGOs to participate in joint action and development forums at the district and sector levels, and local government had broad powers to regulate activities and bar organizations that did not comply.

NGOs reported the registration process remained difficult, in part because it required submission of a statement of objectives, plan of action, and detailed financial information for each district in which an NGO wished to operate. NGOs reported the government used the registration process to delay programming and pressure them into supporting government programs and policies.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government sometimes cooperated with international organizations, but it criticized reports that portrayed it negatively as inaccurate and biased.

In 2012 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Tanzania, transferred its remaining genocide cases to the IRMCT, which maintained an office in Tanzania and continued to pursue genocide suspects. From 1994 through July, the tribunal completed proceedings against 80 individuals; of these, 61 were convicted, and 14 were acquitted. Two cases were dropped, and in the remaining three cases, the accused died before the tribunal rendered judgment. As of October 1, eight suspects remained fugitives. The government cooperated with the IRMCT, but it also expressed concern regarding the IRMCT’s practice of granting early release to convicts, especially when those released had not professed remorse for their actions.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The adequately funded Office of the Ombudsman operated with the cooperation of executive agencies and took action on cases of corruption and other abuses, including human rights cases (see section 4).

The government funded and cooperated with the NCHR. According to many observers, the NCHR did not have adequate resources to investigate all reported abuses and remained biased in favor of the government. Some victims of human rights abuses did not report them to the NCHR because they perceived it as biased and feared retribution by state security forces.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

A 2018 law regulating labor provides for the right to form and join unions and employer associations, bargain collectively and strike, but it places severe restrictions on these rights. An employer may refuse a recognized union access to the workplace, and the union must appeal this to the labor court. A union must include a majority of workers in the enterprise. Labor disputes are mediated by local, then national labor inspectors before they may be referred to a court, which may refuse to hear the case. The law applies to all employees with contracts. The law applies to informal sector employees with regard to occupational health and safety (OSH) and the right to form trade unions and employers’ associations, but it does not address strikes in the informal sector.

The law provides that ministerial orders define implementation of labor law in many respects; as of October 1, many orders had not been issued.

The law provides some workers the right to conduct strikes, subject to numerous restrictions. The law states that employees have the right to strike in compliance with the provisions of the law and that a strike is legal when the arbitration committee has allowed more than 15 working days to pass without issuing a decision, the conciliation resolution on collective dispute has not been implemented, or the court award has not been enforced. The law further states all strikes must be preceded by a notice of four working days. The law states that a strike or lockout must not interrupt the continuity of “essential services” as defined by the Ministry of Public Service and Labor. The ministry broadly defined essential services to include public transportation, security, education (during national exams), water and sanitation, and telecommunications, which severely restricted the right to strike in these fields.

There were 36 labor unions organized into three confederations: 17 unions represented by the Rwanda Confederation of Trade Unions (CESTRAR), 12 by the Labor and Worker’s Brotherhood Congress (COTRAF), and seven by the National Council of Free Trade Union Organizations in Rwanda. All three federations ostensibly were independent, but CESTRAR had close links to the government and the ruling RPF party.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining generally were not respected. The government did not enforce applicable laws effectively and restricted these rights.

The government severely limited the right to collective bargaining, and legal mechanisms were inadequate to protect this right. Labor union officials commented that many private-sector businesses did not allow collective bargaining negotiations. The government also controlled collective bargaining with cooperatives and mandatory arbitration. No labor union had an established collective bargaining agreement with the government.

Collective bargaining occasionally was practiced in the private sector. For example, in 2015 an international tea exporter renewed its 2012 collective bargaining agreement with its employees. CESTRAR, COTRAF, and the Ministry of Labor participated in the negotiations.

There were neither registered strikes nor anecdotal reports of unlawful strikes during the year; the most recent recorded strike was by textile workers in 2013.

National elections for trade union representatives were last held in 2015. Trade union leaders stated the government interfered in the elections and pressured some candidates not to run.

There were no functioning labor courts or other formal mechanisms to resolve antiunion discrimination complaints, and COTRAF reported it could take four to five years for labor disputes to be resolved through the civil courts. According to one trade union, employers in small companies frequently used transfers, demotions, and dismissals to intimidate union members.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor and states it is unlawful to permit the imposition of forced labor. The government effectively enforced the law. In 2014 the government issued a national trafficking in persons action plan that included programs to address forced labor; the government continued to update the plan during the year. In 2018 the government enacted an updated law to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons. The 2018 Antitrafficking law prescribes penalties for conviction of imprisonment or fines. Penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations and were commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape, with the penalties being higher if the victim is a child or a vulnerable person. Statistics on the number of victims removed from forced labor were not available. No reports indicate that forced labor by adults is a significant problem in the country.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for full-time employment is 16, but children ages 13 to 15 are allowed to perform light work in the context of an apprenticeship. The law prohibits children younger than age 18 from participating in physically harmful work, including work underground, under water, at dangerous heights, or in confined spaces; work with dangerous machinery, equipment, and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads; work that exposes the child to unsafe temperatures or noise levels; and work for long hours or during the night. A 2010 Ministry of Labor ministerial order determines the nature of other prohibited forms of work for a child.

In addition to national law, some districts enforced local regulations against hazardous child labor and sanctioned employers and parents for violations. Police, immigration officials, local government officials, and labor inspectors received training on identifying victims of trafficking.

The NCC took the lead role in designating responsible agencies and establishing actions to be taken, timelines, and other concrete measures in relation to the integrated child rights policy and various national commissions, plans, and policies related to child protection subsumed therein. At the local level, 149 child labor committees monitored incidents of child labor, and each district was required to establish a steering committee to combat child labor. At the village level, 320 child labor focal point volunteers were supported by 10 national protection officers appointed by the NCC and 48 social workers.

The Ministry of Public Service and Labor conducted labor inspections of sectors of the economy known to employ children, focusing on domestic work and the agriculture sector. The RNP operated a child protection unit. District government officials, as part of their performance contracts, enforced child labor reduction and school attendance benchmarks. Observers noted considerable political will to address child labor but also that the government remained sensitive to public attention regarding the extent of child labor in the country. For example, the government continued to refuse to “validate” a 2015 NGO report on the prevalence of child labor in the tea sector.

The government worked with NGOs to raise awareness of the problem and to identify and send to school or vocational training children involved in child labor. As of August 23, private-sector businesses had not responded to the Ministry of Labor’s invitation to sign a memorandum of understanding committing them to eradicate child labor. The government’s 12-year basic education program aided in reducing the incidence of child labor, although some children who worked also attended school because classes were held in alternating morning or afternoon shifts at some grade levels. The government fined those who illegally employed children or parents who sent their children to work instead of school.

The government did not enforce the law effectively. The number of inspectors was inadequate, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The majority of child laborers worked in the agricultural sector and as household domestics. Child labor also existed in isolated instances in cross-border transportation and in the mining industry. Children received low wages, and abuse was common. In addition forced labor and child sex trafficking were problems.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnic origin, family or ancestry, clan, race, sex, region, religion, culture, language, and physical or mental disability, as well as any other form of discrimination. The constitution requires equal pay for equal work.

The government did not consistently enforce antidiscrimination laws, and there were numerous reports of discrimination based on gender, disability, and ethnic origin. Migrant workers enjoyed the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law states the Ministry of Labor may establish a minimum wage by ministerial order, but as of October 1, such an order had not been issued.

The law provides a standard workweek of 45 hours and 18 to 21 days’ paid annual leave, in addition to official holidays. The law provides employers with the right to determine daily rest periods. Most employees received a one-hour lunch break. The law states female employees who have given birth are entitled to a maternity leave of at least 12 consecutive weeks. The law states collective agreements must address the compensation rate for overtime.

The law states employers must provide for the health, safety, and welfare of employees and visitors and that enterprises are to establish occupational safety and health committees. The law also states employees are not required to pay any cost in connection with measures aimed at ensuring OSH. Authorities conducted public awareness campaigns to inform workers of their rights and highlight employers’ obligation to register employees for social security and occupational health insurance and pay into those benefit systems. Ministerial orders from the Ministry of Labor determined general OSH conditions and the establishment and functioning of OSH committees.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce labor standards effectively. The many violations reported to labor unions compared to the few actions taken by the government and employers to remedy substandard working conditions suggested penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Families regularly supplemented their incomes by working in small businesses or subsistence agriculture in the informal sector that included more than 75 percent of all workers. Most workers in the formal sector worked six days per week. Violations of wage, overtime, and OSH standards were common in both the formal and informal sectors. Employers frequently failed to register employees for social security or occupational health insurance and pay into those benefit systems. Workers in the subcontractor and business process outsourcing sectors were especially vulnerable to hazardous or exploitative working conditions. Statistics on workplace fatalities and accidents were not available, but ministry officials singled out mining as a sector with significant problems in implementing occupational safety and health standards. On January 21, 14 miners were killed in a landslide at a tin mine in eastern Rwanda and five workers at a scrap metal processing facility were severely injured when material they were handling unexpectedly exploded. Workers did not have explicit rights to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their jobs. The Ministry of Labor maintained a list of dangerous professions subject to heightened safety scrutiny.

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Executive Summary

Saint Kitts and Nevis is a multiparty parliamentary democracy and federation. The prime minister is the head of government. The United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor general. The constitution provides the smaller island of Nevis considerable powers of self-governance under a premier. In the 2015 national elections, Team Unity, a coalition of three political parties, won seven of the 11 elected seats in the legislature. Team Unity leader Timothy Harris became prime minister. Independent observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) concluded the election was generally free and fair, but the OAS called for electoral reform, noting procedural difficulties resulting in the slow transmission of results.

The security forces consist of a police force, which includes a paramilitary Special Services Unit, a drug unit, a Special Victims Unit, the Office of Professional Standards, and a white-collar crimes unit. These forces are responsible for internal security, including migration and border enforcement. In addition there is a coast guard and a small defense force. The military and police report to the Ministry of National Security, which is under the prime minister’s jurisdiction. In August 2018 Governor General Sir S.W. Tapley Seaton extended police powers to defense forces for six months, the maximum period allowed. This was in reaction to an increase in violent crime. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included criminalization of same-sex sexual activity between men, although the law was not enforced during the year. Top government officials made public statements acknowledging that sexual orientation is a private matter and that all citizens have equal rights under the law.

The government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish officials who abused human rights. There were no reports of prosecutions or arrests of government officials for human rights violations.

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

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. Civil servants are restricted from participating in protests.

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.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: While the law provides for the granting of asylum and refugee status, the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no requests for asylum reported during the year.

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. Voters elect 11 members of the National Assembly, and the governor general appoints a three-person senate: two on the recommendation of the prime minister and one on the recommendation of the opposition leader.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively.

Corruption: Media and private citizens reported government corruption was a problem. One media report accused a Dubai-based agent administering the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program of fraud by conspiring with a local developer to embezzle funds from CBI applicants. The government dismissed the allegations as unfounded and politically motivated. The government did not publicize the number of passports issued through CBI or the nationalities of the passport holders.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are not subject to financial disclosure laws. The Financial Intelligence Unit and the police white-collar crime unit investigate reports on suspicious financial transactions, but these reports were not available to the public.

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

The country has a small number of domestic human rights groups that generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Health maintained a human rights desk to monitor discrimination and other human rights abuses beyond the health sector.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Labor laws and procedures are the same in both St. Kitts and Nevis.

The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions or staff associations. Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected in practice. The law permits the police, civil service, hotels, construction workers, and small businesses to organize staff associations. Staff associations do not have bargaining powers but are used to network and develop professional standards. A union representing more than 50 percent of the employees at a company may apply for the company to recognize the union for collective bargaining. Companies generally recognized the establishment of a union if a majority of its workers voted in favor of organizing the union, but the companies are not legally obliged to do so.

In practice, but not by law, there were restrictions on strikes by workers who provide essential services, such as the police and civil servants. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not require employers found guilty of such discrimination to rehire employees fired for union activities. The International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts reported in 2015 that workers are not protected against antiunion discrimination during recruitment or on the job. The ILO provided technical assistance to the government in labor law reform, labor administration, employment services, labor inspection, and occupational safety and health.

The law does not prescribe remedies for labor law violations, and the Ministry of Labour did not provide information on the adequacy of resources, inspections, and penalties for violations. Penalties were outdated and fines were insufficient to deter violations. The Department of Labour provided employers with training on their rights and responsibilities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits slavery, servitude, and forced labor. There were no reported cases of involuntary servitude.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, and a Special Victims Unit, led by the police and Child Protection Services, investigated violations. The law sets the minimum age for work at 16. Prohibitions do not apply to family businesses. Children ages 16 and 17 have the same legal protections from dangerous work conditions as all workers. The law permits children between the ages of 16 and 18 to work regular hours. Employment of children between the ages of 16 and 18 in certain industries related to the hotel and entertainment sectors is restricted. The government reported there were no child labor violations resulting in arrests or prosecutions.

Most employed children younger than age 16 worked after school in shops and supermarkets, or did light work in the informal sector.

The Ministry of Labour relied heavily on school truancy officers and the Community Affairs Division to monitor compliance with child labor laws, which they did effectively. The ministry reported that investigations were frequent, and that violators were referred to the Social Security division for enforcement.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, language, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social status. The law stipulates any employer who wrongfully terminates an employee can be fined to the cover the cost of employee benefits. The government effectively enforced discrimination laws and regulations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was above the estimated poverty level income. The law does not prohibit excessive or compulsory overtime, but policy calls for employers to inform employees if they have to work overtime. Although not required by law, workers generally received at least one 24-hour rest period per week.

The government sets occupational safety and health standards, which were outdated but appropriate for the country’s main industries. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The law also requires that employers report accidents and dangerous incidents.

The Labour Commission settles disputes over occupational safety and health conditions. The office conducts regular workplace inspections. Violators are subject to fines, and repeat offenders are subject to prosecution. The commission undertook wage inspections and special investigations when it received complaints. If the commission found that employers violated wage regulations, penalties were generally sufficient to encourage compliance. The government reported there were no violations resulting in arrests or prosecutions.

The Ministry of Labour relied primarily on worker complaints to trigger inspections of facilities using informal labor. Labour Commission inspectors enforced workplace health and safety standards. The Social Security Office was responsible for registering informal workers and businesses.

Saint Lucia

Executive Summary

Saint Lucia is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. In free and fair elections in 2016, the United Workers Party (UWP) won 11 of the 17 seats in the House of Assembly, defeating the previously ruling Saint Lucia Labour Party. UWP leader Allen Chastanet became prime minister.

The Royal Saint Lucia Police Force has responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. It reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Justice, and National Security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included violence against suspects and prisoners by police and prison officers, and criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults, although the law was not enforced during the year.

Although the government took limited steps to prosecute officials and employees who committed abuses, the procedure for investigating police officers was lengthy, cumbersome, and often inconclusive.

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

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.

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, and the government generally respected these rights.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not specifically provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Refugees had access to medical care and uneven access to education. Individuals claiming refugee status had access to the courts and protection by law enforcement. The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their home countries.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws, but not always effectively. During the year there were isolated reports of government corruption.

Corruption: There were no developments in any major corruption cases.

Financial Disclosure: High-level government officials, including elected officials, must make an annual disclosure of their financial assets to the Integrity Commission, a constitutionally established entity. While authorities do not publicize the disclosure reports filed by individuals, the commission submits a report to parliament each year. The commission publishes the names of noncompliant officials in the newspaper, and fines of up to 50,000 East Caribbean dollars ($18,500) and up to five years’ imprisonment can be imposed for failing to file the disclosure.

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law specifies the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination, and workers fired for union activity have the right to reinstatement. The law provides effective remedies and penalties. The government, however, did not effectively enforce the law.

The law places restrictions on the right to strike by members of the police, corrections service, fire department, health service, and utilities (electricity, water, and telecommunications) on the grounds these organizations provide “essential services.” These workers must give 30 days’ notice before striking. Once workers have given notice, authorities usually refer the matter to an ad hoc labor tribunal set up under the Essential Services Act. The government selects tribunal members, following rules to ensure tripartite representation. These ad hoc tribunals try to resolve disputes through mandatory arbitration.

The government generally respected freedom of association, while employers generally respected the right to collective bargaining. Workers exercised the right to strike and bargain collectively.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The government prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and effectively enforced the prohibition. Penalties for forced labor violations were insufficient to deter violations. The government did not have written procedures to guide officials on the proactive identification and referral of trafficking victims.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) noted with concern that the law allows for prisoners to be hired out to or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies, and associations.

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

Not all of the worst forms of child labor are prohibited. The law does not prohibit the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 years for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs. The law provides for a minimum legal working age of 15 once a child has finished the school year. The minimum legal age for industrial work is 18. The law provides special protections for workers younger than 18 regarding working conditions, and it prohibits hazardous work. There are no specific restrictions on working hours for those younger than 18. There is no comprehensive list of what constitutes hazardous work; however, the Occupational Health and Safety Act prohibits children younger than 18 from working in industrial settings, including using machinery and working in extreme temperatures. Children ages 15 to 17 need a parent’s permission to work.

The Ministry of Infrastructure, Ports, Energy, and Labour is responsible for enforcing statutes that regulate child labor. The penalties in theory were adequate to deter violations but these laws were not effectively enforced.

There were no formal reports of violations of child labor laws, and the government did not report any investigations (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, skin color, sex, religion, national extraction, social origin, ethnic origin, political opinion or affiliation, age, disability, serious family responsibility, pregnancy, marital status, and HIV/AIDS status. The law does not prohibit discrimination regarding gender identity. Despite the prohibitions, the law allows for different wages for men and women doing the same work. In addition the law sets different rates of severance pay for men and women. The ILO noted with concern that certain laws and regulations, including protective measures such as the Factory Regulations of 1948, contain provisions excluding women from certain jobs.

The law prohibits termination of employment for sexual orientation. Civil society groups received reports of LGBTI persons being denied jobs or leaving jobs due to a hostile work environment. There are no specific penalties for discrimination, so penalties for discrimination are covered under the general penalties section of the labor code. The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a minimum wage for some sectors, including office clerks, shop assistants, and messengers. On average the sector-specific minimum wages were below the official poverty level.

The legislated workweek is 40 hours, with a maximum of eight hours per day. Special legislation covers work hours for shop assistants, agricultural workers, domestic workers, and industrial workers. Labor laws, including occupational health and safety standards, apply to all workers whether in the formal or informal sector.

The labor code provides penalties which were sufficient to deter violations of labor standards. The government effectively enforced the law. The Ministry of Infrastructure, Ports, Energy, and Labour is charged with monitoring violations of labor law. Employers generally were responsive to ministry requests to address labor code violations, and authorities rarely levied fines. Officers effectively monitored compliance with standards governing pensions, terminations, vacation, sick leave, contracts, and hours of work. There were no reported violations of wage laws, and most categories of workers received wages higher than minimum wage, based on prevailing market conditions. The government reported three workplace-related deaths during the year.

The government sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards that are current and appropriate. The number of inspectors was not adequate to enforce compliance. As of October no offices were closed for failing to meet OSH standards. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The ministry reported workers in the construction sector sometimes faced hazardous working conditions. Most overtime and wage violations occurred in this sector. The government does not legally define or collect statistics on the informal economy.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Executive Summary

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy. The prime minister is the head of the government. The United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor general. In 2015 Ralph Gonsalves was elected by his party to a fourth consecutive term as prime minister. International observers assessed the election as generally free and fair.

The Royal Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Police are the only security force in the country and are responsible for maintaining national security. Its forces include the Coast Guard, Special Services Unit, Rapid Response Unit, Drug Squad, and Antitrafficking Unit. The police force reports to the minister of national security, a portfolio held by the prime minister. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included the criminalization of libel and the criminalization of consensual same-sex activity between men, which was not enforced during the year.

The government took steps to investigate and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, and there was not a widespread perception of impunity for security force members.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Libel/Slander Laws: Civil society observers reported concerns about criticizing the government, primarily due to fear of facing libel charges, including under the 2016 Cybercrime Act. Civil society representatives indicated these fears resulted in media outlets practicing self-censorship. The act establishes criminal penalties, including imprisonment, for offenses including libel by electronic communication, cyberbullying, and illegal acquisition of data. The government did not charge anyone with libel or defamation during the year.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Civil society, however, reported citizens were hesitant to participate in antigovernment protests due to fear of retaliation.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at 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.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status; the government addresses each case individually. The government has not established a system for protecting refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials at times engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. NGOs and the opposition party reported instances of government corruption during the year, including allegations of misappropriation of money allocated for aid and development programs.

Corruption: Allegations of political handouts and other forms of low-level corruption persisted.

Financial Disclosure: There are no financial disclosure laws for public officials.

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

The Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA), a domestic human rights group, generally operated without government restriction, and investigated and published its findings on human rights cases. The government held various meetings with civil society that included the SVGHRA. Civil society reported that even where government officials shared the SVGHRA’s concerns, government officials were intimidated by senior officials from investigating allegations of human rights abuses.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The government recognizes the right to freedom of association, with restrictions. The International Labor Organization (ILO) noted with concern the discretionary authority of the government over trade union registration, and the government’s unfettered authority to investigate the financial accounts of trade unions. The government generally respected the right to collective bargaining in the private sector. The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law does not require employers to recognize a particular union as an exclusive bargaining agent. Authorities formed arbitration panels, which included tripartite representation from government, businesses, and unions, on an ad hoc basis when labor disputes occurred.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and dismissal for engaging in union activities. Although the law does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, a court may order reinstatement.

Workers providing essential services–defined as the provision of electricity, water, hospital, and police services–are prohibited from striking unless they provide at least 14 days’ notice to the authorities. Some of these sectors were not covered under the ILO’s description of essential services.

The government generally enforced labor laws effectively. Government penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties against forced labor carry punishments commensurate with serious crimes and were sufficient to deter violations. The ILO expressed concern that membership in an illegal organization could result in prison labor, in contravention of Convention 105, Abolition of Forced Labor.

While there were no forced labor investigations during the year, civil society reported that during the tourist season a small number of persons–including minors–were vulnerable to forced labor in underground economic activities in the drug trade and prostitution.

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 bars the worst forms of child labor and sets the minimum working age at 14. Compulsory education ends at age 16. The law prohibits children and youth from working between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Children younger than age 18 may not work for more than 12 hours a day. Types of hazardous work prohibited to children are not specified by law or regulation.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws. The Department of Labour did not conduct any inspections specifically related to child labor. Instead, the government relied on general labor inspections to identify any child labor violations, but these inspectors had no specialized training on identifying child labor. There were no reported complaints related to child labor. Covered under its trafficking in persons legislation, penalties for child labor could result in 20 years’ imprisonment and were sufficient to deter violations.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Laws and regulations related to employment and occupation prohibit discrimination based on sex or disability, but no laws prohibit discrimination against a person based on race, religion, political opinion, national origin, social origin, age, or language. Whether the law covers sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive status is untested in court. The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting employment discrimination. It was unclear whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages, updated in 2017, varied by sector and type of work and were below the poverty line. The law prescribes hours of work according to category, such as industrial employees (40 hours per week), professionals (44 hours per week), and agricultural workers (30 to 40 hours per week). The law provides that workers receive time-and-a-half for hours worked above the standard workweek. There was a prohibition against excessive or compulsory overtime, which authorities did not enforce effectively.

The law concerning occupational safety and health is outdated. Workers have the right to remove themselves from unsafe work environments without jeopardizing their employment, but authorities did not effectively enforce this right.

The government did not employ enough inspectors to enforce the law effectively. The Ministry of Agriculture conducted inspections and worksite visits in the agricultural sector related to occupational safety and health. The Department of Labour stated it did not have the legal authority to impose fines for violations, but it conducted follow-up inspections to assess if the shortfalls had been addressed. The Department of Labour and judicial officials have the authority to prosecute violations of workplace law and impose fines. Workers who receive less than the minimum wage may file a claim with labor inspectors, who investigate and, if warranted, refer the matter to arbitration. The department received very few complaints concerning minimum wage violations but received more complaints regarding wrongful dismissal.

Samoa

Executive Summary

Samoa is a constitutional parliamentary democracy that incorporates traditional practices into its governmental system. Although the unicameral parliament is elected by universal suffrage, only matai (heads of extended families) may be members. In 2016 voters elected a new parliament, confirming Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi in office. The elections were free and fair on the day, but the matai requirement and the questionable disqualification of candidates caused some observers to question the fairness of the outcome.

The national police, under the Ministry of Police, maintain internal security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy at the village government level; criminal libel laws; laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced; and forced child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses. There were no reports of impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press. The law stipulates imprisonment for any journalist who, despite a court order, refuses to reveal a confidential source upon request from a member of the public.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law authorizes the Samoa Tourism Authority (STA) to file suit against any person who publishes information about the tourism industry that it deems prejudicial to the public perception of the country. Violators are subject to a fine or maximum imprisonment of three months if they fail to retract the information or to publish a correction when ordered to do so by the STA. The STA did not exercise this authority in the year to October.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel may be prosecuted as a criminal offense. The law was enacted in late 2017 largely in response to an increase in social media bloggers posting defamatory allegations, often about government leaders. Local media regard the law as an obstacle to press freedom.

In February, Malele Paulo, an Australia-based Samoan blogger, travelled to the country to attend his mother’s funeral. Paulo was arrested and charged with criminal libel for posting accusations that the prime minister played a part in the assassination of a fellow cabinet minister in 1999, along with other accusations. In July, Paulo pled guilty to the criminal libel charges at an initial hearing, but later withdrew his plea. In October, Paulo was sentenced to 7 weeks in prison. Paulo has also been charged in an August conspiracy to assassinate the prime minister but that case had not gone to trial as of December.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: There were reports some village councils banished individuals or families from villages.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status, but the government has not yet established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no requests for asylum or refugee status.

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. The government repealed the Electoral Act 1963 passing a new Electoral Act 2019. It combines all amendments to the repealed Act along with a requirement that all citizens 21 years and older register as voters and vote in national elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. The maximum penalty for corruption is 14 years’ imprisonment. There were reports of government corruption. In May the contract of the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration was terminated following his suspension in March when the Public Service Commission (PSC) filed six charges against him. One of the charges included a breach of the Public Service Act, based on an allegation that the CEO unlawfully authorized the release of original Lands and Titles Court files relating to the minister of justice. The CEO was terminated, however, not for the removal of court files, but for inappropriate behavior towards female employees and alleged misconduct in relation to other ministry employees, issues that came to light during the PSC investigation.

The law provides for an ombudsman to investigate complaints against government agencies, officials, or employees, including allegations of corruption. The ombudsman may require the government to provide information relating to a complaint. The Attorney General’s Office prosecutes criminal corruption cases on behalf of the PSC. The Ombudsman’s Office and the PSC operated effectively. The Ombudsman’s Office included academics and other members of civil society among the members of its commissions of inquiry.

Corruption: There was public discontent throughout the year at significant delays in the submission of annual audit reports to parliament and the lack of punitive action. For example, the latest publicly available report of the controller and auditor general’s reports to parliament was for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The reports for the three subsequent years were tabled in parliament in March.

Financial Disclosure: Although there are no financial disclosure laws, codes of ethics applicable to boards of directors of government owned corporations encouraged public officials to follow similar disclosure.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: Observers considered the Office of the Ombudsman generally effective and able to operate free from government or political party interference. The government usually adopted its recommendations. The Office of the Ombudsman also houses the National Human Rights Institute.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law protects the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, to conduct legal strikes, and to bargain collectively. There are certain restrictions on the right to strike for government workers, imposed principally for reasons of public safety. The law states that a public sector employee who engages in a strike or any other industrial action is considered “dismissed from…employment.” The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, such as contract conditions that restrict free association. The law addresses a range of fundamental rights and includes the establishment of a national tripartite forum that serves as the governing body for labor and employment matters in the country.

The government effectively enforced laws on unionization, and the government generally respected freedom of association. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Public Service Association functioned as a union for all government workers. Unions generally conducted their activities free from government interference.

Workers exercised the right to organize and bargain collectively. The Public Service Association engaged in collective bargaining on behalf of government workers, including on wages. Arbitration and mediation procedures were in place to resolve labor disputes, although such disputes rarely arose. The government has the right to dissolve unions without going to court, a provision of the law criticized by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

There were no reports of strikes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced such laws. There is an exception in the constitution for service required by local custom. A key feature of the matai system is that non-matai men perform work in their village in service to their families, church, or the village as a whole. Most persons did so willingly, but the matai may compel those who do not wish to work, including children.

The government did effectively enforce the law. The law states that forced labor is punishable by penalties sufficient to deter violations. Aside from the cultural exception noted above and street vending by children, forced labor was not considered a problem. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor received no complaints and found no violations of forced labor during inspections conducted.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The ILO noted that the law does not effectively prohibit the procuring or offering of children between the ages of 16 and 18 for the production of indecent materials. The law also does not specifically prohibit the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs.

The law prohibits employing children ages 12-14 except in “safe and light work.” The government issued a public notice clarifying the hazardous work occupations prohibited for children under age 18.

The law does not apply to service rendered to family members or the matai, some of whom required children to work for the village, primarily on family farms. The law prohibits any student from engaging in light or heavy industrial activity during school hours of 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The law restricts vending by school-aged children (younger than age 14) if it interferes with their school attendance, participation in school activities, or educational development. This law is effectively enforced in the formal economy, but only minimally enforced in the informal economy in areas such as child street vending, which takes place at all hours of the day and night. Children frequently sold goods and food on street corners. The problem of child street vending attracted significant media coverage and public outcry. There were no reliable statistics available on the extent of child labor, but it occurred largely in the informal sector.

The extent to which children had to work on village farms varied by village, although anecdotal accounts indicated the practice was common. Younger children primarily did yard work and light work such as gathering fruit, nuts, and plants. Some boys began working on plantations as teenagers, helping to gather crops such as coconuts and caring for animals. Some children reportedly had domestic service employment.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination, direct or indirect, against an employee or an applicant for employment based on ethnicity, race, color, sex, gender, religion, political opinion, national extraction, sexual orientation, social origin, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibilities, real or perceived HIV status, and disability.

The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Ministry received one complaint regarding unfair hiring practices during the year. The hiring and recruiting process for the private sector is outside of the scope of the Labor and Employment Relations Act. No cases drew public attention.

To integrate women into the economic mainstream, the government sponsored numerous programs, including literacy and training programs.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There were separate minimum wage scales for the private and public sectors. Both minimum wages were below the official estimate of the poverty income level for a household. The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Approximately 75 percent of the working population worked in the subsistence economy and had no formal employment.

The law covers private and public sector workers differently. For the private sector, the law specifies overtime pay at time and a half, with double time for work on Sunday and public holidays. For the public sector, there is no paid overtime, but authorities give compensatory time off for overtime work.

The law establishes certain rudimentary safety and health standards for workplaces, which the labor ministry is responsible for enforcing. The law also covers nonworkers who are lawfully on the premises or within the workplace during work hours. The law contains provisions for the identification and assessment of, and risk control for, workplace hazards and hazardous substances. In January the Labor Ministry issued a public notice clarifying the list of hazardous work prohibited for children.

Safety laws do not generally apply to agricultural service rendered to the matai or work in a family enterprise. Government employees have coverage under different and more stringent regulations, which the Public Service Commission enforced adequately.

Independent observers reported that the Labor Ministry did not strictly enforce safety laws, except when accidents highlighted noncompliance. It investigated work accidents when it received reports. The number of inspectors was generally sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Many agricultural workers had inadequate protection from pesticides and other dangers to health. Government education and awareness programs sought to address these concerns by providing appropriate training and equipment to some agricultural workers.

The Labor Ministry investigates any potential labor law violations in response to complaints. The police and education ministries may assist if needed; the PSC handles all government labor matters.

The commissioner of labor investigates reported cases of hazardous workplaces. Workers are legally able to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

San Marino

Executive Summary

The Republic of San Marino is a multiparty democracy. Twice yearly, the popularly elected unicameral Great and General Council (parliament) selects two of its members to serve as Captains Regent (co-heads of state). They preside over meetings of the Council and of the Congress of State (cabinet), which has no more than 10 other members (secretaries of state), selected by the Council. Observers considered the parliamentary elections on December 8 to be generally free and fair.

The Civil Police operates under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Captains Regent oversee the Gendarmerie (national police force) and National Guard (military) when they are performing duties related to public order and security. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs exercises control over such administrative functions as personnel and equipment, and the courts exercise control over the Gendarmerie when it acts as judicial police. The Military Congress enforces the military code of conduct. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government was prepared to take steps to identify, investigate, and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The country’s laws prohibit persons from disseminating, by any means, ideas based on racial superiority or on racial or ethnic hatred, or from committing or encouraging others to commit discriminatory acts on the grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. There were no reports of violations of or prosecutions based on these laws.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law regulating media and the work of media professionals provides for an authority for information, which may impose sanctions (including fines) on journalists and media who violate a national media code of conduct. Online publications, such as blogs or messages on social media operated or written by individuals, associations, or parties were not considered as being part of the press and are therefore not covered by this legislation.

Unlike the previous year, journalists were represented within the Office of the Press Ombudsman, which was in charge of ensuring compliance with the code of ethics by media professionals.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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.

Although the country is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, the government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The government may grant refugee status or asylum by an act of the cabinet.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. In August parliament approved a law providing for the criminalization of private sector corruption. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: There is no specific financial disclosure requirement for public officials. The law requires candidates running for elective office to disclose their income from the previous year as well as any assets or investments in companies.

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Some limitations defined by the law apply to strikes by workers employed in ‘essential public services,’ including healthcare, education, and transportation. The government enforced applicable laws without lengthy delays. The laws are subject to appeals, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Penalties include fees and in case of recidivism the prohibition of professional activity.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. During the first 11 months of the year, there were no reports that the government interfered in union activities, sought to dissolve unions, or used excessive force to end strikes or protests, nor any reports of antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced such laws. Resources, remediation efforts, and investigations appeared adequate and effective, although information on penalties for violations was not available.

According to the Office of the Labor Inspector, there were no reports of forced labor.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16 and the law excludes minors between the ages of 16 and 18 from the heaviest type of work. Minors are not allowed to work overtime and cannot work more than eight hours per day. The government effectively enforced child labor laws and devoted adequate resources and oversight to child labor policies. During the first 11 months of the year, the Office of the Labor Inspector did not report any cases of child labor.

The government effectively enforced laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. There were no official cases of discrimination in employment or occupation brought during the first 11 months of the year.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. Industry-based minimum wages existed for various industrial sectors. In April parliament approved a law that introduced specific criteria for the allocation of social funds, taking into consideration the applicants’ conditions, including income, wealth, and health status. On average, less than 2 percent of the adult population applied for this contribution annually. Low-income individuals could also apply for welfare payments.

The law prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime. The government set appropriate safety and health standards for the main industries. The penalties for failing to comply with the safety and health regulations provided by law range from a fine to imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations.

The government’s Labor Office generally enforced labor standards effectively. There were a few exceptions, especially in the construction industry, where some employers did not consistently abide by safety regulations, such as work-hour limitations and use of personal safety devices. Authorities did not enforce health and safety standards in the informal sector. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. There were no reports of serious injuries to workers in the first nine months of the year. The Office of the Labor Inspector has responsibility for receiving and investigating claims of workplace health and safety violations. The Agency for Environment and the Agency for Civil Protection are mandated to supervise the implementation of legislation on safety and health in the workplace as well as to investigate major accidents.

Sao Tome and Principe

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is a multiparty constitutional democracy. In 2016 voters elected President Evaristo do Espirito Santo Carvalho as head of state. The legislative elections in October 2018 produced a peaceful transfer of power from the Independent Democratic Action (ADI) to a coalition of other parties. International observers deemed the presidential and legislative elections generally free and fair.

The national police and judicial police maintain internal security. The army and coast guard are responsible for external security. Both national police and the military report to the Ministry of Defense and Internal Affairs. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has responsibility for the judicial police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included lengthy pretrial detention; official corruption; and widespread domestic violence against women and girls, where government lack of action for prosecution and accountability contributed to an atmosphere of impunity.

The government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses; however, impunity was a problem.

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 these rights. A somewhat independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, although the press sometimes was susceptible to political influence and manipulation. The law grants all opposition parties access to state-run media, including a minimum of three minutes for each party per month on television. Some opposition leaders claimed newscasters did not always respect the minimum time, or the government edited content during that time.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media remained underdeveloped and subject to pressure and manipulation. Privately owned as well as government-owned radio and television stations broadcast throughout the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists claimed to have practiced self-censorship, particularly at government-owned media entities, which were the country’s most significant sources of news. Private news sources have also censored their own reporting.

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 https://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.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not specifically provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. During the year there were no known requests for refugee or asylum status.

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. Unlike in prior years, opposition members did not fear retribution for expressing their opinions or criticizing the government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. At year’s end the government of Prime Minister Bom Jesus was conducting several investigations of corruption allegations against former high-ranking officials.

Corruption: The prime minister stated fighting corruption would be a priority of his administration. The coalition government initiated investigations into two former ministers and the former head of the state-owned water and electricity enterprise. The World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators indicated corruption remained a problem. Many citizens viewed police as ineffective and corrupt.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require public officials to disclose their assets or income, but it permits such disclosures. Public disclosure of these financial statements, however, rarely occurred.

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

A small number of domestic 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 the views of domestic human rights groups.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Committee, under the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, was moderately effective.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. While the law recognizes the right to collective bargaining, there are no regulations governing this right. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or acts of interference committed by employers against trade unions. While the law provides for the right to strike, including by government employees and other essential workers, this right is strictly regulated. The provisions regulating strikes require agreement by a majority of workers before a strike may be called, and replacement workers may be hired without consultation with trade unions to perform essential services if an enterprise is threatened by a strike. The law does not provide a list of specific minimum or essential services. In the event of disagreement in determining what constitutes a “minimum service,” the employer and the workers’ union arrive at a decision on a case-by-case basis through negotiation (instead of through an independent body). The law also requires compulsory arbitration for services, including postal, banking, and loan services. The law does not prohibit retaliation against strikers.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and there were no collective bargaining agreements in the country. Both the government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations were restricted in some sectors but generally were independent of government and political parties. The penalties were sufficient to deter violations in some areas, but the penalties for acts of antiunion discrimination or acts of interference against trade union organizations were insufficient.

Workers’ collective bargaining rights remained relatively weak due to the government’s role as the principal employer in the formal wage sector and key interlocutor for organized labor on all matters, including wages. The two labor unions–the General Union of Workers of Sao Tome and Principe and the National Organization of Workers of Sao Tome and Principe–negotiated with the government on behalf of their members as needed. There were no reported attempts by unions or workers to negotiate collective agreements during the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were no reports of forced or compulsory labor, or evidence that such practices occurred.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law protects children from exploitation in the formal sector. The minimum employment age is 18 for full-time work. The law sets the minimum age for nonhazardous work at 14. In April a labor law was adopted that includes a list of hazardous work prohibited for children. The law allows minors between ages 15 and 17 to work up to 40 hours per week, provided employers permit them to attend school.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights are responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Penalties for violations of child labor law include fines and the loss of operating licenses, and these penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The government conducted a media campaign aimed at preventing child labor. The Ministry of Education mandates compulsory school attendance through the ninth grade, according to a new education law adopted in 2018, and the government granted some assistance to several thousand low-income families to keep their children in school.

Employers in the formal wage sector generally respected the legally mandated minimum employment age. Exceptions included apprentice-type work such as car repair and carpentry; some employers abused this status. Children worked in informal commerce, including street work. Children also commonly performed agricultural and domestic activities such as washing clothes or childcare to help their parents, which is not prohibited under the law.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, and religious belief. Additionally, the constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination based on political affiliation, social origin, and philosophical conviction. The law, however, does not prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on color, age, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases. There were anecdotal instances of discrimination against HIV-positive employees. Advocacy groups conducted awareness campaigns to address discrimination.

There were no reports of gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation (see section 6, Women). The law allows women to request permission to retire at age 57 or older and men at age 62 but does not oblige them to do so. During the year there were no reports the government subjected women to discriminatory early termination from employment.

The law does not distinguish between migrant workers and citizens in terms of protections, wages, and working conditions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for public employees is above the poverty line. There is no minimum wage in the private sector. The legal workweek is 40 hours, with 48 consecutive hours per week mandated for rest. According to law workers earn 22 days of annual leave per year. Shopkeepers who wish to keep their stores open longer may ask for an exception, which if granted requires them to pay their workers overtime or have them work in shifts. The law provides for compensation for overtime work and prescribes basic occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. The law specifies occupations in which civil servants may work second jobs.

Working two or more jobs was common. Working conditions on many of the largely family-owned cocoa farms–the largest informal economic sector–were unregulated and harsh, with long hours for workers and limited protection from the sun.

The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs are responsible for enforcement of appropriate OSH standards. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ labor inspectors were insufficient in number to enforce the law. They did not monitor labor conditions sufficiently, and enforcement of the standards seldom occurred. Department of Labor inspectors lacked the necessary financial and human resources, as well as basic equipment, to conduct regular inspections. Reliable data on workplace fatalities or accidents was not available. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities had limited inspection capacity to ensure this right was respected. Since the government is the largest employer, it sets the standards on hours of work and effectively enforced OSH standards in the public sector. Approximately one-third of the labor force worked in the informal sector, where laws were not strictly enforced.

Working conditions in the agricultural sector were sometimes hazardous because the sector lacked investment and all work was manual. Salaries were low, although workers also received payment in kind. Most farms were family-owned, consisting of small parcels distributed by the government. Less hazardous working conditions existed for those who worked in domestic households.

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The 1992 Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government, and it provides that the Quran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution. It specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud). In 2015 the country held its most recent municipal elections on a nonparty basis for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats in the 284 municipal councils around the country. Independent polling station observers did not identify significant irregularities with the elections.

The State Security Presidency (SSP), the National Guard, and the Ministries of Defense and Interior, all of which report to the king, are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The SSP includes the General Directorate of Investigation (Mabahith), Special Security Forces, and Special Emergency Forces; police are under the Ministry of Interior. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Through royal decrees the government instituted significant reforms to male guardianship provisions that had long required women to obtain permission from a close male relative for a range of activities, including applying for passports and traveling abroad, registering the birth of a child, registering a marriage or divorce, obtaining status as a “head of household,” and seeking legal guardianship of children. Other new regulations expanded women’s economic empowerment by banning gender discrimination in the workplace and opening new employment opportunities for women.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced disappearances; torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminalization of libel, censorship, and site blocking; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and movement; severe restrictions of religious freedom; citizens’ lack of ability and legal means to choose their government through free and fair elections; trafficking in persons; violence and official discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were implemented; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and prohibition of trade unions.

In several cases the government did not punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity. Following the high-profile October 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, a court sentenced five officials to death and three officials to prison on December 23. The court ruled that guilt could not be established in the case of three other defendants.

In September state-owned oil processing facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked by drones and missiles. Houthi militants in Yemen claimed responsibility, but the Saudi government concluded Iran was responsible for the attack. Houthi militants were also responsible for numerous other attacks on civilian infrastructure inside Saudi Arabia, including airports, schools, hospitals, and oil facilities. Saudi Arabia continued air operations in Yemen throughout the year as leader of a coalition formed in 2015 to counter the 2014 Houthi takeover of government institutions and facilities. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen reportedly resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on multiple occasions. The pace of airstrikes declined in the fall, as the warring parties pursued a negotiated settlement to the conflict. The coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT) investigated allegations of civilian casualties, but the Saudi government did not prosecute any cases based on JIAT findings.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law does not provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. The Basic Law specifies, “Mass media and all other vehicles of expression shall employ civil and polite language, contribute towards the education of the nation, and strengthen unity. The media are prohibited from committing acts that lead to disorder and division, affect the security of the state or its public relations, or undermine human dignity and rights.” Authorities are responsible for regulating and determining which speech or expression undermines internal security. The government can ban or suspend media outlets if it concludes they violated the press and publications law, and it monitored and blocked hundreds of thousands of internet sites. There were frequent reports of restrictions on free speech.

The counterterrorism law’s definition of terrorism includes “any conduct…intended to disturb public order…or destabilize the state or endanger its national unity.” The law also penalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the king or crown prince…or anyone who establishes or uses a website or computer program…to commit any of the offenses set out in the law.” Local human rights activists, international human rights organizations, and the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism criticized the law for its overly broad and vague definitions of terrorism and complained the government used it to prosecute peaceful expression and dissent.

Freedom of Expression: The government monitored public expressions of opinion and took advantage of legal controls to impede the free expression of opinion and restrict individuals from engaging in public criticism of the political sphere. The law forbids apostasy and blasphemy, which can carry the death penalty, although there were no recent instances of death sentences being carried out for these crimes (see section 1.a.). Statements that authorities construed as constituting defamation of the king, monarchy, governing system, or Al Saud family resulted in criminal charges for citizens advocating government reform. The government prohibits public employees from directly or indirectly engaging in dialogue with local or foreign media or participating in any meetings intended to oppose state policies.

Some human rights activists were detained and then released on the condition that they refrain from using social media for activism, communicating with foreign diplomats and international human rights organizations, and traveling outside the country, according to human rights organizations.

The government detained a number of individuals for crimes related to their exercise of free speech during the year. From September to November, human rights groups and foreign media reported that authorities detained at least six persons, including an academic, poet, and tribal chief, for allegedly criticizing the General Entertainment Authority (GEA).

On October 10, Omar al-Muqbil, an academic at Qassim University, was allegedly arrested over a video criticizing the GEA’s recent policy of hosting concerts by international artists. In the video he accused the GEA of “erasing society’s original identity.” On October 21, poet Safar al-Dughilbi was summoned for questioning regarding a poem he wrote that referred to the “ill-practices” of the GEA. On October 22, the Prisoners of Conscience Twitter account announced a chief of the Otaiba tribe, Faisal Sultan Jahjah bin Humaid, was detained and questioned following a tweet criticizing the GEA and calling for “reasonable forms of entertainment.”

On November 12, the chairman of the GEA, Turki Al al-Sheikh, warned on Twitter the government would “take legal steps against anyone who criticizes or complains about the authority’s work.”

Between November 16 and November 20, authorities detained at least 11 persons, mostly journalists, writers, and entrepreneurs, according to the ALQST. A few days later, authorities released at least eight of those detained.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The Press and Publications Law governs printed materials; printing presses; bookstores; the import, rental, and sale of films; television and radio; foreign media offices and their correspondents; and online newspapers and journals. Media fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Media. The ministry may permanently close “whenever necessary” any means of communication–defined as any means of expressing a viewpoint that is meant for circulation–that it deems is engaged in a prohibited activity, as set forth in the law.

Media policy statements urged journalists to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage. In 2011 a royal decree amended the press law to strengthen penalties, create a special commission to judge violations, and require all online newspapers and bloggers to obtain a license from the ministry. The decree bans publishing anything “contradicting sharia, inciting disruption, serving foreign interests that contradict national interests, and damaging the reputation of the grand mufti, members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, or senior government officials.”

The law states that violators can face fines up to 50,000 riyals ($13,300) for each violation of the law, which doubles if the violation is repeated. Other penalties include banning individuals from writing. While the Violations Considerations Committee in the Ministry of Media has formal responsibility for implementing the law, the Ministry of Interior, the CPVPV, and judges considered these issues regularly and exercised wide discretion in interpreting the law. It was unclear which of these institutional processes accords with the law.

Although unlicensed satellite dishes were illegal, the government did not enforce restrictions on them, and their use was widespread. Many foreign satellite stations broadcast a wide range of programs into the country in Arabic and other languages, including foreign news channels. Access to foreign sources of information, including via satellite dishes and the internet, was common. Foreign media were subject to licensing requirements from the Ministry of Media and could not operate freely. Privately owned satellite television networks, headquartered outside the country, maintained local offices and operated under a system of self-censorship.

On March 3, local media reported that authorities temporarily suspended a talk show hosted by journalist and Saudi Broadcasting Corporation president Dawood al-Shirian after it showed episodes on the guardianship system, the shortage of driving schools for women, and Saudi women seeking asylum abroad. The show returned a week later on March 10, according to Okaz daily newspaper.

On June 11, local media reported the GEA banned Kuwaiti artist Mona Shadad from appearing on local radio and television channels after Shadad appeared in a video praising Qatar.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists, writers, and bloggers to arrest, imprisonment, and harassment during the year (see sections 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions and 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Throughout the year NGOs, academics, and the press reported on the government’s targeting of dissidents using automated social media accounts to ensure that progovernment messages dominated social media trend lists and effectively silenced dissenting voices. Automated account activity was reportedly accompanied by online harassment by progovernment accounts in some instances. Dissidents with large social media followings were targeted for offline harassment and surveillance as well.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines and directly or indirectly censored the media by licensing domestic media and by controlling importation of foreign printed material.

All newspapers, blogs, and websites in the country must be government licensed. The Ministry of Media must approve the appointment of all senior editors and has authority to remove them. The government provided guidelines to newspapers regarding controversial issues. The Saudi Press Agency reported official government news. The government owned most print and broadcast media and book publication facilities in the country, and members of the royal family owned or influenced privately owned and nominally independent operations, including various media outlets and widely circulated pan-Arab newspapers published outside the country. Authorities prevented or delayed the distribution of foreign print media covering issues considered sensitive, effectively censoring these publications.

The government censored published material it considered blasphemous, extremist, racist, or offensive or as inciting chaos, violence, sectarianism, or harm to the public order. In 2017 the PPO stated that producing and promoting “rumors that affect the public order” was a crime under the cybercrimes law and punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of three million riyals ($800,000), or both. In June 2018 the PPO warned against sending, producing, or storing any material that stirs up tribalism and fanaticism or harms public order, which is also punishable by the above penalties. On July 10, the Shura Council called on the General Commission for Audiovisual Media to intensify efforts to prevent the broadcast of content that contravenes the country’s laws, customs, traditions, and public decorum or harms the reputation of the kingdom and its people. According to the Saudi Press Agency, the council underlined the need to enhance control of the electronic games market through surveillance of stores, markets, and websites in accordance with local and international regulations.

In some cases, however, individuals criticized specific government bodies or actions publicly without repercussions. The Consultative Council (Majlis ash-Shura), an advisory body, frequently allowed print and broadcast media to observe its proceedings and meetings, but the council closed some high-profile or controversial sessions to the media.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were numerous reports during the year of the government using libel laws to suppress publication of material that criticized policies or public officials.

The cybercrimes law provides for a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment for “defamation and infliction of damage upon others through the use of various information technology devices,” including social media and social networks.

National Security: Authorities used the cybercrimes law and the counterterrorism law to restrict freedom of expression, including by prosecuting numerous individuals under these laws on charges related to statements made on social media.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law does not provide for freedom of assembly and association, which the government severely limited.

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 does not contain provisions for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the free movement of male citizens within the country. The guardianship system does not require a woman to have the permission of her male guardian (normally a father, husband, son, brother, grandfather, uncle, or other male relative) to move freely within the country (see section 6, Women). Courts, however, sometimes ruled that women should abide by a male guardian’s request to stay at home by “occasionally upholding a guardian’s right to obedience from his female dependents,” according to an HRW report.

Authorities respected the right of citizens to change residence or workplace, provided they held a national identification card (NIC). The law requires all male citizens who are 15 or older to possess a NIC. In 2012 the Ministry of Interior announced it would start issuing NICs to all female citizens at the age of 15, phasing in the requirement over a seven-year period. There was minimal information available regarding whether this initiative was successfully implemented.

In June 2018 the country lifted its longstanding ban on women driving. The process of issuing licenses, however, was slowed by the small number of training schools available to women, which resulted in waiting lists for driving classes, since a driving school certificate is a requirement to obtain a license. Another obstacle was the high cost of driver’s education for women, which international media reported was four to five times as expensive as men’s fees, reportedly because women’s schools had better technology and facilities.

Foreign Travel: There are restrictions on foreign travel. Many foreign workers require an exit visa and a valid passport to depart the country. Saudi citizens of both genders younger than 21, other dependents, or foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a guardian’s consent to travel abroad. On June 20, Okaz reported that married Saudi men younger than 21 no longer require guardian consent to travel abroad. According to Ministry of Interior regulations, a noncitizen wife needs permission from her husband to travel, unless both partners sign a prenuptial agreement permitting the noncitizen wife to travel without the husband’s permission. Government entities can ban the travel of citizens and noncitizens without trial, and male family members can “blacklist” women and minor children by reporting them as “disobedient,” prohibiting their travel.

On August 1, the government published Royal Decree 134/M, which stipulates that citizens of either gender older than 21 can obtain and renew a passport and travel abroad without guardian permission. The travel regulations entered into effect on August 20. On October 14, local media reported that as many as 14,000 adult women had obtained their passports since August without seeking the consent of their legal guardian.

Employers or sponsors controlled the departure of foreign workers and residents from the country; employers or sponsors were responsible for processing residence permits and exit visas on their behalf. Sponsors frequently held their employees’ passports against the desires of the employees, despite a law specifically prohibiting this practice. Foreign workers typically provided sponsors with their residence permit before traveling in exchange for their passport to ensure the worker’s return to their employer after their travel.

The government reportedly confiscated passports for political reasons and revoked the rights of some citizens to travel, often without providing them notification or opportunity to contest the restriction. Most travel bans reportedly involved individuals in court cases relating to corruption, state security concerns, or labor, financial, and real estate disputes. Many relatives of citizens detained in relation to the government’s anticorruption campaign as well as relatives of detained clerics and human rights activists were also reportedly under travel bans.

The government seized the U.S. passports of the wife and children of dual U.S.-Saudi citizen Walid Fitaihi, barring them from leaving the kingdom and freezing their assets following Fitaihi’s detention in 2017. While the international travel ban for family members had been lifted at times during Fitaihi’s detention, it was reinstated following Fitaihi’s release on bond and subsequent charging in July.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides that the “state will grant political asylum if public interest so dictates.” There are no regulations implementing this provision. Generally, there is not a codified asylum system for those fleeing persecution, and the country is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. The government permitted refugees recognized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to stay in the country temporarily, pending identification of a durable solution, including third-country resettlement or voluntary repatriation. The government generally did not grant asylum or accept refugees for resettlement from third countries. Government policy is to refuse refugee status to persons in the country illegally, including those who have overstayed a pilgrimage visa. The government strongly encouraged persons without residency to leave, and it threatened or imposed deportation. Access to naturalization was difficult for refugees.

The government granted six-month visas to Syrian and Yemeni citizens, and a royal decree allowed pro forma extensions of these visas. On January 8 and July 11, the General Directorate of Passports announced renewal of visitor identification cards for Yemeni citizens in accordance with royal directives. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported, however, that during the year more than 30,000 Yemenis were deported due to their immigration status (see section 7.e., Acceptable Conditions of Work). In April 2018 then foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir stated that, since the start of the Syrian conflict, the country had taken in approximately two and one-half million Syrians and treated them as its own citizens, providing them with free health care, work, and education. He added that the country’s universities and schools had more than 140,000 Syrian students.

The IOM reported that as of August an estimated 300,000 Ethiopians had returned to Ethiopia since the government launched a campaign titled “A Nation without Violations” in 2017. HRW reported that a number of these migrants came to Saudi Arabia after experiencing persecution by the Ethiopian government and that deportations may have returned individuals to potentially harmful circumstances. HRW also noted migrants had faced abusive prison conditions in Saudi Arabia.

The government did not recognize the right of Saudi citizens to petition for access to asylum or refugee status in foreign countries. In several cases the government prosecuted and penalized Saudi citizens who sought asylum in foreign countries, according to multiple sources (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). In January an 18-year-old Saudi citizen, citing fear for her life, was granted refugee status in Canada after fleeing from her family to Bangkok. Rahaf Mohammed claimed the Saudi embassy in Bangkok tried to force her to return to Saudi Arabia.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers were generally unable to work legally, although Syrian and Yemeni citizens who possessed a temporary visa could obtain a visitor card from the Ministry of Interior, which reportedly allows these persons to work. The renewable permits are valid for up to six months and tied to the validity period of their temporary visas; men between the ages of 18 and 60 were eligible to apply. In 2017 the General Directorate of Passports allowed Yemeni men to convert their visitor identification card to a residency permit if their Yemeni passport and visitor identification card were valid.

Access to Basic Services: The government provides preferential access to education, health care, public housing, and other social services to citizens and certain legal residents. A royal decree issued in 2012 permitted all Syrians in Saudi Arabia free access to the educational system and a separate decree issued in 2015 gave Yemenis in Saudi Arabia free access to schools. The Ministry of Education modified these decisions in February 2018, announcing that Syrian and Yemeni students holding visitor identification cards were no longer allowed to enroll in public schools and universities and would have to enroll in private ones at their own expense. The UNHCR office in Riyadh provided a subsistence allowance covering basic services to a limited number of vulnerable families, based on a needs assessment. Authorities worked with UNHCR to provide medical treatment, also following a needs assessment.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage; it establishes an absolute monarchy led by the Al Saud family as the political system. The Allegiance Council, composed of up to 34 senior princes appointed by the king, is formally responsible for selecting a king and crown prince upon the death or incapacitation of either. Only select members of the ruling family have a voice in the choice of leaders, the composition of the government, or changes to the political system.

The law provides citizens the right to communicate with public authorities on any matter and establishes the government on the principle of consultation (shura). The king and senior officials, including ministers and regional governors, are required to be available through majlis, open-door meetings where in theory any male citizen or noncitizen may express an opinion or a grievance without an appointment.

Most government ministries and agencies had women’s sections to interact with female citizens and noncitizens, and at least two regional governorates hired female employees to receive women’s petitions and arrange meetings for women with complaints for, or requests of, the governor.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. Some officials engaged in corrupt practices, and perceptions of corruption persisted in some sectors. Government employees who accepted bribes faced 10 years in prison or fines up to one million riyals ($267,000).

The Supreme Anticorruption Committee, the National Anticorruption Commission (Nazaha), the PPO, and the Control and Investigation Board are units of the government with authority to investigate reports of criminal activity, corruption, and “disciplinary cases” involving government employees. These bodies are responsible for investigating potential cases and referring them to the administrative courts.

While Nazaha is responsible for promoting transparency and combating all forms of financial and administrative corruption, the relationship between Nazaha and the newer Supreme Anticorruption Committee was unclear. Nazaha’s ministerial-level director reported directly to the king. In 2015 the Shura Council criticized Nazaha for its failure to refer for investigation a sufficient number of corruption cases. The council also stated the public did not believe Nazaha could handle its responsibility to investigate and punish corruption.

Legal authorities for investigation and public prosecution of criminal offenses are consolidated within the PPO; the Control and Investigation Board is responsible for investigation and prosecution of noncriminal cases. Financial audit and control functions are vested in the General Auditing Board. The HRC also responded to and researched complaints of corruption.

On December 12, King Salman issued three royal decrees consolidating anticorruption responsibilities under a single entity, the new Control and Anticorruption Commission. The decrees consolidate the Control and Investigation Board, Mabahith’s Administrative Investigations Directorate (within the General Investigation Directorate), and the National Anticorruption Commission (Nazaha) into the new commission, which is to be led by Mazen bin Ibrahim al-Khamous, who assumed leadership of Nazaha in August. The consolidated agency is intended to have criminal investigation and prosecutorial authorities that its predecessors lacked. As with Nazaha, the new Control and Anticorruption Commission will report directly to the king.

Provincial governors and other members of the royal family paid compensation to victims of corruption during weekly majlis meetings where citizens raised complaints.

Corruption: Nazaha continued operations and referred cases of possible public corruption to the PPO. Nazaha reported that the commission received 15,591 complaints in 2018, up from 10,402 in 2017.

On January 29, local media reported the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs suspended 126 local government employees at municipalities across the kingdom on corruption charges. “They are charged with involvement in a number of cases including financial and managerial corruption, abuse of power, as well as other legal and criminal violations,” the ministry announced on Twitter.

On February 5, Public Prosecutor Saud al-Mu’jab announced the launch of the Financial Reports Office, part of the government’s General Auditing Bureau. Al-Mu’jab noted the office would monitor state spending and help sustain the fight against corruption after the end of the anticorruption campaign, which the Royal Court announced on January 30.

The Royal Court noted that in the anticorruption campaign, launched in 2017, the government had recovered 400 billion riyals ($106.7 billion) in cash, real estate, and other assets as settlements. It added that the anticorruption committee, led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, summoned 381 individuals for questioning and reached financial settlements with 87 suspects. Eight individuals declined to settle and were referred to the PPO. The cases of an additional 56 individuals were not settled due to preexisting criminal charges against them, the Royal Court stated.

Human rights organizations criticized the government for using the anticorruption campaign as a pretext to target perceived political opponents and for arbitrarily detaining and abusing individuals targeted in the crackdown (see sections 1.c. and 1.d., Pretrial Detention).

In September the government appointed a new Supreme Anticorruption Committee head who announced he would prioritize elimination of corruption in the government ministry and agency ranks.

Financial Disclosure: The government had a uniform schedule of financial disclosure requirements for public officials.

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

The law provides that “the State shall protect human rights in accordance with Islamic sharia.” The government restricted the activities of domestic and international human rights organizations. The government did not allow international human rights NGOs to be based in the country and restricted access to the country for visits. International human rights and humanitarian NGOs reported the government was at times unresponsive to requests for information and did not establish a clear mechanism for communication with NGOs on both domestic human rights issues and issues relating to the conflict in Yemen. There were no transparent standards governing visits by international NGO representatives. The HRC stated that the government welcomed visits by legitimate, unbiased human rights groups but added the government could not act on the “hundreds of requests” it received, in part because it was cumbersome to decide which domestic agencies would be their interlocutor.

The government often cooperated with and sometimes accepted the recommendations of the NSHR, the sole government-licensed domestic human rights organization. The NSHR accepted requests for assistance and complaints about government actions affecting human rights.

The government viewed unlicensed local human rights groups with suspicion, frequently blocking their websites and charging their founders with founding and operating unlicensed organizations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The HRC is part of the government and requires the permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before meeting with diplomats, academics, or researchers with international human rights organizations. The HRC president has ministerial status and reports to the king. The well-resourced HRC was effective in highlighting nonpolitically sensitive problems and registering and responding to the complaints it received, but its capacity to effect change was more limited. The HRC worked directly with the Royal Court and the cabinet, with a committee composed of representatives of the Consultative Council and the Ministries of Labor and Social Development and Interior, and with Consultative Council committees for the judiciary, Islamic affairs, and human rights.

During the year the HRC and NSHR were more outspoken in areas deemed less politically sensitive, including child abuse, child marriage, prison conditions, and cases of individuals detained beyond their prescribed prison sentences. They avoided topics such as protests or cases of political activists or reformers that would require directly confronting government authorities. The HRC board’s 18 full-time members included four women and at least three Shia members; they received and responded to complaints submitted by their constituencies, including problems related to persons with disabilities, religious freedom, and women’s rights. The Consultative Council’s Human Rights Committee also actively followed cases and included women and Shia among its members; a woman served as chairperson of the committee.

The HRC and NSHR maintained records of complaints and outcomes, but privacy laws protect information about individual cases, and information was not publicly available. According to HRC figures, the body received at least 1,070 human rights-related complaints between January and April. On January 5, the NSHR stated it received 2,871 complaints in 2017. Topics of complaints included labor, abuse, citizenship, social welfare, health, and education. During the year the Board of Grievances held hearings and adjudicated claims of wrongdoing, but there were no reported prosecutions of security force members for human rights violations.

The HRC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, provided materials and training to police, other security forces, the Ministry of Defense, and the CPVPV on protecting human rights.

Military and security courts investigated abuses of authority and security force killings. The Board of Grievances, a high-level administrative judicial body that hears cases against government entities and reports directly to the king, is the primary mechanism to seek redress for claims of abuse. Citizens may report abuses by security forces at any police station or to the HRC or NSHR.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions. The law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining or the right to conduct legal strikes. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. There were no labor unions in the country, and workers faced potential dismissal, imprisonment, or, in the case of migrant workers, deportation for union activities.

The government allowed citizen-only labor committees in workplaces with more than 100 employees, but it placed undue limitations on freedom of association and was heavily involved in the formation and activities of these committees. For example, the ministry approves the committee members and authorizes ministry and employer representatives to attend committee meetings. Committee members must submit the minutes of meetings to management and then transmit them to the minister; the ministry can dissolve committees if they violate regulations or are deemed to threaten public security. Regulations limit committees to making recommendations to company management that are limited to improvements to working conditions, health and safety, productivity, and training programs.

In April 2018 Riyadh governor Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud warned against illegal assemblies by workers to protest delayed salaries. He advised that foreign workers should seek recourse from the offices of provincial governors and through legal processes, and he reiterated the importance of both employers’ and employees’ abiding by their contractual obligations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Forced labor occurred, especially among migrant workers–notably domestic servants. Conditions indicative of forced labor experienced by foreign workers included withholding of passports; nonpayment of wages; restrictions on movement; and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Labor law prohibits the confiscation of passports and nonpayment of wages. Violations of labor laws could result in penalties, but these did not sufficiently deter violations. Many noncitizen workers, particularly domestic employees not covered under the labor law, were unable to exercise their right to end their contractual work. An employer may require a trainee to work for him or her upon completion of training for a period not to exceed twice the duration of the training or one year, whichever is longer.

Restrictive sponsorship laws increased workers’ vulnerability to forced labor conditions and made many foreign workers reluctant to report abuse. The contract system does not allow workers to change employers or leave the country without the written consent of the employer under normal circumstances. If wages are withheld for 90 days, a ministerial decree permits an employee to transfer his or her sponsorship to a new employer without obtaining prior approval from the previous employer. There were reports, however, that the Ministry of Labor and Social Development did not always approve petitions to transfer sponsorship due to withheld wages, including some cases in which wages had been withheld for more than three months. During the year numerous migrant workers reported being dismissed, sometimes after months of nonpayment of salaries. Some remained stranded in the country because they were unable to pay required exit visa fees. A few countries that previously allowed their citizens to migrate to the country for work prohibited their citizens from seeking work in Saudi Arabia after widespread reports of worker abuse.

The government continued implementation of the Wage Protection System (WPS), which requires employers to pay foreign workers through bank transfers, thereby allowing the ministry to track whether workers were paid appropriately. All employers with more than 10 employees were required to comply with WPS regulations as of 2017. WPS covered five million employees in 34,000 businesses. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development fined companies for delaying payment for employees’ salaries on the first occurrence and blocked companies from accessing government services if a company delayed salaries for two or more months. The fines appeared to be insufficient to deter violations.

Throughout the year the government strictly implemented measures to limit the number of noncitizen workers in the country. The government also penalized Hajj tourist agencies that engaged in human smuggling and local companies that abused the country’s visa laws to bring individuals into the country for reasons other than to employ them directly. A smaller number came as religious pilgrims and overstayed their visas. Because of their undocumented status, many persons in the country were susceptible to forced labor, substandard wages, and deportation by authorities.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law provides that no person younger than 15 may legally work unless that person is the sole source of support for the family. Children between the ages of 13 and 15 may work if the job is not harmful to health or growth and does not interfere with schooling. The law provides that hazardous operations or harmful industries may not employ legal minors, and children younger than 18 may not be employed for shifts exceeding six hours a day. There is no minimum age for workers employed in family-owned businesses or other areas considered extensions of the household, such as farming, herding, and domestic service. Penalties generally were considered sufficient to deter violations.

The HRC and NSHR are responsible for monitoring enforcement of child labor laws. There was little information on government efforts to enforce relevant laws or actions to prevent or eliminate child labor during the year. Authorities most commonly enforced the law in response to complaints of children begging on the streets.

Most child labor involved children from other countries, including Yemen and Ethiopia, forced into begging rings, street vending, and working in family businesses.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or HIV-positive status. Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation occurred with respect to all these categories. There are no effective complaint resolution mechanisms present to deter these discriminatory regulations and practices.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Development explicitly approved and encouraged the employment of women in specific sectors, particularly in government (see section 3, Participation of Women and Minorities) and retail, but women faced many discriminatory regulations. The first-quarter Labor Market Report by the General Authority for Statistics found that Saudi girls and women (15 years of age and above) constituted 8.4 percent of the country’s total labor force (Saudi and non-Saudi, 15 years of age and above). The same report estimated that women and girls, both Saudi and foreign, represented 17.8 percent of all employed persons (15 years of age and above) in the country. Most non-Saudi women were employed as domestic workers. Rules limited the type of work women were allowed to perform and required them to wear a veil. In practice gender segregation continued to take place in the workplace.

There is no regulation requiring equal pay for equal work. In the private sector, the average monthly wage of Saudi women workers was 58 percent of the average monthly wage of Saudi men. Labor dispute settlement bodies did not register any cases of discrimination against women.

In recent years the government decreased the number of restrictions on women’s employment in various sectors (see sections 3 and 6, Women). The most recent reform came in October, when the government announced women could enlist in the military. There were no women working as judges or as members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars. Women are barred from work in mining, oil refineries, construction, and power generation. Nevertheless, some factories and manufacturing facilities, particularly in the Eastern Province, employed men and women, who worked separate shifts during different hours of the day. The law grants women the right to obtain business licenses without the approval of their guardians, and women frequently obtained licenses in fields that might require them to supervise foreign workers, interact with male clients, or deal with government officials. Although it is illegal for a potential employer to ask a female applicant for her guardian’s permission when she applies for a job, some employers required them to prove such permission. In medical settings and the energy industry, women and men worked together, and in some instances women supervised male employees. Women who work in establishments with 50 or more female employees have the right to maternity leave and childcare.

By an amended decree effective on September 4, labor and social insurance regulations mandate that employers treat all workers equally and bar discrimination “between workers on the basis of gender, disability, age, or any other forms of discrimination, whether in work, employment or advertising [a] vacancy.” The decree expands previous regulations barring employers from firing female workers on maternity leave and includes protection from dismissal for pregnancy-related illness if the absence is less than 180 days per year. The amendments also raised the mandatory retirement age of women to 60, the same as for men.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Vocational rehabilitation projects and social care programs increasingly brought persons with disabilities into the mainstream. In June the Ministry of Education stated it had taken measures to integrate disabled students, including special education programs in regular schools, training faculty members who work with students with disabilities, and providing technological instruments for students with disabilities free of charge.

Discrimination with respect to religious beliefs occurred in the workplace. Members of the Shia community complained of discrimination based on their religion and had difficulty securing or being promoted in government positions. They were significantly underrepresented in national security-related positions, including the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Guard. In predominantly Shia areas, Shia representation was higher in the ranks of traffic police and employees of municipalities and public schools. A very small number of Shia occupied high-level positions in government-owned companies and government agencies (see section 3, Participation of Women and Minorities). Shia were also underrepresented in employment in primary, secondary, and higher education.

Discrimination against Asian and African migrant workers occurred (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). The King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue continued programs that sought to address some of these problems and provided training during the year to combat discrimination against national, racial, or ethnic groups. There were numerous cases of assaults on foreign workers and reports of worker abuse.

Informal discrimination in employment and occupation occurred on the basis of sex, gender, race, religion, national origin, and sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2017 the Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Passports announced a national campaign to identify, arrest, fine, and deport individuals found in violation of the country’s residency laws under the title of “Nation without Violators.” The campaign began with a 90-day grace period or general amnesty to allow irregular migrants to depart the country “without penalty,” after which authorities extended the grace period in coordination with international organizations. The Ministry of Interior stated that nearly 4.15 million foreign citizens were arrested between November 2017 and November 2019 for violating work, residency, and entry rules. Approximately 1,036,800 violators were deported during the cited period, according to the ministry. The Human Rights Committee reported that law enforcement agencies had been trained in screening vulnerable populations for human trafficking indicators and the campaign was being carried out in accordance with protections against trafficking in persons.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage for public-sector employees was above the estimated poverty-income level. There was no private-sector minimum wage for foreign workers, and the government did not mandate a general minimum private-sector wage for citizens.

By law a standard workday is eight hours. A standard workweek is 48 hours but can extend to 60 hours, subject to payment of overtime, which is 50 percent more than the basic wage.

An estimated 9.4 million noncitizens, including approximately 947,000 noncitizen women, made up approximately 76 percent of the labor force, according to the General Authority for Statistics labor market survey for the fourth quarter of 2018. Legal workers generally negotiated and agreed to work conditions prior to their arrival in the country, in accordance with the contract requirements contained in the labor law.

The law provides penalties for bringing foreigners into the country to work in any service, including domestic service, without following the required procedures and obtaining a permit. The penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

The labor law provides for regular safety inspections and enables ministry-appointed inspectors to examine materials used or handled in industrial and other operations and to submit samples of suspected hazardous materials or substances to government laboratories. The government effectively enforced the law. The Ministry of Health’s Occupational Health Service Directorate worked with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development on health and safety matters. Regulations require employers to protect some workers from job-related hazards and disease, although some violations occurred. These regulations did not cover farmers, herdsmen, domestic servants, or workers in family-operated businesses. Foreign citizens privately reported frequent failures to enforce health and safety standards. The ministry employed nearly 1,000 labor inspectors.

The law requires that a citizen or business must sponsor foreign workers in order for them to obtain legal work and residency status, although the requirement exempts Syrian and Yemeni citizens who overstayed their visas. According to the IOM, 32,532 Yemenis were deported between January and July due to their immigration status. The ministry implemented measures allowing noncitizen workers to switch their employer to a new employer or company that employed a sufficient quota of Saudi citizens. Despite these revised measures, some workers were unaware of the new regulations and had to remain with their sponsor until completion of their contract or seek the assistance of their embassy to return home. There were also instances in which sponsors bringing noncitizen workers into the country failed to provide them with a residency permit, which undermined the workers’ ability to access government services or navigate the court system in the event of grievances. Sponsors with commercial or labor disputes with foreign employees also could ask authorities to prohibit employees from departing the country until the dispute was resolved. Authorities, however, would not jail or forcibly return fleeing workers who sought to exit the country within a 72-hour period or coordinate with their embassy for repatriation as long as the employees did not have criminal charges or outstanding fines pending against them.

Bilateral labor agreements set conditions on foreign workers’ minimum wage, housing, benefits including leave and medical care, and other topics. These provisions were not drafted in line with international standards, and they varied depending on the source country’s relative bargaining power. The labor law and the law against trafficking do not provide penalties to deter abuse of such workers.

The government engaged in news campaigns highlighting the plight of abused workers, trained law enforcement and other officials to combat trafficking in persons, and worked with the embassies of labor-source countries to disseminate information about labor rights for foreign workers. As in previous years, during Ramadan the HRC broadcast a public awareness program on television emphasizing the Islamic injunction to treat employees well.

The government did not always enforce the laws protecting migrant workers effectively. There were credible reports that some migrant workers were employed on terms to which they had not agreed and experienced problems, such as delays in the payment of wages, changes in employer, or changed working hours and conditions. Migrant workers, especially domestic workers, were vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and conditions contravening labor laws, including nonpayment of wages, working for periods in excess of the 48-hour workweek, working for periods longer than the prescribed eight-hour workday, and restrictions on movement due to passport confiscation. There were also reports of physical and verbal abuse.

There were credible reports that some noncitizen workers, particularly domestic employees, were unable to exercise their right to remove themselves from dangerous situations. Some employers physically prevented workers from leaving or threatened them with nonpayment of wages if they left. Sponsoring employers, who controlled foreign workers’ ability to remain employed in the country, usually held foreign workers’ passports, a practice prohibited by law. In some contract disputes, sponsors asked authorities to prevent the employee from leaving the country until resolution of the dispute to coerce the employee into accepting a disadvantageous settlement or risking deportation without any settlement.

While some foreign workers were able to contact the labor offices of their embassies for assistance, domestic workers experienced challenges when attempting to gain access to their embassies, including restrictions on their freedom of movement and telephone access, confiscation of their passports, and being subjected to threats and verbal and physical abuse. During the year hundreds of domestic workers, the majority of whom were female, sought shelter at their embassies, some fleeing sexual abuse or other violence by their employers. Some embassies maintained safe houses for citizens fleeing situations that amounted to bondage. The workers usually sought legal help from embassies and government agencies to obtain end-of-service benefits and exit visas.

In addition to their embassies, some domestic servants could contact the NSHR, the HRC, the governmental Interministerial General Secretariat to Combat Human Trafficking, and the Migrant Workers’ Welfare Department, which provided services to safeguard migrant workers’ rights and protect them from abuse. Some were able to apply to the offices of regional governors and lodge an appeal with the Board of Grievances against decisions by those authorities.

On October 13, refiner SASREF reported an apparent industrial accident killed two workers and injured two others during maintenance work. On February 11, the General Organization for Social Insurance stated that at least 47 persons working in the private sector died and 291 others were injured as a result of workplace accidents the previous year.

Senegal

Executive Summary

Senegal is a republic dominated by a strong executive branch. In February voters re-elected Macky Sall as president for a second term of five years in elections local and international observers considered generally free and fair. The government postponed until mid-2020 local municipal elections originally scheduled to take place in December.

Police and gendarmes are responsible for maintaining law and order. The army shares that responsibility in exceptional cases, such as during a state of emergency. The National Police are part of the Interior Ministry and operate in major cities. The Gendarmerie is part of the Ministry of Defense and primarily operates outside major cities. The army also reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, but the government did not have effective mechanisms to punish abuse and corruption.

Significant human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killing by the government; torture and arbitrary arrests by security forces; harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; lack of judicial independence; criminal libel; corruption, particularly in the judiciary, police, and elsewhere in the executive branch; trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and forced child labor.

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

In the southern Casamance region, situated between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, a de facto ceasefire between security forces and armed separatists continued for a seventh year. Sporadic incidents of violence occurred in the Casamance, but they were associated more with criminal activity than directly with the separatist conflict. Individuals associated with various factions of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC) continued to rob and harass local populations. There were occasional accidental contacts, skirmishes, and arrest of MFDC units by security forces. Mediation efforts continued in search of a negotiated resolution of the conflict, which began in 1982. The government regularly investigated and prosecuted these incidents.

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, but the government occasionally limited these freedoms.

Freedom of Expression: Blasphemy, security, and criminal defamation laws are in place and were occasionally enforced.

On July 16, the government indicted and placed under arrest activist Guy Marius Sagna, a member of the Front for a Popular Anti-Imperialist Revolution and Pan Africanism movement (FRAPP-France-Degage), a civil society organization that rallies against French interests in the country. FRAPP-France-Degage posted a false warning on its Facebook page denouncing France for allegedly planning a bomb attack. Sagna later obtained release on bail, although his case remained pending.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent journalists regularly criticized the government without reprisal. Private independent publications and government-affiliated media were available in Dakar, although their distribution in rural areas was irregular.

Radio was the most important medium of mass information and source of news due to the high illiteracy rate. There were approximately 200 community, public, and private commercial radio stations. Although an administrative law regulates radio frequency assignments, community radio operators claimed a lack of transparency in the process.

Although the government continued to influence locally televised information and opinion through Radio Television Senegal (RTS), more than 10 privately owned television channels broadcast independently. By law the government holds a majority interest in RTS, and the president directly or indirectly controlled selection of all members of the RTS executive staff. Beyond RTS all other public media outlets including the Senegalese Press Agency and the Le Soleil daily journal were controlled by members of President Sall’s ruling party, appointed by Sall; reporting by these outlets often carried a progovernment bias.

Violence and Harassment: On June 29, officers of the DIC of the Gendarmerie raided the home of Jean Meissa Diop, senior journalist of media group Walfadjri. DIC officers claimed they were searching for a journalist who had accused a senior member of the ruling party of corruption in a recent press article. According to Diop, DIC officers entered his house without presenting a warrant, invaded his privacy, searched his room, and were excessively rough in handling his family. The DIC later apologized publicly to Diop and his family for the “misunderstanding,” while denying they used any violence and noting the intervention took place during business hours. (see also section 1.d. and section 1.f.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists occasionally practiced self-censorship, particularly in government-controlled media.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government sometimes restricted freedom of peaceful assembly, but generally respected freedom of association. The Ministry of Interior must approve protests in advance.

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, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

In-country Movement: MFDC banditry and the risk of landmines restricted movement in some parts of the Casamance.

Foreign Travel: The law requires some public employees to obtain government approval before departing the country. Only the military and judiciary enforced this law for their employees, however.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Since the president must approve each case, delays of many years in granting refugee status remained a problem. Refugee advocates reported the government rarely granted refugee status or asylum. The government, however, generally allowed those with pending and some with rejected asylum claims to remain in the country.

The government did not offer all asylum seekers due process or security, since the same committee that examined appeals filed by denied asylum seekers had examined their original cases. Police did not arrest denied asylum seekers for staying illegally in the country. Police did arrest asylum seekers if they committed crimes, but authorities generally contacted UNHCR in such cases to verify their asylum status and ensure they deported no one with a pending claim.

Durable Solutions: Since 1989 the country has offered protection to Mauritanian refugees, who were dispersed over a large area in the Senegal River valley along the Mauritania border and enjoyed free movement within the country. According to UNHCR, most of the remaining 14,400 Mauritanian refugees have indicated a desire to remain in the country permanently.

The government continued to permit generally unsupervised and largely informal repatriation of Casamance refugees returning from The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.

Temporary Protection: The government did not formally grant temporary protection, although the government generally allowed those with pending and sometimes denied asylum claims to remain 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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government often did not enforce the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. During the year there were reports of government corruption.

Corruption: The National Anticorruption Commission’s (OFNAC) first and only annual report, in 2016, concluded that bribery, misappropriation, abuse of authority, and fraud remained widespread within government institutions, particularly in the health and education ministries, postal services, and the Transport Administration. Since the dismissal of the first OFNAC president in 2016, authorities installed a new president, and the organization has focused on advising judicial officials on corruption, investigating allegations of fraud, and serving as a supervisory body on fraud-related cases.

Financial Disclosure: A 2014 law requires the president, cabinet ministers, speaker and chief financial officer of the National Assembly, and managers of public funds in excess of one billion CFA francs ($1.7 million) to disclose their assets to OFNAC. Failure to comply may result in a penalty amounting to one-quarter of an individual’s monthly salary until forms are filed. The president may dismiss appointees who do not comply. With the exception of disclosures made by the president, disclosures made under the law are confidential and unauthorized release of asset disclosures is a criminal offense.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative but rarely took action to address their concerns.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s National Committee on Human Rights included government representatives, civil society groups, and independent human rights organizations. The committee had authority to investigate abuses but lacked credibility, did not conduct investigations, and last released an annual report in 2001.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, except for security force members, including police and gendarmes, customs officers, and judges. Unions have the right to bargain collectively and strike, with some restrictions. The law allows civil servants to form and join unions. Before a trade union can exist legally, the labor code requires authorization from the Ministry of Interior. Unions have no legal recourse if the minister refuses registration, although authorization is rarely withheld. Under the law, as part of the trade union recognition process, the ministry has the authority to check the morality and aptitude of candidates for positions of trade union officials. Any change to the bylaws of a trade union must be reported to and investigated by the inspector of labor and the public attorney. Additionally, the law provides that minors (both as workers and as apprentices) cannot join a union without parental authorization. The state prosecutor can dissolve and disband trade unions by administrative order if union administrators are not following government regulations on the duties of a union to its members.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Foreigners may hold union office only if they have lived in the country for five years and only if his or her country provides the same right to Senegalese citizens. Collective bargaining agreements covered an estimated 44 percent of workers in the formal economy. Unions are able to engage in legal proceedings against any individual or entity that infringes the collective bargaining rights of union members, including termination of employment.

The law provides for the right to strike; however, regulations restrict this right. The constitution stipulates a strike must not infringe on the freedom to work or place an enterprise in peril. The law states workplaces may not be occupied during a strike and may not violate nonstrikers’ freedom to work or hinder the right of management to enter the premises of the enterprise. This means pickets, go-slows, working to rule, and sit-down strikes are prohibited. Unions representing members of the civil service must notify the government of their intent to strike at least one month in advance; private sector unions must notify the government three days in advance. The government does not have any legal obligation to engage with groups who are planning to strike, but the government sometimes engaged in dialogue with these groups. The government may also requisition workers to replace those on strike in all sectors, including in “essential services” sectors. A worker who takes part in an illegal strike may be summarily dismissed. The government effectively enforced applicable laws on the right to strike. Penalties for noncompliance include a fine, imprisonment, or both. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The labor code does not apply to the informal sector and thus excludes the majority of the workforce, including subsistence farmers, domestic workers, and those employed in many family businesses. Employees of certain government security institutions, including police, military, and customs officials, are prohibited from unionizing and striking.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining with restrictions. Workers exercised the right to form or join unions, but antiunion sentiment within the government was strong. Trade unions organize on an industry-wide basis, very similar to the French system of union organization. There were no confirmed reports of antiunion discrimination during the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Many provisions of the law impose imprisonment with compulsory prison labor as a penalty for noncompliance, such as for participation in strikes in “essential services,” for occupying the workplace or its immediate surroundings during strike actions, or for breaching labor discipline deemed to endanger ships or the life or health of persons on board.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws against forced labor, and such practices continued to occur in the areas of domestic servitude, forced prostitution, farm labor, and artisanal mining. Forced child labor occurred, including forced begging in some Quranic schools (see section 6). Some children in these schools were kept in conditions of servitude; were forced to work daily, generally in the street begging; and had to meet a daily quota for money or food set by their teachers.

In March 2018 the government launched a second phase of Retrait de la Rue, a program to remove children engaged in forced begging in the Dakar area, with some success; however, law enforcement efforts in this area remained weak. The government also revised a 2005 antitrafficking in persons law with an aim to widen its use by prosecutors. The government published additional information related to labor law enforcement.

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 some, but not all, of the worst forms of child labor. Regulations on child labor set the minimum working age at 15. Work considered “hazardous”–including most subterranean mining, operation of machines or vehicles, bearing heavy burdens, and working on ships or fishing vessels–is prohibited until age 18. In the agricultural sector children as young as 12 are permitted to work in a family environment. Work deemed “hazardous,” and thus prohibited for children, does not include domestic work or street work, areas in which there is evidence of potential harm to child workers. The law does not always make clear the difference between “dangerous” and “light” work.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor are responsible for investigating and initiating lawsuits in child labor cases. The ministry’s investigators can visit any institution during work hours to verify and investigate compliance with labor laws and can act on tips from trade unions or ordinary citizens.

Labor laws prohibiting child labor were not effectively enforced, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor sent investigators to investigate formal workplaces, but they are not adequately trained to deal with child labor problems. Inspectors did not monitor the informal sector, and no cases of child labor were identified in the formal sector. In addition, many areas with prevalent abuses are remote, and inspectors are only located in larger cities. There was no specific system to report child labor violations, largely due to inadequate funding of the Child Labor Division and the Ministry of Labor. The ministry instead relied on unions to report violators. The government conducted seminars with local officials, NGOs, and civil society to raise awareness of the dangers of child labor, exploitative begging, and online exploitation of children.

Most child labor occurred in the informal economy where the government did not effectively enforce labor regulations. Child labor was prevalent in many informal and family-based sectors, such as agriculture (millet, corn, and peanuts), fishing, artisanal gold mining, garages, dumpsites, slaughterhouses, salt production, rock quarrying, and metal and woodworking shops. In the large, informal, unregulated artisanal mining sector, entire families, including children, were engaged in artisanal mining work. Child gold washers, most aged 10 to 14, worked approximately eight hours a day using toxic agents such as mercury without training or protective equipment. There were also reports of children working on family farms or herding cattle. Children also worked as domestics, in tailoring shops, at fruit and vegetable stands, and in other areas of the informal economy.

According to the International Labor Organization, 28 percent of children participated in the labor force. A predominant type of forced child labor was the forced begging by children sent to live and study under the supervision of Quranic teachers (see sections 6 and 7.b.).

Following the president’s announcement of a campaign against child begging in 2016, authorities began removing children from the streets. The first phase of this campaign continued until 2017, but it was largely ineffective in addressing the problem.

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 law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on national origin, race, gender, disability, and religion; violators are officially subjected to fines and imprisonment, but these laws were not regularly enforced, and the penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The government did not effectively enforce the antidiscrimination provisions of the law. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred and was the most prevalent form of discrimination. Men and women have equal rights to apply for a job. Women experienced discrimination in employment and operating businesses (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum hourly wage was higher than the estimated poverty income rate. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage. Labor unions also acted as watchdogs and contributed to effective implementation of the minimum wage in the formal sector. The minimum wage provisions apply to foreign and migrant workers as well.

For most occupations in the formal sector, the law mandates a standard workweek of 40 to 48 hours, with at least one 24-hour rest period per week, one month per year of annual leave, enrollment in government social security and retirement plans, safety standards, and other measures. The law does not prohibit excessive or compulsory overtime in the formal sector.

Premium pay for overtime is required only in the formal sector. Legal regulations on industry-appropriate occupational safety and health exist, and the government sets the standards. Employees or their representatives have the right to propose whatever they assume would provide for their protection and safety and can refer to the competent administrative authority in case the employers refuse.

The Ministry of Labor, through the Labor Inspection Office, is responsible for enforcing labor standards in the formal sector; those who violate standards are officially subject to fines and imprisonment, but these were not regularly enforced and were insufficient to deter violation. Enforcement of the workweek standard was irregular. Labor inspectors had poor working conditions and lacked transportation to conduct their mission effectively. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common. Due to high unemployment and a slow legal system, workers seldom exercised their legal right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety. A large number of workplace accidents also took place in the informal sector.

Serbia

Executive Summary

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

The national police maintain internal security and are under the control of the Ministry of Interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: allegations of torture by police; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence and threats of violence against journalists; numerous acts of government corruption; and crimes, including violence, targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but threats and attacks on journalists, a lack of transparency of media ownership, and the oversized role of the state in the country’s oversaturated media sector undermined these freedoms. Independent observers claimed the trend of decreased media freedom continued, and Reporters without Borders rated the country’s media environment unsafe early in the year, noting it “has become a place where practicing journalism is neither safe nor supported by the state.” During the year Freedom House downgraded its assessment of the country’s media environment from free to partially free. Unbalanced media coverage and a large volume of fake, misleading, or unverified news stories continued to threaten the ability of citizens to participate meaningfully in the democratic process.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active but were limited in their ability to express a wide variety of views by the oversaturation of the media market and government support of progovernment outlets. The media market was oversaturated with more than 2,000 registered outlets, many of which were not profitable. The government accounted for between one-third and one-half of the country’s annual media revenues of 420 million euros ($460 million), the majority of this through collection of a service tax and funding of the public broadcasters, according to a foreign development aid agency’s analysis. According to a 2018 study by Reporters without Borders, government ministries and state-owned enterprises were collectively the biggest advertisers in the country, allowing the government to use its purchasing power to support progovernment editorial content and stifle critical viewpoints. Media association representatives claimed the government’s role was far larger than the numbers indicated because private firms that purchased advertising patronized outlets that published progovernment content to appease the government. Watchdog organizations believed the media market was too saturated for outlets to be financially viable without government support or access to government advertising contracts.

Television was the most influential media format due to concentration of viewership and popularity. There were five national terrestrial television-broadcasting licenses in Serbia. This concentration and dependence on government advertising monies strongly benefited incumbents during election periods and made it difficult for opposition leaders to communicate with potential voters. The largest distributor of paid media content was United Group, which controlled more than 50 percent of the broadband (cable) market, followed by Telecom Serbia, a majority state-owned firm with more than 25 percent of the market. Both firms were vertically integrated and controlled production and distribution of the media content, as well as physical infrastructure.

Independent journalists and outlets continued to operate several independent newspapers, albeit with low and declining circulation. Tabloids remained popular but regularly published incorrect or unverified information. Many of these stories defamed political leaders of opposition parties. These stories were often presented in a false or misleading headline on the cover page. A report published on August 15 by the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) indicated the progovernment tabloid Informer published 150 fake, unfounded, or unverifiable news items from January through June. Another tabloid, Alo, published 115 such stories, while Srpski Telegraf printed 94 and Kurir printed 60. In addition to fabricating stories, the same papers showed a clear progovernment bias. The report noted that these four publications routinely reported negatively on opposition parties, antigovernment protests, and neighboring countries.

Violence and Harassment: The law prohibits threatening or otherwise putting pressure on public media and journalists or exerting any other kind of influence that might obstruct their work. Between January and August, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia reported 85 cases in which journalists had been attacked, threatened, or exposed to political pressure. The attacks included vandalism, intimidation, and physical assaults. In one example, in December 2018 two assailants ignited the home of Milan Jovanovic while he and his spouse slept inside. The couple narrowly escaped the blaze through a rear window. Jovanovic worked as an investigative journalist for a local news outlet in the Belgrade suburb of Grocka that reported on local corruption. Dragoljub Simonovic, mayor of Grocka and an official of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), was indicted for ordering the arson attack. The trial was underway as of October; hearings were delayed three times due to defense attorneys not appearing before the court with the defendant.

Spontaneous violence and threats against journalists also occurred and demonstrated the willingness of nationalistic groups to echo the rhetoric of political leaders while perpetrating violence. On August 28, a television crew and correspondent covering the placement of a Yugoslav-era military tank outside a soccer stadium were attacked by a mob who reportedly tried to break their equipment and called them “spies,” “thieves,” and “American mercenaries.”

Harassment by government officials was often targeted at news organizations. The law provides for punishment of defamation against individuals but not against organizations or groups. N1 television was a frequent target of government criticism; staff reported receiving death threats at N1’s studio. Cable provider Serbia Broadband (SBB) was subject to intense criticism from government officials. Belgrade deputy mayor Goran Vesic engaged in a prolonged spat with SBB in which he repeatedly claimed that its cable equipment was incorrectly installed. SBB insisted that it had licensing agreements for all of its equipment. SBB reported a deluge of threats of vandalism of its installed equipment in response to Vesic’s comments. Harassment of individual journalists often intensified following publication of stories that embarrassed ruling party officials. After Balkan Insight (BIRN) published photographs of President Vucic’s brother meeting with a suspected organized crime figure, a video of BIRN editor Slobodan Georgiev called “How to Recognize a Traitor” was published on social media. Progovernment media outlets also published content critical of independent media outlets. In late 2018, for example, the weekly Ilustrovana Politika published an issue with an image of a growling guard dog in front of the covers of three of the leading opposition-leaning newspapers titled “The Hounds Have Been Released,” in an image that was widely interpreted as inciting attacks on the outlets.

Watchdog organizations also noted that past killings of several journalists were yet to be resolved, including those of Dada Vujasinovic (1994) and Milan Pantic (2001). In April, four former members of the security apparatus were sentenced to 100 cumulative years of detention for their role in the 1999 murder of Slavko Curuvija. Media watchdogs welcomed the verdict but remained concerned that no high-level officials had been indicted for ordering the assassination and that the series of delays that led to a 20-year delay in justice had not been addressed.

A 2018 study by the Slavko Curuvija Foundation, Media Freedoms and Control: Journalists Testimonies, found that 74 percent of the country’s journalists believed “there [were] serious obstacles to exercising media freedoms” or that they had no media freedom at all. Nearly two-thirds of journalists interviewed believed the political establishment had the strongest influence over the media community.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports that the government actively sought to direct media reporting on a number of issues. Economic pressure sometimes led media outlets to practice self-censorship, refraining from publishing content critical of the government, based on a fear of government harassment or economic consequences, according to media association representatives.

Direct funding to media outlets by the state was distributed in an opaque manner that appeared to support media outlets loyal to the ruling party rather than to bolster independent journalism. According to a 2018 report from the Center of Investigative Journalism of Serbia, the progovernment tabloids Srpski Telegraf and Informer were granted approximately 23.05 million dinars ($222,000) by the government, notwithstanding their frequent breach of the country’s Code of Journalism. Meanwhile, the daily newspaper Danas, the weekly news agency Beta, the weekly Novi Magazin, and the Media Center of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia–none of which had ever received even a sanction or warning from the press council–did not receive state funding. The report concluded, “The situation is completely clear: progovernment media obtain money at state-run contests.” Public funds were also directed to profitable private media outlets that regularly published progovernment content. The Center for Investigative Journalism Serbia reported that Pink International, TV Pink’s corporate parent, received loans in excess of 10 million euros ($11 million) from the Serbian Export Credit and Insurance Agency in 2014, plus assurances of another 2.5 million euros ($2.8 million). In 2017 it reportedly received another loan of 3.2 million euros ($3.5 million) from the same agency.

Government representatives continued to receive far more media coverage than opposition politicians. The law mandates equal coverage during campaign periods, but the Regulatory Authority of Electronic Media (REM) often considered campaign-style rallies by government officials to be official activities and therefore outside the scope of this law. Opposition leaders and civil society activists contended that REM did not pursue its mandate effectively and continually sided with the ruling party, ensuring an unfair media environment before, during, and after electoral campaigns, effectively denying the political opposition access to the media.

Nongovernmental Impact: During the year several media outlets published articles that accused numerous journalists, NGO activists, and independent institution representatives of being “traitors” to the country and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. In 2018 a representative of the Security Intelligence Agency speaking at a conference explained that one of the most intense threats to the country came from foreign agents in opposition political parties, civil society, and some parts of the media. The Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) was a frequent target of verbal attacks by convicted war criminal and Member of Parliament Vojislav Seselj. Following these remarks, CEAS claimed to have received written threats calling organization members “traitors, bastards, and degenerates” and telling them to leave the country. NGOs and their employees received frequent threats; these threats often mirrored or amplified the rhetoric employed by public figures on social media and were often targeted by distributed denial of services attacks to take their websites offline.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited these rights in some cases.

In March, CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organizations and activists, added the country to its watchlist of countries where civic freedoms were under serious threat. In April, 20 NGOs signed the platform “Three Freedoms for Preserving the Space for Civil Society in Serbia” in order to protect and promote freedom of assembly, association, and information. The platform registered 19 separate cases of alleged violations of freedom of assembly and 18 of freedom of association between March and July.

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, and the government generally respected these rights.

f. Protection of Refugees

Refoulement: Humanitarian organizations noted the government lacked the resources and expertise to provide sufficient protection against refoulement. Various press and humanitarian reports indicated that authorities pushed back irregular migrants without screening them to see if they were seeking asylum. In the first half of year, according to reports provided by UNHCR field staff and partners, 1,022 persons were apprehended and prevented from entering the country’s territory across land borders (48 percent occurred at the border with North Macedonia and 38 percent at the border with Bulgaria). This represented a 350 percent increase in apprehensions, compared to 2018. In addition, according to information attributed to the Ministry of Interior, 1,186 denials occurred at the Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport, representing a significant increase, compared with 2018 (771 denials). There were unconfirmed reports that potential asylum seekers arriving at the Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport, for instance Kurds from Turkey, may be sent back on the next flight. Concerns regarding the practice of the border authorities at the Belgrade International Airport were also expressed in the report of the UN special rapporteur on torture, who noted a number of problems regarding access to the asylum procedure and the conduct of the border authorities at the airport.

The government’s Mixed Migration Group was inactive during the year and did not deliberate on any of the issues in its portfolio or communicate the number of illegal entries prevented.

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

The law provides procedural guarantees to asylum seekers and outlines procedures pertaining to refugee children. It recognizes a range of grounds for granting international protection, including gender-based violence and sexual orientation.

According to UNHCR, the law does not meet international standards by providing for judicial review early in the asylum proceedings or containing safe third country and safe country of origin provisions that align with international standards. Provision of free legal aid to asylum seekers and interpretation services (as basic procedural guarantees) in the asylum procedures was dependent on international funding.

The intention to seek asylum was expressed by 1,061 children, 355 of whom were unaccompanied by their parents or guardians. UNHCR estimated that most of the unaccompanied children did not have adequate protection services due to the government’s lack of capacity. The country lacked quality guardianship protection and appropriate models of alternative child care. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Policy was responsible for three institutions for unaccompanied migrant children with a total capacity of 45 beds, and two additional institutions run by NGOs had a total capacity of 30. Most unaccompanied minors were accommodated in the asylum center Krnjaca in Belgrade and Sjenica in inadequate conditions and without adequate guardian care.

The government had the capacity to accommodate approximately 6,000 persons in the 18 state-run asylum and reception centers, three of which were closed in 2018 due to a decline in asylum seekers from 2017. In January, 4,200 migrants were living in reception and asylum centers in the country; by August the number had fallen to 2,500.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Since the adoption of the new asylum law in 2018, the first country of asylum and safe third country concepts had not been applied by the Asylum Office. According to UNHCR, authorities assessed each case on its individual merits but did not automatically apply these provisions.

In one example, the Asylum Office issued a positive decision in May for an Afghan citizen who applied for asylum in March. Rather than apply the safe country of origin or transit concept, the Asylum Office found the applicant, who transited Bulgaria, was at risk of persecution in his country of origin based on his ethnicity and membership in a social group. The asylum seeker had been a target of the Taliban’s verbal and physical assaults because he worked in various ministries in Kabul and because he was an ethnic Tajik. In addition, before arriving in Serbia, the asylum seeker was in Bulgaria, which the Asylum Office considered a “safe country of transit.” The Asylum Office accepted his claims that he could not apply for asylum there because he was under constant surveillance by a group of smugglers, who controlled his movements and prevented him from approaching Bulgarian asylum officials. Since he could not contact the relevant Bulgarian authorities, the Asylum Office decided to review the facts of relevance to his asylum application, rather than apply the safe third country concept.

Employment: Asylum seekers have the right to work nine months after an asylum application is submitted. Employment is also available once an applicant is recognized as a refugee at the end of the country’s refugee determination process.

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

Durable Solutions: The government provided support for the voluntary return and reintegration of refugees from other countries of the former Yugoslavia. Those who chose the option of integration in Serbia rather than return to their country of origin enjoyed the same rights as citizens, including access to basic services such as health care and education, and had access to simplified naturalization in the country; they did not have the right to vote unless their naturalization process was complete.

Together with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro, the country participated in the Regional Housing Program to provide housing for vulnerable refugee families who had decided to integrate into their countries of residence. During the year, 1,303 housing units were provided in Serbia.

For refugees who originated from countries outside the former Yugoslavia, refugee status did not provide a pathway to citizenship. The government provided integration assistance that included financial assistance for accommodation for a period of one year and obligatory Serbian language courses. Despite harmonization of by-laws providing for individualized integration plans, which UNHCR considered a good model, coordination between relevant line ministries remained insufficient.

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

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. There was a widespread public perception that the law was not being implemented consistently and systematically and that some high-level officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The EC’s Serbia 2019 Report stated the country made limited progress in its fight against corruption. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The government reported an increase in low- to mid-level corruption cases, money laundering, and economic crimes cases, largely through the use of authorities permitted under the law and based on technical assistance and training provided by international donors. Even so, corruption was prevalent in many areas and remained an issue of concern.

While the legal framework for fighting corruption was broadly in place, anticorruption entities typically lacked adequate personnel and were not integrated with other judicial entities, which inhibited information and evidence sharing with the prosecution service. Freedom House’s 2019 report on the country noted the work of the Anticorruption Agency (ACA) was undermined in part by the ambiguous division of responsibilities among other entities tasked with combating corruption. In May parliament adopted a revised Law on the Prevention of Corruption, primarily concerning the ACA, which was scheduled to become effective in September 2020. The law provides some improvements over the previous version, such as clarifying the ACA’s competencies and broadening preventive measures. Freedom House downgraded the country’s political pluralism and participation score in part based on the credible reports that the ACA did not thoroughly investigate dubious political campaign contributions, including the use of thousands of proxy donors to bypass legal limits on individual campaign donations and disguise the true source of funding.

EU experts noted continuing problems with the overuse of the vague “abuse of office” charge for alleged private-sector corruption schemes. Despite the government’s publicly stated commitment to fight corruption, both the country’s Anticorruption Council and the NGO Transparency Serbia continued to point to a lack of governmental transparency.

Corruption: There were numerous cases of corruption during the year. Between March 2018 and May 2019, the Republic Public Prosecutor’s Office reported 255 corruption-related convictions through trial and 530 convictions based on plea agreements. The number of cases proceeding through the courts indicated the anticorruption prosecutorial departments made progress in working with other government agencies, investigating malfeasance, and indicting suspects.

The newly formed Anticorruption Department within the Ministry of Interior was created to investigate corruption and economic crimes. In the first eight months of the year, the department filed numerous charges on low- to mid-level government officials, including customs officials, police, and municipal officials. The Police Service for Combating Organized Crime filed two charges for high-level corruption.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials. The ACA is designed to be an independent institution that monitors financial disclosures of public officials, political party financing, and conflicts of interest. The ACA oversees the filing of disclosures and verifies their completeness and accuracy. Declarations are publicly available on the ACA website and upon request. Failure to file or to disclose income and assets fully is subject to administrative and criminal sanctions. Significant changes to assets or income must be reported annually. Officials also must file a disclosure form immediately after leaving office and must inform the ACA of any significant changes to their assets for two years after leaving office.

The ACA continued to initiate administrative and criminal proceedings against several former and current government officials who failed to file or incorrectly filed asset disclosure forms. Between January 1 and June 30, the ACA filed two criminal reports for the failure to disclose assets and six reports for other criminal offenses (prosecuted ex officio) with the competent prosecutor’s offices or other authorities. The ACA received 141 trial judgments from the misdemeanor courts, which resulted from requests to initiate misdemeanor proceedings filed in the previous period. These cases were related to untimely disclosure of assets, conflict of interest, or violations of political financing laws. Most of these resulted in fines.

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

A variety of independent domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases without overt resistance from the government. While government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their questions, at times government bodies selectively ignored freedom of information requests. Civil society groups were subject to criticism, harassment, and threats from nongovernmental actors, including progovernment media outlets and a number of suspected government-organized NGOs that vocally participated in government consultations with civil society. Actions likely to draw this response included expressing views critical of the government, contrary to nationalist views regarding Kosovo, or in support of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Threats, vandalism, and attacks aimed against civil society organizations did occur and were rarely investigated thoroughly or prosecuted. The new Law on Free Legal Aid potentially limits these organizations’ ability to provide free legal aid in some traditionally important areas for human right protection, such as defamation suits and misdemeanor offenses.

In September human rights activist Dobrica Veselinovic received a prison summons for failure to pay a fine he received for organizing a 2016 “Let’s not Drown Belgrade” protest in response to the illegal demolition of residential and commercial buildings in Belgrade’s Savamala neighborhood, despite having a receipt showing the fine had been paid. Civil society organizations claimed that the 30 cases underway surrounding these protests and the summons Veselinovic received were part of a government campaign to pressure and silence activists and NGOs.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government bodies dedicated to the protection of human rights included the Office of the Ombudsman, Office of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, and Office of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection. All three bodies were active during the year and issued reports for parliament’s review, but parliament did not review their annual reports in plenary sessions in accordance with the law.

The Office of the Ombudsman was responsible for identifying problems within state institutions and making recommendations on remedies. The ombudsman continued to operate branch offices in three municipalities with significant ethnic Albanian populations. The ombudsman facilitated citizen complaints regarding violations of the human rights of members of national minorities, children, persons with disabilities, persons deprived of their liberty, and persons experiencing discrimination based on gender by state administrative bodies or any other entity entrusted with public authority. Vojvodina Province had its own ombudsman, who operated independently during the year.

The commissioner for the protection of equality has legal authority to bring civil lawsuits against businesses and government institutions for violations of the antidiscrimination law. The commissioner’s office reported a 20 percent increase in complaints in 2018, the most common being on the application of a law on financial support to families with children and complaints about accessibility by persons with disabilities.

The commissioner for information and personal data’s term expired in December 2018; outgoing Commissioner Rodoljub Sabic’s final report criticized the government, stating, “By refusing to cooperate, the competent or supervised authorities often made it difficult, even impossible, for the commissioner to either undertake legal measures or these measures had no effect.” A new commissioner, Milan Marinovic, was confirmed by parliament in July, but opposition parties did not participate in this process due to their continuing boycott of parliament.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Trade unions must register with the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Affairs, and employers must verify that union leaders are full-time employees. The government designated more than 50 percent of the workforce as “essential,” and these workers faced restrictions on the right to strike. Essential workers must provide 10 days’ advance notification of a strike as well as provide a “minimum level of work” during the strike. By law strikes can be staged only on the employer’s premises. The law prohibits discrimination based on trade union membership but does not provide any specific sanctions for antiunion harassment, nor does it expressly prohibit discrimination against trade union activities. The law provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, and fired workers generally returned to work quickly.

The Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia, a federation of unions that operated independently but was generally supportive of government policies, had more members than independent labor unions in both the public and private sector. Independent trade unions are able to organize and address management in state-owned companies on behalf of their members.

The labor law protects the right to bargain collectively, and this right was effectively enforced and practiced. The law requires collective bargaining agreements for any company with more than 10 employees. To negotiate with an employer, however, a union must represent at least 15 percent of company employees. The law provides collective bargaining agreements to employers who are not members of the employers’ association or do not engage in collective bargaining with unions. The law stipulates that employers subject to a collective agreement with employees must prove they employ at least 50 percent of workers in a given sector to apply for the extension of collective bargaining agreements to employers outside the agreement.

The government generally enforced the labor law with respect to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. Both public- and private-sector employees may freely exercise the right to strike, although no strikes occurred during the year. The Labor Inspectorate lacked adequate staffing and equipment, which limited the number of labor inspections as a means of enforcing the labor law.

There were sometimes allegations of antiunion dismissals and discrimination. Labor NGOs worked to increase awareness regarding workers’ rights and to improve the conditions of women, persons with disabilities, and other groups facing discrimination in employment or occupation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits forced and compulsory labor. The law also prohibits all forms of labor trafficking and “slavery or a relationship similar to slavery.” The government generally enforced the law, but incidents of forced labor were occasionally reported. Citizens of the country, particularly men, were reportedly subjected to labor trafficking in labor-intensive sectors, such as the construction industry in Russia, other European countries, and the United Arab Emirates. Penalties for violations within the country were generally sufficient to deter violations.

A number of children, primarily from the Roma community, were forced to engage in begging, theft, domestic work, commercial sexual exploitation, and other forms of labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 15, and youths younger than 18 require written parental or guardian permission to work. The labor law stipulates specific working conditions for minors and limits their workweek to 35 hours, with a maximum of eight hours work per day with no overtime or night work. In 2018 parliament adopted the Law on Simplified Hiring of Seasonal Labor in Certain Economic Areas, which regulates seasonal work, including in agriculture, and specifies that a work contract be required to employ minors.

The Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry for Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Policy is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The criminal code does not treat child beggars as victims, and the country’s Social Welfare Centers were overburdened, limiting efforts to combat child labor, including its worst forms. According to the inspectorate, in 2018 inspectors did not register any labor complaints involving children under the age of 15. Inspectors registered 39 cases, however, involving the registered employment of youths between the ages of 15 and 18, contrary to the provisions of the Labor Law, in the areas of hospitality, car washing, car repair, bakeries, construction, retail and groceries, and various personal services. Inspectors issued 16 decisions ordering employers either to terminate employment contracts or to obtain the required parental permission and approval from the authorized health institution and submit applications for the social security contributions. Misdemeanor proceedings were initiated in 15 cases, and a criminal charge was filed in one case.

The government has established institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of laws and regulations on child labor. Gaps existed, however, within the operations of the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran, and Social Affairs that hindered adequate enforcement of their child labor laws. In villages and farming communities, underage children commonly worked in family businesses. In urban areas, children, primarily Roma, worked in the informal sector as street vendors, car washers, and garbage sorters.

With regard to the worst forms of child labor, traffickers subjected children to commercial sexual exploitation, used children in the production of pornography and drugs, and sometimes forced children to beg and commit crimes. Some Romani children were forced into manual labor or begging.

The government’s enforcement efforts and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations of the law in either the formal or informal sectors. The law provides penalties for parents or guardians who force a minor to engage in begging, excessive labor, or labor incompatible with his or her age, but it was inconsistently enforced, and beggars were treated as offenders. The Labor Inspectorate reported no children being removed from labor situations because of convictions.

See also 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 direct and indirect discrimination in employment and occupation and the government enforced these laws with varying degrees of effectiveness. Penalties and enforcement were not sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation reportedly occurred with respect to race, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, and HIV-positive status. In 2018 labor inspectors issued 16 decisions regarding discrimination at work and seven related to gender equality. In the labor force, women experienced discrimination in hiring, underrepresentation in management, and lower compensation than their male colleagues.

In one example, in August, Snezana Pesovic went public with a case of discrimination against her employer. Pesovic claimed that despite being an employee for 12 years, she remained unregistered and her employer did not make health insurance or pension contributions, as the law requires. Upon learning she was pregnant, Pesovic asked her employer to register her so she could receive maternity benefits. Her employer agreed but only under the condition that she pay the contributions herself and sign a voluntary termination agreement that allowed the employer to terminate her at the employer’s convenience. By the end of her maternity leave, the benefit she was receiving of 26,000 dinars ($244) was less than the contributions of 30,000 dinars ($282) her employer was forcing her to make. Her employer invoked the voluntary termination option when her case appeared in the media. The commissioner for the protection of equality agreed to take the case and represent Pesovic in a lawsuit against her employer.

The commissioner for the protection of equality’s 2018 annual report identified 197 discrimination complaints in the area of labor and employment, which accounted for 20.8 percent of the total 947 complaints received in 2018. The highest number of discrimination complaints involved accommodation for persons with disabilities, followed by allegations of discrimination based on age, gender, birth, health status, national or ethnic origin, marital or family status, and sexual orientation.

The EC’s Serbia 2019 Report identified Roma, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, persons with HIV/AIDS, and other vulnerable individuals as the groups most subject to discrimination. A study by the Center for Free Elections and Democracy found discrimination was most frequent in hiring and employment, with the state and its institutions as the major discriminators. The law provides for equal pay, but employers frequently did not observe these provisions. According to a 2017 report by the country’s statistics office, women earned on average 22 percent less per month than their male counterparts. Other reports showed their career advancement was slower, they were underrepresented in most professions, and they faced discrimination related to parental leave.

The International Labor Organization noted allegations that the law restricting the maximum age of employees in the public sector, adopted in 2015, is discriminatory because it obliges women workers in the public sector to retire at age 62, whereas male workers can work up to the age of 65. The law states that the retirement age for women will continue to increase incrementally until the retirement age is 65 for both men and women. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage was above the poverty level for a single-member household but below the poverty level for a household with multiple members.

The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage. Companies with a trade union presence generally respected minimum wage requirements because of monitoring by the union. Some smaller, private-sector employers, however, were unwilling or unable to pay minimum wages and mandatory social benefits to all their employees, leading those companies to employ unregistered, off-the-books workers. Unregistered workers, paid in cash without social or pension contributions, frequently did not report labor violations because they feared losing their jobs. Informal arrangements existed most often in the trade, hotel and restaurant, construction, agriculture, and transport sectors. The most frequently reported legal violations in the informal sector related to contractual obligations, payment of salaries, changes to the labor contract, and overtime. According to labor force survey data, informal employment represented 17.1 percent of total employment in the first quarter of the year, 1.5 percent lower than a year earlier. Independent estimates suggested the informal sector might represent up to 30 percent of the economy.

The law stipulates a standard workweek of 40 hours and provides for paid leave, annual holidays, and premium pay for night and overtime hours. A worker may have up to eight hours of overtime per week and may not work more than 12 hours in one day, including overtime. One 30-minute break is required during an eight-hour workday. At least a 12-hour break is required between shifts during a workweek, and at least a 24-hour break is required over a weekend. The standard workweek and mandatory breaks were observed in state-owned enterprises but sometimes not in smaller, private companies, where the inspectors and unions had less ability to monitor practices.

The labor law requires that the premium for overtime work be at least 26 percent of the base salary, as defined by the relevant collective bargaining agreement. Trade unions within a company were the primary agents for enforcing overtime pay, although the Labor Inspectorate had enforcement responsibilities in companies and industries without union presence.

The law requires that companies must establish a safety unit to monitor observance of regulations regarding safety and the protection of personal health. These units often focus on rudimentary aspects of occupational safety and health (such as purchasing soap and detergents), rather than on providing safety equipment for workers. In cases in which the employer did not take action, an employee may report to the Labor Inspectorate. Employers may call the Labor Inspectorate if they believe an employee’s request related to safety and health conditions is not justified.

In case of a direct threat to life and health, employees have the right to take action or to remove themselves from the job or situation without responsibility for any damage it may cause the employer and without jeopardy to their employment. In 2018 the Labor Inspectorate completed 26,515 safety and health at work inspections involving more than 304,000 employees. Inspectors issued 5,773 decisions on deficiencies in safety and health conditions in the workplace, including 823 decisions barring an employee from continuing to work due to a hazardous condition that endangered their health or safety, a 55 percent increase from 2017. In addition, 40 criminal charges and 1,471 requests for misdemeanor proceedings were filed against individuals for failure to provide a safe workplace for employees. The Labor Inspectorate employed inspectors and was responsible for worker safety and health, but they were insufficient to enforce compliance.

The government protected employees with varying degrees of effectiveness. In 2018, for inspections outside the scope of occupational safety and health, the Labor Inspectorate completed 42,688 labor inspections involving more than 325,000 employees and uncovered 17,026 informal employment arrangements within legal entities. Following the inspections, formalized employment contracts were granted to 13,869 (82 percent) workers. According to the Labor Inspectorate, the most common violations of workers’ rights involved work performed without an employment contract; nonpayment of salary, overtime, and benefits; employers not following procedures in terminating employment contracts; nonpayment of obligatory pension and health contributions; and employers withholding maternity leave allowances. The inspectorate recorded 53 workplace accidents in which an employee died. Cases of death and injury were most common in the construction, transportation and storage, agricultural, and industrial sectors of the economy.

Seychelles

Executive Summary

Seychelles is a multiparty republic governed by a president, Council of Ministers, and National Assembly. In 2015 voters narrowly re-elected President James Michel of the People’s Party (Parti Lepep in Creole, later renamed United Seychelles) in an election that international observers criticized for voter intimidation and vote buying. In 2016 President Michel resigned and appointed Vice President Danny Faure as president. Elections are scheduled to take place in 2020. In 2016 the opposition coalition Seychellois Democratic Union (LDS) won a majority of seats in legislative assembly elections that international and domestic observers called fair but not free because they did not consider the electoral commission to be impartial. This was the LDS’s first majority in the legislature since the establishment of a multiparty system in 1993 and the first time the ruling party faced an opposition of equal or greater strength.

The Seychelles Police, which includes the unarmed police, the armed paramilitary Police Special Support Wing, the Anti-Narcotics Bureau, and the Marine Police Unit, have primary responsibility for internal security. They report to the minister of home affairs. The Seychelles People’s Defense Forces, including infantry, the Special Forces Unit, the Coast Guard, and the Air Force, are responsible for external security and assist police with internal security as needed. These military services report to the president, who acts as minister of defense.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included lack of enforcement of laws against domestic violence against girls and women, including rape, and forced labor.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected this right.

Freedom of Expression: Since 2015 individuals continued to be more willing to exercise the freedom to criticize the government with less fear of reprisal, such as harassment by police or the loss of jobs or contracts.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media outlets were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law allows for independent radio and television but prohibits political parties and religious organizations from operating radio stations. The government funded two of the country’s four radio stations and one of its two television stations, but no longer controlled content.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law allows the minister of information technology to prohibit the broadcast of any material believed to be against the “national interest” or “objectionable.” The law also requires telecommunication companies to submit subscriber information to the government. Although authorities did not enforce the law, after more than 40 years of working in a controlled press environment, journalists continued to practice self-censorship. The high cost for requesting documents from the Land Registrar’s Office has the effect of limiting journalists’ access to information regarding land transactions, which are important documents when investigating existing and past corruption.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for the media: In contrast with practice prior to 2018, President Faure’s press conferences were open to all media. During the elections of 2015 and 2016, the opposition accused the then state-controlled Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) of biased reporting and coverage. A 2017 amendment to the SBC Act created a larger corporate board and provided for members of the public to apply for the position of CEO and deputy CEO. In 2018 the SBC was transformed from a state broadcaster to a public service broadcaster operating independently of state control.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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 generally respected these rights.

f. Protection of Refugees

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. Nevertheless, the country cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which monitored and assisted refugees in the country through a memorandum of understanding with the UN Development Program.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but due to the limited powers accorded to the Anti-Corruption Commission under the laws in place in the first part of the year, the government did not implement the law effectively. On August 5, the Anti-Corruption Act was amended to give the commission the same powers, authority, and privileges as that of a law enforcement agency to detect, prevent, investigate, and prosecute cases of corruption outside the purview of the Attorney General’s Office.

In 2018 an access to information law came into force. During the year the government appointed a CEO for the Seychelles Information Commission, and also appointed information officers in all ministries and departments. The law makes provisions on how citizens may access government information that is not classified sensitive for security and defense reasons, how agencies should respond to requests, mandates proactive disclosure and a duty to assist requestors, and defines information that is deemed classified for security and defense.

Corruption: There were no prosecutions during the year. Political wrangling prior to amendment of the Anti-Corruption Act over the commission’s powers and a small staff hindered anticorruption investigations. As of November the commission had 72 open cases. The commission received technical assistance from the EU.

Financial Disclosure: Government ministers, members of the National Assembly, and senior public servants and board members of government agencies and parastatals are required to declare their assets. Asset declarations may be made public if the information is needed for a court case or upon request to the ethics commissioner. The law was not always enforced.

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

Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to the views of international and local NGOs. The Office of the Vice President has the responsibility to engage with NGOs. The government consulted NGOs on most issues of national concern and appointments to boards of national organizations and agencies. An umbrella organization grouping various NGOs, Citizens Engagement Platform, is the focal point for all NGO activities and receives funding from the government for projects and general operations, and the government regularly consulted it regarding the introduction of legislation.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The 2018 Seychelles Human Rights Commission Act provided for reform of the Human Rights Commission, allowing it to operate independently of the ombudsman’s office, in order to allow for a greater focus on human rights issues. On March 2, the five members of the commission were sworn in, including as chairman retired judge Bernadin Renaud, one of the most respected jurists in the country.

From September 11, the Truth, Reconciliation, and National Unity Commission began hearing cases of alleged human rights abuses. These cases included unlawful killings, disappearances, forced land acquisitions, and victimizations related to the 1977 coup. The commission has three years to conduct hearings on more than 100 registered cases. The commission may recommend compensation and refer crimes to the attorney general for prosecution.

Authorities rarely used the inquiry board (a police complaint office), but instead established independent inquiry commissions to examine security force abuses. Private attorneys generally filed complaints with police or published them in newspapers such as Today in Seychelles or in opposition party newspapers such as Seychelles Weekly and Le Seychellois Hebdo. Although respect for human rights was included as a core precept in police training, police stated the course was skeletal and did not comprehensively cover human rights.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows all workers, excluding police, military, prison, and firefighting personnel, to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. The law confers on the registrar discretionary powers to refuse registration of unions. Strikes are illegal unless arbitration procedures are first exhausted. Legislation requires that two-thirds of union members vote for a strike in a meeting specifically called to discuss the strike, and it provides the government with the right to call for a 60-day cooling-off period before a strike starts. The law provides for the minister responsible for employment to declare a strike unlawful if its continuance would endanger “public order or the national economy.” Anyone found guilty of calling an illegal strike may be fined 5,000 Seychellois rupees ($370) and imprisoned for up to six months.

Between 15 percent and 20 percent of the workforce was unionized. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. It does not specifically state the rights of foreign or migrant workers to join a union. The government has the right to review and approve all collective bargaining agreements in the public and private sectors. The law also imposes compulsory arbitration in all cases where negotiating parties do not reach an agreement through collective bargaining. In the Seychelles International Trade Zone (SITZ), the country’s export processing zone, the government did not require adherence to all labor, property, tax, business, or immigration laws. The Seychelles Trade Zone Act supersedes many legal provisions of the labor, property, tax, business, and immigration laws. The Employment Tribunal handles employment disputes for private-sector employees. The Public Services Appeals Board handles employment disputes for public-sector employees, and the Financial Services Agency deals with employment disputes of workers in SITZ. The law authorizes the Ministry of Employment, Immigration, and Civil Status to establish and enforce employment terms, conditions, and benefits, and workers frequently obtained recourse against their employers through the ministry or the employment tribunal.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties levied came in the form of fines and were often inadequate to deter violations. Cases involving citizens were often subject to lengthy delays and appeals, while foreigners were often deported.

The government effectively enforced the law and respected the right to participate in union activities and collective bargaining. The International Labor Organization continued to report insufficient protection against acts of interference and restrictions on collective bargaining. It urged the government to review provisions of the Industrial Relations Act concerning trade union registration and the right to strike. The law allows employers or their organizations to interfere by promoting the establishment of worker organizations under their control. Collective bargaining rarely occurred.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but government enforcement was ineffective. Penalties levied for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. Resources, inspections, and remediation were also inadequate. There were credible reports that forced labor occurred in the fishing, agriculture, and construction sectors, where most of the country’s nearly 19,000 migrants worked. Two cases of forced labor were prosecuted under the Employment Act and two cases under the 2014 Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act. There were several reports by the Association of Rights Information and Democracy concerning cases of forced labor, appalling living conditions, and nonpayment of salaries.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and states the minimum age for employment is 15, “subject to exceptions for children who are employed part time in light work prescribed by law without harm to their health, morals, or education.” The law notes working in a family-owned shop as an example of “light work.” The law establishes a minimum age of 15 for hazardous work and defines what constitutes hazardous work. The law, however, does not provide for children performing hazardous work to receive adequate training or protect their health and safety in accordance with international standards.

The Ministry of Employment, Immigration, and Civil Status effectively enforced child labor laws. The penalty for employing a child younger than age 15 was sufficient to deter violations. The ministry handled such cases but did not report any case requiring investigation during the year.

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 and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, age, gender, color, nationality, language, religion, disability, HIV status, sexual orientation, or political or professional association.

The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Penalties levied came in the form of fines and were sufficient to deter violations.

Employment discrimination generally did not occur. Women received equal pay for equal work, as well as equal access to credit, business ownership, and management positions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government set mandatory minimum wage rates for employees in both the private and public sectors. The minimum wages were above the poverty line.

The legal maximum workweek varied from 45 to 55 hours, depending on the economic sector. Regulations entitled each full-time worker to a one-hour break per day and a minimum of 21 days of paid annual leave, including paid annual holidays. Regulations permitted overtime up to 60 additional hours per month. The law requires premium pay for overtime work.

The Ministry of Health issues comprehensive occupational health and safety regulations that are up-to-date and appropriate for the main industries. The law allows citizen workers to remove themselves from dangerous or unhealthy work situations, to report the employer to the Health and Safety Commission of the Department of Employment, and to seek compensation without jeopardizing their employment. The law provides for the protection of foreign workers.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties levied were not sufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Health and the Department of Employment are responsible for visiting and inspecting worksites and workers’ accommodations. There were 13 safety and health inspectors in the country, an insufficient number to enforce compliance with health and safety laws.

Foreign workers, primarily employed in the construction and commercial fishing sectors, did not always enjoy the same legal protections as citizens. Companies in SITZ at times paid foreign workers lower wages, delayed payment of their salaries, forced them to work longer hours, and provided them with inadequate housing, resulting in substandard conditions.

In 2017 there were 84 occupational accidents reported. These accidents occurred most frequently in the accommodation and food services sector, transport, and storage industries.

Sierra Leone

Executive Summary

Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. In March 2018 the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) presidential candidate, Julius Maada Bio, won the presidential elections. Bio defeated Samura Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC) party by a narrow margin. In January 2018 parliamentary elections, the APC won a plurality of the seats. Following a High Court ruling in May and by-elections, the SLPP maintained a majority with 59 seats, and the APC held 57 seats. Observers found these elections to be largely free and fair.

The Sierra Leone Police (SLP), which reports to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for law enforcement and maintaining security within the country. The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities to assist police upon request in extraordinary circumstances. The RSLAF reports to the Ministry of Defense and National Security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; criminal libel laws; official corruption; trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and child labor.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, but there were exceptions.

Freedom of Expression: Government officials used criminal slander provisions of the law to impede witness testimony in court cases, including anticorruption matters, and to target persons making statements that the government considered to be against the national interest. While there is no hate speech law, at times authorities used hate speech as a legal justification for restricting freedom of speech.

The HRCSL and Amnesty International reported no arrests or detentions in relation to freedom of expression.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Most registered newspapers were independent, although several were associated with political parties. Newspapers openly and routinely criticized the government and its officials as well as opposition parties. While independent broadcast media generally operated without restriction, there were exceptions. International media could operate freely but were required to register with the Ministry of Information and Communications and the government-funded Independent Media Commission to obtain a license. Acting beyond its mandate, the National Telecommunications Commission of Sierra Leone instructed all community radio stations to register as commercial stations, which requires the payment of a license fee. According to a media rights NGO, the fee requirement would force many stations, particularly in rural areas, to shut down.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports authorities used violence and harassment against journalists. In September presidential bodyguards physically assaulted two female journalists reporting on a sporting event at the national stadium, where President Bio was in attendance. The presidential guards reportedly threatened to shoot the journalists, and one of them was hospitalized. In October an investigative committee composed of civil society, media, and government officials recommended the removal of one presidential guard from the force, and the government complied. In October two opposition party members, including a former mayor of Freetown, were arrested and charged with the 2018 murder of journalist Ibrahim Samura (see also section 1.a.).

Libel/Slander Laws: The law punishes defamatory and seditious libel with imprisonment of up to three years. In September the cabinet voted to repeal the criminal libel law, but as of November, parliament had not approved the repeal. According to the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, during the year at least eight journalists were arrested under criminal libel law on allegations of defamation and libel.

In January police arrested and detained for two days the editor of Nightwatch newspaper, Emmanuel Thorli, for defamatory libel and released him on bail. Police investigators reportedly pressured the journalist to disclose the source of an article about the issuance of diplomatic passports to 300 relatives of President Bio.

On November 3, a comedian was arrested and charged under criminal libel law for allegedly defaming President Bio.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected the right of freedom of association.

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, and the government generally respected these rights. On February 19, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security indefinitely suspended all overseas labor recruitment. Minister Edward King indicated that the rationale for this ban was to discourage trafficking in persons.

In-country Movement: There were reports that police officers operating security roadblocks nationwide as part of routine security checks often extorted money from motorists. The SLP banned unauthorized vehicular movement during an August 24 parliamentary by-election. All political parties, including the main opposition APC party, welcomed the restriction. The government continued to enforce a ban on civilian individuals and vehicular movement on the first Saturday of each month in order to support a nationwide cleaning exercise. This ban interfered with a religious group’s right to assemble for Saturday morning prayers.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR worked with government authorities to develop standard operating procedures for refugee status determination.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. During the year there were fewer reports of government corruption compared with 2018.

Corruption: The Anticorruption Commission (ACC) indicted and charged more than 33 persons, convicted 16 individuals, and recovered more than 17.8 billion leones ($1.97 million) from corrupt government officials. For example, in September the ACC indicted the former executive director of the Sierra Leone Roads Safety Authority and two other officials for defrauding the state of 2.1 billion leones ($233,000).

During the year a survey by Transparency International found that 52 percent of the residents of the country had paid a bribe for public services, with the highest rate of bribery for health services. In Transparency International’s previous 2015 survey, 41 percent reported paying bribes.

In May the judiciary assigned five high court justices to a new Anti-Corruption Court to deal with corruption cases brought by the ACC. During the year these judges presided over anticorruption cases but did not sit as a separate court. In October parliament passed into law the Anti-Corruption Amendment Act of 2019, which increased penalties for corruption and provided the ACC with alternative powers to prosecution, including out-of-court settlements to recoup stolen monies.

As in previous years, human rights groups expressed concern that police corruption remained a serious problem. Some police and guards exacted bribes at checkpoints, falsely charged motorists with violations, impounded vehicles to extort money, and accepted bribes from suspects to drop charges or to arrest their rivals and charge them with crimes. In exchange for kickbacks, police reportedly arrested persons for civil disputes, such as alleged breach of contract or failure to satisfy a debt.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officers, their spouses, and their children to declare their assets and liabilities within three months of assuming office, and according to the ACC, officials largely complied. The Amended Anti-Corruption Act further requires public officials to declare their assets no later than three months after the end of their employment.

The law also mandates disclosure of assets by government ministers and members of parliament. The ACC is empowered to verify asset disclosures and may publish in media the names of those who refuse to disclose and petition courts to compel disclosure. The particulars of individual declarations were not available to the public without a court order.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to the views of local and international NGOs and generally acknowledged the problems presented. The government, including security forces, generally responded to human rights concerns raised by the HRCSL but was at times slow to support the HRCSL or implement its recommendations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Parliamentary Human Rights Committee operated without government or party interference. It focused on keeping human rights matters on the parliamentary agenda, paving the way for the passage of amended laws and ratification of international conventions and doing public outreach. Separately, the HRCSL, modeled in accord with the UN Paris Principles, monitored and investigated human rights abuses.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers in both the public and private sectors to join independent unions of their choice without prior authorization, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, but it prohibits police and members of the armed services from joining unions or engaging in strike actions. The International Trade Union Confederation raised concerns about onerous union registration requirements as well as administrative means of dissolving unions without cause. The law allows workers to organize but does not prohibit discrimination against union members or prohibit employer interference in the establishment of unions. The government may require that workers provide written notice to police of an intent to strike at least 21 days before the planned strike. The law prohibits workers at certain specified public utilities from going on strike. Labor union officials, however, pointed out that public utility workers frequently went on strike (and were in fact among those union employees most likely to strike), the legal prohibition notwithstanding.

The government generally protected the right to bargain collectively. Collective bargaining was widespread in the formal sector, and most enterprises were covered by collective bargaining agreements on wages and working conditions. Although the law protects collective bargaining activity, the law required that it must take place in trade group negotiating councils, each of which must have an equal number of employer and worker representatives. There were no other limits on the scope of collective bargaining or legal exclusions of other particular groups of workers from legal protections.

While labor unions reported that the government generally protected the right of workers in the private sector to form or join unions, the government has not enforced applicable law through regulatory or judicial action.

The government generally respected freedom of association. All unions were independent of political parties and the government. In some cases, however, such as the Sierra Leone Teachers’ Union, the union and government had a close working relationship.

In December 2018 the Sierra Leone Labor Congress (SLLC), the umbrella body of labor unions, claimed government interference after an election for a union affiliate was disrupted and eight union leaders and members were arrested and detained. The vice president of the SLLC and the president of the National Commercial Motor Bike Riders Union were among those arrested. The SLLC met with President Bio, and the detained individuals were eventually released after protests.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor, including by children. Penalties for both sex and labor trafficking include fines and imprisonment, but enforcement was insufficient to deter violations. By law individual chiefs may impose forced labor (compulsory cultivation) as punishment. The government stated to the International Labor Organization (ILO) that this provision is unconstitutional and unenforceable, but sporadic incidences of its use have been reported in previous years. Chiefs also required villagers to contribute to the improvement of common areas. There is no penalty for noncompliance.

The government did not effectively enforce antitrafficking in persons law, was hindered by judicial inefficiencies and procedural delays, and has not convicted a trafficker since 2011.

Men, women, and child victims of forced labor originated largely from rural provinces within the country and were recruited to urban areas for artisanal and granite mining, petty trading, rock breaking, domestic servitude, and begging (see also section 7.c. and section 6, Sexual Exploitation of Children). The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs reported it was aware of trafficking, domestic service, mining, or other activities, but it had no specific data on these forms of forced or compulsory labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit or criminalize all of the worst forms of child labor. There is no law prohibiting the use, procurement, or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs. The law limits child labor, allowing light work, the conditions of which are not adequately defined by the law, at age 13, full-time nonhazardous work at 15, and hazardous work at 18. The law states that children younger than age 13 should not be employed in any capacity. Provided they have finished schooling, children age 15 may be apprenticed and employed full time in nonhazardous work. A government policy, however, continued to limit girls who are pregnant from attending public school, making them more vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor. The law also proscribes work by any child younger than age 18 between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. While the law does not stipulate specific conditions of work, such as health and safety standards, it prohibits children younger than age 18 from being engaged in hazardous work, which the law defines as work that poses a danger to the health, safety, and “morals” of a person, including going to sea; mining and quarrying; porterage of heavy loads; chemicals manufacturing; work in places where machines are used; and work in places such as bars, hotels, and places of entertainment where a child may be exposed to “immoral behavior.” The prohibitions on hazardous work for children, including quarrying and sand mining, do not adequately cover the sectors where child labor is known to occur.

In remote villages, children were forced to carry heavy loads as porters, which contributed to stunted growth and development. There were reports that children whose parents sent them to friends or relatives in urban areas for education were forced to work on the street, where they were involved in street vending, stealing, and begging.

In September the Ministry of Labor and Social Security in collaboration with an international organization trained five labor officers. Additionally, an international donor agency provided training for labor inspectors to monitor child labor. The government did not effectively enforce applicable child labor-related law, in part due to lack of funding and limited numbers of labor inspectors in areas where child labor was prevalent. The legal penalty for employing children in hazardous work or for violating age restrictions was not sufficient to deter violations.

Child labor remained a widespread problem, and enforcement of child labor law was weak. The ILO reported 72 percent of children were engaged in some form of work for money, noting in particular child labor in the mining industry. Children were on the streets selling water, groundnuts, cucumbers, and other items. Children engaged in exploitive labor activities, including petty trading, carrying heavy loads, breaking rocks, harvesting sand, begging, diamond mining, deep-sea fishing, agriculture (production of coffee, cocoa, and palm oil), domestic work, commercial sex, scavenging for scrap metal and other recyclables, and other age-inappropriate forms of labor under hazardous conditions. Larger companies enforced strict rules against child labor, but it remained a pressing problem in small-scale informal artisanal diamond and gold mining.

As in previous years, many children worked alongside parents or relatives and abandoned educational or vocational training. In rural areas children worked seasonally on family subsistence farms. Children also routinely assisted in family businesses and worked as petty vendors. There were reports that adults asked orphanages for children to work as household help. Because the adult unemployment rate remained high, few children were involved in the industrial sector or elsewhere in the formal economy.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits most discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, age, language, HIV status or that of other communicable diseases, sexual orientation, or gender identity. NGOs at times expressed concerns that discrimination appeared to occur based on sex, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity with respect to employment and occupation.

In July 2018 the government launched the National Labor Migration Policy that aims to protect both migrants’ rights in the country and the rights of Sierra Leoneans working abroad.

As of September there was no information available on whether the government enforced the applicable provisions of the law regarding combating discrimination at workplaces. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is a national minimum wage, but it falls below the basic poverty line in the country. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcing labor law, including the minimum wage, but the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance, and the penalties for noncompliance were insufficient to deter violations.

Although not stipulated by law, the customary workweek was 40 hours (60 hours for security personnel). There is no statutory definition of overtime wages to be paid if an employee’s work hours exceed 40. There is no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime nor a requirement for paid leave or holidays.

A union may make a formal complaint about a hazardous working condition; if the complaint is rejected, the union may issue a 21-day strike notice. The law also requires employers to provide protective clothing and safety devices to employees whose work involves “risk of personal safety or potential health hazard.” The law protects both foreign and domestic workers. The law does not provide workers with the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and the government took no steps to protect employees who so acted.

The occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations were outdated and remained under review by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. The government did not effectively enforce these standards in all sectors. Although the responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with an OSH expert and not the worker, the small number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, labor law and standards continued to be violated primarily due to lack of resources, corruption, and lack of enforcement, rather than due to the deterrent effect, or lack thereof, of the penalties. Minimum wage compliance was particularly difficult to monitor in the informal sector.

Violations of wage, overtime, and OSH standards were most frequent within the artisanal diamond-mining sector. Violations were common in the case of street vendors and market-stall workers, rock crushers, and day laborers, many of whom came to Freetown from elsewhere in the country to seek employment and were vulnerable to exploitation. There were numerous complaints of unpaid wages and lack of attention to injuries sustained on the job, but victims often did not know where to turn for recourse and as a result their complaints went unresolved.

Singapore

Executive Summary

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

The Singapore Police Force (SPF) under the direction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, maintains internal security. The Singapore Armed Forces, under the Ministry of Defense, have trained for deployment alongside the Home Affairs Ministry for certain homeland security operations, including joint deterrence patrols with SPF in instances of heightened terrorism alerts. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: preventive detention by the government under various laws that dispense with regular judicial due process; monitoring private electronic or telephone conversations without a warrant; significant restrictions on the press and internet, including criminal libel laws; significant legal and regulatory limitations on the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; and a law criminalizing sexual activities between men, although this was not enforced.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression but allows parliament to impose such restrictions on freedom of speech as it “considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the country or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence.”

Freedom of Expression: The government significantly restricted any public statements that it contended would undermine social or religious harmony, or that did not safeguard national or public interest. Government pressure to conform resulted in self-censorship among some journalists and users of the internet.

In August police issued warnings to YouTube star Preeti Nair and her brother, rapper Subhas Nair, for promoting racial disharmony through a rap video in which they criticized the ethnic Chinese community. The siblings’ video mocked a recent “Brownface” advertisement in which an ethnic Chinese actor played four different characters, including an Indian man with artificially darkened skin, and a Malay Muslim woman wearing a hijab. Four ministers criticized the siblings’ “offensive” video, which included vulgarities, and the government issued a takedown notice for it to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

In April activist Jolovan Wham and opposition politician John Tan Liang Joo, of the Singapore Democratic Party, were each fined S$5,000 ($3,630) plus legal costs for contempt of court. They were convicted in October 2018 after Wham posted on Facebook that “Malaysia’s judges are more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implications” and, when Wham was prosecuted, Tan commented that the case “only confirms that what he said is true.”

In April the Court of Appeal ruled that papers for contempt of court proceedings were properly served on Li Shengwu, a nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in 2017. Li had posted private Facebook comments in 2017 criticizing the “litigious” nature of the government and the “pliant court system.” The case was ongoing as of November. While media and internet users have shared the facts of the case, many have been circumspect in commenting further because publishing material that prejudges a pending issue in court proceedings may constitute contempt of court.

The law gives the minister for home affairs discretion to authorize special police powers if a “serious incident” such as a terrorist attack is occurring or there is a threat that it could. These powers allow the commissioner of police to prohibit anyone from taking or transmitting photographs or videos in a defined area, or from making text or audio messages about police operations. A breach of the order may lead to imprisonment for up to two years, a fine of up to S$20,000 ($14,500), or both. Some civil society groups expressed concern that authorities could use the law to stop activists documenting the abuse of police powers, such as in the instance that authorities used force to break up a large but peaceful demonstration.

The law prohibits the public display of any foreign national emblems, including flags or symbols of political organizations or leaders. The law restricts the use of the coat of arms, flag, and national anthem.

The government-approved Speakers’ Corner was the only outdoor venue where citizens could give public speeches without a Public Entertainment License. Speakers’ Corner may be used for exhibitions, performances, assemblies and processions, and citizens do not need a police permit to hold these events. All event organizers must, however, preregister online with the National Parks Board and must provide the topic of their event. Regulations state that the event should not be religious in nature or cause feelings of enmity, ill will, or hostility between different racial or religious groups. The commissioner of parks and recreation has the right to cancel or disallow any event or activity that he or she believes may endanger, cause discomfort to, or inconvenience other park users or the general public.

Citizens need a permit to speak at indoor public gatherings outside of the hearing or view of nonparticipants if the topic refers to race or religion. Indoor, private events are not subject to the same restrictions. Organizers of private events, however, must prevent inadvertent access by uninvited guests, or they could be cited for noncompliance with the rules regarding public gatherings.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: According to the ISA, the government may restrict or place conditions on publications that incite violence, counsel disobedience to the law, have the potential to arouse tensions in the country’s diverse population, or threaten national interests, national security, or public order.

Government leaders openly urged news media to support its goals and help maintain social and religious harmony. The government enforced strict defamation and press laws, including in what it considered personal attacks on officials, resulting in journalists and editors moderating or limiting what was published. The government sued journalists or online bloggers for defamation or for stories that authorities believed undermined racial and religious harmony.

There were no legal bans on owning or operating private press outlets, although in practice government managerial and financial control strongly influenced all print and some electronic media. Two companies, Singapore Press Holdings Limited (SPH) and MediaCorp, owned all general circulation newspapers in the four official languages of English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. SPH is a publicly listed company with close ties to the government, which must approve (and may remove) the holders of management shares, who appoint or dismiss SPH management. The government investment company Temasek Holdings wholly owned MediaCorp. As a result, coverage of domestic events and reporting of sensitive foreign relations topics usually closely reflected official government policies and views.

Government-linked companies and organizations operated all domestic broadcast television channels and almost all radio stations. Only one radio station, the BBC’s World Service, was completely independent of the government. Residents could receive some Malaysian and Indonesian television and radio programming, but with a few exceptions authorities prohibited satellite dishes. Cable television was widespread, and subscribers had access to numerous foreign television shows and a wide array of international news and entertainment channels. The government did not censor international news channels but did censor entertainment programs to remove or edit representations of intimate gay and lesbian relationships. Residents routinely accessed uncensored international radio and television content via the internet.

The government may limit broadcasts or the circulation of publications by “gazetting” (listing) them under the Broadcasting Act and may ban the circulation of domestic and foreign publications. The law empowers the minister for communications and information to gazette or place formal restrictions on any foreign broadcaster deemed to be engaging in domestic politics.

The government may require a gazetted broadcaster to obtain express permission from the minister to continue broadcasting in the country. The government may impose restrictions on the number of households receiving a broadcaster’s programming and may fine a broadcaster up to S$100,000 ($72,500) for failing to comply.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) under the Ministry of Communications and Information regulates broadcast, print, and other media, including movies, video materials, computer games, and music. Most banned publications were sexually oriented materials but also included some religious and political publications. The IMDA develops censorship standards including age appropriate classification of media content with the help of various citizen advisory panels. The law allows the banning, seizure, censorship, or restriction of written, visual, or musical materials if authorities determine that such materials threaten the stability of the state, contravene moral norms, are pornographic, show excessive or gratuitous sex and violence, glamorize or promote drug use, or incite racial, religious, or linguistic animosities. The law gives IMDA officers power to enter and search premises and seize evidence without a warrant for “serious offenses,” such as those involving films prohibited on public interest grounds or the unlicensed public exhibition of a film. The IMDA has the power to sanction broadcasters for transmitting what it believed to be inappropriate content. All content shown between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. must be suitable for viewers of all ages.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, and conviction on criminal defamation charges may result in a maximum prison sentence of two years, a fine, or both. Critics charged that government leaders used defamation lawsuits or threats of such actions to discourage public criticism, coerce the press, and intimidate opposition politicians.

In September, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sued Terry Xu, editor of the sociopolitical website The Online Citizen, for defamation following Xu’s refusal to take down and apologize for an article about a dispute between Lee and his two siblings. In a separate case, Xu was charged in December 2018 for criminal defamation after he published a reader’s letter in which the author accused the PAP leadership of “corruption at the highest echelons.” The letter’s author, Daniel De Costa, was also charged with criminal defamation. De Costa lodged a constitutional challenge against the charge, with hearings scheduled for November.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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 the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, although it limited them in certain circumstances.

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

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

Persons with national service reserve obligations (male citizens and permanent residents between ages 18 and 40 (for enlisted men) or 50 (for officers)) are required to advise the Ministry of Defense of plans to travel abroad. Men and boys age 13 and older who have not completed national service obligations are required to obtain exit permits for international travel if they intend to be away for three months or more.

In June a permanent resident, Thirumal Pavithran (an Indian national), was jailed for 10 weeks after he remained outside the country for more than five years after his exit permit expired. Those convicted of remaining outside the country without a valid exit permit can be jailed for up to three years and fined up to S$10,000 ($7,250) for each charge.

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

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in open and free periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In five decades of continuous rule, however, the PAP has employed a variety of measures that effectively limited the ability of the opposition to mount a serious challenge to its hold on power. In recent years, the opposition won additional seats, although it still held a small fraction of seats in parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government implemented these laws effectively.

Corruption: Media reported one new case of serious public sector corruption during the year. In October, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority customer service officer Lucy Teo was charged with receiving bribes from a Malaysian national who applied to become a permanent resident. Teo was charged with two counts of engaging in a conspiracy to obtain corruptly S$1,500 ($1,090) from the Malaysian. Two other individuals, including the Malaysian, were also charged with corruption-related offenses.

In September the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau reported that of the 112 persons prosecuted for corruption in court in 2018, five were public sector employees. In one case, former general manager of the Ang Mo Kio town council Victor Wong Chee Meng, who was charged in 2018 with 55 counts of corruption, pleaded guilty in March to receiving S$86,000 ($62,400) in inducements from the directors of two building and repair companies, and was sentenced to 27 months’ imprisonment.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires civil servants to declare their investments, properties, and indebtedness to their respective permanent secretaries. According to the code of conduct for ministers, ministers make financial disclosures to the prime minister. Declarations are not made public. If evidence surfaces that a declaration is fraudulent, administrative “disciplinary measures” may be imposed. The salaries of ministers and senior officials were public information.

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

A variety of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction and these organizations investigated and published their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. NGOs were subject to registration according to the Societies Act or the Companies Act.

Some international human rights NGOs criticized the government’s policies in areas such as capital punishment, migrant workers’ rights, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. They charged that the government generally ignored such criticisms or published rebuttals.

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

Parliament passed the Criminal Law Reform Act in May. The law has been formally gazetted (published), but implementation was pending as of December. Under the new law, individuals convicted under the Penal Code for any offenses committed against vulnerable victims–children below the age of 14, persons with mental or physical disabilities, and domestic workers–will be liable to up to twice the maximum penalty. The law will abolish marital immunity for rape, expand the definition of rape to make it gender neutral, increase the penalties for offenses committed against unmarried partners, and introduce new criminal offenses for technology-related crimes such as voyeurism. These and other provisions of the new law will significantly change many of the legal provisions reported below.

The Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Act became law in June–implementation was pending as of December–makes doxing an offense and improves judicial procedures for victims of online harassment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join trade unions. Workers have the legal right to strike and to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination.

Parliament may impose restrictions on the right of association based on security, public order, or morality grounds. The Ministry of Manpower also has broad powers to refuse to register a union or to cancel a union’s registration. Laws and regulations restrict freedom of association by requiring any group of 10 or more persons to register with the government. The law also restricts the right of uniformed personnel and government employees to organize, although the president may grant exemptions. Foreigners and those with criminal convictions generally may not hold union office or become employees of unions, but the ministry may grant exemptions.

The law requires more than 50 percent of affected unionized workers to vote in favor of a strike by secret ballot, as opposed to 51 percent of those participating in the vote. Workers in “essential services” are required to give 14 days’ notice to an employer before striking, and there is a prohibition on strikes by workers in the water, gas, and electricity sectors.

Unions were unable to carry out their work without interference from the government or political parties. The law limits how unions may spend their funds, prohibiting, for example, payments to political parties or the use of funds for political purposes, and restricts the right of trade unions to elect their officers and choose their employees.

Almost all unions were affiliated with the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), an umbrella organization with a close relationship with the government and the ruling PAP. The NTUC secretary-general was a cabinet minister and four PAP members of parliament were in NTUC leadership positions. NTUC policy prohibited union members who supported opposition parties from holding office in its affiliated unions.

Collective bargaining was a routine part of labor-management relations in all sectors. Because nearly all unions were its affiliates, the NTUC had almost exclusive authority to exercise collective bargaining power on behalf of employees. Union members may not reject collective agreements negotiated between their union representatives and an employer. Although transfers and layoffs are excluded from the scope of collective bargaining, employers consulted with unions on both issues.

Foreign workers constituted approximately 15 percent of union members. Labor NGOs also filled an important function by providing support for migrant workers, including legal aid and medical care, especially for those in the informal sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not define “forced labor,” but the government used the definition found in International Labor Organization Convention 29. Under the law, destitute persons can be compelled to work.

The government enforced the law, although it was more likely to prosecute employers for less serious employment infringements than those of domestic servitude or bonded labor. Penalties included prison terms and fines, which were usually sufficient to deter violations. The government took law enforcement action against employers for workplace violations, including for nonpayment of salaries, serious safety violations, and abuse or mistreatment of foreign domestic workers. It also investigated and imposed fines on some employment agencies for committing other illegal practices. The Ministry of Manpower reported, for example, that in March an employment agency lost its license and was fined S$48,000 ($34,800) for advertising 49 foreign domestic workers on an online marketplace in an undignified light, as if they were commodities. Given the number of low-paid foreign workers in the country, however, outside observers believe that many cases of abuse were undetected.

Practices indicative of forced labor, including the withholding of wages and passports, occurred. Migrant workers in low-wage and unskilled sectors such as domestic work, hospitality, and construction were vulnerable to labor exploitation.

The law caps the fees payable by foreign domestic workers to employment agencies in the country at one month’s salary per year of the employment contract not to exceed two months’ salary, irrespective of the duration of the contract. Observers noted that unscrupulous agencies in migrant workers’ countries of origin could charge exorbitant fees.

Some observers also noted that the country’s employer sponsorship system made legal migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor because there are limited circumstances in which they may change employers without the consent of their employer.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 13 years. A child age 13 or older may engage in light work in a nonindustrial undertaking, subject to medical clearance. Exceptions include work in family enterprises; a child 13 or older may only work in an industrial undertaking that employs members of his or her family. Ministry of Manpower regulations prohibit night employment of children and restrict industrial work for children between 15 and 16. Children younger than 15 may not work on commercial vessels, with moving machinery, on live electrical apparatus lacking effective insulation, or in any underground job, and normally they are prohibited from employment in the industrial sector.

The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Employers who violated laws related to child labor were subject to fines, imprisonment, or both, penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. Government officials asserted that child labor was not a significant problem.

The incidence of children in formal employment was low, although some children worked in family enterprises.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equality in employment. No specific antidiscrimination legislation exists, although some statutes prohibit certain forms of discrimination. For example, employers may not dismiss female employees during pregnancy or maternity leave, and employers may not dismiss employees solely due to age, gender, race, religion, nationality, marital status, family responsibilities, disability, or medical condition.

The Ministry of Manpower’s Fair Consideration Framework requires all companies to comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices and have employment practices that are open, merit based, and nondiscriminatory. These guidelines call for eliminating language referring to age, race, gender, religion, marital status, family responsibilities, and disability in employment advertisements. Employers are required to provide explanations for putting requirements such as specific language skills in the job advertisement. Penalties for violation of government guidelines are at the discretion of the ministry. There were no similar government guidelines with respect to political opinion, sexual orientation, or HIV or other communicable disease status.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices received complaints of employment discrimination, largely due to the preference to hire foreigners over citizens.

In January, President Halimah Yacob announced the formation of a Council for Board Diversity, which aims to increase the proportion of women on the boards of listed companies, public sector entities, nongovernmental organizations and charities. The council replaced a committee that focused on women’s representation on large listed companies. As of June the council reported that women’s representation on boards of the largest 100 companies listed on the Singapore Exchange was 15.7 percent, while women filled 24.5 percent of positions on statutory boards, and 27.4 percent of those on registered nongovernment organizations and charities.

Some ethnic Malays and Indians reported that discrimination limited their employment and promotion opportunities. There were also some reports of discrimination based on disability, pregnancy, and sexual orientation or gender identity. Pregnancy is a breach of the standard work permit conditions for foreign workers, and the government cancels work permits and requires repatriation of foreign domestic workers who become pregnant.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not specify a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy. The government has set minimum wages in the cleaning, landscaping, elevator maintenance, and security services sectors as a requirement to obtain a business license. The majority of these wages were below the unofficial poverty line determined by the National University of Singapore’s Social Service Research Center.

The law sets the standard legal workweek at 44 hours, and requires employers to apply for an overtime exception from the Ministry of Manpower for employees to work more than 72 hours of overtime per month. Workplace protection including paid sick leave, mandatory annual leave, and protection against wrongful dismissal is available to all private sector employees, except domestic workers and seafarers who are covered under separate laws. The law also mandates benefits for part-time employees, defined as those working 35 hours or less.

The law establishes a framework for workplaces to comply with occupational safety and health standards, and regular inspections enforced the standards. Officials encouraged workers to report situations that endanger health or safety to the ministry, but the law does not specifically protect the right of workers to remove themselves from a hazardous working environment.

The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced laws and regulations establishing working conditions and comprehensive occupational safety and health regulations. Penalties for violating these regulations–fines and stop-work orders–were sufficient to deter violations. The number of inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. During the year, the ministry continued to promote training to reduce the frequency of job-related accidents in high-risk sectors such as construction, and authorities provided tax incentives to firms who introduced hazard control measures. Workplace fatalities in the first six months of the year were the lowest since 2006, when statistics first became publicly available. This continues a downward trend in the number of workplace fatalities, although the number of reported injuries has been relatively constant. The government also enforced requirements for employers to provide one rest day per week or compensation for foreign domestic workers.

In September, Ong Chin Chong, the sole proprietor of a transport firm, was fined S$140,000 ($102,000) for a fatal accident resulting from unsafe lifting operations that he supervised. Authorities found that Ong used unsafe equipment and had not provided training for the men on how to perform their roles. Authorities also issued a S$60,000 ($43,500) fine to Unipac, the firm for which Ong was a contractor, and a S$160,000 ($116,000) fine to Sunway, the occupier of the worksite, for failing to ensure that lifting operations were properly conducted on its premises. Ong’s fine was the highest imposed on an individual prosecuted for unsafe working conditions, for which the maximum sentence is a S$200,000 ($145,000) fine, up to two years’ imprisonment, or both.

In September parliament passed the Work Injury Compensation Act, which will take full effect in September 2020. The new law incentivizes companies to prevent workplace injuries by permitting employers with better safety records to pay lower premiums, expedites the benefit claim process for workers, and increases the size of benefit payouts to injured workers.

The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management, which includes the Ministry of Manpower, unions, and the employers’ federation, offers advice and mediation services to help employees and employers to manage employment disputes. The Labor Relations and Workplaces Division of the Ministry of Manpower provided free advisory services to both foreign and local workers who experienced problems with employers; it provided mediation services for a fee. The ministry operated a hotline for foreign domestic workers.

The majority of foreign workers were concentrated in low-wage, low-skill jobs and were often required to work long hours in construction, shipbuilding, services, and domestic work.

The majority of foreign domestic workers, mainly from the Philippines and Indonesia, worked under clearly outlined contracts. Any employer of a foreign domestic worker or a member of the employer’s family, if convicted of certain offenses against the worker, such as causing hurt or insulting the modesty of the worker, is liable to a maximum penalty of one and one-half times the mandated penalty when the victim is not a domestic worker. Nevertheless, there were reports of employers abusing or mistreating such workers (see section 7.b.).

Slovakia

Executive Summary

The Slovak Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy led by a prime minister and a 150-member parliament (Narodna Rada or National Council). Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini heads a three-party coalition that secured a majority of seats in parliament following free and fair parliamentary elections in 2016. On March 16 and 30, voters elected Zuzana Caputova to a five-year term as president and head of state in elections that were considered free and fair.

The national police force has sole responsibility for internal and border security and reports to the Ministry of Interior. A special anticorruption police department, special prosecution unit, and specialized criminal court address corruption cases. The Bureau of Border and Alien Police (BBAP), under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for external security, including border control and preventing illegal migration and people smuggling, and conducts investigations of related criminal activities. BBAP also exercises limited powers in asylum proceedings. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: corruption; violence and threats of violence against Roma and other ethnic and racial minorities, including violence by security forces; and violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected these rights, it limited access to information to press outlets critical of the government.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits the defamation of nationalities and race, punishable by up to three years in prison, and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes, which carry a prison sentence of six months to three years.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The prohibitions against defamation of nationalities and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes also applied to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals. According to media organizations, criminal libel provisions restrict freedom of expression, including freedom of media. In one instance, a Bratislava district court issued a preliminary measure in June ordering former presidential candidate Martin Dano to withdraw his online videos targeting investigative journalist and anticorruption NGO director Zuzana Petkova. The court ruled Dano’s videos incited hatred and defamed Petkova and other investigative journalists. Zuzana Petkova informed media outlets that Dano had not complied with the court decision. Appeal proceedings were pending.

The majority of media were privately owned or funded from private sources. Radio and Television Slovakia (RTVS) and the TASR news agency received state funding for specific programming. Observers expressed concern, however, about the increasing consolidation of media ownership and its potential long-term threat to press freedom. NGOs reported most of the country’s private media outlets, including television stations and print publications, were controlled by relatively few financial conglomerates or wealthy individuals.

Members of the cabinet intermittently refused to communicate with two major daily newspapers, claiming their reporting was biased and that the newspapers had refused to apologize for publishing information government officials claimed was untrue.

Violence and Harassment: In February 2018 investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, were killed in their home. Kuciak regularly reported on allegations of high-level corruption and documented tax-fraud schemes. As of November authorities had arrested and indicted four suspects in the case, including businessman Marian Kocner, who was charged with ordering the killing. Nationwide public protests in 2018 following the killings prompted the resignation of then interior minister Robert Kalinak, then prime minister Robert Fico, and then police president Tibor Gaspar. Since the resignations, Fico on multiple occasions accused media outlets and NGOs of using the killings to foment a “coup.”

The investigation into the Kuciak murder led to allegations that Kocner and his collaborators conducted surveillance of selected investigative journalists, allegedly with the assistance of law enforcement. According to media reports, the investigation revealed that police representatives illegally accessed government databases to collect information on journalists and their family members. Information collected through surveillance and from state databases was allegedly used to intimidate individual journalists. Investigations into the surveillance and intimidation cases were pending (see section 4, “Corruption”).

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are treated as criminal offenses. Media organizations criticized a criminal libel provision in the criminal code as restricting freedom of expression.

Financial elites targeted the press in several civil defamation lawsuits, which often required the press to pay large sums of money in penalties or legal costs. The International Press Institute Slovakia and other observers expressed concern this financial risk and the administrative burden of constantly contesting lawsuits could lead to media self-censorship. In December 2018 a trial court dismissed one of numerous libel lawsuits by financial group Penta Investment against daily newspaper DennikN over an article implying then prime minister Robert Fico accepted bribes from Penta leader Jaroslav Hascak through his personal assistant.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for 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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing some protection to refugees. Some organizations criticized the Migration Office for applying a restrictive asylum policy and granting asylum only in a very limited number of cases. As of August, for example, the government had received 108 asylum applications and granted asylum to three individuals. The government granted asylum to five individuals in 2018.

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

There was no independent monitoring by local NGOs of access to asylum procedures on the country’s borders and only limited monitoring of access to asylum by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In February a German court ruled that a Slovak government aircraft operated by the Ministry of Interior had been used to smuggle an abducted Vietnamese refugee claiming asylum in Germany out of the Schengen area in 2017. The court found that the asylum seeker, who was abducted by Vietnamese intelligence services in Berlin, was taken on board the Slovak government jet immediately following an official meeting in Bratislava between then Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak and the Vietnamese minister of public security, and subsequently flown to Moscow. Slovak NGOs criticized the Slovak interior ministry inspection service for terminating in August its investigation into alleged government involvement, ostensibly for a lack of evidence.

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

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

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

The human rights organization Marginal stated that integration of approved asylum seekers in the country was hampered by the absence of a comprehensive government-funded and -operated integration program. These services had to be provided by NGOs and funded through a patchwork of domestic and international sources.

Human rights organizations reported that asylum seekers placed in immigration detention did not have adequate access to quality healthcare, contributing to the spread of contagious diseases in detention facilities.

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

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary “subsidiary protection” to individuals who might not qualify as refugees but could not return to their home countries and granted it to 11 persons as of August. Subsidiary protection is initially granted for one year, with possible extensions. NGOs asserted this approach created uncertainty regarding the refugee’s status in the country and significantly hindered their integration prospects. There were reports persons granted subsidiary protection had only limited access to health care. The Ministry of Interior issued health coverage documentation directly to persons with subsidiary protection without clear explanation of benefits.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and the 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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not always implement the law effectively, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. According to a special 2017 Eurobarometer report on corruption, 85 percent of the country’s citizens perceived corruption as widespread, particularly in the health sector, political parties, and the courts. The business sector perceived nepotism in public institutions, financing of political parties in exchange for future government contracts, and bribery and kickbacks as the most widespread corruption problems. High-level officials rarely were prosecuted for corruption, despite a series of high-profile corruption cases involving government officials.

Corruption: Investigative journalists and NGOs documented cases of well connected businesspersons siphoning off state finances through tax fraud. Observers blamed political influence over police and the prosecution services for blocking or hampering anticorruption investigations.

In the last article written by investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and published after his murder in February 2018, Kuciak documented Italian mafia connections to high-level politicians that were allegedly designed to abuse EU agricultural subsidies. On October 21, businessman Marian Kocner was indicted on charges of ordering Kuciak’s murder. In August, four of Kocner’s collaborators all of whom were already in jail on charges related to the Kuciak murder were charged with conspiracy to murder former first deputy prosecutor general Peter Sufliarsky, Special Prosecutor Maros Zilinka, and former minister of justice and interior Daniel Lipsic. The potential victims were all reportedly involved in criminal investigations affecting Kocner; a criminal investigation was pending. In August, September, October, November, leaked transcripts of text messages from Kocner’s telephone communications revealed extensive relations between Kocner and high-level state officials, police, prosecutors, and judges. In the messages, Kocner discussed attempts to manipulate political, administrative, and judicial decisions to support both his personal financial interests and representatives of the ruling Smer party. According to the special prosecution service, numerous criminal investigations based on the messages were pending. In August police seized mobile phones of several judges and prosecutors allegedly involved in encrypted telephone conversations with Kocner.

In December 2018 a third fact-finding mission from the European Parliament followed up on the subsidy misuse accusations after farmers’ protests. The delegation reported that it found evidence of “intimidation and physical violence” against small farmers, who claimed that large financial groups were siphoning off subsidies and that state authorities did not address these abuses. The farmers alleged that EU agricultural subsidies were not reaching the right beneficiaries due to widespread corruption and weak rule of law.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials and mandates a parliamentary conflict of interest committee to monitor and verify such disclosures. The government made a general summary of the declarations publicly available, and there were penalties for noncompliance. NGOs and some politicians maintained the financial disclosure forms were vague and did not clearly identify the value of the declared assets, liabilities, and interests. Limited authority and inadequate human and technical resources made financial disclosure processing ineffective for the purpose of transparency.

Enforcement of financial disclosure violations was not effective and enabled MPs to block sanctions against violators. Criminal sanctions for noncompliance were not applied in practice.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were sometimes cooperative, although NGOs reported that at times some government officials disseminated conspiracy theories presenting civil society organizations as “foreign agents” and appeared to view their activities with suspicion or mistrust.

Throughout the year Robert Fico, MP and chair of the coalition Smer-SD party, continued to claim that countrywide public protests in 2018 that led to the resignation of his cabinet when he was prime minister were financed and organized from abroad as part of a “coup” against his government.

Some government officials, including Andrej Danko, the speaker of parliament and chair of the coalition-member Slovak National Party (SNS), criticized the ombudsperson’s attempts to raise awareness about the rights of LGBTI persons.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The justice minister headed the Government Council on Human Rights and National Minorities, an advisory body including government officials and civil society representatives.

Maria Patakyova headed the Office of the Public Defender of Rights (ombudsperson) and submitted an annual report on human rights problems to the parliament. Human rights activists credited Patakyova with raising the profile of fundamental rights problems in the country, despite criticism, obstruction, and a lack of interest from politicians.

Parliament has a 12-member Human Rights and National Minorities Committee that held regular sessions during the year. NGOs criticized it for failing to address serious human rights issues. Committee members included an MP from the far-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia (LSNS) party who participated in a 2015 attack against a Saudi family during antirefugee demonstrations, denied the legitimacy of the Holocaust, and praised Hitler on social media. He also made defamatory statements against the Romani minority and Muslim refugees for which he was convicted and fined. The committee also included an MP who was fired as a television news presenter in 2015 for posting antirefugee content on social media.

The Slovak National Center for Human Rights acted as the country’s national human rights institution and as the dedicated equality body, but it was criticized for inactivity by NGOs and members of the Government Council on Human Rights and National Minorities.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice. The law also provides for unions to conduct their activities without interference, including the right to organize and bargain collectively, and workers exercised these rights. The law recognizes the right to strike with advance notice, both when collective bargaining fails to reach an agreement and in support of other striking employees’ demands (solidarity strike). Civil servants in essential services, judges, prosecutors, and members of the military do not have the right to strike. The law prohibits dismissing workers who legally participate in strikes but does not offer such protection if a strike was illegal or unofficial. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. The law does not state whether reinstatement of workers fired for union activity is required.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws and remedies, and penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations. These procedures were, however, occasionally subject to delays and appeals.

Workers and unions generally exercised these rights without restrictions. The government generally respected their rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Police are responsible for investigating forced labor but faced challenges in effectively enforcing the law. The law provides strong penalties for labor traffickers, including imprisonment for terms of four to 25 years, depending on the seriousness of the case. The Ministry of Interior, together with the International Organization for Migration, trained government officials in identifying victims subjected to trafficking for forced labor.

There were reports by NGOs of male and female migrants forced to work in the country under conditions of forced labor, including nonpayment of wages. Migrant workers in the retail and construction sectors or employed as household help were considered particularly vulnerable. Underemployed and undereducated Roma from socially segregated rural settlements were disproportionately vulnerable to trafficking in persons for forced labor. The government carried out extensive awareness raising campaigns on the dangers of trafficking in persons with a focus on forced labor and organized joint inspections of business entities to identify illegal employment, forced labor, and trafficking in persons. Courts continued to issue light and suspended sentences for the majority of convicted traffickers that failed to deter trafficking offenses or protect victims.

In May the Banska Bystrica regional court confirmed a lower court ruling sentencing a man to eight years and eight months in a minimum-security prison for exploiting the poor social situation of three homeless persons and trafficking them to Germany for the purposes of forced begging.

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 minimum age for employment is 15, although younger children may perform light work in cultural or artistic performances, sports events, or advertising activities if it does not affect their health, safety, personal development, or schooling. The National Labor Inspection Service (NLI) and the Public Health Office must approve, determine the maximum hours, and set conditions for work by children younger than 15. The law does not permit children younger than 16 to work more than 30 hours per week on average and restricts children under 18 years of age to 37.5 hours per week. The law applies to all children who are high school or full-time university students. The law does not allow children under the age of 18 to work underground, work overtime, or perform labor inappropriate for their age or health. The violation of child and juvenile labor rules is punishable by penalties which are sufficient to deter violations, although application of those penalties was not always sufficient to deter violations. The NLI did not report serious violations of laws relating to child labor.

Regional inspection units, which were under the auspices of the NLI, received and investigated child labor complaints. Apart from regional inspection units, the state Social Insurance Company was also responsible for monitoring child labor law compliance. If a unit determined that a child labor law or regulation had been broken, it transferred the case to the NLI, which may also impose fines on employers and individuals that fail to report such incidents adequately.

The government generally enforced the law effectively. Resources, inspections, and remediation were generally adequate.

There were reports Romani children in some settlements were subjected to trafficking for commercial sex or forced marriage (see section 6, Children). NGOs reported that family members or other Roma exploited Romani victims, including children with disabilities. Child labor in the form of forced begging was a problem in some communities.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination regarding age, religion, ethnicity, race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, social status, or “other status” but does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on HIV status. Relevant inspection bodies provide for the protection of migrant workers against abuses from private employment agencies. The Central Office of Labor, Social Affairs and Family and the Trade Business Office may cancel or suspend the business license of violators and impose penalties which are sufficient to deter violations. Employers discriminated against members of the Romani minority.

In May the Constitutional Court awarded 2,000 euros ($2,200) in compensation to a Romani man who since 2016 had sought redress for racial discrimination in employment after an employment agency specifically told him they were not hiring Roma. The Constitutional Court ruled proceedings were unduly delayed and criticized the district court in Trnava for not setting the first court hearing until almost four years after the lawsuit was originally filed.

The government continued implementing a program to increase the motivation of the long-term unemployed Roma to find jobs. The Operational Program–Human Resources for 2014-20 included as one of its priorities the integration of marginalized Romani communities in the labor market through educational measures. In January the government released a report prepared by the Ministry of Finance showing that Romani jobseekers were less likely to benefit from effective active labor market measures, particularly further training and requalification, compared to the non-Romani population of jobseekers. Activists frequently alleged that employers refused to hire Roma, and an estimated 70 percent of Roma from socially excluded communities were unemployed. NGOs working with Roma from such communities reported that, while job applications by Roma were often successful during the initial phase of selection, in a majority of cases employers rejected the applicants once they found they were Roma. Rejected job applicants rarely pursued discrimination cases through the courts, and if they did, these proceedings resulted in excessive and undue delays; even successful cases awarded minimal financial compensation, as in the May Constitutional Court ruling noted above.

Despite having attained higher levels of education than men, women faced an employment gap of approximately 13 percent and only 33 percent of entrepreneurs were women. Experts noted motherhood negatively affected career prospects due to long maternity and parental leave and a lack of preschool facilities and flexible work arrangements. Women earned on average 18 percent less than their male colleagues according to a 2017 survey by the personnel agency Trexima.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage exceeds the minimum living standard (an official estimate of the poverty income level).

The law mandates a maximum workweek of 48 hours, including overtime, except for employees in the health-care sector, whose maximum workweek is 56 hours, including overtime. Worker overtime generally could not exceed 150 hours per year, with the exception of health-care professionals, who in specific cases and under an agreement with labor unions could work up to 250 hours overtime. Employees who worked overtime were entitled to a 25 percent premium on their hourly rate. Employees who work under conditions that endanger their health and safety are entitled to “relaxation” leave in addition to standard leave and an additional 35 percent of their hourly wage rate. Employees who work during government holidays are entitled to an additional 50 percent of their hourly rate. Employers who fail to follow overtime rules face fines that were adequate to deter violations. If employers fail to pay an employee, they may face imprisonment of one to five years.

Trade unions, local employment offices, and the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family monitored observance of these laws, and authorities effectively enforced them.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards that the Office for Labor Safety generally enforced. Workers could generally remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries and effectively enforced. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to ensure compliance with the law. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family may impose financial penalties on companies found to be noncompliant. In serious cases of labor rights violations, the NLI may withdraw an employer’s license. If there are safety and security concerns found at a workplace, the inspectors may require companies to stop using equipment that poses risks until they meet safety requirements. In cases of “serious misconduct” at a workplace, the law permits labor inspectors to impose additional financial penalties.

Slovenia

Executive Summary

Slovenia is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional republic. Power is shared among a directly elected president (head of state), a prime minister (head of government), and a bicameral parliament composed of the National Assembly (lower house) and the National Council (upper house). In June 2018 the country held parliamentary elections. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

The national police maintain internal security. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Police report to the Ministry of Interior and the army reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included societal violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, and there were no cases of impunity involving security forces during the year.

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 these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits the incitement to hatred, violence, and intolerance based on nationality, race, religion, gender, skin color, social status, political or other beliefs, sexual orientation, and disability in a way that could threaten or disrupt public order, typically requiring violence to occur for the prosecution of such incitement.

The Supreme Court set a legal precedent in August in a case of alleged incitement to hatred, violence, and intolerance against Roma. The court ruled that in cases in which an act is committed by means of a threat, abusive language, or insult, with other legal indications of a crime, it does not necessarily need to jeopardize public order and peace to be treated as a crime.

The penal code also prohibits the expression of ideas of racial superiority and denial of the Holocaust.

In October the Union of European Football Associations imposed a 50,000-euro ($55,000) fine on the Slovenian soccer club Olimpija Ljubljana for alleged racial abuse. During a soccer match in August, Olimpija Ljubljana supporters shouted racial insults at a Beninese national who played on the opposing team. The hotline Spletno oko (Web Eye) received several hundred reports concerning potential cases of hate speech, but there were no reported prosecutions or convictions for online hate speech. In 2018, Spletno oko received a slight increase in potential cases of online hate speech compared to 2017.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The print and broadcast media, like online newspapers and journals, as well as book publishers, are subject to the laws prohibiting hate speech, libel, and slander.

A prior case brought by the same journalist against the leader of a major political party for labeling her a “prostitute” in a 2016 tweet also resulted in a suspended sentence; a retrial ordered by a higher court was pending as of December.

Violence and Harassment: In August 2018 an individual attempted to drive over the camera operator of a crew of the national broadcaster TV Slovenia in Nova Gorica. The assailant did not injure anyone in the attempted attack. The perpetrator fled to Italy, where police arrested him several days later. During a court hearing, the assailant commented he was not opposed to media, but wanted to be left alone. In November local courts sentenced the assailant to a six-month suspended sentence with two years of probation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Two high-profile incidents involving attempts by governments in neighboring states to assert pressure on the Slovenian press made headlines and resulted in strong official pushback and public outrage. The first involved a diplomatic note from the Hungarian embassy protesting a cartoon on the cover of a prominent Slovenian political magazine depicting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban giving a Nazi salute. The second incident involved allegations the Croatian government tried to discourage a commercial television station from reporting on the rumored involvement of Croatian intelligence in a 2015 wiretap scandal related to Permanent Court of Arbitration proceedings on a Slovenia-Croatia border dispute. In both cases the government strongly condemned foreign interference in the local press and asserted that any pressure on media outlets was contrary to fundamental principles of democracy.

While instances of overt political pressure on the press remained isolated, the Slovenian Association of Journalists and media analysts observed that standards of journalistic integrity suffered because of economic pressure, nonstandard forms of employment such as freelance or student status, and reduced protections for journalists, leading some to practice self-censorship to maintain steady employment.

Journalists and media representatives stated existing media legislation does not address the problem of excessive concentration of ownership in media, which could limit the diversity of views expressed. The announced merger in July of the country’s second and third largest daily newspapers (Dnevnik and Vecer) reflected a broader trend toward consolidation in a saturated and highly competitive media market. Most observers expected minimal immediate impact on media diversity as a result of the merger, given the newspapers’ similar editorial stance.

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.

Local courts lifted a ban imposed in 2017 on a concert by Croatian musician Marko Perkovic. In 2017 authorities cancelled the concert at the request of local police, who assessed the concert could result in violence, hate speech, or other criminal acts. Media outlets reported that Perkovic had previously been accused of expressing extremist nationalist views.

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, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

f. Protection of Refugees

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

NGOs alleged that border authorities continued to reject without due process most individuals seeking asylum and send them back to Croatia. NGOs reported that asylum seekers returned to Croatia have no legal remedies to challenge Slovenian border police decisions.

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

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

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

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

In January the government approved a plan to accept five asylum seekers who arrived in Malta after having been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. As of December the country had accepted two of the five asylum seekers.

Individuals granted refugee status are eligible for naturalization once they have fulfilled the necessary legal conditions.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal and civil penalties for corruption, conflicts of interest, and illegal lobbying by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption, and the public viewed official corruption as a problem.

On the initiative of the principal opposition party, the parliament in 2018 established several commissions to monitor and combat corruption in the public sector. One commission uncovered evidence suggesting that prices for public procurement of medical equipment far exceeded market prices. No indictments or convictions resulted from these findings. In August 2018 authorities indicted 15 individuals for alleged involvement in a scheme whereby medical professionals received kickbacks from medical equipment suppliers for purchasing their products. The investigation remained pending.

Civil society groups and NGOs expressed frustration regarding what they described as the ineffectiveness of the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (CPC). In its 2018 report, the National Assembly’s parliamentary justice committee criticized the CPC for alleged inactivity. The CPC asserted that inadequate funding and ineffective legislation complicated its work to combat corruption.

Financial Disclosure: The highest-level officials in the government, the parliament, and the judiciary, representing approximately 5,000 of the country’s 170,000 public employees, are subject to financial disclosure laws. There are administrative sanctions for failing to respect these provisions. The government did not publicize cases in which these provisions were violated, but they may become part of the public record in other procedures (e.g., criminal or tax cases). The CPC may issue advisory opinions regarding prosecution.

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

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

Local NGO contacts reported increased pressure on NGOs that advocated for refugees and migrants. In May an opposition party president and parliamentarian filed a criminal report against the director of a local NGO, accusing the director of enabling migrants to enter the country illegally and instructing them how to act upon arrival. At a June parliamentary session, Interior Minister Bostjan Poklukar stated the director’s actions were not criminal, and the relevant state prosecutor offices confirmed the assessment.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for an independent human rights ombudsman to monitor violations of human rights. Individuals may file complaints with the independent ombudsman to seek administrative relief in the case of a human rights violation by the government. The human rights ombudsman was effective, adequately resourced, reported to parliament annually on the human rights situation, and provided recommendations to the government. The Office of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality, established in 2017 to raise awareness and help prevent all types of discrimination, reported that a lack of resources and personnel limited its effectiveness.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. In 2016, in the first ruling of its kind, a court ruled to protect the right of workers to unionize. NGOs reported that in practice employers have informally pressured employees to refrain from organizing or to deunionize, particularly workers in the metal industry and transport sector.

The law requires unionization of at least 10 percent of workers in a sector before the sector may engage in collective bargaining. The law restricts the right to strike for police, members of the military, and some other public employees, providing for arbitration instead. Local NGOs assessed that although penalties for violations were sufficient, a shortage of labor inspectors impeded the government’s ability to effectively prevent, monitor, and deter violations. Judicial and administrative procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

The government respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

While the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced the law, forced labor occurred and was most prevalent in the metal and wood industry, construction, hospitality, and transport sectors. Local NGOs assessed that while penalties for violations were sufficient, a shortage of inspectors impeded the government’s ability to effectively prevent and monitor violations.

There were reports men, women, and children were subjected to forced labor in the construction sector and forced begging. A government report found minors and migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to forced labor or trafficking conditions, while fraudulent employment and recruitment of migrant workers remained a problem.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum legal age of employment is 15. The law limits hours, mandates rest periods, prohibits working in hazardous locations, and specifies adult supervision for workers younger than age 18. While no specific occupations are restricted, hazardous work locations specified by the law include those that are underground and underwater and those involving harmful exposure to radiation, toxic or carcinogenic agents, extreme cold, heat, noise, or vibrations. Penalties for labor law violations related to child labor violations range from a fine to one year in prison and were sufficient to deter violations. The government generally enforced child labor and minimum age laws effectively. Nevertheless, children younger than 15 in rural areas often worked during the harvest season and performed farm chores. Some children were also subjected to sex trafficking and trafficking for forced labor, including forced begging.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law establishes a general framework for equal treatment and prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race or ethnic origin, sex, color, religion, age, citizenship, disability, or sexual orientation. The law specifically prohibits discrimination based on language or HIV-positive status. The government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties for violations range widely, depending on the type and size of the employing organization, and were sufficient to deter violations. Women’s earnings were approximately 68 percent those of men, while in comparable positions, women’s earnings were approximately 97 percent those of men.

There were few formal complaints of discrimination, although there were some reports of employment discrimination based on gender, age, and nationality. In certain sectors foreign workers are required to remain employed with their initial employer for a minimum of one year. Local NGOs assessed this requirement enabled labor exploitation through lower salaries, poor living conditions, and longer working hours. Migrant workers enjoyed the same labor rights as citizens, but they faced discrimination. Many migrants worked in the hospitality sector or in physically demanding jobs. Some migrant workers were not aware of local labor laws regarding minimum wage, overtime, health care, and other benefits, a problem compounded by language barriers.

In October the Office of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality filed a lawsuit against the Slovenian Association of Cycling Commissaries over alleged employment discrimination based on age. Association of Cycling Commissaries bylaws do not permit individuals older than age 70 to work, and the Association automatically dismissed one of its employees upon reaching 70 years of age. The Office of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality filed the lawsuit on behalf of the individual, and the case remained pending.

One NGO estimated only 2 percent of Roma in the southeastern part of the country worked in the formal economy. Employment in informal sectors made Roma vulnerable to labor law violations, particularly in terms of benefits and procedures for termination of employment. Employment discrimination against Roma was not limited to a specific sector. The government attempted to address problems experienced by Roma (see also section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national monthly gross minimum wage exceeded the poverty line. The official poverty line is set at 662 euros ($730) per month for single-member households. The Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities monitors minimum wage compliance and has inspection authority. According to NGOs and advocacy groups, authorities generally enforced the laws effectively, except in some cases involving migrant workers and asylum seekers, who faced conditions of exploitation. Penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations.

Collective agreements determined whether workers received premium pay for overtime. The law limits overtime to eight hours per week, 20 hours per month, and 170 hours per year.

The European Trade Union Confederation reported five cases of potential labor exploitation of Slovenian nationals temporarily working in other EU countries to the European Labor Authority. A local trade union confederation expressed concern that Slovenian authorities issued temporary work permits for its nationals to work in other EU countries based on false pretenses and without adequately monitoring the posted employees or checking for potential violations. The trade union confederation urged the government to adopt measures to prevent and combat such violations. Common examples of such exploitation included pay discrepancies between local and posted Slovenian workers and companies neglecting to pay social security contributions or grant paid holidays and sick leave.

Special commissions under the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities set occupational health and safety standards for workers that are appropriate for the main industries in the country. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. Workers facing hazardous working conditions included professional divers, mountain rescuers, sailors, construction workers, and miners. Workers facing exploitative working conditions included those employed in construction, the transport sector, the wood industry, and exotic dancers.

The law requires employers to protect workers injured on the job. If incapacitated, such workers may perform other work corresponding to their abilities, obtain part-time work, and receive occupational rehabilitation and wage compensation.

The Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities monitors labor practices and has inspection authority; police are responsible for investigating violations of the law. According to NGOs and advocacy groups, authorities enforced the laws effectively, except in some cases involving migrant workers and asylum seekers who faced conditions of exploitation. The International Labor Organization’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) observed that conflicts between laws governing inspection could lead to uncertainty regarding whether inspectors have a right of access to work sites. The law requires employers to make social security payments for all workers. The Free Legal Aid Society reported that employers of migrant workers usually did not deduct social security from paychecks, leaving those workers without a future pension or access to social services. The number of inspectors was insufficient to monitor potential labor contract, occupation safety, and health violations; the CEACR and NGOs reported an urgent need to increase the number of inspectors to keep up with the workload. Labor inspectors carried out labor contract and occupational safety and health inspections, found violations, and issued penalties. In both fields the majority of violations took place in the wood-processing industry, the metal industry, construction, and bars and restaurants.

There were no major industrial accidents during the year in which workers were injured.

Solomon Islands

Executive Summary

Solomon Islands is a constitutional multiparty parliamentary democracy. Observers considered the April 3 parliamentary election generally free and fair, although there were incidents of vote buying. Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare prime minister after the election, and he formed a coalition government.

The Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) is responsible for internal and external security and reports to the Ministry of Police, National Security, and Correctional Services; Australia and New Zealand support the RSIP. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: pervasive government corruption; laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced; and child labor.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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. Demonstrators must obtain permits, which the government generally granted.

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, and the government generally respected these rights.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons and other persons of concern.

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

Section 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 based on equal and universal suffrage.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government implemented the law inconsistently, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption during the year.

A 2018 law established an Independent Commission against Corruption tasked with preventing official corruption and provides it with investigative and prosecutorial powers. The commission is responsible for implementing the National Anticorruption Strategy, but as of September was still not operational. The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for investigating public complaints of government maladministration. “Taskforce Janus,” operated by the RSIP and Ministry of Finance and Treasury, works to identify corruption in the civil service. Their investigations led to the arrests of 25 civil servants, including the former permanent secretary for infrastructure development.

“Taskforce Janus,” operated by the RSIP and Ministry of Finance and Treasury, works to identify corruption in the civil service. Their investigations led to the arrests of 25 civil servants, including the former permanent secretary for infrastructure development.

The Public Accounts Committee is a permanent parliamentary committee established in the constitution with a mandate to examine public accounts and national property and to report to parliament.

Corruption: Corruption was a pervasive problem in the government, especially in the forestry and fishing sectors. In March a court sentenced Henry Murray, former permanent secretary for infrastructure and development, to four years imprisonment for corruption after he was convicted of misappropriating Solomon Islands dollars (SBD) 700,000 ($83,000) for personal use.

Police corruption was not a serious problem during the year. Observers criticized some police officers for being more loyal to their respective ethnic group or wantok (extended family) than to the country as a whole.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials were subject to financial disclosure laws under the leadership code of conduct. The Office of the Leadership Code Commission (LCC) investigates misconduct involving members of parliament or senior civil servants. If the LCC finds conclusive evidence of misconduct, it sends the matter to the Office of Public Prosecution, which may proceed with legal charges. The LCC chairperson and two part-time commissioners constitute a tribunal with power to screen certain cases of misconduct and apply maximum fines of SBD 5,000 ($593) for members of parliament or senior civil servants.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for an Office of the Ombudsman with power to subpoena and investigate complaints of official abuse, mistreatment, or unfair treatment. Although independent, a lack of resources limited its effectiveness.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not specifically provide for reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity. The law permits strikes in both the public and private sectors. A notice to the government 28 days prior to a strike is required for strikes to be legal. The government has discretionary power in relation to cancelation and suspension of registration of unions, a power which can take effect even in the case of judicial review.

The government prohibits strikes by civil servants in essential services, but there are procedures in place to provide these workers due process and protect their rights. The government defines essential services as including, but not limited to, the health, public security, aviation, marine, immigration, and disaster-relief sectors. The law does not provide for the rights of workers in the informal sector to organize or to collective bargaining. In addition the law places limits on the rights of workers to act as union representatives based on age, literacy, criminal record, and membership in more than one union.

Government enforcement of the law was inconsistent; the small penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The penalty for antiunion discrimination was not effective, for example, because employers could afford to pay the fine and easily replace workers. Penalties for illegal strikes, on the other hand, served as a deterrent for employees to strike.

Collective bargaining agreements determined wages and conditions of employment in the formal economy. Disputes between labor and management not settled between the two sides were referred to the Trade Disputes Panel for arbitration, either before or during a strike. While the panel deliberates, employees have protection from arbitrary dismissal or lockout. The three-member panel, composed of a chairperson appointed by the judiciary, a labor representative, and a business representative, is independent and neutral. The panel’s decisions are binding on the parties. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

Workers exercised their rights to associate and bargain collectively, although employers did not always respect these rights. Since only a small percentage of the workforce was in formal-sector employment, employers could easily replace workers if disputes were not resolved quickly.

In 2018 the Solomon Islands Nurses Association issued a strike notice to the government for not honoring a 2008 agreement to improve working conditions. The government agreed to review the agreement, and the union withdrew the strike notice. In February nurses threatened to strike again after the government failed to honor the understanding from 2018.

The Workers Union of Solomon Islands actively negotiated with private employers during the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except as part of a court sentence or order. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The immigration act prohibits transnational forced labor, and the penalties are sufficient to deter violations. Penalties for forced labor which is not transnational are sufficient to deter violations.

The government typically relied on labor inspectors to report on any instances of forced or compulsory labor during regularly scheduled routine inspections; however, there were not enough inspectors or resources to enforce the laws effectively. The government continued its efforts to monitor and investigate operations at logging companies, although it did not initiate any prosecutions.

There were reports of children and adults forced to work in logging camps and of children in domestic servitude or service industries. Local and foreign fishermen reported situations indicative of labor trafficking, including nonpayment of wages, severe living conditions, violence, and limited food supply on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels in the country’s territorial waters and ports.

Also see the Department’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 labor by children younger than age 12, except light agricultural or domestic work performed in the company of parents, or other labor approved by the commissioner of labor. Children younger than age 18 may not work at night in any industry without specific written permission from the labor commissioner. Girls younger than age 18 may not work on a ship or underground in mines; boys may work on a ship or underground in a mine if they are at least 16 years old, provided they have a medical certificate attesting they are fit for such work. The law bars children younger than age 15 from work in industry or on ships, except aboard training ships for educational purposes. The law does not limit the number of hours a child can work, nor does it clearly set forth a minimum age for hazardous work or delineate the type of work considered hazardous for all children. Not all of the worst forms of child labor are prohibited. The law does not specifically outlaw the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for the production and trafficking of drugs.

The commissioner of labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but the resources devoted to investigating child labor cases were inadequate to investigate or deter violations. The law provides for penalties that are insufficient to deter violations.

Children worked in agriculture, fishing, alluvia mining, as domestic servants, cooks, and in logging camps where conditions often were poor. For example, young girls worked long hours and in isolation as domestic workers in mining camps. In some cases these conditions could amount to forced labor (see section 7.b.). There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children). Children also assisted in cultivating, distributing, and selling local drugs such as betel nut or marijuana. They were at risk of physical abuse, mental illness, addiction, sexual abuse, and robbery.

According to the Solomon Islands Demographic and Health Survey, 2 percent of children age five to 11 years and 12 percent of children age 12 to 14 were engaged in paid labor. Paid child labor was more common among female children in urban areas and all children living in rural areas.

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

No laws prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation. By regulation public service officers should ensure their workplace is “free from harassment, including sexual harassment.” Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred on grounds of gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, and HIV-positive status.

Women experienced discrimination especially in the attainment of managerial positions. Employed women were predominantly engaged in low-paying and low-skilled jobs. A significant gender gap exists in senior positions. For example, women dominated the lower administrative level on the public-service workforce, but very few women held senior management positions. A shortage of jobs compounded the limited entry and advancement opportunities for women in the workforce. A program, “Waka Mere” (She Works), funded and implemented by the International Finance Corporation, Australia, and New Zealand, worked with businesses to promote gender equality in the private sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In August the minimum wage was increased and is above the poverty level. The proportion of the population living below the food poverty line was 4.4 percent. The standard workweek is 45 hours and is limited to six days per week.

Occupational safety and health laws require employers to provide a safe working environment and forbid retribution against any employee who seeks protection under labor regulations. These laws are current and appropriate for main industries. Laws on working conditions and safety standards apply equally to foreign workers and citizens. Penalties are sufficient to deter violations. Some workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety, particularly in the fishing and logging industries, without jeopardy to their employment.

The commissioner of labor in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, Labor and Immigration, the public prosecutor, and police are responsible for enforcing labor laws; however, they usually reacted to complaints rather than routinely monitoring adherence to the law. The government did not effectively enforce labor laws. The government’s minimal human and financial resources limited its ability to enforce the law in smaller establishments, the informal economy, and the subsistence sector. The number of labor inspectors was, moreover, insufficient to monitor labor practices routinely, particularly in extractive sectors outside of the capital. An active labor movement and an independent judiciary, however, helped provide effective oversight of labor law enforcement in major state and private enterprises. The law does not specify penalties for violations, significantly weakening effective enforcement.

Workers in the logging, construction, and manufacturing industries were subject to hazardous and exploitative work. Accidents were largely due to negligence or failure to adhere to safety practices by employees and employers.

Somalia

Executive Summary

Somalia is a federal parliamentary republic. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo,” following his election by a joint vote of the two houses of parliament in February 2017, led the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), formed in 2012. Members of the two houses of parliament were selected through indirect elections conducted from October 2016 through January 2017, with House of the People membership chosen on clan affiliation and a power-sharing formula, and Upper House membership chosen by state assemblies. The electoral process for both houses was widely viewed as flawed and marred with corruption, but the two houses of parliament elected President Farmaajo in a process viewed as fair and transparent. The government of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland in the northwest and the regional government of Puntland in the northeast controlled their respective jurisdictions.

The provisional federal constitution states the armed forces are responsible for assuring the country’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. The Somalia National Army is also engaged in a continuing conflict with the insurgent Islamist group al-Shabaab in many parts of the country. The national, federal, and state police are responsible for protecting lives, property, peace, and security. The army reports to the Ministry of Defense, and the Somali Police Force reports to the Ministry of Internal Security. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killing, including extrajudicial killings, of civilians by federal government forces, clan militias, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants; forced disappearances by al-Shabaab; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by federal government forces, clan militias, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants; arbitrary and politically motivated arrest and detentions, including of journalists by federal government forces and regional government forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and internet, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests and prosecutions of journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel laws; numerous acts of corruption; restrictions on political participation; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by federal government forces, clan militias, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama (ASWJ), and al-Shabaab; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; violence against women and girls, partly caused by government inaction; forced labor; and the worst forms of child labor.

Impunity generally remained the norm. Government authorities took minimal steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, particularly military and police personnel.

Conflict during the year involving the government, militias, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and al-Shabaab resulted in death, injury, and displacement of civilians. Clan militias and al-Shabaab continued to commit grave abuses throughout the country; al-Shabaab committed the majority of severe human rights abuses, particularly terrorist attacks on civilians and targeted killings, including extrajudicial and politically motivated killings; disappearances; cruel and unusual punishment; rape; and attacks on employees of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations. Al-Shabaab also blocked humanitarian assistance, conscripted child soldiers, and restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement. AMISOM troops killed civilians (see section 1.g.).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but neither federal nor regional authorities respected this right. The Somali penal code criminalizes the spreading of “false news,” which it does not define, with penalties including imprisonment of up to six months. The government; government-aligned militias; authorities in Somaliland and Puntland, South West State, Galmudug, Jubaland, ASWJ, al-Shabaab; and unknown assailants killed, abused, and harassed journalists with impunity (see sections 1.a., 1.d., and 1.g.).

Somaliland law prohibits publication or circulation of exaggerated or tendentious news capable of disturbing public order, and officials used the provision to charge and arrest journalists.

Puntland law limits freedom of opinion and expression through broadly worded limitations–including conformity with moral dignity, national stability, and personal rights of others–and allows for exceptions from the right to freedom of expression in times of war or other public emergency.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals in government-controlled areas risked reprisal for criticizing government officials, particularly for alleged official corruption or suggestions that officials were unable to manage security matters. Such interference remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland.

In March a senior official in the FGS Ministry of Foreign Affairs was fired after posting a story on Twitter calling for his country to establish ties with Israel and echoing his support for such an idea. He went into self-imposed exile, claiming that his safety and security had been undermined by the publicity of his firing.

In April and May, the Somaliland government arrested a journalist, an opposition youth leader, a civil servant, and a member of parliament for criticizing the government, either in online media or in public settings. Two were sentenced to six months in prison, one was released after 32 days of detention, and the other was awaiting trial (see also section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest and Detention).

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although self-censorship was common due to a history of arbitrary arrest of journalists and of search and closure of media outlets that criticized the government. Eight outlets were closed, suspended, or blocked by government authorities, including four in Somaliland. Reports of such interference occurred in Mogadishu and remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland. Government authorities maintained editorial control over state-funded media and limited the autonomy of private outlets through direct and indirect threats. Threats were often applied through unilateral actions of security and other institutions.

Somaliland authorities continued to fine and arbitrarily arrest journalists for defamation and other alleged crimes, including meeting with colleagues. Prison terms ranged from a few days to several months, and fines could be as high as 573,000 shillings ($1,000). Journalists were intimidated and imprisoned for conducting investigations into corruption or topics deemed sensitive, such as investment agreements regarding the Berbera Port or the conflict between Somaliland and Puntland over the disputed Sool and Sanaag regions.

Puntland authorities in September demanded all journalists register with the information ministry, threatening that those who acted “unprofessionally” could be barred. Police also raided a privately owned radio station for reporting that a detainee had died during interrogation. Police also issued an arrest warrant for the station’s editor.

Violence and Harassment: Between January and December, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) documented 25 cases of arbitrary arrests or prolonged detentions of journalists and other media workers, of which nine occurred in Somaliland and eight occurred in Hirshabelle. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for three killings of journalists during the year. During the year the NUSOJ reported 17 instances in which journalists faced physical intimidation, including beatings, bullets being fired, and equipment being confiscated. In a July 2018 case, a soldier in Mogadishu killed a television cameraman; the death allegedly resulted from a personal property dispute. In July the government made public a military court verdict sentencing the soldier in absentia to five years’ imprisonment. The soldier fled and remained a fugitive.

Although security forces often acted with impunity against journalists, in a few cases the government took action against abusers. In March, Somalia’s court of armed forces took two soldiers from the Presidential Guard Brigade into custody after they had been charged with abusing and threatening two journalists. Another member of the Presidential Guard was accused in June of kicking and punching a journalist covering the commemoration of the country’s independence day.

There were several incidents during the year similar to the following one: In March armed police officers raided the office of Universal TV in Mogadishu in the middle of a live broadcast and reportedly began firing inside the building. No injuries were reported, but the minister of internal security vowed to initiate an investigation into the incident.

In July, two journalists were killed in an al-Shabaab attack and overnight siege on a hotel in Kismayo along with 24 other persons. They were the first journalists killed during the year.

In January a Radio Daljir journalist was reportedly accosted during a Puntland Security Force press briefing, following similar reports of targeted harassment in November and December 2018.

According to the Somaliland Journalists Association, local authorities continued to harass and arbitrarily detain journalists systematically. In June, Somaliland authorities shut down two privately owned television stations for two weeks. Authorities lifted the ban after they reached a “mutual understanding” with the stations. Most observers saw this as pressure on the stations to self-censor their content (see also section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Journalists based in the Lower Juba region continued to report that local security authorities harassed them.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists engaged in rigorous self-censorship to avoid reprisals.

In February a regional court in Somaliland suspended the publication Foore for one year and fined its editor in chief three million Somaliland shillings ($350) after claiming the publication had printed false news and antinational propaganda when it ran an October 2018 article about construction of a new presidential palace.

Al-Shabaab banned journalists from reporting news that undermined Islamic law as interpreted by al-Shabaab and forbade persons in areas under its control from listening to international media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: Laws providing criminal penalties for publication of “false news” existed in all three entities. Puntland and Somaliland authorities prosecuted journalists for libel.

National Security: Federal and regional authorities cited national security concerns to suppress criticism and prevent press coverage of opposition political figures.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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 that all persons lawfully residing in the country have the right to freedom of movement, to choose their residence, and to leave the country. Freedom of movement, however, was restricted in some areas.

In-country Movement: Checkpoints operated by government forces, allied groups, armed militias, clan factions, and al-Shabaab inhibited movement and exposed citizens to looting, extortion, harassment, and violence. Roadblocks manned by armed actors and attacks on humanitarian personnel severely restricted movement and the delivery of aid in southern and central sectors of the country. In September the government temporarily banned air travel to Kismayo, Jubaland. Some observers complained this suspension was to prevent politicians from attending the inauguration of Jubaland’s president, whose election was disputed.

Al-Shabaab and other nonstate armed actors continued to hinder commercial activities in the areas they controlled in the Bakool, Bay, Gedo, and Hiraan regions and impeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The safety of humanitarian operations remained a key concern due to the volatile and unpredictable security situation. Attacks against humanitarian workers and assets impeded the delivery of aid to vulnerable populations. Through August at least 51 humanitarian personnel were directly affected by security incidents, the majority of which took place in southern and central Somalia.

Somaliland prohibited federal officials, including those of Somaliland origin who purported to represent Hargeisa’s interests in Mogadishu, from entering Somaliland. It also prevented its citizens from traveling to Mogadishu to participate in FGS processes or in cultural activities.

Foreign Travel: Few citizens had the means to obtain passports. In view of widespread passport fraud, many foreign governments did not recognize Somali passports as valid travel documents.

f. Protection of Refugees

The country hosts approximately 35,000 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from Yemen and Ethiopia, with smaller numbers from other countries, including Syria, Tanzania, and Eritrea. Economic migrants also use the country as a transit corridor en route to the Gulf, Yemen, and Europe that exposed them to exploitation and abuse, primarily by human traffickers.

FGS and Somaliland authorities cooperated with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration to assist refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. As of September, UNHCR supported the return of more than 2,800 refugees. Another 7,700 Somalis were registered as having returned spontaneously from Yemen without the support of UNHCR.

There were frequent disruptions in return movements to Somalia due to continuing violence and conflict.

Refoulement: The law provides that every person who seeks refuge in the country has the right not to be returned or taken to any country in which that person has a well-founded fear of persecution. There was no official system, however, for providing such protection to refugees.

Access to Asylum: The law recognizes the right to asylum in accordance with international treaties; however, the FGS had yet to implement a legal framework and system to provide protection to refugees on a consistent basis. Authorities, however, granted prima facie status to Yemenis while most other nationalities underwent individual refugee status determination procedures.

Employment: Employment opportunities were limited for refugees, Somali returnees, and other vulnerable populations. Refugees often engaged in informal manual labor that sometimes exposed them to abuses from members of the host community.

Refugee returnees from Kenya reported limited employment opportunities in the southern and central sections of the country, consistent with high rates of unemployment throughout the country.

Access to Basic Services: The FGS continued to work with the international community to improve access to basic services, employment, and durable solutions for displaced populations, although this remained a challenge primarily due to security, lack of political will, and financial constraints.

Durable Solutions: In November 2018 the FGS established a federal-level Durable Solutions Secretariat to strengthen its response to internal displacement in the country, and it began operations in January. In addition FGS continued to lead the Sub-Working Group on Migration, Displacement and Durable Solutions, under the framework of the National Development Plan.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but citizens could not exercise that ability.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Government officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. During the year there were numerous reports of government corruption. President Farmaajo was elected on an anticorruption agenda and initially took a few steps to address corruption.

Corruption: Following years of pressure from the international community, in September, President Farmaajo signed the anticorruption bill into law and undertook to work on the formation of an independent ethics and anticorruption commission. Corruption, however, remained an issue. In October the auditor general, for the first time in the country’s history, publicly released 2018 compliance, financial, and special audits of government institutions. The release highlighted failures to comply with auditing legislation, instances of improper revenue collection and management, weaknesses in internal controls, and inconsistent submission of financial reports by federal government ministries. As part of the report, the auditor general noted that $10.7 billion Somali shillings ($18.4 million) in foreign assistance had not been properly accounted for in reports received from government ministries.

The Financial Governance Committee (FGC)–an advisory body with no legal authority but responsible for reviewing all government contracts for more than 2.8 billion Somalia shillings (five million dollars)–consisted of FGS members from the Ministry of Finance, Central Bank, Office of the President, and Office of the Prime Minister, as well as the chair of the parliamentary finance committee and state attorney general. Four delegates were funded by international financial institutions. The FGC’s 2019 report noted tangible financial governance progress in the security sector, domestic revenue, contract renegotiation, and the development of a core public financial management framework. The FGC also applauded the passage of a Public Financial Management law. At the same time, the FGC highlighted the need for more transparent management of the petroleum licensing process and a clear process for sharing natural resource revenue in order to avoid corrupt practices.

The UN Panel of Experts on Somalia continued to report on the export of charcoal in violation of a UN Security Council ban, although it noted that no significant shipments had taken place in 2019. Charcoal production and export continued in areas controlled by al-Shabaab, the Jubaland administration, and Kenyan AMISOM forces; most of the illegal export was from Kismayo, according to the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.

Somaliland had a national auditor and a presidentially appointed governance and anticorruption commission, but they did not prosecute any Somaliland officials for corruption.

The UN panel reported on the substantial increase in “taxation” by Al-Shabaab, which extorted high and unpredictable zakat (a Muslim obligation to donate to charity) and sadaqa (a voluntary charity contribution paid by Muslims) taxes in the regions it controlled. In particular the panel noted increased al-Shabaab extortion from the port and airport of Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab also diverted and stole humanitarian food aid.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials. In 2017 Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre asked cabinet officials to declare their assets, but the government provided no details on the submission requirements or verification mechanisms, and no officials have voluntarily declared their assets.

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

A number of local and international human rights groups operated in areas outside al-Shabaab-controlled territory, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Security concerns constrained NGOs’ ability to operate in southern and central areas of the country. International and local NGOs generally worked without major restrictions in Puntland and Somaliland, although clan politics, localized violence, and perceived interference with traditional or religious customs sometimes curtailed NGO activity in these areas.

Authorities sometimes harassed or did not cooperate with NGOs, for example, by dismissing findings of official corruption. Harassment remained a problem in Somaliland.

In August 2018 the minister of planning tweeted the government would request all international NGOs to establish a physical presence, including senior leadership, in the country before January 1, 2019, or risk deregistration. As of April pressure from the FGS to meet these requirements had eased.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The provisional federal constitution calls for the formation of an independent national human rights commission and a truth and reconciliation commission within 45 days and 30 days, respectively, of the formation of the Council of Ministers in 2012, but these provisions have not been implemented. There was no formal government mechanism for tracking abuses.

Limited resources, inexperienced commissioners, and government bias restricted the effectiveness of the Somaliland Human Rights Commission and Puntland’s Human Rights Defender Office.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of every worker to form and join a trade union, participate in the activities of a trade union, conduct legal strikes, and engage in collective bargaining. No specific legal restrictions exist that limit these rights. The law does not address antiunion discrimination or the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Legal protections did not exclude any particular groups of workers. Penalties were not sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce these laws.

Government and employers did not respect freedom of association or collective bargaining rights. The government interfered in union activities. Two unions claimed that in February 2018 government officials called the hotels where they were holding meetings and asked the hotels to cancel the union reservations. The Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU), the largest trade union federation in Somalia, submitted observations to the International Labor Organization (ILO), alleging a continuing pattern of harassment and intimidation, particularly among union leaders in telecommunications.

In June 2018 FESTU became accredited to the ILO’s International Labor Conference to represent Somali workers after the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) submitted an objection to government-accredited persons who attended as workers’ delegates. The delegates were not trade union representatives and not genuine officials of FESTU. The government had accredited representatives during the past four years whom FESTU stated were not genuine trade unionists. The ILO’s Credentials Committee agreed with ITUC’s objection and revoked the credentials of individuals accredited by the government as workers’ representatives, allowing FESTU leaders to be accredited as an official delegation and to represent workers of Somalia at the conference.

In April, FESTU organized a workshop attended by 12 unions affiliated with the federation. Discussions focused on organizing workers in the informal economy, advocating for a minimum living wage, and pressing the federal government to enact the draft national labor bill.

In March, Somali National Army troops in Middle and Lower Shabelle went on strike in protest over unpaid salaries.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The provisional federal constitution prohibits slavery, servitude, trafficking, or forced labor for any purpose. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The penalties for slavery and forced labor were insufficient to deter violations. There were no known efforts by the government to prevent or eliminate forced labor in the country. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs did not have an inspectorate and did not conduct any labor-related inspections.

Forced labor occurred. Children and minority clan members were reportedly used as porters to transport the mild narcotic khat (or miraa), in farming and animal herding, crushing stones, and construction. Al-Shabaab forced persons in their camps to move to the countryside, reportedly to raise cash crops for the organization.

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

Existing law does not set a minimum wage for employment. The pre-1991 labor code prohibits child labor, provides a legal minimum age of 15 for most employment, prescribes different minimum ages for certain hazardous activities, and prohibits those younger than 18 from night work in the industrial, commercial, and agricultural sectors, apart from work that engages family members only. Legislation that comprehensively prohibits hazardous occupations and activities for children, however, does not appear to exist. While the pre-1991 law remains on the books it was not enforced. The provisional federal constitution states, “No child may perform work or provide services that are not suitable for the child’s age or create a risk to the child’s health or development in any way.” The provisional federal constitution defines a child as any person younger than 18. The provisional federal constitution does not set a minimum age for employment.

The federal Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs and of Women and Human Rights Development, as well as the Somali National Police, are responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The ministries did not enforce these laws. The legal penalties for child labor are insufficient to deter violations. The government participated in campaigns to remove children from participation in armed conflict (see section 1.g.).

Child labor was widespread. The recruitment and use of child soldiers remained a problem (see section 1.g.). Youths commonly worked in herding, agriculture, household labor, and forced begging from an early age. Children broke rocks into gravel and worked as vendors and transporters of cigarettes and khat on the streets. UNICEF estimated 49 percent of children between the ages of five and 14 were in the workforce between 2009 and 2015.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, disability, political opinion, color, language, or social status, but the government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. The labor code requires equal pay for equal work. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, age, national origin, social origin, stateless status, sexual orientation or gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not provide for a national minimum wage.

The pre-1991 labor code provides for a standard workweek of 48 hours and at least nine paid national holidays and 15 days of annual leave. The law requires premium pay for overtime and work performed on holidays, and limits overtime to a maximum of 12 hours per week.

The law sets occupational health and safety standards, although the labor trade organization FESTU claimed they are insufficient to protect workers. The law does not specifically guarantee the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible at the federal level for establishing occupational safety and health standards and enforcement. The ministry did not effectively enforce labor laws. There were no labor inspectors. The government did not provide labor inspectors with the capacity to protect workers who wished to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety.

Wages and working conditions were established largely through arrangements based on supply, demand, and the influence of workers’ clans. There was no information on the existence or status of foreign or migrant workers in the country. Most workers worked in the informal sector.

South Africa

Executive Summary

South Africa is a multiparty parliamentary democracy in which constitutional power is shared among the executive, judiciary, and parliament branches. In May the country held a largely credible national election in which the ruling African National Congress (ANC) won 58 percent of the vote and 230 of 400 seats in the National Assembly. On May 25, ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in for his first full term as president of the republic.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) has primary responsibility for internal security. The police commissioner has operational authority over police. The president appoints the police commissioner, but the minister of police supervises the commissioner. The South African National Defense Force (SANDF), under the civilian-led Department of Defense, is responsible for external security but also has domestic security responsibilities, such as patrolling the borders. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary detention by the government, widespread official corruption, trafficking in persons, crimes involving violence targeting foreign nationals, crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and the worst forms of child labor.

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

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 members of the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, a generally effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. Nevertheless, several apartheid-era laws and the Law on Antiterrorism permit authorities to restrict reporting on security forces, prisons, and mental institutions.

In August the Equality Court ruled that the gratuitous display of the apartheid-era national flag constituted hate speech. The Nelson Mandela Foundation argued the flag was a symbol of white supremacy. The Afrikaner-rights organization AfriForum argued that the use of the flag should not be considered hate speech, because “a flag is not a word,” but even if it were considered speech, it should be protected under the constitution’s freedom of speech provisions.

Violence and Harassment: Unlike in previous years, there were no reports journalists were subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political officials often criticized media for lack of professionalism and reacted sharply to media criticism, frequently accusing black journalists of disloyalty and white journalists of racism. Some journalists believed the government’s sensitivity to criticism resulted in increased media self-censorship.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Nevertheless, NGOs reported many municipalities continued to require protest organizers to provide advance written notice before staging gatherings or demonstrations.

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.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugee advocacy organizations stated police and immigration officials physically abused refugees and asylum seekers. Xenophobic violence was a continuing problem across the country, especially in Gauteng Province. In August and September, a spate of looting and violence in Johannesburg and Pretoria targeted foreign nationals, principally Nigerians and refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Those targeted often owned or managed small, informal grocery stores in economically marginalized areas that lacked government services. Police stated four individuals died and at least 27 suspects were arrested and charged with offenses ranging from disorderly conduct to illegal possession of firearms and homicide. By year’s end no trial dates had been set.

On social media immigrants were often blamed for increased crime and the loss of jobs and housing. The NGO Xenowatch reported 569 incidents of xenophobic violence occurred from January to August. According to researchers from the African Center for Migration and Society, perpetrators of crimes against foreign nationals were rarely prosecuted.

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. Nevertheless, refugee advocacy groups criticized the government’s processes for determining asylum and refugee status, citing large case backlogs, low approval rates, inadequate use of country-of-origin information, limited locations at which to request status, and corruption and abuse. Despite DHA anticorruption programs that punished officials found to be accepting bribes, NGOs and asylum applicants reported immigration officials sought bribes from refugees seeking permits to remain in the country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum and refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. According to local migrants’ rights organizations, the DHA rejected most refugee applications. According to civil society groups, the system lacked procedural safeguards for seeking protection and review for unaccompanied minors, trafficked victims, and victims of domestic violence. Government services strained to keep up with the caseload, and NGOs criticized the government’s implementation of the system as inadequate.

The DHA operated only four processing centers for asylum applications but refused to transfer cases among facilities. The DHA thus required asylum seekers to return to the office at which they were originally registered to renew asylum documents, which NGOs argued posed an undue hardship on those seeking asylum. NGOs reported asylum seekers sometimes waited in line for days to access the reception centers.

Employment: According to NGOs, refugees and asylum seekers were regularly denied employment due to their immigration status.

Access to Basic Services: Although the law provides for asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees to have access to basic services, including educational, police, and judicial services, NGOs stated health-care facilities and law enforcement personnel discriminated against them. Some refugees reported they could not access schooling for their children. They reported schools often refused to accept asylum documents as proof of residency. NGOs reported banks regularly denied services to refugees and asylum seekers because they lacked government-issued identification documents.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted some refugees for resettlement and, in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration, assisted some individuals in returning voluntarily to their countries of origin. In late 2018 the Supreme Court of Appeal extended citizenship to children born to foreign national parents who arrived in South Africa on or after January 1, 1995.

Temporary Protection: The government offered temporary protection to some individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government allowed persons who applied for asylum to stay in the country while their claims were adjudicated and if denied, to appeal.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, and the government continued efforts to curb corruption, but officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

At least 10 agencies, including the SAPS Special Investigation Unit, Public Service Commission, Office of the Public Prosecutor, and Office of the Auditor General, were involved in anticorruption activities. During the year the Office of the Public Protector, a constitutionally mandated body designed to investigate government abuse and mismanagement, investigated thousands of cases, some of which involved high-level officials.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) 2018-2019 Annual Report, from April 2018 through March, the NPA recovered 172,000 rand ($11,900) against a target of 2.5 million rand ($173,000) from government officials involved in corruption, a 92 percent decrease from the prior 12 months. Courts convicted 210 government officials of corruption during the period.

Corruption: Official corruption remained a problem in prisons. After substantive and widespread bribery allegations surfaced against the firm African Global Operations (formerly the Bosasa group), the Department of Corrective Services canceled multiple contracts it had with it, including a prison catering contract worth more than 200 million rand ($13.9 million). The DHA also canceled its contract with Bosasa to manage its migrant repatriation center.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials, including members of national and provincial legislatures, all cabinet members, deputy ministers, provincial premiers, and members of provincial executive councils, are subject to financial disclosure laws and regulations, but some failed to comply, and departments filed the majority of their reports late. The declaration regime clearly identifies the assets, liabilities, and interests that public officials must declare. Government officials are required to declare publicly their financial interests when they enter office, and there are administrative and criminal sanctions for noncompliance, but no defined unit is mandated to monitor and verify disclosures of government officials. The government made public declarations by government officials but not those of their spouses or children. Public-service regulations prohibit employees of departments from doing business with the state, a prohibition not always respected. Annual disclosure of financial interests may be submitted electronically through the eDisclosure system to simplify the process of disclosure of financial interests.

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.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Although created by the government, the South African Human Rights Commission operated independently and was responsible for promoting the observance of fundamental human rights at all levels of government and throughout the general population. The commission has the authority to conduct investigations, issue subpoenas, and take sworn testimony. Civil society groups considered the commission only moderately effective due to a large backlog of cases and the failure of government agencies to adhere to its recommendations.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows all workers, except for members of the National Intelligence Agency and the Secret Service, to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides for the right to strike, but it prohibits workers in essential services from striking, and employers are prohibited from locking out essential service providers. The government characterizes essential services as: a service, the interruption of which endangers the life, personal safety, or health of the whole or part of the population; parliamentary service; and police services.

The law allows workers to strike due to matters of mutual interest, such as wages, benefits, organizational rights disputes, socioeconomic interests of workers, and similar measures. Workers may not strike because of disputes where other legal recourse exists, such as through arbitration. Labor rights NGOs operated freely.

The law protects collective bargaining and prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants based on past, present, or potential union membership or participation in lawful union activities. The law provides for automatic reinstatement of workers dismissed unfairly for conducting union activities. The law provides a code of good practices for dismissals that includes procedures for determining the “substantive fairness” and “procedural fairness” of dismissal. The law includes all groups of workers, including illegal and legally resident foreign workers.

The government respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Labor courts and labor appeals courts effectively enforced the right to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties, although the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the country’s largest labor federation, is a member of a tripartite alliance with the governing ANC Party and the South African Communist Party. Some COSATU union affiliates lobbied COSATU to break its alliance with the ANC, arguing the alliance had done little to advance workers’ rights and wages. In 2017, COSATU’s breakaway unions, unhappy with the ANC alliance, launched an independent labor federation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions.

The minister of labor has the authority to extend agreements by majority employers (one or more registered employers’ organizations that represent 50 percent plus one of workers in a sector) and labor representatives in sector-specific bargaining councils to the entire sector, even if companies or employees in the sector were not represented at negotiations. Companies not party to bargaining disputed this provision in court. Employers often filed for and received Department of Labor exemptions from collective bargaining agreements.

If not resolved through collective bargaining, independent mediation, or conciliation, disputes between workers in essential services and their employers were referred to arbitration or the labor courts.

Workers frequently exercised their right to strike. Trade unions generally followed the legal process of declaring a dispute (notifying employers) before initiating a strike. Sectors affected by strikes during the year included transportation, health care, academia, municipal services, and mining. Strikes were sometimes violent and disruptive.

During the year there were no cases of antiunion discrimination or employer interference in union functions, although anecdotal evidence suggested farmers routinely hampered the activities of unions on farms.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor. The penalties were insufficient to deter violations, in part because inspectors typically levied fines and required payment of back wages in lieu of meeting evidentiary standards of criminal prosecution.

The government did not always effectively enforce the law. Boys, particularly migrant boys, were forced to work in street vending, food services, begging, criminal activities, and agriculture (see section 7.c.). Women from Asia and neighboring African countries were recruited for legitimate work, but some were subjected to domestic servitude or forced labor in the service sector. There were also reports by NGOs of forced labor in the agricultural, mining, and fishing sectors.

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 of children younger than 15. The law allows children younger than 15 to work in the performing arts, but only if their employers receive permission from the Department of Labor and agree to follow specific guidelines. The law also prohibits children between the ages of 15 and 18 from work that threatens a child’s wellbeing, education, physical or mental health, or spiritual, moral, or social development. Children may not work more than eight hours a day or before 6 a.m. or after 6 p.m. A child not enrolled in school may not work more than 40 hours in any week, and a child attending school may not work more than 20 hours in any week.

The law prohibits children from performing hazardous duties, including lifting heavy weights, meat or seafood processing, underground mining, deep-sea fishing, commercial diving, electrical work, working with hazardous chemicals or explosives, in manufacturing, rock and stone crushing, and work in gambling and alcohol-serving establishments. Employers may not require a child to work in a confined space or to perform piecework and task work. Penalties for violating child labor laws were sufficient to deter widespread violations.

The government enforced child labor laws in the formal sector of the economy that strong and well-organized unions monitored, but enforcement in the informal and agricultural sectors was inconsistent. The Department of Labor deployed specialized child labor experts in integrated teams of child labor intersectoral support groups to each province and labor center.

In 2017 Department of Labor inspectors opened 22 cases of child labor against a broker who recruited seasonal workers from poverty-stricken villages in North West Province on behalf of farmers in Wesselsbron, Free State Province. Prosecution of the broker was pending at year’s end. Cases of the worst forms of child labor were rare and difficult to detect, and neither the Department of Labor nor NGOs confirmed any cases during the year. The Department of Labor investigated a number of complaints but was unable to develop enough evidence to file charges. According to the department, the government made significant progress in eradicating the worst forms of child labor by raising awareness, instituting strict legal measures, and increasing penalties for suspected labor violators.

Children were found working in domestic work, street work, and garbage scavenging for food items and recyclable items. Boys, particularly migrant boys, were forced to work in street vending, food services, begging, criminal activities, and agriculture. Although the government did not compile comprehensive data on child labor, NGOs and labor inspectors considered its occurrence rare in the formal sectors of the economy.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Employment Equity Act protects all workers against unfair discrimination on the grounds of race, age, gender, religion, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibility, ethnic or social origin, color, sexual orientation, disability, conscience, belief, political, opinion, culture, language, HIV status, birth, or any other arbitrary ground. The legal standard used to judge discrimination in all cases is whether the terms and conditions of employment between employees of the same employer performing the same or substantially similar work, or work of equal value, differ directly or indirectly based on any of the grounds listed above. Employees have the burden of proving such discrimination. Penalties for violating antidiscrimination laws were sufficient to deter widespread violations. The government has a regulated code of conduct to assist employers, workers, and unions to develop and implement comprehensive, gender-sensitive, and HIV/AIDS-compliant workplace policies and programs.

The government did not consistently enforce the law and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, HIV status, and country of origin (see section 6).

Discrimination cases were frequently taken to court or the Commission for Conciliation, Arbitration, and Mediation.

In its 2018-19 annual report, the Commission for Employment Equity cited data indicating discrimination by ethnicity, gender, age, and disability in all sectors of the economy. The implementation of the Black Economic Empowerment law, which aims to promote economic transformation and enhance participation of blacks in the economy, continued. The public sector better reflected the country’s ethnic and gender demographics. Traditional gender stereotypes, such as “mining is a man’s job” and “women should be nurses” persisted. Bias against foreign nationals was common in society and the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

On January 1, the country’s first national minimum wage came into effect, replacing a patchwork of sectoral minimum wages set by the Department of Labor. The minimum wage was above the official poverty line. The law protects migrant workers, and they are entitled to all benefits and equal pay. The minimum wage law also established a commission to make annual recommendations to parliament for increases in the minimum wage.

The law establishes a 45-hour workweek, standardizes time-and-a-half pay for overtime, and authorizes four months of maternity leave for women. No employer may require or permit an employee to work overtime except by agreement, and employees may not work be more than 10 overtime hours a week. The law stipulates rest periods of 12 consecutive hours daily and 36 hours weekly and must include Sunday. The law allows adjustments to rest periods by mutual agreement. A ministerial determination exempted businesses employing fewer than 10 persons from certain provisions of the law concerning overtime and leave. Farmers and other employers could apply for variances from the law by showing good cause. The law applies to all workers, including workers in informal sectors, foreign nationals, and migrant workers, but the government did not prioritize labor protections for workers in the informal economy.

The government set appropriate occupational health and safety standards through the Department of Mineral Resources for the mining industry and through the Department of Labor for all other industries.

There are harsh penalties for violations of occupational health laws in the mining sector. Convicted employers are subject to heavy fines or imprisonment for serious injury, illness, or the death of employees due to unsafe mine conditions. The law allows mine inspectors to enter any mine at any time to interview employees and audit records. The law provides for the right of mine employees to remove themselves from work deemed dangerous to health or safety. The law prohibits discrimination against a mining employee who asserts a right granted by law and requires mine owners to file annual reports providing statistics on health and safety incidents for each mine. Conviction of violation of the mining health and safety law is punishable by two years’ imprisonment, and the law empowers the courts to determine a fine or other penalty for perjury. The Department of Mineral Resources was responsible for enforcing the mining health and safety law.

The government set separate standards for compensation of occupational diseases for the mining industry and for other industries. The Department of Health reported only 33,045 former mineworkers were certified as having silicosis as of 2014, but it added that the final figure could be between 50,000 and 100,000. The fund provided for by the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act set aside 3.7 billion rand ($256 million) to former mineworkers.

Outside the mining industry, no laws or regulations permit workers to remove themselves from work situations deemed dangerous to their health or safety without risking loss of employment, although the law provides that employers may not retaliate against employees who disclose dangerous workplace conditions. Employees were also able to report unsafe conditions to the Department of Labor that used employee complaints as a basis for prioritizing labor inspections. Penalties were sufficient to deter widespread violations. The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing safety laws outside the mining sector.

The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing wage standards outside the mining sector, and a tripartite Mine Health and Safety Council and an Inspectorate of Mine Health and Safety enforced such standards in the mining sector. Penalties for violations of wages and workhour laws outside the mining sector were not sufficient to deter abuses.

The Department of Labor employed an insufficient number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance. Labor inspectors conducted routine and unannounced inspections at various workplaces that employed vulnerable workers. Labor inspectors investigated workplaces in both the formal and informal sectors. Labor inspectors and unions reported having difficulty visiting workers on private farms.

The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors. Occupational safety and health regulations were frequently violated in the mining sector, and compensation for injuries was erratic and slow. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Unions in the agriculture sector noted their repeated attempts to have the Department of Labor fine farms that failed to shield workers from hazardous chemicals sprayed on crops. Although labor conditions improved on large commercial farms, COSATU and leading agricultural NGOs reported labor conditions on small farms remained harsh. Underpayment of wages and poor living conditions for workers, most of whom were black, were common. Many owners of small farms did not measure working hours accurately, 12-hour workdays were common during harvest time, and few farmers provided overtime benefits. Amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act attempted to address some labor abuses at farms. For example, changes prohibited farms from selling goods from farm-operated stores to farm employees on credit at inflated prices.

Farm workers also reported health and sanitation concerns. In a 2017 report, the NGO Women on Farms Project stated that 63 percent of the female farm workers surveyed did not have access to bathroom facilities and were forced to seek a bush or a secluded spot. The report also included the responses of female farm workers and their children who reported suffering from health problems such as skin rashes, cholinesterase depression, poisoning, harmful effects on the nervous system, and asthma due to the pesticides to which they were exposed.

Mining accidents were common. Mine safety improved from prior decades, however. In 1995, a total of 553 miners lost their lives in the country. In the first half of the year, only 13 mining deaths were reported, a 46 percent decrease compared with 24 deaths during the same period in 2018.

In July the Constitutional Court ruled employees assigned to workplaces via a labor broker (“temporary employment service”) are employees of the client and entitled to wages and benefits equal to those of regular employees of the client.

In August the Gauteng High Court expanded statutory workers’ compensation coverage to domestic workers for injuries suffered in the course of their employment.

South Korea

Executive Summary

The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is a constitutional democracy governed by a president and a unicameral legislature. Observers considered the presidential election in 2017 and legislative elections in 2016 free and fair. Moon Jae-in was elected president in an early election following the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye. The government held free and fair local elections in June 2018.

The Korean National Police Agency (KNPA), under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, is responsible for internal security. The National Intelligence Service (NIS) investigates suspected criminal activity related to national security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces, and the government utilized effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse of power.

Significant human rights issues included: the existence of criminal libel laws; laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults in the military; and corruption.

In December the National Assembly passed legislation outlining alternative service options for conscientious objectors. The government ceased detaining, charging, or imprisoning conscientious objectors, but prosecutors continued to appeal “not guilty” verdicts of some Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the disposition of trials of 935 conscientious objectors was undetermined as of December 30.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. Nonetheless, the government’s interpretation and implementation of the NSL and other laws and provisions of the constitution limited freedom of speech and expression, and restricted access to the internet as described below.

Freedom of Expression: Although the law provides for freedom of speech, under the NSL and other laws the government may limit the expression of ideas that promote or incite the activities of “antistate” individuals or groups. During the year, prosecutions under the NSL for speech that allegedly supported or praised the DPRK government continued. Two persons were charged under the NSL for praising or supporting the DPRK from January to July. There were nine such cases in 2017 and one in 2018.

Human Rights Watch contended the government maintained “unreasonable restrictions on freedom of expression,” citing the use of defamation laws, the NSL, and other laws.

In August a district court upheld a professor’s six-month prison sentence for defamation after he told his class that some women “probably knew exactly what they were signing up for” when they “volunteered” to be comfort women (women subjected to sexual servitude for the Japanese military during World War II). The court also upheld Sunchon National University’s decision to fire him. The professor said he did not intend to defame the women but was trying to provoke an academic discussion of the historical issue in his class.

Under the election law, the government may limit the expression of ideas that the National Election Commission deems to be false.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, within the constraints cited above.

In March the spokesperson of the ruling Democratic Party criticized a Bloomberg journalist for her September 2018 article that called President Moon the “top spokesman” of North Korea. The spokesperson also called out a New York Times journalist the following day for expressing a similar opinion. The spokesperson later apologized and had the journalists’ names removed from transcripts of his statements.

The NGO Reporters without Borders expressed concerns about criminal libel and national security laws that invoke severe penalties for the dissemination of sensitive information, especially when it involves North Korea. Conservative politicians complained that the Moon administration placed political pressure on media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government and individual public figures used libel and slander laws, which broadly define and criminalize defamation, to restrict public discussion and harass, intimidate, or censor private and media expression. The law allows punishment of up to three years in prison for statements found to be “slander” or “libel,” even if factual, and up to seven years for statements found to be false. The law punishes defamation of deceased persons as well; the maximum punishment if convicted is two years’ imprisonment. NGOs and human rights attorneys noted several cases of politicians, government officials, and celebrities using the libel laws to deter victims of workplace sexual harassment from coming forward or to retaliate against such victims. In January a film director asked prosecutors to investigate journalists under the nation’s defamation laws for reporting allegations that he sexually and physically abused actresses working under his direction. Prosecutors ultimately rejected the director’s request. Subsequently, the director filed a civil libel suit seeking one billion won ($830,000) in damages from a news agency and one of the actresses. As of September, that case had not been resolved.

National Security: The NSL criminalizes actions interpreted to be in support of North Korea or otherwise against the state. The government used this law to arrest and imprison civilians and to deport foreigners. The Supreme Court ruled the NSL constitutional in 2015.

In July a district court overruled the 2018 conviction of a Syrian migrant for recruiting individuals to join ISIS. The man had been living in the country for more than 10 years on a temporary humanitarian stay permit after the government denied his asylum application. According to a local NGO, when he traveled to the Middle East for the birth of his child, investigators assumed he was meeting with ISIS. Prosecutors accused him of having ISIS recruitment material on his phone; the man said the material automatically downloaded from his social media feed. The district court found that the prosecutors failed to prove that the defendant encouraged others to join ISIS or proposed a way to join the group. Nevertheless, the court rejected his request to determine the constitutionality of the law. Prosecutors appealed the decision to overturn the 2018 verdict and the case was pending as of November.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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 (except to North Korea), emigration, and repatriation; the government generally respected these rights.

Foreign Travel: Citizens traveling to North Korea must obtain prior authorization from the Ministry of Unification. The travelers must demonstrate their trip has no political purpose. Visiting North Korea without government authorization is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment under the NSL.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Local NGOs reported cases of abuse against migrant workers, including physical abuse, confiscation of passports, inadequate housing, and sexual harassment. The government cooperated to a limited extent with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In June the NHRCK and rights activists called for better treatment of asylum seekers at the airport. They noted for example that an Angolan couple and their four children had spent more than eight months in the departure area of Incheon Airport as of September. They arrived in December 2018 and requested refugee status, alleging torture and sexual abuse at the hands of Angolan police. In January the Incheon Airport Office of Immigration denied the family’s preliminary petition, based on a “clear absence of grounds for applying for refugee status, including a possible attempt to gain refugee status for purely economic reasons,” and disqualifying the family from formally applying for refugee status. Fearing for their lives if repatriated, the family filed a lawsuit to appeal the denial. They lost the appeal in April, but afterward filed additional appeals. A journalist who visited the family reported their condition was worsening and that they were surviving on food and daily essentials donated by departing passengers.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status.

The government considers refugees from North Korea under a separate legal framework and does not include them in refugee or asylum statistics. The government continued its longstanding policy of accepting refugees or defectors from North Korea, who by law are entitled to citizenship. Some NGOs focused on assisting North Korean defectors said their budget decreased by up to 80 percent from previous years due to cuts in government funding. In June the Ministry of Unification stated that overall spending on North Korean defectors had increased each year of the Moon administration, but that spending included the cost of administering the Hanawon centers that house and process newly arrived defectors, the government stipend provided to them, and all other related expenditures.

Justice ministry staffing of its 10 immigration offices increased from 39 refugee officers in 2018 to 94 officers as of September. NGOs had previously pointed to understaffing as a major obstacle to accommodating the rising number of refugee and asylum applications. Among cases completed from January through July, the MOJ stated the average time to complete the initial review of a refugee application fell to 12.3 months and for the second review fell to 11.3 months. The government operated refugee application counters at airports and harbors to allow asylum seekers to file applications for refugee status upon entering the country. These immigration offices screen applications and determine if a case is eligible to proceed for refugee status review. The Justice Ministry operated an Immigration Reception Center in Incheon to receive refugees, asylum seekers awaiting adjudication, and temporary humanitarian stay permit holders. The center had a maximum capacity of 82 persons.

The law protects asylum seekers’ right to an attorney. Asylum seekers may ask for interpretation and legal aid services from the government and for services to adjust to living in the country while their application is pending. Some NGOs and asylum seekers, however, stated applicants faced difficulty finding qualified interpreters or worried that interpreters were loyal to the very governments from which they sought protection. Applicants may receive a work permit six months after submitting an application that is valid for the duration of their lawful stay in the country.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides grounds on which an asylum seeker at a port of entry may be denied referral for full asylum procedures. These include arrival “from a safe country of origin or a safe third country, in which little possibility of persecution exists.”

Access to Basic Services: Cultural, linguistic, and social differences made adjustment difficult for refugees and asylum seekers. Many migrants from North Korea and other countries alleged societal discrimination and were not always provided access to basic services. These cases were often underreported. In August a janitor found the bodies of a 42-year-old North Korean woman and her six-year-old son in Seoul. Police suspected they had died two months earlier. The family had lived in extreme poverty; there was no food in the refrigerator and the water had been shut off. A local social worker tasked with helping North Korean defectors said they had tried to contact the mother by telephone 10 months prior, but they did not follow up after the call went unanswered.

In July the government removed construction work from the list of approved jobs for asylum seekers whose cases are pending adjudication.

Most of the 552 Yemenis who sought asylum in Jeju in 2018 remained in the country. The government denied all except two asylum applications; however, it extended humanitarian stay permits to the majority of those refused. Approximately 400 of the Yemenis moved to the mainland after receiving their status. The Yemenis who remained in Jeju reported improving relationships with the island’s population. Those who moved to the mainland, however, were more likely to clash with employers and believed they needed to keep to themselves. In meetings throughout the year, police, immigration officials, Yemenis, and NGOs blamed inaccurate media reports for the public’s virulent opposition to the small number of Yemeni asylum seekers. In June an online newspaper suggested Yemeni refugees might be to blame for reddish tap water at an apartment complex, citing anonymous sources who said members of Houthi rebels might have poisoned the water.

Temporary Protection: Government guidelines offer renewable one-year short-term humanitarian status to those who do not qualify as “refugees” but have reasonable grounds to believe their life or personal freedom may be violated by torture or otherwise egregiously endangered. Temporary humanitarian stay permit holders do not have the same access to basic services as refugees and therefore rely heavily on NGOs for housing and support. Due to the government’s restrictions on the type of jobs humanitarian stay permit holders may hold, many of them faced difficulty in securing jobs. Those who did find jobs were largely limited to poorly paid “3-D” (dirty, difficult, and dangerous) jobs. The MOJ reported that the government does not provide temporary refugee status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government, prodded by media and civil society groups, generally implemented the law effectively. Nonetheless, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were numerous reports of government corruption. Ruling and opposition politicians alike alleged that the judicial system was used as a political weapon.

Corruption: According to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, the government was in year two of a five-year anticorruption plan, a road map aimed at fighting corruption in both the public and private sector. Commission members included the Ministry of Justice, the Board of Audit and Inspection, the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office, and the KNPA, among others. The plan includes establishing a system for avoiding conflicts of interest among public officials, preventing corruption within the military, and curbing corruption in public procurement. The government also operated an anticorruption policy council chaired by President Moon. Since its inception, the council has uncovered 124 cases of corruption involving 519 persons. Of the 124 cases, nine resulted in indictments, 38 were under investigation, and 506 individuals received disciplinary action.

On October 14, Cho Kuk, the Minister of Justice, resigned 35 days after his appointment amid allegations that he and his family used his positions unfairly and, in some cases, fraudulently to gain academic benefits for his daughter and inappropriate returns on investments. On October 24, prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Cho’s wife for allegedly destroying evidence and falsifying credentials for her daughter’s medical school application. Prosecutors continued to investigate Cho as of November and barred him from leaving the country.

In February the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency raided Burning Sun, a nightclub, after receiving reports of Gangnam police covering up sexual assaults at the club. The investigation into police corruption resulted in the arrest of a senior police officer for abuse of power for pulling strings for the club’s owners, and the sentencing of another police officer to one year in prison for taking 20 million won ($16,600) in bribes from the club. Critics argued that the focus of police on investigating recreational drug use, as opposed to abuse of power and private and public corruption, highlighted the systematic corruption in the country.

Financial Disclosure: By law public servants above a specified rank, including elected officials, must publicly declare their income and assets, including how they accumulated them. Failure to disclose assets fully is punishable by up to one year in prison and a 10 million won ($8,300) fine.

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.

Some NGOs reported that government contacts were more receptive to calls to prevent trafficking in persons than in previous years. During the year, government officials and NGO leaders traveled overseas for training on best practices, policies, and interagency cooperation when combatting labor trafficking. The training encouraged new, creative ways to fight trafficking in persons in the country. Trainees included prosecutors, police officers, labor inspectors, and NHRCK representatives, among others.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRCK, established as an independent government body to protect and promote the human rights enumerated in the constitution, does not have enforcement power, and its recommendations and decisions are nonbinding. It investigates complaints, issues policy recommendations, trains local officials, and conducts public awareness campaigns. In 2017 when he assumed office, President Moon instructed each ministry to adopt more of the NHRCK’s recommendations. Within the KNPA, a committee of nine members, six of whom are representatives of human rights organizations, investigates alleged police violations of human rights. According to the NHRCK, in previous years ministries typically adopted the NHRCK’s recommendations, either directly or after further review. The NHRCK did not, however, report specific case or statistical information for the reporting year. Local media reported that the NHRCK chairperson instructed staff not to raise LGBTI rights until after the election, which observers suggested showed the commission was trying to keep human rights issues out of the spotlight for political purposes.

The Ombudsman’s Office reports to the independent Anticorruption and Civil Rights Commission and had adequate resources to fulfill its duties. The Ombudsman’s Office issued annual reports and interacted with various government institutions, including the Office of the President, the National Assembly, and ministries.

The government was slow to establish the North Korean Human Rights Foundation, mandated by legislation in 2016. The Unification Ministry stated that the National Assembly had delayed recommending members of the board of directors despite the government’s request to expedite the process. The ministry further stated that the government was prepared to launch the foundation as soon as the National Assembly recommends the board members. Observers also noted that the position of ambassador-at-large on North Korean human rights had been vacant since 2017.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes within strict limits, and bargain collectively, but certain limitations apply to public officials and teachers.

The law recognizes workers’ right to strike; workers in essential services are required to provide “minimum service” during strikes to protect the public interest. Essential services are defined by law to include railroads, air transport, communications, water supply, and hospitals. The trade union law prohibits the use of replacement workers to conduct general business disrupted by strikes, but it permits essential service providers to hire replacement workers within the limit of up to 50 percent of the strike participants.

By law parties involved in a “labor dispute” must first undergo third-party mediation through the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) or seek a labor-management settlement before registering to strike. Strikes initiated following this period are legal if they obtain majority support from union membership. The law narrowly defines “labor dispute,” which makes strikes on many issues falling under managerial control, such as downsizing and layoffs, illegal. Strikes not specifically pertaining to labor conditions, wages, benefits, or working hours are illegal. Stakeholders noted strike procedures were overly burdensome. Participating in strikes deemed to be illegal may result in imprisonment or a fine for the organizers and participants, depending on the offense.

The law places some restrictions on unions’ ability to organize their administration, including restricting the ability of union leaders to receive pay for time spent on union work. Laws banning education workers from engaging in certain political activities, such as joining a political party or openly endorsing a political party or candidate, also constrained unions’ abilities to advocate for their positions. The law also prohibits dismissed workers from remaining in unions.

The law permits workers to file complaints of unfair labor practices against employers who interfere with union organizing or who discriminate against union members. The NLRC may require employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities. The law prohibits retribution against workers who conduct a legal strike. Labor organizations asserted that the inability of full-time labor union officials to receive wages and the onerous registration requirements for individuals involved in collective bargaining effectively limited legal protections against unfair labor practices.

The government generally enforced legislation related to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and collective action, including legal strikes. Employers may be imprisoned or fined for unfair labor practices. In addition an employer may be penalized for noncompliance with a NLRC order to reinstate a worker. The law sets penalties in the form of fines or imprisonment against employers who refuse unions’ legitimate requests for bargaining.

Labor organizations generally operated without government interference.

In June police arrested the president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), Kim Myeong-hwan, after three months of KCTU protestors clashing with riot police at the National Assembly, which was deliberating a law to change working hours. The government has arrested five KCTU leaders since the confederation was founded in 1995. In May 2018 former KCTU president Han Sang-gyun was released on parole after having served more than two years of a three-year sentence for participating in an illegal assembly. Three other senior KCTU leaders were released during the year after serving prison sentences for convictions related to their union activities.

The UN special rapporteur noted examples of antiunion practices by companies, including encouraging the formation of management-supported unions; undermining employee unions through various means including surveillance, threats, and undue pressure on members; disguised subcontracting to avoid certain employer responsibilities and dismissal of members; firing union leaders and workers following strike action; and assigning union leaders demeaning jobs to demoralize them. He noted employers allegedly used labor relations consultancy firms to obtain advice that facilitated the erosion of trade union rights.

Undocumented foreign workers faced difficulties participating in union activities due to fear of exposing themselves to arrest and deportation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law effectively but did not consistently identify cases of forced labor; penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

NGOs reported some migrant workers were subject to forced labor, particularly those who had incurred thousands of dollars in debt for payment of recruitment fees, making them vulnerable to debt bondage. Some migrant workers in the agriculture, livestock, and fishing industries faced conditions indicative of forced labor, including deceptive recruiting practices, confiscation of passports, and nonpayment of wages.

International and domestic NGOs alleged that fishing vessels known for using forced labor often stopped in Busan and picked up foreign laborers. Photographs and interviews obtained by a foreign NGO showed that migrants faced dangerous working conditions and often went unpaid or underpaid for years of work on the ships. Although NGOs reported in the past that law enforcement authorities and prosecutors historically resisted investigating the ships because the laborers were not South Korean and the ships only stopped in South Korean waters temporarily, during the year maritime police began an intensive crackdown on human and labor rights abuses on both South Korean-flagged and international fishing vessels.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries helped law enforcement authorities investigate the working conditions of foreign sailors from April to May, focusing on labor contracts, crimes committed against migrants on the ships, and delays in payment of wages. It also announced in April that it would routinely include deep-sea vessels in its investigations, as opposed to only nearshore vessels. The coast guard conducted a crackdown on suspected human rights abuses from June to July, arresting 90 persons. Investigators said the arrests were the result of reports made by victims who had heard that the maritime police were conducting intensive crackdowns on human rights abuses.

One of those arrested was a captain of a South Korean fishing boat who pushed a Vietnamese crewmember off his boat and forced him to drift at sea before allowing him to return on board, according to NGOs. He also threatened the Vietnamese crew with knives and both physically and verbally abused them. NGOs stated that when the crewmember thrown overboard tried to transfer to another job, the ship’s owner demanded a payment of 5,000,000 won ($4,150). In February a new employment law came into effect that allowed foreign workers to change jobs without the permission of the employer for reasons including sexual harassment, sexual violence, assault, and habitual verbal abuse by an employer, the employer’s family members, or coworkers.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of minors younger than age 15 without an authorization certifi