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Argentina

Executive Summary

Argentina is a federal constitutional republic. On October 27, Alberto Fernandez was elected president in elections that local and international observers considered generally free and fair. On the same day, the country also held municipal, provincial, and federal elections. Voters elected governors in 22 provinces and more than one-half of the members of the Chamber of Deputies, representing all of the provinces and the city of Buenos Aires, and one-third of the members of the Senate, representing eight provinces.

Federal, provincial, and municipal police forces share responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of law and order. All federal police forces report to the Ministry of Security, while provincial and municipal forces report to a ministry or secretariat within their jurisdiction. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included unlawful and arbitrary killings and torture by federal and provincial police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious instances of corruption; violence motivated by anti-Semitism; gender-based killings of women; and forced labor despite government efforts to combat it.

Judicial authorities indicted and prosecuted a number of current and former government officials who committed human rights abuses during the year, as well as officials who committed dictatorship-era (1976-83) crimes.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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

In July the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concern after a federal judge summoned Daniel Santoro of Clarin newspaper and obtained his telephone records in relation to an investigation. The allegations related to Santoro’s connections with Marcelo D’Alessio, charged with extortion by threatening individuals with negative media coverage. Santoro asserted that D’Alessio was a journalistic source. According to the CPJ, the actions “endanger the principle of the confidentiality of journalistic sources, one of the cornerstones of press freedom.”

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of physical attacks, threats, and harassment against journalists, especially when covering protests.

In February photojournalists Bernardino Avila and Juan Pablo Barrientos from Pagina 12 newspaper and Revista Critica magazine, respectively, were detained during a protest. Lawmakers, journalists, and union leaders denounced this as a violation of press freedom.

The Argentine Journalism Forum reported 27 physical attacks against journalists as of September, a slight decline compared to 29 the previous year. In July. Javier Orellano of the newspaper Semanario de Junin received three separate death threats after publishing an article on the arrest of a prison worker, according to the Argentine Journalism Forum.

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. Local NGOs, including the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), expressed concerns that the Ministry of Security imposed restrictions on the right to peaceful protest and assembly.

On March 10, municipal police dispersed a protest by artisans and vendors in Buenos Aires’ San Telmo neighborhood. Local media and human rights organizations denounced the use of force as excessive, highlighting the use of pepper spray, and described the arrest of 18 protesters as the “criminalization” of their right to protest.

Cases remained pending against 20 protesters for violence that occurred during 2017 demonstrations against pension reform, which injured 160 persons, including 88 police officers. Local and international NGOs, including CELS and Amnesty International, stated that law enforcement agents had violently suppressed the protests and called for official investigation into actions by security forces.

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

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

The International Organization for Migration reported 98,319 Venezuelan migrants arrived in the country during the first six months of the year. Of those, more than 31,000 requested temporary residence; 165,688 Venezuelans were legal residents as of August 9.

The National Commission for Refugees received 2,661 requests for refugee status in 2018–38 percent more than in 2017–and adjudicated 1,077.

The International Organization for Migration reported that, under a humanitarian visa program for Syrians inaugurated in 2016, authorities had resettled 415 Syrians as of the first quarter of 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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; nonetheless, multiple reports alleged that executive, legislative, and judicial officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, suggesting a failure to implement the law effectively. Weak institutions and an often ineffective and politicized judicial system undermined systematic attempts to curb corruption.

Corruption: Corruption occurred in some security forces. The most frequent abuses included extortion of, and protection for, those involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, and the promotion of prostitution. Allegations of corruption in provincial as well as in federal courts were also frequent. A number of corruption-related investigations against current and former high-ranking political figures, including President Mauricio Macri, were underway as of October.

On September 20, a federal judge sent the corruption scandal known as “the notebooks case” to trial. Former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and 52 other defendants were accused of receiving, paying kickbacks, or both on public works contracts between 2008 and 2015. Prosecutors estimated the total value of the bribery scheme at $160 million. Fernandez de Kirchner and her children faced five other financial corruption cases as of October.

In September the court of cassation upheld the sentence of former vice president Amado Boudou to five years and 10 months in prison on charges of bribery and criminal conduct. Boudou, in prison since August 2018, declared his intent to appeal to the Supreme Court.

In February prosecutors and the Anti-Corruption Office appealed for a harsher sentence against congressman and former planning minister Julio de Vido. In October 2018 de Vido received a sentence of five years and eight months for fraud, misuse of funds, and lack of oversight related to a 2012 train accident that killed 52 persons.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights’ Anti-Corruption Office is responsible for analyzing and investigating federal executive branch officials, based on their financial disclosure forms. The law provides for public disclosure, but not all agencies complied, and enforcement remained a problem. The office is also responsible for investigating corruption within the federal executive branch and in matters involving federal funds, except for funds transferred to the provinces. As part of the executive branch, the office does not have authority to prosecute cases independently, but it can refer cases to other agencies or serve as the plaintiff and request a judge to initiate a case.

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 usually were cooperative and generally responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government has a human rights secretariat within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. Its main objective is to coordinate within the ministry and collaborate with other ministries and the judiciary to promote policies, plans, and programs for the protection of human rights. It published leaflets and books on a range of human rights topics. NGOs argued that the government’s failure to fill the post of national ombudsman, vacant since 2009, undermined the office’s mandate to protect human rights.

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

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, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes; the government generally respected these rights. The law prohibits discrimination against unions and protects workers from dismissal, suspension, and changes in labor conditions. It also prohibits military and law enforcement personnel from forming and joining unions. The government effectively enforced the law. Complaints of unfair labor practices can be brought before the judiciary. Violations of the law may result in a fine being imposed on the employer or the relevant employers’ association, as appropriate. Penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations. There were cases of significant delays or appeals in the collective bargaining process.

The law allows unions to register without prior authorization, and registered trade union organizations may engage in certain activities to represent their members, including petitioning the government and employers. The law grants official trade union status to only one union deemed the “most representative,” defined by law as the union that has the highest average proportion of dues-paying members to number of workers represented, per industrial sector within a specific geographical region. Only unions with such official recognition receive trade union immunity from employer reprisals against their officials, are permitted to deduct union dues directly from wages, and may bargain collectively with recourse to conciliation and arbitration. The most representative union bargains on behalf of all workers in a given sector, and collective agreements cover both union members and nonmembers in the sector. The law requires the Ministry of Production and Labor to ratify collective bargaining agreements. The Argentine Workers Central (CTA Autonoma) Observatory of Social Rights claimed a 400 percent increase in the ministry’s ratifications of bargaining agreements in the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2018, although 60 percent of those corresponded to bargaining agreements from 2017 or before.

The CTA Autonoma and other labor groups not affiliated with the General Confederation of Labor continued to contend that the legal recognition of only one union per sector conflicted with international standards, namely International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 87, and prevented these unions from obtaining full legal standing.

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

Employers generally respected the right to bargain collectively and to strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced the law. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Despite these mechanisms, forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred. The Secretariat of Labor and Employment carried out regular inspections across the country and found 15 cases of forced labor between January and October, affecting 91 victims. Efforts to hold perpetrators accountable continued. In May authorities in Santa Fe Province rescued a 91-year-old man who had reportedly been held in forced labor on a farm for 12 years.

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

Provincial governments and the city government of Buenos Aires are responsible for labor law enforcement. Penalties for employing underage workers were generally sufficient to deter violations.

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

Children were engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking, forced labor in domestic servitude and production of garments, and illicit activities such as the transport and sale of drugs. The government published the final report from its 2016-17 national child labor survey in November 2018. The National Survey on Children and Youth Activities found 19.8 percent of children in rural areas performed at least one form of labor, while 8.4 percent of children in urban areas did so.

Similar patterns emerged with adolescents, which the report defined as children 16 and 17 years old. The report found 43.5 percent of adolescents in rural areas and 29.9 percent in urban areas engaged in at least one form of labor. Principal activities were helping in a business or office; repair or construction of homes; cutting lawns or pruning trees; caring for children, the elderly, or the infirm; helping in a workshop; making bread, sweets, or other food for sale; gathering paper, boxes, cans, and other recyclables in the street; handing out flyers or promotional materials for a business; cleaning homes and businesses or washing and ironing clothes for others; and cultivating or harvesting agricultural products.

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 with respect to employment and occupation, and the government generally enforced the law. The most prevalent cases of workplace discrimination were based on disability, gender, and age. Discrimination also occurred on the basis of HIV-positive status and against individuals of indigenous origin.

Although women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men, they continued to face economic discrimination. Women held a disproportionately high proportion of low paying, informal jobs and significantly fewer executive positions in the private sector than men, according to several studies. Although equal pay for equal work is constitutionally mandated, women earned approximately 25 percent less than men earned for similar or equal work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In August the government announced a 35 percent increase in the national monthly minimum wage, to be implemented gradually by October. The minimum wage remained below the official poverty income level for a family of four. Most workers in the formal sector earned significantly more than the minimum wage. The minimum wage generally served to mark the minimum pay an informal worker should receive.

Federal law sets standards in workhours and occupational safety and health. The maximum workday is eight hours, and the maximum workweek is 48 hours. Overtime pay is required for hours worked in excess of these limits. The law prohibits excessive overtime and defines permissible levels of overtime as three hours a day. Labor law mandates between 14 and 35 days of paid vacation, depending on the length of the worker’s service.

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

The government sets occupational safety and health standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The law requires employers to insure their employees against accidents at the workplace and when traveling to and from work. The law requires employers either to provide insurance through a labor-risk insurance entity or to provide their own insurance to employees to meet requirements specified by the national insurance regulator. The law limits the worker’s right to file a complaint if he or she does not exhaust compulsory administrative proceedings before specified medical committees.

Laws governing acceptable conditions of work were not enforced universally, particularly for workers in the informal sector (approximately 35 percent of the labor force). The Labor Ministry has responsibility for enforcing legislation related to working conditions. The ministry continued inspections to ensure companies’ workers were registered and formally employed. The ministry conducted inspections in various provinces, but the Labor Inspectorate employed well below the number of inspectors recommended by the ILO, given the size of the workforce. The Superintendence of Labor Risk served as the enforcement agency to monitor compliance with health and safety laws and the activities of the labor risk insurance companies.

Workers could not always recuse themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in these circumstances. In May the Labor Ministry reported a 6 percent decline in work-related accidents. The manufacturing and mining sectors reported the highest number of accidents, while the construction and agriculture sectors had the lowest.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Executive Summary

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a democratic republic with a bicameral parliament. Many governmental functions are the responsibility of two entities within the state, the Federation and the Republika Srpska (RS), as well as the Brcko District, an autonomous administrative unit under BiH sovereignty. The 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace (the Dayton Accords), which ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war, provides the constitutional framework for governmental structures, while other parts of the agreement specify the government’s obligations to protect human rights and enable the right of wartime refugees and displaced persons to return to their prewar homes or be compensated for properties that cannot be restored to them. The country held general elections in October 2018. As of December, however, the election results had not been fully implemented, as the state-level government and two cantonal governments had not yet been formed. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) reported that elections were held in a competitive environment but were characterized by continuing segmentation along ethnic lines. While candidates could campaign freely, ODIHR noted that “instances of pressure and undue influence on voters were not effectively addressed,” citing long-standing deficiencies in the legal framework. ODIHR further noted that elections were administered efficiently, but widespread credible allegations of electoral contestants manipulating the composition of polling station commissions reduced voter confidence in the integrity of the process. More than 60 complaints of alleged election irregularities were filed with the Central Election Commission.

State-level police agencies include the State Investigation and Protection Agency, the Border Police, the Foreigners Affairs Service (partial police competencies), and the Directorate for Police Bodies Coordination. Police agencies in the two entities (the RS Ministry of Interior and the Federation Police Directorate), the Brcko District, and 10 cantonal interior ministries also exercise police powers. The armed forces provide assistance to civilian bodies in case of natural or other disasters. The intelligence service is under the authority of the BiH Council of Ministers. An EU military force continued to support the country’s government in maintaining a safe and secure environment for the population. While civilian authorities maintained effective control of law enforcement agencies and security forces, a lack of clear division of jurisdiction and responsibilities between the country’s 16 law enforcement agencies resulted in occasional confusion and overlapping responsibilities.

Significant human rights issues included: significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions of free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence and threats of violence against journalists; significant government corruption; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence against members of national/ethnic/racial minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Units in both entities and the Brcko District investigated allegations of police abuse, meted out administrative penalties, and referred cases of criminal misconduct to prosecutors. Observers considered police impunity widespread, and there were continued reports of corruption within the state and entity security services. Ineffective prosecution of war crimes committed during the 1992-95 conflict continued to be a problem.

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, but governmental respect for this right remained poor during the year. Intimidation, harassment, and threats, including an increased number of death threats, against journalists and media outlets continued during the year, while the majority of media coverage was dominated by nationalist rhetoric and ethnic and political bias, often encouraging intolerance and sometimes hatred. The absence of transparency in media ownership remained a problem.

Freedom of Expression: The country’s laws provide for a high level of freedom of expression, but the irregular and, in some instances, incorrect implementation and application of the law seriously undermined press freedoms. The law prohibits expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance, including “hate speech,” but authorities did not enforce these restrictions.

Data from the Free Media Help Line (FMHL) indicated that courts continued to fail to differentiate between different media genres (in particular, between news and commentary), while long court procedures and legal and financial battles were financially exhausting to journalists and outlets. The FMHL concluded that years of incorrectly implementing the law had caused direct pressure against journalists and media and that such pressure jeopardized journalists’ right to freedom of expression.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, but sometimes this resulted in pressure or threats against journalists. The law prohibiting expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance applies to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals but was not enforced.

Political and financial pressure on media outlets continued. Some media outlets noted that allegations of tax evasion and elaborate financial controls continued to be powerful tools in attempts to intimidate and control outlets. The number of physical attacks against journalists increased during the year.

Attacks on journalists’ professional integrity and freedom of the press continued to grow throughout the year. On a number of occasions, public officials obstructed the work of journalists. During one weekend in February, for example, the FMHL registered three such incidents. In one of the incidents in Banja Luka, police stopped journalists from E-Trafika and Dnevni Avaz, who were clearly displaying press credentials, from reporting on the “Justice for David” protests there.

The practice of pressuring journalists to censor their reporting continued during the year as well. Investigative stories on corruption in the country’s judicial sector focusing on high-level officials resulted in additional pressure on journalists. In June, for example, the BiH Prosecutor’s Office issued a threatening press release announcing that it was opening a case to investigate the motives of persons disseminating negative reports in the media about their work. The BiH Journalists Association (BH Journalists) strongly criticized the statement. In April the country’s chief prosecutor, Gordana Tadic, told investigative journalists that they were to run their stories, accompanied by supporting evidence, by prosecutors or police offices before publishing them. This “advice” came after prosecutors questioned journalists who wrote high-profile investigative stories about fake university diplomas and alleged Croatian intelligence activities in the country.

Authorities continued exerting pressure on media outlets to discourage some forms of expression, and party and governmental control over a number of information outlets narrowed the range of opinions represented in both entities. Public broadcasters remained under strong pressure from government and political forces due to a lack of long-term financial stability. Public broadcasters remained exposed to political influence, especially through politically controlled steering boards. These factors limited their independence and resulted in news that was consistently subjective and politically biased.

The Public Broadcasting System consists of three broadcasters: nationwide radio and television (BHRT) and the entity radio and television broadcasters RTRS and RTV FBiH. The law on the public broadcasting system is only partially implemented and entity laws are not in line with state level law. Public broadcasters continued to be in a difficult financial situation, primarily due to the lack of an efficient, unified, and stable system of financing.

The institutional instability of the governing structures of RTV FBiH continued, as the broadcaster failed to elect a steering board or appoint organizational management and remained open to political influence. As a result, RTV FBiH continued to demonstrate political bias and a selective approach to news.

The RS government continued directly to control RTRS, which demonstrated strong support for the ruling political parties in the RS. The BHRT, which previously had a reputation for being balanced and nonbiased, caved to increased political pressure and censored its own reporting. Authorities remained subject to competing political interests and failed to establish a public broadcasting Service Corporation to oversee the operations of all public broadcasters in the country as provided by law.

Violence and Harassment: Intimidation and threats against journalists continued during the year. Cases of violence and death threats against journalists were recorded as well. Intimidation and politically motivated litigation against journalists for their unfavorable reporting on government leaders and authorities also continued.

As of August the FMHL recorded 37 cases involving violations of journalists’ rights and freedoms, five death threats, and six physical assaults. According to data from BH Journalists covering the period from 2006 to 2019, authorities prosecuted approximately 30 percent of criminal acts reported against journalists and investigated more than one-third of alleged violations of journalists’ rights.

On March 28, for example, Huso Cesir, the head of the municipal council of Novi Grad in Sarajevo, shoved and verbally harassed Adi Kebo, a cameraman at the online news magazine Zurnal, while he was filming the entrance to Cesir’s company as part of an investigation into the politician’s business dealings. Cesir’s son joined his father and also harassed Kebo, briefly taking Kebo’s camera. Kebo sustained light injuries and his camera was damaged during this attack. BH Journalists reacted and strongly condemned the attack, while Party for Democratic Action (SDA) leaders made light of it, stating that Cesir attacked the camera, not the cameraman. Sarajevo Canton police filed a case with the canton prosecutor.

Early in the year, journalists at TV Sarajevo, the public television service of Sarajevo Canton, complained they were frequently censored and harassed by their SDA-allied management and reported the case to the FMHL. In February a former TV Sarajevo employee set fire to the car of the then director of the station. The director, Edina Fazlagic, blamed false accusations about the station’s employment policies for triggering the attack. The SDA condemned the attack, calling it political pressure against press freedom. In March, BH Journalists issued a press release condemning political pressures against TV Sarajevo. The FMHL contacted the Ombudsman and cantonal labor inspector concerning the alleged violation of TV Sarajevo’s employees’ rights, which the labor inspector ultimately confirmed. Following a political reshuffle, the Sarajevo Canton government–now formed without the SDA–made Kristina Ljevak the acting director of the station in May. The SDA strongly criticized her decisions, and right-oriented web portals took issue with her ethnic background and questioned her suitability for the position, as she had spent the war in the RS. An SDA member of the Sarajevo Canton Assembly, Samra Cosovic Hajdarevic, referring to Ljevak’s appointment, commented on Facebook that Muslim names in important positions were being replaced with other ones. The comment sparked strong reactions from media professionals, who condemned it as discriminatory, while the multiethnic Social Democratic Party and Democratic Front party condemned it as hate speech.

On July 12, the Banja Luka District Court convicted Marko Colic, one of the attackers in the 2018 attack on journalist Vladimir Kovacevic. Kovacevic, a BNTV journalist based in Banja Luka, was severely beaten as he came home after covering a protest. Colic was sentenced to four years in prison. The second attacker, identified as Nedeljko Dukic, was never apprehended. Journalist associations continued to assert that this unresolved case had a chilling effect on press freedom in the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Multiple political parties and entity-level institutions attempted to influence editorial policies and media content through legal and financial measures. As a result, some media outlets practiced self-censorship.

In some instances, media sources reported that officials threatened outlets with loss of advertising or limited their access to official information. Prevailing practices reflected close connections between major advertisers and political circles and allowed for biased distribution of advertising time. Public companies, most of which were under the control of political parties, remained the key advertisers. Outlets critical of ruling parties claimed they faced difficulties in obtaining advertising.

Libel/Slander Laws: While the country has decriminalized defamation, a large number of complaints continued to be brought against journalists, often resulting in extremely high monetary fines. Noteworthy court decisions against journalists included temporary bans on the posting or publication of certain information as well as very high compensatory payments for causing “mental anguish.”

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, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, but some restrictions remained. Although the legislation on asylum provides for freedom of movement for asylum seekers, authorities of Una-Sana Canton imposed restrictions without a due legal basis. This resulted in asylum seekers–including some who were duly registered–being forcibly disembarked from public transports at the entrance of the canton territory and being prevented from using buses and taxis within the canton. Groups of asylum-seekers and migrants were regularly marched involuntarily from Bihac to a location several kilometers away, where their movements were limited. The location itself offers very poor humanitarian and safety conditions. UNHCR’s legal aid partner legally challenged these restrictions.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum (refugee or subsidiary protection status), and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers with pending claims have a right to accommodation at the asylum center until the Ministry of Security makes a final and binding decision on their claims. Provision of adequate accommodation remained one of the biggest challenges since the beginning of 2018 due to increased arrivals of asylum seekers. It was common practice for some migrants to apply for asylum in order to gain access to temporary benefits and services, even if they had no plans to remain in the country. The increase of arrivals delayed registration procedures and access to rights and services, including legal, medical, and basic needs such as food and basic hygiene facilities and items, which were tied directly to the accommodation facilities.

According to an AP press service report, on October 24, the International Red Cross issued a statement warning of an imminent “humanitarian catastrophe” at one particular site, overcrowded makeshift migrant camp near the country’s border with Croatia. According to the statement, migrants in the Vucjak camp had no running water, no electricity, no usable toilets, and leaking overcrowded tents for the 700 persons there. The statement noted there were persons living in the camp with untreated broken limbs, and 70 percent of the population had scabies. The camp had only 80 tents and five volunteers from the country’s Red Cross Society. According to the report, local authorities restricted the camp’s water supplies in an effort to pressure the BiH government to relocate the migrants.

In official migrant centers, international organizations, NGOs, volunteers, or local actors provided services on an ad hoc basis. In May 2018 an additional facility, the Salakovac Refugee Reception Center, was opened for the accommodation of asylum seekers. Five temporary reception centers for refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants were opened and managed by the International Organization for Migration in cooperation with the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs (four in Una-Sana Canton and one near Sarajevo). Nevertheless, adequate shelter capacity was still lacking, in particular for families, unaccompanied and separated minors, and other vulnerable categories. The swift processing of asylum claims was another area of concern, as there were many obstacles to registering an asylum claim, including the obligation for asylum seekers not accommodated in an official government-run center to register their address. While the situation improved over the course of the year, the Sector for Asylum still lacked resources to ensure that applicants had full and timely access to asylum procedures. In addition, asylum authorities lacked sufficient personnel, making the asylum process very lengthy and discouraging refugees from seeking asylum in the country.

Asylum seekers have the right to appeal a negative decision before the Court of BiH. The system for providing protection to refugees seeking asylum continued to suffer from a lack of transparency.

Authorities appeared to have stopped their previous practice of placing foreigners with irregular status or without documentation in immigration detention centers and issuing expulsion orders without giving asylum seekers the ability to present applications. The change came with the increase of new arrivals in 2018 and 2019. In the past, the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs held asylum seekers for 90 days, the maximum initial holding period prescribed by law. Detention decisions were issued in the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian languages while, according to the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs, individuals were informed of the content of the decision orally with the assistance of an interpreter. A foreigner may appeal a decision on detention within three days from the date it is issued. Many asylum seekers did not receive legal aid within this timeframe and subsequently told the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that they were not informed of this possible remedy.

UNHCR paid ad hoc visits to the Immigration Center of the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs, where foreigners were detained. UNHCR’s main concern with regard to the center was the difficulty experienced by legal aid NGOs that wanted to access it on a regular basis and the fact that authorities occasionally detained families with children there, pending their voluntary readmission to countries of origin.

According to UNHCR, authorities held several individuals seeking asylum at the Immigration Center during the first eight months of the year. Information on the right to seek asylum was not readily available to potential asylum seekers in the center. UNHCR expressed concern that foreigners in detention might not have access to asylum procedures and that authorities might prematurely return some potential asylum seekers under readmission agreements before they had been afforded an opportunity to file a claim for asylum. In addition, some provisions of the BiH legislation on extradition gives authorities the possibility of extraditing a person who has expressed the intention to seek asylum if the request was made after the country had received an extradition request. In addition, UNHCR reported that applicants for refugee status did not have sufficient legal assistance; that there were no clear standards of proof or methods of assessing the credibility of claims, including country of origin; and that guidelines for determining whether there was a risk of persecution were unduly strict.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides for the application of the concept of “safe country of origin or safe third country.” Under this provision, authorities may deny asylum to applicants who cannot prove they were unable to return to their country of origin or to any country of transit. The application of this concept would require a list of safe third countries and countries of origin to be made by the BiH Council of Ministers.

Durable Solutions: The laws provide a program for integration and return of refugees and displaced persons. The country was party to a regional housing program funded by international donors and facilitated in part by UNHCR and the OSCE to provide durable solutions for up to 74,000 refugees and displaced persons from four countries in the region, including 14,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, returnees, and IDPs from the country. The process of selecting program beneficiaries was protracted due to capacity and management problems that resulted in extended delays in the reconstruction of homes. Fragmented institutional arrangements added administrative delays to the process, as did the political imperative to select beneficiaries proportionally from among the country’s constituent peoples.

Temporary Protection: The government provided subsidiary protection status to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In the first seven months of the year, authorities provided subsidiary protection to 17 individuals and extended existing subsidiary protection to four others.

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. Observers noted a number of shortcomings, however.

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 nor prioritize public corruption as a serious problem. Courts have not processed high-level corruption cases, and in most of the finalized cases, suspended sentences were pronounced. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and corruption remained prevalent in many political and economic institutions. Corruption was especially prevalent in the health and education sectors, public procurement processes, local governance, and in public administration employment procedures.

While the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but political pressure often prevented the application of these mechanisms. Observers considered police impunity widespread, and there were continued reports of corruption within the state and entity security services. There are internal affairs investigative units within all police agencies. Throughout the year, mostly with assistance from the international community, the government provided training to police and security forces designed to combat abuse and corruption and promote respect for human rights. The field training manuals for police officers also include ethics and anticorruption training components.

Corruption: While the public viewed corruption as endemic in the public sphere, there was little public demand for the prosecution of corrupt officials. The multitude of state, entity, cantonal, and municipal administrations, each with the power to establish laws and regulations affecting business, created a system that lacked transparency and provided opportunities for corruption. The multilevel government structure gave corrupt officials multiple opportunities to demand “service fees,” especially in the local government institutions.

Analysts considered the legal framework for prevention of corruption to be satisfactory across almost all levels of government and attributed the absence of high-profile prosecutions to a lack of political will. Many state-level institutions tasked with fighting corruption, such as the Agency for Prevention and Fight against Corruption, had limited authority and remained under resourced. There were indications that the judiciary was under political influence, and the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council was at the center of corruption scandals, including allegations that the president of the council accepted a bribe in exchange for interfering in a case. The accountability of judges and prosecutors was low, and appointments were often not merit based. Prosecutions also were considered generally ineffective and subject to political manipulation, often resulting in suspended sentences or prison sentences below mandatory minimum sentences. Authorities reported that, in the previous five years, 84 indictments were filed against high-ranking public officials, of whom 38 were found guilty.

Gathering evidence to prove corruption has been seriously impeded as of 2018, when the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional certain provisions in the BiH state law that governs special investigative measures. The BiH parliament adopted amendments to Criminal Procedure Code that define the crimes for which special investigative measures may be applied and regulate the granting of immunity to witnesses and the duration of investigations in line with the ruling of the Constitutional Court. The RS also amended part of the Criminal Procedure Code to define the crimes for which special investigative measures may be ordered.

According to professors and students, corruption continued at all levels of the higher education system. Professors at a number of universities reported that bribery was common and that they experienced pressure from colleagues and superiors to give higher grades to students with family or political connections. There were credible allegations of corruption in public procurement, public employment, and health-care services.

Financial Disclosure: Candidates for high-level public office, including for parliament at the state and entity levels and for the Council of Ministers and entity government positions, are subject to financial (assets/liabilities and income) disclosure laws, although observers noted the laws fell short of standards established by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and other international organizations. The Central Election Commission received financial reports of elected officials, while the Conflict of Interest Commission within the BiH parliament receives financial reports and retains records on public officials. Both institutions lacked authority to verify the accuracy of declarations, and it was believed that public officials and their relatives often declared only a fraction of their total assets and liabilities. Authorities generally failed to make financial disclosure declarations public, using as an excuse the conflicts between the laws on financial disclosure and protection of personal information.

Failure to comply with financial disclosure requirements is subject to administrative sanctions. During the year the Conflict of Interest Commission had no cases as the mandate of parliamentary members expired, and new members were not appointed. A new government in Sarajevo Canton made positive steps in the fight against corruption by adopting legislation on the verification of assets of public officials. The government also adopted a decree on public procurement, which introduces anticorruption measures to regulate these processes.

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

A variety of human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were seldom cooperative and responsive to their views, and the Council of Ministers still largely excluded NGOs from politically important or sensitive decisions. NGOs continued, however, to expand cooperation with the government at lower levels.

Government officials in both the Federation and the RS attempted at times to limit NGO activities. Observers noted that some civil society representatives working on highly sensitive issues such as war crimes and combatting corruption have been subjected to threats and verbal assaults. Several NGOs in the RS reported being pressured by local authorities while subject to protracted tax inspections, sometimes lasting up to six months. NGOs can only be involuntarily dissolved if found in violation of the law.

Civil society organizations frequently lacked adequate funding, and most were dependent on either governmental or international assistance. Local governments generally extended support to NGOs, provided the governing parties did not consider them threats.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In contrast to Federation and Brcko District governments, the RS government was noncooperative and unresponsive in dealing with the Office of the High Representative created by the Dayton Accords and given special executive powers in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state-level Ombudsman has authority to investigate alleged violations of the country’s human rights laws on behalf of individual citizens and to submit legally nonbinding recommendations to the government for remedy. Members of the international community noted that the Ombudsman lacked the resources to function effectively and had to contend with disagreements between representatives of the country’s three constituent peoples over what constitutes a human rights violation, which sometimes caused disagreements within the institution. A Bosniak, a Croat, and a Serb shared leadership of the Ombudsman Institution.

The state-level parliament has a Joint Commission for Human Rights that participated in human rights-related activities with governmental and nongovernmental organizations. Due to delays in government formation at the state level, the commission had not been formed during the year.

In January the government began implementing a 2017 cooperation agreement between the Council of Ministers and NGOs by adopting a decision to establish an advisory body for cooperation with NGOs. The decision foresees the appointment of five members by the Council of Ministers at the proposal of the Ministry of Justice.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Federation and RS labor laws provide for the right of workers in both entities to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Employers in the private sector did not always respect these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not provide adequately for enforcement of these protections. The labor inspectorates and courts did not deal effectively with employees’ complaints of antiunion discrimination. Unions themselves have complained that their own union leaders have been co-opted by the company and politicians, and that they mostly protect their own privileges. The law prescribes reinstatement of dismissed workers in cases where there is evidence of discrimination, whether for union activity or other reasons. Entity-level laws in the Federation and the RS prohibit the firing of union leaders without prior approval of their respective labor ministries.

The law in both entities and in the Brcko District provides for the right to strike. The law in the Federation contains burdensome requirements for workers who wish to conduct a strike. Trade unions may not officially announce a strike without first reaching an agreement with the employer on which “essential” personnel would remain at work. Authorities may declare the strike illegal if no agreement is reached. This provision effectively allowed employers to prevent strikes. Laws governing the registration of unions give the minister of justice powers to accept or reject trade union registration on ambiguous grounds. According to informal estimates, approximately 40 percent of the work force was unregistered and working in the informal economy.

The lack of workers’ rights was more pronounced in the private sector largely due to weaker unions in the private sector and to the broad and pronounced weakness of the rule of law.

The government did not effectively enforce all applicable laws. Authorities did not impose sanctions against employers who prevented workers from organizing. Inspections related to worker rights were limited. Ministry inspectors gave low priority to violations of worker rights; state officials focused instead on bolstering revenues by cracking down on unregistered employees and employers who did not pay taxes. Some unions reported that employers threatened employees with dismissal if they joined a union and, in some cases, fired union leaders for their activities. Entity-level penalties for violations included monetary fines that were insufficient to deter violations. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The governments and organizations of employers and workers in both entities negotiated general collective agreements establishing conditions of work, including in particular private employers. It was not confirmed that all employers recognized these agreements. Trade union representatives alleged that antiunion discrimination was widespread in all districts.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Adequate legislation exists at the state level and in the RS and the Brcko District criminalizing forced or compulsory labor while Federation laws do not criminalize all forced labor activities. The government did not enforce the law effectively, but there was little verified evidence that forced labor occurred in the country due to the limited number of inspections into forced labor allegations. Penalties for violations were generally sufficient to deter violations.

The prosecution of 13 BiH nationals for collusion in forced labor involving 672 victims of forced labor in Azerbaijan in 2015 continued in BiH court. The government failed to prosecute organized crime syndicates that forced Romani children to beg on the streets, alleging that it was Romani custom to beg. There were reports that individuals and organized crime syndicates trafficked men, women, and children for begging and forced 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 of children in both entities is 15; minors between the ages of 15 and 18 must provide a valid health certificate to work. RS and Brcko District laws penalize employers for hiring persons younger than age 15. The labor codes of the Federation, the RS, and the Brcko District also prohibit minors between the ages of 15 and 18 from working at night or performing hazardous labor, although forced begging is not considered a hazardous task for all entities. The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Entity governments are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, and both entities and the Brcko District enforced them. Boys and girls were subjected to forced begging and involuntary domestic servitude in forced marriages. Sometimes forced begging was linked to other forms of human trafficking. In the case of Romani children, family members or organized criminal groups were usually responsible for subjecting girls and boys to forced begging and domestic servitude in forced marriages. Several of the worst forms of child labor occurring in the country included the use of children for illicit activities, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and the use of children for the production of pornography (see section 6, Children).

During the year the government did not receive reports of child labor at places of employment. Neither entity had inspectors dedicated to child labor inspections; authorities investigated violations of child labor laws as part of a general labor inspection. The labor inspectorates of both entities reported that they found no violations of child labor laws, although they did not conduct reviews of children working on family farms. The government did not collect data on child labor because there were no reported cases. The general perception among officials and civil society was that the exploitation of child labor was rare. RS law imposes fines for employing children younger than 16, but the law does not specify the exact monetary amount. Penalties were usually sufficient to deter violations.

NGOs running day centers in Banja Luka, Tuzla, Mostar, Bijeljina, Bihac, and Sarajevo in cooperation with the country’s antitrafficking coordinator continued to provide services to at-risk children, many of whom were involved in forced begging on the streets.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sex, gender, age, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, social status (including refugee status), religion, and national origin. The government generally enforced these laws and regulations effectively. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, HIV-positive status, and social status (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Although the monthly minimum wage in both entities is above the official poverty income level, more than 30 percent of the population was exposed to the risk of income poverty. The Brcko District did not have a separate minimum wage or an independent pension fund, and employers typically used the minimum wage rate of the entity to which its workers decided to direct their pension funds.

The legal workweek in both entities and the Brcko District is 40 hours, although seasonal workers may work up to 60 hours. The law limits overtime to 10 hours per week in both entities. An employee in the RS may legally volunteer for an additional 10 hours of overtime in exceptional circumstances. The Federation has no provision for premium pay, while the RS requires a 30-percent premium. Laws in both entities require a minimum rest period of 30 minutes during the workday.

Employees may choose which holidays to observe depending on ethnic or religious affiliation. Entity labor laws prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. The entities and the Brcko District did little to enforce regulations on working hours, daily and weekly rest, or annual leave.

The Federation Market Inspectorate, the RS Inspectorate, and the Brcko District Inspectorate are responsible for the enforcement of labor laws in the formal economy. Authorities in the two entities and the Brcko District did not effectively enforce labor regulations. The penalties for wage and safety violations were generally sufficient to deter violations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations.

The Federation and the RS set mandatory occupational health and safety standards, especially for those industry sectors where working conditions were hazardous. Worker rights extended to all official (i.e., registered) workers, including migrant and temporary workers.

Governments in both entities made only limited efforts to improve occupational safety and health at government-owned coal mines; such efforts were inadequate for the safety and security of workers. Workers in certain industries, particularly metal and steel processing and coal mining, often worked in hazardous conditions. There were no official social protections for workers in the informal economy.

Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Authorities provided no protection to employees in this situation.

Chile

Executive Summary

Chile is a constitutional multiparty democracy. In 2017 the country held presidential elections and concurrent legislative elections, which observers considered free and fair. Former president (2010-14) Sebastian Pinera won the presidential election and took office in March 2018.

The Carabineros and the Investigative Police have legal responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order, including migration and border enforcement, within the country. The Ministry of the Interior and Public Security oversees both forces. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings; torture by law enforcement officers; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; and violence against indigenous persons.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who allegedly committed 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 this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

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

In August reports emerged that the Army Intelligence Directorate wiretapped investigative journalist Mauricio Weibel, who was researching alleged corruption in the army, as well as four active or retired officers suspected of leaking documents to him. The directorate’s leadership stated the wiretaps were authorized by judicial authorities in 2016 and 2017, citing “national security” concerns. Both an internal army investigation and a congressional inquiry were launched. The investigations continued as of November.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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, including access to education and health care.

Durable Solutions: In 2018 the government announced a Democratic Responsibility visa for Venezuelans fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. In June the government halted visa-free entry for nonimmigrant Venezuelans. Under the government’s immigration reform, the Democratic Responsibility Visa is the primary means for Venezuelans to work or establish legal residency in Chile. In 2018 the government began facilitating the voluntary repatriation of more than 1,200 Haitians to Port-au-Prince under its Humanitarian Plan for Orderly Returns program. Haitians wishing to participate must sign a declaration that they will not return to Chile within nine years of departing.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented those laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Two former commanders in chief of the army, Humberto Oviedo and Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba, were arrested and charged with corruption. The two were alleged to have embezzled or misappropriated more than eight billion pesos (CLP) ($11.5 million) during their terms in command of the army (2010-18). They were the highest-ranking officers to be charged in a large-scale criminal investigation that, according to the National Prosecutor’s Office, involved nearly 600 current or former officers suspected of misappropriation of funds as of November 2018. The investigation and related criminal prosecutions continued as of October.

On September 6, the Public Ministry announced additional charges against former director general of the Carabineros Eduardo Gordon, increasing the amount of funds he allegedly misappropriated to CLP 70 million ($96,000), up from the CLP 21 million ($30,000) originally announced in 2018. The charges stemmed from alleged misappropriation of representational expenses for personal use during Gordon’s time as director general of the Carabineros in 2010 and 2011. As of October the investigation was in progress.

Financial Disclosure: Law and regulation require income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials. Declarations are made available to the public, and there are administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

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: The National Institute for Human Rights (INDH) operated independently and effectively, issued public statements and an annual report, and proposed changes to government agencies or policies to promote and protect human rights. The government enacted legislation designating the INDH as the country’s National Preventive Mechanism against Torture under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.

The Senate and Chamber of Deputies have standing human rights committees responsible for drafting human rights legislation.

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, with some limitations, to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The law also prohibits antiunion practices and requires either back pay or reinstatement for workers fired for union activity.

Workers in the private sector and in state enterprises are provided the freedom to unionize without prior approval. Police, military personnel, and civil servants working for the judiciary are prohibited from joining unions. Union leaders are restricted from being candidates or members of congress. The Directorate of Labor (DT), an independent government authority under the Ministry of Labor, has broad powers to monitor unions’ financial accounts and financial transactions. For example, unions must update their financial records daily, and ministry officials may inspect the records at any time.

The law prohibits public employees from striking, although they frequently did. While employees in the private sector and workers in formal and regulated collective bargaining units have the right to strike, the law places some restrictions on this right. For example, an absolute majority of workers, rather than a majority of those voting, must approve strikes. The law also prohibits employees of 101 private-sector companies, largely providers of services such as water and electricity, from striking, and it stipulates compulsory arbitration to resolve disputes in these companies. In addition workers employed by companies or corporations whose stoppage would cause serious damage to the health, economy, or security of the country do not have the right to strike.

Employers may not dismiss or replace employees involved in a strike. Unions must provide emergency personnel to fulfill the company’s “minimum services.” Those include the protection of tangible assets and of the company’s facilities, accident prevention, service of the population’s basic needs, ensuring the supply of essential public services, and ensuring the prevention of environmental and sanitary damages.

The law extends unions’ rights to information, requiring large companies to disclose annual reports including balance sheets, statements of earnings, and audited financial statements. Large companies must provide any public information required by the Superintendence of Securities and Insurance within 30 days following the date when the information becomes available. Smaller companies must provide information necessary for the purposes of preparing the collective bargaining process.

While the law prior to the 2017 labor reform provided for collective bargaining rights only at the company level, the reform extended such rights to intercompany unions, provided they represent workers at employers having 50 or more employees and falling within the same economic rubric or activity. An absolute majority of all covered workers must indicate through secret ballot vote that they agree to be represented by an intercompany union in collective bargaining. Intercompany unions for workers at micro or small businesses (i.e., with fewer than 50 workers) are permitted to bargain collectively only when the individual employers all agree to negotiate under such terms. The law does not provide for collective bargaining rights for workers in public institutions or in a private institution that receives more than 50 percent of its funding from the state in either of the preceding two years, or whose budget is dependent upon the Defense Ministry. It also does not provide for collective bargaining in companies whose employees are prohibited from striking, such as in health care, law enforcement, and public utilities. Whereas the previous labor code excluded collective bargaining rights for temporary workers or those employed solely for specific tasks, such as in agriculture, construction, ports, or the arts and entertainment sector, the revised labor standards eliminate these exclusions, extending bargaining rights to apprentices and short-term employees. Executives, such as managers and assistant managers, are prohibited from collective bargaining.

The government generally enforced labor laws effectively. Nevertheless, the DT commented on the need for more inspectors. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Companies are generally subject to sanctions for violations to the labor code, according to the severity of each case. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions, which include antiunion practices. NGOs reported cases in labor tribunals took an average of three months to resolve. Cases involving fundamental rights of the worker often took closer to six months. NGOs continued to report it was difficult for courts to sanction companies and order remedies in favor of workers for various reasons, including if a company’s assets were in a different name or the juridical entity could not be located.

Freedom of association was generally respected. Employers sometimes did not respect the right to collective bargaining. According to Freedom House, the IndustriALL Global Union, and the International Trade Union Confederation, antiunion practices, including a threat of violence, continued to occur. In addition NGOs and unions indicated that penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining laws were insufficient to deter violations, especially in large companies. NGOs and unions reported that companies sought to inhibit the formation of unions and avoid triggering collective bargaining rights, especially among seasonal agricultural workers and in key export sectors such as mining, forestry, and fishing, by using subcontracts and temporary contracts as well as obtaining several fiscal registration or tax identification numbers when increasing the size of the workforce. In addition subcontracted employees earned lower wages than regular employees performing the same task, and many contractors failed to provide formal employment benefits, such as social security, health care, and pensions.

Labor courts can require workers to resume work upon a determination that a strike, by its nature, timing, or duration, causes serious risk to the national economy or to health, national security, and the supply of goods or services to the population. Generally, a back-to-work order should apply only when a prolonged strike in a vital sector of the economy might endanger public safety or health, and it should apply only to a specific category of workers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law effectively. Penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. NGOs reported many government officials responsible for identifying and assisting victims had limited resources and expertise to identify victims of labor trafficking. In addition, judges often suspended or commuted sentences. The government worked to prevent and combat forced labor through its interagency antitrafficking taskforce, which included international organizations and local NGOs. The task force published and began implementation of a new national action plan (2019-22).

Labor trafficking continued to occur. Some foreign citizens were subjected to forced labor in the mining, agriculture, domestic service, and hospitality sectors. Some children were forcibly employed in the drug trade (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 country conforms to international standards, which dictate the minimum age for employment or work should be no less than 15 years. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 18, although it provides that children between 15 and 18 may work with the express permission of their parents or guardians as long as they attend school. They may perform only light work that does not require hard physical labor or constitute a threat to health or the child’s development. The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor.

Ministry of Labor inspectors effectively enforced regulations in the formal economy but did not inspect or enforce such regulations in the informal economy. Infractions included contracting a minor younger than age 18 without the authorization of the minor’s legal representative, failure to register a minor’s contract with the ministry, and contracting a minor younger than 15 for activities not permitted by law. Penalties and inspections were not sufficient to deter violations that mostly occurred clandestinely or in the informal economy.

The government devoted considerable resources and oversight to child labor policies. With accredited NGOs, SENAME operated programs to protect children in vulnerable situations. SENAME, in coordination with labor inspectors, identified and assisted children in abusive or dangerous situations. SENAME continued to work with international institutions, such as the International Labor Organization (ILO), and with other ministries to conduct training on identifying and preventing the worst forms of child labor. SENAME also implemented public education programs to raise awareness and worked with the ILO to operate rehabilitation programs for children withdrawn from child labor.

Multisector government agencies continued to participate in the National Advisory Committee to Eradicate Child Labor. The committee met regularly throughout the year and brought together civil society organizations and government agencies in a coordinated effort to raise awareness, provide services to victims, and protect victims’ rights. The Worst Forms of Child Labor Task Force, a separate entity, maintained a registry of cases and a multisector protocol for the identification, registration, and care of children and adolescents who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The National Tourism Service’s hotel certification procedures, developed in collaboration with SENAME, included strict norms for preventing the commercial sexual exploitation of children. This included special training for National Tourism Service staff charged with assessing and certifying hotels.

Child labor continued to be a problem in the informal economy and agriculture, primarily in rural areas. Higher numbers of violations occurred in the construction, industrial manufacturing, hotels and restaurants, and agriculture sectors.

In urban areas it was common to find boys carrying loads in agricultural loading docks and assisting in construction activities, while girls sold goods on the streets and worked as domestic servants. Children worked in the production of ceramics and books and in the repair of shoes and garments. In rural areas children were involved in caring for farm animals as well as in harvesting, collecting, and selling crops, such as wheat. The use of children in illicit activities, which included the production and trafficking of narcotics, continued to be a problem. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also continued to be a problem (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 employment discrimination based on race, sex, age, civil status, union affiliation, religion, political opinion, nationality, national extraction, social origin, disability, language, sexual orientation, or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, refugee or stateless status, ethnicity or social status. The government and employers do not discriminate on the basis of refugee, stateless status, or ethnicity, but workers must have a work permit or be citizens to hold contracted jobs. The law also provides civil legal remedies to victims of employment discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic situation, language, ideology or political opinion, religion or belief, association or participation in union organizations or lack thereof, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification, marriage status, age, affiliation, personal appearance, and sickness or physical disability. A 2017 law addresses matters related to persons with disabilities. For all public agencies and for private employers with 100 or more employees, the law requires 1 percent of jobs be reserved for persons with disabilities.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws and regulations prohibiting employment discrimination. Authorities generally enforced the law in cases of sexual harassment, and there was no evidence of police or judicial reluctance to act. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions such as denying maternity leave. Such penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. Nevertheless, discrimination in employment and occupation continued to occur. Persons with disabilities often faced discrimination in hiring; they constituted approximately 7.6 percent of the working-age population but only 0.5 percent of the workforce. Indigenous persons continued to experience societal discrimination in employment. Statistics regarding rates of discrimination faced by different groups were not available.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

As of November 2018 the national minimum wage exceeded the poverty level. The law sets the legal workweek at six days or 45 hours. The maximum workday is 10 hours (including two hours of overtime pay), but the law provides exemptions for hours of work restrictions for some categories of workers, such as managers; administrators; employees of fishing boats; restaurant, club, and hotel workers; drivers; airplane crews; telecommuters or employees who work outside of the office; and professional athletes. The law mandates at least one 24-hour rest period during the workweek, except for workers at high altitudes, who may exchange a work-free day each week for several consecutive work-free days every two weeks. Annual leave for full-time workers is 15 workdays, and workers with more than 10 years of service are eligible for an additional day of annual leave for every three years worked. Overtime is considered to be any time worked beyond the 45-hour workweek, and workers are due time-and-a-half pay for any overtime performed.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards, which are applicable to all sectors. Special safety and health norms exist for specific sectors, such as mining and diving. The National Service for Geology and Mines is further mandated to regulate and inspect the mining industry. The law does not regulate the informal sector. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

The DT is responsible for enforcing minimum wage and other labor laws and regulations, and it did so effectively in the formal economy. The Ministries of Health and Labor administered and effectively enforced occupational safety and health standards. The law establishes fines for noncompliance with labor regulations, including for employers who compel workers to work in excess of 10 hours a day or do not provide adequate rest days. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions such as causing irreversible injuries to an employee. An estimated 28 percent of the nonagricultural labor force worked in the informal sector, according ILO data from 2017. Workers in the informal economy were not effectively protected in regard to wages or safety.

The DT did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors to enforce labor laws effectively throughout the country, particularly in remote areas. NGOs commented that inspectors and labor tribunal judges needed more training and that a lack of information and economic means generated an inequality between parties in cases before the tribunals. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, especially with larger employers. The DT worked preventively with small and medium-sized businesses to assist in their compliance with labor laws.

Minimum wage violations were most common in the real estate and retail sectors. The sectors with the most infractions in safety and health standards were construction, retail, and industrial manufacturing. The service sector experienced the most accidents during the year. Immigrant workers in the agricultural sector were the group most likely to be subject to exploitative working conditions. According to ILO data, in 2018 there were 3.1 fatal and 3,142 nonfatal occupational injuries per 100,000 workers.

China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet) – Hong Kong

Read A Section: Hong Kong

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Executive Summary

Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law of the SAR specify that the SAR enjoys a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework, except in matters of defense and foreign affairs. Throughout the year, however, domestic and international observers continued to express concerns about central PRC government encroachment on the SAR’s autonomy. In November district council elections, prodemocracy candidates won control of 17 out of 18 councils in elections widely regarded as free and fair, although the government barred one opposition figure’s candidacy. The turnout, 71 percent of all registered voters, was a record for Hong Kong. In March 2017 the 1,194-member Chief Executive Election Committee, dominated by proestablishment electors, selected Carrie Lam to be the SAR’s chief executive. In 2016 Hong Kong residents elected the 70 representatives who compose the SAR’s Legislative Council. Voters directly elected 40 representatives, while limited-franchise constituencies elected the remaining 30.

The Hong Kong police force maintains internal security and reports to the SAR’s Security Bureau. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

From June to year’s end, Hong Kong experienced frequent protests, with some exceeding more than one million participants. Most protesters were peaceful, but some engaged in violence and vandalism. The protests began as a movement against the government’s introduction of legislation that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to any jurisdiction, including mainland China, but subsequently evolved to encompass broader concerns.

Significant human rights issues included: police brutality against protesters and persons in custody; arbitrary arrest; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; and restrictions on political participation.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses but resisted widespread calls for a special inquiry into alleged police brutality that occurred during the demonstrations. The government continued to rely on the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) to review allegations against the police.

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 an unfettered internet combined to permit freedom of expression, including for the press, on most matters. During the year, however, some SAR and central government actions restricted or sought to restrict the right to express or report on dissenting political views, particularly support for Hong Kong independence.

Freedom of Expression: There were some legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Police arrested several individuals for damaging the national flag, which is illegal. For example, in May police arrested a proindependence activist for damaging the Chinese national flag during a protest against the controversial extradition bill. In October, media reported police asked Facebook to remove user posts about police handling of protests. Facebook reportedly declined to do so.

Requirements for electoral candidacy and for taking the oath of office also limited free speech in the political arena. For example, the Electoral Affairs Commission requires all Legislative Council candidates to sign a pledge stating the SAR is an “inalienable part” of China in order to run for office. The commission disqualified one candidate, democracy activist Joshua Wong, from running in the November district council election. The government determined that Wong could not “possibly comply with the requirements of the relevant electoral laws, since advocating or promoting ‘self-determination’ is contrary to the content of the declaration” candidates are required to sign.

In 2017 the government disqualified six legislators-elect from taking office because they took their oaths in ways that did not conform to a 2016 NPCSC interpretation of the Basic Law to demonstrate “sincerity” and “solemnity” when taking an oath.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. An April Hong Kong Journalists Association poll found, however, that 81 percent of journalists said press freedom in the SAR had worsened since 2018.

Violence and Harassment: In September unknown persons threw firebombs at the home of Jimmy Lai, owner of the prodemocracy Apple Daily newspaper. Also in September, four unknown assailants attacked an Apple Daily reporter who was covering protests. In November protesters smashed windows and vandalized the offices of China’s state-controlled Xinhua News Agency. Several journalists alleged that police detained, assaulted, or harassed them while covering protests. In October the Foreign Correspondent’s Club condemned the arrest of a photojournalist who was covering a protest. Police reportedly ordered her and other journalists to remove their gas masks despite previous government assurances that the mask ban did not apply to those using masks to perform their professional duties.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship and suspected content control continued. The April Hong Kong Journalists Association survey showed that one in five journalists surveyed said their superiors had pressured them to reduce reporting about Hong Kong independence. Many media outlets, bookstores, and publishers were owned by companies with business interests on the mainland or by companies directly controlled by the Chinese central government, a situation that led to claims they were vulnerable to self-censorship.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government allowed most public gatherings to proceed, but government actions, including prosecutions of activists and refusals to grant approval for some assemblies, infringed on the right of peaceful protest.

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.

Reports that the Immigration Department refused entry to a small number of persons traveling to the SAR for political reasons continued. In May Immigration Department authorities denied entry to former Philippine supreme court justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, who previously accused Chinese president Xi Jinping of crimes against humanity, according to media reports. Activists and other observers contended that refusals, usually of persons holding, or suspected of holding, views critical of the Chinese central government, were made at the behest of mainland authorities.

Foreign Travel: Most residents easily obtained travel documents from the SAR government, although Chinese central government authorities in the past did not permit some human rights activists, student protesters, and prodemocracy legislators to visit the mainland. There were reports of mainland security officials harassing and questioning Hong Kong residents suspected of participating in protests when they traveled to the mainland. In August central government officials detained an employee of the United Kingdom’s consulate in Hong Kong while he was returning from the mainland to his home in Hong Kong. He was released after more than two weeks in detention and later told media that mainland authorities tortured him.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Activists indicated that persons seeking refugee status faced discrimination and were the frequent target of generalizations by some political parties and media organizations.

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, but the SAR government has established a system for providing limited protection to persons who would be subject to torture or other abuses in their home country.

The SAR government used the term “nonrefoulement claim” to refer to a claim for protection against deportation. Persons subject to deportation could file a nonrefoulement claim if they either arrived in the SAR without proper authorization or had overstayed the terms of their entry. Filing such a claim typically resulted in a period of detention followed by release on recognizance. Activists and refugee rights groups expressed concerns about the quality of adjudications and the very low rate of approved claims, less than 1 percent. Denied claimants may appeal to the Torture Claims Appeal Board. The government did not publish the board’s decisions, a practice which the Hong Kong Bar Association previously noted created concerns about the consistency and transparency of decisions. Persons whose claims were pending were required to appear periodically before the Immigration Department. An NGO reported the government’s process for evaluating claims, which did not allow claimants to legally work in the SAR, made some refugees vulnerable to trafficking.

Employment: “Nonrefoulement claimants” have no right to work in the SAR while their claims are under review, and they must rely on social welfare stipends and charities. The SAR government, however, frequently granted exceptions to this rule for persons granted nondeportation status and awaiting UNHCR resettlement.

Access to Basic Services: Persons who made “nonrefoulement” claims were eligible to receive publicly funded legal assistance, including translation services, as well as small living subsidies. The children of such claimants could attend SAR public schools.

Temporary Protection: Persons whose claims for “nonrefoulement” are substantiated do not obtain permanent resident status in the SAR. Instead the SAR government refers them to UNHCR for possible recognition as refugees and resettlement in a third country. Some such persons have waited years in the SAR before being resettled.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The Basic Law limits the ability of residents to change their government. Hong Kong voters do not enjoy universal suffrage in elections for the chief executive or equal suffrage in Legislative Council elections. Article 45 of the Basic Law establishes as the “ultimate aim” direct election of the chief executive through “universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”

The chief executive is elected by an election committee (CEEC) of approximately 1,200 members (1,194 members in 2017). The election committee consists of the 70 members of the Legislative Council and a mix of professional, business, and trade elites.

Voters directly elect 40 of the Legislative Council’s 70 seats by secret ballot. Thirty-five seats are designated as “geographic constituencies” (GCs) and 35 as “functional constituencies” (FCs). All 35 GCs are directly elected by all voters in a geographic area. Thirty FC seats are selected by a set of voters representing various economic and social sectors, most of whom are probusiness and generally supportive of the Chinese central government. In 2016 the constituencies that elected these 30 FC Legislative Council seats consisted of 239,724 registered individual and institutional voters, of whom approximately 172,820 voted, according to the SAR’s Election Affairs Office’s statistics. The remaining five FC seats must be filled by district councilors (the so-called district council sector, known as “super seats,”) were directly elected by the approximately five million registered voters not represented in another FC, and therefore represented larger constituencies than any other seats in the Legislative Council.

Under the Basic Law, only the SAR government, not members of the legislature, may introduce bills that affect public expenditure, the political structure, or government policy.

In October Chief Executive Carrie Lam invoked the ERO, which grants the chief executive power to “make any regulations whatsoever” in times of “emergency or public danger,” to ban face masks. In November a court ruled that Lam’s use of the ERO was unconstitutional.

The SAR sends 36 deputies to China’s National People’s Congress (legislature, NPC) and had approximately 200 delegates in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference–bodies that operate under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party and do not exercise legislative independence. The approval of the chief executive, two-thirds of the Legislative Council, and two-thirds of the SAR’s delegates to the NPC are required to place an amendment to the Basic Law on the agenda of the NPC, which has the sole power to amend the Basic Law.

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. Although the SAR continued to be relatively uncorrupt, there were isolated reports of government corruption.

Financial Disclosure: The SAR requires the most senior civil service and elected officials to declare their financial investments annually and senior working-level officials to do so biennially. Policy bureaus may impose additional reporting requirements for positions seen as having a greater risk of conflict of interest. The Civil Service Bureau monitors and verifies disclosures, which are available to the public. There are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

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 somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Prominent human rights activists and organizations critical of the central government also operated in the SAR.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an Office of the Ombudsman and an Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). The government recruits commissioners to represent both offices through a professional search committee, which solicits applications and vets candidates. Commissioners were independent in their operations. Both organizations operated without interference from the SAR government and published critical findings in their areas of responsibility. NGOs pointed out that the EOC had limited ability to conduct investigations.

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 without previous authorization or excessive requirements and to conduct legal strikes, but it does not protect the right to collective bargaining or obligate employers to bargain. Trade unions claimed the lack of collective bargaining rights and divisions in the labor movement weakened workers’ leverage in negotiations. The law explicitly prohibits civil servants from bargaining collectively.

The law prohibits firing an employee for striking and voids any section of an employment contract that punishes a worker for striking. The commissioner of police has broad authority to control and direct public gatherings, including strikes, in the interest of national security or public safety.

According to the law, an employer cannot fire, penalize, or discriminate against an employee who exercises his or her union rights and cannot prevent or deter the employee from exercising such rights. Penalties for violations of laws protecting union and related worker rights included fines as well as legal damages paid to workers, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Dismissed employees, however, had difficulty proving antiunion discrimination. In August, according to media reports, Cathay Pacific Airways (Cathay) warned employees that they may be fired if they joined a city-wide general strike. Cathay’s cabin crew union head Rebecca Sy told the press in August that Cathay Dragon, a Cathay subsidiary, fired her after company officials showed her printouts of proprotest movement postings on her private Facebook account.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, nor do laws specifically criminalize forced labor. Instead, the SAR uses its Employment and Theft Ordinances to prosecute labor violations and related offenses. Penalties for these offenses were not sufficient to deter violations.

NGOs expressed concerns some migrant workers, especially domestic workers in private homes, faced high levels of indebtedness assumed as part of the recruitment process, creating a risk they could fall victim to debt bondage. Domestic workers in Hong Kong were mostly female and mainly came from the Philippines, Indonesia, and other Southeast Asian countries. The SAR allows for the collection of maximum placement fees of 10 percent of the first month’s wages, but some recruitment firms required large up-front fees in the country of origin that workers struggled to repay. Some locally licensed employment agencies were suspected of colluding with agencies overseas to profit from debt schemes, and some local agencies illegally confiscated the passports and employment contracts of domestic workers and withheld them until they repaid the debt.

SAR authorities stated they encouraged aggrieved workers to file complaints and make use of government conciliation services as well as actively pursued reports of any labor violations.

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. Regulations prohibit employment of children younger than 15 in any industrial establishment. The law prohibits overtime in industrial establishments with employment in dangerous trades for persons younger than 18. Children between 13 and 14 may work in certain nonindustrial establishments, subject to conditions aimed at ensuring a minimum of nine years of education and protection for their safety, health, and welfare.

The Labor Department effectively enforced these laws and regularly inspected workplaces to enforce compliance with the regulations. Penalties for violations of child labor laws include fines and legal damages and were sufficient to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity, disability, family status (marital status or pregnancy), or sex. The law stipulates employers must prove that proficiency in a particular language is a justifiable job requirement if they reject a candidate on those grounds. Regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status.

The government generally enforced these laws and regulations. In cases in which employment discrimination occurred, the SAR’s courts had broad powers to levy penalties on those who violated these laws and regulations.

Human rights activists and local scholars continued to raise concerns about job prospects for minority students, who were more likely to hold low-paying, low-skilled jobs and earn below-average wages. Experts assessed that a lack of Chinese-language skills was the greatest barrier to employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The statutory minimum wage was below the poverty line for an average-sized household. There were many press reports regarding poor conditions faced by and underpayment of wages to domestic workers.

There is no law concerning working hours, paid weekly rest, rest breaks, or compulsory overtime for most employees. Several labor groups reported that employers expected extremely long hours, and the groups called for legislation to address that concern.

Laws exist to provide for health and safety of workers in the workplace. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Employers are required to report any injuries sustained by their employees in work-related accidents.

The government effectively enforced the law, and the Labor Tribunal adjudicated disputes involving nonpayment or underpayment of wages and wrongful dismissal. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to deter violations except in the cases of nonpayment or underpayment of wages to and working conditions of domestic workers. Penalties for violations of the minimum wage or occupational safety and health violations include fines, payments of damages, and worker’s compensation payments. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the Labor Department is responsible for safety and health promotion, identification of unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety management legislation, and policy formulation and implementation; it enforced occupational safety and health laws effectively.

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Colombia

Executive Summary

Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. Presidential and legislative elections were held in 2018. In June 2018, voters elected Ivan Duque Marquez president in a second round of elections that observers considered free and fair and the most peaceful in decades.

The Colombian National Police (CNP) force is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The Migration Directorate, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the immigration authority. The CNP shares law enforcement investigatory duties with the attorney general’s Corps of Technical Investigators. In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; reports of torture and arbitrary detention by both government security forces and illegal armed groups; criminalization of libel; widespread corruption; rape and abuse of women and children by illegal armed groups; violence and threats of violence against human rights defenders and social leaders; violence against and forced displacement of Afro-Colombian and indigenous persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; forced child labor; and killings and other violence against trade unionists.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, although some cases experienced long delays that raised concerns about accountability.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) perpetrated armed attacks across the country during the year, including a car bomb attack on a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 persons. Other illegal armed groups, including dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and drug-trafficking gangs, continued to operate. Illegal armed groups, as well as narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of human rights abuses and violent crimes and committed acts of extrajudicial and unlawful killings, extortion, and other abuses, such as kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, bombings and use of landmines, restriction on freedom of movement, sexual violence, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and intimidation of journalists, women, and human rights defenders. The government investigated these actions and prosecuted those responsible to the extent possible.

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. Violence and harassment, as well as the criminalization of libel, inhibited freedom of the press, and the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: According to the domestic NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), through August 16, there were 83 threats against journalists and 250 incidents of violence or harassment. FLIP also reported that between January and August, no journalists were illegally detained and 21 were physically assaulted. One was ordered detained for failure to comply with a protective order related to a defamation case, but the detention order was never enforced. According to FLIP, there were three convictions for threats against journalists through September.

As of June 30, the NPU provided protection services to 162 journalists. Some NGOs raised concerns about perceived shortcomings in the NPU, such as delays in granting protection and the appropriateness of measures for addressing specific threats.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: FLIP alleged some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of being sued under libel laws or of being physically attacked, mostly by nongovernment actors. FLIP asserted that the high degree of impunity for those who committed aggressions against journalists was also a factor.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law slander and libel are crimes. There is no specific law against slandering public officials, and the government did not use prosecution to prevent media outlets from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, publicly threatened to sue journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported one defamation case filed against a journalist during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Members of illegal armed groups inhibited freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups. For example, NGOs reported on the June killing of Libardo Montenegro, a reporter for the community radio station in Samaniego, Narino. No arrests were made, but NGOs reported the killing might have been a response to Montenegro’s coverage of drug-related violence in the region. In August, five journalists in Valle de Cauca received threats via text message after reporting on power cuts to municipalities in the area. Those responsible for the threats were unknown.

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. The government generally respected these rights, although there were exceptions. Military operations and insecurity in certain rural areas restricted freedom of movement.

In-country Movement: The government required asylum seekers and individuals without regularized migration status to have salvaconductos (safe passage documents) to travel throughout the country. Organized-crime gangs, ELN guerrillas, and other illegal armed groups continued to establish illegal checkpoints on rural roads.

International and civil society organizations also reported that illegal armed groups confined rural communities through roadblocks, curfews, car bombs at egress routes, and improvised explosive devices in areas where illicit crop cultivation and narcotics trafficking persisted. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between January and August, more than 342,000 persons faced mobility restrictions that limited their access to essential goods and services due to armed incidents and geographical factors.

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. The government reported it had approved 86 requests for recognition of refugee status of the 6,451 applications it received from 2016 to July 23, 2019. Venezuelans represented approximately 95 percent of applications during the year. Authorities stated the asylum process took at least one year, during which applicants were given a permit to stay in the country but were not allowed to work. In October the government opened an asylum office in Bogota to increase its capacity to process a backlog of more than 5,000 cases.

During the year there was a large increase in migration flows from Venezuela. According to migration officials, as of November the country hosted more than 1.5 million Venezuelans. While the government generally provided access to the asylum process for persons who requested international protection, many opted for alternative migration status. In August the government issued an administrative resolution granting Colombian citizenship to Venezuelan children born in Colombia on or after August 19, 2015, immediately granting citizenship to 24,000 children.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary residence permits (PEPs) to Venezuelans who met certain eligibility requirements. Approximately 600,000 Venezuelans who entered with passports legally were granted PEPs in 2017-18, according to migration officials. PEPs provide access to work, primary and secondary education, and the social insurance system as well as the ability to open bank accounts. The temporary residency permit is valid for up to two years. In August the government announced a two-year extension for PEPs issued in 2017.

According to UNHCR, there were more than nine million persons of concern (including refugees, asylum seekers, IDPs, returned IDPs, returned refugees, stateless persons, and others of concern) residing in the country in 2018, compared with 7.7 million in 2017.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal suffrage. Active-duty members of the armed forces and police may neither vote nor participate in the political process. Civilian public employees are eligible to vote, although they may participate in partisan politics only during the four months immediately preceding a national election.

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, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices without punishment. The World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators reflected that government corruption was a serious problem. Revenues from transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking, exacerbated corruption.

Corruption: Through September the Attorney General’s Office registered 31,239 allegations related to corruption and had formally begun investigating 4,014. In September authorities sentenced Aida Merlano to 15 years in prison for buying votes to win a seat in the March 2018 election for seats in Congress. The first politician to be jailed for buying votes, Merlano escaped police custody on October 1 and remained at large as of November.

Financial Disclosure: By law public officials must file annual financial disclosure forms with the tax authority. The information is not made public. The law states that persons who intend to hold public office or work as contractors for the government for more than three months shall submit a statement of assets and income as well as information on their private economic activity. The human resources chief in each entity is responsible for verifying the information submitted. Congress maintained a website on which members could voluntarily post their financial information.

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 typically cooperative and willing to listen to local human rights groups’ concerns.

Several NGOs reported receiving threats in the form of email, mail, telephone calls, false obituaries, and objects related to death, such as coffins and funeral bouquets. The government condemned the threats and called on the Attorney General’s Office to investigate them. Some activists claimed the government did not take the threats seriously.

The government announced advances in the investigations into attacks and killings of human rights defenders and assigned priority resources to these cases.

Through July the Attorney General’s Office reported 753 active investigations into threats against human rights defenders. There were three convictions in cases of threats against human rights defenders during the year.

As of May 31, the NPU’s protection program provided protection to a total of 7,313 individuals. Among the NPU’s protected persons were 4,519 human rights activists.

To help monitor and verify that human rights were respected throughout implementation of the peace accord, the government formally renewed the mandate of the OHCHR in October for a period of three years. The accord requests that the OHCHR include a “special chapter on implementation of the agreements from the standpoint of human rights” in its annual reports.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman is independent, submits an annual report to the House of Representatives, and has responsibility for providing for the promotion and exercise of human rights. According to human rights groups, underfunding of the Ombudsman’s Office limited its ability to monitor violations effectively. The ombudsman, as well as members of his regional offices, reported threats from illegal armed groups issued through pamphlets, email, and violent actions.

The National System for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law–led by a commission of 18 senior government officials, including the vice president–designs, implements, and evaluates the government’s policies on human rights and international humanitarian law. The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights coordinates national human rights policy and actions taken by government entities to promote or protect human rights.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives have human rights committees that served as forums for discussion of human rights problems.

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, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and it prohibits antiunion discrimination. Members of associated workers’ cooperatives are not allowed to form unions, since the law recognizes members of a cooperative as owners. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police from forming or joining unions. The law provides for automatic recognition of unions that obtain 25 signatures from potential members and that comply with a registration process. Public-sector employees have the right to bargain collectively. The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining in practice.

The law permits associated workers’ cooperatives (CTAs), collective pacts, and union contracts. Under collective pacts, employers may negotiate accords on pay and labor conditions with workers in workplaces where no union is present or where a union represents less than one-third of employees. Law and regulations prohibit the use of CTAs and collective pacts to undermine the right to organize and bargain collectively, including by extending better conditions to nonunion workers through such pacts. Through a union contract, a company may contract a union, at times formed explicitly for this purpose, for a specific job or work; the union then in essence serves as an employer for its members. Workers who belong to a union that has a union contract with a company do not have a direct employment relationship with either the company or the union. Labor disputes for workers under a union contract may be decided through an arbitration panel versus labor courts if both parties agree.

The law does not permit members of the armed forces, police, and persons performing “essential public services” to strike. Before conducting a strike, unions must follow prescribed legal procedures, including entering into a conversation period with the employer, presenting a list of demands, and gaining majority approval in the union for a strike. The law limits strikes to periods of contract negotiations or collective bargaining and allows employers to fire trade unionists who participate in strikes or work stoppages ruled illegal by the courts.

Government enforcement of applicable laws was inconsistent. Despite significant steps by the Ministry of Labor to strengthen its labor law inspection system, the government did not provide sufficient staffing or resources or establish a consistent national strategy to protect the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The government did not have in place a system to ensure timely and regular collection of fines related to these protections and structural challenges adversely affected prosecutions, which resulted in a continued high rate of impunity for violators of these rights, including in cases of threats and violence against unionists.

The government has the authority to fine labor-rights violators. The penalties under the law would be sufficient to deter violations but were not levied consistently. The law also stipulates that offenders repeatedly misusing CTAs or other labor relationships shall receive the maximum penalty and may be subject to losing their legal status to operate. Employers who engage in antiunion practices may also be imprisoned for up to five years, although government officials admitted a fine was more likely than imprisonment. Prohibited practices include impeding workers’ right to strike, meet, or otherwise associate and extending better conditions to members of collective pacts than to union members.

The Ministry of Labor’s Special Investigations Unit, which is part of the labor inspectorate and overseen by the vice minister for labor relations and inspections, continued to exercise its power to investigate and impose sanctions in any jurisdiction. The vice minister for labor relations decides on a case-by-case basis whether to assign the Special Investigations Unit or the regional inspectors to investigate certain sites or review particular cases. The unit was reportedly overburdened with cases, resulting in denials of recent union requests for review by the unit.

The Ministry of Labor leads a tripartite Interinstitutional Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Workers, with participation by the government, organized labor groups, and the business community. As of June the commission met two times during the year in Bogota.

As part of its commitments under the 2011 Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights (Labor Action Plan), the government continued to take steps to protect internationally recognized labor rights. Labor inspections by the Ministry of Labor for abusive subcontracting in the five priority sectors of palm oil, sugar, ports, mines, and cut flowers remained infrequent, however. Critics claimed inspections lacked necessary rigor, assessed fines were not collected, and abusive subcontracting continued. In the first six months of the year, there were no new fines assessed for illegal labor intermediation or for violations of freedom of association in any of the five priority sectors. During this time there were also no fines collected in any of the five priority sectors for such violations, although four fines for violations from previous years were finalized for future collection. The government continued to engage in regular meetings with unions and civil society groups.

The Ministry of Labor, in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO), continued to train labor inspectors through a virtual training campus to prepare labor inspectors to identify antiunion conduct, among other violations. It also implemented methods, including contract and process maps, as strategic planning tools to prioritize interventions. The ministry continued to employ a telephone- and internet-based complaint mechanism to report alleged labor violations. Union members complained that the systems did not allow citizens to register anonymous complaints and noted that complaints registered through the telephone and internet systems did not result in action.

Judicial police, the Technical Investigation Body, and prosecutors investigating criminal cases of threats and killings are required to determine during the initial phase of an investigation whether a victim is an active or retired union member or is actively engaged in union formation and organization, but it was unclear whether they did so. It could take several months to transfer cases from regional field offices of the Attorney General’s Office to the Attorney General’s Human Rights Directorate, and cases are transferred only with the approval of the attorney general in response to direct requests, instead of automatically.

The government continued to include in its protection program for labor activists persons engaged in efforts to form a union as well as former unionists under threat because of their past activities. As of May the NPU was providing protection to 306 trade union leaders or members. Approximately 6 percent of the NPU’s budget was dedicated to unionist protection as of April. Between January 1 and July, the NPU processed 185 risk assessments of union leaders or members; 108 of those individuals were assessed as facing an “extraordinary threat,” and the NPU provided them protection measures. The NPU reported that during the year the average time needed to implement protection measures upon completion of a risk analysis was 60 days in regular cases or five days for emergency cases. NGOs, however, complained about slow processing times.

The protection and relocation of teachers falls under the Ministry of National Education and the departmental education secretaries, but the NPU retains some responsibilities for the risk analysis and protection of family members. Through July 31, the NPU evaluated 78 threat cases against teachers and found 50 to be facing extraordinary risk.

In cases of unionist killings from previous years, the pace of investigations and convictions remained slow, and high rates of impunity continued, although progress was made in the rate of case resolution. The Attorney General’s Office reported receiving 205 cases of homicides of unionists between January 2011 and June 2019. Whereas between January 2011 and August 2016, 20 sentences for homicides were issued, between September 2016 and June 2019–following the creation of an “elite group” and implementation of a strategy to prioritize cases of homicides against unionists–29 sentences were issued. Labor groups stated more needed to be done to address impunity for perpetrators of violence against trade unionists and the large number of threat cases.

Violence, threats, harassment, and other practices against trade unionists continued to affect the exercise of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. According to the Attorney General’s Office, through September 19, one teacher was registered as a victim in cases of homicide.

The Attorney General’s Office reported the killing of 27 trade unionists between January 2018 and June 2019. There was progress in the investigation and prosecution of several of these cases, with persons implicated in three of the cases receiving a sentence, five cases in which trials were continuing, and three cases in which charges had been filed. The National Union School (ENS), a labor rights NGO and think tank, reported 11 trade unionists were killed through August. The ENS and other labor groups stated that focusing on killings alone masked the true nature and scope of the violence against labor activists. Labor groups noted that in some regions, nonlethal violations continued to increase. The ENS reported 136 death threats, six nonlethal attacks, two cases of forced displacement, four cases of harassment, and one illegal raid.

Unions cited multiple instances in which companies fired employees who formed or sought to form new unions. Some employers continued to use temporary contracts, service agencies, and other forms of subcontracting, including cooperatives, to limit worker rights and protections. Fines assessed by the government did little to dissuade violators because fines were often not collected. The government continued to reach formalization agreements with firms engaged in abusive subcontracting or that had labor conflict during the year. In the first six months of the year, the government reported 480 workers benefited from 15 formalization agreements that the Ministry of Labor reached with employers in key sectors, including manufacturing, health, transport, and hospitality. During this time, however, there were no formalization agreements reached in any of the five priority sectors. Labor rights groups expressed concern that previously signed formalization agreements were not sufficiently monitored by the ministry.

Labor confederations and NGOs reported that business owners in several sectors used “simplified stock corporations” (SAS), union contracts, foundations, or temporary service agencies in attempts to circumvent legal restrictions on cooperatives. While in theory SAS workers may exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively with SAS management, it appeared that in some cases the SAS had little or no control over the conditions of employment. The Ministry of Labor stated that an SAS, like any corporate structure, may be fined for labor violations. Labor confederations and NGOs reported these enforcement actions did not address the scope of abusive subcontracting and illegal labor intermediation in the country.

The port workers’ labor union reported Buenaventura port operators engaged in abusive subcontracting through SAS and that Ministry of Labor inspections and adjudication of cases at the Buenaventura port were ineffective in safeguarding the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

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 in all cases, and there continued to be reports that such practices occurred. The law prescribes punishments sufficient to deter violations. The ILO noted the law permits military conscripts to be compelled to undertake work beyond that of a military nature, such as activities designed to protect the environment or natural resources.

There were reports ELN guerrillas and organized-crime gangs used forced labor, including forced child labor, in coca cultivation and illegal mining in areas outside government control as well as forced criminality, such as extortion, in urban areas. The ICBF indicated that between November 16, 1999, and July 31, 2019, the number of children and adolescents who had demobilized from illegal armed groups was 6,700, of whom 11 percent were indigenous and 8 percent Afro-Colombian.

Forced labor in other sectors, including organized begging, mining, agriculture (especially near the coffee belt), cattle herding, crop harvesting, forced recruitment by illegal armed actors, and domestic service, remained a serious problem. Afro-Colombians, indigenous persons, and inhabitants of marginalized urban areas were at the highest risk of forced labor, domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced recruitment. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and the Ministry of Labor did not report having a protocol to connect labor inspectors with police in cases of forced 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 sets the minimum age for employment at 15 and for hazardous work at 18. Children 15 and 16 years of age may work no more than 30 hours per week, and children age 17 may work no more than 40 hours per week. Children younger than 15 may work in arts, sports, or recreational or cultural activities for a maximum of 14 hours per week. In all these cases, working children and adolescents must have signed documentation filed by their parents and be approved by a labor inspector or other local authority.

The law prohibits child workers from working at night or where there is a risk of bodily harm or exposure to excessive heat, cold, or noise. The law authorizes inspectors to issue fines that would be sufficient to deter violations, but the government did not enforce the law effectively in all cases. A violation deemed to endanger a child’s life or threaten moral values may be punished by temporary or permanent closure of the establishment. Nationwide, labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing child labor laws and supervising the formal sector through periodic inspections. An estimated 80 percent of all child labor, however, occurred in the informal sector of the economy. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively.

Government agencies carried out several activities to eradicate and prevent exploitative child labor. The Ministry of Labor conducted 1,142 worksite inspections from July 2018 through June 2019 to ensure that adolescent workers were employed with proper authorization and received proper protections. Seven authorizations were revoked as a result of these inspections. With ILO assistance the government continued to improve cooperation among national, regional, and municipal governments on child labor problems. It also continued to employ a monitoring system to register working children, although the system was not always regularly updated. The government also sought to reduce demand for child labor through public awareness and training efforts, often working with international and civil society organizations.

The government, through the Ministry of Labor, followed the National Policy to Prevent and Eliminate Child Labor and Protect the Young Worker, updated for the period 2019-29. It also continued its roundtable discussion group, which included government representatives, members of the three largest labor confederations, and civil society. The group concentrated its efforts on formalizing an integrated registration system for information on child labor that would permit public and private entities to register information about child workers.

The government, including through a cooperative agreement between the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the ICBF, continued to combat illegal mining and formalize artisanal mining production, with goals including the elimination of child labor and forced labor. Regional ICBF offices led efforts to combat child labor in mining at the local level, working with the Ministry of Labor and other government agencies to coordinate responses. The Department for Social Prosperity continued to implement the More Families in Action program to combat poverty through conditional cash transfers, which included a specific focus on addressing child labor. In interagency child labor meetings, the Ministry of Labor reported that whichever government presence was available in the area–whether police, the ICBF, teachers, or the Administrative Department for Social Prosperity–attended to children found working in illegal mining operations. While all agencies had directives on how to handle and report child labor cases, it was unclear whether all cases were referred to the ICBF.

The ICBF continued to implement several initiatives aimed at preventing child labor, including producing an extensive section of its website designed specifically for young audiences to educate children on child labor, their rights, and how to report child labor. The Ministry of Labor continued its work with the Network against Child Labor in which the ministry operated alongside member businesses that pledged to work within the network to prevent and eradicate child labor.

Child labor remained a problem in the informal and illicit sectors. Although the government did not publish data on child labor, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) collected and published information on the economic activities of children between the ages of five and 17 through a module in its Comprehensive Household Economic Survey during the fourth quarter of each calendar year. According to DANE’s most recent survey, conducted in 2018, 5.9 percent of children were working, with 43 percent of those engaged in agriculture, livestock raising, fishing, and hunting and 28 percent in commerce, hotels, and restaurant work. To a lesser extent, children were engaged in the manufacturing and transport sectors. Children also routinely performed domestic work, where they cared for children, prepared meals, tended gardens, and carried out shopping duties. DANE reported that 48 percent of children who were economically engaged did not receive remuneration.

Significant rates of child labor occurred in the production of clay bricks, coal, coffee, emeralds, gold, coca, pornography, and sugarcane. Forced child labor was prevalent in the production of coca. Children were also engaged in street vending, domestic work, begging, and garbage scavenging. There were reports that children engaged in child labor in agriculture, including coffee production and small family production centers in the unrefined brown sugar market, as well as selling inexpensive Venezuelan gasoline. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).

Prohibitions against children working in mining and construction were reportedly largely ignored. Some educational institutions modify schedules during harvest seasons so that children may help on the family farm. Children worked in the artisanal mining of coal, clay, emeralds, and gold under dangerous conditions and in many instances with the approval or insistence of their parents. The government’s efforts to assist children working in illegal mining focused on the departments of Amazonas, Antioquia, Bolivar, Boyaca, Caldas, Cauca, Cesar, Choco, Cordoba, Cundinamarca, La Guajira, Narino, Norte de Santander, and Valle del Cauca.

There continued to be instances of child trafficking with the purpose of forced labor in mines, quarries, and private homes. According to government officials and international organizations, illegal drug traders and other illicit actors recruited children, sometimes forcibly, to work in their illegal activities. The ELN and organized-crime gangs forced children into sexual servitude or criminality to serve as combatants or coca pickers (see section 1.g.). Children working in the informal sector, including as street vendors, were also vulnerable to labor trafficking. The ICBF identified children and adolescents who qualified for and received social services.

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 with respect to employment or occupation based on race, ethnicity, sex, religion, political preference, national origin or citizenship, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or infection with other communicable diseases, or social status. Complaints of quid pro quo sexual harassment are filed not with the Ministry of Labor but with the criminal courts. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases.

Unemployment disproportionately affected women, who faced hiring discrimination and received salaries that generally were not commensurate with their education and experience. The NGO Sisma Mujer reported that on average women were paid 28 percent less than men. In a previous year, a senior government official estimated that 85 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed. Afro-Colombian labor unions reported discrimination in the port sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legal minimum monthly wage is approximately twice the amount of the poverty line; however, almost one-half of the total workforce earned less than the minimum wage.

The law provides for a regular workweek of 48 hours and a minimum rest period of eight hours within the week. Exceptions to this may be granted by the Ministry of Labor and were frequently granted in the mining sector. The law stipulates that workers receive premium compensation for nighttime work, hours worked in excess of 48 per week, and work performed on Sundays. The law permits compulsory overtime only in exceptional cases where the work is considered essential for the company’s functioning.

The law provides for workers’ occupational safety and health in the formal sector. The legal standards were generally up to date and appropriate for the main formal industries. The law does not cover informal-sector workers, including many mining and agricultural workers. In general, the law protects workers’ rights to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although some violations of this right were reported during the year. In cases of formal grievances, authorities generally protected employees in this situation.

The Ministry of Labor is required to enforce labor laws in the formal sector, including occupational safety and health regulations, through periodic inspections by labor inspectors. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. In April 2018 the Civil Service Commission held a national examination that provided opportunities for labor inspectors in provisional appointments to become permanently hired inspectors. Many of these inspectors failed to pass the examination, however, resulting in high turnover during the year. In August the Ministry of Labor reported that approximately 245 inspectors remained in provisional status. Individual labor violations can result in penalties insufficient to deter violations. Unionists stated that more fines needed to be collected to impact occupational safety and health problems.

While the government’s labor inspectors undertook administrative actions to enforce the minimum wage in the formal sector, the government did not effectively enforce the law in the informal sector.

The Ministry of Labor continued to promote formal employment generation. As of July, DANE reported that 50.6 percent of workers employed in 13 principal cities were paying into the pension system. The proportion of informal workers in 23 cities and metropolitan areas surveyed was 47.5 percent, according to DANE. The government continued to support complementary social security programs to increase the employability of extremely poor individuals, displaced persons, and the elderly.

Nonunion workers, particularly those in the agricultural and port sectors, reportedly worked under hazardous conditions because they feared losing their jobs through subcontracting mechanisms or informal arrangements if they reported abuses. Some unionized workers who alleged they suffered on-the-job injuries complained that companies illegally fired them in retaliation for filing workers compensation claims. Only the courts may order reinstatement, and workers complained the courts were backlogged, slow, and corrupt. The Ministry of Labor may sanction a company found to have broken the law in this way, but it may offer no other guarantees to workers.

Security forces reported that illegal armed actors, including FARC dissidents, the ELN, and organized-crime groups, engaged in illegal mining of gold, coal, coltan, nickel, copper, and other minerals. Illegal mines were particularly common in the departments of Antioquia, Boyaca, Choco, Cundinamarca, and Valle del Cauca.

According to the National Mining Agency, through August 7, a total of 56 workers died as a result of accidents in the mines, the majority due to cave-ins.

Dominican Republic

Executive Summary

The Dominican Republic is a representative constitutional democracy. In 2016 Danilo Medina of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) was re-elected president for a second four-year term. Impartial outside observers assessed the election as generally free and orderly.

The National Police and the Tourist Police maintain internal security. They report to the Minister of Interior and Police and through him to the president. The Airport Security Authority, Port Security Authority, and Border Security Corps have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Armed Forces and through that ministry to the president. The National Drug Control Directorate, which has personnel from both the police and the armed forces, reports directly to the president. The National Department of Intelligence reports directly to the president. Both the National Drug Control Directorate and the National Department of Intelligence have significant domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; torture by police and other government agents; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; criminal libel for individual journalists; serious government corruption; police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and forced and child labor.

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

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. Media expressed a wide variety of views, but the concentration of media ownership, weaknesses in the judiciary, and political influence limited the media’s independence.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals and groups were generally able to criticize the government publicly and privately without reprisal, although there were several incidents in which authorities intimidated members of the press. In September a television news program hosted by a well known journalist was canceled two days after presenting an investigative report alleging that the attorney general’s sister received no-bid government contracts worth 750 million pesos ($15 million), positioning her as the sole supplier of asphalt products to the government. The program demonstrated that at the time the contracts were signed, the sister was drawing a salary as an employee of the Ministry of Public Works. The journalist alleged his program was canceled after the attorney general called the station owner and threatened legal action. On September 30, the journalists’ association held a press conference denouncing political interference to silence reporting on corruption.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists and other persons who worked in media were occasionally harassed or physically attacked. Some media outlets reported that journalists, specifically in rural areas, received threats for investigating or denouncing criminal groups or official corruption. In October a local television commentator in Monte Plata Province reported he received threats due to his coverage critical of local politicians’ connections with narcotics traffickers. The Inter American Press Association reported journalists suffered violent attacks from military and police security details of government officials, particularly while covering civil-society-led protests.

Some media outlets chose to omit the bylines of journalists reporting on drug trafficking and other security matters to protect the individual journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution provides for protection of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and includes a “conscience clause” allowing journalists to refuse reporting assignments. Journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when coverage could adversely affect the economic or political interests of media owners. Observers suggested the government influenced the press through advertising contracts. A prominent journalist who hosted a highly rated news and commentary television show stated that her exit from traditional media was one example of the government’s influence on media outlets. She highlighted that the government spent close to 12.5 million pesos ($250,000 daily) in advertisements.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamation and insult, with harsher punishment for offenses committed against public or state figures than for offenses against private individuals. The Dominican College of Journalists reported that journalists were sued by politicians, government officials, and the private sector to pressure them to stop reporting. The law penalizes libel for statements concerning the private lives of certain public figures, including government officials and foreign heads of state.

In July the Constitutional Tribunal annulled an article in the electoral law that set prison sentences of three to 10 years for defamatory and libelous messages and for false campaigns published through media that damage the honor and privacy of political candidates. The tribunal ruled the article violated the right to freedom of speech established in the constitution. The tribunal also declared unconstitutional a paragraph in the law that penalized the publication of negative messages on social media that damage the public image of candidates.

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, with some exceptions.

In-country Movement: Civil society representatives reported that citizens of Haitian descent, those perceived to be a Haitian, and Haitian migrants faced obstacles while traveling within the country. NGOs reported that security forces at times asked travelers to show immigration and citizenship documents at road checkpoints throughout the country. Citizens of Haitian descent and migrants without valid identity documents reported fear of swift deportation when traveling within the country, especially near the border with Haiti (see also section 1.d.).

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Government officials and NGOs estimated between 40,000 and 100,000 Venezuelans lived in the country. In December the government instituted a regulation requiring Venezuelans to apply for a tourist visa before entry into the country. Previously, Venezuelans needed only a valid passport and could receive a tourist visa at the point of entry. Many Venezuelans resident in the country entered legally before the new regulation and stayed longer than the three-month allowance.

The government did not issue guidelines to facilitate the regularization of status for Venezuelans living in the country. The inability to apply for in-country adjustment of status hindered Venezuelans’ access to basic services and increased their vulnerability to labor exploitation and trafficking. Venezuelan immigrant associations, with the support of the IOM, coordinated with Dominican government entities to provide public-health and essential legal services for Venezuelan immigrants.

Refoulement: Although the constitution prohibits administrative detention and the law establishes that asylum seekers should not be detained under any circumstance, there were reports of persons potentially in need of international protection being denied admission at the point of entry and subsequently being deported to their countries of origin without being granted access to the asylum process (see also section 1.d.).

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. While the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, it did not effectively implement it. The government recognized and issued identity documents to very few refugees during the past few years. The government did not respond to requests for the current number of asylum seekers.

The National Office of Refugees in the Migration Directorate of the National Commission for Refugees (CONARE) is an interministerial body responsible for adjudicating asylum claims. The law requires individuals to apply for asylum within 15 days of arrival in the country. If an asylum seeker is in the country for more than 15 days and does not apply for asylum, the individual permanently loses the right to apply for asylum. The law also rejects any asylum application from an individual who was in, or who proceeds from, a foreign country where the individual could have sought asylum. Thus, the government makes inadmissibility determinations administratively before an asylum interview or evaluation by CONARE.

According to refugee NGOs, there was no information posted at ports of entry to provide notice of the right to seek asylum, or of the timeline and process for doing so. Furthermore, NGOs reported that immigration officials did not appear to understand how to handle asylum cases consistent with the country’s international commitments. By law the government must give due process to asylum seekers. Persons expressing a fear of return to their country of nationality or habitual residence should be allowed to apply for asylum under the proper procedures. Nonetheless, there was generally neither judicial review of deportation orders nor any third-party review of “credible fear” determinations.

UN officials reported asylum seekers were not properly notified of inadmissibility decisions. CONARE did not provide rejected asylum seekers with details of the grounds for the rejection of their asylum application or with information on the appeal process. Rejected applicants received a letter saying they had 30 days to leave the country voluntarily. Government policy is that from the time they receive the notice of denial, rejected asylum seekers have seven days to file an appeal. The letter providing the notice of denial does not mention this right of appeal.

UN officials said a lack of due process in migration procedures resulted in arbitrary detention of persons of concern with no administrative or judicial review (see also section 1.d.). As a result, asylum seekers and refugees in the country were at risk of refoulement and prolonged detention.

During the year government authorities participated in UNHCR-sponsored training designed to ensure that asylum procedures are fair, efficient, and gender-sensitive. Reports of discriminatory practices against female asylum seekers and refugees continued, however. The country failed to implement a gender-sensitive identification system for female asylum seekers and refugees, including potential victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Freedom of Movement: Persons claiming asylum often waited months to receive a certificate as an asylum seeker and to be registered in the government database. The certificate must be renewed every 30 days in the national office in Santo Domingo, forcing asylum seekers who live outside Santo Domingo to return to the capital monthly or lose their claim to asylum. Asylum seekers with pending cases only had this certificate, or nothing at all, to present to avoid deportation. This restricted their freedom of movement. In cases where approved asylum seekers were detained for lack of documentation, refugee organizations were able to advocate for their release.

Some refugees recognized by CONARE were either issued travel documents that were not accepted in visa application processes, or they were not issued travel documents at all.

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

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

Temporary Protection: The law enables undocumented migrants in the country to apply for temporary legal residency. Although the exact number of undocumented migrants was unknown, the law granted temporary residency status to more than 260,000 applicants (97 percent of whom were Haitian). As of August 2018, 196,000 persons renewed temporary status, which was due to expire in 2020. Civil society organizations expressed concern that many plan participants lacked passports, which could hinder their ability to renew their status.

No temporary residence documents were granted to asylum seekers; those found to be admissible to the process were issued a certificate that provided them with protection from deportation but did not confer other rights. This certificate often took months to be delivered to asylum seekers. Due in part to this delay, both refugees and asylum seekers lived on the margins of the migration system. Foreigners often were asked to present legal migration documents to obtain legal assistance or access the judicial system; therefore, many refugees and asylum seekers were unable to access legal help for situations they faced under criminal, labor, family, or civil law.

Refugees recognized by CONARE underwent annual re-evaluation of their need for international protection, a procedure counter to international standards. Refugees were issued one-year temporary residence permits that could not be converted to a permanent residence permit.

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 nearly universal and equal suffrage. The constitution prohibits active-duty police and military personnel from voting or participating in partisan political activities.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The attorney general investigated allegedly corrupt officials.

NGOs noted the greatest hindrance to effective investigations was a lack of political will to prosecute individuals accused of corruption, particularly well connected individuals or high-level politicians. Government corruption remained a serious problem and a public grievance.

Corruption: In September the Supreme Court began a trial against six of the 14 defendants indicted in 2017 for alleged links to $92 million in bribes paid by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to obtain public works contracts. The six defendants included a senator, a lower house representative, a former senator, and a former minister of public works. Civil society welcomed the trial as a step forward in the fight against corruption, but activists highlighted what they perceived as a lack of political will thoroughly to investigate the case, which involved the country’s political and economic elites.

In June an International Consortium of Investigative Journalists report revealed that in addition to the publicly reported $92 million in bribes, Odebrecht distributed another $39.5 million in inducements during the construction of the Punta Catalina coal-fired power plant. After this report was made public, the Attorney General’s Office questioned financial consultants involved in the plant’s tendering process but did not file any additional charges. The attorney general and a government-appointed commission previously dismissed allegations of irregularity in the plant’s contracting process.

NGOs criticized the widespread practice of awarding government positions as political patronage. They alleged many civil servants received a government salary without performing any work. Some small municipalities had more employees on the payroll than their physical offices could accommodate.

NGOs and individual citizens regularly reported acts of corruption by various law enforcement officials, including police officers, immigration officials, and prison officials. The government on occasion used nonjudicial punishments for corruption, including dismissal or transfer of military personnel, police officers, judges, and other minor officials. Widespread acceptance and tolerance of petty corruption, however, hampered anticorruption efforts.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president, vice president, members of congress, some agency heads, and some other officials, including tax and customs duty collectors, to declare their personal property within 30 days of being hired, elected, or re-elected as well as when they end their responsibilities. These declarations are made public. The constitution further requires public officials to declare the provenance of their property. The Chamber of Accounts is responsible for receiving and reviewing these declarations. Many public officials did not comply. NGOs questioned the veracity of the declarations, as amounts often fluctuated significantly from year to year, and total declared assets often appeared unrealistically low.

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

A number of domestic and international organizations generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views, human rights groups that advocated for the rights of Haitians and persons of Haitian descent faced occasional government obstruction.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution establishes the position of human rights ombudsman. The ombudsman’s functions are to safeguard human rights and protect collective interests. There is also a human rights commission, chaired by the minister of foreign affairs and the attorney general. The Attorney General’s Office has its own human rights division.

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, with the exception of the military and police, to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; however, it places several restrictions on these rights. For example, a requirement, considered excessive by the ILO, restricts trade union rights by requiring unions to represent 51 percent of the workers in an enterprise in order to bargain collectively. In addition the law prohibits strikes until mandatory mediation requirements have been met. Formal requirements for a strike to be legal also include the support of an absolute majority of all company workers for the strike, written notification to the Ministry of Labor, and a 10-day waiting period following notification before the strike can proceed. Government workers and essential public service personnel may not strike. The government considers teachers as essential, as are public service workers in communications, water supply, energy supply, hospitals, and pharmacies.

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

The government did not effectively enforce laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Enforcement and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The process for addressing labor violations through criminal courts can take years, leaving workers with limited protection in the meantime. There were reports of intimidation, threats, and blackmail by employers to prevent union activity. Some unions required members to provide identity documents to participate in the union despite the fact that the labor code protects all workers regardless of their legal status.

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

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

Unions in the FTZs, which are subject to the same labor laws as all other workers, reported that their members hesitated to discuss union activity at work due to fear of losing their jobs. Unions accused some FTZ companies of dismissing workers who attempted to organize unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes imprisonment and fines for persons convicted of engaging in forced labor. Such penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

The government reported it received no forced labor complaints during the year but there were reports of forced labor of adults and children in construction, agriculture, and services.

The law applies equally to exploitation of migrant workers, but Haitian workers’ lack of documentation and uncertain legal status in the country made them more vulnerable to forced labor. NGOs reported many irregular Haitian laborers and citizens of Haitian descent did not exercise their rights due to fear of being fired or deported.

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 age 14 and places restrictions on the employment of children younger than age 16, limiting their working hours to six hours per day. For persons younger than age 18, the law limits night work and prohibits employment in dangerous work such as work involving hazardous substances, heavy or dangerous machinery, and carrying heavy loads. The law provides penalties for child labor violations, including fines and prison sentences. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Labor, in coordination with the National Council for Children and Adolescents, the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Specialized Corps for Tourist Safety Local Vigilance Committees, is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, and they did effectively enforce the law. The government has established mechanisms to coordinate its efforts on child labor.

The porous border with Haiti allowed some Haitian children to be trafficked into the country, where they were forced into commercial sexual exploitation or forced to work in agriculture, often alongside their parents, domestic work, street vending, or begging (see also section 6).

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 constitution creates a right of equality and nondiscrimination, regardless of sex, skin color, age, disability, nationality, family ties, language, religion, political opinion or philosophy, and social or personal condition. The law prohibits discrimination, exclusion, or preference in employment, but there is no law against discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The government did not effectively enforce the law against discrimination in employment. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to HIV/AIDS-positive persons; and against persons with disabilities, persons of darker skin color, those of Haitian nationality, and women (see section 6). In March the IACHR annual report noted with concern the absence of concrete policies targeting the reduction of discrimination in the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a minimum wage that varies depending on the size of the enterprise and type of labor. As of October the minimum wage for all sectors, except sugar cane harvesters, was above the official poverty line; however, a study by the Juan Bosch Foundation found that only one-half of the minimum wage rates were high enough for a worker to afford the minimum family budget. The government estimated 23 percent of the population was living in poverty.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 44 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day on weekdays, and four hours on Saturdays before noon. Agricultural workers are exempt from this limit, however, and may be required to work up to 10 hours each workday without premium compensation. The law stipulates all workers are entitled to 36 hours of uninterrupted rest each week. Although the law provides for paid annual holidays and premium pay for overtime, enforcement was ineffective. The law prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime and states that employees may work a maximum of 80 hours of overtime over the course of three months.

The labor code covers different sectors separately. For example, the section covering domestic workers establishes lower standards for hours of work, rest, annual leave, sick leave, and remuneration, and it does not provide for notice or severance payments. Domestic workers are entitled to two weeks’ paid vacation after one year of continuous work as well as a Christmas bonus equal to one month’s wage. The labor code also covers workers in the FTZs, but they are not entitled to bonus payments.

The law applies to both the formal and informal sectors, but it was seldom enforced in the informal sector. Workers in the informal economy faced more precarious working conditions than formal workers.

The Ministry of Labor sets workplace safety and health regulations that are appropriate for the main industries. By regulation employers are obligated to provide for the safety and health of employees in all aspects related to the job. By law employees may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but they may face less severe reprisal.

Authorities conducted inspections but did not adequately enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and workplace health and safety standards. Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. The Public Ministry is responsible for pursuing and applying penalties for labor violations uncovered by labor inspectors; it infrequently applied penalties in practice. During the year the Ministry of Labor increased its inspector workforce by 30 percent from 2018, but the number of labor inspectors remained insufficient.

Mandatory overtime was a common practice in factories, enforced through loss of pay or employment for those who refused. The Dominican Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers reported that some companies in the textile industry set up “four-by-four” work schedules, under which employees worked 12-hour shifts for four days. In a few cases employees working the four-by-four schedules were not paid overtime for hours worked in excess of maximum work hours allowed under the law.

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

Industrial accidents caused injury and death to workers, but information on the number of accidents was unavailable.

Ecuador

Executive Summary

Ecuador is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and unicameral legislature. In 2017 voters elected President Lenin Moreno from the ruling party Alianza PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Fatherland) and chose members of the National Assembly in elections that were generally free and fair, marking a successful democratic transfer of power.

The National Police maintains internal security and law enforcement and is under the authority of the Ministry of Government (formerly the Ministry of Interior until August 1). The military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security. Police and military share responsibility for border enforcement. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Government. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included reports of torture and abuse by police officers and prison guards; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; the existence of criminal libel laws; violence against women; and the use of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, as it engaged in efforts to strengthen democratic governance, fight corruption, and promote respect for human rights.

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 other laws restrict this right. On February 20, reforms to the 2013 communication law went into effect, repealing several provisions seen as severely limiting freedom of expression and press. Experts cautioned, however, that other restrictive provisions to journalistic work found in the 2013 law remained in effect, including Article 5 characterizing media and communications as a public service (not a right) and a provision requiring all journalists to hold university degrees. Restrictive provisions found in other laws, such as punishing opinions as slander that carries a prison term of six months to two years, also remained in force.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could usually discuss matters of general public interest publicly or privately without reprisal. The law prohibits citizens from using “discrediting expressions,” treated as a misdemeanor with a 15- to 30-day prison term. There were no reports the government invoked this law to restrict freedom of expression during the year.

Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, including those critical of the government.

On February 5, the independent watchdog organization Freedom House classified the country as partially free. Journalists continued to report harassment, particularly by supporters of the previous government or unknown persons, although attacks on reporters continued to decline.

The domestic freedom of expression watchdog group Fundamedios registered 289 attacks on freedom of expression from May 2018 to October 2019, compared with 491 attacks in 2016. As of October 14, Fundamedios quantified “attacks” ranging from court sentences against media or journalists (three instances); physical attacks or intimidation against journalists (104 instances); verbal threats and insults (47 instances); to cyberthreats, hacks, or closure of social media accounts (30 instances as of August). While the complete data did not link attacks to a perpetrator, no attacks in the data available were categorized as “abuses of power from the state.”

During violent protests against the government’s economic reforms between October 3-13, Fundamedios reported 116 attacks against journalists and media outlets, largely by demonstrators or other unknown persons, related to journalists’ coverage of events. Protesters attacked and attempted to burn the headquarters of the Teleamazonas television station and the El Comercio newspaper in Quito on October 12. Protesters in Quito held 27 journalists hostage on October 10, threatening them with violence if they did not provide live broadcasting of their demands; all of the journalists were released without physical harm.

The law limits the ability of media to provide election coverage during the official campaign period, with no coverage allowed whatsoever in the 48 hours before a national election. A constitutional court ruling affirmed the right of the press to conduct interviews and file special reports on candidates and issues during the campaign period, but the ruling left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.

The law includes the offense of inciting “financial panic” with a penalty of imprisonment for five to seven years for any person who divulges false information that causes alarm in the population and provokes massive withdrawals of deposits from a financial institution that place at risk the institution’s stability.

The law mandates the television and radio broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet free of charge. President Moreno reduced the amount of time required for presidential broadcasts to one 15-minute weekly program from the three- to four-hour weekly program by his predecessor.

Reforms to the 2013 communications law on spectrum allocations addressed past concerns about excessive spectrum being potentially allocated to state media. The reforms call for the redistribution of broadcast frequencies to divide media ownership between community media (up to 34 percent), private media and public media (up to 66 percent combined). Maximum figures under the reform are subject to demand and availability. Nonetheless, the reforms limit the allocation of radio frequencies to the public sector to no more than 10 percent of the spectrum. On August 29, Minister of Telecommunications Andres Michelena announced the frequency redistribution process was underway.

Violence and Harassment: On June 28, supporters of then president Jose Tuarez of the Citizen Participation and Social Control Council (CPCCS) pushed and screamed at journalists from several media outlets while he participated in a press conference in Guayaquil. On July 5, Tuarez accused some media members of being “corrupt” during his official tour to Manabi Province. He further accused outlets of “media lynching” (see “Libel/Slander Laws” subsection below) over published stories that Tuarez altered his credentials to bolster his candidacy for the CPCCS presidency. Separately, Tuarez was removed from his position as CPCCS president by the National Assembly on August 15 for “breach of duties and lack of probity.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports government officials tried to penalize those who published items critical of the government. On May 17, the Health Ministry’s National Agency of Sanitary Control (ARCSA) filed a criminal lawsuit against Luis Eduardo Vivanco and three other journalists from digital media outlet La Posta. ARCSA officials complained La Posta published “discrediting expressions” in an article alleging irregularities in medical supply acquisitions. President Moreno requested the resignation of ARCSA executive director Juan Carlos Galarza the same day, citing the criminal lawsuit against La Posta. The Communication Secretariat in the Office of the Presidency issued a statement noting it valued freedom of expression and would “not tolerate any stances against it.”

On October 8, police confiscated with a judicial warrant the transmitting equipment of Pichincha Universal, a public radio station under the control of the Prefecture of Pichincha, whose prefect was subsequently detained October 14 on charges of “rebellion,” based on the claim by the Public Prosecutor’s Office that the radio station violated the law by “inciting unrest” during violent antigovernment protests. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern on October 10 about the suspension of the radio station’s transmission, which “could constitute an act of censorship.” On October 25, a judge issued a preliminary injunction, and the radio station returned to the air.

Digital outlet La Fuente reported to Fundamedios that it had received an email, allegedly from someone in the Office of the Presidency, that its website was being suspended temporarily on July 11 due to alleged violations of copyright laws for using certain graphics without authorization in several of its reports. La Fuente resumed online operations the following day.

On February 25, a regional law firm reported that the reforms to the 2013 communications law repealed some prior censorship measures. For example, the reform introduced the concept of “self-regulation,” defined as the balance between responsibility and freedom of information, which media outlets must regulate through the drafting of voluntary codes of ethics.

The law imposes local content quotas on media, including a requirement that a minimum of 60 percent of content on television and 50 percent of radio content be produced domestically. Additionally, the law requires that advertising be produced domestically and prohibits any advertising deemed by a judge (as private individuals can initiate complaints against advertisers) to be sexist, racist, or discriminatory in nature. Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Health must approve all advertising for food or health products.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. February reforms to the 2013 communications law repealed a prohibition of “media lynching,” described as the “coordinated and repetitive dissemination of information, directly or by third parties through media, intended to discredit a person or company or reduce its public credibility.”

There was one report a government official used libel laws against a journalist. Esmeraldas Province authorities confirmed journalist Henry Cordova was detained on September 8 to serve a 20-day prison sentence in lieu of paying a $5,000 fine, stemming from a November 2018 ruling in which Cordova was found guilty of libel against national assemblyperson at the time (now Esmeraldas prefect) Roberta Zambrano.

On September 11, the Constitutional Court overturned a 2012 ruling against Diario La Hora. The National Secretary of Public Administration argued in 2012 that the outlet published information (about the then government’s propaganda expenses) that hurt the institution’s reputation. The court’s September 11 decision highlighted that only humans, not institutions, have rights. Legal experts argued the decision sets a precedent in favor of free speech.

Nongovernmental Impact: On April 16, President Moreno reported that a truth commission from the Attorney General’s Office would investigate the kidnapping and killing of El Comercio journalists by a narcoguerilla group in March and April 2018.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for the media: President Moreno signed the Chapultepec Declaration on February 20, reiterating his commitment to press freedom. On April 29, representatives from several government agencies, including the Presidency’s General Secretariat for Communication, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, and Council for Regulation, Development, and Promotion of Information and Communication, signed an agreement to set up a national Committee for the Protection of Journalists. The committee drafts security protocols, provides training, and specifies the investigation of threats against journalists. On May 31, the committee held its first meeting, open to the public, in which the government’s then secretary general for communication Andres Michelena reiterated the committee’s dedication to journalists’ defense and protection.

In May UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council based upon his October 2018 visit to the country. The report recognized the “significant progress” in the government’s effort “to put an end to…violations of the right to freedom of expression, and to reverse their effects.”

In July the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of newspaper El Universo in a case previously brought against it by then president Rafael Correa, who had accused El Universo of damaging his reputation following an editorial piece by journalist Emilio Palacio that analyzed the public clashes between police and national government in September 2011 (30-S).

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.

In response to physical violence, vandalism, and looting during nationwide protests against the government’s proposed economic reforms, President Moreno issued Decree 884 on October 3 that established a nationwide “state of exception” for 60 days, which suspended mass gatherings in public spaces and mobilized the armed forces and police to “protect property, life, and maintain order.” The Constitutional Court validated the state of exception October 7 but limited it to 30 days.

On October 12, President Moreno issued Decree 893 amending the state of exception and focusing the restrictions on movement to key state installations and government buildings, as well as vital infrastructure including airports and oil refineries. The state of exception ended on November 2. Following escalating violence and attacks against police and military personnel and government and press buildings, the President declared a curfew in the Quito metropolitan area on October 12, which was lifted the following day.

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

The 2017 Human Mobility Law codifies protections granted to migrants in the constitution, advances the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and establishes provisions such as equal treatment before the law for migrants, nonrefoulement, and noncriminalization of irregular migration.

During the year large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers and the country’s economic slowdown strained the government’s immigration and social services, which worked closely with local, international, and civil society organizations to cover assistance gaps.

As of September 2, nearly 500,000 Venezuelans had entered Ecuador, with approximately 75 percent transiting to other countries. On August 26, the government implemented a new humanitarian visa requirement for Venezuelans to enter Ecuador. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported the number of Venezuelan migrants entering through formal border crossing points dropped considerably after August 26. International humanitarian organizations estimated that a significant number of Venezuelan citizens began to enter through informal border-crossing points. International organizations expressed concern the increased number of informal crossings placed more migrants in vulnerable conditions. International organizations also voiced concern that the new policy initially did not allow for exceptions to the visa requirement for some vulnerable populations.

The government estimated the number of Venezuelans residing in Ecuador likely exceeded 380,000 as of September 10. As of September the government had issued visas to approximately 120,000 Venezuelans.

The government began a nationwide registration and regularization process on September 26, which will end March 31, 2020. As of October 27, the Migration Secretariat of the Ministry of Government had registered more than 125,000 Venezuelans–the first step required to regularize status. On October 26, the Foreign Ministry began issuing two-year humanitarian visas to those registered as the next step in the regularization process.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Migrants and refugees, especially women and children, sometimes experienced sexual and gender-based violence. UNHCR and local NGOs reported that refugee women and children were susceptible to violence and trafficking in persons for the purposes of sex trafficking and forced labor. They also reported the forced recruitment of adolescents into criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery, on the northern border, particularly by organized-crime gangs that also operated in Colombia. Government authorities provided basic protection for vulnerable populations; however, the influx of migrants and refugees during the year placed a significant strain on the government’s capacity to address and prevent abuses against migrants and refugees.

The government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to migrants, internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other vulnerable 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.

On June 18, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility Jose Valencia stated the government had granted refugee status to approximately 68,000 persons since 1981, with 98 percent being Colombian citizens.

UNHCR reported an increase in Colombian and Venezuelan asylum seekers during the year. UNHCR reported Venezuelans and Colombians comprised the greatest number of asylum seekers, with 6,729 and 2,800 asylum cases recorded through June, respectively. When the new visa requirement for Venezuelans went into effect on August 26, UNHCR worked closely with Ecuadorian authorities to enable all asylum seekers to approach Ecuadorian immigration facilities at the Rumichaca International Bridge on the border with Colombia to request asylum officially. More generally, an international organization reported many Venezuelans did not apply for asylum because they were unfamiliar with the process or did not know how long they would stay in the country.

Access to Basic Services: The country’s Human Mobility Law provides for access to education, health care, and other services to all migrants irrespective of their legal status. Nonetheless, according to UNHCR and NGOs, refugees encountered discrimination in employment and housing. Recognized refugees received national identification cards that facilitated access to education, employment, banking, and other public services. A 2016 agreement between UNHCR and the Civil Registry allows UNHCR to provide financial aid to refugees who cannot afford to pay the identification card fee and travel expenses to the three cities where the cards are issued. UNHCR reported that 9,751 refugees had received identification cards as of August. The Civil Registry also requires a refugee enrollment order from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, and sometimes refugees were required to return to the ministry if the information on their records contained errors.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and offered naturalization to refugees, although few refugees were able to naturalize as citizens or gain permanent resident status due to an expensive and lengthy legal process. Discrimination, difficulty in obtaining adequate documentation, and limited access to formal employment and housing affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population. On July 25, President Moreno issued a decree to grant migratory amnesty and begin a regularization process for law-abiding Venezuelans residing in an irregular status in the country.

Temporary Protection: While there is no legal provision for temporary protection, the government and NGOs provided humanitarian aid and additional services, such as legal, health, education, and psychological assistance, to individuals recorded as having crossed the border during the year.

As an associate member of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and despite the government’s March 13 decision to leave the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the National Assembly’s September 17 vote affirming that decision, the government continued to issue temporary visas to citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and the government waived the visa application fee for Colombian and Paraguayan citizens. Foreigners with an irregular migratory status in the country were eligible to apply for the visa. While the UNASUR and MERCOSUR visas do not provide a safeguard against forced repatriation, UNHCR noted many persons opted for these visas, since the procedure was faster than the refugee process and carried less social stigma. Visa recipients are able to work and study for two years. The visas are renewable based upon the same guidelines as the initial application, with only the additional requirement that the applicant provide an Ecuadorian Criminal Records Certificate, which can be obtained online. According to UNHCR, the new visa requirements allow Venezuelans to apply for a humanitarian temporary residence visa instead of applying for a UNASUR visa.

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. A 2018 national referendum restored term limits for all elected positions, including the presidency, which had been eliminated through a 2015 constitutional amendment.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to implement the law effectively. Officials, particularly at the local level, sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Various local organizations, however, commended the Moreno administration for continued improvement in addressing corruption more broadly. There were numerous reports during the year of government corruption that occurred during the Correa presidency.

Corruption: The government launched or continued multiple investigations, judicial proceedings, and legislative audits of officials accused of corruption related to state contracts and commercial endeavors that reached the highest levels of government.

On February 16, the Office of the Attorney General announced it was conducting 11 preliminary investigations against Correa, five against former vice president Jorge Glas (in jail serving a six-year illicit association sentence), and three against Correa’s legal secretary Alexis Mera (placed under house arrest on July 2), among other officials. The investigations included allegations of embezzlement and bribery. As of November the Attorney General’s Office had indicted 24 former government and private-sector officials, including Correa and Glas, in an investigation of an alleged bribery scheme called the “2012-2016 Bribes,” involving the Brazilian Odebrecht company and other firms that allegedly financed political party activities and campaigns during the Correa government in exchange for government contracts. The National Court of Justice also ordered preventive detention for Correa, Glas, former water secretary Walter Solis, former administration secretary Vinicio Alvarado, and former ministry of public works advisor Yamil Massuh. As of November a National Court of Justice determination on pursuing formal charges of bribery, influence peddling, and illicit association remained pending.

The comptroller general’s headquarters in Quito was attacked on three separate occasions, set on fire, and eventually destroyed by unknown persons during violent protests throughout the capital in early October. Political analysts and civil society organizations noted the unknown attackers appeared to target areas in the building believed to contain archive files relating to pending high-level corruption cases. The Attorney General’s Office announced 34 persons were detained on terrorism charges in connection with the incidents. Among them were six minors who were sent to a juvenile detention center before being released on bail October 31. Thirteen others were granted bail. Terrorism charges against the 34 individuals were replaced with charges of sabotage, “paralysis of public services,” destruction of property, theft, or breach of authority. As of November all remaining suspects in pretrial detention had been released on bail, and cases remained pending.

In December 2018 then vice president Maria Alejandra Vicuna stepped down after a former aide accused her of accepting bribes during her time as a legislator. The Attorney General’s Office charged her with abuse of official privileges on May 15; the case was pending as of September 25.

As part of the 2018 national referendum convoked by President Moreno, citizens approved a constitutional amendment ending the statute of limitations on corruption charges and prohibiting those sentenced for crimes related to the mismanagement of public resources from running for public office or contracting with the state.

Financial Disclosure: Government officials are required to declare their financial holdings upon taking office and, if requested, during an investigation. All agencies must disclose salary information monthly through their web portal. The constitution requires public officials to submit an affidavit regarding their net worth at the beginning and end of their term, including their assets and liabilities, as well as an authorization to lift the confidentiality of their bank accounts. Public officials are not required to submit periodic reports, except in the case of legislators, who must also present a declaration at the midpoint of the period for which they were elected. All the declarations must be filed online with the comptroller general, whose website provides general information on the declarations and contains a section where the public can conduct a search of officials to see if officials complied with the disclosure requirements of income and assets. Access to the entire declaration requires a special application, and the comptroller has the discretion to decide whether to provide the information. A noncomplying official cannot be sworn into office, but there are no criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

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 often cooperative and responsive to their views.

In 2017 President Moreno issued Decree 193 to replace Decrees 16 and 739 that regulated freedom of association. Domestic and international human rights organizations are subject to the NGO regulations in the decree. Civil society representatives said the new decree was a step in the right direction but noted it enables the government to dissolve organizations for imprecise reasons (see section 2.b.).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office is an administratively and financially independent body under the Transparency and Social Control Branch of government, focused on human rights. The Ombudsman’s Office regularly presented cases to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

On July 3, President Moreno appointed Cecilia Chacon as head of the new Human Rights Secretariat, which is part of the executive branch and reports to the presidency. The secretariat undertook some roles exercised by the former ministry of justice, human rights and religious groups that was dissolved by Executive Decree 560 issued in November 2018.

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, with some exceptions, provides for the rights of workers to form and join trade unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits the dismissal of union members from the moment a union notifies the labor inspector of its general assembly until the formation of its first executive board, the first legal steps in forming a union. Employers are not required to reinstate workers fired for union activity but are required to pay compensation and fines to such workers. According to an April 29 El Comercio article, the number of public and private unions registered by the Ministry of Labor increased by 32 percent since 2013.

Companies that dismiss employees attempting to form a union or that dismiss union members exercising their rights face a fine of one year’s annual salary for each individual wrongfully dismissed. Individual workers still employed may take complaints against employers to the Labor Inspection Office. Individuals no longer employed may take their complaints to courts charged with protecting labor rights. Unions may also take complaints to a tripartite arbitration board established to hear these complaints. These procedures often were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

All private employers with unionized employees are required to negotiate collectively when the union so requests. The law requires a minimum of 30 workers for the creation of an association, work committee, or labor union, and it does not allow foreign citizens to serve as trade union officers. In 2018 the Ministry of Labor authorized, through ministerial resolutions, eight new types of labor contracts, with specific provisions for the flower, palm, fishing, livestock, and construction sectors.

The law provides for the right of private-sector employees to strike on their own behalf and conduct three-day solidarity strikes or boycotts on the behalf of other industries. The law also establishes, however, that all collective labor disputes be referred to courts of conciliation and arbitration. In 2014 the International Labor Organization (ILO) called on the government to amend this provision by limiting such compulsory arbitration to cases where both parties agree to arbitration and the strike involves the public servants who exercise authority in the name of the state or who perform essential services. As of September 13, the government had not taken any action.

In most industries the law requires a 10-day “cooling-off” period from the time a strike is declared before it can take effect. In the case of the agriculture and hospitality industries, where workers are needed for “permanent care,” the law requires a 20-day “cooling-off” period from the day the strike is called, and workers cannot take possession of a workplace. During this time workers and employers must agree on how many workers are needed to ensure a minimum level of service, and at least 20 percent of the workforce must continue to work to provide essential services. The law provides “the employer may contract substitute personnel” only when striking workers refuse to send the number of workers required to provide the minimum necessary services.

The law prohibits formation of unions and restricts the right to collective bargaining and striking of public-sector workers in “strategic sectors.” Such sectors include workers in the health, environmental sanitation, education, justice, firefighting, social security, electrical energy, drinking water and sewage, hydrocarbon production, fuel processing, transport and distribution, public transportation, and post and telecommunications sectors. Some of the sectors defined as strategic exceed the ILO standard for essential services. Workers in these sectors attempting to strike may face charges with penalties of between two and five years’ imprisonment. The government effectively enforced the law. Public transportation workers went on strike October 3-4 in response to the government’s elimination of fuel subsidies. All unions in the public sector fall under the Confederation of Public Servants. Although the vast majority of public-sector workers also maintained membership in labor-sector associations, the law does not allow such associations to bargain collectively or strike. In 2015 the National Assembly amended the constitution to specify that only the private sector could engage in collective bargaining.

Government efforts to enforce legal protections of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining often were inadequate and inconsistent. Employers did not always respect freedom of association and collective bargaining. Although independent, unions often had strong ties to political movements.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including all forms of labor exploitation; child labor; illegal adoption; servile marriage; and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Limited resources, limited presence in parts of the country, and inadequate victim services hampered the effectiveness of police and prosecutors. NGOs and media outlets continued to report that children were being subjected to forced criminality, particularly drug trafficking.

Reports of forced labor of children (see section 7.c.) and women persisted. Observers most frequently reported women as victims of sex trafficking or of working in private homes under conditions that may amount to human trafficking. On April 29, the National Police reported the rescue of 11 female alleged sex trafficking victims. On July 30, El Universo, citing consolidated government figures, reported that 332 trafficking-in-persons victims (83 percent of them female) were reported between January 2017 and July 2019.

Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians, Colombian refugees, and Venezuelan migrants (see section 7.d.) were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Traffickers often recruited children from impoverished indigenous families under false promises of employment; these children were then forced to beg or to work as domestic servants, in sweatshops, or as street and commercial vendors within the country or in other South American countries. Men, women, and children were exploited in forced labor and sex trafficking abroad, including in other South American countries and the United States. The country is a destination for South and Central American women and girls exploited in sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and 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 law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. It sets the minimum working age for minors at 15 for all types of labor and the maximum hours a minor may work at six hours per day, five days per week. The law requires employers of minors who have not completed elementary school to give them two additional hours off from work to complete studies. The law requires employers to pay minors the same wages received by adults for the same type of employment and prohibits minors younger than age 18 from working in “dangerous and unhealthy” conditions. A 2015 ministerial accord lists 27 economic activities that qualify as dangerous and unhealthy. Other illegal activities, including slavery, prostitution, pornography, and drug trafficking, are punishable. The law identifies work that is “likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of a child,” which includes work in mines, garbage dumps, slaughterhouses, livestock, fishing, textiles, logging, and domestic service, as well as in any work environment requiring exposure to toxic or dangerous substances, dust, dangerous machinery, or loud noises.

The law establishes penalties for violations of child labor laws, including fines and closure of the business. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. If an employer commits a second child labor violation, inspectors may close the business temporarily. The law authorizes labor inspectors to conduct inspections at factories, workshops, and any other location when they consider it appropriate or when an employer or worker requests an inspection.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministries of Labor and of Economic and Social Inclusion, Rights Protection Boards, and the Minors’ Tribunals are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, although budgetary constraints affected each ministry’s ability to enforce laws.

A January report by the governmental Intergenerational Equality Council indicated the provinces of Cotopaxi, Bolivar, and Chimborazo had the highest child labor rates for children between the ages of five and 14. A 2017 survey on employment and underemployment found that 3 percent of children ages five to 11 and 10.6 percent of children ages 12 to 14 worked. The survey found that child laborers were most likely in rural areas, particularly in the agricultural and ranching sectors. Although the government conducted two surveys in 2017 that included some information on child labor, the government had not conducted a nationwide child labor survey since 2012. Both government and civil society officials agreed that a lack of updated statistics hampered efforts in eradicating child labor.

Several labor organizations and NGOs reported child labor in the formal employment sectors continued to decline. According to these groups, it was rare in virtually all formal-sector industries due to an increased number of government inspections, improved enforcement of government regulations, and self-enforcement by the private sector. For example, in the past several years, banana producers working with the Ministry of Agriculture and unions on a plan to eliminate child labor formed committees to certify when plantations used no child labor. These certification procedures do not apply to the informal sector.

The government also did not effectively enforce child labor laws in the informal sector. In rural areas children were most likely found working in family-owned farms or businesses, including banana and rose farms. Labor organizations reported children were largely removed from the most heavy and dangerous work. Additionally, there were reports of rural children working in small-scale, family-run brickmaking and gold-mining operations. In urban areas many children under age 15 worked informally to support themselves or to augment family income by peddling on the street, shining shoes, or begging.

Local civil society organizations reported that children conducted domestic work, including paid household work. A November 2018 study by a local nonprofit group found that many house cleaners, for example, began working between the ages of six and 12. The study found that “girls from indigenous or rural communities were taken to cities without documents, without information, and kept in homes while practically doing bonded labor.” The study concluded that through these practices “child labor is legitimized without any type of protection from exploitation.”

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, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The law prohibits employers from using discriminatory criteria in hiring, discriminating against unions, and retaliating against striking workers and their leaders. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Employment discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. In August 2018 the National Assembly approved a series of labor reforms for employees in the public and private sectors to prevent workplace harassment.

Afro-Ecuadorians continued to demand more opportunities in the workforce and complained that employers often profiled them based on their job application photographs. A study published in December 2018 by the Quito mayor’s office showed that labor discrimination against Afro-Ecuadorians clearly demonstrated “stereotypes of vagrancy, wrongdoing, violence, exacerbated sexuality, [and] lack of intellectuality” and adversely affected insertion in the workplace. Indigenous and LGBTI individuals also experienced employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a minimum monthly wage, which was above the poverty income level.

The law limits the standard work period to 40 hours a week, eight hours a day, with two consecutive days of rest per week. Miners are limited to six hours a day and may only work one additional hour a day with premium pay. Premium pay is 1.5 times the basic salary for work done from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. Work done from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. receives twice the basic salary, although workers whose standard shift is at night receive a premium of 25 percent instead. Premium pay also applies to work on weekends and holidays. Overtime is limited to no more than four hours a day and a total of 12 hours a week. Mandatory overtime is prohibited. Workers are entitled to a continuous 15-day annual vacation, including weekends, plus one extra day per year after five years of service. Different regulations regarding schedule and vacations apply to live-in domestic workers. The law mandates prison terms for employers who do not comply with the requirement of registering domestic workers with the Social Security Administration.

The law provides for the health and safety of workers and outlines health and safety standards, which are current and appropriate for the country’s main industries. These regulations and standards were not applied in the informal sector, which employed more than 46 percent of the working population. The number of inspectors was insufficient to effectively enforce the law.

Authorities may conduct labor inspections by appointment or after a worker complaint. If a worker requests an inspection and a Ministry of Labor inspector confirms a workplace hazard, the inspector then may close the workplace. Labor inspections generally occurred because of complaints, not as a preventive measure, and inspectors could not make unannounced visits. In some cases violations were remedied, but other cases were subjected to legal challenges that delayed changes for months. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations and were often not enforced.

The Ministry of Labor continued its enforcement reforms by conducting labor inspections and increasing the number of workers protected by contracts, minimum wage standards, and registration for social security benefits. The Ministry of Labor did not effectively enforce wage and hour or occupational safety and health laws. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Most workers worked in the large informal sector and in rural areas. They were not subject to the minimum wage laws or legally mandated benefits. Occupational health and safety problems were more prevalent in the large informal sector. The law singles out the health and safety of miners, but the government did not enforce safety rules in informal small-scale mines, which made up the vast majority of enterprises in the mining sector. Migrants and refugees were particularly vulnerable to hazardous and exploitative working conditions. According to media, local organizations reported complaints of Venezuelans receiving below the minimum wage, particularly in the informal sector.

Workers in the formal sector could generally remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. Workers in the informal sector received far fewer labor protections, and they were less likely to be able to remove themselves from dangerous health or safety situations without jeopardy to their employment.

El Salvador

Executive Summary

El Salvador is a constitutional multiparty republic. On February 3, voters elected Nayib Bukele as president for a five-year term. The election was generally free and fair, according to international observers. Free and fair municipal and legislative elections took place in 2018.

The National Civilian Police (PNC), overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, is responsible for maintaining public security, and the Ministry of Defense is responsible for maintaining national security. Although the constitution separates public security and military functions, it allows the president to use the armed forces “in exceptional circumstances” to maintain internal peace and public security “when all other measures have been exhausted.” The military is responsible for securing international borders and conducting joint patrols with the PNC. In 2016 then president Sanchez Ceren renewed the decree authorizing military involvement in police duties, a presidential order in place since 1996. Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: allegations of unlawful killings of suspected gang members and others by security forces; forced disappearances by military personnel; torture by security forces; arbitrary arrest and detention by the PNC; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; widespread government corruption; violence against women and girls that was inconsistently addressed by authorities; security force violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals; and children engaged in the worst forms of child labor.

Impunity persisted despite government steps to dismiss and prosecute abusers in the security forces, executive branch, and justice system.

Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of murder, extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking, intimidation, and other threats and violence directed against police, judicial authorities, the business community, journalists, women, and members of vulnerable populations. In some cases authorities investigated and prosecuted persons accused of committing crimes and 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, although the government at times did not respect this right. The law permits the executive branch to use the emergency broadcasting service to take over all broadcast and cable networks temporarily to televise political programming.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Allegations continued that the government retaliated against members of the press for criticizing certain policies. On September 6, President Bukele’s press and communications staff banned journalists of digital newspapers El Faro and Factum Magazine from a press conference in which President Bukele announced the launch of the Salvadoran Commission Against Corruption and Impunity (CICIES). The Bukele administration stated that journalists from both outlets had acted improperly in past press conferences, including shouting questions at speakers and behaving disrespectfully toward staff. On September 11, Factum Magazine journalist Rodrigo Baires was denied entry to a press conference at the same location. The refusals to admit journalists to presidential press conferences drew widespread criticism and concern regarding freedom of expression and freedom of the press, including by the United Nations, Organization of American States (OAS), and Committee to Protect Journalism. Following the criticism, a Factum Magazine reporter was allowed to attend and ask questions at a September 12 presidential press conference.

Violence and Harassment: On July 3, the Salvadoran Journalist Association (APES) reported on the rise of cyber intimidation and attacks against journalists. APES specifically criticized President Bukele for seeking to intimidate journalists Mariana Belloso and Roxana Sandoval. After they criticized the Bukele administration, accounts on social media associated with Bukele supporters targeted Belloso and Sandoval with insults, intimidation, threats, and attempts to discredit their work.

As of August 22, the PDDH had received six complaints of violence against journalists by government officials. APES reported 77 cases of aggressions against journalists during the year, an increase of 18 percent over the 65 cases reported in 2018.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government advertising accounted for a significant portion of press advertising income. According to media reports, the Bukele administration cancelled all government advertising in the newspaper El Diario de Hoy after it reported on the banning of journalists from El Faro and Factum Magazine from President Bukele’s press conferences. According to APES, media practiced self-censorship, especially in reporting on gangs and narcotics trafficking.

Nongovernmental Impact: APES noted journalists who reported on gangs and narcotics trafficking were subject to kidnappings, threats, and intimidation. Observers reported that gangs also charged print media companies to distribute in their communities, costing media outlets as much as 20 percent of their revenues.

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, except with respect to labor unions (see section 7.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although in many areas the government could not guarantee freedom of movement due to criminal gang activity.

In-country Movement: The major gangs (MS-13 and two factions of 18th Street) controlled their own territory. Gang members did not allow persons living in another gang’s area to enter their territory, even when travelling via public transportation. Gangs forced persons to present government-issued identification cards (containing their addresses) to determine their residence. If gang members discovered that a person lived in a rival gang’s territory, that person risked being killed, beaten, or not allowed to enter the territory. Bus companies paid extortion fees to operate within gang territories, often paying numerous fees for the different areas in which they operated. The extortion costs were passed on to customers.

As of October 22, the Attorney General’s Office had filed 1,515 new cases charging an illegal limitation on the freedom of movement, an increase from the 920 new cases brought in the same period 2018. The Attorney General’s Office reported 50 convictions for such charges through October 22, compared with 13 through October 22, 2018.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, including an established system for providing protection to refugees. Between January 1 and August 15, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received 10 asylum petitions, compared with 31 refugee/asylum claims in 2018.

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. Although the Supreme Court investigated corruption in the executive and judicial branches and referred some cases to the Attorney General’s Office for possible criminal indictment, impunity remained endemic, with courts issuing inconsistent rulings and failing, in particular, to address secret discretionary accounts within the government.

On September 6, President Bukele launched CICIES to combat corruption and impunity. Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill and OAS Strategic Counsel Luis Porto signed a Letter of Intent to create the commission. The letter stated that the parties would sign a formal agreement within three months. The letter focused on strengthening the judiciary and Attorney General’s Office and creating a special anticorruption unit under the PNC. The letter promised that CICIES and the OAS would coordinate with local judicial institutions in creating guidelines for selecting cases. In Bukele’s announcement, he noted that CICIES would be financed with assistance from the OAS and other international organizations. As of October 29, there was an anticipated cost of $15 million and OAS was asking for funding, but no other details had been confirmed. In November the OAS reported that CICIES had established a headquarters in the country.

Corruption: In January the Supreme Court issued an order limiting its Probity Section investigations of public officials to those who had left public office within the last 10 years. On May 6, Factum Magazine published an article underlining that, due to this decision, 79 cases were due to expire on May 31. According to Factum, in four of these, the Probity Section had already completed the investigation, and it required only a decision from the Supreme Court. The four investigations involved former Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) legislator Sigfrido Reyes; GANA legislator Guillermo Gallegos (regarding actions taken in 2006-09); former vice president Oscar Ortiz, when he served as FMLN legislator in 1994 and 1997; and also of Ortiz when he served as Santa Tecla mayor in 2006 and 2009. As of June 30, the Supreme Court’s Probity Section had opened six illicit enrichment cases against public officers.

On June 20, the Attorney General’s Office filed a corruption complaint against Rafael Hernan Contreras, former chief of the Court of Accounts, one of the six agencies that oversees corruption investigations and cases. According to the attorney general, Contreras issued a false document that certified former president Antonio Saca, serving 10 years in prison for misappropriating more than $300 million, had managed funds effectively during his presidency. Saca still faced charges for bribing a judicial official for access to information. Six other officials from the Saca administration also received prison sentences in September 2018 for misappropriating public funds while in government.

In December 2018 a judge sentenced former attorney general Luis Martinez (2012-15) to five years in prison and ordered him to pay $125,000 in restitution on corruption-related charges of purposely and unlawfully disclosing recordings obtained in a wiretap investigation. In 2016 Martinez was fined $8,000 by the Government Ethics Tribunal for inappropriately accepting gifts from businessman Enrique Rais. Martinez faced a number of pending corruption charges, including allegations he took bribes from former president Mauricio Funes, who received citizenship from Nicaragua in July after fleeing corruption charges in El Salvador.

The Attorney General’s Office reportedly investigated past misuse of a presidential discretionary fund, established in 1989 and used by six presidents, to fund the national intelligence service. The fund, totaling one billion dollars since the accounts’ inception, had never been audited by the Court of Accounts. Former presidents Saca and Funes allegedly misappropriated more than $650 million from this fund during their terms in office.

As of September 16, the Ethics Tribunal reported that between September 2018 and August 21, it had opened 438 administrative proceedings against 426 public officials. During that same period, the tribunal imposed fines against 41 sitting and former public officials. As of September 3, the Attorney General’s Office had filed claims against three judges for committing crimes involving corruption or for violating public administration laws.

Financial Disclosure: The illicit enrichment law requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets to the Probity Section of the Supreme Court. The law establishes fines for noncompliance that range from $11 to $571. The declarations were not available to the public unless requested by petition. The Supreme Court established three criteria for selecting investigable cases: the age of the case (that is, proximity to the statute of limitations); relevance of the official’s position; and seriousness and notoriety of the alleged illicit enrichment.

The law requires public officers to present asset certification reports no later than 60 days after taking a new position. In August the Supreme Court Probity Section reported that 8,974 public officers had failed to present their assets certifications in the 10 previous years. This included 16 legislators who took office in May 2018 and who had failed to present their assets reports by June 30, 2019.

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. Although government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to these groups, officials expressed reluctance to discuss certain issues, such as extrajudicial killings and IDPs, with the PDDH.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The principal human rights investigative and monitoring body is the autonomous PDDH, whose ombudsman is nominated by the Legislative Assembly for a three-year term. The PDDH regularly issued advisory opinions, reports, and press releases on prominent human rights cases. The PDDH generally enjoyed government cooperation and was considered generally effective except on problems relating to criminal groups and gangs.

The PDDH maintained a constructive dialogue with the Office of the President. The government publicly acknowledged receipt of reports, although in some cases it did not act on recommendations, which are nonbinding. The PDDH faced threats, including two robberies at its headquarters targeting computers containing personally identifiable information.

On October 16, the Legislative Assembly nominated a new PDDH ombudsman who was facing three criminal cases for “fraud, bribery, and arbitrary acts,” as well as a Court of Accounts case from his time as a civil court judge. International organizations, NGOs, several legislators, the San Salvador mayor, and President Bukele criticized the nomination.

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, to strike, and to bargain collectively. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination, although it does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Military personnel, national police, judges, and high-level public officers may not form or join unions. Workers who are representatives of the employer or in “positions of trust” also may not serve on a union’s board of directors. The law does not define the term “positions of trust.” The labor code does not cover public-sector workers and municipal workers, whose wages and terms of employment are regulated by the 1961 civil service law. Only citizens may serve on unions’ executive committees. The labor code also bars individuals from holding membership in more than one trade union.

Unions must meet complex requirements to register, including having a minimum membership of 35 individuals. If the Ministry of Labor denies registration, the law prohibits any attempt to organize for up to six months following the denial. Collective bargaining is obligatory only if the union represents the majority of workers.

The law contains cumbersome and complex procedures for conducting a legal strike. The law does not recognize the right to strike for public and municipal employees or for workers in essential services. The law does not specify which services meet this definition, and courts therefore apply this provision on a case-by-case basis. The law requires that 30 percent of all workers in an enterprise must support a strike for it to be legal and that 51 percent must support the strike before all workers are bound by the decision to strike. Unions may strike only to obtain or modify a collective bargaining agreement or to protect the common professional interests of the workers. They must also engage in negotiation, mediation, and arbitration processes before striking, although many unions often skipped or expedited these steps. The law prohibits workers from appealing a government decision declaring a strike illegal.

In lieu of requiring employers to reinstate illegally dismissed workers, the law requires employers to pay the workers the equivalent of 30 days of their basic salary for each year of service. The law specifies 30 reasons for which an employer can terminate a worker’s contract without triggering any additional responsibilities, including consistent negligence, leaking private company information, or committing immoral acts while on duty. An employer may also legally suspend workers, including for reasons of economic downturn or market conditions. According to the Ministry of Labor, through September 30, 7,495 persons had filed complaints of dismissal without justification. In addition, the Ministry of Labor reported that from January 1 through June, it received 15 complaints of failure to pay wages owed, one complaint of an employer’s improper retention of social security contributions, and eight complaints of a failure to pay overtime.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Penalties remained insufficient to deter violations. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. According to union representatives, the government inconsistently enforced labor rights for public workers, maquiladora/textile workers, food manufacturing workers, subcontracted workers in the construction industry, security guards, informal-sector workers, and migrant workers. Between January 1 and June 3, the ministry received 36 claims of violations for labor discrimination.

As of August 15, the inspector general of the Ministry of Labor had reported 124 alleged violations of the right of freedom of association, including 72 such violations against members of labor unions and 39 resulting complaints of discrimination.

Unions functioned independently from the government and political parties, although many generally were aligned with the traditional political parties of ARENA and the FMLN. Workers at times engaged in strikes regardless of whether the strikes met legal requirements. On June 10, the International Labor Organization Conference Committee on the Application of Standards discussed, for the fifth consecutive year, the nonfunctioning of the country’s tripartite Higher Labor Council. In September the Ministry of Labor reactivated the council.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally did not effectively enforce such laws. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The lack of sufficient resources for inspectors reduced their ability to enforce the law fully. The Ministry of Labor did not report on incidents of forced labor. Gangs subjected children to forced labor in illicit activities, including selling or transporting drugs (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 employment of children younger than 14 but does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law allows children between the ages of 14 and 18 to engage in light work if it does not damage the child’s health or development or interfere with compulsory education. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from working more than six hours per day and 34 hours per week; those younger than 18 are prohibited from working at night or in occupations considered hazardous. The Ministry of Labor maintained a list of types of work considered hazardous, which included repairing heavy machinery, mining, handling weapons, fishing and harvesting mollusks, and working at heights above five feet while doing construction, erecting antennas, or working on billboards. Children age 16 and older may engage in light work on coffee and sugar plantations and in the fishing industry so long as it does not harm their health or interfere with their education.

Child labor remained a serious and widespread problem. According to the Ministry of Labor, the percentage of children and adolescents between the ages of five and 17 who were working decreased from 8.4 percent in 2017 to 6.8 percent in 2018.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws but did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations of child labor laws were insufficient to act as a deterrent in the informal sector. Labor inspectors focused almost exclusively on the formal sector. According to the ministry, from January through August, officials conducted 669 child labor inspections in the formal sector that discovered 10 minors working, all of whom were authorized to work. By comparison, as of September 2017, according to the ministry, there were 140,700 children and adolescents working, of whom 91,257 were employed in “dangerous work” in the informal sector. No information on any investigations or prosecutions by the government was available. The ministry did not effectively enforce child labor laws in the informal sector, which represented almost 75 percent of the economy.

There were reports of children younger than 16 engaging in the worst forms of child labor, including in coffee cultivation, fishing, shellfish collection, and fireworks production. Children were subjected to other worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children) and recruitment into illegal gangs to perform illicit activities in the arms and narcotics trades, including committing homicide. Children were engaged in child labor, including domestic work, the production of cereal grains and baked goods, cattle raising, and sales. Orphans and children from poor families frequently worked as street vendors and general laborers in small businesses despite the presence of law enforcement officials.

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 constitution, labor laws, and state regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin (except in cases determined to protect local workers), social origin, gender, disability, language, or HIV-positive status. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not included in the constitution or labor law, although the PDDH and the Ministry of Labor actively sought to protect workers against discrimination on those grounds.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, and sexual orientation or gender identity (see sections 6 and 7.e.). According to the Ministry of Labor, migrant workers have the same rights as citizens, but the ministry did not enforce them.

As of June the Ministry of Labor had received one complaint of disability discrimination and six complaints of gender-based discrimination. In August the Legislative Assembly approved an “equal job, equal pay” reform to the labor code that provides for equal pay for women and persons with disabilities who perform the same duties as others. The law, reformed in 2018, prohibits the dismissal of women returning from maternity leave for up to six months.

On February 14, the Legislative Assembly reformed the labor code in order to grant employment stability to persons suffering from chronic diseases that require frequent medical checks and rehabilitation. The reform applies to women who are pregnant and ensures job security during pregnancy. The guarantee of job stability starts from the issuance of the corresponding medical diagnosis and is extended for three months after the respective medical treatment has ended, except for the causes established in Article 50 of the labor code, which include serious immoral acts, breaches of confidentiality and recurring negligence.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage; the minimum wage is determined by sector. In 2018 a minimum wage increase went into effect that included increases of nearly 40 percent for apparel assembly workers and more than 100 percent for workers in coffee and sugar harvesting. All of these wage rates were above poverty income levels. The government proved more effective in enforcing the minimum wage law in the formal sector than in the informal sector. As of June the Ministry of Labor had registered three complaints of noncompliance with the minimum wage.

The law sets a maximum normal workweek of 44 hours, limited to no more than six days and to no more than eight hours per day, but allows overtime, which is to be paid at a rate of double the usual hourly wage. The law mandates that full-time employees receive pay for an eight-hour day of rest in addition to the 44-hour normal workweek. The law provides that employers must pay double time for work on designated annual holidays, a Christmas bonus based on the time of service of the employee, and 15 days of paid annual leave. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law states that domestic employees, such as maids and gardeners, are obligated to work on holidays if their employer makes this request, but they are entitled to double pay in these instances. The government did not adequately enforce these laws.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for setting and enforcing workplace safety standards, and the law establishes a tripartite committee to review the standards. The law requires employers to take steps to meet health and safety requirements in the workplace, including providing proper equipment and training and a violence-free environment. Employers who violate most labor laws could be penalized, but penalties were not sufficient to deter violations; some companies reportedly found it more cost effective to pay the fines than to comply with the law. The law promotes occupational safety awareness, training, and worker participation in occupational health and safety matters. While the laws were appropriate for the main industries, the government did not effectively enforce them.

Unions reported the ministry failed to enforce the law for subcontracted workers hired for public reconstruction contracts. The government provided its inspectors updated training in both occupational safety and labor standards. As of June the ministry conducted 13,315 inspections, in addition to 3,857 inspections to follow up with prior investigations, and had levied $777,000 in fines against businesses.

The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations and allegations of corruption among labor inspectors continued. The Labor Ministry received complaints regarding failure to pay overtime, minimum wage violations, unpaid salaries, and cases of employers illegally withholding benefits (including social security and pension funds) from workers.

Reports of overtime and wage violations existed in several sectors. According to the Labor Ministry, employers in the agricultural sector did not generally grant annual bonuses, vacation days, or days of rest. Women in domestic service and the industrial manufacturing for export industry, particularly in the export-processing zones, faced exploitation, mistreatment, verbal abuse, threats, sexual harassment, and generally poor work conditions. Workers in the construction industry and domestic service reportedly experienced violations of wage, hour, and safety laws. According to ORMUSA, apparel companies violated women’s rights through occupational health violations and unpaid overtime. There were reports of occupational safety and health violations in other sectors, including reports that a very large percentage of buildings did not meet safety standards set by the General Law on Risk Protection. The government proved ineffective in pursuing such violations.

In some cases the country’s high crime rate undermined acceptable conditions of work as well as workers’ psychological and physical health. Some workers, such as bus drivers, bill collectors, messengers, and teachers in high-risk areas, reported being subject to extortion and death threats by gang members.

Through September 30, the Ministry of Labor reported 6,771 workplace accidents. These included 3,069 accidents in the services sector, 2,090 in the industrial sector, 785 in the commercial sector, 605 in the public sector, and 222 in the agricultural sector. The ministry did not report any deaths from workplace accidents.

Workers may legally remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities lacked the ability to protect employees in this situation effectively.

Guatemala

Executive Summary

Guatemala is a multiparty constitutional republic. In 2016 James Ernesto Morales Cabrera of the National Convergence Front party was sworn into office for a four-year term as president. On August 11, Alejandro Giammattei was elected president for a four-year term set to begin on January 14, 2020. International observers considered the presidential election held in 2019 as generally free and fair.

The National Civil Police (PNC), which is overseen by the Ministry of Government and headed by a director general appointed by the minister, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country. The Ministry of National Defense oversees the military, which focuses primarily on operations in defense of the country, but the government also used the army in internal security and policing as permitted by the constitution. The defense ministry completed its drawdown of 4,500 personnel from street patrols to concentrate its forces on the borders in 2018. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; substantial problems with the independence of the judiciary, including malicious litigation and irregularities in the judicial selection process; widespread corruption; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats thereof targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, persons with disabilities, and members of other minority groups; and use of forced or compulsory or child labor.

Corruption and inadequate investigations made prosecution difficult. The government was criticized by civil society for refusing to renew the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala’s (CICIG) mandate, which expired on September 3. Impunity continued to be widespread for ongoing human rights abuses, endemic government corruption, and for mass atrocities committed during the 1960-1996 internal armed conflict.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Expression: On March 21, a court dismissed a case in which President Morales filed a criminal complaint against social activist Roberto Rimola. Morales accused Rimola of defamation and insult after Rimola verbally insulted him. The court ruled that insulting leaders of the three branches of government could not be considered a crime due to limitations to freedom of expression. Morales appealed the court decision and attended a May 29 hearing in court. As of October 1, the case remained open, and a lower court declared the case must be judged specifically under the freedom of expression act, normally reserved for cases involving journalists.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Nonetheless, reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship, recognizing the danger investigative journalism posed to them and their families. Public security forces continued imposing more stringent identification checks on journalists covering government events and activities, a practice initiated in August 2018.

On May 9, presidential candidate Sandra Torres filed a criminal complaint against the daily newspaper elPeriodico after it published several editorials against her. Torres based her lawsuit on the law against femicide and violence against women for attempted violation of her physical and psychological integrity. On May 13, she tried to rescind the lawsuit, but the femicide law does not permit withdrawal of cases, and consequently the Public Ministry must conclude an investigation.

Violence and Harassment: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from public officials regarding the content of their reporting. Online attacks against independent journalists and media outlets continued throughout the year. These included hacking of journalists’ private accounts, publishing stolen or falsified personal information, and apparent coordinated attempts to undermine specific journalists and the press. On May 20, a blog page appeared against Henry Bin, journalist for the radio and weekend television program ConCriterio, and several other independent journalists, alleging Bin was gay and engaged in pedophilia and child pornography. Several attacks against journalists in April and May included videos alleging various forms of corruption and immorality by journalists Juan Luis Font, Claudia Mendez, and Pedro Trujillo.

Members of the press continued to report threats and violence from public officials and criminal organizations, which impaired the practice of free and open journalism. The government failed to establish a journalist protection program, a voluntary commitment the country accepted in 2012 during the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council. According to the Public Ministry, 51 complaints were filed for attacks or threats against journalists; none were killed by the end of August, compared with two killings in 2018.

On June 4, Judge Miguel Angel Galvez of High-Risk Court B found sufficient cause to bring to trial the case of Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez, accused of ordering the killing of journalist Danilo Efrain Zapon Lopez in 2015 in Mazatenango, Suchitepequez Department.

The Public Ministry employed a unit dedicated to the investigation of threats and attacks against journalists, but the NGO Center for Reporting in Guatemala noted it had few prosecutions.

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

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, with a few exceptions. On September 4, in response to the killing of three soldiers in the municipality of El Estor, Izabal Department, President Morales declared a state of siege in 22 municipalities across five departments. Congress ratified the measure, which limited the freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and the right to protest for more than one million citizens living in the area under siege. The president and congress renewed the state of siege for a second 30-day period ending on November 4.

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. The state of siege in Izabal and parts of four other departments temporarily limited rights to freedom of movement (see section 2.b.).

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The laws provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Migration authorities lacked adequate training concerning the rules for establishing refugee status. The government and UNHCR signed a memorandum of understanding, published on September 4, to significantly strengthen the asylum and protection system and increase capacity to process asylum seekers.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR reported access to education for refugees was difficult due to the country’s onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal and equal suffrage for those ages 18 and older. Members of the armed forces, police, and incarcerated individuals are not eligible to vote.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: On July 16, the Public Ministry brought charges against more than 50 persons, including 10 members of Congress, for receiving kickbacks from construction and medical supply procurement and for awarding public jobs by irregular means. Those charged included a former presidential candidate and a former minister of health. Charges included the acceptance of bribes for hospital construction after the 2012 earthquake in the western region, the acceptance of bribes in the purchase of unnecessary medical equipment, and the creation of phantom positions at the Ministry of Health. The case continued in the pretrial stage, and some of the accused remained at large.

In the Odebrecht case, involving bribes allegedly paid to former presidential candidate Manuel Baldizon and former communications minister Alejandro Sinibaldi, on July 23, High Risk Court A sentenced three persons close to Baldizon and Sinibaldi to six years in prison for money laundering, and two of them to an additional eight years for illicit association. Baldizon continued to be detained in the United States on an international arrest warrant on separate money laundering and conspiracy charges. Sinibaldi remained a fugitive and was implicated in another case of bribery and influence peddling linked to former president Otto Perez Molina’s administration.

The government was criticized by civil society for refusing to renew CICIG’s mandate, which expired on September 3. Despite the government’s request for CICIG to transfer capacity to the Public Ministry by the end its mandate, many in civil society believed the Public Ministry did not yet have the capacity to investigate corruption cases on its own and the decision to terminate CICIG’s mandate was made for political reasons. At the end of CICIG’s mandate, it had a public approval rating of approximately 70 percent.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials who earn more than 8,000 quetzals ($1,040) per month or who manage public funds are subject to financial disclosure laws overseen and enforced by the Comptroller General’s Office. The financial disclosures were available to the public upon request. Administrative and criminal sanctions apply for inadequate or falsified disclosures of assets.

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

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

A number of NGOs, human rights workers, and trade unionists reported threats, violence, and intimidation. UDEFEGUA reported 12 killings of human rights defenders from January through July. The NGO also reported 361 attacks against human rights defenders in the same period, compared with 392 attacks in all of 2018. According to human rights NGOs, many of the attacks were related to land disputes and exploitation of natural resources and involved mainly indigenous communities. NGOs asserted the government did little to investigate the reports or prevent further incidents.

NGOs also reported the government, fringe groups, and private entities used threats of legal action as a form of intimidation. According to UDEFEGUA, from January to July, there were 28 retaliatory judicial cases filed against human rights defenders. On March 22, the president of the Supreme Court, Nester Mauricio Vasquez Pimental, filed a criminal case against Claudia Samayoa, president of UDEFEGUA, and Jose Manuel Martinez, member of the civil society group Justicia Ya (Justice Now), for alleged theft, deviation of correspondence, and trafficking of influence. UDEFEGUA and other civil society groups stated this case occurred after Samayoa and Martinez’s participation in a complaint before Guatemala City’s criminal, drug trafficking, and environment court against 11 Supreme Court justices on January 17.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government had refused to renew the visas of the CICIG commissioner and investigators since early 2018, making it difficult for CICIG to resume normal functions. CICIG’s mandate expired on September 3, and CICIG cases were transferred to the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity in the Public Ministry. Subsequently, Guatemalan former CICIG employees complained about being subject to systemic harassment and spurious lawsuits for simply having performed their duties for CICIG.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The PDH monitors the human rights set forth in the constitution and reports to Congress. The PDH opposed several congressional bills during the year, including an amnesty bill for human rights violators during the armed conflict period. On October 2, several congressional deputies submitted a petition to the Congressional Committee on Human Rights calling for the ombudsman to be removed from his position. While the PDH attempted to operate independently and issued public reports and recommendations as in past years, Congress applied significant political pressure, including threats to withhold the PDH’s funding. NGOs generally considered the PDH to be an effective institution with limitations in rural areas due to lack of resources.

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

The President’s Commission on Human Rights (COPREDEH) formulates and promotes human rights policy. COPREDEH also led coordination of police protection for human rights and labor activists. COPREDEH generally benefited from the administration’s cooperation and operated without political or party interference. Some NGOs claimed COPREDEH was not an effective interlocutor on human rights issues.

For the first time in its post-civil war history, the government failed to participate in the meeting on human rights convened by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in September. During this meeting the PDH and civil society organizations discussed challenges related to human rights. On behalf of the government, COPREDEH issued a letter claiming the commission’s meeting constituted a challenge to the country’s sovereignty.

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

The president and cabinet may suspend any strike deemed “gravely prejudicial to the country’s essential activities and public services.” The government defined “essential services” more broadly than international standards, thus denying the right to strike to a large number of public workers, such as those working in education, postal services, transport, and the production, transportation, and distribution of energy. Public employees may address grievances by means of conciliation for collective disputes and arbitration directly through the labor courts. For sectors considered essential, arbitration is compulsory if there is no agreement after 30 days of conciliation.

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

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Government institutions, such as the Ministry of Labor and the labor courts, did not effectively investigate, prosecute, or punish employers who violated freedom of association and collective bargaining laws. Labor courts also failed to compel compliance with reinstatement orders, including payment of back wages, for workers illegally dismissed for engaging in union activities. The Public Ministry was ineffective in responding to labor court referrals for criminal prosecution in cases where employers refused to comply with labor court orders. Inspectors often lacked vehicles or fuel to carry out inspections, and in some cases they failed to take effective action to gain access to worksites in response to employers’ refusal to permit labor inspectors access to facilities. Inspectors were encouraged to seek police assistance as required. Inspections were generally not comprehensive, and if complaint driven, focused on investigating the alleged violation, rather than attempting to maximize limited resources to determine compliance beyond the individual complaint. Penalties for labor law violations were inadequate and rarely enforced.

A 2017 decree restored sanction authority to the Ministry of Labor, but the decree did not go into effect until January 2018. Business groups complained the shortened time frame to investigate and verify compliance with Ministry of Labor remediation orders resulted in more cases being referred to the labor courts without an opportunity to conciliate. Worker representatives reported no significant improvement in compliance with the law as a result of the new sanction authority, noting that the inspectorate emphasized collection of fines, which now go to the labor inspectorate, over remediation of the underlying violations. The ministry’s labor inspectorate indicated it had collected 1,864,800 quetzals ($240,000) from fines imposed in 2018, and approximately 3,044,000 quetzals ($395,000) from January 1 to November 15, 2019. Lack of information about the law’s implementation made it difficult to assess its impact on improving labor law enforcement.

The Unit for Crimes against Unionists within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights in the Public Ministry was responsible for investigating attacks and threats against union members as well as for noncompliance with judicial orders in labor cases. Staffing for the unit increased, but successful prosecutions remained a challenge. The unit reported approximately 2,000 referrals of noncompliance with labor court orders, most of which involved mass dismissals in the public sector and remained under investigation.

On September 20, the government submitted its first report to the ILO Governing Body, as required in the ILO’s November 2018 decision to close a 2012 complaint alleging the country had failed to meet its commitments under Convention 87 on Freedom of Association. Under the terms of the decision, a National Tripartite Commission on Labor Relations and Freedom of Association, which was formed in 2017 to monitor and facilitate implementation of the 2013 ILO roadmap and its 2015 indicators, would report annually to the Governing Body and publicly on progress implementing the ILO roadmap until 2020. The decision also called on the government and its social partners to develop and adopt a consensus legislative proposal that would address the long-standing ILO recommendations on freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the right to strike. Unions submitted their report to the Governing Body on implementation of the roadmap on September 30.

The reports demonstrated a lack of progress in all nine elements of the roadmap. After being inactive from November 2018 through April, the National Tripartite Commission met five times from May to September but failed to achieve concrete progress on the roadmap. For example, a lack of consensus remained between employers and workers on legislation seeking to address ILO recommendations, particularly to allow for industry-wide unions. Three subcommissions established under the National Commission were equally ineffective–on legislation and labor policy, on mediation and dispute settlement, and on implementation of the roadmap.

In August the National Tripartite Commission approved a technical assistance program proposed by the ILO with three objectives and a number of outcomes. The first objective was to strengthen the capacity in negotiations of the commission and its subcommissions. The second objective was to develop consensus legislative proposals to address the long-standing ILO recommendations. The third objective was to strengthen the capacity of institutions responsible for freedom of association to prevent, investigate, prosecute, process, and execute administrative and judicial decisions, as well as to improve access to information by civil society so they could take actions to defend and promote their labor rights.

The Ministry of Government convened the Interagency Committee to Analyze Attacks Against Human Rights Defenders, including trade unionists, on a regular basis. NGO participants complained the ministry imposed restrictions on civil society participation in the committee and reduced working-level officials’ authorities to respond to attacks.

The country did not demonstrate measurable progress in the effective enforcement of its labor laws, particularly those related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. In February the ILO noted the need for additional urgent action in several areas related to the roadmap, including investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of trade union violence; the adoption of protection measures for union officials; passage of legislative reforms to remove obstacles to freedom of association and the right to strike; expedited union registrations; and a national media campaign to raise awareness of the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Violence and threats against trade unionists and labor activists remained serious problems, with one killing of a trade unionist, two violent attacks, and 19 documented threats reported during the year. Authorities did not thoroughly investigate most acts of violence and threats, and by often discarding trade union activity as a motive from the outset of the investigation, allowed these acts to go unprosecuted. Several labor leaders reported death threats and other acts of intimidation. The Public Ministry reported that by August 31, it had received 487 complaints of crimes or offenses against trade unionists and labor activists and issued 20 convictions, including those related to cases opened in previous years. In February the ILO noted with regret continued impunity in cases of violence against trade union leaders and members.

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government failed to enforce the law effectively. Reports persisted of men and women subjected to forced labor in agriculture and domestic service. Penalties were inadequate to deter violations and rarely enforced. Criminal penalties for forced labor range from eight to 18 years’ imprisonment. The government had specialized police and prosecutors handle cases of human trafficking, including forced labor, although local experts reported some prosecutors lacked adequate training. There were also reports of forced child labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The Ministry of Labor issued Ministerial Agreement 260-2019 in June to provide effective implementation of ILO 138 Convention on Minimum Age for Work, which raises the minimum age for employment to 15 years. The law bars employment of minors younger than age 15, although it allows the ministry to authorize children younger than 15 to work in exceptional cases. The ministry’s inspectorate reported it did not authorize any exceptions during the year. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working in places that serve alcoholic beverages, in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, at night, or beyond the number of hours permitted. The legal workday for persons younger than 14 is six hours; for persons 14 to 17, the legal workday is seven hours. Despite this ministerial agreement, child labor was prevalent in the agricultural sector, in dangerous conditions, and with parents’ knowledge and consent.

The Ministry of Labor’s Child Worker Protection Unit is responsible for enforcing restrictions on child labor and educating minors, their parents, and employers on the rights of minors. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce the law, a situation exacerbated by the weakness of the labor inspection and labor court systems. The government devoted insufficient resources to prevention programs.

Child labor was a widespread problem. The NGO Conrad Project Association of the Cross estimated the workforce included approximately one million children ages five to 17. Most child labor occurred in rural indigenous areas of extreme poverty. The informal and agricultural sectors regularly employed children younger than 14, usually in small family enterprises, including in the production of broccoli, coffee, corn, fireworks, gravel, and sugar. Indigenous children also worked in street sales and as shoe shiners and bricklayer assistants.

An estimated 39,000 children, primarily indigenous girls, worked as domestic servants and were often vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit Guatemalan children in forced begging and street vending, particularly within Guatemala City and along the border with Mexico. Criminal organizations, including gangs, exploited girls in sex trafficking and coerced young males in urban areas to sell or transport drugs or commit extortion.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law explicitly prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, age, and disability. The government did not effectively enforce the law and related regulations. Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred. Anecdotally, wage discrimination based on race and sex occurred often in rural areas.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

The government sets occupational health and safety standards that were inadequate, not current for all industries, and poorly enforced. The law does not provide for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections to monitor compliance with minimum wage law provisions but often lacked the necessary vehicles or fuel to enable inspectors to enforce the law, especially in the agricultural and informal sectors. The ministry did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors to deter violations, and many of them performed reviews on paper or administrative duties rather than clearly defined inspection duties.

Labor inspectors reported uncovering numerous instances of overtime abuse, but effective enforcement was undermined due to inadequate fines and labor courts’ reluctance to use compulsory measures, such as increased fines and referrals to the criminal courts, to obtain compliance. Other factors contributing to the lack of effective enforcement included labor court inefficiencies, employer refusal to permit labor inspectors to enter facilities or provide access to payroll records and other documentation, and inspectors’ lack of follow-up inspections in the face of such refusals. Due to inefficient and lengthy court proceedings, the resolution of labor court cases was often delayed, in many instances for several years. Employers failing to provide a safe workplace were rarely sanctioned, and a law requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide onsite medical facilities for their workers was not enforced.

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

On June 3, the Ministry of Labor issued regulations implementing ILO Convention 175 on Part-Time Work, ratified in 2017. In October the Constitutional Court temporarily suspended key provisions of the regulations. While the business community was in favor of these regulations as a tool to generate employment, workers expressed concern the regulations would further reduce minimum wage, overtime pay, and employment benefits such as social security. They also expressed concern that employers would forcefully convert full-time workers to part time.

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

Many employers of domestic servants routinely paid below minimum wage, failed to register their employees with the Guatemalan Institute of Social Security, and demanded 16-hour days for six or more days a week for live-in staff.

Honduras

Executive Summary

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

The Honduran National Police (HNP) maintain internal security and report to the Secretariat of Security. The armed forces, which report to the Secretariat of Defense, are responsible for external security but also exercise some domestic security responsibilities in a supporting role to the HNP and other civilian authorities. Some larger cities have police forces that operate independently of the HNP and report to municipal authorities. The Military Police of Public Order (PMOP) report to military authorities but conduct operations sanctioned by civilian security officials as well as by military leaders. The National Interinstitutional Security Force (FUSINA) coordinates the overlapping responsibilities of the HNP, PMOP, National Intelligence Directorate, Public Ministry, and national court system. Although FUSINA reports to the National Security and Defense Council, it did not have an effective command and control infrastructure. As a result, civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; killings of and threats to media members by criminal elements; criminalization of libel, although no cases were reported; widespread government corruption; and threats and violence against indigenous, Afro-descendent communities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government continued to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but a weak judicial system and corruption were major obstacles to gaining convictions.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, with some restrictions, and the government generally respected this right. A small number of powerful business magnates with intersecting commercial, political, and family ties owned most of the major news media.

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

Violence and Harassment: There were continued reports of harassment and threats against journalists, media figures, and bloggers. On March 17, a gunman shot and killed journalist Gabriel Hernandez in Nacome, Valle Department. Hernandez directed the television program The People Speak, where he discussed social issues and local politics. As of December the Secretariat of Human Rights had no information regarding an investigation or arrest in the case. In June a court found 12 members of the 18th Street gang guilty for their connections to the 2017 murder of Igor Padilla, a television journalist with the network HCH.

Government officials at all levels publicly denounced violence and threats of violence against media members and social communicators. It was usually unclear whether violence and threats against journalists were linked to their work or were products of generalized violence.

The government allocated a budget of nearly 25 million lempiras (one million dollars) for the continued operation of a protection mechanism that included provision of protection to journalists. By August it had provided protection to 39 journalists, among other types of activists and human rights defenders. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to express concern about weak implementation of the law and limited resources available to operate the government’s protection mechanism. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the government’s failure to investigate threats adequately.

The HNP’s Violent Crimes Task Force investigated crimes against high-profile and particularly vulnerable victims, including journalists (as well as judges, human rights activists, and members of the LGBTI community). As of September the task force had submitted 17 cases to the Public Ministry, arrested 24 persons, and obtained four convictions.

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

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

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

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

In-country Movement: There were areas where authorities could not assure freedom of movement because of criminal activity and a lack of significant government presence.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Transiting migrants were vulnerable to abuse by criminal organizations. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has a nascent system to provide protection to refugees, the effectiveness of which had not been fully proven by year’s end, but at times there were delays in processing provisional permits for asylum applicants.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

In 2016 the OAS Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) began collaborating with the judiciary, the Public Ministry, and other institutions to prevent and investigate acts of corruption. Prompted by MACCIH’s work, the Public Ministry created an anticorruption unit (UFECIC) that undertook cases for investigation, including 13 major cases in conjunction with MACCIH. MACCIH assisted the Supreme Court with the establishment of an anticorruption court with national jurisdiction.

Corruption: As of October UFECIC, in collaboration with MACCIH, had presented 13 case investigations, including against former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo, spouse of former president Porfirio Lobo, which resulted in her conviction in August on fraud and misappropriation of public funds and a sentence of 58 years in prison. Several cases involved accusations against members of congress, such as the fe de erratas (erratum) case against two members of congress accused of altering legislation and the Network of Congresspersons case, in which five officials were accused of diverting public funds. In March, UFECIC presented two cases to the anticorruption court related to hydroelectric projects, Patuca III Collusion and Corruption and Fraud in el Gualcarque. The latter was based on multiple reports of irregularities in hydroelectric projects managed by the company DESA, presented by the deceased environmental defender Berta Caceres and involving David Castillo, accused of being one of the alleged intellectual authors in Caceres’ killing. In May UFECIC presented a case referred to as Narcopolitics, which accused 12 citizens of being part of a money-laundering scheme that moved funds from international drug trafficking through large-scale public works projects contracted by the government, most of which were never carried out. The son of former president Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who was serving a prison sentence in the United States, was named in this case.

During the year the National Anticorruption Council (CNA) presented eight high-profile cases to the Public Ministry, citing several public administration and elected officials and relatives of former presidents. In February the CNA presented a case against former president Lobo and former Central Bank president Wilfredo Cerrato for violation of the duties of public servants and embezzlement of public funds. Following the announcements of these cases, the CNA reported being the target of harassment campaigns and threats.

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

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

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

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Some civil society organizations criticized the government for failing to comply with, or inadequately complying with, recommendations by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and protection measures ordered by the government and recommended by the IACHR.

Government Human Rights Bodies: A semiautonomous commissioner for human rights served as an ombudsman and investigated complaints of human rights abuses. With offices throughout the country, the ombudsman received cases that otherwise may not have risen to national attention. The Secretariat of Human Rights served as an effective advocate for human rights within the government. The Public Ministry’s Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights handled cases involving charges of human rights abuses by government officials. In 2018 the Public Ministry also created the Special Prosecutor’s Office for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators, and Justice Officials. There is also a Human Rights Committee in the National Congress. The Ministries of Security and Defense both have human rights offices that investigated alleged human rights abuses and coordinated human rights-related activities with the Secretariat of Human Rights.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

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

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Nearly two years after passage of a comprehensive labor inspection law in 2017, the STSS released implementing regulations based on extensive consultations with the private sector and unions. Employers frequently refused to comply with STSS orders that required them to reinstate workers who had been dismissed for participating in union activities. By law the STSS may fine companies that violate the right to freedom of association. The law permits fines, and while the monetary penalty is sufficient to deter violations, the failure of the government to collect those fines facilitated continued labor code violations. Through August the STSS administered fines of more than 17.6 million lempiras ($704,000). Despite administering fines, through September 30, the government had not collected a fine originating from a labor violation. Both the STSS and the courts may order a company to reinstate workers, but the STSS lacked the means to verify compliance. While there were cases where a worker was reinstated, such as the reinstatement of a union leader in Tegucigalpa following his unlawful dismissal, the reinstatement process in the courts was unduly long, lasting from six months to more than five years.

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

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

Antiunion discrimination continued to be a serious problem. The three major union federations and several civil society groups noted that many companies continued to violate the law despite being fined by government authorities for violations of the labor code. Some failed to remedy violations despite multiple visits by STSS inspectors. Local unions, the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, and other organizations reported that some employers harassed union leaders in attempts to undermine union operations.

The Solidarity Center reported threats against several labor leaders, including a public-sector labor union leader. The Antiunion Violence Network reported more than 50 cases of antiunion violence, including the killing of a trade unionist during protests by the education and health sectors.

Labor activists alleged that automotive component producer Honduras Electrical Distribution Systems (Kyungshin Lear) refused to engage in collective bargaining. Some companies in other sectors, including the melon and palm industries, established employer-controlled unions that prevented the formation of independent unions because of legal restrictions on the number of unions and collective bargaining agreements allowed per company.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced labor, but the government did not effectively implement or enforce these laws. Administrative penalties were insufficient to deter violations and were rarely enforced. Penalties for forced labor under antitrafficking law range from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment, but authorities often did not enforce them.

Forced labor occurred in street vending, domestic service, the transport of drugs and other illicit goods, and other criminal activity. Victims were primarily impoverished individuals in both rural and urban areas (see section 7.c.). The law requiring prisoners to work at least five hours a day, six days a week took effect in 2016. Regulations for implementing the law were still under development as of September. The Secretariat of Human Rights stated it was taking every precaution to protect prisoners’ rights and assure that the work provided opportunities for prisoners to develop skills they could use in legal economic activities after their release.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law regulates child labor, sets the minimum age for employment at 14, and regulates the hours and types of work that minors younger than 18 may perform. By law all minors between the ages of 14 and 18 in most industries must receive special permission from the STSS to work, and the STSS must perform a home study to verify that there is an economic need for the child to work and that the child not work outside the country or in hazardous conditions, including in offshore fishing. The STSS approved 91 such authorizations through September. The vast majority of children who worked did so without STSS permits. If the STSS grants permission, children between 14 and 16 may work a maximum of four hours a day, and those between 16 and 18 may work up to six hours a day. The law prohibits night work and overtime for minors younger than 18, but the STSS may grant special permission for minors between the ages of 16 to 18 to work in the evening if such employment does not adversely affect their education.

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

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Fines for child labor were not sufficient to deter violations. The law also imposes prison sentences of three to five years for child labor violations that endanger the life or morality of a child. The STSS completed 74 inspections and 19 verification inspections as of September and sanctioned two companies for not correcting noncompliant child labor practices.

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

The law applies equally to citizens and foreigners, regardless of gender, and prescribes a maximum eight-hour shift per day for most workers, a 44-hour workweek, and at least one 24-hour rest period for every six days of work. It also provides for paid national holidays and annual leave. The law requires overtime pay, bans excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to four hours a day for a maximum workday of 12 hours, and prohibits the practice of requiring workers to complete work quotas before leaving their place of employment. The law does not protect domestic workers effectively. In many industries, including agriculture, cleaning, and security, employers did not respect maternity rights or pay minimum wage, overtime, or vacation. In these sectors employers frequently paid workers for the standard 44-hour workweek no matter how many additional hours they worked. In the agricultural sector, companies frequently paid less than minimum wage to most workers, with less than 1 percent of agricultural workers receiving the minimum wage. In security and domestic service sectors, workers were frequently forced to work more than 60 hours per week but paid only for 44 hours. Through August the STSS recovered 761 million lempiras ($30 million) in overtime payments for 139,135 workers.

Occupational safety and health standards were current but not effectively enforced. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing continued employment. Under the new inspection law, the STSS has the authority temporarily to shut down workplaces where there is an imminent danger of fatalities. There were not enough trained inspectors, however, to deter violations sufficiently.

The STSS is responsible for enforcing the national minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety laws, but it did so inconsistently and ineffectively. Civil society continued to raise issues of minimum wage violations, highlighting agricultural companies in the south as frequent violators. The 2017 inspection law permits fines, and while the monetary penalty is sufficient to deter violations, the failure of the government to collect those fines facilitated continued labor code violations. As part of the monitoring and action plan agreed between Honduras and a foreign government, the government increased the STSS budget to approximately 79.4 million lempiras (three million dollars). As of September inspectors conducted 14,039 total inspections, including 1,345 unannounced inspections. As of November the STSS had an insufficient number of inspectors to enforce the law effectively.

The STSS reported a significant reduction in company obstruction of labor inspectors, with 226 cases through September. Because labor inspectors continued to be concentrated in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, full labor inspections and follow-up visits to confirm compliance were far less frequent in other parts of the country. Many inspectors asked workers to provide them with transportation so that they could conduct inspections, since the STSS did not have sufficient resources to pay for travel to worksites. Credible allegations of corruption in the Secretariat of Labor continued.

Authorities did not effectively enforce worker safety standards, particularly in the construction, garment assembly, and agricultural sectors, as well as in the informal economy. Employers rarely paid the minimum wage in the agricultural sector and paid it inconsistently in other sectors. Employers frequently penalized agricultural workers for taking legally authorized days off.

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

There continued to be reports of violations of occupational health and safety law affecting the approximately 5,000 persons who made a living by diving for seafood such as lobster, conch, and sea cucumber, most from the Miskito indigenous community and other ethnic minority groups in Gracias a Dios Department. The violations included lack of access to appropriate safety equipment. Through September the STSS inspected 15 fishing boats.

Mexico

Executive Summary

Mexico is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement won the presidential election in July 2018 in generally free and fair multiparty elections and took office in December 2018. Citizens also elected members of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, governors, state legislators, and mayors.

The National Guard and federal, state, and municipal police are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order. The National Guard, created in March, is a civilian institution reporting to the Secretariat of Public Security and Civil Protection. The Federal Police are scheduled to be subsumed into the National Guard by 2020, but in the interim remain under the Public Security Secretariat and National Security Commission. The bulk of National Guard personnel consist of seconded army and navy elements that have an option to return to their services after five years. State preventive police report to state governors, while municipal police report to mayors. The Secretariat of National Defense and Secretariat of the Navy also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combating organized criminal groups. The constitution grants the president the authority to use the armed forces for the protection of internal and national security, and the courts upheld the legality of the armed forces’ role in undertaking these activities in support of civilian authorities. The National Migration Institute, under the authority of the Interior Secretariat, is responsible for enforcing migration laws and protecting migrants. Although authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, there were instances in which elements of security forces acted independently of civilian control.

Significant human rights issues included reports of the involvement by police, military, and other government officials and illegal armed groups in unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, and torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions in some prisons; impunity for violence against human rights defenders and journalists; violence targeting persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

Impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem, with extremely low rates of prosecution for all crimes. The government’s federal statistics agency (INEGI) estimated 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations were privately owned. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained a significant source of advertising revenue for many media organizations, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, could constrain freedom of expression.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were killed or subject to physical and cyberattacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) in response to their reporting. This limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. According to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, as of August 31, 10 journalists had been killed because of their reporting.

Perpetrators of violence against journalists acted with impunity. According to the NGO Article 19, as of February the impunity rate for crimes against journalists was 99 percent. In 2018 there were 544 attacks against journalists, according to Article 19. Since its creation in 2010, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Journalists (FEADLE), a unit in the Attorney General’s Office, secured only 10 convictions for various related crimes, and only one for murder, in the 1,077 cases it investigated. Only 16 percent of the cases FEADLE investigated were taken to court. As of September, FEADLE had not opened any new cases, reportedly in an effort to focus on bringing existing investigations to trial.

Government officials believed organized crime to be behind most of the attacks against journalists, but NGOs asserted there were instances when local government authorities participated in or condoned the acts. According to Article 19, in 2018, 42 percent of physical attacks against journalists originated with public officials. Although 75 percent of those came from state or local officials, federal officials and members of the armed forces were also suspected of being behind 7 percent of attacks against journalists.

There were no developments in the 2017 killing of Miroslava Breach, a prominent newspaper correspondent who reported on organized crime and corruption. In March, Undersecretary for Human Rights Alejandro Encinas stated the federal government was “aiding” the state prosecutor in the case, ultimately affirming it would remain with state prosecutors.

In January the UN Human Rights Committee declared the government responsible for violating journalist Lydia Cacho’s human rights, including subjecting her to acts of torture in 2005 after she exposed government corruption and a pedophile ring, and for shortcomings in the investigation. In response, on April 11, FEADLE issued arrest warrants against former Puebla governor Mario Marin Torres, Kamel Nacif, Juan Sanchez Moreno, and Hugo Adolfo Karam for their role as masterminds of the acts of torture against Cacho. As of September all four remained fugitives. In July, two assailants entered Cacho’s home, poisoned her dogs, and stole research material–including 10 hard drives containing information on pedophile rings, both the one she exposed in 2005 and a new case she was working on. Article 19 referred to the incident as “an act of reprisal for her work as a defender of free speech.”

In August, Cacho fled the country due to fear for her safety, declaring herself “in a situation of forced displacement.” Article 19 stated, “Lydia Cacho was forced to leave the country in the face of not receiving the minimal conditions of security to carry out her job and continue the process of seeking justice for her arbitrary detention and torture perpetrated in 2005.”

Between 2012 and September 2019, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists received 976 requests for protection for journalists and human rights defenders. Since 2018 five journalists with protective measures from the Mechanism were killed, including two during the year. In January, Rafael Murua, under Mechanism protection, was shot and killed in Baja California Sur. Police arrested three individuals in connection with the case. In May journalist Francisco Romero was beaten, shot, and killed in Quintana Roo. He had received threats–including from local police–after exposing corruption of local authorities. Both victims had government-issued panic buttons. After these killings, the OHCHR representative in Mexico, Jan Jarab, said the Mechanism merited a “deep reflection” and added, “These cases show that violence against human rights defenders and journalists is deeply rooted and structural changes are needed.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported some state and local governments censored the media. Journalists reported altering their coverage due to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of the media and newsrooms, and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship due to threats from criminal groups and government officials.

In March 2018 Article 19 reported the government, despite reductions in its advertising budgets, continued to have a strong financial impact and influence on the largest media companies.

Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal criminal laws against defamation, libel, or slander; however, eight states have criminal laws on these acts. In Baja California Sur, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, and Yucatan, the crime of defamation is prosecuted, with penalties ranging from three days to five years in prison and fines ranging from five to 500 days of minimum salary for committing defamation or slander, both considered “crimes against honor.” Slander is punishable under the criminal laws of the states of Campeche, Colima, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Sonora, Yucatan, and Zacatecas with sentences ranging from three months to six years in prison and monetary fines. Five states have laws that restrict the publishing of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.

In May the Supreme Court struck down a law in the state of Nayarit penalizing slander. The court ruled the law violated freedom of expression.

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. There were some reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators. Twelve states have laws that restrict public 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

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

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The press and NGOs reported victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police, immigration officers, and customs officials. In September the Migrant Organizations Network (Redodem, a group of NGOs that shelter migrants) reported that in 2018, federal, state, and municipal police, as well as military forces, committed at least 865 crimes against migrants. Redodem registered 542 robberies committed by authorities, 131 cases of abuse of authority, 83 extortions, 46 injuries, 26 acts of intimidation, eight illegal detentions, and six acts of bribery, among others. According to the report, federal police agents committed 297 incidents, followed by municipal police (266), the state police (179), migration agents (102), the army (18), and the navy (four).

Government and civil society sources reported Central American gang presence spread farther into the country and threatened migrants who had fled the same gangs in their home countries. There were media reports that criminal groups kidnapped undocumented migrants to extort money from their relatives or force them into committing criminal acts on the groups’ behalf.

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

Access to Asylum: Federal law provides for granting asylum or refugee status and complementary protection. The government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protections. From January to August 10, the Mexican Commission to Assist Refugees received 42,788 petitions, a 230 percent increase over the same period in 2018.

The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to asylum and the asylum procedure, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, and integration (access to school and work) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to enforce the law more effectively. In February, Congress approved a constitutional reform expanding the catalogue of crimes subject to pretrial detention to include acts of corruption (see section 1.d., Pretrial Detention). In December 2018 Congress also approved a constitutional reform, which came into force in March, to increase the number of illicit activities for which the government can seize assets, including acts of corruption.

On August 7, the Public Administration Secretariat launched a platform within its own website where persons can report cases of corruption. The platform allows citizens to report acts of corruption, human rights violations, and harassment in cases where public officials are involved. The secretariat responds to these reports based on three principles: guarantee of confidentiality, continuous monitoring of the case, and effective sanctioning.

Although by law elected officials enjoy immunity from prosecution while holding public office, state and federal legislatures have the authority to waive an official’s immunity. Of the 32 states, 17 followed this legal procedure to strip officials of immunity.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office opened a corruption investigation against Emilio Lozoya, former director of Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), for receiving bribes in connection to the Odebrecht case. The Attorney General’s Office also obtained an arrest warrant against Lozoya’s mother, accused of money laundering, and on July 24, Interpol arrested her in Germany. As of September, Lozoya remained at large and was presumably out of the country. In a separate case, a judge ordered the detention of former social development minister Rosario Robles. On August 13, she was taken into custody pending criminal proceedings for her participation in an embezzlement scandal known as “Estafa Maestra,” arguing she was a flight risk. She was detained for two months while an investigation took place. She faced allegations of involvement in the disappearance of billions of pesos allocated for welfare programs during her tenure as minister.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all federal- and state-level appointed or elected officials to disclose their income and assets, statements of any potential conflicts of interests, and tax returns. The Public Administration Secretariat monitors disclosures with support from each agency. Regulations require disclosures at the beginning and end of employment, as well as annual updates. The law requires declarations be made publicly available unless an official petition for a waiver to keep his or her file private. Criminal or administrative sanctions apply for abuses. President Lopez Obrador ordered all cabinet members to make their declarations public as a show of transparency. On July 9, the Coordinating Committee of the National Anti-Corruption System approved new formats for these asset disclosure statements. High-ranking public officials must include information related to their spouses and dependents to prevent conflicts of interest, but this information is to remain private. The new platform was scheduled to be operational by the end of the year.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were mostly cooperative and responsive to their views, with the president, cabinet officials, or both meeting with human rights organizations, such as the OHCHR, IACHR, and the CNDH. Some NGOs alleged individuals who organized campaigns to discredit human rights defenders at times acted with tacit support from government officials. As of April the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists protected 790 individuals, 292 journalists, and 498 human rights defenders.

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

All states have their own human rights commission. The state commissions are funded by state legislatures and are semiautonomous. State commissions did not have uniform reporting requirements, making it difficult to compare state data and therefore compile nationwide statistics. The CNDH may take on cases from state-level commissions if it receives a complaint that the state commission has not adequately investigated the case.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The government continued its efforts to strengthen freedom of association protections, promote union democracy, and improve the ability of workers to bargain collectively. On May 1, President Lopez Obrador signed a labor reform law aimed at ensuring workers may freely and independently elect union representatives and approve or reject collective bargaining agreements before they are implemented. Revisions to the constitution in 2017 envisioned independent labor courts to replace the system of conciliation and arbitration boards (CABs) and streamline the judicial process for labor disputes. The labor reforms passed during the year provide the implementing legislation for this new labor justice system and establish a four-year timeline for transfer. The government demonstrated its prioritization of labor reform through its commitment of budgetary resources and its regular issuance of implementing regulations to bring the new laws into force.

The government announced it would implement the labor reforms in a phased manner, beginning at the federal level and in 10 states in October 2020. In August unions began registering updated bylaws with the Secretariat of Labor and Social Protection and holding leadership elections under the terms of the labor reform. The registration process was scheduled to conclude in May 2020. The secretariat also began the process of having workers review and vote on the collective bargaining agreements under which they work following the procedures for free and fair elections under the new labor reform.

In September 2018 the Senate ratified International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 98 on collective bargaining. By ratifying the convention, the government subjects itself to the convention’s oversight and reporting procedures. According to the independent unions, ratification also contributes to ensuring the institutions established as a result of the labor justice reform are, in law and practice, independent, transparent, objective, and impartial, with workers having recourse to the ILO’s oversight bodies to complain of any failure.

Federal labor law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive government recognition, unions must file for registration with the appropriate CAB or the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare. For the union to be able to function legally, its leadership must also register with the appropriate CAB or the secretariat. CABs operate under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives. Outside observers raised concerns that the boards did not adequately provide for inclusive worker representation and often perpetuated a bias against independent unions, in part because worker representation on the CABs was based on majority representation, which is held by “protection” unions. Protection unions and “protection contracts” were common in all sectors.

By law a union may call for a strike or bargain collectively in accordance with its own bylaws. Before a strike may be considered legal, a union must file a “notice to strike” with the appropriate CAB, which may find the strike is “nonexistent” and therefore illegal. The law prohibits employers from intervening in union affairs or interfering with union activities, including through implicit or explicit reprisals against workers. The law allows for reinstatement of workers if the CAB finds the employer fired the worker without just cause and the worker requests reinstatement; however, the law also exempts broad categories of employees from this protection, including so-called employees of confidence and workers who have been in the job for less than a year.

The government, including the CABs, did not consistently protect worker rights. The government’s common failure to enforce labor and other laws left workers with little recourse for violations of freedom of association, poor working conditions, and other labor problems. The CABs’ frequent failure to impartially and transparently administer and oversee procedures related to union activity, such as union elections, registrations and strikes, undermined worker efforts to exercise freely their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. For example, the government rejected registration applications for locals of independent unions, and for unions, based on technicalities.

Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining laws were rarely applied and were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

According to several NGOs and unions, many workers faced violence and intimidation around bargaining-rights elections perpetrated by protection union leaders and employers supporting them, as well as other workers, union leaders, and vigilantes hired by a company to enforce a preference for a particular union. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of pseudo employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union. CABs were widely alleged to administer these elections with a bias against new, independent unions, resulting in delays and other procedural obstacles that impacted the results and undermined workers’ right to organize.

Other intimidation and manipulative practices were common, including dismissal of workers for labor activism. For example, 57 workers at a Goodyear factory in San Luis Potosi alleged they were fired after striking in April 2018 to demand better working conditions, wages, and authentic union representation. The workers claimed that because of their independent strike, a corporatist union had blackballed them from working in other factories.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and the law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. While penalties for conviction of forced labor were sufficient to deter violations, very few cases reached the court system or were successfully prosecuted.

Forced labor persisted in the industrial and agricultural sectors, especially in the production of chili peppers and tomatoes, as well as in the informal sector. Women and children were subject to domestic servitude. Women, children, indigenous persons, and migrants (including men, women, and children) were the most vulnerable to forced labor. In July 2018 authorities identified 50 forced agricultural workers on three commercial tomato farms in Coahuila. Authorities in Coahuila freed an additional 25 forced agricultural workers–including nine children–from a chili pepper and tomato farm in August 2018. In both cases the victims reportedly lived in unsanitary conditions, worked excessive hours under the threat of dismissal, and received subminimum wage payments or no payment at all.

Day laborers and their children were the primary victims of forced and child labor in the agricultural sector. In 2016 INEGI reported 44 percent of persons working in agriculture were day laborers. Of the day laborers, 33 percent received no financial compensation for their work. Only 3 percent of agricultural day laborers had a formal written contract.

Indigenous persons in isolated regions reported incidents of forced labor, in which cartel members forced them to perform illicit activities or face death. Minors were recruited or forced by cartels to traffic persons, drugs, or other goods across the border. In July authorities in Chihuahua rescued 21 men who had been kidnapped and forced to grow marijuana and poppies, allegedly by the Sinaloa Cartel. Migrants were also recruited by criminal organizations to conduct illicit activities.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The constitution and the law prohibit children younger than age 15 from working and allows those ages 15 to 17 to work no more than six daytime hours in nonhazardous conditions daily, and only with parental permission and permission from the labor authority. The law requires children younger than 18 to complete compulsory basic education and to have a medical certificate to work. The minimum age for hazardous work, including all work in the agricultural sector, is 18. The law prohibits minors from working in a broad list of hazardous and unhealthy occupations.

The government was reasonably effective in enforcing child labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially in the export-oriented factory (maquiladora) sector and other industries under federal jurisdiction. Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies and in agriculture and construction, and nearly absent in the informal sector, in which most child laborers worked. In January the newspaper El Universal reported as many as 400 children were working on tomato and chili pepper farms near Coahuayana, Michoacan, receiving little education and earning very low wages.

Underage children in urban areas throughout the country earned money by begging, washing windshields, selling small items, or performing in public places for gratuities. In April authorities in Sinaloa announced they had identified 312 children who had been working in the streets of various cities. In the same month, two children from Chiapas were identified in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, while begging in the streets dressed as clowns. Authorities found the children had no relatives in the area and were possibly victims of human trafficking. In October 2018 authorities identified 63 persons, including 56 children, who had been forced to work in the streets of Oaxaca, and arrested 11 individuals on charges of human trafficking.

At the federal level, the Secretariat of Social Development, Attorney General’s Office, and National System for Integral Family Development share responsibility for inspections to enforce child labor laws and to intervene in cases in which employers violated such laws. The Secretariat of Labor is responsible for carrying out child labor inspections. Penalties for violations were not sufficiently enforced to deter violations.

According to a 2017 INEGI survey, the number of employed children ages five to 17 was 3.2 million, or approximately 11 percent of children in the country. This represented a decrease from 12.4 percent of children in the 2015 INEGI survey. Of these children, 7.1 percent were younger than the minimum age of work or worked under conditions that violated federal labor laws, such as performing hazardous work. Child labor was most common in the agricultural sector; children worked in the harvest of beans, chili peppers, coffee, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, onions, tobacco, and tomatoes, as well as in the production of illicit crops such as opium poppies. Other sectors with significant child labor included services, retail sales, manufacturing, and construction.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and the law prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation. The federal labor law specifically proscribes discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, handicap (or challenged capacity), social status, health, religion, immigration status, political opinion, sexual preference, marital status, or pregnancy. The government did not effectively enforce the law or regulations. According to a 2017 INEGI survey, 12 percent of women had been illegally asked to take a pregnancy test as a prerequisite to being hired. Job announcements specifying desired gender, age, marital status, and parental status were common.

INEGI reported in 2017 that 23 percent of working women experienced violence in the workplace within the past 12 months and 6 percent experienced sexual violence.

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission is responsible for establishing minimum salaries. In December 2018 it unanimously approved the largest general minimum wage increase (16 percent) in 23 years and a doubling of the minimum wage in the economic zone along the border with the United States. Wages had stagnated since 1994, with the country’s minimum wage declining almost 20 percent in real terms. Despite the minimum wage increase, the real general minimum wage fell once again below the official poverty line. Nonetheless, most formal-sector workers received between one and three times the minimum wage. The minimum wage increase set off major strikes by unionized workers in Matamoros, who demanded employers honor contractual employment clauses unique to the city requiring all wages to go up by a factor of any minimum wage increase. According to reports, manufacturing executives in the northern border region colluded with one another to keep wages artificially low. As a result of the strikes in Matamoros, most of the manufacturing plants agreed to worker demands, a general wage increase of 20 percent and a bonus of 32,000 pesos ($1,600).

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

The Secretariat of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws and inspecting workplaces. Neither the number of labor inspections nor the penalties for violations of labor law were sufficient to secure compliance with labor law. A chemical spill on July 9 by the mining company Grupo Mexico called widespread public attention to that company’s long record of safety and environmental violations, leading President Lopez Obrador to call for talks with union leaders and Grupo Mexico’s ownership to resolve the miners’ grievances. Through its DECLARALAB self-evaluation tool, the secretariat provided technical assistance to almost 4,000 registered workplaces to help them meet occupational safety and health regulations.

According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach–requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting hours when it is light–to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This was a common practice in the maquiladora sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and obliged them to work in peak seasons, including the Christmas holiday period, without the corresponding triple pay mandated by law for voluntary overtime on national holidays. Additionally, many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers informally, using subcontracting regimes or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. INEGI estimated 57 percent of the workforce was engaged in the informal economy during the year. Of the 30 million informal workers, approximately one-quarter (7.6 million) were employed by formal businesses or organizations, often paid in cash, off the books, to evade taxes and social security payments.

Observers from grassroots labor rights groups, international NGOs, and multinational apparel brands reported that employers in export-oriented supply chains were increasingly using hiring methods that lessened job security. For example, manufacturers commonly hired workers on one- to three-month contracts, and then waited a period of days before rehiring them on another short-term contract, to avoid paying severance and to prevent workers from accruing seniority. This practice violated federal labor law and restricted worker’s rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Observers noted it also increased the likelihood of work-related illness and injury. Outsourcing practices made it difficult for workers to identify their legally registered employer, limiting their ability to seek redress of labor grievances.

Citizens hoping to secure temporary, legal employment in the United States and other countries frequently paid recruiters hundreds or thousands of dollars in prohibited fees to secure jobs, and many prospective workers were promised jobs that did not exist. Allegations of abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices rarely were investigated. Although the law requires entities recruiting for overseas employment to register with the Secretariat of Labor, there is no enforcement mechanism, and only a handful of recruiters complied. During the year the secretariat’s National Employment Service began reviewing ways to enforce the foreign recruitment registration law.

The situation of agricultural workers remained particularly precarious, with similar patterns of exploitation throughout the sector. Labor recruiters enticed families to work during harvests with verbal promises of decent wages and a good standard of living. Rather than pay them daily wages once a week, as mandated by law, day laborers had to meet certain harvest quotas to receive the promised wage. Wages may be illegally withheld until the end of the harvest to ensure the workers do not leave, and civil society organizations alleged workers were prohibited from leaving by threats of violence or by nonpayment of wages. Workers had to buy food and other items at the company store at high markups, at times leaving them with no money at the end of the harvest after settling debts. Civil society groups reported families living in inhuman conditions, with inadequate and cramped housing, no access to clean water or bathrooms, insufficient food, and without medical care. With no access to schools or childcare, many workers brought their children to work in the fields. Due to alleged corruption and opacity, in January the federal government eliminated the Program of Care for Agricultural Day Labors, which was intended to reduce the vulnerability of agricultural migrant workers.

News reports indicated there were poor working conditions in some maquiladoras. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, a lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and no freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse. Most maquiladoras hired employees through outsourcing with few benefits.

In April the Senate unanimously approved legislation intended to improve working conditions for the 2.4 million domestic workers, 90 percent of whom were women, by making it possible for them to enroll in social security, thereby gaining access to benefits such as medical services, child care, and maternity leave.

According to data from the Mexican Social Security Institute, in 2018 there were 201,310 workplace accidents, resulting in 303 deaths. In June an accident involving an industrial press in Nuevo Leon caused the partial amputation of four workers’ arms. In August an accident at a silver and gold mine in Oaxaca killed a contractor who was operating heavy machinery.

Nicaragua

Executive Summary

Nicaragua has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Daniel Ortega Saavedra and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo Zambrana. Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party exercises total control over the executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral functions. President Ortega was inaugurated to a third term in office in January 2017 following a deeply flawed electoral process. The 2016 elections expanded the ruling party’s supermajority in the National Assembly, which previously allowed for changes in the constitution that extended the reach of executive branch power and the elimination of restrictions on re-election for executive branch officials and mayors. Observers noted serious flaws in municipal, regional, and national elections since 2008. Civil society groups, international electoral experts, business leaders, and religious leaders identified persistent flaws in the March 3 Caribbean regional and 2017 municipal elections and noted the need for comprehensive electoral reform.

The Nicaraguan National Police (NNP) maintain internal security. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Both report directly to the president, pursuant to changes in the police and army code in 2014. Parapolice, which are nonuniformed, masked, and armed groups with tactical training and organization, act in coordination with government security forces, under the direct control of the government, and report directly to the NNP. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and parapolice security forces.

From February to June, the government released 494 purported political prisoners in the context of the national dialogue. Some of those released appeared to have been common criminals; human rights groups claimed only 344 of those released were actually political prisoners. Since April the government detained 161 new political prisoners, including reimprisoning some individuals who were previously released. On December 30, the government released 91 political prisoners, leaving 70 imprisoned.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, committed by the government or its agents; forced disappearance by parapolice forces; torture by prison guards and parapolice; physical abuse, including rape, by government officials; and arbitrary detentions by police and parapolice. There were harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary and unlawful interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions on free expression and the press, including threats of violence, censorship, and criminal libel; and substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including attacks on the Roman Catholic Church and church officials. The government continued to block nine nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations from recovering their legal status and illegally withheld their assets, preventing them from operating. Government restrictions on freedoms of expression, association, and assembly precluded any meaningful choice in elections. There was widespread corruption; trafficking in persons; attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; discrimination against ethnic minorities and indigenous communities; and child labor.

The government did not take steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses, including those responsible for at least 325 killings and hundreds of disappearances during the prodemocracy uprising of April 2018. President Ortega actively strengthened impunity for human rights abusers who were loyal to him.

Parapolice and individuals linked to the Ortega regime carried out a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and violence toward perceived enemies of the regime, such as former political prisoners, campesino or farmers activists, prodemocracy opposition groups, and Roman Catholic clergy. Human rights groups alleged that between October 2018 and August, parapolice killed between 20 and 30 campesinos considered to be opponents of the ruling FSLN party. Crimes committed by parapolice against these individuals were not investigated or prosecuted.

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, but the government did not respect this right. Restrictions on press freedom, the absence of an independent judiciary, and a nondemocratic political system combined to inhibit freedom of expression, including for the press. Although the law provides that the right to information may not be subjected to censorship, the government and actors under its control retaliated against the press and radio and television stations by blocking transmissions, impeding the import of ink and paper, and violence against journalists. Some independent media outlets also reported they were victims of cyberattacks.

Freedom of Expression: The government used reprisals to restrict the ability of individuals to criticize the government.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views despite government attempts to restrict and intimidate them. Independent media outlets experienced vandalism, seizure of broadcast equipment, arrest, and fear of criminal defamation charges. The government repeatedly denied broadcasting licenses and other permits for independent media. Further attempts to intimidate came through continued financial audits performed by the Directorate General of Revenue, which resulted in referral of cases to the Customs and Administrative Tax Court. Independent news outlets faced restrictions on speech, such as not being permitted to attend official government events, being denied interviews by government officials, and receiving limited or no direct access to government information. Official media, however, were not similarly restricted.

The government restricted symbolic speech. Prodemocracy protesters were arrested on many occasions for displaying the national flag as a protest banner.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media faced official and unofficial restrictions, reprisals, and harassment, but they were nonetheless successful in expressing a variety of views. Journalists from many stations were threatened and harassed with the purpose of limiting their editorial independence.

Significant state influence, ownership, and control over media continued. National television was largely controlled either by business associates of the president or directly owned and administered by his family members. Eight of the 10 basic channels available were under direct FSLN influence or owned and controlled by persons with close ties to the government. Media stations owned by the presidential family generally limited news programming and served as outlets for progovernment or FSLN propaganda and campaign advertisements. Press and human rights organizations claimed the use of state funds for official media, as well as biased distribution of government advertising dollars, placed independent outlets at a disadvantage.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subject to government violence, harassment, and death threats. Renowned journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro went into exile in January after receiving harassment and death threats. On November 25, he returned, along with five other journalists. The television station 100% Noticias and the offices of news magazine Confidencial remained closed and under police custody after the December 2018 raid of those facilities.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to the ruling party’s ideology; however, it did not do this according to specific guidelines.

To control printing presses, the government continued to enforce the controversial Law 528, or “Ley Arce,” which established high tariffs and bureaucratic delays on the importation of ink, paper, machinery, and other printing necessities, despite constitutional provisions protecting the media’s right to freedom from such tariffs. By September the government had not allowed national, independent print media La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario to import ink, paper, or machine parts to continue printing for more than one year. This led to significant increase in printing costs and restrictions of printing capacity of both daily newspapers. On September 27, after nearly 40 years in business, El Nuevo Diario announced its permanent closure, citing “economic, technical, and logistical difficulties, which made [its] operation unsustainable.”

In September Radio Corporacion, an independent radio broadcaster, found its AM radio antenna sabotaged and its transmission cables dug up and cut into pieces. Radio station staff stated that unknown perpetrators carried out the attack with knowledge of where the sabotage could do the most damage. As a result, the radio station lost its ability to broadcast on the AM frequency for more than a week and moved all of its programming to an FM frequency. This resulted in lower listenership, particularly among rural listeners who rely principally on AM frequency for radio transmissions.

Restrictions in acquiring broadcast licenses and equipment prevented the media from operating freely. Beginning in 2008, media outlets were unable to apply for new broadcasting licenses while the General Law (Law 200) on Telecommunications was under review in the National Assembly. The government extended the validity of existing licenses indefinitely. Human rights groups and independent media also reported the failure to approve or deny Law 200 resulted in uncertainty surrounding the purchase and import of goods related to broadcasting. As a result, independent radio owners continued to defer long-term investments.

Some independent-media owners also alleged the government exerted pressure on private firms to limit advertising in independent media, although other observers believed the lack of advertising was the result of self-censorship by private companies or a business decision based on circulation numbers. Many journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing economic and physical repercussions for investigative reporting on crime or official corruption. In addition, media outlet owners exercised self-censorship by choosing not to publish news that affected public perceptions of the government or the FSLN.

Libel/Slander Laws: Although during the year the government did not use libel laws, independent media reported engaging in self-censorship due to the government’s previous use of libel laws. Slander and libel are both punishable by fines ranging from 120 to 300 times the minimum daily wage.

National Security: Human rights NGOs and civil society organizations argued the Sovereign Security Law was a basis for the government’s failure to respect civil liberties. Although not cited in specific cases, the law applies to “any other factor that creates danger to the security of the people, life, family, and community, as well as the supreme interests of the Nicaraguan nation.”

An NNP regulation restricts criticism of government policies and officials under the guise of protecting national security.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

c. Freedom of Religion

For more information, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government strictly controlled the entry of persons affiliated with some groups, specifically humanitarian and faith-based organizations. The government may prevent the departure of travelers with pending cases; authorities used this authority against individuals involved in the protest movement. The law requires exit visas for minors.

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. Only the executive branch or the country’s embassies abroad may grant asylum for political persecution. The Nicaraguan National Commission for Refugees had not met since 2015.

Durable Solutions: The government recognized 61 persons as refugees in 2015, the most recent year for which information was available. By mid-2018 the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees counted 326 refugees or persons in refugee-like situations in the country.

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 based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot, restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, and institutional fraud, among other obstacles, precluded opportunities for meaningful choice.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

There was widespread corruption, including in the police, the CSE, the Supreme Court, customs and tax authorities, and other government organs. The government did not effectively enforce criminal penalties for corruption, allowing officials to engage in corrupt practices with impunity. The Supreme Court and lower-level courts remained particularly susceptible to bribes, manipulation, and political influence, especially by the FSLN. Companies reported that bribery of public officials, unlawful seizures, and arbitrary assessments by customs and tax authorities were common.

Corruption: Corruption and impunity remained rampant among government officials, and a general state of permissiveness hindered the possibility of addressing the problem effectively. A lack of strong institutions, a weak system of checks and balances, and the overbearing political control of government institutions allowed for corruption to remain.

The Office of the Comptroller is responsible for combating corruption within government agencies and offices. The comptroller did not carry out a complete verification of the government’s full financial statements. The comptroller stated in 2015 that Albanisa, a private company controlled by regime insiders that imports and sells Venezuelan petroleum products, and associated revenue under the Venezuela oil cooperation agreement were not subject to audit because the National Assembly did not approve the agreement. Between January and June, the comptroller reported that corruption committed by 26 public officials resulted in economic losses to the government of 2.8 million cordobas ($116,000), an amount observers considered unreasonably low.

Executive branch officials continued to be involved in businesses financed by economic and developmental assistance funds lent by the Venezuelan-led Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), all of it outside the normal budgetary process controlled by the legislature. Media reported ALBA-funded contracts were awarded to companies with ties to the president’s family and noted the funds from Venezuela served as a separate budget tightly controlled by the FSLN, with little public oversight. Cases of mismanagement of these funds by public officials were reportedly handled personally by FSLN members and President Ortega’s immediate family, rather than by the government entities in charge of public funds.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials rarely made their financial information public as required by law, and there was no public record of sanctions for noncompliance.

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

The government imposed significant burdens on the limited number of human rights organizations it allowed to operate in the country. The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights remained stripped of its legal status, effectively hindering its ability to investigate human rights ions and abuses. The Nicaraguan Pro-Human Rights Association continued to operate from forced exile in Costa Rica and focused more on the Nicaraguan exile community. Other human rights organizations faced significant harassment and police surveillance. Humanitarian organizations faced obstacles to operating or denial of entry, and government officials harassed and intimidated domestic and international NGOs critical of the government or the FSLN. Some NGOs reported government intimidation that created a climate of fear intended to suppress criticism.

The government continued to prevent non-FSLN-affiliated NGOs and civil society groups from participating in government social programs, such as Programa Amor, which provides social protections to children and adolescents, and Hambre Cero, a program that distributes livestock for smallholder production. The government frequently used FSLN-controlled family cabinets and party-controlled CLSs to administer these programs. Government programs purportedly created to provide support for victims of the violence since April 2018 benefited only FSLN party members. Increased government restrictions on domestic NGOs’ ability to receive funding directly from international donors seriously hindered the NGOs’ ability to operate. The government continued to expand the reach of its Financial Analysis Unit through an amendment to its authorizing law passed on August 19 that obligates lawyers, notaries, and accountants to inform the unit of suspicious activities performed by their clients or employers, a move observers characterized as an overreach of authority for political persecution. In several instances the government used the unit to block access of an NGO to its bank account. In addition, increased control over the entry of foreign visitors or volunteer groups into the country hindered the work of humanitarian groups and human rights NGOs. Some groups reported difficulties in moving donated goods through customs and said government officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their complaints.

Domestic NGOs under government investigation reported problems accessing the justice system and delays in filing petitions, as well as pressure from state authorities. Many NGOs believed comptroller and tax authorities audited their accounts as a means of intimidation. While legally permitted, spot audits were a common form of harassment and often used selectively, according to NGOs. NGOs reported difficulties in scheduling meetings with authorities and in receiving official information due to a growing culture of secrecy. Local NGOs reported having to channel requests for meetings with ministry officials and for public information through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These requests were generally not processed. NGOs also reported government hostility or aggression when questioning or speaking with officials on subjects such as corruption and the rule of law. Groups opposing the construction of a proposed interoceanic canal also reported being harassed and placed under surveillance.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not allow the OHCHR or IACHR to send working groups to monitor the human rights situation in the country. The government did not cooperate with these groups, as noted in OHCHR and IACHR reports. During a July meeting between the government and the OHCHR regional office, the government stated it had no answer to the OHCHR’s request to be allowed back into the country to continue its documentation of human rights abuses.

The OAS Permanent Council held its General Assembly on June 26-27, during which the Permanent Council adopted a resolution to create a high-level commission to help resolve the country’s crisis. The government rejected the creation of the commission and stated that it would not allow the commission to enter the country. The government issued a travel warning on September 14 to its immigration offices proscribing the entrance into the country of commission members, including ambassadors and senior officials from five OAS member states and the chief of staff of the OAS secretary general.

Nicaragua did not send a representative to any of the 2019 IACHR hearings. In several instances protesters protected by IACHR precautionary measures were detained or continued to be harassed by progovernment supporters. On September 20, the government rejected 124 of the 259 recommendations made during the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Universal Periodic Review.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In November the National Assembly elected as human rights ombudsman Darling Rios, a sociologist with no previous human rights experience. Rios was a prominent leader of the Sandinista Youth wing of the FSLN. The National Assembly also elected a new vice ombudsman, Adolfo Jarquin, son of the previous vice ombudsman, also with no previous human rights experience. The Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights was perceived as politicized and ineffective. In March the UNHRC demoted the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights from category A to B for its lack of 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 right of all workers in the public and private sectors, with the exception of those in the military and police, to form and join independent unions of their choice without prior authorization and to bargain collectively. In practice the government violated the right by controlling established unions. The constitution recognizes the right to strike, although it places some restrictions on this right. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not provide for measures to protect against rights violation. Burdensome and lengthy conciliation procedures impeded workers’ ability to call strikes. The government created parallel labor unions to confuse and diffuse efforts to organize strikes or other labor actions. In addition, if a strike continues for 30 days without resolution, the Ministry of Labor may suspend the strike and submit the matter to arbitration.

A collective bargaining agreement may not exceed two years and is renewed automatically if neither party requests its revision. Collective bargaining agreements in the free trade zone regions, however, are for five-year periods. Companies in disputes with their employees must negotiate with the employees’ union, if one exists. By law several unions may coexist at any one enterprise, and the law permits management to sign separate collective bargaining agreements with each union.

The government sought to foster resolution of labor conflicts through informal negotiations rather than formal administrative or judicial processes. The law does not establish specific fines for labor law violations, and penalties were generally insufficient to deter violations. Although the law establishes a labor court arbitration process, it was subject to long wait times and lengthy and complicated procedures, and many labor disputes were resolved out of court. The government claimed the vast majority of labor disputes were resolved favorably to workers, but labor and human rights organizations continued to allege rulings were often unfavorable to workers.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not respected, and the government often intervened for political reasons. Most labor unions were allied with political parties, and in recent years the government reportedly dissolved unions and fired workers not associated with the ruling FSLN.

Politically motivated firings continued to be a problem, and the government appeared to accelerate such firings during prodemocracy protests. After the prodemocracy uprising in 2018, the Nicaraguan Medical Association reported at least 405 doctors, including medical school professors, had been fired from the public health system without cause as of August. Many of those affected stated they were fired for rejecting government orders not to provide medical attention to protesters. In 2018 authorities similarly fired more than 40 public university staff, who also claimed that firings were in retaliation for expressing support for protests or in favor of university students participating in protests. A majority of the doctors and university staff from the public sector fired for political reasons had not received severance pay as of November. Party affiliation or letters of recommendation from party secretaries, family cabinet coordinators, or other party officials were allegedly required from applicants seeking public-sector jobs. Several sources highlighted similar instances of public-sector employees being fired without receiving severance pay.

There were no known high-profile documented instances of strikes being declared illegal. During a strike, employers may not hire replacement workers, but unions alleged this practice was common. Wildcat strikes–those without union authorization–have historically been common.

Employers interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations and committed other violations related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Labor leaders noted employers routinely violated collective bargaining agreements and labor laws with impunity.

Many employers in the formal sector, which declined during the year, continued to blacklist or fire union members and did not reinstate them. Many of these cases did not reach the court system or a mediation process led by the Ministry of Labor. Employers often delayed severance payments to fired workers or omitted the payments altogether. Employers also avoided legal penalties by organizing employer-led unions lacking independence and by frequently using contract workers to replace striking employees. There were reports FSLN party dues were automatically deducted from paychecks.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties were generally insufficient to deter violations. There was no information available regarding government enforcement of these laws. Despite reported political will to combat human trafficking, including labor trafficking, during the year the government did not take sufficient action to address the scope of the problem and provided only limited information about its law enforcement efforts.

Observers noted reports of forced labor, including of men, women, and children in agriculture, construction, mining, street begging, and domestic servitude.

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 establishes the minimum age for employment at 14 and limits the workday for any individual between the ages of 14 and 18 to six hours and the workweek to 30 hours. Those between the ages of 14 and 16 must have parental approval to work or enter into a formal labor contract. The law prohibits teenage domestic workers from sleeping in the houses of their employers. It is illegal for minors to work in places the Ministry of Labor considers harmful to their health or safety, such as mines, garbage dumps, and night entertainment venues, and to undertake certain agricultural work. The government mostly enforced the law in the formal sector, which was significantly smaller than the informal sector, in which child labor was more prevalent. Legal penalties for persons employing children in dangerous work were sufficient to deter violations.

The government used its limited resources to concentrate on child labor violations in select sectors in narrow geographic areas, such as coffee-growing regions, and gave only limited attention to the large informal sector.

The government continued Programa Amor, which aimed to eradicate child labor by reintegrating abandoned children into society. Information on the program’s activities, funding, and effectiveness was unavailable.

Child labor remained widespread. According to organizations that worked on children’s rights, this likely increased to almost 320,000 children working in some form of child labor. A common feature of child labor was the prevalence of unpaid family work, and the National Institute of Development Information stated 80 percent of children and adolescents were unpaid workers.

Most child labor occurred in forestry, fishing, and the informal sector, including on coffee plantations and subsistence farms. Child labor also occurred in the production of dairy products, oranges, bananas, tobacco, palm products, coffee, rice, and sugarcane; cattle raising; street sales; garbage-dump scavenging; stone crushing; gold mining and quarrying of pumice and limestone; construction; drug production and trafficking; street performing; domestic work; and transport.

Children working in agriculture suffered from sun exposure, extreme temperatures, and dangerous pesticides and other chemicals. Children working in the fishing industry were at risk from polluted water and dangerous ocean conditions.

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 and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status. The government did not deter such discrimination because it did not effectively enforce the law and regulations.

Discrimination in employment took many forms. Although women generally had equal access to employment, few women had senior positions in business and worked in the informal sector at higher levels than men; in the public sector or in elected positions, women’s independence and influence were limited. In addition, women’s wages were generally lower when compared with those of male counterparts, even for the same position and work performed. Workplace challenges for persons with disabilities included inadequate infrastructure, lack of educational opportunities, and a generally low rate of public-services positions, despite a legal requirement that a certain percentage be available to them. LGBTI organizations complained that sexual orientation and gender identity continued to be a basis for discriminatory behavior.

The Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed its deep concern over discrimination on political grounds in the exercise of the rights to work. Workers who disagreed with government recommendations were fired, and only those with a membership card of the ruling party were hired.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes a statutory minimum wage for 10 economic sectors. According to the Ministry of Labor, the average legal minimum wage covered only 35 percent of the cost of basic goods. The ministry, together with workers’ unions aligned with the ruling party, agreed to freeze minimum wage raises for the year.

The minimum wage was generally enforced only in the formal sector, estimated to be approximately 20 percent of the economy, and in contracting. The Ministry of Labor is the primary enforcement agency, but the government did not allocate adequate staff or other measures to enable the Office of Hygiene and Occupational Safety to enforce occupational safety and health (OSH) provisions. Established penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

The standard legal workweek is a maximum of 48 hours, with one day of rest. The law dictates an obligatory year-end bonus equivalent to one month’s pay, proportional to the number of months worked. The law mandates premium pay for overtime, prohibits compulsory overtime, and sets a maximum of three hours of overtime per day not to exceed nine hours per week.

According to International Labor Organization guidelines, the number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the size of the workforce, which included approximately three million workers.

The National Council of Labor Hygiene and Safety, including its departmental committees, is responsible for implementing worker safety legislation and collaborating with other government agencies and civil society organizations in developing assistance programs and promoting training and prevention activities. OSH standards did not deter violations in the formal sector because they were infrequently enforced.

OSH standards also were not widely enforced in an expanding large informal sector, which represented 77 percent of employment and 88 percent of businesses, according to 2016 reports from the Consultants for Business Development and the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development. The informal sector included the bulk of workers in street sales, agriculture and ranching, transportation, domestic labor, fishing, and minor construction. Legal limitations on hours worked often were ignored by employers, who claimed workers readily volunteered for extra hours for additional pay. Violations of wage and hour regulations in the informal sector were common and generally not investigated, particularly in street sales, domestic work, and agriculture, where children continued to work in tobacco, banana, and coffee plantations. Compulsory overtime was reported in the private security sector, where guards often were required to work excessive shifts without relief.

By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. It was unclear if authorities effectively protected employees in such cases.

Panama

Executive Summary

Panama is a multiparty constitutional democracy. In May voters chose Laurentino Cortizo Cohen as president in national elections that international and domestic observers considered generally free and fair.

The country has no military forces. The Panama National Police (PNP) is principally responsible for internal law enforcement and public order, while additional security forces are responsible for border control and aero naval security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: harsh prison conditions; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including through censorship and criminal libel lawsuits; and forced child labor.

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively.

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. The government generally respected this right, but journalists and media outlets noted an increase in criminal and civil libel/slander lawsuits, which they considered a threat to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: In July under the Cortizo administration, security guards from the National Assembly expelled a known television personality from the National Assembly media balcony to prevent her from covering a migration bill. Two days later the National Assembly budget committee met behind closed doors to avoid press coverage, which was not standard practice. Both actions resulted in complaints from opposition deputies and civil society leaders.

Libel/Slander Laws: According to local media, former president Ricardo Martinelli submitted 50 libel/slander lawsuits against local media, 26 of which were issued after he was declared not guilty on August 9 of illegal wiretapping. Reports stated Martinelli’s civil lawsuits against daily newspapers El Siglo, La Prensa, and Mi Diario included media employees whose work was not related to judicial or political reporting (editorial cartoonists and graphic designers).

In May Corprensa (which owns La Prensa and Mi Diario) was found guilty in a libel/slander lawsuit filed by former first lady Marta de Martinelli. The corporation was sentenced to pay $25,000 balboas ($25,000) in damages and 6,000 balboas ($6,000) to cover legal expenses.

On September 2, Martinelli filed a civil lawsuit against TVN Information vice president and television host Sabrina Bacal, seeking one million balboas (one million dollars) in damages for calling him a thief during a public interview.

Following these legal actions, on September 3, media associations Journalism National Council and the Journalists Forum for Freedom of Expression and Information issued a joint statement requesting the Judicial Branch and Public Ministry keep “vigilant” regarding the “growing trend to abuse the justice system, using it as a censorship, intimidation, and persecution tool against journalists and media.”

Media organizations and media leaders claimed these lawsuits hindered reporting on specific cases and individuals and were likely intended to financially damage media corporations.

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.

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. The Panamanian National Office for Refugees (ONPAR) had a backlog of more than 15,000 cases and usually approved only 1 percent of asylum requests. ONPAR processed asylum applications and then referred applications to the National Commission for Refugees, an interagency committee that decides the final status of every case. The process of obtaining refugee status currently takes two to three years, during which only asylum seekers admitted into the process had the right to work. The current asylum application process can take up to one year for applicants to even be admitted into the system, which was not a guarantee of asylum approval.

The government approved and implemented the protocol for identification, referral, and attention for minors requiring international protection; however, the institutional protocol for protecting minors who migrate was pending implementation approval.

The government continued to manage camps in the Darien region to provide food, shelter, and medical assistance to migrants. At least one camp in the Darien did not have regular access to potable water and at times presented unsanitary conditions, especially when dealing with high volumes of migrants. The government reported continued migrations of persons from Cuba, Haiti, South Asia, India, and Africa.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its NGO implementing partners, thousands of persons living in the country were possibly in need of international protection. These included persons in the refugee process, persons denied refugee status, and persons who did not apply for refugee status due to lack of knowledge or fear of deportation.

Employment: Refugees recognized by authorities have the right to work, but recognized refugees complained that they faced discriminatory hiring practices. In an effort to prevent this discriminatory practice, ONPAR removed the word “refugee” from recognized refugees’ identification cards. By law individuals in the process of applying for asylum do not have the right to work; however, beginning in May those who had been formally admitted into the asylum process could request a one-year work permit that could be renewed as many times as needed.

Access to Basic Services: Education authorities sometimes denied refugees access to education and refused to issue diplomas to others if they could not present school records from their country of origin. The Ministry of Education continued to enforce the government’s 2015 decree requiring schools to accept students in the asylum process at the grade level commensurate with the applicants’ prior studies. As a result of the long wait times to be entered into the asylum system, many applicants encountered difficulties accessing basic services such as health care, financial services, and appropriate housing.

Durable Solutions: The law allows persons legally recognized as refugees or with asylum status who have lived in the country for more than three years to seek permanent residency.

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. Naturalized citizens may not hold specified categories of elective office, such as the presidency.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. The government used anticorruption mechanisms such as asset forfeiture, whistleblower and witness protection, plea bargaining, and professional conflict-of-interest rules to address corrupt practices among government employees and security forces. Nevertheless, corruption remained a problem in the executive, judicial and legislative branches as well as in the security forces.

Corruption: The Public Ministry continued investigations into allegations of corruption against public officials but many have not resulted in convictions, and in one high-profile case, a court order denied requests for extensions of the legal timelines for more investigations. In a March hearing, an anticorruption prosecutor asked a criminal judge to convict six penitentiary system employees for corruption and six individuals are under fraud charges. Corruption and a lack of accountability among police continued to be a problem. The new administration that took office in July made personnel changes in all public forces agencies. Agents were dismissed on grounds of corruption and were under investigation by the Public Ministry. Mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in the security forces remain centralized and opaque. The government rarely made cases of police abuse or corruption public, and the National Criminal Statistics Directorate was unable to provide strong data on police internal affairs.

As of September the Public Ministry continued the investigations of the Comptroller General’s Office’s 2018 audits of transactions between 2009 and 2014 by elected local representatives. The comptroller alleged a misuse of public funds through irregular contracts carried out by the Martinelli administration’s National Assistance Program. No charges were filed during the year.

The 2018 corruption cases filed by the Comptroller General’s Office before the Supreme Court against deputies from all political parties represented in the National Assembly were still under investigation by the court as of September.

The case continued against former minister of the presidency Demetrio “Jimmy” Papadimitriu and former minister of public works Jaime Ford, both in the Martinelli administration, detained in 2018 for alleged links to bribes paid by Brazilian multinational construction company Odebrecht. Both individuals faced money laundering and corruption charges. They were released on bail but could not leave the country without a court order. The cases remained under the inquisitorial system. Papadimitriu’s mother, Maria Bagatelas, a private citizen also involved in the Odebrecht case, was under house arrest, but in August the Supreme Court changed the measure and issued an order forbidding her from departing the country without a court’s approval.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain executive and judiciary officials to submit a financial disclosure statement to the Comptroller General’s Office. The information is not made public unless the official explicitly gives permission.

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.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman, elected by the National Assembly, has moral but not legal authority. The Ombudsman’s Office received government cooperation and operated without government or party interference; it referred cases to the proper investigating authorities.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The legal framework of labor laws is based upon the Labor Code of 1971, which provides for private-sector workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. By law the majority of public-sector employees can strike but may not organize unions. Instead, those public-sector employees may organize professional associations that would bargain collectively on behalf of its members, although the public entity is not legally obligated to bargain with the association. Under the previous Varela administration, the Ministry of Labor registered more than 10 public-sector unions within a few ministries, such as the Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Maritime Authority, among others. As a result the government is not obligated to engage in negotiations with the professional associations within these entities. The National Federation of Public Servants (FENASEP), an umbrella federation of 25 public-sector worker associations, traditionally fought for the establishment of rights similar to those of private-sector unions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity but does not provide adequate means of protecting from rights violations.

Unions and associations are required to register with the Ministry of Labor. If the ministry does not respond to a private-sector union registration application within 15 calendar days, the union automatically gains legal recognition, provided the request is submitted directly with supported documentation established by law. In the public sector, professional associations gain legal recognition automatically if the General Directorate for Administrative Public Sector Careers does not respond to registration applications within 30 days. From January to September, the General Directorate approved seven public and 10 private union formation applications.

The Ministry of Labor Board of Appeals and Conciliation has the authority to resolve certain labor disagreements, such as internal union disputes, enforcement of the minimum wage, and some dismissal issues. The law allows arbitration by mutual consent, at the request of the employee or the ministry, in the case of a collective dispute in a privately held public utility company. It allows either party to appeal if arbitration is mandated during a collective dispute in a public-service company. The Ministry of Labor Board of Appeals and Conciliation has sole competency for disputes related to domestic employees, some dismissal issues, and claims of less than $1,500. The Minister of Labor initiated biennial minimum wage negotiations in August and was to act as a moderator between union and private-sector stakeholders.

Government-regulated union membership policies place some restrictions on freedom of association. The constitution mandates that only citizens may serve on a union’s executive board. In addition, the law requires a minimum of 40 persons to form a private-sector union (either by a company across trades or by trade across companies) and allows only one union per business establishment. The International Labor Organization criticized the 40-person minimum as too large for workers wanting to form a union within a company. Many domestic labor unions, as well as the public and private sectors, reiterated their support for keeping the figure at 40 individuals.

In the public sector, professional associations represent the majority of workers. The law stipulates only one association may exist per public-sector institution and permits no more than one chapter per province. At least 50 public servants are required to form a professional association. No law protects the jobs of public-sector workers in the event of a strike. FENASEP contended there was no political will to allow all public servants within ministries to form unions, because this could eliminate positions for political appointees.

The law prohibits federations and confederations from calling strikes, as well as strikes against the government’s economic and social policy. Individual professional associations under FENASEP may negotiate on behalf of their members, but the Ministry of Labor can order compulsory arbitration. FENASEP leaders noted that collective bargaining claims were heard and recognized by employers but did not result in tangible results or changes, particularly in cases of dismissals without cause.

According to the labor code, the majority of private-sector employees must support a strike, and strikes are permitted only if they are related to the improvement of working conditions, a collective bargaining agreement, for repeated violations of legal rights, or in support of another strike of workers on the same project (solidarity strike). In the event of a strike, at least 20 to 30 percent of the workforce must continue to provide minimum services, particularly public services as defined by law, such as transportation, sanitation, mail delivery, hospital care, telecommunications, and public availability of essential food.

Strikes in essential transportation services are limited to those involving public passenger services. The law prohibits strikes for Panama Canal Authority (ACP) employees but allows professional associations to organize and bargain collectively on issues such as schedules and safety, and it provides arbitration to resolve disputes. (The ACP is an autonomous entity, with independence from the central government).

The Ministry of the Presidency Conciliation Board hears and resolves public-sector worker complaints. The board refers complaints it cannot resolve to an arbitration panel, which consists of representatives from the employer, the professional association, and a third member chosen by the first two. If the dispute cannot be resolved, it is referred to a tribunal under the board. Observers, however, noted that the Ministry of the Presidency had not designated the tribunal judges. The alternative to the board is the civil court system.

Cases presented in the courts tend to favor employers. FENASEP noted that one public-sector institution had appealed more than 100 complaints to the Supreme Court, only two of which resulted in rulings in favor of the public-sector employee. While Supreme Court decisions are final, labor organizations may appeal their case results in international human rights courts.

One labor strike and labor protest occurred during the year. Workers at the Balboa port conducted a July 17-28 strike against Panama Ports’ decision to appeal collective agreement negotiations in the Supreme Court. (Note: Panama Ports was previously owned by the state but was privatized, and a Hong Kong-based company won the concession. End note). According to reports, these appeals subsequently delayed salary increases and working condition improvements. The strike ended on July 29, after the Ministry of Labor mediated an agreement between port workers and employers that promoted worker safety regulations and business economic welfare.

The Allied Association of Transport Port Ex-Employees’ (ASOTRAP) hosted an August labor walk to the Panamanian Presidency to pressure both the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the Cortizo Administration to address claims that terminated Balboa and Cristobal port workers did not receive severance pay guaranteed by law when those ports were privatized. ASOTRAP asserted that because the termination occurred after August 15, former workers were entitled to the Panamanian 13th Month Bonus, a program in which workers receive one month’s wages annually (one-third paid April 15, one-third paid August 15, and the last third on December 15). ASOTRAP also contended that the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights had not made a ruling on the case. Although the commission sent ASOTRAP a letter acknowledging receipt of the case in 2015, ASOTRAP contended that the commission had not made a final case ruling.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced labor of adults or children, as well as modern-day slavery and human trafficking. The law establishes penalties sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The government effectively enforced the law. There continued to be reports of Central and South American and Chinese men exploited in forced labor in construction, agriculture, mining, restaurants, door-to-door peddling, and other sectors; traffickers reported using debt bondage, false promises, lack of knowledge of the refugee process and irregular status, restrictions on movement, and other means. There also were reports of forced child labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 14, although children who have not completed primary school may not begin work until 15. The family code permits children ages 12 to 14 to perform domestic and agricultural work with regard to schedule, salary, contract, and type. The law allows children ages 12 to 15 to perform light work in agriculture if the work is outside regular school hours. The law also allows a child older than 12 to perform light domestic work and stipulates employers must ensure the child attends school through primary school. The law neither defines the type of light work children may perform nor limits the total number of light domestic work hours these children may perform. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in hazardous work but allows children as young as 14 to perform hazardous tasks in a training facility, in violation of international standards.

Minors younger than 16 may work no more than six hours per day or 36 hours per week, while those ages 16 and 17 may work no more than seven hours per day or 42 hours per week. Children younger than 18 may not work between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The National Commission for the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents conducted 59 awareness meetings in vulnerable communities, with the participation of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Development. Its actions focused on regions sensitive to sexual exploitation of minors in tourism locations, including Panama City, Bocas del Toro, Cocle, and Chiriqui. Criminal enforcement agencies investigated 398 reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children during 2018, compared with 920 in the previous year. The country is a source, transit point, and destination for men and women exploited in forced labor. Children were exploited in forced labor, particularly domestic servitude, and sex trafficking. The law includes punishment of up to 12 years’ imprisonment for anyone who recruits children younger than 18 or uses them to participate actively in armed hostilities.

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 regarding race, gender, religion, political opinion, citizenship, disability, social status, and HIV status. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the country is a member of the International Equal Pay Coalition, which promotes pay equality between women and men, a gender wage gap continued to exist.

Despite legal protections, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, sex, gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, and HIV-positive status. During the job interview process, applicants, both citizens and migrants, must complete medical examinations, including HIV/AIDS testing. The law requires all laboratories to inform applicants an HIV test will be administered, but private-sector laboratories often did not comply. It was common practice for private-sector human resources offices to terminate applications of HIV-positive citizens without informing the applicant. While private laboratories often informed law enforcement of HIV-positive migrants, the National Immigration Office did not engage in deportation procedures specifically based on a migrant’s HIV status. NGOs noted that during job interviews, women were often asked if they were married, pregnant, or planned to have children in the future. It was common practice for human resources offices to terminate the applications of women who indicated a possibility of pregnancy in the near future (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage only for private sector workers. The wage was above the poverty line. Public servants received lower minimum wages than their private-sector counterparts. Most workers formally employed in urban areas earned the minimum wage or more. As of August 2018, approximately 43 percent of the working population worked in the informal sector, and some earned well below the minimum wage. The agricultural sector, as well as the maritime and aviation sectors, received the lowest and highest minimum wages, respectively. The Ministry of Labor was less likely to enforce labor laws in most rural areas (see section 6, Indigenous People).

The law establishes a standard workweek of 48 hours, provides for at least one 24-hour rest period weekly, limits the number of hours worked per week, provides for premium pay for overtime, and prohibits compulsory overtime. There is no annual limit on the total number of overtime hours allowed. If employees work more than three hours of overtime in one day or more than nine overtime hours in a week, excess overtime hours must be paid at an additional 75 percent above the normal wage. Workers have the right to 30 days’ paid vacation for every 11 months of continuous work, including those who do not work full time.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for setting health and safety standards. Standards were generally current and appropriate for some of the industries in the country. The law requires employers to provide a safe workplace environment, including the provision of protective clothing and equipment for workers.

The Ministry of Labor generally enforced these standards in the formal sector. The inspection office consists of two groups: The Panama City-based headquarters group and the regional group. The number of inspectors and safety officers was insufficient to enforce labor laws adequately. As of July the Ministry of Labor had conducted 9,397 safety inspections nationwide. Fines were low and generally insufficient to deter violations. During the year, however, the government levied fines according to the number of workers affected, resulting in larger overall fines.

Reports of violations relating to hours of work were frequent, especially in the maritime sector, where unions reported shifts of 14 to 24 hours. There were allegations indicating that neither the Panamanian Maritime Authority nor the Ministry of Labor conducted inspections of working conditions in the maritime sector. The ACP unions and workers experienced difficulties accessing the justice system to adjudicate complaints due to delays and other deficiencies of the Labor Relations Board, which is the court of first instance on labor matters for the autonomous ACP. Reports also indicated violations relating to hours of work for coffee harvest workers, who often lacked formal contracts and were vulnerable to coercion from employers.

Employers often hired employees under short-term contracts to avoid paying benefits that accrue to long-term employees. Employers in the maritime sector also commonly hired workers continuously on short-term contracts but did not convert them to permanent employees as required by law. The law states that employers have the right to dismiss any employee without justifiable cause before the two-year tenure term. As a result, employers frequently hired workers for one year and 11 months and subsequently dismissed them to circumvent laws that make firing employees more difficult after two years of employment. This practice is illegal if the same employee is rehired as a temporary worker after being dismissed, although employees rarely reported the practice.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and the occupational health section of the Social Security Administration reported conducting periodic inspections of hazardous employment sites. The law requires the resident engineer and a ministry safety officer to remain on construction sites, establish fines for noncompliance, and identify a tripartite group composed of the Chamber of Construction, the construction union SUNTRACS, and the ministry to regulate adherence.

Some construction workers and their employers were occasionally lax about basic safety measures, frequently due to their perception that it reduced productivity. Equipment was often outdated, broken, or lacking safety devices, due in large part to a fear that the replacement cost would be prohibitive. In August a construction worker died in the city of David after falling 39 feet off a beam while working on a shopping center construction project. After his death, the Union of Construction Workers announced a temporary work stoppage on the project.

Peru

Executive Summary

Peru is a constitutional, multiparty republic. President Martin Vizcarra assumed the presidency in March 2018 following the resignation of then president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski when Vizcarra was vice president. Kuczynski won the 2016 national elections in a vote widely considered free and fair. Invoking articles of the constitution, President Vizcarra dissolved Congress on September 30. Legislative elections are scheduled for January 2020.

The national police, who report to the Ministry of Interior, maintain internal security. The military, reporting to the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities in exceptional circumstances and in designated emergency areas. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included isolated cases of torture; government corruption at all levels, including in the judiciary; sexual exploitation, including human trafficking; violence against women and girls; and forced labor.

The government took steps to investigate and in some cases prosecute or otherwise punish public officials, including high-level officials, accused of 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 this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system generally promoted freedom of expression, including for the press. According to the Interamerican Press Society, an increase in the number of civil libel and slander lawsuits and lengthy court cases threatened freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists alleged that police, protesters, and company personnel assaulted and threatened them while covering various protests and incidents of social unrest. In one such incident in September, police officers attacked a journalist covering protests in Puno. The Ombudsman’s Office recommended the PNP investigate the alleged assault.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: NGOs continued to report that some media, most notably in the provinces outside of Lima, practiced self-censorship due to fear of local government reprisal.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some media reported narcotics traffickers and persons engaged in illegal mining threatened press freedom by intimidating local journalists who reported on those activities.

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

In-country Movement: Due to the presence of the Shining Path, drug trafficking, and transnational organized crime, the government maintained an emergency zone in the VRAEM and parts of four regions where authorities restricted freedom of movement in an effort to maintain public peace and restore internal order.

Narcotics traffickers and Shining Path members at times interrupted the free movement of persons by establishing roadblocks in sections of the VRAEM emergency zone. Individuals protesting against extractive industry projects also occasionally established roadblocks throughout the country.

f. Protection of Refugees

As of July more than one million foreign-born persons lived in the country. In December 2018 the government discontinued the application for one-year temporary residence permits (PTPs) targeted at Venezuelans, who numbered more than 860,000. PTP holders can legally reside and work in the country. During the 23 months when PTPs were issued (February 2017 to December 2018), the government granted 486,000 permits. Before a PTP expires, the holder must adjust to a more permanent migratory status, including a “special migratory resident status” designed for PTP holders who certify economic activity and no criminal record. This status adjustment results in a foreign resident identification, equivalent in most ways to a Peruvian citizen’s national identification.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for protecting refugees. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and recognized the Peruvian Catholic Migration Commission as the official provider of technical assistance to refugees. The commission also advised citizens who sought asylum based on a fear of persecution. The government protected refugees on a renewable, year-to-year basis, in accordance with commission recommendations.

Employment: According to a September UNHCR report, 62 percent of Venezuelans surveyed in the cities of Cusco, Lima, Arequipa, Tumbes, and Tacna believed they had been targets of discrimination, particularly because of their nationality. Following decrees limiting the employment of foreigners in the cities of Cusco and Huancayo, the Ombudsman’s Office issued a public statement in March characterizing the decrees as promoting discriminatory conduct that reinforces stereotypes of Venezuelan migrants. Human rights advocates challenged the decrees in courts, and prosecutors denounced the mayor of Huancayo for inciting discrimination. The Cusco decree was amended to focus on penalizing the practice of arbitrarily dismissing workers and replacing them with persons willing to work at a lower wage.

Durable Solutions: The government does not have a formalized integration program for refugees, but it received persons recognized as refugees by other nations, granted refugee status to persons who applied from within Peru, and provided some administrative support toward their integration. UNHCR provided these refugees with humanitarian and emergency aid, legal assistance, documentation, and, in exceptional cases, voluntary return and family reunification.

Temporary Protection: As of August the government provided temporary protection to more than 277,000 individuals awaiting a decision on their refugee status. The government provided these individuals with temporary residence permits and authorization to work.

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, compulsory, and equal suffrage.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not always implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of corruption by government officials during the year. Citizens continued to view corruption as a pervasive problem in all branches of national, regional, and local governments.

Corruption: Several high-profile political figures were under investigation for corruption, particularly in relation to the well publicized Odebrecht corruption scandal. Former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (2016-18), who resigned in 2018 in the wake of a corruption scandal, was under house arrest pending charges against him. Former president Ollanta Humala (2011-16) and his wife Nadine Heredia remained under investigation on charges of money-laundering campaign donations. Their pretrial detention was annulled by the Constitutional Tribunal in 2018. Former president Alan Garcia (1985-90, 2006-11) died by suicide in April when police arrived at his residence to detain him under a 10-day preliminary arrest warrant on corruption charges. Former president Alejandro Toledo (2001-06) was in preventive detention in the United States awaiting extradition for allegedly accepting bribes during his administration. In November the Constitutional Tribunal approved a habeas corpus request to free two-time presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori from preventive detention while the investigation continued on charges of her obstruction of justice and money-laundering campaign donations.

There was evidence of widespread corruption in the judicial system. Prosecutors launched an investigation following 2018 media reports of a judicial scandal involving allegations of influence peddling and graft by various judges at all levels. In February a specialized team of prosecutors signed an agreement between the government and Brazilian company Odebrecht under which several corporate officials would collaborate with justice authorities to detail Odebrecht’s corruption schemes in Peru.

PNP officials at all levels were implicated in corruption scandals during the year. In September, PNP commander Manuel Hiraldo Morillo Cribilleros, head of the Criminal Division of Puerto Maldonado in the Madre de Dios region, was arrested during a large-scale law enforcement operation targeting the Los Brothers human trafficking ring. Morillo was suspected of being involved in sex trafficking and corruption.

Financial Disclosure: Most public officials must submit personal financial information to the Office of the Comptroller General prior to taking office and periodically thereafter. The comptroller monitors and verifies disclosures, but the law was not strongly enforced. Administrative punishments for noncompliance can include suspension between 30 days and one year, a ban on signing government contracts, and a ban on holding government office. The comptroller makes disclosures available to the public. The comptroller reported only 22 audits were conducted for the 50,000 public official disclosures in 2017. In July, Congress approved an executive proposal to strengthen penalties against anonymous campaign donations.

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 somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Human rights and environmental activists continued to express concern for their safety while working in areas with a lot of natural resource extraction, including illegal logging and mining. They alleged local authorities harassed activists, especially in areas where officials faced corruption charges and suspicion of links to criminal activities. The activists claimed the slow, ineffective process for punishing harassers effectively supported impunity.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, and in particular the Vice Ministry of Human Rights and Access to Justice, oversees human rights issues at the national level. The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations also have significant human rights roles. These government bodies were generally considered effective.

The independent Office of the Ombudsman operated without government or party interference, and NGOs, civil society organizations, and the public considered it effective.

Congressional committees overseeing human rights included Justice and Human Rights; Women and the Family; Labor and Social Security; Andean, Amazonian, Afro-Peruvian Peoples and Environment and Ecology; Health and Population; and Social Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

With certain limitations, labor laws and regulations provide for freedom of association, the right to strike, and collective bargaining. The law prohibits intimidation by employers and other forms of antiunion discrimination. It requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, unless they opt to receive compensation instead. The law allows workers to form unions without seeking prior authorization. By law at least 20 workers must be affiliated to form an enterprise-level union and 50 workers must be affiliated to form a sector-wide union or federation. Some labor activists viewed this requirement as prohibitively high in some instances, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses, which represent 96.5 percent of all businesses. The use of unlimited consecutive short-term contracts in sectors such as textiles, apparel, and agriculture made the exercise of freedom of association and collective bargaining difficult.

The law allows unions to declare a strike in accordance with their governing documents. Private-sector workers must give at least five working-days’ advance notice, and public-sector workers must give at least 10 working-days’ notice. The law allows nonunion workers to declare a strike with a majority vote as long as the written voting record is notarized and announced at least five working days prior to the strike. Unions in essential services are permitted to call a strike but must provide 15 working-days’ notice, receive the approval of the Ministry of Labor, obtain approval of a simple majority of workers, and provide a sufficient number of workers during a strike to maintain operations. Private enterprises and public institutions cannot fire workers who strike legally.

The law requires businesses to monitor their contractors with respect to labor rights, and it imposes liability on businesses for the actions of their contractors. Private-sector labor law sets out nine categories of short-term employment contracts that companies may use. The law sets time limits on contracts in each category and has a five-year overall limit on the consecutive use of short-term contracts. A sector-specific law covering parts of the textile and apparel sectors exempts employers from this five-year limit and allows employers to hire workers indefinitely on short-term contracts. In September, Congress renewed the agricultural promotion law, which provides for hiring, compensation, and vacation benefits for farmers until 2031.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Although the Ministry of Labor and its National Superintendency of Labor Inspection (SUNAFIL) received budget increases in 2017 and 2018, resources remained inadequate to enforce freedom of association, collective bargaining, and other labor laws.

Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining were insufficient to deter violations and, according to labor experts and union representatives, were rarely enforced. Workers continued to face prolonged judicial processes and lack of enforcement following dismissals for trade union activity. In October the Ministry of Labor created new services to protect unionization and freedom of association.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Forced labor and labor exploitation crimes continued to occur in domestic service, agriculture, forestry, mining, factories, counterfeit operations, brick making, and organized street begging.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and the law was not enforced effectively. The law prescribes penalties of eight to 15 years’ imprisonment for labor trafficking. The government, due in part to weak enforcement and uneven application of the law, failed to deter violations.

SUNAFIL officials conducted inspections to identify forced labor. The Ministry of Labor and SUNAFIL trained SUNAFIL staff and nearly 3,000 regional labor inspectors around the country to raise awareness of forced labor and the applicable law. In September the government approved the National Plan against Forced Labor for 2019-22. The plan aims to identify victims of forced labor, improve the government’s response to violations, restore rights that were violated, and give victims access to basic services, such as legal assistance, health care, and job training. The government also continued to implement the National Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons 2017-21.

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 most of the worst forms of child labor, but there is no prohibition of child recruitment by nonstate armed groups. The legal minimum age for employment is 14, although children between the ages of 12 and 14 may work in certain jobs for up to four hours per day. Adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17 may work up to six hours per day if they obtain special permission from the Ministry of Labor and certify that they are attending school. In certain sectors of the economy, higher age minimums exist: 15 in nonindustrial agriculture; 16 in industry, commerce, and mining; and 17 in industrial fishing. The law specifically prohibits hiring minors in hazardous occupations, including working underground, lifting or carrying heavy weights, accepting responsibility for the safety of others, and working at night. The law allows a judge to authorize children who are 15 and older to engage in night work not exceeding four hours a day. The law prohibits work that jeopardizes the health of children and adolescents; puts their physical, mental, and emotional development at risk; or prevents regular attendance at school.

A permit from the Labor Ministry is required for persons younger than 18 to work legally. Parents must apply for the permit, and employers must have a permit on file to hire a minor.

The Ministry of Labor and SUNAFIL are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but enforcement was not effective, especially in the informal sector, where most child labor occurred.

In August the Labor Ministry signed a decree that establishes a public accreditation process for companies producing child-labor-free agricultural products.

A 2016 government report on child labor found that more than 26 percent of children between the ages of five and 17 worked. The report noted child labor rates correlated closely with high poverty rates. The report found the rate of child labor was highest, at 46 percent, in rural, agricultural areas, whereas in urban areas the child labor rate was 13 percent.

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 employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, disability, age, language, or social status. The law does not specifically identify discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The law prohibits discrimination against domestic workers and prohibits any requirement by employers for their domestic workers to wear uniforms in public places. The law establishes the following employment quotas for persons with disabilities: 3 percent for private businesses with more than 50 employees and 5 percent for public-sector organizations. The National Council for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities oversees compliance with employment quotas for persons with disabilities.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment, but they were not sufficient to deter violations. NGOs and labor rights advocates noted that discrimination cases often went unreported.

Societal prejudice and discrimination led to disproportionately high poverty and unemployment rates for women, who earned 30 percent less than their male counterparts. Women were more likely than men to work in the informal sector, such as in domestic work or as street vendors, resulting in lower wages and a lack of benefits. Women were also more likely to work in less safe occupations, such as factory work, exposing them to more occupational injuries and serious accidents.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage, which was less than the official estimate for the poverty income level. The government did not effectively enforce wage laws, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations of minimum wage standards.

The law provides for a 48-hour workweek and one day of rest for formal workers. There is no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, nor does the law limit the amount of overtime that a worker may work. The law stipulates 15 days of paid annual vacation.

Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are appropriate for the main industries. SUNAFIL is responsible for the enforcement of OSH standards. The government did not effectively enforce the law, as it did not devote sufficient resources or personnel to enforce OSH standards adequately.

Noncompliance with labor law is punishable by fines. According to a labor NGO and labor experts, many fines went uncollected, in part because the government lacked an efficient tracking system and at times lacked political will.

The law provides for fines and criminal sanctions for OSH violations. In cases of infractions, injury, or death of workers or subcontractors, the penalty is sufficient to deter violations. Criminal penalties are limited to those cases where employers deliberately violated safety and health laws and where labor authorities had previously and repeatedly notified employers who did not adopt corrective measures. The law requires that a worker prove an employer’s culpability before he or she can obtain compensation for work-related injuries.

Representatives of labor, business, and the government reported that the majority of companies in the formal sector generally complied with the law. Many workers in the informal economy, which was approximately 70 percent of the total labor force, received less than the minimum wage. Most informal workers were self-employed. Nearly 90 percent of Venezuelan migrant workers were in the informal sector, most of them in suboptimal conditions due to their lack of proper documentation and inability to validate their academic credentials.