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Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Read A Section: The Area Administered By Turkish Cypriots

Republic of Cyprus

Since 1974 the southern part of Cyprus has been under the control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus.  The northern part of Cyprus, administered by Turkish Cypriots, proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” in 1983.  The United States does not recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” nor does any country other than Turkey.  A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island.  A buffer zone, or “Green Line,” patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, separates the two sides.  This report is divided into two parts:  the Republic of Cyprus, and the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The northern part of Cyprus has been administered by Turkish Cypriots since 1974 and proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” in 1983. The United States does not recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” nor does any country other than Turkey. In 2020 Ersin Tatar was elected “president” in free and fair elections. In 2018 voters elected 50 “members of parliament” in free and fair elections. The “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” “constitution” is the basis for the “laws” that govern the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities.

Police are responsible for enforcement of the “law.” The “chief of police” reports to a “general,” who is nominally under the supervision of the “prime ministry,” which holds the security portfolio. Police and Turkish Cypriot security forces are ultimately under the operational command of the Turkish armed forces, as provided by the “constitution,” which entrusts responsibility for public security and defense to Turkey. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: serious restrictions on freedom of expression and the press including criminal libel laws; refoulement of asylum seekers; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national minorities.

Authorities took steps to investigate officials following allegations of human rights abuses. There was evidence, however, of impunity.

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

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

There were no reports the “government” or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The police force and “military court” are responsible for investigating and pursuing prosecutions for alleged arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The “law” prohibits such practices, but there were reports during the year that police abused detainees. The “law” does not refer explicitly to torture but does prohibit police mistreatment of detainees under the section of the “criminal code” that deals with assault, violence, and battery.

The “attorney general’s office” reported they received three complaints concerning police battery and use of force during the year and had launched investigations into all three cases.

The “attorney general’s office” reported investigating two complaints concerning police battery and use of force in 2019. One of the cases involved alleged police brutality. Based on hospital documents and nurse testimony, the “attorney general’s office” determined that the complainant’s injuries resulted from a traffic accident that occurred three days prior to the alleged abuse. The complainant was charged with providing false statements to the police. The “attorney general’s office” was considering whether any further action was needed at year’s end.

The “attorney general’s office” completed a 2018 investigation against a police officer. Due to the pandemic, the trial had not yet started at year’s end.

In August 2019 local press published a video showing a Turkish Cypriot police officer kicking a detained tourist in the presence of other officers at the Ercan (Tymbou) airport. According to local press, the detainee was drunk and yelled at police for getting his cell phone wet during the security screening. Police suspended the officer from duty and completed the investigation. A “court” hearing was scheduled to take place in October.

In July a local newspaper interviewed two female international students who reported that while they were waiting for a cab, they were forced into a vehicle by four undercover police officers, beaten in the vehicle and police station, and then released 24 hours later without any explanation. The students reported that the police officers hit their heads on the concrete at the station. The women reported the incident to the press and filed a complaint at a police station. Press published photos of their bruised faces. The “attorney general’s office” reported appointing a “prosecutor” and launching an investigation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions did not meet international standards in a number of areas, in particular for sanitary conditions, medical care, heating, and access to food.

Physical Conditions: The “Central Prison,” the only prison in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, is in the northern part of Nicosia and has a stated capacity of 311 inmates. According to authorities, additional rooms were converted into cells and a bunkbed system was installed to increase the capacity to 568. As of September it reportedly held 587 prisoners and pretrial detainees. Authorities reported that at its peak during the year, the total number of prisoners and pretrial detainees at the “Central Prison” reached 635. As of October there were no juveniles at the “Central Prison.”

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), media, and the “ombudsman” reported overcrowding remained a problem. An NGO reported receiving complaints about overcrowding and police mistreatment of detainees in police detention centers. Most of the complaints alleged inhuman detention conditions and that police officers verbally abused the detainees. The prison did not separate adults and juveniles, and there were no detention or correction centers for children. Due to lack of space, pretrial detainees and prisoners occupied the same cells. NGOs reported conditions were better in the women’s section of the prison.

In March media outlets reported the “Central Prison” was operating above capacity and inmates were sharing mattresses placed on the ground and in the corridors. In the same month, inmates began a hunger strike citing unhealthy conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and demanding temporary release. Their families gathered outside the prison urging the “government” to improve prison conditions. When tensions rose after protesters started a fire, 10 persons were detained and then released.

In March a local newspaper reported that approximately 93 pretrial inmates were released due to a change in the “parole board regulations.” They had been unable to post bail and were being held pending trial but were offered lower bail amounts as part of their release. In April the “ministry of interior” claimed that the release of inmates from the “Central Prison” helped minimize the risk of COVID-19 but offered no specifics on those released.

NGOs reported that lack of security cameras at detention centers and in parts of the “Central Prison” allowed police officers and prison guards to abuse detainees with impunity. An NGO reported there were two deaths at the “Central Prison” that were not investigated and alleged that there were signs of drug overdose.

In June a local newspaper reported that the “Central Prison” had admitted a new convict without administering a COVID-19 test, in violation of standard practice, and therefore had risked the health of approximately 500 inmates.

NGOs reported that detainees frequently received no food while held, sometimes for periods longer than a day. They instead relied on relatives to bring them food.

NGOs reported sanitation remained a significant problem in the “Central Prison” and that inadequate access to hot water failed to meet inmates’ hygiene needs. Authorities said hygiene supplies were insufficient due to an increasing number of inmates. An NGO also reported the police detention facilities lack hygiene conditions, direct sunlight, proper ventilation, and access to water.

NGOs claimed that prison health care was inadequate, lacking sufficient medical supplies and a full-time doctor. NGOs reported testing for contagious diseases at the “Central Prison” was haphazard and inconsistent. In June the Prison Guards’ Association chair stated that overcrowding in prison cells created a breeding ground for contagious diseases. Authorities reported all inmates were subject to hospital health checks before entering the “Central Prison.” Authorities said a doctor visited the prison twice a week and was on call for emergencies. A dentist visited the prison once per week, a dietician visited twice per week, and there were two full-time psychologists at the prison, according to authorities.

An NGO reported the detention center at Ercan (Tymbou) airport lacked proper ventilation and access to natural light. The NGO said hygiene was a concern because there is only one bathroom inside each detention room and no regular cleaning.

Administration: The “ministry of interior” reported receiving only nonadministrative personal complaints, which the “Central Prison” administration took into consideration. Authorities stated facilities were available for Muslim prisoners and detainees to conduct their religious observance and that an imam visited the “Central Prison” on the religious days of Bayram.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally permitted prison monitoring and reported that foreign missions visited the “Central Prison” during the year. An NGO reported the physical conditions at the “Central Prison” could not be observed in detail, as their staff were not allowed to visit the cells. They were only allowed to conduct detainee interviews in the visitor waiting room or areas designated for private conversation.

Improvements: Authorities reported the “ministry of health” provided disinfectant and masks to the “Central Prison” to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Authorities also said they attempted to keep pretrial detainees and convicts separated as much as possible.

The “Central Prison” was closed to visitors during March and April due to COVID-19 concerns. Beginning in May, authorities enabled inmates to visit virtually with family and friends through online video conferencing.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The “law” prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge his or her arrest or detention in court. Authorities generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

“Judicial warrants” are required for arrests. According to the “law,” police must bring a detained person before a “judge” within 24 hours of arrest. Police can then keep the detainee in custody for up to three months, but a “judge” must review the detention after the third day and every eight days thereafter. Authorities generally respected this right and usually informed detainees promptly of charges against them, although they often held individuals believed to have committed a violent offense for longer periods without charge.

Bail may be granted by the “courts” and was routinely used. “Courts” confiscated detainees’ passports pending trial. An NGO reported that translators were not available for non-Turkish speakers, forcing defense attorneys or NGOs to provide one. According to one lawyer, during the detention review process officials pressured detainees to sign a confession in order to be released on bail. The lawyer cited situations in which police used the threat of prolonged detention to induce detainees to plead guilty.

According to the “constitution,” indicted detainees and prisoners have the right of access to legal representation. Authorities usually allowed detainees prompt access to family members and a lawyer of their choice, but NGOs reported there were cases in which authorities prevented detainees from seeing a lawyer. Authorities provided lawyers to the indigent only in cases involving violent offenses. Police sometimes did not observe legal protections, particularly at the time of arrest. Suspects who demanded the presence of a lawyer were sometimes physically intimidated or threatened with stiffer charges.

A lawyer said a “Central Prison” “regulation” prohibits sentenced individuals in solitary confinement from meeting with a lawyer without the “prison director’s” permission. The “prison director” may deny the visit without providing justification.

In January a lawyer announced two university student clients were beaten by police and forced to sign a statement. The students allegedly had cannabis in their dormitories. During the hearing the lawyer testified that police beat his clients with a wooden mop handle, resulting in bruises on their faces and legs. The lawyer also claimed his clients were not provided appropriate medical treatment.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The “law” provides for an independent judiciary, and authorities generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Most criminal and civil cases begin in “district courts”, from which appeals are made to the “supreme court.” Civilian “courts” have jurisdiction in cases where civilians face charges of violating military restrictions, such as filming or photographing military zones.

Trial Procedures

The “law” provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and independent judicial authorities generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. NGO representatives and human rights lawyers said defendants generally enjoyed the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The “constitution” provides for fair, timely, and public trials, the defendant’s right to be present at those trials, and the defendant’s right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner (or, in cases of violent offenses, to have one provided at public expense if unable to pay). Criminal defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense.

There was insufficient free interpretation for some languages and insufficient professional translation in “courts.” Lawyers and NGOs claimed authorities haphazardly recruited nonprofessional translators who did not translate everything said during proceedings. Inadequate translation delayed hearings and prolonged defendants’ detentions.

Defendants may question prosecution witnesses and present evidence and witnesses on their behalf. They cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have a right to appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of detention and deportation to Turkey of persons with alleged ties to Fethullah Gulen and his movement. The Turkish government holds Gulen responsible for the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey and designated his network as the “Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization” (“FETO”). In July the Turkish “ambassador” said the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) was the first “foreign country” to define FETO as a terror organization and that cooperation between Turkish and “TRNC” authorities would continue toward identifying additional members of Gulen’s network.

In June police arrested Caner Sahmaran, a fellow police officer on charges of being affiliated with the Gulen movement. Police confiscated approximately $35,000 in cash, mobile telephones, and other electronics during the arrest.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic “courts.” After exhausting local remedies, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions that involve human rights to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Property Restitution

Greek Cypriots continued to pursue property suits in the ECHR against the Turkish government for the loss of property in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities since 1974.

A property commission handles claims by Greek Cypriots. As of October the commission has paid more than 312 million British pounds ($414 million) in compensation to applicants.

For information regarding Holocaust-era property restitution and related issues, please see the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The “law” prohibits such actions. There were reports police subjected Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities to surveillance. A Maronite representative asserted that during the year the Turkish armed forces occupied 18 houses in the Maronite village of Karpasia.

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 authorities generally respected this right. Individuals were usually able to criticize authorities publicly without reprisal, with some exceptions.

Freedom of Speech: It is a criminal offense to insult the “government,” the Turkish government, or “government” officials. This often led journalists and others to self-censor. According to a journalist association, authorities advised some journalists not to criticize the Turkish government. A journalist association reported that due to perceived pressure and potential reaction from Turkey, some journalists did not express their thoughts and preferred to remain silent.

In April then “prime minister” Ersin Tatar filed a criminal complaint with police after a well-known visual arts and communications lecturer, Senih Cavusoglu, posted on social media a photoshopped image of Tatar portraying him in a straitjacket with the caption, “boss went mad.” Police called Cavusoglu in for interrogation, but no criminal charges had been filed at year’s end.

In June former “president” Mustafa Akinci filed a complaint with the “attorney general’s office” to block access to a video posted online showing a man stuck at Istanbul airport. The person filming the video can be seen making derogatory comments towards Akinci. The “presidency” confirmed that “the government” banned access to the video in June for allegedly threatening liberal and democratic thought as well as to a second video that allegedly proposed to kill Akinci by stating, “There’s an easy way; send two people and make it seem like Akinci had an accident.” In July the “presidency” announced Akinci withdrew his complaint on the airport video after the person posting it allegedly apologized and erased the video on social media.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: While authorities usually respected press and media freedom, at times they obstructed journalists in their reporting.

In October the Turkish Cypriot Journalists Association criticized then “prime minister” Ersin Tatar for claiming that a local online news website Ozgur Gazete was allegedly “collaborating with foreign intelligence organizations to affect elections.” The association said Tatar’s statement threatened freedom of the press. Basin-Sen, another journalist union, said Tatar targeted journalists in an attempt to prevent reporting of such stories.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports defendants in some “court” cases allegedly threatened journalists, who also faced pressure for their reporting from companies that advertised in their publications.

A journalist association reported some journalists were verbally and physically attacked at “court” hearings by detainees or their families or friends. Journalists also reported they were at times prevented from doing their jobs, verbally and sexually assaulted, and their equipment damaged while reporting at “courts,” hospitals, and police stations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists cannot interview or report on persons under control of the armed forces.

Journalists practiced self-censorship for fear of losing their jobs. A journalist reported some press representatives censored themselves when reporting on Turkey’s role in Cyprus and on the Turkish leadership.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported that Kibris, the largest Turkish Cypriot daily, censored a pre-election poll favoring the incumbent, who was at odds with the president of Turkey, in favor of his challenger who was reportedly closely aligned with the Turkish president. RSF also reported that the owner of the newspaper allegedly met with the Turkish president prior to the poll’s publication.

An activist reported that in May a local Turkish Cypriot television channel DIYALOG TV was removed from Turkey’s TURKSAT satellite network, allegedly due to criticism aired on the channel that targeted Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish Cypriot television channels can only broadcast through TURKSAT. DIYALOG TV continued to broadcast only on social media.

Libel/Slander Laws: The “law” criminalizes libel and blasphemy, although in practice “courts” often declined to convict defendants on those charges, citing free speech precedents.

In July a cybercrime “law” was passed in “parliament” and approved by the “presidency.” According to the “law” any attacks (physical or verbal) made with deliberate intent to harm individuals, institutions, or organizations over the internet is considered a crime. Penalties range from six to 200 times the minimum monthly wage and from one to 10 years imprisonment.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were some “government” restrictions on cultural events. There were no reports of blocked visits during the year, although for much of the year foreign tourists were not permitted to enter.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The “government” sometimes limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

According to local press reports, in July police prevented TC Secondary Education Teacher’s Union (KTOEOS) members from entering and conducting a sit-in protest inside the “public service commission’s” building. KTOEOS members continued their demonstration outside the building and protested the “commission” for hiring temporary teachers and delaying appointment exams for permanent teachers until after elections.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The “law” provides for the right of peaceful assembly, and the government usually respected this right, although some restrictions were reported. A labor union reported “police” interfered in demonstrations and at times used force against peaceful demonstrators.

Some union representatives reported “police” obstructed unions and civil society organizations from demonstrating and opening banners in front of the Turkish “embassy” during demonstrations and protests.

Freedom of Association

While the “law” provides for the freedom of association, and while the “government” usually respected this right, some organizations faced lengthy registration processes.

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 movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Authorities generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: Authorities required individuals to show identification when crossing the “Green Line.” Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some border crossings on the island were closed during the year, at times causing altercations with authorities (see section 2.d. of the Republic of Cyprus report).

In March approximately 200 Turkish Cypriot demonstrators in the north gathered at Ledra Street checkpoint to protest the Greek Cypriot decision to close four checkpoint crossings as measures against COVID-19. Press reported Greek Cypriot police used pepper spray and clubs on peaceful Turkish Cypriot demonstrators calling for the opening of the closed checkpoint. Several Turkish Cypriot demonstrators and journalists were taken to hospital. Several were treated in ambulances onsite for pepper spray inhalation.

UNFICYP officials requested that Turkish Cypriots not go to the government checkpoint for their own safety and asked families and children to leave the demonstration site immediately. The Turkish Cypriot Foreign Press Association and Journalists Association condemned the use of pepper spray on demonstrators and claimed government police violated press freedom. Former “president” Akinci condemned the use of pepper spray by Greek Cypriot police and added that it was a disproportionate use of force.

The Turkish Cypriot Bar Association stated, “Tear gas and pepper spray are life threatening chemical weapons whose use is even prohibited in international warfare under both the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the Chemical Weapons Convention, and can only be used during domestic violent riots by the police.”

Foreign Travel: Only Turkey recognizes travel documents issued by the “TRNC.” Some Turkish Cypriots used Turkish travel documents, but many obtained travel documents issued by the Republic of Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots born after 1974 to parents who were both Republic of Cyprus citizens prior to 1974, obtained passports relatively easily compared to Turkish Cypriots born after 1974 to only one Cypriot parent.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Turkish Cypriots considered those displaced as a result of the island’s 1974 division to be refugees, although they fell under the UN definition of internally displaced persons (IDPs). At the time of the division, the number of IDPs in the north was approximately 60,000.

f. Protection of Refugees

Turkish Cypriot authorities at times cooperated with Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) NGO implementing partner, the Refugee Rights Association, and other humanitarian organizations with regard to asylum seekers and refugees. UNHCR reported cooperation was more frequent during the first half of the year, when authorities allowed Refugee Rights Association lawyers to interview Syrian asylum seekers seeking access to international protection in Cyprus. Following the introduction of a “visa” requirement for Syrian nationals in June, cooperation between Turkish Cypriot authorities and UNHCR was less frequent. With the involvement of these organizations, several asylum seekers gained access to asylum procedures in Turkey or in the government-controlled area.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported asylum seekers generally were treated as illegal migrants because an official framework for asylum does not exist in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. Most were either denied entry or deported, irrespective of the risk of refoulement.

In May some 100 Syrian asylum seekers who had been housed in a building in Iskele were deported to Turkey. The asylum seekers had arrived in the north on March 21 and were a part of a group of 175 asylum seekers who were denied entry by Republic of Cyprus officials. The Refugee Rights Association (RRA) reported sending their staff to monitor the housing in Iskele. Each family of asylum seekers were provided separate apartments. The RRA also reported that a nurse was on duty 24 hours a day and food and water was provided by the Iskele “municipality.” Each apartment had its own balcony, proper bedding, and a kitchen. Some apartments were crowded and leaving them was forbidden. Doors were locked at all times other than for food delivery.

On July 9, a boat carrying 30 Syrian asylum seekers who landed near Morphou were shot at by “TRNC” police, allegedly for not stopping despite warnings and for trying to flee. The boat’s captain and two of the asylum seekers were shot and injured by police after attempting to flee. The “president” requested a police investigation of the incident which had not yet concluded at year’s end. Several refugee rights groups, including the Turkish NGO Refugee Rights Center, issued a statement criticizing police for shooting at asylum seekers seeking safety.

Refoulement: Authorities did not provide protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened. According to NGOs “authorities” at ports often denied entry to asylum seekers and extradited a number of persons designated by the Turkish government as alleged affiliates of Gulen. Some observers considered these deportations refoulement, as the individuals were denied the opportunity to seek refuge in the territory of Cyprus and were at substantial risk of mistreatment in Turkey or forcible return to Syria by Turkish authorities (also see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Turkey).

Access to Asylum: The “law” does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and authorities have not established a system for providing protection to refugees. An NGO reported approximately 100 persons of concern to UNHCR were able to stay in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots with UNHCR protection papers.

There were reports Turkish Cypriot authorities continued to deport numerous asylum seekers during the year before UNHCR’s implementing partner could interview them to obtain information necessary for assessing their asylum claims. Some potential asylum seekers who attempted to enter the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities illegally were arrested, taken to “court,” and deported after serving their prison sentences.

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots could not travel abroad because they would be unable to return due to their lack of “legal” status.

Employment: According to immigration “law,” employers need official permission from the “department of labor” to register foreign workers. Persons holding UNHCR protection papers receive the same access to the labor market as third country nationals, although NGOs reported “authorities” refused to issue work permits to some individuals with UNHCR protection papers. An NGO reported that many refugees were unemployed during the COVID-19 mitigation lockdown and suffered economically. The NGO also reported asylum seekers were prohibited from receiving “state” social welfare benefits. UNHCR reported access to employment improved during the year after authorities lifted requirements that job seekers post a guarantee and hold a valid passport.

Access to Basic Services: Persons holding UNHCR protection papers could access basic services, including primary health care and education, but persons of concern to UNHCR lacked access to residence permits or welfare assistance, which rendered them at risk of exploitation and put vulnerable individuals at risk of destitution.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Turkish Cypriots choose a leader and a representative body at least every five years. In 2018 Turkish Cypriots held “parliamentary elections” that observers considered free and fair. In October Turkish Cypriots elected Ersin Tatar as “president” in elections that were also considered free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: While membership in the dominant party did not confer formal advantages, there were widespread allegations of political cronyism and nepotism.

In August the Turkish Cypriot Public Sector Employee’s Union (KTAMS) announced in a press release that over 290 persons were employed by the National Unity Party-HP “government” unjustly and unfairly, and that the move was an “election investment” right before the “presidential” elections. Unions said the “government’s” approach was partisan.

In September Rebirth Party “member of parliament” Bertan Zaroglu, who had tested positive for COVID-19, released a recording complaining about the hygiene of the hospital room that he was placed in. Local press reported that Zaroglu allegedly called the National Unity Party “minister of health,” yelled at him, and then the “ministry” placed him at a hotel because of his status as a “member of parliament.” Press outlets also reported that Zaroglu left the hospital room and drove himself to the hotel, risking spreading the virus to others. He was subsequently transferred to Turkey for further treatment.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No “laws” limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women remained underrepresented in senior political positions. Only nine of the 50 “members of parliament” were women.

Turkish Cypriot authorities did not permit Greek Cypriots and Maronites residing in the north to participate in elections they administered. Greek Cypriots and Maronites residing in the north were eligible to vote in elections in the government-controlled area but had to travel there to do so. Greek Cypriot and Maronite communities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities directly elected municipal officials, but Turkish Cypriot authorities did not recognize them. There was no minority representation in the 50-seat “parliament” or in the “cabinet.”

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The “law” provides criminal penalties for corruption by “officials.” Authorities did not implement the “law” effectively, and “officials” sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of “government” corruption during the year. Observers generally perceived corruption, cronyism, and lack of transparency to be serious problems in the legislative and executive branches.

Corruption: In 2018 National Unity Party “member of parliament” Aytac Caluda was investigated for claims of misconduct/malpractice, allegedly losing 283 million Turkish lira ($37 million) in “state” funds for signing foreign worker permits without necessary prepermissions and waiving the fee. Caluda’s “parliamentary” immunity was lifted in 2018 for the investigation. In March the “high court” announced that Caluda could not be prosecuted because the alleged crimes did not fall under “high court” jurisdiction. The “attorney general’s office” reported that another court hearing was scheduled for December.

In July a civil servant working as a cashier at the “tax department” was arrested for embezzling one million Turkish lira ($130,000) in driver’s license fees since 2016. The “court” ordered an asset freeze for the cashier. According to a police report, other senior officials did not report the missing funds and will also be investigated. The case was under investigation at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: The “law” requires persons who hold elective office, appointees of the “council of ministers,” “judges” and “prosecutors,” the “ombudsman,” the chair of the “attorney general’s office,” and members of the “attorney general’s office” to declare their wealth and assets. Every five years employees subject to this “law” must declare any movable and immovable property, money, equity shares, stocks, and jewelry worth five times their monthly salary as well as receivables and debts that belong to them, their spouses, and all children in their custody. The disclosure is not publicly available. Once a declaration is overdue, the employee receives a written warning to make a disclosure within 30 days. If an employee fails to do so, authorities file a complaint with the “attorney general’s office.” Penalties for noncompliance include a fine of up to 5,000 Turkish lira ($650), three months’ imprisonment, or both. The penalties for violating confidentiality of the disclosures include a fine of up to 10,000 Turkish lira ($1,300), 12 months’ imprisonment, or both.

In January 2019 local press reported that former National Unity Party leader and “prime minister” Huseyin Ozgurgun inaccurately declared his assets, according to an “attorney general” investigation. Although police charged Ozgurgun with failing to accurately declare wealth and for abuse of public office for private gain and the “parliament” voted to remove Ozgurgun’s immunity, no trial has yet been held as Ozgurgun has been living in Turkey since January. Ozgurgun announced that he resigned from his position as “member of parliament.” In October the “parliament” announced an asset freeze for all of Ozgurgun and his spouse’s assets in the “TRNC.”

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

A limited number of domestic human rights organizations operated in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities. Authorities were rarely cooperative or responsive to their views and requests. NGOs promoted awareness of domestic violence; women’s rights; rights of asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants; trafficking in persons; police abuse; and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons. These groups had little effect on “legislation” to improve the protection of human rights. Local NGOs liaised with the United Nations, UNHCR, and international NGOs on human rights issues. Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an “ombudsman,” whose portfolio includes human rights issues. The “ombudsman” investigates and reports on institutions that exercise administrative and executive powers and ensures that “legislation” and “court” decisions are properly implemented. The “ombudsman” can initiate investigations in response to media reports, complaints from individuals and organizations, or on its own initiative. The “ombudsman” was not always effective because it could not enforce its recommendations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an “ombudsman,” whose portfolio includes human rights issues. The “ombudsman” investigates and reports on institutions that exercise administrative and executive powers and ensures that “legislation” and “court” decisions are properly implemented. The “ombudsman” can initiate investigations in response to media reports, complaints from individuals and organizations, or on its own initiative. The “ombudsman” was not always effective because it could not enforce its recommendations.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The “law” criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and provides for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Authorities and police did not enforce the “law” effectively. No “laws” specifically address domestic violence. The “law” prohibits domestic violence under various assault and violence or battery clauses, with a maximum sentence of four years’ imprisonment.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a major problem. The Nicosia Turkish Municipality operated a shelter for victims of domestic violence, and there were local NGOs that supported rape and domestic violence victims. Turkish Cypriot authorities also reported establishing gender focal points at relevant “ministries” to respond to complaints of violence against women.

In one example police arrested a man in April 2019 on suspicion of killing his 47-year-old wife in Alaykoy (Yerolakkos). The victim’s daughter and sister told press outlets the suspect had physically abused and threatened to kill the victim on many occasions. They claimed the victim complained to police many times and alleged that police did not take her complaints seriously. In 2019 the suspect was sent to prison pending trial, which continued at year’s end.

Nicosia district police in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots operated the specialized Combating Violence against Women Unit to respond to complaints of domestic violence, including calls to a dedicated hotline. Turkish Cypriot police reported they investigated 801 reports of abuse against women from January to September. The unit reported they received 241 complaints regarding physical violence, 135 complaints of verbal violence, and 124 general disturbances. The unit reported they receive 89 cases per month on an average basis. The unit reported there was a 12 percent decrease in the number of cases during the lockdown between March and May.

In April the Nicosia Turkish Municipality’s Domestic Violence Project coordinator reported that “there is an increase in domestic violence cases due to COVID-19 because women are forced to stay at home” and that women’s access to support mechanisms was limited. The coordinator noted that, according to an EU-funded survey conducted in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, in January, 40 percent of women were subject to physical violence, 60 percent were subject to psychological violence, and 25 percent to sexual violence.

In May the Side-by-Side against Violence project coordinator stated that 35 female survivors of violence applied for protection in March and April, marking an increase in domestic violence cases due to COVID-19 and lockdown. The group stated that the municipality received an average of seven complaints monthly in 2019.

At the end of August, the Combating Violence against Women Unit reported that it received 1,765 complaints from women since it opened in 2018. The unit reported that 41 percent of the complaints were for verbal violence; 38 percent were for physical violence; 5 percent were for violence towards property (including cell phones, houses, cars, etc.); and 4 percent concerned sexual violence, including rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment.

In January the Kyrenia “court” sentenced a man to six years in jail for torturing his wife with a belt. The penalty was reported to be the highest given by a “court” for domestic violence in the history of the community.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, a 45-year-old woman, Elif Lort, was stabbed repeatedly in the middle of the street in Kyrenia by her husband. Lort died in the hospital; police apprehended and arrested the husband. An investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

Sexual Harassment: The “criminal code” prohibits sexual harassment and considers it a misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months’ imprisonment, an unspecified fine, or both. According to NGOs sexual harassment went largely unreported. A group of international students reported widespread sexual harassment of female international students and that police routinely dismissed complaints of sexual harassment from international students.

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

Discrimination: The “law” provides the same “legal” status and rights for women and men, but authorities did not enforce the “law” effectively. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as employment, credit, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. For example, female teachers were reportedly instructed to schedule their pregnancies in order to deliver during summer break.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive “citizenship” from their parents, and there was universal registration at birth, including of children born to migrants.

Child Abuse: The “law” does not explicitly prohibit child abuse, but it does prohibit sexual abuse of children, which carries a penalty of up to six years’ imprisonment. There were reports of child abuse. As with domestic violence, there were social and cultural disincentives to seeking legal remedies for such problems.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage for girls and boys is 18. A “court” may allow marriages of minors who are 16 or 17 if they receive parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The “law” prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the prohibition. The age of consent is 16. Statutory rape or attempted statutory rape of a minor younger than 16 is a felony, and the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. If the offender is younger than 18 and two years or fewer apart in age from the victim, the act is a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison, an unspecified fine, or both. The new cybercrime “law” enacted in July makes possession or production of child pornography punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 150 persons in the Jewish community, which primarily consisted of nonresident businesspersons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The “law” protects the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to social benefits, and prohibits discrimination against them. Authorities did not effectively enforce all parts of the “law.” For example the disability community complained of the absence of accessible infrastructure in public areas, including lack of sidewalks, blocked sidewalks, and inaccessible public transportation.

The Turkish Cypriot Orthopedic Disabled Persons Association reported many buildings, sidewalks, and public bathrooms were not accessible to persons with disabilities. The association claimed the “government” had not employed a single person with disabilities since 2006, although the “law” requires 4 percent of public-sector positions be filled by persons with disabilities.

Children with disabilities attend specific schools that are “state” funded.

Authorities reported as of August 2019, more than 270 persons with disabilities worked in the “government.” In September the “council of ministers” decided to provide social security and provident fund contributions to persons with disabilities employed in the private sector to create incentives for private-sector employment. Authorities also reported that nearly 4,986 persons with disabilities received financial aid from the “government” as of September.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The “law” prohibits discrimination, and the 1975 Vienna III Agreement remains the legal source of authority regarding the treatment of the 310 Greek Cypriot and 62 Maronite residents in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities.

Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots could take possession of some of their properties in that area but were unable to leave their properties to heirs residing in the government-controlled area. Maronites living in the government-controlled area could use their properties in the north only if those properties were not under the control of the Turkish military or allocated to Turkish Cypriots.

Foreign domestic workers faced discrimination and, at times, violence.

Public Sector Workers Union (KTAMS) reported that many foreign workers receive salaries below minimum wage.

An NGO reported that seasonal workers who came from Turkey during the pandemic were not paid and were stranded in Cyprus for several months until authorities ultimately provided transportation back to Turkey. In February, approximately 300 Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan foreign workers employed by Omag Construction reported to police that they had not received their salaries for four months. The foreign workers told police they each gave $1,390 to the company for “visa/permit fees,” and were threatened by people at Omag Construction posing as police officers to remain silent about not receiving their wages. The workers also reported they believed the false “police officers” to be members of the mafia and that they had taken three of the workers, who had not been heard from since.

On March 13, the “council of ministers” adopted a decision to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and barred private sector workers in the north, including domestic workers, from traveling to households to work. The “government” announced a 1,500 Turkish lira ($195) monthly assistance payment for some private sector workers affected by COVID-19 pandemic-related business closures but limited the subsidy to “TRNC” and Turkish citizens and excluded all other foreign workers.

There were reports of social and job discrimination against Kurds in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, as well as allegations that police closely monitored Kurdish activities.

Some of the approximately 10,000 African students reportedly studying at universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities reported racial discrimination in housing, employment, and interactions with law enforcement. Thirty to forty thousand foreign students, excluding Turkish students, study at universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. In April the Voice of International Students in Cyprus (VOIS) said authorities excluded foreign students from receiving food packages that citizens were receiving. VOIS claimed that authorities ignored foreign students and deprived them of medical and other support during the lockdown and pandemic. A student organization reported an African student, a single mother, asked authorities at the Famagusta police station to arrest her hoping that she and her child would be provided food in jail.

In March, VOIS criticized former “prime minister” Ersin Tatar for making a racist statement on television when he said, “The responsibility to take care of the thousands of African students who live in the ‘TRNC’ lies on those who brought them here. Either universities or employers. Before the COVID-19 crisis this was already a problem. This is now an opportunity to clean them out. This is not racism, but we have to protect our citizens.”

In June, VOIS announced the results of an online survey of foreign university students living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots: 88.2 percent of those interviewed said they had been victims of racism; 52.6 percent of this racial discrimination happened on campus, and 40 percent happened off campus. In addition 81.4 percent said racism was a serious problem in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots that needed to be addressed within society.

The RRA said the minister of interior did not provide enough support to foreign students. The RRA identified the groups at highest risk, whose numbers were unknown, as unregistered students, workers, and migrants. The RRA also said NGOs were unable to leave their houses to investigate complaints or distribute donations to those in need due to COVID-19 related restrictions.

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

The “law” prohibits discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Authorities did not effectively enforce the “law.”

While there were no cases recorded of official or societal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, or access to education or health care, members of the LGBTI community noted an overwhelming majority of LGBTI persons concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid potential discrimination.

The Queer Cyprus Association said LGBTI persons often could not access legal remedies to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity because authorities declined to enforce them.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The “law” provides for the rights of workers, except members of police and other Turkish Cypriot security forces, to form and join independent unions of their own choosing without prior authorization. The “law” allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides for their right to strike, with the provision that a union notify authorities in writing if members planned to strike for longer than 24 hours. The “law” does not permit “judges,” members of the police force, or other Turkish Cypriot security forces to strike. The “council of ministers” has the power to prohibit a strike in any individual sector twice a year for up to 60 days if it affects the general health, security, or public order, or if it prevents the provision of essential services. There is no list of what constitutes essential services.

The “law” provides for collective bargaining. The “ministry of labor” reported that employers could not condition employment on membership or nonmembership in a union or participation in strikes. The “law” does not provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activities.

The “government” did not effectively enforce applicable “laws.” Despite having freedom of association and the right to engage in collective bargaining, very few private-sector workers were unionized, according to labor union representatives. A union representative said that if private-sector workers affected business operations while exercising their rights, employers would likely dismiss them. Some companies pressured workers to join unions that the company led or approved. Officials of independent unions claimed authorities created public-sector unions as rivals to weaken the independent unions.

Turkish Cypriot Public Sector Workers Union (KTAMS) reported that 35 percent of the public sector and 0.5 percent of the private sector workers are members of labor unions. Police and members of other Turkish Cypriot security forces cannot join unions.

Labor authorities did not effectively enforce the “law.” Penalties for employers convicted of violating the “law” were not commensurate with those for violating other “laws” involving the denial of civil rights and were sporadically enforced.

In March the DEV-IS labor union began an indefinite strike for their members employed at the Buyukkonuk municipality. The union claimed their members had not received their salaries since November and their customary 13th month bonus from 2019. On the eighth day of the strike, the “council of ministers” banned the strike on the grounds that “it prevented the provision of essential services.” Union members employed at the municipality then began a work slowdown. Police launched an investigation on the grounds that they did not comply with the “council of ministers’” decision. In April, DEV-IS members and the “mayor” of Buyukkonuk were invited to the “ministry of interior” to sign an agreement that included the payment of December and January salaries, and the payment of the 13th month bonus in installments. The union reported the 13th month bonus has not been paid, but all other salaries were paid with a one month delay.

Public and semipublic employees benefited from collective bargaining agreements. Semipublic employees worked for companies run jointly by public and private enterprises where, for example, the “government” handled administration while the company’s budget came from private sources.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The “law” prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the “government” did not effectively enforce it. Penalties for violations of the “law” were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

There were reports of forced labor during the year, primarily in agriculture, construction, and the industrial sector. A labor union representative reported migrant workers in the construction and agricultural sectors were subjected to reduced wages, nonpayment of wages, beatings, and threats of deportation.

A researcher reported that universities were used to smuggle and traffic large numbers of Africans and South Asians. Some foreign students who could not pay their tuition after arriving in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots became vulnerable to exploitation, including 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” prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for restricted employment is 15, the last year at which education is compulsory. Employers may hire children between the ages of 15 and 18 in apprentice positions under a special status. Children older than 15 are restricted to not more than six hours of work per day and 30 hours per week. The “law” prohibits children between the ages of 15 and 18 from working during mealtimes, at night, in heavy physical labor, and under dangerous conditions. The “law” also states that every six months the employer must prove, with medical certification, that the physical work done by a child is suitable for children. Written parental consent is also required, and children are entitled to the hourly wage of a full-time employee.

Authorities reported they received three complaints to the child labor hotline during the reporting period: two children working at construction sites and one at a market.

The “ministry of labor and social security” is responsible for enforcing child labor “laws” and policies. Resources and inspections were not sufficient and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Authorities did not always effectively enforce the “laws,” and NGOs reported that primarily Turkish children often worked alongside their families in the agricultural, manufacturing, automotive, and construction sectors. NGOs reported children worked in dangerous conditions, such as on construction sites, and were subjected to heavy physical work despite “legal” prohibitions.

Child labor in the urban informal economy was also a problem, albeit to a lesser extent than in agriculture and manufacturing. It was common in family-run shops for children to work after school and for young children to work on family farms.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The “law” generally prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, and social status. The “law” does not specifically address discrimination with respect to religion, political opinion, or HIV-positive status, which were addressed by general “regulations.” Authorities did not effectively enforce the “law” and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for violating other “laws” related to civil rights. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, ethnicity, sex, disability, and gender.

Authorities reported there were more than 49,495 registered foreign workers in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriot authorities, mainly from Turkey, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. Foreign migrant workers faced societal discrimination based on their ethnicity, race, and religious belief. Greek Cypriots faced social and employment discrimination.

Women faced sexual harassment in the workplace, but most instances of sexual harassment went unreported. Women held far fewer managerial positions than men.

LGBTI individuals often concealed their sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace to avoid discrimination. Persons with disabilities routinely found it physically difficult to access workplaces.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The “government” increased the minimum wage during the year, but it remained below the poverty level for a family of four, as inflation and the cost of living outpaced the increase. The “ministry of labor and social security” is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, but it did not effectively do so. The penalties for noncompliance were not commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

According to the “statistics department,” the poverty threshold was estimated at 3,769 Turkish lira ($450) per month.

There was premium pay for overtime in the public sector. Premium pay for overtime is also required, but frequently not paid, in the private sector. The “law” prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays.

Occupational safety and health standards were insufficient. Authorities did not effectively enforce safety and health standards, and the number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Multinational companies reportedly met health and safety standards. Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Authorities could conduct unannounced inspections or initiate sanctions, but according to unions and associations, inspections were not adequately carried out. Authorities commonly deported migrant workers claiming violations. Authorities did not penalize violators, and inspections were not adequate to protect worker rights. The “government” has not established social protections for workers in the informal economy. Accommodations for migrant workers, either as part of their compensation or for those made to pay, were substandard.

There was little improvement in working conditions, particularly in hazardous sectors and for vulnerable groups. Authorities reported there were 179 major industrial accidents occurred during the year that caused two deaths. “Authorities” also reported they provided eight persons with pensions (based on their) incapacity to work.

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Republic of Cyprus

Austria

Executive Summary

The Republic of Austria is a parliamentary democracy with constitutional power shared between a popularly elected president and a bicameral parliament (Federal Assembly). The multiparty parliament and the coalition government it elects exercise most day-to-day governmental powers. Parliamentary elections in September 2019 and presidential elections in 2016 were considered free and fair.

The federal police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of the Interior. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities and reports to the Defense Ministry. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses during the year.

Significant human rights issues included violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Judicial authorities investigate whether any security force killings that may occur were justifiable and pursue prosecutions as required by the evidence.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government has measures in place to ensure accountability for disappearances if one were to occur.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Amnesty International reported that in May 2019, police used excessive force against several climate activists while dispersing a spontaneous assembly in Vienna. At the end of 2019, an investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office continued into the conduct of several law enforcement officials. Amnesty stated that the Ministry of Interior had informed it that an internal police investigation would be conducted once the Prosecutor’s Office had concluded its investigation. The Ministry of Interior stated there were five complaints lodged against seven law enforcement officials, and investigations were still underway. The country’s administrative court declared some actions by police during the incident as illegitimate.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Authorities base arrests on sufficient evidence and legal warrants issued by a duly authorized official. Authorities bring the arrested person before an independent judiciary. In criminal cases the law allows investigative or pretrial detention for no more than 48 hours, during which time a judge may decide to grant a prosecution request for extended detention. The law specifies the grounds for investigative detention and conditions for bail. There were strict checks on the enforcement of pretrial detention restrictions and bail provisions, and a judge is required to evaluate investigative detention cases periodically. The maximum duration for investigative detention is two years. There is a functioning bail system. Police and judicial authorities generally respected these laws and procedures. There were isolated reports of police abuse, which authorities investigated and, where warranted, prosecuted.

Detainees have the right to an attorney. Although indigent criminal suspects have the right to an attorney at government expense, the law requires appointment of an attorney only after a court decision to remand such suspects into custody (96 hours after apprehension). Criminal suspects are not legally required to answer questions without an attorney present. Laws providing for compensation for persons unlawfully detained were enforced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

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

The law presumes persons charged with criminal offenses are innocent until proven guilty; authorities inform them promptly and in detail of the charges. Trials must be public and conducted orally; defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Attorneys are not mandatory in cases of minor offenses, but legal counsel is available at no charge for indigent persons in cases where attorneys are mandatory. The law grants defendants and their attorneys adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants can confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Free interpretation is available from the moment a defendant is charged through all appeals. Suspects cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. A system of judicial review provides multiple opportunities for appeal.

The law extends the above rights to all defendants regardless of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, or disability.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including an appellate system. These institutions are accessible to plaintiffs seeking damages for human rights violations. Administrative and judicial remedies were available for redressing alleged wrongs. Individuals and organizations may appeal domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

Property Restitution

For the resolution of Holocaust-era restitution claims, including by foreign citizens, the government has laws and mechanisms in place. Property restitution also includes an art restitution program. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups reported that the government had taken comprehensive steps to implement these programs.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

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.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals and provides criminal penalties for violations. The law also prohibits disparagement of religious teachings in public. The government strictly enforced these laws (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, defamation, and denouncement of religious teachings (blasphemy) are criminal offenses and are enforced. NGOs reported that strict libel and slander laws created conditions that discouraged reporting of governmental abuse. For example, many observers believed the ability and willingness of police to sue for libel or slander discouraged individuals from reporting police abuses.

Internet Freedom

With limited exceptions, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities continued to restrict access to websites that violated the law, such as neo-Nazi sites. The law barring neo-Nazi activity provides for one- to 10-year prison sentences for public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of National Socialist crimes. The criminal code provision on incitement provides for prison sentences of up to five years for violations. Authorities restricted access to prohibited websites by trying to shut them down and by forbidding the country’s internet service providers from carrying them.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at 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: Asylum seekers’ freedom of movement was restricted to the district of the reception center assigned by authorities for the duration of their initial application process until the country’s responsibility for examining the application was determined. By law, asylum seekers must be physically present in the centers of first reception for up to 120 hours during the initial application process. Authorities have 20 days in which to determine the country’s responsibility and jurisdiction for the case.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Amnesty International reported that in the first nine months of 2019, the Ministry of Interior repatriated more than 200 Afghan nationals to Afghanistan, sending them back to areas that Amnesty deemed unsafe. According to Amnesty, authorities also decided to repatriate several Syrian nationals to Syria, although the decisions had not been implemented at the end of the year. Between January and June, the Ministry of Interior reported the deportation of 37 Afghan nationals. While opposition parties and human rights NGOs criticized this policy, the government’s position is that it is repatriating Afghan nationals only to areas in the country that independent experts considered safe.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: EU regulations provide that asylum seekers who transit an EU country determined to be “safe” on their way to Austria be returned to that country to apply for refugee status. Authorities considered signatories to the 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol to be safe countries of transit.

Employment: While asylum seekers are legally restricted from seeking regular employment, they are eligible for seasonal work, low-paying community service jobs, or professional training in sectors that require additional apprentices. A work permit is required for seasonal employment but not for professional training. An employer must request the work permit for the prospective employee.

Durable Solutions: There are provisions for integration, resettlement, and returns, which the country was cooperating with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other organizations to improve. The integration section in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Integration, together with the Integration Fund and provincial and local integration offices, coordinated measures for integration of refugees.

Temporary Protection: According to the Interior Ministry, in 2019 the government provided temporary protection to approximately 2,246 individuals who might not qualify as refugees but were unable to return to their home countries. According to the Interior Ministry, between January and July, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 1,275 individuals.

g. Stateless Persons

According to the government’s statistical office, in January there were approximately 17,025 persons in the country registered as stateless, that is, having undocumented or unclear citizenship. Stateless persons in the country were largely Austrian-born children of foreign nationals who were unable to acquire citizenship through their parents due to the laws in their parents’ country of origin. Authorities did not deport them because they lacked a home country.

The law allows some stateless persons to gain nationality. A stateless person born in the country may be granted citizenship within two years of reaching the age of 18 if he or she has lived in the country for a total of 10 years, including five years continuously before application, and is able to demonstrate sufficient income. Stateless persons can receive temporary residence and work permits that must be renewed annually.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held early parliamentary elections in 2019 and presidential elections in 2016. There were no reports of serious abuse or irregularities in either election, and credible observers considered both to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women’s participation in government at the national level increased due to the September 2019 federal elections. There are 72 female members of parliament out of 183, compared with only 63 during the 2017-2019 legislative term. The current coalition government has nine female cabinet members out of 17, whereas the 2017-2019 government had six.

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. Anticorruption laws and regulations extend to civil servants, public officials, governors, members of parliament, and employees or representatives of state-owned companies. The law also criminalizes corrupt practices by citizens outside the country. The penalty for bribery is up to 10 years in prison.

Corruption: Former finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser and two lobbyists were found guilty of embezzlement and corruption charges on December 3 in the country’s largest corruption case since World War II. In an indictment filed by the Federal Prosecutor against White Collar Crime and Corruption in 2016, Grasser and his codefendants were charged in connection with the 2.45 billion-euro ($2.9 billion) auction sale of 62,000 state-owned apartments in 2004. The court found that the information from the Finance Ministry under Grasser’s leadership helped the eventual auction winner by signaling the size of the bid needed to acquire the properties. Grasser was sentenced to eight years in prison, although the case is expected to be appealed to a higher court.

A special unit of the Vienna Prosecutor’s Office continued investigating a 2017 video in which the then leader of the Freedom Party promised a woman posing as a wealthy Russian that he could manipulate government procurement contracts to her benefit in exchange for her purchasing a major stake in a mass-tabloid newspaper and providing his party with positive media coverage. The political fallout from the case, known as the Ibiza scandal, ultimately led to the dissolution of the coalition government and new federal elections in September 2019. A parliamentary investigative committee also launched investigations into the case.

In September prosecutors closed investigations on charges of fraud, embezzlement, and venality related to channeling money to the Freedom Party from donors through associations linked to the party. They continued investigations regarding both party-affiliated personnel appointments in the partly state-owned Casinos Austria company and donations by private individuals who expected legal changes affecting private hospitals.

Prosecutors were also investigating allegations the former vice chancellor and former Freedom Party leader submitted private expenses of more than 500,000 euros ($600,000) for reimbursement to the party (the Freedom Party and other leading political parties receive some government funding).

The Ministry of Interior’s 2019 annual report disclosed there were 2,298 corruption cases in 2019, of which 1,903 were closed without prosecution, 216 resulted in convictions, and 77 resulted in acquittals.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws; there were no reports that officials failed to comply with disclosure requirements. Politicians must publicly disclose biannually when they earn more than 1,142 euros ($1,370) for certain activities, but they are not required to disclose the amounts they earned. The law does not require public officials to file disclosure reports upon leaving office. There are no sanctions for noncompliance with financial disclosure laws.

Campaign finance laws set annual limits on campaign donations of 7,500 euros ($9,000) for single donations and a maximum of 750,000 euros ($900,000) in total donations from all sources. The law provides for fines of up to 150 percent of the amount of an illegal donation for violations.

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: A human rights ombudsman’s office consisting of three independent commissioners examined complaints against the government. The ombudsman’s office is completely independent and has its own budget; parliament appoints its members. The ombudsman’s office effectively monitored government activities. A parliamentary human rights committee provides oversight.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. The government generally enforced the law. Law enforcement response to rape and domestic violence was effective. Police referred victims of domestic violence to special shelters and imposed orders barring abusive family members from contact with the victims.

Domestic violence is punishable under the criminal code provisions for murder, rape, sexual abuse, and bodily injury. Police can issue, and courts may extend, an order barring abusive family members from contact with survivors.

Under the law the government provided psychosocial care in addition to legal aid and support throughout the judicial process to survivors of gender-based violence. Police training programs addressed sexual or gender-based violence and domestic abuse. The government funded privately operated intervention centers and hotlines for victims of domestic abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government generally enforced the law. Labor courts may order employers to compensate victims of sexual harassment; the law entitles a victim to monetary compensation. The Women’s Ministry and the labor chamber regularly provided information to the public on how to address sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. All individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, and are free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. While no legal barriers or government policies adversely affected access to contraception, some groups advocated against the use of contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

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

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, but they were subject to some discrimination in remuneration and representation in certain occupations.

Children

Birth Registration: By law, children derive citizenship from one or both parents. Officials register births immediately.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, which may be extended to 10 years. Severe sexual abuse or rape of a minor is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased to life imprisonment if the victim dies because of the abuse. The government continued its efforts to monitor child abuse and prosecute offenders. Officials noted a growing readiness by the public to report cases of such abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 may legally contract a marriage by special permit and parental consent or court action. NGOs estimated there were 200 cases of early marriage annually, primarily in the Muslim and Romani communities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides up to 15 years’ imprisonment for an adult convicted of sexual intercourse with a child younger than 14, the minimum age for consensual sex for both girls and boys. It is a crime to possess, trade, or privately view child pornography. Possession of or trading in child pornography is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The government effectively enforced these laws.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to figures compiled by the Austrian Jewish Community (IKG), there were between 12,000 and 15,000 Jews in the country, of whom an estimated 8,000 were members of the IKG.

The IKG expressed concern that the COVID-19 crisis could lead to a further increase of anti-Semitism. The NGO Forum against Anti-Semitism reported 550 anti-Semitic incidents during 2019. These included physical assaults in addition to name-calling, graffiti and defacement, threatening letters, dissemination of anti-Semitic texts, property damage, and vilifying letters and telephone calls. Of the reported incidents, six concerned physical assaults, 18 threats and insults, 209 letters and emails, 78 vandalism, and 239 insulting behavior. The government provided police protection to the IKG’s offices and other Jewish community institutions in the country, such as schools and museums. The IKG noted that anti-Semitic incidents typically involved neo-Nazi and other related right-wing extremist perpetrators.

In August a 26-year-old Syrian living in the country attacked the Graz Jewish community leader with a stick. The leader managed to escape to his car uninjured. The perpetrator was arrested and also confessed to having vandalized the Graz synagogue with spray paint in the weeks prior to the attack. The chancellor, vice chancellor, federal ministers, governors, opposition leaders, and religious representatives sharply condemned the attacks as an attack on all Austrians. Several hundred individuals attended a locally organized solidarity vigil at the Graz synagogue.

According to press reports, on November 26, a woman with a knife attacked a rabbi in Vienna, pulled his skullcap from his head, and yelled an anti-Semitic insult (“Slaughter all Jews!”) before fleeing. Chancellor Kurz and Interior Minister Nehammer sharply condemned the attack, stating everything must be done to ensure the Jewish community’s safety. The case was under investigation by the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Combating Terrorism.

School curricula included discussion of the Holocaust, the tenets of different religious groups, and advocacy of religious tolerance. The Education Ministry offered special teacher training seminars on Holocaust education and conducted training projects with the Anti-Defamation League.

In August a 2019 amendment of the Citizenship Act entered into force extending citizenship to descendants of Austrian victims of National Socialism.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not always effectively enforce these provisions. Employment discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred.

While federal law mandates access to public buildings for persons with physical disabilities, NGOs complained many public buildings lacked such access. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Consumer Protection handled disability-related problems. The government funded a wide range of programs for persons with disabilities, including transportation and other assistance, to help integrate schoolchildren with disabilities into mainstream classes and employees with disabilities into the workplace.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

In response to a parliamentary inquiry, the Ministry of Interior published statistics citing 859 neo-Nazi extremist, racist, Islamophobic, or anti-Semitic incidents in 2019, down from 1,075 such incidents in 2018.

An NGO operating a hotline for victims of racist incidents reported receiving approximately 1,950 complaints in 2019. It reported that racist internet postings comprised 1,070 of the cases and were mostly directed against Muslims and migrants.

The Islamic Faith Community’s documentation center, established for tracking anti-Muslim incidents, reported receiving 1,051 complaints in 2019, a 94.6 percent increase compared with the 540 complaints received in 2018. Some 700 of the reported incidents took place on digital media. Incidents included verbal abuse and anti-Muslim graffiti. According to the Islamic Faith Community’s report, women were more likely to face discrimination in person, while men were more likely to face discrimination online.

Human rights groups continued to report that Roma faced discrimination in employment and housing. Government programs, including financing for tutors, helped school-age Romani children move out of “special needs” programs and into mainstream classes. NGOs reported that Africans living in the country were also verbally harassed or subjected to violence in public.

NGOs continued to criticize police for allegedly targeting minorities for frequent identity checks. Racial sensitivity training for police and other officials continued with NGO assistance.

The Labor and Integration Ministries continued providing German-language instruction and skilled-labor training to young persons with immigrant backgrounds. Compulsory preschool programs, including some one- and two-year pilot programs, sought to remedy language deficiencies for nonnative German speakers.

The government continued training programs to combat racism and educate police in cultural sensitivity. The Interior Ministry renewed an annual agreement with a Jewish group to teach police officers cultural sensitivity, religious tolerance, and the acceptance of minorities.

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

Antidiscrimination laws apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There were no cases of police or other government agents inciting, perpetrating, condoning, or tolerating violence against LGBTI individuals or those reporting on such abuse. There was some societal prejudice against LGBTI persons but no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTI organizations generally operated freely. Civil society groups criticized the lack of a mechanism to prevent service providers from discriminating against LGBTI individuals.

In August a 26-year-old Syrian living in Austria defaced the walls of an LGBTI community center in the Styrian capital Graz. Police arrested the perpetrator, who also attempted to attack the president of the Graz Jewish community. In September speakers at a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions tore apart an LGBTI flag, shouting, “Children need to be protected against child molesters.” A Vienna Green politician filed incitement charges against the speakers.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. It prohibits antiunion discrimination or retaliation against strikers and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. The Austrian Trade Union Federation was the exclusive entity representing workers in collective bargaining. Unions were technically independent of government and political parties, although some sectors had unions closely associated with parties.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws that covered all categories of workers. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties for violations were of civil nature, with fines imposed, and were commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative, registration, and judicial procedures were not overly lengthy.

There were few reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union functions. The government and employers recognized the right to strike and respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Authorities enforced laws providing for collective bargaining and protecting unions from interference and workers from retaliation for union activities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, and resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Labor inspectors and revenue authorities conducted routine site visits to identify forced labor. The government initiated forced labor awareness campaigns and workshops. Penalties ranged from six months’ to five years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and from one to 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim and were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

NGOs noticed an upward trend in labor trafficking. Traffickers exploited men and women from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and China in forced labor, primarily in restaurants, construction, agriculture, health care, and domestic service, including in diplomatic households. Seasonal migrants were especially vulnerable to labor trafficking, particularly during the harvest seasons. Traffickers exploited children, persons with physical and mental disabilities, and Roma in 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 all of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum legal working age is 15, with the exception that children who are at least 13 may engage in certain forms of light work on family farms or businesses. Children age 15 and older are subject to the same regulations on hours, rest periods, overtime wages, and occupational health and safety restrictions as adults, but they are subject to additional restrictions on hazardous forms of work or for ethical reasons. Restrictions for hazardous jobs include work with materials considered dangerous for children, work in the sawmill business, on high-voltage pylons, and specified jobs in the construction business.

The labor inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor, Family, and Youth is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies in the workplace and did so effectively. Penalties in the form of fines may be doubled in cases of repeated violations of the child labor code. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive (or other communicable disease) status, religion, age, or world view. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Penalties for violations were commensurate with laws relating to civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, and members of certain minorities. A Muslim community office focused on documenting anti-Islamic acts reported discriminatory hiring practices against Muslim women wearing headscarves when trying to obtain a retail or customer service position. Companies sometimes preferred to pay a fine rather than hire a person with a disability.

The law requires equal pay for equal work, but women occasionally experienced discrimination in remuneration. Persons with disabilities had difficulty accessing the workplace. Female employees in the private sector may invoke laws prohibiting discrimination against women. Depending on the Federal Equality Commission’s findings, labor courts may award the equivalent of up to four months’ salary to women found to have experienced gender discrimination in promotion, despite being better qualified than their competitors. The courts may also order compensation for women denied a post despite having equal qualifications.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no legislated national minimum wage. Instead, nationwide collective bargaining agreements covered between 98 and 99 percent of the workforce and set minimum wages by job classification for each industry. Where no such collective agreements existed, such as for domestic workers, custodial staff, and au pairs, wages were generally lower than those covered by collective bargaining agreements. The agreements set wages above the poverty line except in a few cases.

The law in general provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours, although collective bargaining agreements establish 38- or 38.5-hour workweeks for more than half of all employees. Regulations to increase workhour flexibility allowed companies to increase the maximum regular time from 40 hours to 50 hours per week with overtime. A law that entered into force in 2019 allows work hours to be increased to a maximum of 12 hours per day and 60 hours per week, including overtime, but employees can refuse, without providing a reason, to work more than 10 hours per day.

Overtime is officially limited to 20 hours per week and 60 hours per year. The period worked must not exceed an average of 48 hours per week over a period of 17 weeks. Some employers, particularly in the construction, manufacturing, and information technology sectors, exceeded legal limits on compulsory overtime. Sectors with immigrant workers were particularly affected. Collective bargaining agreements can specify higher limits. An employee must have at least 11 hours off between workdays. Wage and hour violations can be brought before a labor court, which can fine employers who commit violations. Penalties were commensurate with other similar crimes.

Foreign workers in both the formal and informal sectors made up approximately 19 percent of the country’s workforce. Authorities did not enforce wage and hour regulations effectively in the informal sector.

The labor inspectorate effectively enforced mandatory occupational health and safety standards, which were appropriate for the main industries. The number of inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Resources and remediation remained adequate. In cases of violations resulting in serious injury or death, employers may be prosecuted under the penal code. Penalties are commensurate with those for other crimes, such as negligence.

The government extended its Occupational Safety and Health Strategy 2007-12 initiative until 2020. The initiative focused on educational and preventive measures, including strengthening public awareness of danger, risk assessment, and plus evaluation; preventing work-related illnesses and occupational diseases; providing training as well as information on occupational safety and health; and improving the training of prevention experts. In 2018 a total of 148 workers died in industrial accidents.

Workers could file complaints anonymously with the labor inspectorate, which could in turn sue the employer on behalf of the employee. Workers rarely exercised this option and normally relied instead on the nongovernmental workers’ advocacy group and the Chamber of Labor, which filed suits on their behalf. Workers in the informal economy generally did not benefit from social protections. Workers generally had to pay into the system in order to receive health-care benefits, unemployment insurance, and pensions, although persons who were not working could qualify for coverage in certain cases.

Workers could remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety, without jeopardy to their employment. The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service protected employees in this situation.

Belgium

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Belgium is a parliamentary democracy with a limited constitutional monarchy. The country is a federal state with several levels of government: national; regional (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels); language community (Flemish, French, and German); provincial; and local. The Federal Council of Ministers, headed by the prime minister, remains in office as long as it retains the confidence of the lower house (Chamber of Representatives) of the bicameral parliament. Elections are held at six different levels: communal, provincial, regional, by language community, federal, and European. In May 2019, the country held federal parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair.

The federal police are responsible for internal security and nationwide law and order, including migration and border enforcement. They report to the ministers of interior and justice. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Numerous complaints were filed against members of the security services who allegedly committed abuses, some of which awaited rulings in court.

Significant human rights issues included: some attacks motivated by anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex persons.

Authorities generally took steps to identify, investigate, and, where appropriate, prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses.

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

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

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

On April 10, Adil, a young man of Moroccan descent, was killed as he attempted to evade a COVID-related police control at Place du Conseil in Anderlecht. According to press reports, Adil died when his motor scooter collided head-on with a police vehicle as he attempted to flee. An independent examining magistrate was named to lead an involuntary manslaughter investigation into the police actions.

In August a video came to light of a two-year-old incident at Charleroi airport showing a group of police officers subduing and killing an apparently unstable Slovak citizen by putting a blanket over his head and sitting on him, while at one point an officer made a Hitler salute. The number two official in the Federal Police relinquished his duties until an investigation was completed. The senior officer on duty at the airport on the day of the fatal arrest was temporarily reassigned administrative duties. Police stated that an internal investigation and judicial inquiry were underway.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were some reports, however, that prison staff physically mistreated prisoners.

On January 14, two prison guards were found guilty of mistreating jihadist preacher Khalid Zerkani, an ISIS recruiter. The event took place after Zerkani’s transfer to the Saint-Gilles Prison in 2016, with the guards referring to it as an accident. Although the guards were found guilty, the court delivered no punishment, citing the four-year period that had elapsed since the incident. The court also acquitted a third prison guard who was a witness to the mistreatment.

In 2019 the Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities (UNIA) reported 81 complaints of excessive force or abuse of power by security forces. Of these complaints, eight out of 10 were linked to racial or religious motives. The majority occurred during unplanned interventions. The Permanent Committee for the Control of Police Services rules on an average of 30 cases per year, of which 80 percent are cleared.

On July 17, a police officer was sentenced to one year in prison plus a fine for excessive force against a migrant of Sudanese origin. The officer had violently handled the man, sprayed gas in his eyes, and destroyed his mobile telephone. The man and other migrants at the scene were then loaded into a truck, after which they were left at the Willebroeck Canal.

Impunity in the security forces was not a significant problem.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions did not always meet international standards. Prison conditions, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, presented health risks due to overcrowding, hygiene problems, inadequate physical activity, and lack of access to materials and medical care.

Physical Conditions: A study by the University of Lausanne in collaboration with the Council of Europe showed that, in 2019, the country’s prisons held 120.6 inmates per 100 prison spaces. Prison overcrowding remained a problem, despite a temporary decrease in the number of inmates.

Media reported that the overcrowding situation became more serious in the context of COVID-19, as several inmates often shared a single cell. In May the country reduced its prisoner population by 11 percent to prevent overcrowding during the pandemic, but the problem persisted. Many prisoners were made to return in June. As of June 16, however, there were 24 confirmed COVID-19 cases among the country’s prison population. As of May 29, prisoners had made 122,000 masks that were provided to every inmate, staff member, and visitor. Prisoners were allowed one visitor per week, and mail correspondence was set up between inmates and volunteers.

On October 8, the Nivelles Prison, in Brabant Province, entered lockdown after eight inmates tested positive for coronavirus. On October 10, the Huy Prison in Liege Province also entered lockdown after six prisoners tested positive for coronavirus. Increases in COVID-19 cases late in the year and strikes by prison staff increased concerns about prison overcrowding. On October 12, the local section of the International Prison Observatory requested the justice ministry to take immediate action to reduce the prison population to manageable levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. The federal mediator acts as an ombudsman, allowing any citizen to address problems with prison administration. The federal mediator is an independent entity appointed by the Chamber of Representatives to investigate and resolve problems between citizens and public institutions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, among them several domestic committees.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Under the constitution, an individual may be arrested only while committing a crime or by a judge’s order, which must be carried out within 48 hours. The law provides detainees the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of their detention, and authorities generally respected this right. Authorities promptly informed detainees of charges against them and provided access to an attorney (at public expense if necessary). Alternatives to incarceration included conditional release, community service, probation, and electronic monitoring. There was a functioning bail system, and a suspect could be released by meeting other obligations or conditions as determined by the judge.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them; to a fair, timely, and public trial; to be present at their trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to have free assistance of an interpreter (for any defendant who cannot understand or speak the language used in court); to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence; to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and to appeal. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations could seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts and appeal national-level court decisions to the ECHR.

Property Restitution

The government has laws and mechanisms in place, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups, including the country’s Jewish community, reported that the government had resolved virtually all Holocaust-era claims where ownership can be traced, including for foreign citizens. Remaining issues include restituting art and researching the role of the Belgian railways in transporting Jews and other victims to concentration camps, where many were killed.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks and attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred are criminal offenses, punishable by a minimum of eight days (for Holocaust denial) or one month (incitement to hatred and sexist remarks or attitudes) and up to one year in prison and fines, plus a possible revocation of the right to vote or run for public office. If the incitement to hatred was based on racism or xenophobia, the case is tried in the regular courts. If, however, the incitement stemmed from other motives, including homophobia or religious bias, a longer and more costly trial by jury generally is required. The government prosecuted and courts convicted persons under these laws.

Restrictions to the right of freedom of expression were reported, as were several cases of arbitrary detentions or excessive use of force. In April, Amnesty International reported there were at least 10 cases in which police ordered the removal from homes of banners calling for “Justice for Adil” in connection with the death of a young man of Moroccan descent when his motor scooter collided with a police vehicle. The banners aimed to call attention to police brutality and the unfair targeting of persons of Moroccan heritage (see also section 1.a.).

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The prohibition of Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks, attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred also applies to print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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 specific subsidiary protection that goes beyond asylum criteria established by the 1951 Convention relating to the Treatment of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. Refugee status and residence permits are limited to five years and become indefinite if extended.

On March 17, the registration of new asylum seekers was temporarily halted due to the COVID-19 crisis, and De Standaard reported that the detainee number fell from 603 to 304, with detainees being released and left homeless during that month. As of April 3, online registration was again available.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to asylum seekers who arrived from a safe country of origin or transit, pursuant to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation.

Durable Solutions: The country accepted refugees for resettlement through UNHCR, including persons located in Italy and Greece, under the EU Emergency Relocation Mechanism. The country also conducted a voluntary return program for migrants in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary “subsidiary” protection to individuals who did not satisfy the legal criteria for refugee status but who could not return to their country of origin due to the risk of serious harm. Under EU guidelines, individuals granted “subsidiary protection” are entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, and equal access to health care, education, and housing. As of August, authorities had granted subsidiary protection to 556 individuals.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, at the end of 2019, there were 10,933 persons in the country who fell under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate. The country did not contribute to statelessness, as the legal framework for stripping an individual of his or her citizenship does not exist except in cases of dual citizenship with another country.

To be recognized as stateless, a requester must go through legal proceedings and obtain a court ruling on his or her stateless status. Since 2017 family courts have been tasked with handling these requests in hopes of decreasing wait times. The requester may appeal the court’s ruling. Recognition of statelessness does not automatically afford a stateless person resident status in the country. Stateless persons may apply for nationality after meeting the requirements for legal residency in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting in all elections is compulsory; failure to vote is punishable by a nominal fine.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Parliamentary elections held in May 2019 were considered free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In December 2019 Sophie Wilmes became the country’s first female prime minister and oversaw the operation of the caretaker government. In October the country established a new federal government in which there were 10 female cabinet members, more than any previous government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Following several corruption scandals in 2017 and 2018, no significant cases were reported during the year.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require elected officials to disclose their income or revenue, but they must report if they serve on any board of directors, regardless of whether in a paid or unpaid capacity. Officials in nonelective offices are held to the same standard. Sanctions for noncompliance are infrequent but have been used in the past when triggered by public outcry.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated 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: Federal and regional government ombudsmen monitored and published reports on the workings of agencies under their respective jurisdictions. The Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities (UNIA) is responsible for promoting equal opportunity and combating discrimination and exclusion at any level (federal, regional, provincial, or local). The center enjoyed a high level of public trust, was independent in its functioning, and was well financed by the government.

During the year the government established the Federal Institute of Human Rights and nominated a board president and vice president in May. The institute will intervene where other agencies, such as UNIA or the federal center for migration, Myria, do not act. The mission of the institute is to provide opinions, recommendations, and report to the federal government, the Chamber of Representatives, the Senate, and other official bodies, to guarantee that the fundamental rights arising from the international treaties to which the country is a party are carried out. The new body is competent only at the federal level, but an interfederal approach is also envisaged via a cooperation agreement between federal and regional authorities.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is illegal, and the government prosecuted such cases. A convicted rapist may receive 10 to 30 years in prison. The law prohibits domestic violence and provides for fines and incarceration. Legal sanctions for domestic violence are based on the sanctions for physical violence against a third person; the latter range from eight days to 20 years in prison. In cases of domestic violence, these sanctions are doubled.

The activist blog StopFeminicide reported that 24 women died in connection with rape or domestic violence in 2019. The government does not keep a record of the number of femicides. According to 2018 federal police statistics, there were approximately 39,000 official complaints of physical, psychological, and economic violence, including 139 complaints of sexual violence, during that year.

A number of government-supported shelters and telephone helplines were available across the country for victims of domestic abuse.

According to analysis carried out in the country for the EU Commission in 2019, out of a sample of 100 rape cases, 50 of the rapists were never identified. Of the 50 who were identified, only four were judged in court: three were given a deferred sentence, while one was convicted and served prison time. In 2016 the Federal Public Service for Justice estimated that 500 to 600 of the 3,000 to 4,000 rape cases of rape reported annually ended in conviction. A survey of 2,300 male and female participants, ages 15 to 85, conducted by Amnesty International in during the year indicated that respondents believed only 4.3 percent of the reported cases lead to conviction.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls, and it was not a widespread practice in the country. Reported cases were primarily filed by recent immigrants or asylum seekers. Criminal sanctions apply to persons convicted of FGM/C. According to 2017 estimates, there were more than 17,000 female minor and adult victims of FGM/C in the country, while more than 8,000 were at risk. The vast majority of potential victims were asylum seekers from Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guinea, and Somalia.

Sexual Harassment: The law aims to prevent violence and harassment at work, obliging companies to set up internal procedures to handle employee complaints. Sexist remarks and attitudes targeting a specific individual are illegal; parties ruled guilty are subject to fines. The government generally enforced antiharassment laws.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. All individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. No legal, social, or cultural barriers, or government policies adversely affect access to contraception. Similarly, no legal, social, or cultural barriers, or government policies adversely affect access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth. The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

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

Discrimination: Women have the same legal rights as men. The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, pregnancy, or motherhood as well as in access to goods, services, social welfare, and health care. The government generally enforced the law effectively, although many NGOs and feminist organizations reported women often had to accept part-time work due to conflicting family obligations.

Children

Birth Registration: The government registered all live births immediately. Citizenship is conferred on a child through a parent’s (or the parents’) citizenship, but, except for a few circumstances, not through birth on the country’s territory.

Child Abuse: The government continued to prosecute cases of child abuse and punish those convicted.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law provides that both (consenting) partners must be at least 18 years of age to marry. Federal police statistics for 2019 recorded 20 cases of forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation, abduction, and trafficking of children and includes severe penalties for child pornography and possession of pedophilic materials. Authorities enforced the law. The penalties for producing and disseminating child pornography range up to 15 years’ imprisonment and up to one year in prison for possessing such material. Local girls and foreign children were subjected to sex trafficking within the country.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape carries penalties of imprisonment for up 30 years.

In April, five men were arrested for their participation in a child pornography case involving 110 victims, 90 suspects, and some nine million images. The investigation began in 2015 and has since been referred to as the country’s largest child pornography case. The case involved three Belgians, a citizen of the Netherlands, and a UK citizen, all of whom were tried at the Dendermonde correctional court, were found guilty, and were subject to sentences ranging from five to 16 years in prison.

In September the courts convicted five persons for trafficking eight young Nigerian girls into the country. The girls, who were recruited under the promise of becoming hairdressers, were first transferred through Liberia before being forced into prostitution upon their arrival in the country.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community was estimated at 40,000 persons.

In 2019 UNIA received 79 complaints of anti-Semitism, a decrease from 101 complaints in 2018. Of these, 46 reports took place on the internet, five were linked to education, five were cases of verbal aggression and threats, six were cases of vandalism, and one case involved violence. Also in 2019 the Belgian Federal Police recorded 14 cases of Holocaust denial. The civil society organization antisemitisme.be recorded 75 anti-Semitic incidents in 2019; the majority of cases were ideological (34) or took place on the internet (26), while 11 involved property damage.

A poll by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency found that 39 percent of local Jews had encountered verbal abuse. Authorities generally investigated and where appropriate prosecuted such cases.

While ritual slaughter for religious practice remains legal at the federal level, the Flanders and Walloon regional governments instituted bans on religious slaughter in January and September 2019, respectively. In both regional governments, the law requires that animals be stunned prior to killing. Many Muslim and Jewish communities challenged the restrictions on grounds of discrimination and violation of religious freedom. On July 8, the EU Court of Justice heard the case. On September 10, the EU’s advocate general ruled against the ban, stating that it violates EU norms. The ruling was nonbinding but serves as a precursor to the final court decision expected later. Normally court decisions align with the advocate general’s ruling. The Brussels regional government does not have a policy on ritual slaughter and has further stated that it will await the court decision before holding discussions on the subject.

On February 23, the carnival parade in the city of Aalst, as in 2019, had floats with negative caricatures of Jews as well as individuals parading in Nazi SS uniforms. In 2019 UNESCO stripped the 600-year-old event of its World Heritage status because of its anti-Semitic floats.

The law prohibits public statements that incite national, racial, or religious hatred, including denial of the Holocaust. The government prosecuted and convicted individuals under this law (also see section 2.a.). The government provided enhanced security at Jewish schools and places of worship.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced these prohibitions.

While the government mandated that public buildings erected after 1970 must be accessible to persons with disabilities, many older buildings were still inaccessible. Although the law requires that prison inmates with disabilities receive adequate treatment in separate, appropriate facilities, many inmates were still incarcerated in inadequate facilities.

The National High Council for Persons with Disabilities raised concerns about access to intensive care services for persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. UNIA stated as well that due to social distancing measures, persons with disabilities and older persons did not have equal access to health care. Cases included older persons and persons with disabilities being given oxygen without medical supervision, and a person with an intellectual disability being told to leave the hospital because he was too loud.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Ethnic profiling continued to be a problem, and there were sometimes concerns regarding ethnic profiling by police. Amnesty International, among others, alleged that police enforcing COVID-19 lockdowns sometimes targeted ethnic minority and marginalized groups with violence, discriminatory identity checks, forced quarantines, and fines.

According to media reports, police subjected Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, a black member of the European Parliament, to violence in Brussels in June after she attempted to video-record nine police officers “harassing” two black youths. Herzberger-Fofana filed a complaint, while police filed a countersuit for defamation.

In 2018 Sanda Dia, a black Belgian student at the Catholic University Leuven, died while allegedly participating in the Reuzengom fraternity initiation custom known as a “baptism.” According to local media outlets, Dia died of hypothermia and multiple organ failure after being subjected to the club’s ritualistic hazing. In August new information regarding Dia’s treatment alleged that the club subjected him to racist remarks during his initiation. Reuzengom members were also accused of other displays of racism, including allegedly wearing Ku Klux Klan robes, a speech at the fraternity that referred to “our good German friend, Hitler,” and a video of club members singing, “Congo is ours.” In September requests for additional investigation into the incident postponed the case’s referral to criminal court until a later date.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, application of nationality laws, and access to government services, such as health care. The government enforced the law, but the underreporting of crimes against the LGBTI community remained a problem.

UNIA reported that in 2019 it received 133 complaints of acts of discrimination against members of the LGBTI community, of which 35 were related to workplace discrimination or harassment. This was a record number of complaints related to LGBTI discrimination and the first time workplace discrimination was the most cited abuse. A study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights found that 37 percent of individuals in the country identifying as LGBTI reported avoiding certain areas to avoid being harassed, assaulted, or insulted.

UNIA received several complaints of online hate speech and incitement to violence towards the LGBTI community. One case involved a student who had commented on a teacher’s Instagram page, that homosexuality was “cancerous,” telling him to “die of AIDS.” Within the political sphere, UNIA received reports of discrimination concerning comments made by several Vlaams Belang (an extreme right political party) politicians, stating that the LGBTI community “will always be abnormal,” referring to pictures of Pride marches as “repugnant,” and saying that allowing homosexuals to marry and adopt children “is going too far.”

LGBTI persons from immigrant communities reported social discrimination within those communities.

The law provides protections for transgender persons, including legal gender recognition without first undergoing sex reassignment surgery.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were reports of physical and verbal attacks against Muslims. In 2019, the most recent year of available data, the Collective against Islamophobia in Belgium reported they had received 108 reports of discrimination. Of these, 96 investigations were opened, of which 80 were confirmed as cases of Islamophobia. In nine of 10 confirmed cases, the victims of discrimination were women. During the same year, UNIA registered 290 reports of discrimination against persons of Muslim faith.

UNIA received complaints of discrimination based on physical characteristics, political orientation, social origin, or status. Restrictions on Islamic clothing in public- and private-sector employment, schools, and public spaces affected Muslim women in particular.

In February the Brussels Court of First Instance ruled that prohibiting headscarves in sports for safety reasons was permitted and that a sports headscarf did not meet the safety requirements. In July the Constitutional Court ruled that educational institutions could prohibit religious symbols (namely headscarves), leading to protests against the ruling for disproportionately targeting girls of Muslim faith. In November a teacher in a Molenbeek school was suspended for showing caricatures of the prophet Mohammed in his class. UNIA also reported numerous instances of religious discrimination via social media. In October, two individuals were sentenced to six months of prison and a fine for running a Facebook page, Identitaires Ardennes, which featured anti-Islamic hate speech. The Audiovisual Superior Council noted an increase and normalization of online hate speech.

In November, UNIA published a report on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on discrimination. The study found that reports of discrimination rose by 32 percent between February 1 and August 19 in comparison with 2019. A total of 1,850 complaints which UNIA linked to the health and safety measures taken to combat the COVID-19 pandemic were registered. Discrimination reports came mainly from persons with East Asian and foreign origins, persons with disabilities, young persons, and elderly persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

For companies with more than 50 employees, the law provides workers the right to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Workers exercised these rights. Citizen and noncitizen workers enjoyed the same rights. Work council elections are mandatory in enterprises with more than 100 employees, and safety and health committee elections are mandatory in companies with more than 50 employees. Employers sometimes sought judicial recourse against associations attempting to prevent workers who did not want to strike from entering the employer’s premises.

The government effectively enforced the law, but freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were not consistently respected by employers. Penalties were commensurate with those for other violations. Worker organizations were generally free to function outside of government control. Unions complained that judicial intervention in collective disputes undermined collective bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but such practices occurred. The government generally enforced the law; resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were adequate. Legal penalties were commensurate with similar crimes.

In a report published in December, the Interfederal Center for Migration (Myria) reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had the potential to protect human traffickers and render cases of forced labor less visible. Myria reported a decreased capacity for detection because the social security labor inspection services were unable to safely complete field checks. The report also noted that it was often impossible to solicit support from police forces, which were overwhelmed with enforcing health and safety measures in light of the pandemic. There was a significant drop in reports of cases of forced labor–from 3.15 cases per day in 2019 to 0.55 during the year.

Instances of forced and compulsory labor included men who were forced to work in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture, fruit farms, construction, cleaning businesses, and retail shops. Men and women were subjected to forced domestic service, including in the diplomatic community. Forced begging continued, particularly in the Romani community.

In March the criminal court of Namur convicted the owner of a Chinese restaurant in Walcourt for the forced labor of five men. The men, who did not have a valid work permit or visa, were carrying out renovations in the restaurant. They were neither paid, declared under social security, nor under contract. The owner was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine.

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 of employment is 15. Persons between the ages of 15 and 18 may participate in part-time work/study programs and work full time up to a limited number of hours during the school year. The Ministry of Employment regulated industries that employ juvenile workers to ensure that labor laws were followed; it occasionally granted waivers for children temporarily employed by modeling agencies and in the entertainment business. Waivers were granted on a short-term basis and for a clearly defined performance or purpose that had to be listed in the law as an acceptable activity. The law clearly defines, according to the age of the child, the maximum amount of time that may be worked daily and the frequency of performances. A child’s earnings must be paid to a bank account under the name of the child, and the money is inaccessible until the child reaches 18 years of age.

There are laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. The government generally enforced these laws with adequate resources and inspections; such practices reportedly occurred mainly in restaurants. Persons found in violation of child labor laws could face penalties that were commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

In October, Belgian and French police jointly dismantled a human trafficking network in which children were subjected to forced begging. According to media reports, the network had made an estimated five million euros ($6 million) in profits and controlled “begging zones” in Belgium and Paris. Police questioned 13 suspects believed to be involved in the network; the investigation remained underway in December.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status, but permit companies to prohibit outward displays of religious affiliation, including headscarves (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/). The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations.

Some employers discriminated in employment and occupation against women, persons with disabilities, and members of certain minority groups as well as against internal and foreign migrant workers. The government took legal action based on antidiscrimination laws. UNIA facilitated arbitration or other settlements in some cases of discrimination. Settlements could involve monetary payments, community service, or other penalties.

The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service generally enforced regulations effectively. Trade unions or media sometimes escalated cases, and UNIA often took a position or acted as a go-between to find solutions or to support alleged victims in the courts.

The Federal Institute for the Equality of Men and Women is responsible for promoting gender equality and may initiate lawsuits if it discovers violations of equality laws. Most complaints received during the year were work related and concerned the termination of employment due to pregnancy. Economic discrimination against women continued. According to the EU statistical office Eurostat, women’s hourly wage rates were 6 percent less than those of their male colleagues in 2017. The law requires that one-third of the board members of publicly traded companies be women.

The law requires companies with at least 50 employees to provide a clear overview of their compensation plans, a detailed breakdown by gender of their wages and fringe benefits, a gender-neutral classification of functions, and the possibility of appointing a mediator to address and follow up on gender-related problems.

The employment rate for persons with disabilities in the public sector was much lower than the quotas and targets set by public authorities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is a monthly national minimum wage, and it is higher than the official estimate for poverty income level.

The standard workweek is 38 hours, and workers are entitled to four weeks of annual leave. Departure from these norms can occur under a collective bargaining agreement, but work may not exceed 11 hours per day or 50 hours per week. An 11-hour rest period is required between work periods. Overtime is paid at a time-and-a-half premium Monday through Saturday and double time on Sundays. The law forbids or limits excessive overtime. Without specific authorization, an employee may not work more than 65 hours of overtime during any one quarter.

The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service generally enforced regulations effectively. Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries. Inspectors from both the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Social Security enforced labor regulations. These ministries jointly worked to ensure that standards were effectively enforced in all sectors, including the informal sector, and that wages and working conditions were consistent with collective bargaining agreements. Wage, overtime, and occupational safety violations were most common in the restaurant, construction, and logistics industries. Some employers still operated below legal standards.

A specialized governmental department created to oversee the informal economy conducted investigations, mainly in the construction, restaurant and hotel, and cleaning sectors. Authorities may fine employers for poor working conditions but may also treat such cases as trafficking in persons.

Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service protected employees in this situation.

Bulgaria

Executive Summary Title

Bulgaria is a constitutional republic governed by a freely elected unicameral National Assembly. A coalition government headed by a prime minister leads the country. National Assembly elections were held in 2017, and the Central Election Commission did not report any major election irregularities. International and local observers considered the National Assembly elections and the 2016 presidential election generally free and fair but noted some deficiencies.

The Ministry of Interior is responsible for law enforcement, migration, and border control. The State Agency for National Security, which reports to the Prime Minister’s Office, is responsible for investigating corruption and organized crime, among other responsibilities. The army is responsible for external security but also can assist with border security. During the coronavirus-related state of emergency, the army had the authority to enforce COVID-19 measures and restrictions but did not exercise it. The National Protective Service is responsible for the security of dignitaries and answers to the president. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: violent treatment by police; arbitrary arrests; serious problems with judicial independence; serious restrictions on free expression, including media censorship, violence and threats of violence against journalists, and corporate and political pressure on media; refoulement of refugees or asylum seekers; serious acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence against Roma; violence against children; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

Authorities took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, but government actions were insufficient, and impunity was a problem.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Military investigators and prosecutors in three territorial prosecution services investigate military personnel killings; police investigators, investigative magistrates, and prosecutors investigate other security force killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers were generally poor. There were reports of overcrowding in some facilities, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, prison staff corruption, and inadequate sanitary, living, and medical facilities.

Physical Conditions: In February the ombudsman recommended the closing of two low-security facilities, Keramichna Fabrika in Vratsa and Kremikovtsi near Sofia, as well as the Central Sofia Prison due to “extremely bad physical conditions, overcrowding, hygiene problems, and cockroach and bedbug infestations.” The BHC and the ombudsman identified several additional problems, including overcrowding, poor access to health care and its poor quality wherever available, declining access to education, and unjustified use of handcuffs in detention facilities and hospitals.

The BHC reported extremely poor conditions in the overcrowded detention center in Gabrovo, “the last underground jail,” located below ground level, with poor access to natural light, no ventilation, poor hygiene, no toilet or bathing facilities in the cells, and limited open-air space. In June the Ministry of Justice informed the BHC of the government’s decision to close down the Gabrovo facility and relocate it to a new facility that was being converted for that purpose.

In May the BHC urged the Supreme Judicial Council to include inmate complaints of isolation, torture, and degrading treatment in the list of “urgent” cases that courts were allowed to review during the COVID-19 state of emergency. In April the BHC reported that defendants in detention at Central Sofia Prison complained of the “lack of systematic and comprehensive health protection measures” vis-a-vis the threat of COVID-19. The complainants alleged that prison authorities mixed persons detained before and after the declaration of the pandemic and did not enforce protective and hygiene measures. The BHC claimed medical personnel did not report all cases of violence against prisoners by custodial staff to the prosecution service. As of December the prison administration reported 34 cases of prisoners and detainees infected with COVID-19, including 18 hospitalizations and one death.

In January the ombudsman reported there had been 24 deaths in 2019 at an institution for persons with dementia in the village of Gorsko Kosovo. The ombudsman identified overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions there as enduring problems. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy inspected the facility, acknowledged the poor conditions, and suspended the placement of new residents, but did not find any violations on the part of the staff.

The ombudsman identified “extremely bad conditions” in state psychiatric hospitals, including overcrowding, poor physical conditions, meager food, and lack of adequate care. In December the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported “grossly insufficient” staffing at psychiatric hospitals and identified continuous physical mistreatment (slaps, pushes, punches, kicks, and hitting with sticks) of patients by staff. The CPT raised “serious concerns regarding the use of means of restraint in psychiatric hospitals,” including metal chains on wrists and ankles secured with padlocks for days on end.

The law provides for the establishment of closed-type centers or designation of closed-type areas within a refugee reception center for confinement in isolation of disorderly migrants.

Administration: Authorities investigated allegations of mistreatment. According to the CPT, the prison administration suffered from serious corruption as well as a shortage of health-care personnel. The BHC and the ombudsman also identified violations of privacy of correspondence and prison corruption as problems. Contrary to law, regulations allow night searches of sleeping quarters for unapproved possessions, and the ombudsman criticized the prison administration for conducting such searches. In December the law was amended to restrict prisoners’ right to appeal administrative acts such as punishment or relocation. These appeals are now limited to the local administrative courts, and cannot go to the Supreme Administrative Court. The ombudsman and lawyers expressed concerns that the new provision restricted prisoners’ right to justice, lead to contradictory court practices, and render citizens unequal before the law.

In March the BHC criticized the government’s decision to suspend prison visits for the duration of the coronavirus-related state of emergency (March 13 to May 13), asserting that authorities could have shown flexibility instead of instituting a general ban, since two-thirds of all prison visits took place behind a partition without physical contact. Authorities reinstated visits after May 13, when the state of emergency ended.

Human rights activists accused the prison administration of confiscating applications for membership to the Bulgarian Prisoner Association, an NGO founded by inmates to advocate for prisoner rights, and of punishing and physically abusing its members. NGOs complained that the prison administration refused to collaborate with them if the NGOs had anything to do with the Bulgarian Prisoner Association.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring of prisons by independent nongovernmental observers. From August 10 to 21, a delegation from the CPT carried out an ad hoc visit to examine progress on the implementation of its recommendations concerning the treatment, conditions, and legal safeguards offered to psychiatric patients and residents of social care institutions.

Improvements: As of October the government refurbished a building to serve as a new detention facility in Kardjali, renovated the toilets in the detention facility in Plovdiv, and repaired the roofs of the prison facilities in Varna, Plovdiv, Pazardjik, and the detention facility in Sofia.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, there were reports that police at times abused their arrest and detention authority. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides that police normally must obtain a warrant prior to apprehending an individual. Police may hold a detainee for 24 hours without charge, and a prosecutor may authorize an additional 72 hours. A court must approve detention longer than the additional 72 hours. The law prohibits holding detainees in custody without indictment for more than two months if they are charged with misdemeanors. Detainees charged with felonies may be held without indictment for eight months, while persons suspected of crimes punishable by at least 15 years’ imprisonment may be held up to 18 months without indictment. Prosecutors may not arrest military personnel without the defense minister’s approval. Authorities generally observed these laws.

The law provides for release on personal recognizance, bail, and house arrest, and these measures were widely used.

The law provides for the right to counsel from the time of detention. Regulations are that detainees have access to legal counsel no later than two hours after detention and that a lawyer have access to the detainee within 30 minutes of his or her arrival at a police station. The law provides for government-funded legal aid for low-income defendants, who could choose from a list of public defenders provided by the bar associations. A national hotline provided free legal consultations eight hours per day.

The BHC reported that police denied lawyers access to persons detained in several police precincts in Sofia during antigovernment protests on September 2, telling the detainees they were not under arrest and did not need legal assistance. The ombudsman initiated an inspection in the Second Police Precinct that identified at least two cases in which detainees did not receive immediate access to a lawyer. Further, the ombudsman found no record of meetings between detainees and lawyers despite the precinct officers’ claims of lawyers’ visits several hours after the detentions.

On May 28, the Supreme Cassation Court denied the prosecutor general’s request to reopen Bulgarian Prisoner Association leader Jock Palfreeman’s parole case. The prosecutor general had challenged the Sofia Appellate Court’s decision in the case, accusing the panel of judges of bias due to prior collaboration with the BHC, which the appellate court had asked to provide a written evaluation on the progress of Palfreeman’s rehabilitation. Palfreeman sought a retrial and was appealing the expulsion order imposed concurrent with his parole.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary detention. For example, the BHC reported receiving numerous complaints from peaceful participants in antigovernment protests on September 2 that they were detained without being involved in any illegal activities and subsequently held for a long time in overcrowded cells without access to food or water. Police actions during that day’s protests escalated after a group started throwing stones, firecrackers, and other objects at police.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but corruption, inefficiency, and lack of accountability were pervasive problems. Public trust in the judicial system remained low because of the perception that magistrates were susceptible to political pressure and rendered unequal justice.

In February the National Assembly amended the Judicial System Act, excluding judges, prosecutors, and investigating magistrates from responsibility for their official actions in an administrative court. NGOs criticized the change, noting that it will make the judiciary unaccountable for acts of discrimination committed in their official capacities.

After the COVID-19 state of emergency expired in May, the Supreme Judicial Council decided to continue restricting public access to court sessions and to allow only the presence of both sides and their legal counsels in courtrooms, citing antipandemic precautions. The council ordered court press officers to use all available methods to provide information on case developments as a replacement for public access.

According to human rights organizations, the law has low standards for a fair trial, creating possibilities for the violation of lawyers’ and defendants’ procedural rights. In an interview with Der Spiegel on September 7, Supreme Cassation Court president Lozan Panov stated, “The Supreme Judicial Council, the judicial self-governance body…mainly consists of politically appointed and controlled members. Therefore, it will be fair to say that the most important parts of the Bulgarian judiciary are under political influence and can be corrupted.”

Trial Procedures

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

The law presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. They have the right to a timely trial, but long delays affected the delivery of justice in criminal procedures. All court hearings are public except for cases involving national security, endangering public morals, and affecting the privacy of juvenile defendants. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and can demand a retrial if convicted in absentia unless they were evading justice at the time of the first trial.

The constitution and the law give defendants the right to an attorney, provided at public expense for those who cannot afford one. A defense attorney is mandatory if the alleged crime carries a possible punishment of 10 or more years in prison; also if the defendant is a juvenile, foreigner, or person with mental or physical disabilities, or if the accused is absent. Defendants have the right to ample time and facilities to prepare a defense. They have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment they are charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses, examine evidence, and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law provides for the right of appeal, which was widely used.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law prohibits official discrimination in access to employment, education, health care, and other rights and freedoms provided in the constitution and the law. The government investigated complaints of discrimination, issued rulings, and imposed sanctions on violators. The law allows individuals to pursue a discrimination case through the court system or through the Commission for Protection against Discrimination. Individuals may file allegations of human rights abuses with courts and with the commission, which can impose fines on violators.

After all remedies in domestic courts are exhausted, individuals can appeal decisions involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the state to the European Court of Human Rights.

Property Restitution

According to the BHC, authorities evicted Romani families from their homes for political reasons ahead of elections, citing legal obligations to demolish illegal and hazardous buildings, while failing to provide the required support to the evicted persons, leaving them homeless.

While the government has no legislation specific to Holocaust-era property restitution, there are laws and mechanisms to address communist-era real estate claims (not including moveable property), including by foreign citizens. These laws were applied to cover Holocaust-related claims. All cases have long been closed.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions. In March the National Assembly passed a law on Measures and Actions during the state of emergency that allowed law enforcement agencies to access electronic data traffic in order to control quarantined persons. NGOs expressed concern that the law does not provide for judicial control of such access nor guarantees that it will not be applied to nonquarantined persons. NGOs also expressed concern that the provision will remain a part of the legislation after the state of emergency is over.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

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

Freedom of Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. During the state of emergency from March to May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government limited internal travel and established police checkpoints to enforce public health orders. Subsequent health emergency orders did not include travel restrictions or checkpoints.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

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

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

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women held mayoral offices in 37 out of 265 municipalities and 27 percent of elected seats in the National Assembly. There were no Romani members in the National Assembly, and Roma were underrepresented in appointed leadership positions compared to the size of their population. Ethnic Turks, Roma, and Pomaks (descendants of Slavic Bulgarians who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule) held elected positions at the local level.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Human rights observers reported uneven levels of cooperation from national and local government officials.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Semitism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

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

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

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

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

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

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Croatia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Croatia is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral parliament (Sabor). The president serves as head of state and nominates the prime minister, who leads the government, based on majority support of parliament. The latest presidential election was held in December 2019 with a second round for the top two candidates held on January 5. President Zoran Milanovic was elected by a majority of voters. Domestic and international observers stated that the presidential election and parliamentary elections held on July 5 were free and fair.

The national police, under the control of the Ministry of the Interior, have primary responsibility for domestic security. In times of disorder, the prime minister and the president may call upon the armed forces to provide security. The president is commander in chief of the armed forces. The armed forces report to the Ministry of Defense and to the president as commander in chief. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were allegations that some members of the border police committed abuses of irregular migrants.

Significant human rights issues included: instances of violence against, and intimidation and censorship of, journalists and the existence of criminal libel laws; reported acts of unjustified police violence against irregular migrants, some of whom may have been asylum seekers; corruption; and discrimination and violence against members of ethnic minority groups, particularly Serbs and Roma.

The government took significant steps to prosecute and punish individuals who committed abuses of human rights.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities; however, a significant number of cases of missing persons from the 1991-95 conflict remained unresolved. The Ministry of Veterans Affairs reported that as of October 20, 1,468 persons remained missing, and the government was searching for the remains of 401 individuals known to be deceased, for a total of 1,869 unsolved missing persons’ cases. The ministry reported that from October 10, 2019, to October 20, the remains of 18 individuals were exhumed, and final identifications were made for 30 individuals. Progress remained slow primarily due to lack of reliable documents and information about the location of mass and individual graves, as well as other jurisdictional and political challenges with neighboring countries. The ministry reported that since January 1 it received seven new requests for searches, five for missing persons, and two for remains of those known to be deceased. In April the ministry implemented a regulation that provides monetary rewards for those who provide information or documentation that leads to the resolution of missing persons cases. This tool was being utilized to enhance the search for missing persons. On August 30, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Veterans Affairs Tomo Medved marked International Day of Missing Persons by participating in a Conference on Missing Persons from the Homeland War.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but, according to the Office of the Ombudsperson, there were several reports of physical and verbal mistreatment of prisoners and detainees. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Some reports regarding prison or detention center conditions raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: The ombudsperson’s 2019 annual report stated that in six of the 14 high-security units, the occupancy rate was more than 120 percent (considered critical according to the Council of Europe’s European Committee on Crime Problems). The prisons with the greatest overcrowding were those in Karlovac (175 percent of capacity), Osijek (174 percent), and Pozega (167 percent). The report noted that many prisoners resided in conditions that did not meet legal and international standards, and in some cases they were degrading and dangerous to inmates’ health.

In addition the ombudsperson reported the most frequent complaints were inadequate health care, followed by accommodation conditions, prison officers’ conduct, and inappropriate use of privileges. In its 2018 report, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) stated it received several allegations of physical mistreatment of prisoners by police officers, including slaps, punches, and kicks to various parts of the body.

The ombudsperson’s report described regular site visits to 12 police stations in the country that showed partial compliance with the standards of the CPT. According to the report, in some police stations video surveillance coverage was limited, increasing the risk of an untimely response to incidents during police detention. In some stations, however, video surveillance extended to sanitary facilities, compromising the privacy of detained persons. Lacking their own detention facility, Varazdin border police used the local police station at Ivanec for short-term detention of irregular migrants, although the facility’s size was insufficient for holding large groups and was difficult to keep sanitary. The report noted some police stations did not have dedicated vehicles for transportation of detained persons and sometimes used vehicles without ventilation and heating in violation of CPT standards.

Administration: The ombudsperson’s report stated detained persons frequently turned to the ombudsperson to address these issues due to the ineffectiveness of legal remedies. The ombudsperson investigated credible allegations of mistreatment and issued recommendations to improve conditions for detained persons. In 2019 her office took actions in response to 203 cases of violations of the rights of persons in the prison system, conducted 25 field administrative procedures, and the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) implementers visited four prisons, 23 police stations, and four investigative units.

The report of the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) published in June noted that as of June 2018, the Ministry of the Interior continued to deny the ombudsperson immediate access to data on the treatment of irregular migrants in police stations. In 2019 the ombudsperson recommended that the Ministry of the Interior ensure unannounced and free access to data on irregular migrants to the ombudsperson and NPM implementers in line with existing legislation.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent, nongovernmental observers. The ombudsperson carried out tasks specified in the NPM and is authorized to make unannounced visits to detention facilities. The CPT and the ENNHRI also made visits in recent years.

Improvements: The ombudsperson’s report noted some improvements regarding accommodation conditions from the previous year, such as the addition of 50 newly constructed places in the Pozega penitentiary. The Ministry of Justice and Administration reported the overall security and accommodation situation in all correctional institutions, including penitentiaries, prisons, juvenile correctional institutions, and the Diagnostics Center in Zagreb (a health-care facility), improved despite temporary measures introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Beginning in March, prisoners were offered more frequent and longer telephone calls, and, with the support of UNICEF, video visits from children to their incarcerated parents were increased. Compared with 2019, prisoners were allowed more time outside and provided additional structured activities. The ministry reported the capacity of the prison in Bjelovar was increased.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Other than those apprehended during the commission of a crime, persons were arrested with warrants issued by a judge or prosecutor based on evidence. Prosecutors may hold suspects for up to 48 hours in detention. Upon request of prosecutors, an investigative judge may extend investigative detention for an additional 36 hours. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them. The law requires a detainee be brought promptly before a judicial officer, and this right was generally respected. In 2019 the ombudsperson received 6 percent more complaints relating to the work of the Office of the Chief State Prosecutor, mostly due to lack of communication with citizens in reference to charges against them. The law limits release on bail only in cases of flight risk. In more serious cases, defendants were held in pretrial detention. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice or, if indigent, to one provided by the state.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Cases of intimidation of state prosecutors, judges, and defense lawyers were isolated.

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence. They must be informed promptly of the charges against them. Defendants have a right to a fair, public, and timely trial and to be present at their trial. Despite the decreased number of cases, the backlog in domestic courts (462,200 as of September 30, down from 500,578 at the end of 2019) continued to raise concerns regarding judicial effectiveness, efficiency, legal uncertainty, and the rule of law. Lengthy trials remained one of the main problems in the judiciary. In June the ENNHRI reported that during 2019, the last year for which data was available, the number of complaints received by the ombudsperson regarding the judiciary decreased by 22 percent compared with 2018. Regarding the content of complaints, 38 percent expressed dissatisfaction with the work of the courts, a decrease of 34 percent compared with 2018. Complaints pointed to inconsistent application of case law, as well as insufficiently reasoned court decisions that seemed arbitrary. Complaints about the manner in which judges conducted proceedings and made decisions showed a growing distrust in the legality of the proceedings and raised fears of corruption.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to have one provided at state expense. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Any defendant who cannot understand or speak Croatian has free access to an interpreter from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and prosecutors may file an appeal before a verdict becomes final, and defendants may file an appeal through the domestic courts to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may seek damages for, or cessation of, an alleged human rights violation. They may appeal to the ECHR after all domestic legal remedies have been exhausted or after a case has been pending for an excessive period in domestic courts. Administrative remedies were also available.

Property Restitution

The government has endorsed the Terezin declaration but does not have adequate legal mechanisms in place to address Holocaust-era property restitution. The country has not effectively compensated claimants for property seized during the Holocaust period (1941-45) and has inconsistently permitted noncitizens to file claims.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups reported the government did not make significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. The law limits restitution of property seized during the Communist era to individuals who were citizens of the country in 1996 and permitted claims to be filed only within a specified window, which closed in January 2003. Consequently, the law does not provide effective compensation to persons, including Holocaust survivors, whose property was expropriated but who left the country and obtained citizenship elsewhere. A 2002 amendment to the law allows foreign citizens to file claims if their country of citizenship has a bilateral restitution treaty with Croatia. In 2010, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot require such a treaty as a necessary condition for restitution. In 2011 the Ministry of Justice attempted unsuccessfully to amend the legislation to reflect this finding and reopen claims. At the time the government estimated the amendment might benefit between 4,211 and 5,474 claimants. As of year’s end, the government had taken no subsequent steps to amend the law.

Restitution of communal property remained a problem for the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Communities in Croatia. The government reported that since 1999 it had resolved 323 property claims related to the Serbian Orthodox Church, and there were no outstanding appeals. The Serbian Orthodox Church stated several outstanding claims remained.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for the press, but judicial ineffectiveness at times delayed resolution of cases.

Freedom of Speech: The law sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred, or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” A conviction for internet hate speech is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law provides for six months’ to five years’ imprisonment for those who organize or lead a group of three or more persons to commit hate speech. Although the laws and recent Constitutional Court decisions technically impose restrictions on symbolic speech considered “hate speech,” including the use of Nazi- and (the World War II regime) Ustasha-era symbols and slogans, NGOs and advocacy groups complained that enforcement of those provisions remained inadequate.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on material deemed hate speech apply to print and broadcast media.

Violence and Harassment: NGOs reported that intimidation and threats, especially online threats, against journalists had a chilling effect on media freedom and that the government insufficiently addressed this problem.

On January 23, in Ivanbegovina, four men attacked Slobodna Dalmacija journalist Andrea Topic while she was investigating the property of then health minister Milan Kujundzic. Topic said she was photographing the property from the road when the men threatened her and intimidated her for half an hour by shouting, filming her, and sitting on and shaking her car. On July 28, media reported that the Imotski Municipal State Attorney’s Office filed an indictment against the four men, charging them with unlawful deprivation of liberty. Kujundzic later resigned, and media attributed his resignation to press coverage of the unexplained large number of houses he owned.

The Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) strongly condemned “this disgusting attack on [our] colleague Andrea Topic, who was only doing her job in the public interest. The attack is a consequence of a hostile atmosphere in Croatia that points the finger of blame on journalists for everything.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported practicing self-censorship due to fear of online harassment, lawsuits, upsetting politically connected individuals, or losing their jobs for covering certain topics.

Libel/Slander Laws: According to results of an annual survey conducted by the CJA, 905 lawsuits were filed against journalists and the media, with claimed damages of almost 68 million kuna ($10.5 million). Of the 905 lawsuits, 859 were for civil alleged violations of honor and reputation against publishers, editors, and journalists, while 46 were criminal lawsuits. Of the 23 media outlets that responded to the CJA’s poll, 18 had a standing lawsuit alleging violations of honor and reputation. The CJA was defending itself against three active lawsuits. The country’s public broadcaster, Croatian Radio and Television (HRT), had an active criminal proceeding against CJA President Hrvoje Zovko, including a claim for damages of 250,000 kuna ($39,200), claims against the CJA in the amount of 200,000 kuna ($31,430), and within the same lawsuit, a claim for 50,000 kuna ($7,860) against Sanja Mikleusevic Pavic, president of the CJA’s branch at HRT.

Nongovernmental Impact: On April 12, several unidentified men attacked Zivana Susak Zivkovic, a reporter working for the news website Dalmatinskiportal, and Ivana Sivro, a camera operator for N1 TV. According to local news reports, the journalists were attacked while documenting an Easter mass held despite a ban on public gatherings due to COVID-19. The regional news website Balkan Insight reported that the rally by the masked, black-clad protesters was held to support a priest who called on worshippers to attend mass, breaching measures imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country, with two of the protesters displaying World War II Ustasha movement’s insignia and a banner with the slogan “Journalists are worms.” They were objecting to earlier media reports that the day of criticism of priest Josip Delas was held because he led a mass with 20 worshippers despite appeals from the archdiocese and the coronavirus crisis authorities in Split to avoid gatherings. Zivkovic suffered minor bruising from the attack, her employer reported. Another man hit Sivro in the arm and shoved her camera, as seen in a video published by N1 TV. Three men were under prosecution for the assault. In a statement, the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Split-Makarska apologized for the attack.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Domestic NGOs working on migrants’ rights issues documented 688 cases of pushbacks or abuse of irregular migrants. In May the British newspaper The Guardian accused border police of humiliating irregular migrants on religious grounds during the month of Ramadan. According to the report, police officers allegedly spray-painted crosses on the heads of migrants who attempted to enter the country illegally to mark, humiliate, and traumatize them. In the same article, The Guardian reported that on May 6-7, police pushed several mainly Afghan and Pakistani migrants and asylum-seekers back across the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The NGO Danish Refugee Council stated the migrants and asylum seekers were forced to enter a van and driven to the BiH border, although some requested asylum in Croatia. At the border they were reportedly beaten and their personal belongings burned. The Ministry of the Interior disputed the allegations and claims in The Guardians article and stated the police respected migrants’ fundamental rights and dignity and allowed them access to the international protection system if they were in need of such protection, in accordance with general human rights documents, European Union regulations, and national legislation. The ministry also stated police took no action against migrants at the reported time in the area in question and had excellent relations with the Muslim community. On June 5, a human rights NGO, Centre for Peace Studies (CMS), filed a criminal complaint to the State Attorney’s Office against “unknown perpetrators” from the police for “degrading treatment and torture of 33 persons and their violent, illegal expulsion from the Croatian territory to Bosnia and Herzegovina,” based in part on the incident described in The Guardian. As their press release explained, “those were four separate cases [recorded in May] combined into one criminal complaint due to similarities in treatment.” On July 23, the CMS filed a second criminal complaint against unknown perpetrators for torturing, humiliating, and pushing back 16 migrants from Croatia to BiH in late May. The Ombudsperson’s Office said they had repeatedly made requests for investigations into allegations of violence against migrants.

On June 18, police arrested two Karlovac-based police officers for the beating of an Afghan asylum seeker who crossed the border from BiH. The officers were removed from service pending disciplinary proceedings and were detained for 30 days. One reportedly faced a charge of causing bodily harm, while the other faced charges for failing to report a crime. Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic condemned the beating incident and emphasized it was an isolated case. Karlovac police officials said there was zero tolerance for such violence.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status and subsidiary protection status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to asylum seekers. Despite restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of the Interior reported that it continued work with asylum seekers and persons granted international protection, and it provided access to the asylum procedure in accordance with epidemiological measures and recommendations adopted by the European Commission on April 16.

Durable Solutions: In 2019 the government resettled 250 pledged Syrian refugees from Turkey according to the EU Resettlement Program from 2015. In August the Ministry of the Interior reported the government was unable to resettle 150 pledged refugees from 2019 due to operational and technical difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and an earthquake that struck the city of Zagreb on March 22. The government continued to participate in a joint regional housing program (RHP) with the governments of BiH, Montenegro, and Serbia. The RHP aimed to contribute to the resolution of the protracted displacement situation of the most vulnerable refugees and displaced persons following the 1991-95 conflict. As of August the RHP had provided housing to 314 families (748 individuals) in the country. In March the country offered to participate in the European Union’s scheme to relocate unaccompanied minors from overcrowded reception centers in Greece. Media reported that on September 11, following a fire that destroyed a migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, the government would receive 12 unaccompanied minor female migrants under a European Commission plan to provide them permanent accommodation.

Temporary Protection: The Ministry of the Interior reported that from January to August 18, the government granted asylum to 27 refugees who had a well founded fear of persecution if they returned to their home country. The country also has a mechanism for subsidiary protection for those who do not qualify for asylum and granted protection to one person during the year.

g. Stateless Persons

According to the last census in 2011, there were 2,886 stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country. Many of these persons were Roma who lacked citizenship documents. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for granting stateless individuals residency and eventual citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On July 5, the country held national parliamentary elections. The first round of the presidential election was held in December 2019, with a second round for the top two candidates on January 5, 2020. European Parliament elections were held in May 2019. According to observers, elections took place in a pluralistic environment and were administered in a professional and transparent manner.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political processes, and they did participate. By law minority groups are guaranteed eight seats in the 151-seat parliament. Representation of women in major political parties remained low. The law requires that the “less represented gender” make up at least 40 percent of candidates on a party’s candidate list, with violations punishable by a fine. After the 2020 elections, the electoral commission noted that the largest political party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), failed to comply with the gender law on any of its election lists, while the main opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) complied in all electoral constituency lists except for two. Many smaller parties also met the threshold. The percentage of women elected to the parliament was 35 of a total of 151 parliamentarians (23 percent), the highest percentage since parliament’s constitution in 1990.

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. State prosecutors continued to prosecute several major corruption cases involving mayors, politicians, and public figures, and the judiciary generally imposed statutory penalties in cases in which there was a conviction. High-profile convictions for corruption, however, were frequently overturned on appeal. Corruption remained a problem, and significant numbers of high-profile corruption cases were underway. On September 30, the European Commission issued the annual rule of law report for EU member states and noted the country’s anticorruption institutions were impeded by a shortage of specialized investigators and that lengthy court proceedings and appeals often hindered closure of cases, including those involving former senior officials.

Corruption: Several corruption cases against former high-level government officials reported in previous years were still pending.

On May 29, police arrested 13 prominent members of the governing HDZ party, including civil servants, elected officials, and businessmen, on suspicion of abuse of office and economic crimes related to the construction of the 1.8-billion-kuna ($264 million) Krs-Padena windmill farm project near the town of Knin. Notable figures arrested include former state secretary of the Ministry of Administration Josipa Rimac, Director of Croatian Forests Krunoslav Jakupcic, Assistant Minister of the Economy, Entrepreneurship, and Crafts Ana Mandac, and other prominent local and regional officials. The government fired Rimac and Mandac after the arrests. On August 27, the Office for Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime expanded its investigation to add 18 additional suspects. The investigation continued as of October.

In another case on September 17, media reported that the CEO of the state-owned oil pipeline operator JANAF, Dragan Kovacevic, and 10 other individuals were arrested on suspicion of influence peddling, bribery, and illicit preferential treatment. Kovacevic was accused of receiving 1.9 million kuna ($292,000) in bribes from the CEO of a company that landed a 40-million-kuna ($6.2 million) deal with JANAF. Parliament stripped the immunity of parliamentarians Drazen Barisic (HDZ) and Vinko Grgic (SDP) for involvement in the case, and police arrested both on September 19 pending investigation of charges of influence peddling, misuse of position and authority, and bribe taking.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires that public officials declare their assets and income, and government officials generally complied with this requirement. This information was available to the public. Fines are the penalty for noncompliance. Judges are not covered by this requirement but must make disclosures of assets under a separate law. During the year the Commission for the Resolution of Conflict of Interest fined three members of parliament, Franko Vidovic, Franjo Lucic, and Anka Mrak Taritas, for irregularities in their disclosure forms. Minister of Labor, the Pension System, the Family, and Social Policy Josip Aladrovic was also fined for irregularities in his form. Two former members of parliament, Ivan Kovacic and Marijan Kustic, were cited by the commission, but no sanctions were imposed since more than 12 months had passed since the officials left their public duties. On January 28, Prime Minister Plenkovic replaced Minister of Health Kujundzic following a series of media reports that alleged he misrepresented the value of his property on his asset declaration forms.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country has an ombudsperson for human rights who investigated complaints of human rights abuses, as well as three additional ombudspersons for gender equality, persons with disabilities, and children. The law stipulates that parliament cannot dismiss the ombudsperson for human rights because of dissatisfaction with his or her annual report. Parliament may dismiss the other three if it does not accept their annual reports. Ombudspersons admitted that this limited their ability to do their jobs thoroughly and independently and imposed political influence over their work.

The law authorizes ombudspersons to initiate shortened procedures in cases where there is sufficient evidence of the violation of constitutional and legal rights.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes the rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. The law was in most cases enforced. Sentences range from fines to jail, depending on the crime’s severity. Rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment. Conviction for domestic violence is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. Amendments to the penal code, which entered into force in January, introduced stricter penalties for violence among closely related family members and violence against women. In the amendments, sexual intercourse without consent is classified as rape, punishable with three to 10 years’ imprisonment. A separate law (Law on Protection from Domestic Violence), last amended in January, provides sanctions (fines and up to 90 days’ imprisonment) for misdemeanor domestic violence. According to the ombudsperson for gender equality, despite recent legislative changes, violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem largely due to limited education on gender-based violence laws for investigators, prosecutors, and judges that often led to cases being decided in favor of alleged perpetrators.

On January 22, the municipal court in Slavonski Brod convicted Pozesko-Slavonska County Prefect Alojz Tomasevic to a 10-month sentence, suspended for two years, for domestic violence. State prosecutors reportedly did not request a prison sentence in the case, and Tomasevic remained in his position. Civil society organizations and the ombudsperson for gender equality criticized the verdict as too lenient and asserted that victims of domestic violence could have “no trust” in the country’s judiciary with such a punishment.

On April 19, Interior Minister Bozinovic publicly acknowledged increased public reports of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the 2019 report by the ombudsperson for gender equality, the latest available, the number of misdemeanor cases of domestic violence decreased by 6.3 percent compared with 2018, while the number of criminal acts committed against “closely related people” (i.e., domestic violence cases) increased by 28 percent. The report stated that 78 percent of the victims of domestic violence were women (29 percent more than in 2018).

On March 12, the Croatian Association of Employers (HUP) signed a consensual termination agreement with former deputy director Bernard Jakelic after more than 10 female employees presented sexual harassment claims over the course of his 24-year career. Upon his dismissal, Jakelic received a significant severance pay package. The ombudsperson for gender equality filed a criminal complaint against Jakelic with the state prosecutor and warned HUP against revictimizing victims with its decision to sign a consensual termination employment agreement with the perpetrator instead of firing him.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. No legal, social, or cultural barriers adversely affect access to contraception. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

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

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men with regard to family, employment, labor, religion, inheritance, personal status and nationality laws, property, access to credit, owning or managing businesses or property, and voting. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Women experienced discrimination in employment and occupation.

Children

Birth Registration: Authorities registered all births at the time of birth within the country or abroad. Citizenship is derived by descent from at least one citizen parent or through birth in the country’s territory in exceptional cases.

Child Abuse: Amendments to the penal code, which entered into force in January, provide stricter penalties for grave criminal acts of sexual abuse and abuse of children. Penalties depend on the crime’s gravity and include long-term imprisonment if the child dies as a consequence of the abuse. Child abuse, including violence and sexual abuse, remained a problem. The ombudsperson for children reported in 2019 her office received almost 10 percent more overall complaints regarding children than in 2018. The office received 97 complaints of domestic violence against children, 35 more than in 2018 (a 56 percent increase). Violence was most frequently reported by parents, followed by institutions such as schools and kindergartens.

On March 18, media widely reported an incident from February 2019 in which a 54-year-old man allegedly threw his four children, ages three, five, seven, and eight, off the balcony of their home on the island of Pag, significantly injuring one. On March 18, the Zadar County Court convicted the perpetrator to 30-years’ imprisonment and mandatory psychiatric treatment for attempted murder.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18; children older than 16 may marry with a judge’s written consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children; the sale, offering, or procuring of a child for prostitution; and child pornography. Authorities enforced the law. Amendments to the penal code, which entered into force in January, provide stricter penalties for the sexual exploitation of children. The Office of the Ombudsperson for Children stated that crimes and violence committed against children increased during the year and claimed many crimes remained unreported. The Ministry of the Interior conducted investigative programs and worked with international partners to combat child pornography. The ministry operated a website known as Red Button for the public to report child pornography to police. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.

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

Anti-Semitism

The World Jewish Congress estimated the country’s Jewish population at 1,700. Some Jewish community leaders continued to report anti-Semitic rhetoric, including the use of symbols affiliated with the Ustasha and historical revisionism. Historian Ivo Goldstein and Director of the U.S. Simon Wiesenthal Center Efraim Zuroff criticized the government for tolerating the rise of pro-Ustasha sentiment in the country.

During the observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the Office of the Prime Minister characterized the Jasenovac concentration camp as a “painful and tragic part of the Croatian history” and stated that “remembering victims and strongly condemning atrocities are a pledge for Croatia’s European future.” On February 5, Prime Minister Plenkovic opened a Holocaust exhibition in Zagreb entitled If I forget you…The Holocaust in Croatia 1941-1945Final destination Auschwitz. The exhibition was open until mid-April and was located near the site where Jews were transported to Croatian and other European concentration camps.

On April 22, the government held its official annual commemoration for victims killed by the Ustasha regime at Jasenovac, which was also attended by President Zoran Milanovic. For the first time since 2016, after having boycotted previous government commemorations, representatives from the Jewish community, Serb National Council (SNV), Romani community, and Alliance of Antifascist Fighters joined the official commemoration. Head of the Jewish Community of Zagreb Ognjen Kraus was quoted by the media saying he attended to “extend the hand of friendship and goodwill” but still sought tangible results from the government in the fight against historical revisionism. Serbian Independent Democratic Party (SDSS) president and member of parliament Milorad Pupovac stated the participation represented a show of solidarity in light of the March 22 earthquake in Zagreb and COVID-19 crisis.

On June 3, the Zagreb High Misdemeanor Court ruled that the use of salute Za Dom Spremni (For the Homeland, Ready) when used by singer Marko “Thompson” Perkovic in his song did not violate the law. The Zagreb-based chapter of NGO Human Rights House claimed the constitution prohibits incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, including in access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, and the judicial system and other state services, but the government did not always enforce these provisions effectively. While the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, building owners and managers did not always comply, and there were no reported sanctions.

The 2019 report of the ombudsperson for persons with disabilities stated there were insignificant advances in policies aimed at persons with disabilities. The ombudsperson further stated that systemic solutions were lacking for special categories of persons with disabilities and children with early on-set developmental challenges. The ombudsperson also noted the law still lacks provisions to provide for the basic rights for persons with disabilities.

Children with disabilities attended all levels of school with nondisabled peers, although NGOs stated the lack of laws mandating equal access for persons with disabilities limited educational access for those students.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Constitutional provisions against discrimination applied to all minorities. According to the ombudsperson for human rights, ethnic discrimination was the most prevalent form of discrimination, particularly against Serbs and Roma.

According to the SNV, the Serb national minority faced increased hate speech and anti-Serb graffiti. Serbs were subject to physical assaults especially in Vukovar, where Serb youths reportedly were attacked several times by Croatian youths. The SNV also said members of the Serb national minority faced significant discrimination in employment, and there were unresolved, long-standing issues of registration of Serb schools in Eastern Slavonia and in the justice system, particularly with respect to missing persons and unprosecuted war crimes cases.

On June 13, police arrested six Zagreb Dinamo soccer club fans after a photograph was circulated online of them posing with a banner depicting a vulgar and hateful anti-Serb message. Charges against the suspects were pending at year’s end. Separately, on June 14, Zagreb police reported they were investigating anti-Serb graffiti near a children’s park that depicted a “Serbian Family Tree,” with several individuals hanging from its branches, accompanied by a Nazi SS logo.

The eight parliamentary seats held by representatives of the national minorities became the main partner to the ruling HDZ’s coalition government following the July 5 parliamentary elections. Boris Milosevic, a member of parliament from the Serb national minority was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of social affairs issues and human rights.

On August 12, police confirmed they questioned a man from Perusic, later identified as the mayor of Perusic, Ivan Turic, on suspicion that he threatened a Romani woman with a handgun and shot at her children, allegedly because the woman’s goats entered the man’s field. Turic denied the accusations but confirmed police questioned him and told him to stay a minimum 328 feet away from the family who accused him.

The government and representatives of the Serb national minority publicly delivered positive messages of reconciliation on the 25th anniversary commemoration of Operation Storm in the town of Knin on August 5. In a speech at the event, Prime Minister Plenkovic acknowledged all victims, including Serbs, and expressed regret for war crimes committed by Croats. President Milanovic highlighted the victory, giving credit to the role of those who fought, but stated that unity required “different perspectives.” He acknowledged that crimes had been committed during the war and emphasized the need for better relations with Serbia, pledging to do everything he could do to accomplish that goal and calling on the Serbian leadership to do the same. Deputy Prime Minister Milosevic from the SDSS considered his participation at the commemoration to be a pledge for the future and the first step to reconciliation. Milanovic, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Veterans’ Affairs Medved, and Milosevic attended a commemoration for Serb civilian war victims in the village of Grubori on August 25. At the event Milanovic stated the commemoration was a “debt of honor,” adding that the “murder in Grubori was a moral disaster which harmed Croatia.” Medved declared establishing trust between the majority Croatian people and ethnic minorities was a prerequisite for development and a safe future together, while Milosevic stated the acknowledgement of all civilian victims was a prerequisite for reconciliation [between Serbs and Croats] in the country. On September 28, Prime Minister Plenkovic headlined a commemoration for nine Serb civilians killed in Varivode in the aftermath of Operation Storm in 1995, the first time a prime minister attended the event.

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

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, nationality laws, housing, access to education, and health care based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Representatives from minority groups said these provisions were not consistently enforced. A June report published by NGO Zagreb Pride stated that 60 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons experienced some form of discrimination, either at school, at work, or through contact with institutions such as the police, judiciary, and health systems. In June an NGO reported that two LGBTI persons experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, one of whom claimed being verbally insulted and humiliated on a bus commuting from Rijeka to Zagreb. In the other, during the police questioning of the perpetrator, a witness was verbally attacked and spat upon because of her sexual orientation. The perpetrator was sentenced to a misdemeanor fine of 5,000 kuna ($770).

LGBTI NGOs noted the continuation of the judiciary’s uneven performance in discrimination cases. They reported members of their community had limited access to the justice system, with many reluctant to report violations of their rights due to concerns regarding the inefficient judicial system and fear of further victimization during trial proceedings. NGOs reported that investigations into hate speech against LGBTI persons remained unsatisfactory. According to Zagreb Pride’s report, since 2013 fewer than 10 percent of LGBTI persons had been subjected to physical or verbal violence at least once, of which 64 percent involved verbal abuse.

Anti-LGBTI organizations continued to promote anti-LGBTI sentiment in their rhetoric, declaring same-sex couples, same-sex parents, and transgender persons a threat to the country and to traditional society. In February during the traditional Mardi Gras festivities in the southern town of Imotski, three dolls depicting a same-sex couple and their child were publicly burned. Following the event, LGBTI organizations reported the organizers to police for public incitement of violence and hatred, while in Split the municipal state prosecutor pressed charges against them in June.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. The NGO Croatian Association for HIV (HUHIV) reported some physicians and dentists refused to treat HIV-positive patients. HUHIV reported violations of the confidentiality of persons diagnosed with HIV, causing some to face discrimination, including in employment, after disclosure of their status. There were reports that transplant centers refused to place HIV-positive patients on their lists of potential organ recipients.

HUHIV reported that the government’s National Plan for Fighting HIV helped combat the stigmatization and discrimination of persons with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, HUHIV reported that an HIV diagnosis was no longer listed on government-supplied sick leave forms, protecting the privacy of HIV-positive individuals.

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 of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to challenge firings in court. The law requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity.

Some limitations of these rights exist. There are restrictions on strikes and union activity for members of the military, who are not allowed to organize or participate in a strike, while civilian employees of the military are permitted to organize but are not permitted to strike. Workers may strike only at the end of a contract or in specific circumstances cited in the contract, and only after completing mediation. Labor and management must jointly agree on a mediator if a dispute goes to mediation. If a strike is found to be illegal, any participant may be dismissed and the union held liable for damages.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally enforced relevant laws effectively. Penalties were commensurate with similar violations. Judicial procedures were lengthy in the country overall and could hamper redress for antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Through July 31, the state prosecutor brought one case of criminal charges for forced labor, which remained pending at the end of the year.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for conviction of forced labor were commensurate with other serious violations. Inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance. The government collaborated with several NGOs on public awareness programs. Following the introduction of a national action plan in 2018, prosecutions and monitoring increased, and reports and prosecutions of forced labor fell precipitously.

There were isolated reports that Romani children were at risk of forced begging (see 7.c.). Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for the employment of children is 15, the age at which compulsory education ends for most children. Minors between ages 15 and 18 who have not completed compulsory education may work only with prior approval from the government labor inspectorate and only if they would not suffer physically or mentally from the work. Children younger than age 15 may work only in special circumstances and with the approval of the ombudsperson for children. In 2019 (the last year for which data were available), there were 202 such requests, of which 195 were approved, usually for children to act in film or theatrical performances. The law prohibits workers younger than age 18 from working overtime, at night, or in dangerous conditions, including but not limited to construction, mining, and work with electricity. The Ministry of Labor, the Pension System, the Family, and Social Policy; the State Inspectorate; and the ombudsperson for children are responsible for enforcing this regulation.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were generally commensurate with similar violations (see also section 7.b.). There were isolated instances of violations of the child labor law. Labor inspectors identified 35 violations involving nine minors in 2019. Violations involved minors working overtime or past curfew and occurred mainly in the hospitality and construction sectors. Some children were reportedly subject to early marriage that could result in domestic servitude. Romani children were reportedly at risk of forced begging.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family obligations, age, language, religion, political or other beliefs, national or social origin, wealth status, birth, social position or standing, political party membership or nonmembership, union or nonunion membership, or physical or mental disabilities.

The government enforced the law in all sectors, but sporadic discrimination in employment or occupation occurred on the basis of gender, disability, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and ethnicity, particularly for Roma. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes, and inspection and remediation were sufficient. Some companies, state institutions, and civil society organizations, however, sometimes chose to pay a fine rather than comply with quotas for hiring persons with disabilities. According to the ombudsperson for gender equality, women experienced discrimination in employment, including in pay and promotion to managerial and executive positions. Women generally held lower-paying positions in the workforce.

The 2019 annual report of the ombudsperson for disabilities assessed limited growth of employment of persons with disabilities, putting persons with disabilities at greater risk for poverty, especially because of low salaries and pensions. The Agency for Professional Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities reported that in 2019 companies, state institutions, and civil society organizations had to pay 200 million kuna ($31.6 million) in fines for not satisfying hiring quotas of 3 percent of employees being persons with disabilities in workplaces with more than 20 employees. According to LGBTI advocacy organizations, although legislation protects LGBTI employees against discrimination at the workplace, employers did not have adequate policies and procedures in place to provide protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs reported LGBTI persons sometimes refrained from publicly revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity because they were vulnerable to termination of employment or demotion.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes a national minimum wage slightly above the official poverty income level. The law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours and limits overtime to 10 hours per week and 180 hours per year.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards that are appropriate. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts, not the worker. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endangered health without jeopardy to their employment.

There were instances of nonpayment of wages in the hospitality and construction sectors, as well as nonpayment for overtime and holidays. The law allows employees to sue employers for wage nonpayment and provides a penalty commensurate with other similar violations, although the law exempts employers who fail to pay wages due to economic duress. Workers may sue employers who do not issue pay slips to their employees in order to bypass mandatory employer contributions to social insurance programs.

Accidents were most frequently reported in the construction sector, where foremen could be held criminally responsible for injuries or deaths resulting from safety violations.

Cyprus

Read A Section: Republic Of Cyprus

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Since 1974 the southern part of Cyprus has been under the control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus.  The northern part of Cyprus, administered by Turkish Cypriots, proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” in 1983.  The United States does not recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” nor does any country other than Turkey.  A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island.  A buffer zone, or “Green Line,” patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, separates the two sides.  This report is divided into two parts:  the Republic of Cyprus, and the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Republic of Cyprus is a constitutional republic and multiparty presidential democracy. In 2018 voters re-elected President Nicos Anastasiades in free and fair elections. In 2016 voters elected 56 representatives to the 80-seat House of Representatives (Vouli Antiprosopon) in free and fair elections. The remaining seats are designated for Turkish Cypriots and are left vacant.

Police enforce the law and combat criminal activity. Police report to the Ministry of Justice and Public Order. The president appoints the chief of police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: serious acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national and ethnic minorities; and lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The attorney general and deputy attorney general have the authority to order investigations and pursue prosecutions for arbitrary or unlawful killings committed by the government or its agents.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were reports that police at times engaged in abusive tactics and degrading treatment, sometimes to enforce measures adopted by the government to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Members of ethnic and racial minorities were more likely to be subjected to such treatment.

On May 3, the Independent Police Complaints Authority reported receiving 39 complaints against police officers for abuse of power, inappropriate behavior, and unjustifiably issuing fines during the enforcement of COVID-19-related restrictions. Three complaints concerned the use of violence during arrest. For example according to a complainant’s lawyer, on March 31, police in Nicosia pushed a garbage collector to the ground and brutally beat and handcuffed him. Police charged the alleged victim with reckless driving, resisting arrest, and failure to present his identification and proof of permission to be outside during curfew.

The most recent report of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), published in 2018, on the country’s prison and detention centers noted persistent credible allegations of police mistreatment of detainees, including allegations received in 2017 that a woman was sexually abused; that three juvenile detainees reported officers kicked, punched, and hit them with clubs during questioning at the Limassol Central Police Station; and that persons detained by police, particularly foreigners, risked physical or psychological mistreatment at the time of apprehension, during questioning, and in the process of deportation.

The ombudsman, who also acts as the country’s national preventive mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, reported a continued decrease in the number of complaints of mistreatment and discriminatory and degrading behavior, including complaints of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, from inmates in detention centers and the Cyprus Prisons Department (CPD), the country’s only prison. The ombudsman reported complaints received during the year regarding abuse at police detention centers were generally insufficiently substantiated. The ombudsman reported that complaints received during the year regarding prisoner abuse at the CPD were still under investigation. Overall the ombudsman noted continued improvement in the treatment of prisoners and detainees in the CPD and in detention centers.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical conditions in some prison and detention centers, including detention centers for asylum seekers and undocumented migrants pending deportation, did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem in the CPD. The prison’s capacity is 547; the maximum number of inmates held during the year was 820. In its 2018 report, the CPT noted that in Blocks 1, 2, 5, and 8 of the CPD, many cells did not have toilets, and prisoners lacked reliable access to toilets at night. Overcrowding was not a problem in the area housing female inmates.

Prison authorities held juvenile pretrial detainees in cells separate from convicted juveniles, but the two groups shared the same grounds in their daily activities under the supervision of prison staff. Authorities reportedly held migrants detained on deportation orders together with detainees charged with criminal offenses in nearly all police stations. Such detentions were limited to a maximum of 48 hours except in cases when the Mennoyia Detention Center for undocumented migrants was full. The ombudsman noted that in practice authorities detained undocumented migrants for longer than 24 hours, which the ombudsman asserted violated international principles for the treatment of detainees.

The ombudsman reported that it had not received complaints from prisoners related to overcrowding or the failure to separate prisoners at the CPD. It did, however, on its own initiative launch an investigation into these problems during the year which was still ongoing.

In response to the March CPT Statement of Principles Relating to the Treatment of Persons Deprived of their Liberty in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government amended the prison law in April to reduce the prison population. Some prisoners received early release, were shifted to an open prison scheme (allowed to work outside the prison and visit family on some weekends), or were allowed to serve the remainder of their sentence under electronic surveillance (bracelet) at home.

During the year the ombudsman inspected Aradippou and Paphos police stations as well as the holding facility at Larnaca Airport. The ombudsman reported that persons convicted for criminal offenses and detained for deportation were held at Paphos police station longer than the 48 hours allowed by law. The report noted that the Paphos police station lacked entertainment and recreation facilities, written information on the rights of detainees were not available in every cell, and there was damage to the infrastructure of the detention center that had not been repaired. The ombudsman also noted insufficient access of detainees to telephone communication at the same police station. A report on the inspection of Aradippou police station was pending.

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism (KISA) reported satisfactory physical conditions at the Mennoyia Detention Center for undocumented migrants.

Approximately 44 percent of prisoners in the CPD were non-Cypriots convicted for criminal offenses, mainly theft. Unlike some Cypriot prisoners, foreign prisoners without a temporary residence permit are not permitted to leave the prison to work, spend weekends with family, or apply for parole.

Administration: Authorities generally conducted investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment. In 2018 the CPT raised concerns that insufficient resources as well as personal ties between accused police officers and investigators (most of whom were former police officers) weakened investigations into allegations of police abuse. The ombudsman conducted regular visits to the CPD and detention centers to assess whether conditions and treatment of prisoners and detainees met national and international standards and regulations. In September the ombudsman, acting as the national preventive mechanism, launched an investigation into the overall treatment of prisoners and detainees and the physical conditions at the CPD. By October 22, the ombudsman had conducted six visits to the CPD. Detention centers lacked facilities for religious observance, but religious representatives were permitted to visit inmates. The ombudsman received several complaints from prisoners who claimed they faced health risks due to COVID-19 and requested to be released under conditions of electronic monitoring. The ombudsman was examining the complaints.

The ombudsman conducted regular visits to the CPD and detention centers to assess whether conditions and treatment of prisoners and detainees met national and international standards and regulations. In September the ombudsman, acting as the national preventive mechanism, launched an investigation into the overall treatment of prisoners and detainees and the physical conditions at the CPD. By October 22, the ombudsman had conducted six visits to the CPD. Detention centers lacked facilities for religious observance, but religious representatives were permitted to visit inmates. The ombudsman received several complaints from prisoners who claimed they faced health risks due to COVID-19 and requested to be released under conditions of electronic monitoring. The ombudsman was examining the complaints.

On September 22, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) declared inadmissible the application of a CPD prisoner that claimed his detention conditions aggravated the state of his mental health. The ECHR found that the prisoner, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and convicted for murder, received adequate medical, psychiatric, and psychological support at the CPD.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prison and detention centers by independent human rights observers, and unrestricted and unannounced visits occurred during the year. Prison officials from other EU countries and diplomats stationed in the country visited the prisons during the year. Representatives of the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the Cyprus Red Cross, KISA, and the Cyprus Refugee Council visited the Mennoyia Detention Center multiple times during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements, with the exception of an incident involving several asylum seekers.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires judicially issued arrest warrants, and authorities respected this requirement. Authorities may not detain a person for more than one day unless a court grants an extension. Most periods of investigative detention did not exceed 10 days before the filing of formal charges. Authorities promptly informed detainees of the charges against them in a language they could understand. The attorney general made efforts to minimize pretrial detention, especially in cases of serious crimes.

There is a functioning system of bail. The government claimed the right to deport foreign nationals for specified reasons of public interest, regardless of whether criminal charges had been filed against them or they had been convicted of a crime. Trial delays were common and partially caused by lengthy legal procedures, which created a larger workload for the courts.

Detainees generally had access to an attorney. The law permits detainees to speak to their attorney at any time, including before and during interrogation by police. The CPT reported in 2018, however, that police officers regularly prevented detainees from contacting a lawyer until they had given a written statement, and the bar association reported that the presence of lawyers was not permitted during police interviews.

In one example, in 2019 a British teenager claimed Ayia Napa police denied her access to a lawyer during questioning and pressured her to sign a statement revoking her claim of rape against several Israeli teenagers. After she signed the confession, police charged her with causing public mischief for filing a false police report. The British teenager’s attorney told the press that police had questioned her for eight hours at the police station without a lawyer. On January 7, the court sentenced her to a four-month suspended sentence.

In criminal cases the state provides indigent detainees with an attorney. To qualify for free legal aid, however, detainees first require a court decision confirming their financial need. The Republic of Cyprus Bar Association prohibits lawyers from doing work pro bono. NGOs complained that this has a significant impact on their ability to take the government to court and hold officials accountable for the treatment of asylum seekers.

NGOs reported arbitrary arrests and detention of asylum seekers. According to the UNHCR, on May 11 and 15, police rounded up 67 asylum seekers from hotels and homes, handcuffed them, and transferred them by bus to Kokkinotrimithia reception center, where other refugees and asylum seekers were housed. They were confined to the center due to COVID-19-related movement restrictions. Police reportedly did not present arrest warrants, explain the reason for the arrests, or allow those arrested to bring any personal belongings, including medications.

The ombudsman reported some cases of authorities detaining migrants and asylum seekers, allegedly for the purpose of deportation, for extended periods despite there being no prospect they would actually be deported, either because their country of origin refused to accept them or the detainees refused to consent to the issuance of travel documents by their country of origin. The ombudsman reported that in those cases detention did not exceed the maximum of 18 months permitted by the law. A considerable number of detainees at the Mennoyia Detention Center were awaiting a decision on their request for international protection or for adjudication of their appeals against the rejection of their asylum applications. KISA said that authorities continued to provide only limited information to detainees about the status of their cases. The ombudsman recommended that Civil Registry and Migration Department adopted its past recommendation to have its officers visit Mennoyia Detention Center more frequently to better inform detainees about their cases.

Unlike in some previous years, the ombudsman and NGOs did not encounter cases of detainees deported before final adjudication of their asylum applications. An NGO reported, however, that instead of deporting detainees before final adjudication of their cases, immigration authorities pressured them to sign a voluntary return consent by threatening them with indefinite detention. The ombudsman received a complaint from a female detainee at the Mennoyia Detention Center about the type and quality of food provided. During the course of the ombudsman’s investigation, the detainee was provided the specific diet recommended by the doctor and the investigation was closed.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. Officials informed defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The constitution provides for fair and public trials without undue delay, and defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Authorities provide an attorney for defendants who are unable to afford one and allow defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Authorities provide free interpretation as necessary through all stages of the trial. Defendants have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present evidence or witnesses on their behalf. Criminal defendants enjoy the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. The Cyprus Bar Association reported that chronic court delays, particularly in civil trials, impaired the right to a fair trial.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations can seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Individuals can appeal cases involving alleged human rights violations by the state to the European Court of Human Rights once they have exhausted all avenues of appeal in domestic courts.

Property Restitution

According to the law, the minister of interior is the guardian of the properties of Turkish Cypriots who have not had permanent residence in the government-controlled area since 1974. Ownership remains with the original owner, but the sale or transfer of Turkish Cypriot property under the guardianship of the minister requires the approval of the government. The minister has the authority to return properties to Turkish Cypriot applicants after examining the circumstances of each case. Owners can appeal the minister’s decisions to the Administrative Court.

During the year Turkish Cypriots filed four court cases seeking to reclaim properties located in the government-controlled area. The Administrative Court, the Supreme Court, and Larnaca District Court issued a ruling in five separate cases filed against the guardian by Turkish Cypriot property owners in previous years. The Administrative Court found in favor of one Turkish Cypriot owner who had not received a reply from the guardian to his request to have his property disengaged from the guardianship. The court ruled that the 16 months that had lapsed since he submitted the request until the time of the appeal was not a reasonable period of time and ordered the minister of interior to correct the omission.

For information regarding Holocaust-era property restitution and related issues, please see the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: The law criminalizes incitement to hatred and violence based on race, color, religion, genealogical origin, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($12,000), or both.

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

The law penalizes the use of geographical names and toponyms in the country other than those included in the gazetteer the government presented at the 1987 Fifth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. According to the law, anyone who publishes, imports, distributes, or sells maps, books, or any other documents in print or digital form that contain geographical names and toponyms on the island other than those permitted, commits an offense punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 50,000 euros ($60,000), or both.

Internet Freedom

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

The law criminalizes the use of computer systems to incite and promote racism, xenophobia, prejudice, racial discrimination, hate speech, and violence. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 35,000 euros ($42,000), or both.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government maintains a policy of preventing visiting foreign academics and artistic groups from attending conferences or performing in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, in accordance with laws that provide them the right to deny entry to visitors who declare a hotel in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration not originally owned by Turkish Cypriots as the place of stay. There were no reports of blocked visits during the year, although for much of the year foreign tourists were not permitted to enter the country due to COVID-19.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: The government imposed restrictions on some internal movements and movements through crossing points to the areas administered by Turkish Cypriots to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and these restrictions were applied equally to all. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government did not restrict Greek Cypriots from traveling to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned foreigners against spending the night at Greek Cypriot-owned properties occupied by Turkish Cypriots or Turks, gambling in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, or buying or developing property there. Authorities at ports of entry denied admission to nonresidents who listed hotels in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots as their intended place of residence during their visit. NGOs reported the government prohibited recognized non-Cypriot refugees with temporary residence status and asylum seekers from crossing to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, asserting it could not assure their safety in an area not under its control. Local media reported police officers at the crossing points occasionally harassed Greek Cypriots returning from the area under Turkish Cypriot administration.

On February 29, the government closed four of the nine buffer zone crossings as a temporary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In mid-March, Turkish Cypriot authorities suspended the operation of the remaining crossings, effectively banning all travel across the buffer zone. Movement was partially restored in stages beginning June 8. The Ledra Street pedestrian crossing in Nicosia remained closed by the government as of December. Protests against the crossing point closures staged by Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots in late February and early March led to skirmishes with police and the arrest of three protesters. In March Turkish Cypriot press reported Greek Cypriot police used pepper spray and clubs against Turkish Cypriot demonstrators at the Ledra Street crossing. Several demonstrators and journalists were taken to the hospital. The Turkish Cypriot Foreign Press Association condemned the use of force and claimed Greek Cypriot police violated press freedom.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The government considers Greek Cypriots displaced as a result of the 1974 division of the island to be refugees, although they fell under the UN definition of internally displaced persons (IDPs). As of December 2019 there were 228,000 such individuals and their descendants. UNHCR provided assistance to Greek and Turkish Cypriot IDPs from 1974 to 1988, after which it transferred assistance programs to UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) and other UN agencies. Depending on their income, IDPs were eligible for financial assistance from the government. They were resettled, had access to humanitarian organizations, and were not subject to attack, targeting, or mandatory return under dangerous conditions.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers. In 2019 the Asylum Service accepted the secondment of a UNHCR consultant and established a quality assurance unit to ensure the quality of the refugee status-determination procedures. The government did not accept UNHCR’s offer to second officers to Social Welfare Services to help ensure the mandatory vulnerability assessments of asylum applicants were conducted in a timely and comprehensive manner.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported that some Social Welfare Service officers and judges subjected asylum seekers to racist verbal abuse. On April 28, the NGO KISA reported that security personnel at the Social Welfare Services office in Lakatamia physically attacked two asylum seekers and an infant child who had visited the office to inquire about the delay in receiving their food coupons and rent subsidy. The Ministry of Labor reported the incident to the police and asked the private company providing security services to transfer the security guard involved from Social Welfare Services office. The security guard was charged and the case was pending trial at year’s end.

In June UNCHR reported three unaccompanied minors at Kokkinotrimithia reception center renewed their claim that they were sexually harassed by adult residents of the center. The minors reported they were touched inappropriately while waiting in line for food or medical examinations and that adults violated their privacy while showering. The commissioner for the protection of the child, the ombudsman, members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Human Rights, and UNHCR criticized the government for keeping unaccompanied minors in the reception center until their age could be verified. The Asylum Service reported in September that according to its investigation the sexual harassment complaints were unfounded. It did, however, acknowledge it was a mistake and inappropriate to keep those who claimed they were unaccompanied minors with the general population. As a result the Asylum Service established a “safe zone” in the camp for persons claiming to be unaccompanied minors until their age could be verified. The Ministry of Labor reported that Social Welfare Services transferred two of the minors to a shelter for unaccompanied minors and the third to his sister’s house. Authorities referred the cases to the Children’s House, a multidisciplinary government center providing services to victims of child sexual abuse. According to the Ministry of Labor, two of the children interviewed by the center’s specialists did not report that they had been sexually harassed at the center. The third minor did not report sexual harassment and refused to be interviewed.

The government’s policy was not to hold irregular migrants in detention for long periods and to release them and provide them residency permits if they were not deported within 18 months. An NGO reported immigration authorities pressured migrant detainees to sign a voluntary return consent by threatening them with indefinite detention. The same NGO reported that some asylum seekers were detained for reasons of national security and remained in detention for several months without being informed of the evidence against them.

Refoulement: On March 20, marine police directed a boat carrying 115 Syrians to leave Republic of Cyprus territorial waters and return to Syria. Authorities cited COVID-related entry restrictions as the justification. The boat eventually capsized in waters under Turkish Cypriot administration, and Turkish Cypriot authorities deported the Syrians to Turkey. On June 4, a boat reportedly carrying 30 Syrians attempted to enter the country and was pushed back by marine police. The vessel eventually landed in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration. The Syrian passengers reportedly crossed irregularly into the government-controlled area. A third pushback of a boat reportedly carrying 10 Syrians was reported in late July. It also landed in the north and its passengers crossed irregularly into the government-controlled area. Between September 1 and 8, police pushed back six more boats arriving from Lebanon. According to UNHCR, government authorities kept two additional boats, reportedly carrying Syrian nationals, at sea for days. NGOs reported that passengers that came ashore on vessels from Lebanon were not given the opportunity to submit asylum claims. Instead they were immediately quarantined and quickly deported. NGOs claimed some asylum seekers were tricked into boarding buses they believed were going to a hospital, only to be taken to the port and deported on government-chartered vessels.

As of September 8, authorities reportedly deported a total of 115 persons who had arrived by boat from Lebanon. On September 9, a Ministry of Interior spokesperson stated that government officials had boarded the boats and verified the passengers were not asylum seekers but economic migrants. The ministry therefore decided to send them back to Lebanon. A UNHCR spokesperson responded on September 9 that UNCHR was not given access to the passengers of the boats that were pushed back and was therefore not in a position to verify that the passengers did not ask for asylum.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. On March 16, however, the government suspended asylum processing procedures as part of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Registration of asylum applications resumed in late May. UNHCR and NGOs reported the suspension left many asylum seekers, including vulnerable populations, homeless and without benefits. The ombudsman received one official complaint from an asylum seeker who arrived on March 11 that authorities refused to accept the asylum seeker’s application, citing COVID-19 measures and that their passport had expired. The ombudsman’s investigation continued at year’s end.

Due to a significant increase in asylum claims in recent years and long delays in the examination of applications, more than 18,700 asylum claims were pending examination as of the end of September. The Asylum Service, the ombudsman, UNHCR, and NGOs reported some accelerated examination of asylum applications but the existing backlog remained and delays persisted in the appeals process. The government, UNHCR, and NGOs agreed that a significant proportion of registered asylum claims were not credible. In June 2019 the government established an International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC) to streamline the examination of asylum appeals. NGOs reported the establishment of IPAC was an improvement over the previous system, but there was not sufficient data to evaluate its effect on the duration of appeals.

Freedom of Movement: The government temporarily converted the two reception centers for asylum seekers in Kokkinotrimithia and Kofinou into closed centers with restricted entry and exit as part of the country-wide COVID-19 lockdown. The closure sparked a series of protests by camp residents in Kokkinotrimithia, a center designed to hold asylum seekers no more than 72 hours, who demanded to be allowed to freely exit. While movement restrictions were eased at Kofinou on May 21, entry and exit to Kokkinotrimithia remained restricted due to an outbreak of scabies. On May 27, UNHCR reported the decision effectively confined some 773 asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable persons, to the camp while only two residents were actually treated for scabies.

Media and NGOs reported unsanitary and harsh conditions for some asylum seekers, with insufficient food and lack of basic hygiene facilities, soap, and electricity. On April 23, after a visit to Kofinou and Kokkinotrimithia reception centers, the ombudsman reported that some of the newly installed tents at Kokkinotrimithia were placed on dirt that turned into mud after a heavy rainfall and some did not have electricity. She recommended opening of the centers as soon as pandemic conditions allowed, resumption of asylum procedures, and expediting the interviews of those who claimed to be minors to ensure no minors were left in temporary reception facilities.

There were several reports of arbitrary arrest and detentions of asylum seekers, including the May detention and confinement of 67 asylum seekers reported by the UNHCR (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest or Detention).

Several NGOs reported concerns about deteriorating conditions at the Pournara Migrant Reception Center in Kokkinotrimithia in October and November. The pandemic’s effect on the economy impacted camp residents, and while asylum seekers were free to leave once processed during that time period, many chose not to because they could not find jobs or afford outside accommodation. Adding to the hardship, according to NGOs and government officials, the Social Welfare Service was not functioning effectively, leaving many without basic necessities such as access to food, rent subsidies, or healthcare. UNHCR reported some asylum seekers stay at the center for months.

In November the center reported operating near capacity with 549 total residents, including 52 children. A total of 37 migrants had tested positive for COVID, and 260 residents were confined to the quarantine section of the camp. New arrivals had slowed during the period of April to June when flights to the country were halted or reduced, but from September through early November, the center had processed an average of 20 arrivals per day.

The ombudsman made an unannounced visit on December 4 and issued a report on December 10 with a set of recommendations, including 1) the immediate release of 200 residents who meet the established conditions to leave; 2) the immediate transfer of 13 unaccompanied minors, being held on the basis of COVID mitigation protocols, to other appropriate facilities; 3) the creation of a safe zone for unaccompanied minors in quarantine; 4) an immediate vulnerability assessment of all individuals in the center and transfer of vulnerable persons to other facilities; 5) institution of a preliminary medical screening for all asylum seekers upon admission into the center; 6) speeding up efforts for the establishment of a second, specially designed accommodation facility outside the center to transfer any COVID-19 positive asylum seekers in the center; and 7) immediately transferring individuals who complete 14 days in the quarantine area and test negative for COVID-19 to the main area of the center.

Employment: Authorities allowed asylum seekers whose cases were awaiting adjudication to work after a one-month waiting period. In May 2019 the Ministry of Labor expanded the number of sectors in which asylum seekers could work to include employment in animal shelters and kennels, night shifts in bakeries and dairies, auto-body paint and repair, garden cleaning, and as kitchen assistants and cleaners in hotels and restaurants. The law previously restricted asylum seekers to employment in fisheries, the production of animal feed, waste management, gas stations and car washes, freight handling in the wholesale trade, building and outdoor cleaning, distribution of advertising and informational materials, and food delivery. NGOs and press reported refugees and asylum seekers lost jobs due to the long-term closure of many establishments in the tourism and hospitality sectors due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Prior to the pandemic, many were already dealing with tenuous financial situations and had difficulties finding and maintaining employment due to limited access to the labor market, lack of skills or education, and the lack of social capital and networks.

There were reports of racism by Labor Department officers who met with valid residency applicants seeking a contract of employment. During the year the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance received 2,771 labor contracts applications for asylum seekers and by year’s end had approved 2,269 and rejected 54. NGOs reported the procedure for employing asylum seekers was slow and costly and discouraged employers from hiring asylum seekers.

Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees have access to public services, such as education, health care, and the courts. The only permanent reception center for asylum seekers, located in Kofinou, remained full, and the majority of asylum seekers lacked proper housing. UNHCR and local NGOs noted a high number of asylum seekers faced homelessness and destitution. They reported that many asylum seekers slept in outdoor parks or temporarily stayed with friends, relatives, or strangers, often sleeping on floors without adequate access to hygiene facilities. The growing number of new arrivals, the limited supply of affordable accommodations, delays in the provision of government financial support, and the backlog in the examination of asylum applications increased the risk of homelessness, according to local NGOs.

Emergency measures introduced to contain the spread of COVID-19 included restrictions on freedom of movement, social distancing requirements, and limits on gatherings, as well as the closure of public spaces and certain businesses, government institutions, and facilities. NGOs and UNHCR reported that these actions had personal, public, economic, and social implications on the human rights and living conditions of refugees and asylum seekers. Primarily these included prolonged detention at overcrowded government reception facilities in poor conditions (see “Freedom of Movement” above); the loss of jobs and livelihoods (see “Employment” above); restrictions in access to healthcare; adverse mental health impacts; delays in social welfare payments; a lack of access to technology, education and personal development opportunities; delays in asylum and migration procedures; and limited access to the legal and judicial systems.

The ombudsman received several complaints concerning the delivery of welfare support and has requested the views of the Ministry of Labor on the matter. NGOs reported that during the lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended housing subsidies provided to asylum seekers who were reportedly forcibly removed from their rented accommodations and transferred to the Kokkinotrimithia reception center. An unspecified number of asylum seekers accommodated by the government in hotels were also moved to Kokkinotrimithia, which the government temporarily turned into a closed reception center for the duration of the restrictions (April 8 to June 15).

UNHCR, NGOs, and asylum seekers reported delays and inconsistencies in the delivery of benefits. On March 18, the Council of Ministers abolished the coupon system for welfare support provided to asylum seekers and replaced it with direct payments. In previous years the ombudsman and NGOs reported that the system of providing welfare support to asylum seekers via coupons did not appropriately accommodate the special needs of vulnerable groups. The coupons could be redeemed only in specific shops that may lack some supplies, were usually more expensive than other grocery stores, and were often inconveniently located. The NGO KISA reported these shops exploited the vulnerable position of asylum seekers and charged up to 20 percent in fees to cash government checks. In October the Social Welfare Service began printing and mailing benefit checks to asylum seekers or paying welfare benefits directly into beneficiaries’ accounts, in accordance with the new system. NGOs complained that many asylum seekers lack reliable, stable mailing addresses and the ability to cash checks, and noted that banks are unwilling or reluctant to open accounts for asylum seekers. Homeless asylum seekers faced difficulties in opening a bank account without a valid address.

Asylum seekers who refused an available job could be denied state benefits. An NGO reported that mothers with young children and asylum seekers with medical conditions that prevented them from working in the permitted sectors of employment were sometimes refused state benefits. The Ministry of Labor reported that it examines the reasons an asylum seeker declined a job offer and if found valid, benefits remain in place.

In May 2019 the Council of Ministers introduced a series of changes to improve the housing condition of asylum seekers. It approved an increase, effective June 1, 2019, in the housing subsidy provided to asylum seekers by Social Welfare Services, established criteria for the number of persons who can reside in a rented establishment based on the number of rooms, and began providing the initial rent deposit directly to the asylum seekers instead of to the landlord. An NGO stated the increase was not sufficient to cover the steep rise in rent prices. The Council of Ministers also authorized continued financial support to asylum seeker families even if a member of the family finds employment, provided that the salary does not exceed the total assistance to which the family is entitled.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, called subsidiary protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government provides subsidiary protection status for citizens or residents of Syria who entered the country legally or illegally. All persons seeking such status were required to provide a Syrian passport or other identification. Authorities granted subsidiary protection to 1,209 persons during the first nine months of the year.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law and constitution 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. In national elections, Turkish Cypriots who resided in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots were ineligible to vote and run for office in the government-controlled area, although Greek Cypriots living in the north faced no such restrictions. In elections for the European Parliament, Cypriot citizens, resident EU citizens, and Turkish Cypriots who live in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots have the right to vote and run for office.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 voters re-elected Nicos Anastasiades president in free and fair elections. In 2016 the country held free and fair elections for the 56 seats assigned to Greek Cypriots in the 80-seat House of Representatives. The 24 seats assigned to Turkish Cypriots remained vacant.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women remained underrepresented in senior political positions. Only 27 percent of ministers and 21.4 percent of the members of House of Representatives were women.

In May 2019 more than 5,600 Turkish Cypriots voted in the European Parliament elections at 50 polling stations near buffer-zone crossing points, compared with 1,869 who voted in 2014. According to press reports, between 1,100 and 1,500 Turkish Cypriots were unable to vote because their names did not appear on the electoral list. Voters elected a Turkish Cypriot to one of the country’s six seats in the European Parliament for the first time. The law provides for the registration of all adult Turkish Cypriot holders of a government identity card who resided in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots in the electoral roll for the European Parliament elections. Turkish Cypriots not residing in that area needed to apply for registration in the electoral roll, as did all other citizens residing there. The government did not automatically register an unspecified number of Turkish Cypriots residing in the north because they were incorrectly listed in the official civil registry as residents of the government-controlled area. This problem persisted but to a lesser extent than previous years, as the number of registered Turkish Cypriot voters increased from approximately 56,000 in 2014 to 81,000 in 2019. The media attributed much of this increase to the successful campaigning of the first Turkish Cypriot elected to European Parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the laws effectively. Although the government generally investigated and prosecuted cases of corruption, there were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On October 12, Al Jazeera aired an expose, The Cyprus PapersUndercover, in which undercover reporters captured extensive evidence of government corruption related to the Citizenship by Investment scheme (CBI). In the video the president of the House of Representatives, Demetris Syllouris, House of Representatives member Christakis Giovani, and CBI facilitators indicated their willingness to assist a fictitious Chinese CBI applicant whom they were told had been convicted of money laundering and corruption. On October 13, the government announced it was terminating the CBI program, effective November 1, and Attorney General George Savvides ordered an investigation into any possible criminal offenses arising from the Al Jazeera report. Syllouris and Giovani resigned from the House of Representatives. On March 11, the former mayor of Larnaca, Andreas Louroudjiatis, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for corruption, bribery, money laundering, and other related charges in connection to waste management plants operated by the municipalities of Larnaca and Paphos. The financial director of the Municipality of Paphos was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and two engineers of the town planning department were sentenced to 42-month and 18-month prison terms in relation to the incident. The company involved, Helector Cyprus Ltd, was fined 183,000 euros ($220,000).

Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president, members of the Council of Ministers, members of the House of Representatives, and members of the State Health Services Organization board to declare their income and assets. The publication of their declarations is obligatory, but there are no specific sanctions for noncompliance. Spouses and children of the same officials are required to declare their assets, but the publication of their declarations is prohibited. Other public officials are not required to declare their assets.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is a government ombudsman, whose portfolio includes human rights, and a legislative Committee on Human Rights.

During her independent investigations, the ombudsman generally enjoyed good cooperation with other government bodies. NGOs complained, however, that the Office of the Ombudsman routinely refused to investigate their complaints on the grounds that similar complaints had been investigated in the past. The Office of the Ombudsman reportedly made increased interventions, including at least 52 ad hoc reports during the year to support vulnerable groups, such as migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and women.

The legislative Committee on Human Rights, which most local NGOs considered effective, consists of nine members of the House of Representatives who serve five-year terms. The committee discussed a wide range of human rights problems, including trafficking in persons, violence against women, sexual abuse of women and children, prison conditions, and the rights of foreign workers. The executive branch did not exercise control over the committee.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, with a maximum sentence of life in prison. The law also criminalizes domestic violence, with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for violations. The government generally enforced the law effectively, although many cases continued to go unreported.

The law establishes clear mechanisms for reporting and prosecuting family violence. A court can issue a same day restraining order against suspected or convicted domestic violence offenders. The number of reported cases of domestic violence increased in recent years. In the first nine months of 2019, 519 cases of domestic violence were reported to police. As of October 2019, police had investigated 181 of the cases and filed 111 cases in court. The NGO Association for the Prevention and Handling of Violence in the Family (SPAVO) stated increased reporting reflected greater awareness of and access to services, rather than an increasing number of incidents. SPAVO said domestic violence victims often faced significant family and social pressure not to report abuse and to withdraw complaints filed with police. The media and NGOs criticized the Social Welfare Services for not providing sufficient support to female victims of domestic violence. In one example, in January a man stabbed and killed his estranged wife, Ghada Al Nouri, while three of their seven children were in the house. Al Nouri had reported abuse to police two weeks earlier, culminating in the man’s arrest and issuance of a restraining order. The perpetrator was released on bail just days later, pending the start of his trial. The director of the Social Welfare Service denied reports that the service did not ensure the victim was protected, stating that social workers were in constant contact with the victim and had offered her the option to move to a safe house. In July the perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

SPAVO reported a steep increase in domestic violence during and immediately after the mandatory lockdown imposed due to COVID-19. In the period March 16 to June 30, the association recorded a 50 percent increase in SPAVO’s call center cases and a 46 percent increase in the number of victims at shelters, compared to the same period in 2019. Survivors of domestic violence had two shelters, each funded primarily by the government and operated by SPAVO.

Police conducted detailed educational programs for officers on the proper handling of domestic violence, including training focused on child abuse. NGOs reported, however, that some police officers continued to dismiss claims of domestic abuse by foreign women and children.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace with a maximum penalty of six months in prison, a 12,000 euro ($14,400) fine, or both. A code of conduct outlines the prevention and handling of sexual harassment and harassment in the public service. NGOs and foreign domestic worker associations reported that authorities did not adequately investigate sexual harassment complaints submitted by foreign domestic workers.

Sexual harassment reportedly remained a widespread, but often unreported, problem. NGOs said permissive social attitudes, fear of reprisals, and lack of family support for victims discouraged victims from reporting instances of sexual harassment. The Department of Labor reported receiving eight sexual harassment complaints, including two from foreign domestic workers, but stated that all the complaints lacked supporting evidence. The ombudsman continued to receive and examine complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. In July 2019 the major labor unions–the Confederation of Cypriot Workers and the Pancyprian Labor Federation–agreed with the Employers and Industrialists Federation on a code of conduct covering how to treat cases of harassment and sexual harassment at the workplace. Due to the pandemic, the ombudsman cancelled planned training and seminars on sexual harassment and gender mainstreaming for the public sector during the year.

In April 2019 a university student reported to police that her 48-year-old employer at a Nicosia kiosk tried repeatedly to touch, hug, and kiss her without her consent. Following an investigation, including the examination of video footage, police brought charges against the employer, who was released on bail and restraining orders pending trial.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

The government funded an NGO that provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

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

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. The government generally enforced the law, but women experienced discrimination in employment and pay in the private sector. Although reporting by Eurostat showed pay parity between the genders in the public sector, NGOs reported vertical and occupational segregation remained a challenge.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents, and there was universal registration at the time of birth. Citizenship is denied, however, when either of the parents entered or resided in the country illegally. The government considers as illegal settlers Turkish citizens who entered and reside in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration. Children born to a Turkish Cypriot parent are not automatically granted citizenship if one or both of their parents were a Turkish national who entered and resided in the country illegally. Their applications for citizenship are reviewed by the Council of Ministers, which has the right to override this provision of the law and grant them citizenship, provided the applicants meet a set of criteria adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2007.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse. The maximum penalty for child abuse is one year imprisonment, a fine of up to 1,700 euros ($2,000), or both.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18, but persons ages 16 and 17 may marry, provided there are serious reasons justifying the marriage and their legal guardians provide written consent. A district court can also allow the marriage of persons ages 16 and 17 if the parents unjustifiably refuse consent, or in the absence of legal guardians.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, child pornography, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and engaging in or promoting a child in any form of sexual activity. The maximum penalty for sexual abuse and exploitation of a child who is 13 through 17 years old is 25 years in prison. The penalty for sexual abuse and exploitation of a child younger than 13 is up to life in prison. Possession of child pornography is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment. Authorities enforced these laws. The minimum age for consensual sex is 17.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 4,500 persons in the Jewish community, which consisted of a very small number of native Jewish Cypriots and a greater number of expatriate Israelis, British, and Russians.

Unlike in previous years, the Jewish community reported that there were no attacks against members of their community.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities and prohibits discrimination against them. The government generally enforced these provisions.

Children with disabilities attend mainstream schools. The government provides a personal assistant to children with disabilities attending public schools but not to children with disabilities attending private schools. The ombudsman issued a report in September noting that the law obligated private secondary education schools to provide personal assistants for children with disabilities.

During the year the ombudsman examined several complaints from persons with disabilities concerning accessibility issues and discrimination. In May the ombudsman’s office reported that it examined a complaint submitted by parents of children with disabilities that their children were subjected to different conditions and procedures for their return to school under COVID-19-related restrictions. The ombudsman concluded that the additional conditions imposed by the Ministry of Education for their return to school violated the principle of equal treatment and nondiscrimination and called on the ministry to immediately revoke the additional requirements. The Ministry of Education complied with the recommendation.

Problems facing persons with disabilities included limited access to natural and constructed environments, transportation, information, and communications. The Cyprus Paraplegics Organization reported that several public buildings were still not accessible to wheelchair users. The ombudsman examined several complaints from persons with disabilities. In January the ombudsman reported that, in violation of relevant legislation, television broadcasters failed to provide audiovisual services accessible to persons with hearing disabilities. At the ombudsman’s recommendation, the Cyprus Radio-Television Authority (CRA) requested all broadcasters comply with their legal obligations. All broadcasters submitted accessibility action plans to the CRA. The CRA will evaluate their implementation during the course of the next year.

During the year government services implemented recommendations in the ombudsman’s April 3 report to ensure persons with physical and mental disabilities and persons in social care shelters had access to COVID-19 information and protection measures. The ombudsman intervened in a case of several persons with disabilities who were not allowed to abstain from coming to their workplace after colleagues tested positive for COVID-19 and in a case of a single parent of disabled children who was not granted leave to care for them during the pandemic. Both cases were resolved in favor of the complainant.

In February, three nurses at the public Athalassa Psychiatric Hospital reported appalling physical conditions, serious overcrowding, and personnel and medication shortages to the Cyprus Mail newspaper. The nurses reported that the building’s poor condition led to injuries of patients and staff. The ombudsman issued two reports in March and September that confirmed a shortage of nurses, the lack of a permanent pharmacist, and that past improvements to the building failed to create a suitable environment for patients.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance’s Service for the Care and Rehabilitation of the Disabled is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Observers did not consider fines for violating the law against employment discrimination sufficient to prevent abuses (see also section 7.d.).

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Minority groups in the government-controlled area of the country included Catholics, Maronites, Armenians, and Roma. Although legally considered one of the two main communities of Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots constituted a relatively small proportion of the population in the government-controlled areas and experienced discrimination.

Christ Mayuba, a British soccer player on a local professional team, reported to police that he was the victim of a verbal racist attack by spectators during a match in February. Although Mayuba’s teammates stopped play as a show of support when a spectator called him a “slave,” the referee ejected Mayuba and eventually gave the opposing team the win by forfeit. At first police stated that a preliminary investigation did not appear to confirm Mayuba’s claims. The ombudsman conducted an investigation into the incident and concluded in March that Mayuba suffered verbal racial abuse. Following the ombudsman’s report, the police launched an investigation and submitted its findings to the attorney general for the criminal prosecution of those involved.

NGOs reported police racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of ethnic minorities in the enforcement of movement restrictions imposed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. KISA reported that police illegally entered the homes of migrants without a warrant and fined them for violating the rule prohibiting home gatherings of more than 10 persons in spite of the fact that they were residents of the house. It reported that police targeted migrants in the streets to issue fines and in some cases intimidated and physically mistreated them. For example KISA reported in May that police fined three migrants playing soccer in the street outside their home for violating COVID-related movement restrictions. All three were living in a single-room apartment in the old city of Nicosia. The NGO reported the police had shown tolerance in similar cases involving local citizens. Caritas received reports from migrant workers that police fined them on the bus because their facemask was not covering their nose, as stipulated by the relevant decree, but did not fine nonmigrants, including the bus driver, wearing the mask in the same manner.

There were incidents of violence against Turkish Cypriots traveling to the government-controlled areas as well as some incidents of verbal abuse or discrimination against non-Greek Cypriots. In July 2019 Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci reported to the UN Secretary General’s special representative in Cyprus that a Turkish Cypriot tourist bus driver was harassed by Greek Cypriots at Larnaca airport and called for a proper investigation. President Anastasiades instructed police to open an investigation into the complaint, which continued at year’s end.

The Ministry of Education applied a code of conduct against racism in schools that provided schools and teachers with a detailed plan on handling, preventing, and reporting racist incidents.

A May 2018 European Commission report prepared as part of the Roma Civil Monitor pilot project stated that Cypriot Roma continued to face discrimination in housing, employment, and education. The report asserted government actions to promote the inclusion of Roma were insufficient.

The ombudsman continued to receive complaints that the government delayed approval of citizenship for children of Turkish Cypriots married to Turkish citizens residing in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots (see section 6, Birth Registration). The ombudsman reported that the government did not make progress towards implementing her past recommendations to ensure such applications were processed within a reasonable time and applicants are promptly informed in writing when their application does not meet stated criteria. The government reported granting citizenship to 50 such children in 2019.

A member of the Armenian community reported difficulties in registering with the Cyprus Scientific and Technical Chamber, the body responsible for the accreditation of engineers, allegedly due to his ethnicity. The ombudsman continued to investigate the case at year’s end.

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

Antidiscrimination laws exist and prohibit direct or indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Antidiscrimination laws cover employment and the following activities in the public and private domain: social protection, social insurance, social benefits, health care, education, participation in unions and professional organizations, and access to goods and services.

Despite legal protections, LGBTI individuals faced significant societal discrimination, particularly in rural areas. As a result many LGBTI persons were not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, nor did they report homophobic violence or discrimination.

On September 7, authorities deported a Brazilian man who had entered a civil partnership with a Cypriot national while both were in prison. The NGO Accept LGBTI Cyprus (ACCEPT) and members of the House of Representatives Human Rights Committee publicly called on the minister of interior to cancel the deportation. The Brazilian was arrested immediately after his release from prison and detained at the Paphos police station for several weeks, exceeding the maximum of 48 hours that detainees can legally be held at police stations. The ombudsman concluded that the prolonged detention violated his rights and called for his immediate transfer to the Mennoyia Detention Center for irregular migrants. The ombudsman’s investigation did not examine the reasons for his deportation. ACCEPT protested his deportation in a press release September 9, asserting that authorities had followed irregular proceedings in breach of due process and violated the victim’s rights.

ACCEPT reported police routinely declined to investigate violence against LGBTI individuals as possible hate crimes. According to ACCEPT, police inaction discouraged LGBTI individuals from reporting complaints. The NGO reported two known attacks during the year against LGBTI individuals. On March 7, two young transgender individuals were attacked by a gang of seven hooded persons while leaving a party in Nicosia. The victims were hospitalized but did not report the attack to the medical personnel, or the police, and instead said that they fell down the stairs.

There were reports of employment discrimination against LGBTI applicants (see section 7.d.).

ACCEPT reported that transgender persons undergoing hormone replacement therapy experienced discrimination in access to health care following the introduction of the new national universal health insurance system in June 2019. The NGO reported that the same category of LGBTI individuals faced increased difficulties accessing hormone treatment due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

The law criminalizes incitement to hatred or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

In 2018 the president of the HIV-Positive Persons Support Center stated that HIV-positive persons faced prejudice in employment both in the private and public sector as well as from society and their own families, largely due to lack of public awareness. Activists complained that raising public awareness of this problem was not a government priority and reported that even medical staff at hospitals were prejudiced and reluctant to examine HIV-positive individuals.

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, strike, and bargain collectively with employers. Both antiunion discrimination and dismissal for union activity are illegal.

The law requires labor unions to register with the registrar of labor unions within 30 days of their establishment. Persons convicted for fraud-related and immoral offenses are not allowed to serve as union officials. Unions’ accounts and member registers can be inspected at any time by the registrar. An agreement among the government, labor unions, and employers’ organizations established the procedure for dispute resolution for essential services personnel.

The government generally enforced applicable laws, and resources and investigations were adequate in the formal sector. Administrative procedures were efficient and immediate, but judicial procedures were subject to delays due to a case backlog. Penalties for violations, which occurred primarily in the informal sector, were not commensurate with those for other similar civil rights violations. Violations rarely occurred in the formal sector.

The government generally protected the right of unions to conduct their activities without interference, and employers generally respected the right of workers to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. Although collective agreements are not legally binding, they are governed by a voluntary agreement between the government and employer organizations. Unions, employers, and employees effectively observed the terms of collective bargaining agreements. Workers covered by such agreements were employed predominantly in the larger sectors of the economy, including construction, tourism, health care, and manufacturing.

Private-sector employers were able to discourage union activity in isolated cases because of sporadic enforcement of labor regulations prohibiting antiunion discrimination and the implicit threat of arbitrary dismissal for union activities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred. Inspections of the agricultural and domestic service sectors remained inadequate, and resources at the Department of Labor Inspections within the Ministry of Labor were insufficient.

Forced labor occurred primarily in agriculture and in domestic work. Foreign migrant workers, children, and asylum seekers were particularly vulnerable, according to NGOs. Employers reportedly forced foreign workers, primarily from Eastern Europe and East and South Asia, to work up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, for very low wages and in unsuitable living conditions. From January to September 2019, police identified six victims of labor trafficking. Some employers reportedly retained a portion of agriculture workers’ salaries as payment for accommodations, in violation of the law. In one example police arrested a 68-year-old retired police officer in July after videos posted on social media recorded by his foreign domestic worker indicated that he physically assaulted and terrorized her. Police charged him with trafficking in persons, labor exploitation, and other serious offenses. He was initially released on bail and then rearrested two weeks later after police found new evidence against him. The domestic worker was identified as a victim of trafficking and was transferred to the government shelter. A trial began September 28.

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, defined as persons younger than 15, except in specified circumstances, such as combined work-training programs for children who are at least 14, or employment in cultural, artistic, sports, or advertising activities, subject to rules limiting work hours. The law prohibits night work and street trading by children. The law permits the employment of adolescents, defined as persons ages 15 through 17, subject to rules limiting hours of employment and provided it is not harmful or dangerous. The law prohibits employment of adolescents between midnight and 4 a.m. The minimum age for employment in industrial work is 16. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance inspectors were responsible for enforcing child labor laws and did so effectively. The Social Welfare Services Department of the ministry and the commissioner for the rights of the child could also investigate suspected cases of exploitation of children at work.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits direct or indirect discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, national origin or citizenship, sex, religion, political opinion, gender, age, disability, and sexual orientation. The government did not effectively enforce these laws or regulations and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other civil rights laws. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and HIV-positive status.

Despite a strong legal framework, the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance’s enforcement of the law governing employment and labor matters with respect to women was ineffective. The law requires equal pay for equal work. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as hiring, career advancement, employment conditions, and pay. European Institute for Gender Equality data indicated the average pay gap between men and women was 13.7 percent in 2017. NGOs reported the relatively small overall gender pay gap masked significant vertical and occupational gender segregation. The ombudsman reported receiving complaints related to gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Discrimination against Romani migrant workers occurred. Turkish Cypriots faced social and employment discrimination (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Although there is no national minimum wage, there are minimum wages for groups deemed vulnerable to exploitation. The minimum wages for shop assistants, clerks, assistant baby and child minders, health-care workers, security guards, cleaners of business premises, and nursery assistants were above the poverty line. The Ministry of Interior established a minimum wage for foreign domestic workers that was well below the poverty line.

Collective bargaining agreements covered workers in almost all other occupations, including unskilled labor. The wages set in these agreements were significantly higher than the poverty level.

Foreign workers were able to claim pensions, and some bilateral agreements allowed workers to claim credit in their home countries. The Migration Service was responsible for enforcing the minimum wage for foreign workers but did not effectively do so.

The legal maximum workweek is 48 hours, including overtime. The law does not require premium pay for overtime or mandatory rest periods. The law stipulates that foreign and local workers receive equal treatment. The Department of Labor Relations within the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance is responsible for enforcing these laws. The penalty for violating the law was commensurate with those for similar crimes, but laws for wages and hours were not adequately enforced. Labor unions reported enforcement problems in sectors not covered by collective agreements, such as small businesses and foreign domestic workers. They also reported that certain employers, mainly in construction and agriculture, exploited undocumented foreign workers by paying them very low wages.

The law protects foreign domestic workers who file a complaint with the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance from deportation until their cases have been adjudicated. The Department of Labor Relations reported that from January to December 10, it received 421 complaints from migrant workers against their employers. Of those, 406 were examined by year’s end.

The ombudsman continued to receive complaints from foreign domestic workers concerning the conditions of their employment and authorities’ handling of their requests to change employers. The ombudsman issued a report in November 2019 evaluating the government’s policies on foreign domestic workers. The report noted in particular domestic workers’ high dependence on their employers, combined with the lack of consequences for employers that violate the terms of the employment contract or physically abuse the employee, prevented domestic workers from filing complaints. Domestic workers also feared deportation. A domestic worker’s residence permit can be cancelled at the employer’s request in the event the employer files a complaint with the police about theft regardless of whether the alleged crime was investigated or proved. Some domestic workers complained their employers or employment agencies withheld their passports. The ombudsman’s report also noted that the lack of action by authorities to stop the practice encourages employers and employment agencies to continue to illegally hold domestic workers’ passports. NGOs reported many foreign domestic workers remained reluctant to report contract violations by their employers for fear of losing their jobs and, consequently, their work and residency permits. NGOs reported Department of Labor and police skepticism of complaints about sexual harassment and violence discouraged domestic workers from submitting complaints.

Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries and the responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with safety and health experts. The Department of Labor Inspection in the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance is responsible for enforcing health and safety laws. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Authorities enforced health and safety laws satisfactorily in the formal sector but not in the informal sector, which included approximately 8.5 percent of workers. The penalties for failing to comply with work safety and health laws were commensurate with those of other similar crimes.

The Ministry of Labor employed an insufficient number of inspectors to effectively enforce labor laws in the agricultural sector and in the informal economy, where the majority of employees were migrant workers and undocumented workers. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions in most industries but were not allowed to inspect the working conditions of domestic workers in private households without a court warrant. Four major industrial accidents occurred during the year that caused death or serious injury of workers.

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Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Czech Republic

Executive Summary

The Czech Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in a bicameral parliament, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecka snemovna) and a Senate (Senat). The president is head of state and appoints a prime minister from the majority party or coalition. Voters re-elected President Milos Zeman to a second five-year term in 2018 and held elections for seats in the Chamber of Deputies in 2017. The most recent elections for one-third of the seats in the Senate were held in two rounds on October 2-3 and October 9-10. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

The national police report to the Ministry of Interior and are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining public order, including protecting the border and enforcing immigration law. The General Inspection of Security Forces reports to the Office of the Prime Minister and is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct involving police, customs officials, fire fighters, and the prison service. General Inspection of Security Forces inspectors investigated allegations of criminal misconduct and carried out “integrity tests,” or sting operations, to catch violators in action. The Ministry of Defense oversees the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: crimes involving violence or threats of violence against members of the Romani community and some nongovernmental organization representatives, and the lack of accountability for violence against women.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses in the security services and elsewhere in the government.

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

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

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The General Inspection of Security Forces (GIBS) or military police investigate whether security force killings were justifiable and pursue prosecutions.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment. The Office of the Public Defender of Rights (ombudsperson) called for an amendment to the criminal code to extend this prohibition to “degrading treatment” as well.

In its annual report, the ombudsperson recommended that: physical examinations in prisons, detention, and police stations be conducted without the presence of law enforcement officials, where possible; physicians’ reports include any observed links between the injuries or condition and possible mistreatment by the officials; and mandatory reporting by physicians include any observed mistreatment to authorities.

In May 2019 the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported problems in specific areas related to detention, including the practice of surgical castration of sex offenders as a condition for parole. Problems noted by the CPT and the ombudsperson persisted during the year, including occasional reports of excessive use of power by police (e.g., kicking and unduly tight handcuffing), especially during arrests; incidents of verbal abuse of a racist or xenophobic nature, and the practice of handcuffing persons to fixed objects in certain circumstances.

In 2017 GIBS charged two police officers with felonies for torturing a handcuffed Romani man and forcing him to confess to a crime he did not commit. Both officers were suspended from service and charged with abuse of power and extortion. One of the officers committed suicide in 2018. A district court found the other police officer guilty in February and assessed a financial penalty and one year in prison if the penalty was not paid. In April a higher court overturned the district court’s judgment on the grounds that vulgar threats and slaps in the face do not constitute torture but rather disciplinary oversteps. The Police Presidium initiated a disciplinary procedure to address the misconduct. No special measures were adopted by the police to limit the handcuffing practices raised by the CPT; however, extensive training was provided.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

High prison populations, overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions in some prisons, mistreatment of inmates, lack of medical staff, and generally unsatisfactory conditions for inmates with physical or mental disabilities remained the main concerns during the year.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding improved but remained a problem. Facilities for male prisoners were at almost 101 percent of capacity in the first eight months of the year, a slight decrease from 2019. Observers noted the change was due to an increased use of alternative punishments, such as financial penalties and house arrests. Several prisons, however, remained at more than 120 percent of capacity.

According to the Prison Service, there were 40 deaths in prisons and detention facilities in 2019, the same as in 2018. Authorities ruled 11 deaths were suicides, and the remaining deaths remained under investigation.

The ombudsperson reported that conditions for convicts with physical or mental disabilities remained unsatisfactory. The ombudsperson also noted continued inadequate prison health care standards due to the lack of medical personnel.

Administration: Public prosecutors are responsible for regular prison visits, which the ombudsperson cited as a useful tool for monitoring conditions. The ombudsperson investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and made random checks.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups, including the CPT, and by media. Monitoring was conducted less regularly in 2020 due to the restrictive measures imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Improvements: Several educational, psychological, and sociological programs were successfully introduced in detention centers and prisons. The Ministry of Justice reported success piloting an “open” prison facility without cells as well as house arrests with the use of electronic bracelets. Despite a generally high prevalence of recidivism, only 3 percent of prisoners who were discharged from an “open” prison facility returned to prison. Children remained with their families in one facility for irregular migrants but were able to leave the facility when accompanied by staff.

Following the May 2019 CPT report, the government committee against torture adopted a resolution to address several specific areas, such as insufficient health care in state-run facilities and insufficient numbers and training of prison staff.

The Prison Service established a transparent system for relocating convicts to prisons closer to their homes. Relocation was not always possible, however, due to overcrowding and preventative measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

In most cases, police use judicial warrants to arrest individuals accused of criminal acts. Police may make arrests without a warrant when they believe a prosecutable offense has been committed, when they regard arrest as necessary to prevent further offenses or the destruction of evidence, to protect a suspect, or when a person refuses to obey police orders to move.

Police must refer individuals arrested on a warrant to a court within 24 hours. A judge has an additional 24 hours to decide whether to continue to hold the individuals. For suspects arrested without a warrant, police have 48 hours to inform them of the reason for the arrest, question them, and either release them or refer them to a judge who must decide within 24 hours whether to charge them. Authorities may not hold detainees for a longer period without charge.

The law provides for bail except in cases of serious crimes or to prevent witness tampering. A defendant in a criminal case may request a lawyer immediately upon arrest. If a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, the government provides one. The court determines whether the government partially or fully covers attorney’s fees. Authorities generally respected these rights.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. In most instances authorities respected court orders and carried out judicial decisions.

In December police detained and charged Prague High Court judge Zdenek Sovak for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for influencing cases. Media reported that Sovak sought 50 million crowns ($2.2 million) from construction company Metrostav and smaller amounts in other cases. The matter remained underway.

In July the disciplinary panel of the Supreme Administrative Court found Prague judge Alexander Sotolar guilty of misconduct for falsifying court records. Despite the justice minister’s recommendations, Sotolar was not removed from the bench, which was widely criticized by observers and respected lawyers.

In September 2019 Prague High Court judge Ivan Elischer was taken into custody for the second time for attempting to influence witnesses. In 2018 he was accused of taking bribes, abuse of power, and preferential treatment in serious drug cases. Elischer allegedly accepted a bribe of one million crowns ($43,500) in a drug crimes trial. The court case remained underway.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) focusing on domestic violence law issues reported that the judges’ lack of expertise in relevant law and the absence of continuing legal education requirements led to insufficient knowledge of new legal provisions governing cases and the specifics of complex cases. Judges are subject to disciplinary procedures for misinterpreting or misapplying the law, but cases affected by these errors were rarely dismissed on those grounds.

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence and to receive prompt and detailed information about the charges against them. They have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, and to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense if they are unable to pay. They generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment they are charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront the prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. They cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Convicted persons have the right to appeal; however, the procedures were sometimes lengthy.

An amendment to the criminal procedure code, which came into effect on October 1, obligates the state, instead of the perpetrator, to reimburse legal aid for victims. NGOs viewed the amendment as a significant improvement for victims.

NGOs reported that criminal investigations, trials, and other related procedures were significantly delayed by the closures of institutions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides for a separate, independent judiciary in civil matters and for lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations. Available remedies include monetary damages, equitable relief, and cessation of harmful conduct. NGOs reported increased coherence between criminal and civil procedures that simplified the process for victims, although remedies and relief still required a lengthy legal process and were difficult to obtain, particularly for members of disadvantaged groups such as the Romani minority or trafficking victims. Plaintiffs may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights unfavorable rulings that involve alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. Administrative remedies are also available; however, many victims of violence did not seek remedies in civil courts following criminal trials because civil procedures require facing the perpetrator and recounting traumatic experiences.

The law recognizes children, persons with disabilities, victims of human trafficking, and victims of sexual and brutal crimes as the most vulnerable populations. It lists the rights of crime victims, such as to claim compensation and access to an attorney.

Property Restitution

The government has laws and mechanisms in place for some restitution of private and religious property confiscated during Nazi occupation or the Communist era, but challenges remained, especially for claimants who do not have Czech citizenship. Areas posing significant issues include the disposition of heirless property and complex cases involving non-Czech citizens. Although it was still possible during the year to file claims for artwork confiscated by the Nazis, the claims period for other types of property had expired.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

By law religious groups receive an annual installment of the total sum of 59 billion crowns ($2.6 billion) to be paid over a 30-year period in compensation for property seized during communism that cannot be returned.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression. The law provides for some limitations to this freedom, including in cases of hate speech, Holocaust denial, and denial of Communist-era crimes.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other group affiliation. It also limits the denial of the Holocaust and Communist-era crimes. Individuals who are found guilty can serve up to three years in prison. The law is also applied to online, print, and broadcast media.

Appellate courts in two separate cases confirmed convictions of two men who posted online comments praising the 2019 fatal terrorist attack at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. One man received a 30-month suspended sentence with a four-year probationary period. The other man received a three-year suspended sentence with a five-year probationary period.

The ombudsperson conducted a survey of 2016-19 case law concerning hate speech. The results indicated an increase in online hate speech and resort to courts, with one-third of the country’s courts encountering hate speech cases. Some 60 percent of cases involved attacks on groups of individuals based on nationality, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or sexual orientation, and the remaining cases involved hate speech against a specific person or a group. Roma and Muslims were the victims in 49 percent and 23 percent of decisions, respectively. Men committed 94 percent of underlying incidents, and 83 percent took place on Facebook. More than 90 percent of perpetrators were convicted in trial court proceedings. The most frequent punishment was a suspended sentence averaging 10 months or a fine.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. President Zeman, his spokesperson, and parties on the far right and left publicly alleged bias in both public and private media outlets. The Freedom and Direct Democracy Party and the Communist Party openly sought to appoint politically polarizing figures to public media supervisory boards, raising concerns they were attempting to violate the political neutrality of these institutions. Parliament appointed six new members (out of 15) to the Czech Television Council. Observers raised concerns over the impartiality of some of the new members based on their public remarks skeptical of the need for independent media.

The law prohibits elected officials from controlling media properties while in office. Prime Minister Babis, who owned two prominent newspapers and other media outlets, placed the ownership of his media assets in a trust fund in 2017. Observers, however, maintained that this measure did not insulate media from the influence of the current government. In 2018 Transparency International (TI) lodged an administrative complaint arguing that Babis still controlled media assets. The regional government office reviewing the administrative complaint rejected TI’s argument. The supreme public prosecutor declined TI’s request to review the decision.

Internet Freedom

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

The law prohibits, among others, speech that denigrates a nation, race, ethnic, or other group of persons; incites hatred toward members of a group or advocates the restriction of their civil rights; and publicly denies, questions, endorses, or vindicates genocide.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

In June the Supreme Administrative Court upheld a lower court’s rulings on the limits of President Zeman’s role in appointing professors to Charles University. By refusing to appoint two professors in 2015 and 2018, the court ruled that Zeman had overstepped his constitutional authority. Zeman has so far not complied with the ruling, which requires him to act on the nominations without further delay.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

From March to May, the government imposed a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with restrictions on freedom of movement inside the country and travel abroad. The government lifted the restrictions on travel abroad at the end of April and incrementally eased restrictions on internal movement as the pandemic eased.

Foreign nationals who were physically present in the country during the spring state of emergency were exempt from enforcement related to their immigration or residency status and were allowed to remain in the country up to 60 days after the expiration of the state of emergency.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Acts of physical intimidation and vandalism remained serious concerns. NGOs focusing on migration issues reported continued telephone and email threats (see section 6, Other Societal Violence and Discrimination).

NGOs reported that some shelters in the country declined protections to migrants as a result of restrictions to address the pandemic. In one case a Syrian woman and her minor children were unable to gain access to a shelter for domestic violence survivors to escape an abusive husband or father due to COVID-19 restrictions. An NGO provided the woman and the children with housing and assistance.

The ombudsperson visited detention centers for asylum seekers in the second quarter of the year and reported “significant restrictions on rights.” Specifically, it noted that the measures imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were excessive and “created an environment where individuals were treated as potential sources of infection rather than people.”

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees and other specifically endangered foreign nationals.

Under the law the Ministry of Interior should decide on asylum cases within six months if the applicant has submitted all required documents. According to the ministry, during the first eight months of the year the average length of asylum procedures was 79 days. The length of asylum procedures in 90 percent of cases met all legal requirements. In the remaining cases, asylum applicants received information about new deadlines for completing the asylum process in compliance with the law. Observers criticized the length and substance of some decisions.

The European Court of Justice ruled in April that the Czech Republic failed to fulfill obligations under the European Commission’s (EC’s) 2015 temporary mechanism for the relocation of applicants for international protection (EU Relocation Scheme). The government has maintained a strong stance against mandatory quotas.

In 2018 the Ministry of Interior granted asylum to eight Chinese Christians who applied for asylum in 2016 but rejected 70 applications by other Chinese Christians. According to ministry officials, the rejected applicants were not able to prove their claims of persecution or that their lives were in danger as practicing Christians. Most of the rejected applicants appealed the ministry’s decisions in court, and some cases were returned to the ministry for review. In November 2019, the Supreme Administrative Court stated that persecution does not have to be personal but may relate to a group and remanded the refused asylum applications to the ministry. In the meantime the ministry granted applications by two of the Chinese Christians for permanent residence and indicated it would accept similar applications for adjustment of status.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, which calls for authorities to return asylum seekers to the first EU country they entered. The Ministry of Interior accepted asylum applications from individuals arriving from or through countries deemed to be safe, as defined by law. Authorities reviewed all cases individually, but usually did not grant international protection to these applicants. There are 24 countries on the list of safe countries.

Freedom of Movement: The length of detention for illegal migrants and rejected asylum seekers was shortened due to implementing a voluntary return system. By law, migrants facing deportation may be detained for up to 180 days. If there are children accompanying the adults, detention can last no more than 90 days with no possibility of further extension. Vulnerable persons, including families, cannot be detained if they apply for international protection.

As of September there were 150 migrants in detention facilities in the country. Fourteen migrants were in a detention facility specifically designed for vulnerable groups, single women without children, and families with children. There were no forced or voluntary returns of families with minors during the year. The Ministry of Interior reported there were no displaced unaccompanied children in the country during the year.

Durable Solutions: The government generally rejected requests within the EU Relocation Scheme to accept designated numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, including a request by the Greek government to accept 40 unaccompanied children younger than age 14 from Greek refugee camps. The Ministry of Interior based its decision on alleged security concerns.

A national integration program managed by the government in close cooperation with UNHCR and NGOs continued. Under the State Integration Program, beneficiaries of international protection are entitled to temporary accommodation, social services, Czech language training, and assistance with finding employment and permanent housing. Children are entitled to school education. As of July the government provided state funding for integration centers that were previously dependent on EU funding and introduced new integration measures, effective January 2021, to provide mandatory adaptation and integration courses for foreigners.

The Ministry of Interior started its own assisted voluntary return program in 2017 and effectively used it to help 1,574 individuals return to their country of origin. As of September 1, approximately 467 individuals had been voluntarily returned to their countries of origin.

g. Stateless Persons

The Ministry of Interior reported 519 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2019. UNHCR, however, estimated there were 1,394 persons that fell under its statelessness mandate at the end of 2019. The ministry reported five stateless persons applied for international protection and that four were granted asylum or subsidiary protection in 2019. The country did not have a legal definition of statelessness or a statelessness determination procedure. Stateless persons who do not possess a permanent residency permit were not entitled to receive an identity document. The law allows stateless persons to obtain citizenship after meeting certain criteria.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 voters re-elected Milos Zeman to a five-year term as president in the country’s second direct presidential election. The country held elections for seats in the Chamber of Deputies in 2017. Elections for one-third of the seats in the Senate were held in two rounds on October 2-3 and October 9-10. Observers considered all elections free and fair, and there were no reports of significant irregularities.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Participation by women and minority groups in elected bodies remained low in comparison to their estimated percentage of the population. Four out of 15 government ministries were headed by women. Women made up 23 percent of the Chamber of Deputies and 15 percent of the Senate.

Romani participation in politics and governance remained minimal in comparison to their estimated percentage of the population. There were no Romani members of parliament, cabinet ministers, or Supreme Court judges. There were some Romani appointees to national and regional advisory councils dealing with Romani affairs. Roma were elected to 13 seats (out of 62,000) in local governments in 2018 elections. They received one seat (out of 675) in regional government elections in 2020.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. An offender may face up to 12 years in prison and property forfeiture. Several high-level political figures were under investigation in various regions for manipulating public contracts (e.g., the highway toll system) and abuse of official power.

Corruption remained a problem among law enforcement bodies, and the most common forms of corruption included: leaking information for payments; the unauthorized use of law enforcement databases, typically searching for derogatory information; unlawful influencing of law enforcement procedures; and blackmail.

Media outlets reported on overpriced governmental procurements of COVID-19 personal protective equipment and discrepancies in its quality. The National Control Office was investigating the matter and was expected to produce an audit late in the year.

In January new legislation came into force preventing political candidates or close acquaintances from filling positions on supervisory boards in state-owned companies.

Observers criticized the tenuous position of principal prosecutors whom, under existing legislation, the government can remove from office without cause.

In November the government approved its fifth Open Government Partnership action plan which contains five commitments: anonymizing online publication of lower court decisions, implementing whistleblower protections, providing open data to enable public monitoring of the quality of education, increasing civil society participation in government processes, and increasing online transparency on the use of public funds.

Corruption: In October the Senate passed a resolution declaring Prime Minister Andrej Babis to be in conflict of interest due to his ownership of Agrofert, a recipient of EU subsidies, while serving in senior government positions. Babis placed his Agrofert shares into trust funds in 2017. The EC finalized its audit of structural funds and delivered the final report to the government in December. The government must respond within three months of the receipt. A final EC report on a parallel audit of EU agricultural subsidies is expected at the beginning of 2021.

In a separate case, Supreme Prosecutor Pavel Zeman compelled a lower-level prosecutor to reopen criminal proceedings in December 2019 to review allegations that Prime Minister Babis had improperly received investment subsidies from the EU for a development project. Babis allegedly temporarily transferred the Stork’s Nest conference complex from his Agrofert conglomerate to family members in order to qualify for the EU subsidies. The case was pending at the end of the year.

A trial against a group of public officials from the Brno area commenced in September. The officials were charged with corruption and manipulation of public contracts amounting to 47 million crowns (two million dollars).

Financial Disclosure: Public officials’ asset disclosures are available on the internet in a limited form or by request submitted to the Ministry of Justice. The ministry may impose penalties of up to 50,000 crowns ($2,000) for noncompliance, but many politicians either did not comply or only partially fulfilled their obligation. The law also requires judges, prosecutors, directors of research institutions, and selected professional army personnel to disclose their assets. Their information is not available to the public for security reasons. The Constitutional Court ruled in March that financial disclosures of local politicians may also be withheld from the public on privacy grounds.

An amendment to the Free Access to Information Law that introduced new measures to strengthen citizens’ right to information came into force in January. Under the new law, citizens can request a higher-ranking office to compel a subordinate office to provide requested information, absent grounds for refusal. The Office for Personal Data Protection has the right to issue similar orders and to review decisions not to provide information.

In August the Prague Municipal Court ruled that the Office of the President must publish salaries of its key employees after the Supreme Administrative Court asked the court to review its initial decision. The Supreme Administrative Court stated that the case was a clear example of the right to information taking precedence over the right to privacy.

Observers reported that a 2019 amendment to the Registry of Public Contracts law was not effectively implemented. The amendment partially canceled exceptions for major state-owned companies, such as Czech Energy Company, Czech Railways, and Prague Gas Company, and introduced an obligation to publish all private and grant contracts or repayable financial assistance in the registry. The registry is available to the public.

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 governmental restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views, although some politicians disparaged NGOs in public remarks.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Government has a commissioner for human rights as well as several advisory and working-level bodies related to human rights, including the Government Council for Human Rights, the Council for Roma Minority Affairs, the Council for National Minorities, and the Board for Persons with Disabilities. The Governmental Council for Coordination of the Fight against Corruption was placed under the Ministry of Justice, and the Agency for Social Inclusion was placed under the Ministry of Regional Development.

The ombudsperson (public defender of rights) operated without government or party interference and had adequate resources. The ombudsperson’s office issued quarterly and annual reports to the government on its activities in addition to reports and recommendations on topics of special concern.

Human rights observers generally regarded the office of the ombudsperson as effective. The new ombudsperson elected in March, however, was widely criticized by NGOs, the Romani community, and some politicians who contended the ombudsperson had publicly downplayed the extent of discrimination faced by Roma and other minorities. The ombudsperson also stated that the protection of human rights was not among the functions of his office. Many observers called for the establishment of an independent institute for human rights. In addition to the public defender of rights, the country has ombudspersons for security forces and for education.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, and provides a penalty of two to 10 years in prison for violations, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances. The government did not consistently enforce the law effectively.

Observers reported prosecutors and judges in rape cases often lacked knowledge on the subject and cited a shortage of experienced judicial experts. Demanding criminal procedures required repeated victim testimonies that contributed to their further traumatization. Penalties were often too low, and only half of all sentences included prison time.

NGOs and attorneys reported that an increasing number of victims of sexual violence did not meet the legal definition of a “particularly vulnerable victim,” attributing it to the court’s interpretation of the term. Victims were consequently not entitled to benefits such as free legal representation in courts. Victims of sexual violence were insufficiently shielded from “secondary or tertiary victimization,” which includes exposing them to attackers and asking about prior sexual history. In court proceedings, victims of sexual violence had the burden of proving lack of consent. Perpetrators of spousal rape, including brutal attacks, were frequently given inadequate sentences, including probation.

In July a regional court confirmed a lower court’s June decision that a victim of domestic violence did not qualify as a “particularly vulnerable victim” and therefore did not receive free legal representation. Her partner had repeatedly physically attacked her, choked her, and threatened her with a knife. The court based its decision on the victim’s financial means, ability to seek help, and a lack of evidence that she was at risk of secondary harm.

Domestic violence is punishable by up to four years in prison, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances. Police have the authority to remove violent abusers from their homes for 10 days. The law states a removal order can remain in effect for a total of up to six months, including extensions. The Ministry of Interior reported police removed 1,256 offenders from their homes in 2019.

The law also provides protection against domestic violence to other individuals living in the household, especially children and seniors. The government supported a widely used hotline for crime and domestic violence victims.

In July, Charles University and several NGOs issued a survey evaluating the impact on domestic violence of the restrictive measures imposed in the spring due to COVID-19. The survey concluded the government failed to respond to the increased number of cases. NGOs reported that courts adjourned most of the proceedings related to domestic violence and sexual abuse while they continued to process other, less serious, cases. The survey noted that NGOs filled the gap and introduced new online services, virtual consultations, and other support measures to assist the increased cases of domestic violence unaddressed by the government.

In February the Vodafone Foundation, police, and the NGO Rosa fully launched a new mobile application, Bright Sky CZ. The application enables endangered persons to document incidents of domestic violence and provides a list of nearby domestic violence support services. It also serves as a resource for family and friends to help those suffering from abuse. In the first five months, 1,300 persons downloaded the application, and users submitted more than 500 questionnaires regarding their safety (in 270 cases the questionnaire was done by a third person regarding a potential victim).

NGOs reported an increase in calls to domestic violence hotlines during the spring COVID-19 lockdown. Some attributed the increase to the rise in domestic violence during the COVID-19 related state of emergency, with some NGOs reporting up to a 40 percent increase in their workloads or clients. Others attributed the increase in calls to the fact that in-person assistance was not possible during the state of emergency. Police data did not reflect an increase in domestic violence, but many NGOs attributed this to the limited work of police officers during the state of emergency.

Sexual Harassment: The antidiscrimination law prohibits sexual harassment and treats it as a form of direct discrimination. If convicted, penalties may include fines, dismissal from work, and up to eight years in prison. Police often delayed investigations until the perpetrator committed serious crimes, such as sexual coercion, rape, or other forms of physical assault.

Offenders convicted of stalking may receive sentences of up to three years in prison.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals in most cases had the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Most had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government does not allow women access to artificial insemination (e.g., using the cells of an anonymous donor) without the written consent of their partner, and medical providers can only use artificial insemination for opposite-sex couples. Unmarried persons, persons who do not have consent from a partner, and LGBTI persons are therefore ineligible to receive treatment. Some observers reported that Roma faced obstructions in access to health care in general, including to reproductive health care.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Transgender individuals must undergo sterilization to obtain a sex change or receive legal gender recognition.

Discrimination: The law grants men and women the same legal status and rights, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Women sometimes experienced employment and wage discrimination (see section 7.d.).

Observers criticized measures implemented under the first COVID-19 state of emergency that prevented persons other than medical personnel from attending childbirths, on the grounds that it was an infringement on the parental rights of fathers and the rights of birthing women to have help and support.

Children

Although the number of children growing up in institutions has declined, the numbers were still very high. Observers criticized the length of foster care proceedings, the rising number of social work cases involving abuse or mistreatment, the lack of public housing, and difficulty accessing adaptive equipment for children with disabilities. Observers also criticized the lack of effective tools for identifying child victims in a timely manner. The lack of a centralized regulatory body or coordinated interministerial approach to child issues slowed the reform process.

In November the Council of Europe’s European Committee of Social Rights criticized the country for the extensive and discriminatory placement of disabled and Romani children in institutional care, such as infant homes for small children. According to their findings, the problem concerned hundreds of children younger than age three, mainly from low-income families.

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents. Any child with at least one citizen parent is automatically a citizen. Children born to noncitizens, such as asylum seekers or migrants, retain their parents’ citizenship. Authorities registered births immediately.

Child Abuse: Prison sentences for persons found guilty of child abuse range from five to 12 years.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs registered approximately 2,500 cases in which children experienced family violence. NGOs estimated 40,000 children experience some form of violence each year.

During the spring COVID-19 state of emergency, the government placed strict restrictions on the freedom of movement, subject to few exceptions such as procurement of food and medical services. In June the Children Crisis Center reported a twofold increase during the first half of the year in reported child abuse, including sexual violence. The center attributed the increase to social isolation, financial and psychological consequences of the pandemic and related restrictions, and the inability of children and families to access other assistance. In one case an abusive family member was returned to the household after his adult daughter asked for his removal because the emergency services could not place him in an open shelter or available housing.

Media reported several cases of child abuse that resulted in deaths, including several infants. Most deaths resulted from physical abuse by stepfathers or partners of mothers and involved substance abuse or mental health issues. Observers called for the establishment of a committee that would examine deaths of children and propose recommendations on systemic preventive measures. NGOs also called for increased support and funding to government agencies that provide legal assistance and social services to children.

In its annual report, the ombudsperson reported that facilities for short-term care of children in emergency situations were often used for unintended long-term housing, lacked expert psychological assistance for children, and did not communicate sufficiently with the children’s families.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Some members of the Romani community married before reaching legal age. The law allows for marriage at the age of 16 with court approval; no official marriages were reported of anyone younger than 16.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and the possession, manufacture, and distribution of child pornography, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to eight years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. Sexual relations with a child younger than 15 is punishable by a prison term of up to eight years, or more in the presence of aggravating circumstances. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of two to 10 years in prison for violations, with longer sentences in the presence of aggravating circumstances. These laws were generally enforced.

In February a documentary film, In the Net (V siti), premiered that followed online and in-person interactions between actresses posing as underage girls and real-life sexual predators and gained significant media attention. In the 10 days after they created three fake personal social media accounts, a total of 2,458 men contacted the women posing as underage girls. As a result of the film, police initiated nine criminal investigations on charges for illicit contact with a child, endangering the morals of a child, or possession of child pornography. The perpetrators were between the ages of 21 and 62; none had a prior criminal history. At least four men were convicted and received suspended sentences. One man had threatened to rape one of the actresses–who was posing as a 12-year-old–and attempted to blackmail her by posting her nude photos on social media. His case drew significant media coverage in November when he reached a plea agreement reducing the potential maximum sentence of 12 years to a three-year suspended sentence with five years’ probation.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 10,000 Jews in the country. Public expressions of anti-Semitism were rare, but small, fairly well organized right-wing groups with anti-Semitic views were active. The Ministry of Interior continued to monitor the activities of extremist groups and cooperated with police from neighboring countries as well as the local Jewish community.

The Ministry of Interior recorded 23 criminal offenses related to anti-Semitism in 2019. The Federation of Jewish Communities reported 697 incidents with anti-Semitic motives in 2019, of which 95 percent were cases of hate speech on the internet. Police investigated the publisher of a Czech translation of an anti-Semitic book for children written by a German author in 1938.

In July the government approved the 2020 Counter Extremism and Hate Crime Strategy that emphasized communication, prevention, and education to curb extremism and combat hostility of radicals. The strategy also addressed extremism and hate crimes on the internet.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The ombudsperson acted as a mediator in most cases, and a small number of cases were prosecuted in the courts. Persons with disabilities continued to face a shortage of public social accommodations as well as accommodation on the market. Economic growth and measures to increase employment opportunities for persons with disabilities led to a significant decrease in the number of unemployed persons with disabilities, although the COVID-19 pandemic slowed that trend.

According to law, only children with significant disabilities should attend segregated schools with specially trained teachers. The government took steps that limited access of children with disabilities to educational support, including teaching assistants, citing budgetary constraints. A legal challenge to the changes was pending. Many children with disabilities were able to attend mainstream primary and secondary schools and universities, but funding for additional educational support such as teaching assistants and equipment remained insufficient.

In October an NGO published a report based on a survey of 335 Czech organizations that work with persons with disabilities. In the previous three years, 52 percent of the organizations encountered at least one case of violence against a person with disabilities, and one-third encountered violence based on prejudice. The organizations stated that many cases of violence against persons with disabilities were not reported; 18 percent of respondents stated that either they or their colleagues had previously been attacked in connection with their work. Respondents reported a broad range of prejudicial violence, including verbal insults and humiliation by strangers in public places; harassment and bullying in the school, workplace, and neighborhoods; and robbery, extortion, and physical assaults by family members or friends. Perpetrators included nurses in caretaker facilities, special education teachers, and state employees.

The NGO report cited a case in which a man at a train station attacked an adult who had a mild mental disability and visual impairment associated with difficulty in expression and poor spatial orientation. The perpetrator called the victim insulting names evoking the victim’s disabilities, filmed the attack on his cell phone, and made derogatory comments against persons with disabilities in general.

In July the government approved its National Plan for the Promotion of Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities for 2021-2025.

The ombudsperson’s office is a monitoring body under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In September the office held the first meeting of a newly established advisory body for persons with disabilities. The ombudsperson visited governmental and private workplaces employing incarcerated or institutionalized persons, including persons with disabilities, to examine conditions, assure respect for fundamental rights, and advocate for improved protection against mistreatment. The ombudsperson criticized the lack of accommodations for disabilities in the railroad industry and assisted on cases in that field. The ombudsperson also criticized the lack of guide dog access laws.

The ombudsperson reported in October that courts had addressed 19 cases of discrimination based the grounds of disability from 2015 to 2019, in which the ombudsperson participated in 14. The cases alleged discrimination in employment, education, medical care, accessibility, and social inclusion. Plaintiffs sought and were entitled to various forms of relief, including monetary penalties and injunctions. The ombudsperson highlighted that the cases resulted in a number of positive outcomes, including recognition that HIV infection is a “physical disability”; judgments in favor of a man who was denied an apartment because of visual impairment and a child who was denied education because of an autism diagnosis; and an extension of the right of parents of a deceased girl with disabilities to file a complaint.

According to the Office of the Government, ministries were not complying with the law requiring companies and institutions with more than 25 employees to have 4 percent of staff be persons with physical disabilities. Instead of employing persons with disabilities, many companies and institutions either paid fines or bought products from companies that employed persons with disabilities, a practice that the National Disability Council and the ombudsperson criticized.

The ombudsperson reported 32 percent of proven discrimination cases from 2009 to 2019 were due to disabilities.

In 2019 a district court in Ceske Budejovice agreed with the ombudsperson that a teacher with a visual impairment was the victim of discrimination by the school principal, who bullied her and ultimately attempted to terminate her employment on the grounds of disability. The court granted the teacher compensation, and the school withdrew the notice of termination. During the year the ombudsperson similarly helped a visually impaired person after an appliance vendor failed to accommodate her disability. The penalty included additional training for the vendor’s employees.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

There were approximately 300,000 Roma in the country, and many faced varying levels of discrimination in education, employment, and housing, as well as high levels of poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy. The government introduced some legal measures that were considered controversial and moved the Agency for Social Inclusion from the Office of the Government to the Ministry of Regional Development. The agency lost the capacity to coordinate work with different ministries.

Hate crimes against Roma and minorities continued to be a problem. In September a regional court in Ostrava sentenced a man to five years in prison for attacking and injuring a Romani man in a bar. The court determined that the attack was motivated purely by the victim’s ethnicity. The judgment was subject to further appeals.

Government officials noted problems faced by dozens of Romani Czechs who returned from the United Kingdom during the year, both due to COVID-19 and Brexit. The returning citizens resettled primarily in areas with heavy concentration of Roma, such as the towns of Ostrava and Usti nad Labem, and confronted a lack of housing and social assimilation problems. Anticipating that more Roma would return from the United Kingdom due to Brexit, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs sent a representative to Czech consular offices in the United Kingdom to assist them.

School segregation remained a problem. NGOs reported there are approximately 12 schools that are fully segregated and 70 where more than half of the pupils are Roma. Observers criticized attempts by the Ministry of Education to limit the availability of educational support and to undermine minorities’ interests by amending the implementing regulations of well received 2016 legislation promoting integrated education.

Experts noted that the Education Development Strategy 2020-2030 issued by the Ministry of Education lacks a specific action plan, funding, and delegation of responsibilities. Experts also noted that precise statistics on percentages of Romani students in public schools were missing, hindering the formulation of effective inclusion measures.

Approximately one-third of Roma lived in socially excluded communities and continued to face difficulties obtaining both public and private housing. Unemployment in these communities was 31 percent, compared with 6 percent or less in nearby areas before the COVID-19 pandemic. Some municipalities continued to use a 2017 amendment to the law addressing poverty, which reduced government housing subsidies in areas that cities designated as blighted, to push Roma and other low-income citizens into a city’s periphery. Observers reported that this tool was even used against individual families to move them from their houses. Several senators initiated a constitutional complaint and requested the Constitutional Court to annul certain provisions of the law; however, the case remained pending. A government-funded investment program focused on building new public housing units and providing social services through two projects totaling 1.35 billion crowns ($58 million) continued and was made available to more cities. The Agency for Social Inclusion continued to oppose a shipping-container housing proposal in the city of Most and provided alternate solutions for the Chanov housing division; the city continued with its program, however.

The government took steps to promote Romani culture and heritage. The Museum of Romani Culture received a property in Prague from the Ministry of Culture to serve as the site of a new cultural center. Demolition of a Communist-era pig farm at the site of a WWII concentration camp for Roma in the town of Lety was postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic, although the projected completion date of 2023 remained unchanged.

Roma were the most frequent targets of hate speech on the internet, and authorities took steps to address it. In October a regional court upheld a suspended sentence for a man who posted threatening comments on the internet under a school photo of first graders from a local school. The children were mainly Romani, Arab, and Vietnamese, and the comments suggested sending them to gas chambers. The regional court denied the appeal.

In August police brought charges against an individual for posting an online article about an apartment building fire in the town of Bohumin in which 11 persons died. The article baselessly claimed the alleged arsonist and victims were Roma and used graphic and offensive language in reference to the victims and the incident. Charges carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

In March a court sentenced 13 individuals to suspended penalties (up to 16 months in prison with four years’ probation) for online attacks against Romani singer Radoslav Banga. In 2016 Banga posted on Facebook that he had walked out of the Czech Nightingale music awards ceremony to protest an award given to Ortel, a band associated with the far right. In response hundreds of hate comments appeared on Facebook. One comment called for a “white homeland” and for minorities to be sent to the gas chambers.

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

Antidiscrimination laws prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, and access to health care, and the government generally enforced such laws. The country does not have specific hate crime provisions covering sexual orientation and gender identity. The number of incidents of violence based on sexual orientation was low. Local LGBTI leaders stated citizens were largely tolerant of LGBTI persons but feared society tended generally to be more divided and intolerant to minority groups.

Based on a 2019 survey by the ombudsperson, 86 percent of transgender persons reported experiencing discrimination in the previous five years, compared to 58 percent of lesbian and 33 percent of gay persons. More than one-third of surveyed LGBTI persons claimed they had faced discrimination in the previous five years, which was three times higher than for the general population. Of LGBTI survey participants, 91 percent indicated they did not report incidents of discrimination to authorities because they believed the incidents were either minor or that authorities would not take action. The most common locations where discrimination against LGBTI persons occurred were at work and school.

The law on victims of crimes covers lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender minorities, but they are not considered “particularly vulnerable persons” and are not entitled to additional legal protections, unlike children, seniors, and victims of trafficking or terrorism.

During Prague Pride Week in August 2019, an individual set fire to a rainbow flag and fired flares at visitors to Pride Village–the main site of the Prague pride activities. The perpetrator was conditionally sentenced to 10-months’ imprisonment with a probation period of five years and assessed a monetary penalty.

NGOs reported a 50 percent increase in LGBTI children and teenagers who sought help in crisis centers during the COVID-19 pandemic. NGOs attributed the increase to the inability of LGBTI youth, some of whom have not publicly come out, to connect socially and in person with their peers in the LGBTI community.

Transgender individuals are required to be sterilized to obtain a sex change or receive legal gender recognition. The Council of Europe found this practice contrary to EU member commitments on the protection of health. The ombudsperson recommended the government submit amendments to relevant laws. In May 2019 the Supreme Administrative Court ruled, contrary to the European Court for Human Rights, the sterilization requirement was legitimate. The decision was challenged in the Constitutional Court, and the case was pending.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV and AIDS faced societal discrimination, although there were no reported cases of violence. HIV/AIDS is classified as a disability under the antidiscrimination law, which contributed to the stigmatization of and discrimination against HIV-positive individuals. Individuals with HIV and AIDS often preferred to keep their status confidential rather than file a complaint, which observers believed led to underreporting the problem. The Czech AIDS Help Society noted most insurance companies did not provide health insurance to persons with HIV and AIDS.

NGOs reported that some physicians refused to treat HIV-positive patients, and 67 percent of an estimated 3,500 HIV-positive persons in the country reported they were denied medical care at least once. Some patients were openly told that HIV was the reason for the denial. Observers were concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic may have led to reduced testing for HIV and resulted in fewer diagnoses.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Observers noted violence and discrimination against NGO employees and foreigners.

Online hate attacks, including death threats, against the director of an NGO that provides legal support to hate crime victims, including different minority groups and migrants, continued in 2019 and 2020. The director received hundreds of hate emails. The perpetrator testified at court that the main motivation for his attacks was to force the director to stop devoting her time to protection of victims of hate crimes. Employees of NGOs focusing on persons with disabilities also reported verbal attacks.

NGOs actively worked to combat anti-Muslim attitudes and reported a decrease in reported incidents. In October 2019 the district court in Teplice gave suspended sentences to a couple for the 2018 attack on a Muslim woman and her husband. The couple confronted the woman and her husband in a park in Teplice with an air gun and threatened to kill them.

In April a female Muslim student from Somalia withdrew her lawsuit against her secondary medical school, which banned wearing a hijab in school. At the time of the withdrawal, the matter was pending before a trial court in Prague after the Supreme Court remanded the case, stating that religious pluralism must be respected. The plaintiff cited fears of threats and retaliation as her reasons for withdrawing the lawsuit.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers with the right to form and join independent unions of their choosing without authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for the right to associate freely for both citizens and foreign workers. Unions are apolitical and independent of the state, and the state may not interfere in their internal affairs. The minimum number of members needed to form a union is three.

The law allows collective bargaining. It prohibits antiunion discrimination and does not recognize union activity as a valid reason for dismissal. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Workers in most occupations have the legal right to strike if mediation efforts fail, and they generally exercised this right.

Strikes can be restricted or prohibited in essential service sectors, including health and social care facilities, fire brigades, public utility services, air traffic control, nuclear energy, and the oil and natural gas sector. Members of the armed forces, prosecutors, and judges may not form or join trade unions or strike. Only trade unions may legally represent workers, including nonmembers. When planning a strike, unions are required to inform employers in writing of the number of strikers and provide a list of the members of the strike committee or contact persons for negotiation. They must announce the strike at least three days in advance.

The law protects union officials from dismissal by an employer during their term of union service and for 12 months after its completion. To dismiss a union official, an employer must seek prior consent from the employee’s unit within the union. If the union does not consent, the dismissal notice is invalid.

The government enforced applicable laws effectively and permitted unions to conduct their activities without interference. Government resources for inspections and remediation were adequate, and legal penalties in the form of fines were commensurate with those for similar violations.

The Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (CMKOS) reported violations of the labor law and trade union rules continued during the year. The CMKOS also reported violations and cases of discrimination, including employers raising administrative obstacles to collective bargaining, threatening to dismiss employees who asserted their union rights, including refusing to terminate union activities, or attempting to form unions. In 2019 a long-term union chairman was dismissed immediately after criticizing his employer’s handling of an incident in the employer’s factory, which led to the loss of workers’ lives. The employee took the case to court, where it was pending at the end of the year.

During the year labor unions most frequently used strikes and strike alerts to advance their goals. Strikes and strike alerts predominantly targeted wages.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced these prohibitions. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations.

Men and women from the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, the Philippines, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Vietnam are exploited in forced labor in the Czech Republic, typically through debt-based coercion or exploitation of other vulnerabilities, in the construction, agricultural, forestry, manufacturing, and service sectors, including in domestic work. In May the government approved a new national strategy to guide the government’s antitrafficking efforts, including addressing forced labor. It did not, however, succeed in effectively screening vulnerable populations and did not adequately identify domestic or foreign victims mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Private labor agencies often used deceptive practices to recruit workers from abroad, as well as from inside the country.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 15. Employment of children between the ages of 15 and 18 was subject to strict safety standards, limitations on hours of work, and the requirement that work not interfere with education.

The law permits children younger than 15 (or who have not completed mandatory elementary education) to work only in certain areas: cultural and artistic activities; advertising; product promotion; and certain modeling and sports activities. A child younger than 15 may work only if he or she obtains a positive health assessment from a pediatrician and prior approval by the Labor Office. Work permits for children are issued for 12 months. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. The State Bureau for Labor Inspections (SBLI) effectively enforced these regulations. Penalties were commensurate with those for other violations. The SBLI did not report any child labor law violations during the year.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit any kind of discrimination based on nationality, race, color, religion, political opinion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, disability, HIV-positive status or presence of other communicable diseases, social status, or trade union membership.

According to the ombudsperson’s report, discrimination at work accounted for the greatest number of complaints to the ombudsman in 2019 (31 percent). Similar to the previous year, most complaints in 2019 were for discrimination based on age, gender, and disability.

A survey issued in October of all 90 discrimination cases addressed by courts in 2015-19 showed that 60 percent of them were employment related, mainly on the grounds of age and gender. Overall, 46 percent of the lawsuits were filed against public employers and 19 percent concerned alleged discrimination against workers in education. Some 60 percent of complainants in labor disputes in the courts were women. The court dismissed 46 percent of employment discrimination cases.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations, and inspection and remediation were sufficient to enforce compliance. The SBLI conducted checks for unequal treatment and discrimination in 2019 and imposed penalties for violations of discrimination laws, mostly for noncompliance with the requirement to employ a specific number of persons with disabilities, discrimination due to health conditions, gender, and age, or the publication of discriminatory job advertisements. The SBLI recorded a slight increase in cases regarding unequal treatment and discrimination at work in 2019 (269 cases) compared with 2018 (267 cases).

Women’s salaries lagged behind men’s by approximately 22 percent. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs started introducing a testing tool for employers that evaluates gender pay gaps in an organization as part of the “22 percent towards equality” project. The testing tool highlights pay gaps and sensitizes management to disparities in remuneration.

Associations supporting HIV-positive individuals reported cases of employment discrimination. HIV-positive individuals are not legally obligated to report their diagnosis to their employer unless it prevents them from executing their duties. Some employers dismissed HIV-positive employees due to prejudices of other employees. To avoid accusations of discrimination, employers justified such dismissals on administrative grounds, such as redundancy.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs establishes and enforces minimum wage standards. The minimum wage is above the “minimum subsistence cost,” which is defined as the minimum amount needed to satisfy the basic needs of a working-age adult for a month. Enforcement of the minimum wage was one of the primary objectives of SBLI inspections.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, two days of rest per week, and a 30-minute break during the standard eight-hour workday. Employees are entitled to at least 20 days of paid annual leave. Employers may require up to eight hours per week of overtime to meet increased demand but not more than 150 hours of overtime in a calendar year. Additional overtime is subject to the employee’s consent. The labor code requires premium pay for overtime that is equal to at least 125 percent of average earnings.

The government set occupational health and safety standards that were appropriate for the country’s main industries. The labor code requires employers to provide health and safety protections in the workplace, maintain a healthy and safe work environment, and prevent health and safety risks. Responsibility for identifying unsafe conditions remains with inspectors, who have the authority to make unannounced visits and initiate sanctions.

The government effectively enforced the law. Inspection and remediation were sufficient to enforce general compliance. SBLI inspectors conducted checks for labor code compliance and imposed penalties that were commensurate with those for similar violations. SBLI’s labor inspection plan typically focused on sectors with high-risk working conditions, such as construction, agriculture, forestry, handling of hazardous chemicals, and transport.

According to the CMKOS, the provisions of the employment law most frequently violated by employers in 2019 related to wages, overtime, and rest periods.

In September labor authorities and unions reported to the press that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, violations of the labor code by local companies increased. Most reported violations consisted of lowering wages in violation of employment contracts and performing layoffs under the pretense of business reorganizations. For example, employees of one metallurgy company complained that their employer ordered them to take annual leave and accept a reduction in work hours and wages, threatening to dismiss them if they did not comply.

There were 42,416 registered workplace injuries in 2019, which were 1,949 fewer than in 2018. There were 95 fatal accidents in 2019, compared with 123 in 2018. Most workplace injuries and deaths occurred in the agriculture, forestry, transport, construction, and processing industries. Fatal accidents were investigated. For example, when a worker not equipped with protective equipment fell off the roof of a building on which he was working, the SBLI concluded the employer did not take adequate technical and organizational measures to prevent the worker from falling from height and ordered compensation.

Denmark

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Denmark is a constitutional monarchy with democratic, parliamentary rule. Queen Margrethe II is head of state. A prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party of a multiparty coalition, is head of government and presides over the cabinet, which is accountable to a unicameral parliament (Folketing). The kingdom includes Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which are autonomous with similar political structures and legal rights. They manage most of their domestic affairs, while the central Danish government is responsible for constitutional matters, citizenship, monetary and currency matters, foreign relations, and defense and security policy. Observers deemed national elections in June 2019 to be free and fair, and in the same month the center-left Social Democratic Party formed a single-party minority government headed by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

The National Police maintain internal security and, jointly with the Danish Immigration Service, is responsible for border enforcement at the country’s ports of entry. The Ministry of Justice oversees both services. The Armed Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and have responsibility for external security in addition to some domestic security responsibilities, such as disaster response and maritime sovereignty enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the National Police, the Danish Immigration Service, and the Armed Forces. There were some reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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

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

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Ministry of Justice investigates killings by the security forces.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were some reports government officials employed them. On January 7, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published the report of its visit to the country in April 2019. It reported a few isolated allegations of excessive use of force, such as the person having been violently pushed to the ground or tightly handcuffed, and of threatening behavior by police officers, for example, officers pointing a firearm at the head of the person at the time of apprehension. It also received “a few allegations of excessive use of force by prison staff and prison transport officers, and of verbal abuse by prison staff.” At the Ellebaek Prison and Probation Establishment for Asylum Seekers and Others Deprived of their Liberty, the delegation received one allegation of excessive use of force and several allegations of verbal abuse by staff, including racist remarks.

The Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) reported an increased use of force in prisons. It also noted an exponential increase in the use of prolonged solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure against convicted prisoners over the previous five years–705 instances of more than 14 days in 2019, compared with seven instances in 2015.

In February the DIHR criticized the use of prolonged physical restraint in psychiatric facilities finding that the use of physical restraint for over one hour had no legal basis. The DIHR report highlighted 163 “long-term” detentions that lasted between one and four hours in 2018, the most recent year for which statistics were available. The Danish Psychiatric Association also found instances of detentions that extended over six hours.

In July a public nursing home in Aarhus municipality was criticized after hidden surveillance videos of residents receiving degrading treatment were published and circulated in the media. The surveillance showed the residents living in poor hygienic conditions and subject to verbal abuse from workers. Although government and police officials told news outlets this treatment was unacceptable, authorities took no official action regarding this case.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: The law prohibits authorities from holding minors in solitary confinement for more than seven days; restricts authorities’ ability to detain adults with youths between the ages of 15 and 17; and allows minors to receive education while detained. Authorities continued to hold convicted prisoners together with pretrial detainees in remand institutions.

In its January 7 report, the CPT stated that prisoners complained about access to the toilet (both during the day and at night) at the Copenhagen Police Headquarters Prison and at the Odense Remand Prison. In the Copenhagen City Police Station, the Nykobing Falster Police Station, and the Odense Police Headquarters, it observed a lack of access to natural light and insufficient artificial lighting in the cells. In addition, ventilation was poor in the cells of the Nykobing Falster Police Station.

The Ellebaek prison, operated by the Prison and Probation Service, held 117 rejected asylum seekers who were considered flight risks but had not committed other crimes. The CPT report deemed both the prison and the Nykobing Falster Holding Center as unsuitable for residents. The head of the CPT delegation stated that residents were kept in prison-like conditions with poor sanitary conditions. The report described harsh punishments, including 15 days of solitary confinement, for possessing a mobile telephone. The report also noted that detained migrants at risk of suicide sometimes were placed naked in an observation room to prevent their tearing their clothing to make a noose.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The parliamentary ombudsman also functioned as a prison ombudsman. The government permitted additional monitoring visits by independent human rights observers and the media. The CPT, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other independent nongovernmental organization (NGO) observers regularly received access to police headquarters, prisons, establishments for the detention of minors, asylum centers, and other detention facilities. On January 7, the CPT published its report of its visit in April 2019.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law allows police both to begin investigations and to make arrests on their own initiative based upon observed evidence or to enforce a court order following an indictment filed with the courts by public prosecutors.

The law mandates that citizens and documented migrants taken into custody appear before a judge within 24 hours. The judge may extend police custody for a further 72 hours. In contrast to citizens and documented migrants, authorities may hold irregular migrants up to 72 hours before bringing them before a judge or releasing them. In all cases the law requires police to make every effort to limit detention time after arrest to fewer than 12 hours. A migrant generally is classified as irregular when the individual does not have the required authorization or documents for legal immigration. During the 72-hour holding period, the National Police, the Danish Center against Human Trafficking, and antitrafficking NGOs, if needed, can review an irregular migrant’s case to determine whether the migrant is a victim of human trafficking. In addition, the Ministry of Immigration and Integration can suspend the requirement for a 72-hour case review if the volume of asylum requests exceeds the ability of the government to complete reviews within 72 hours. Authorities can extend detention beyond 72 hours to conduct additional research in cases where the migrant’s country of origin or identity cannot be positively verified.

According to the CPT, police may administratively detain a person who endangers public order, the safety of individuals, or public security for a period not exceeding six hours or, in the context of public gatherings and crowds, 12 hours.

Authorities generally respected the right of detainees to a prompt judicial determination and informed them promptly of charges against them. There is no bail system; judges decide either to release detainees on their own recognizance or to keep them in detention until trial. A judge may authorize detention prior to trial only when authorities charge the detainee with a violation that could result in a prison sentence of more than 18 months or when the judge determines the detainee would seek to impede the investigation of the case, be a flight risk, or be likely to commit a new offense. The standard period of pretrial custody is up to four weeks, but a court order may further extend custody in four-week increments.

Arrested persons have the right to unsupervised visits with an attorney from the time police bring them to a police station. The CPT alleged questioning of detainees often began immediately upon arrest and during transport to the police station. Police frequently delayed access to an attorney until the accused appeared in court for a remand hearing. Several detained persons complained to the CPT that the first time they had met a lawyer was in court, a few minutes before the application of remand custody was being decided. The CPT reported that a number of detained persons had not been informed of their right of access to a lawyer or that their requests to contact a lawyer and have him or her present during police questioning had been ignored. Moreover, detained persons’ requests to see a lawyer and the action taken by police in response to such requests were not recorded systematically.

The government provides counsel for those who cannot afford legal representation. Detainees have the right to inform their next of kin of their arrest, although authorities may deny this right if information about the detention could compromise the police investigation. Detainees have the right to medical treatment, and authorities generally respected this right. Police may deny other forms of visitation, subject to a court appeal but generally did not do so. Fewer detainees were sent to isolation than in previous years, but the practice was still used as a method of punishment.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence; a prompt and detailed notification of the charges against them; a fair, timely, and public trial; to be present at their trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to have free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence; not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and to appeal their case.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may bring civil lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation. The complainant may also pursue an administrative resolution. The law provides that persons with “reasonable grounds” may appeal court decisions to the European Court of Human Rights if they involve alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, but only after they exhaust all avenues of appeal in national courts.

Property Restitution

The government reports, and the Jewish Community confirms, that Holocaust-era restitution has not been an issue and that no litigation or restitution claims regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration, to which the government is signatory, were pending before authorities. The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were isolated reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

The law allows the government to gather airplane passengers’ personal data. The DIHR alleged that the Ministry of Justice failed to demonstrate the law complies with the European Court of Justice’s conditions for collecting passenger name record information. For example, access to oversight mechanisms on the use of personal data is limited to Danish citizens.

During the summer, more than 100 residents in Vollsmose, a suburb of Odense, the country’s third-largest city, filed discrimination complaints with the Equal Treatment Board after receiving eviction notices. The complaints alleged that the law’s ethnic criteria for neighborhoods classified as “ghettos” was directly discriminatory as it set limits on the number of residents from “non-Western backgrounds” who may live in an area in order for that area to avoid classification as a “ghetto.” Areas classified as “ghettos” are subject to increased police surveillance and higher punishments for crimes such as loitering.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits any public speech or the dissemination of statements or other pronouncements that threaten, deride, or degrade a group because of gender, race, skin color, national or ethnic background, religion, or sexual orientation. Authorities may fine offenders or imprison them for up to two years. On June 2, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance reported that the police case file-processing system registers reported offenses of hate speech as well as their judicial outcomes. It is still not possible, however, to collect data of a more detailed character, such as category of offense, type of hate motivation, or target group, from the system.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government did not participate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in its program to resettle refugees.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The CPT reported a number of persons who were detained for the up to 72-hour period allowed by law complained that they were unable to consult a lawyer.

In September 2019 the government stated it would close the Sjaelsmark Departure Center, a facility run by the Danish Prison and Probation Service for rejected asylum seekers who cannot be returned to their country of origin. In November 2019 the government committed to remove all the children in the center and their parents from Sjaelsmark before April. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Immigration and Integration delayed this move until August 25, when 48 families with all 89 children in the center were moved to the Avnstrup Departure Center.

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 limits the rights of persons with subsidiary or temporary protection to family reunification, restrictions not applied to persons recognized as refugees. For example, persons with subsidiary or temporary protection must wait at least three years before applying for family reunification for their spouse or cohabitating partner and minor children. In contrast, persons with refugee status can apply for family reunification at any time.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country employs the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered or attempted to enter the country through a “safe country of transit” or are registered in another Dublin regulation state.

Freedom of Movement: The law limits the initial period of immigration detention to six months, which can be extended to 18 months if special circumstances exist.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows municipalities to accommodate refugees only in temporary housing.

Durable Solutions: The government’s policy encourages repatriation of refugees rather than integration into society. The state provides financial assistance to refugees or asylum seekers who choose to return home. The state pays for their travel and provides a small sum of money to help them resettle in their homeland. The government provides similar financial incentives to nonrefugee or non-asylum-seeking residents who choose to return to their homelands. This policy decreases the likelihood of long-term residency permits for refugees and asylum seekers as it encourages repatriation over integration.

Temporary Protection: Through the end of September, the government provided temporary protection to 77 persons who did not qualify as refugees.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, 8,672 stateless persons lived in the country at the end of 2019. Stateless persons can apply for citizenship if they have lived in the country for at least eight years.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and laws provide citizens, including residents of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the ability to choose their governments in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Free and fair parliamentary elections in June 2019 led to the formation of a single-party minority government headed by Social Democratic Party leader Mette Frederiksen.

In August 2019 the Faroe Islands held free and fair parliamentary elections. The Union Party, the Danish People’s Party, and the Center Party comprise the new government headed by Premier Bardur a Steig Nielsen. Greenland’s parliamentary elections in 2018 were considered to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

In June the Ministry of Defense implemented a number of anticorruption-focused measures to combat fraud and abuse of power following a series of high-profile cases in earlier years. Among the policies are additional protections for whistleblowers.

Financial Disclosure: Reporting of personal finances, including from positions with private and public companies, personal businesses, donors, foreign gifts, and past or future salaries is mandatory but not enforced. Government officials may not work on specific matters in which they, persons they represent, or persons with whom they have close relations have a personal or economic interest. Officials must inform their superiors of any possible conflicts of interest that might disqualify them.

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 cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliamentary ombudsman investigated complaints regarding national and local public authorities and any decisions authorities made regarding the treatment of citizens and their cases. The parliamentary ombudsman can independently inspect prisons, detention centers, and psychiatric hospitals. A European ombudsman monitored the country’s compliance with EU basic rights, a consumers’ ombudsman investigated complaints related to discriminatory marketing, and two royal ombudsmen provided liaison between the Danish central government and those in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. These ombudsmen enjoyed the government’s cooperation, operated without government or political interference, and were considered effective.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against women or men (the statute is gender neutral), including spousal rape and domestic violence. Rape is not defined by a lack of consent, but rather by whether physical violence, threat, or coercion is involved or if the victim is found to have been unable to resist. Penalties for rape include imprisonment for up to 12 years for aggravated circumstances and up to six years for domestic violence. The government effectively prosecuted persons accused of rape.

A 2020 report by the Crime Prevention Council, a network of crime prevention authorities and professionals, found that more than 6,700 persons were raped or subjected to attempted rape annually between 2008 and 2019. The study suggested that significant numbers of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported. According to police, there were 1,662 reports of rape or attempted rape in 2019 of which 294 involved the abuse of children younger than the age 12. In 2019 there were 314 rape convictions.

Faroese law criminalizes rape with penalties up to 12 years’ imprisonment. The law considers nonconsensual sex with a victim in a “helpless state” to be sexual abuse rather than rape. In certain instances it also reduces the penalty for rape and sexual violence within marriage.

Greenlandic law criminalizes rape. The law does not provide a minimum sentencing for persons convicted of rape but does cap sentencing at 10 years. The law is applied equally regardless of the marital relationship of the offender and the victim. The law provides that sentencing be based on the severity of the case as well as an individual evaluation of the offender. Sentencing was typically between 12 and 18 months.

The government and NGOs operated 24-hour hotlines, counseling centers, and shelters for female survivors of violence throughout the country, including in Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The royal family supported a variety of NGOs working to improve conditions and services at shelters and to assist families afflicted with domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides that authorities may order a perpetrator or an employer who allowed or failed to prevent an incident of harassment to pay monetary compensation to victims. The law considers sexual harassment an unsafe working condition and gives labor unions or the Equal Treatment Board the responsibility to resolve it (see also section 7.d.). The government enforced the law effectively.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

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

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, labor, religious, personal status and nationality, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning and managing businesses and property laws. Little discrimination was reported in employment, ownership and management of businesses, or access to credit, education, or housing.

Children

Birth Registration: Most children acquire citizenship from their parents. Stateless persons and certain persons born in the country to noncitizens may acquire citizenship by naturalization, provided, in most cases, that they apply for citizenship before their 21st birthday. The law requires medical practitioners to register promptly the births of children they deliver, and they generally did so.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison. The National Police and Public Prosecutor’s Office actively investigated child abuse cases. According to police statistics, approximately 17 percent of total sexual offenses in Greenland were crimes of “sexual relations with individuals below the age of 15.”

In 2019 Greenlandic police received a record high of 83 reports of sexual assault against children. East Greenland has been recognized for its disproportionate record of sexual abuse. According to a Greenlandic police report in 2019, the town of Tasiilaq reported the highest number of sexual crimes against children and adolescents per year in Greenland. In 2018, 27 percent of Greenland’s sexual assaults against children younger than age 15 occurred in Tasiilaq, while the town accounted for fewer than 4 percent of Greenland’s population. In 2019 a Danish Radio (DR) documentary noted that in Tasiilaq, nearly half of adults younger than age 60 claimed to have experienced sexual abuse as children. During a mandatory COVID-19 lockdown in March and April, reports of sexual assault increased. To combat this, the Greenlandic government banned the sale of alcohol. The Danish Ministry of Social Affairs developed 16 recommendations to address children abuse. The recommendations include support by social workers for vulnerable families and the establishment of substance abuse centers. The Greenlandic government established community centers to provide at-risk children with a safe place to stay on weekends and paydays, when their parents or guardians were most likely to misuse alcohol.

The government’s Children’s Council monitors children’s rights and promotes children’s interests in legislative matters.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Penalties for the distribution of child pornography include up to a six-year prison sentence. The government generally enforced these laws. The minimum age for consensual sexual activity is 15. The purchase of sexual services from a person younger than 18 is illegal.

The law in Greenland prohibits sexual relations with children younger than age 15; Greenlandic Police determine the penalties for perpetrators.

Displaced Children: The government considered unaccompanied minor refugees and migrants to be vulnerable, and the law includes special rules regarding them. A personal representative was appointed for all unaccompanied children who sought asylum or who stayed in the country without permission.

Institutionalized Children: The ombudsman noted in a 2018 report that the conditions for children at the Sjaelsmark departure center for irregular migrants were likely “to make their childhood substantially more difficult and to restrict their natural development.” In August the government moved all the children and their families to another departure center (see section 2.f.).

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish Community in Denmark (Det Jodiske Samfund i Danmark) estimated between 6,000 and 8,000 Jews lived in the country, most in the Copenhagen area.

Representatives of the Jewish community reported 51 anti-Semitic acts against the Jewish community in 2019, 13 percent more than in the previous year. The acts included assault, physical harassment, threats, vandalism, and hate speech. During the year the government cooperated with the Jewish community to provide police protection for the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen as well as other locations of importance to the Jewish community. Jewish community leaders reported continued good relations with police and the ability to communicate their concerns to authorities, including the minister of justice.

On Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the Jewish calendar, the neo-Nazi organization Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) put up posters in 16 cities, including Copenhagen, accusing the Jewish community of pedophilia in connection to circumcision.

In September members of parliament reintroduced, for the third year in a row, a 2018 citizen proposal to ban ritual circumcision of boys younger than age 18. Prime Minister Frederiksen of the governing Social Democratic Party forcefully opposed the circumcision ban on September 11. Representatives of the Muslim and Jewish communities remained concerned about the proposal and its annual reemergence in parliamentary debates.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against and harassment of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. It also mandates access by persons with disabilities to government buildings, education, employment, information, and communications. The government enforced these provisions.

The law provides for the right of free education for all children. The law provides that most children with disabilities be able to attend mainstream classes with nondisabled peers through secondary school.

The right of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs was generally not restricted, but some persons with disabilities reported problems in connection with elections, including ballots that were not accessible to blind persons or persons with mental disabilities. The country maintained a system of guardianship for persons considered incapable of managing their own affairs due to psychosocial or mental disabilities. Persons under guardianship who do not possess legal capacity have the right to vote in local and regional elections as well as in elections to the European Parliament, but not in national elections.

Greenland employed a spokesperson to promote the rights and interests of persons with disabilities. According to media reports, persons with disabilities in Greenland continued to lack adequate access to physical aids, counselling, educated professionals, and appropriate housing. Many Greenlanders with disabilities had to be relocated to Denmark because of lack of support resources in Greenland.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

In June, two white men killed a black man on the island of Bornholm. One of the perpetrators, who were brothers, was a member of the far-right, anti-immigrant group Stram Kurs. According to the authorities, the victim was beaten with a wooden beam, stabbed multiple times including in the throat, and held down with a knee on his neck. NGOs and activists immediately called the killing a hate crime and organized Black Lives Matter demonstrations in protest. Authorities ruled out calling the murder a hate crime. Bente Pedersen Lund, the lead prosecutor in the case, insisted that the murder was based on a personal relationship between the three men and told the press that the motive “was not racist.” On December 1, both perpetrators were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

The Ministry of Transport, Building, and Housing continued to implement the government’s action plan for the elimination of “ghettos,” neighborhoods of majority non-Western immigrants, by 2030. The government defined “ghetto” as an area with more than 1,000 residents where the share of immigrants and their descendants from non-Western countries was more than 50 percent. Media widely interpreted “non-Western” to mean Muslim-majority communities. The law requires “ghetto” parents to send toddlers older than the age of one to government-funded daycare to be taught “Danish values,” including Christmas and Easter traditions. Authorities withheld quarterly benefits of up to 4,557 kroner ($716) from noncompliant parents. The law also requires neighborhoods that have been classified as “ghettos” for four years in a row to reduce the amount of public housing in the area by 40 percent. A neighborhood listed as a “ghetto” for four years in a row is classified as a “hard ghetto.” The law requires neighborhoods that have been classified as “hard ghettos” to reduce the amount of public housing in the area by 40 percent to qualify for a change in classification.

In August the public transportation company DSB received complaints after it ran a political advertisement for the Danish People’s Party that read “no to Islam, yes to Denmark.” The advertisement illustrated the mainstream current of anti-Muslim political sentiment and was present within the crossword puzzle of the transportation company’s magazine Ud & Se that was available on public trains. The DSB removed the advertisement after receiving a complaint from a train customer.

Residents of a public housing complex in Helsingor accused authorities of illegal discrimination after forcibly relocating 96 families. The residents believed they were evicted because of their ethnicity and challenged the removal in court. They argued they did not do anything wrong and that the eviction was discriminatory and based on ethnicity. Housing authorities stated the lease terminations were due to accessibility renovations in the building. Media reports suggested that the evictions might have been part of an effort to remove the complex from the government’s “hard ghetto” list.

Indigenous People

The law protects the rights of the indigenous Inuit inhabitants of Greenland, who are Danish citizens and whose legal system seeks to accommodate their traditions. Through their elected internally autonomous government, they participated in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of energy, minerals, and other natural resources. Greenlanders also vote in national elections.

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

The law affords individuals legal gender recognition, but government guidelines require that individuals undergoing transition receive hormone treatment at one of two designated government-run clinics; private physicians are not permitted to establish this course of treatment.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

On March 2, the DIHR found the city of Herning had unfairly discriminated against children from minority backgrounds when it divided its school system in two to separate Danish children from those of non-Danish origin. The municipal government subsequently acknowledged the discrimination against minority children.

Rasmus Paludan, lawyer and founder of the political party Stram Kurs (Hard Line), which cited in its platform “the unacceptable behavior exhibited by Muslims” and what it described as the need to deport all non-Western residents, continued to hold anti-Muslim rallies. In June a court found Paludan guilty of 14 counts of racism, defamation, and reckless driving. As a result Paludan was disbarred for three years, fined, and sentenced to one month of imprisonment; his driver’s license was suspended as well. Despite the court sentencing, Paludan continued to organize protests against Muslims and Quran-burning demonstrations throughout the year in Muslim-majority immigrant neighborhoods across the country, citing freedom of speech. At one demonstration in Aarhus in June, violence erupted after demonstrators threw stones and fireworks at police. One man broke down a police barrier and threatened police with a knife.

In August members of the rightist Nye Borgerlige political party criticized immigrants of Somali heritage and other minority groups after media reports indicated there were higher incidences of COVID-19 infection among certain ethnic minorities.

During the year representatives from the Muslim community reported discrimination against Muslims. Statistics from the Muslim community on anti-Islamic incidents were not available, but according to police figures, there were 110 religiously motivated hate crimes against Muslims in 2019. Representatives from the Muslim community reported that Muslims in the country lived with a sense of increased scrutiny from the government and society.

During the year authorities fined two persons under the law banning masks and face coverings, including burqas and niqabs. Violators face fines ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 kroner ($157 to $1,570). The maximum fine is for those who violate the law four or more times. In response to COVID-19, the Ministry of Justice provided guidance that the law does not apply to face coverings that serve specific health purposes and that masks worn to prevent the spread of coronavirus fall under this exemption.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law states all workers may form or join independent unions. The law provides for the right to collective bargaining and to legal strikes but does not provide nonresident foreign workers on Danish ships the right to participate in the country’s collective bargaining agreements. It allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, prohibits antiunion discrimination, and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government effectively enforced the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation including supporting regulations were adequate. Penalties were commensurate with similar violations. Breaches of collective agreement are typically referred to industrial arbitration tribunals to decide whether there was a breach. If the parties agree, the Labor Court may deal with cases that would otherwise be subject to industrial arbitration. The court determines penalties on the facts of the case and with due regard to the degree that the breach of agreement was excusable.

Employers and the government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Annual collective bargaining agreements covered members of the workforce associated with unions and indirectly affected the wages and working conditions of nonunion employees.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and the government effectively enforced this prohibition. The law prescribes penalties that were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes. Authorities identified 17 victims of forced labor in 2019 making up one-quarter of the overall number of trafficking victims. Men and women working in agriculture, cleaning, construction, factories, hospitality, restaurant, and trucking were most likely to face conditions 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 prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. The minimum legal age for full-time employment is 15. The law sets a minimum age of 13 for part-time employment and limits school-age children to less strenuous tasks. The law limits work hours and sets occupational health and safety restrictions for children, and the government effectively enforced these laws. Minors may not operate heavy machinery or handle toxic substances, including harsh detergents. Minors may only carry out “light work” that is the equivalent of lifting no more than 26.4 pounds from the ground and 52.8 pounds from waist height. For minors working in jobs where there is a higher risk of robbery, such as a snack bar, kiosk, bakery, or gas station, a coworker older than age 18 must always be present between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on weekdays and 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on weekends.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination, and the government generally enforced these laws effectively. The law prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, skin color, or ethnic origin; gender; religion or faith; sexual orientation; national or social origin; political views; age; and disability. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on HIV/AIDS or refugee status. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment and are generally commensurate with those for similar violations.

Danish gender equality law does not apply to Greenland, but Greenland’s own law prohibits gender discrimination. Greenland has no antidiscrimination laws in employment, and Danish antidiscrimination laws do not apply to Greenland.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not mandate a national minimum wage. Unions and employer associations negotiated minimum wages in collective bargaining agreements that were more than the estimate for the poverty income level. The law requires equal pay for equal work; migrant workers are entitled to the same minimum wages and working conditions as other workers.

Workers generally worked a 37.5-hour week established by contract rather than law. Workers received premium pay for overtime, and there was no compulsory overtime. Working hours are set by collective bargaining agreements and adhere to the EU directive that average workweeks not exceed 48 hours.

The law prescribes conditions of work, including appropriate safety and health standards, and authorities effectively enforced compliance with labor regulations. Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were enforced effectively in all sectors, including the informal economy. Penalties for safety and health violations, for both employees and employers, are commensurate with those for similar violations. The Danish Working Environment Authority (DWEA) under the Ministry of Employment may settle cases subject only to fines without trial.

The Ministry of Employment is responsible for the framework and rules regarding working conditions, health and safety, industrial injuries, financial support, and disability allowances. DWEA is responsible for enforcing health and safety rules and regulations. This is carried out through inspection visits as well as guidance to companies and their internal safety organizations. DWEA’s scope applies to all industrial sectors except for work carried out in the employer’s private household, exclusively by members of the employer’s family, and by military personnel. The Danish Energy Agency is responsible for supervision of offshore energy installations, the Maritime Authority is responsible for supervision of shipping, and the Civil Aviation Administration is responsible for supervision in the aviation sector.

DWEA has authority to report violations to police or the courts if an employer fails to make required improvements by the deadline set by DWEA. Court decisions regarding violations were released to the public and show past fines imposed against noncompliant companies or court-ordered reinstatement of employment. Greenland and the Faroe Islands have similar work conditions, except in both cases collective bargaining agreements set the standard workweek at 40 hours.

Workers can remove themselves from situations they believe endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in these situations. The same laws protect legal immigrants and foreign workers and apply equally to both categories of workers.

The number of labor inspectors is sufficient to enforce compliance. DWEA effectively enforced labor health and safety standards in all sectors, including enforcement of limiting the hours worked per week. Vulnerable groups generally include migrant and seasonal laborers, as well as young workers. These groups often work in the agricultural and service sectors. DWEA registered 15 individual workplace fatalities. An annual report from DWEA showed that in 2019 a total of 42,709 occupational accidents were reported (a number that has remained flat over the previous five years). According to the report, the most frequent injury was ankle sprains and other muscle injuries, which made up 42 percent of all reported occupational accidents in 2019.

Estonia

Executive Summary

Estonia is a multiparty, constitutional democracy with a unicameral parliament, a prime minister as head of government, and a president as head of state. The prime minister and cabinet generally represent the party or coalition of parties with a majority of seats in the parliament. The most recent parliamentary elections took place in March 2019. The coalition is composed of the Center Party, the Estonian Conservative People’s Party, and the Pro Patria party, and is headed by Prime Minister Juri Ratas (Center Party), who took office in April 2019. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

The Police and Border Guard Board and the Internal Security Service maintain internal security. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The Police and Border Guard Board and the Internal Security Service report to the Ministry of the Interior. The Defense Forces report to the Ministry of Defense. The Police and Border Guard Board and the Internal Security Service investigate civilian cases, while military police investigate defense force cases. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Prosecutor’s Office leads criminal investigations in the country, investigates whether security force abuses were justifiable, and pursues prosecutions.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that police used excessive physical force and verbal abuse during the arrest and questioning of some suspects. The number of cases brought against police officers for excessive use of force was similar to that in previous years. During the first half of the year, authorities filed four cases against police officers for excessive use of force.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: In April the legal chancellor publicly criticized the government’s COVID-related ban on prisoners’ outdoor time and reduction of visits from relatives, characterizing the ban as impermissible treatment of prisoners under government guidelines.

In a November 2019 report on its 2017 visit to the country, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) expressed concern over “appalling material conditions” at the Parnu, Tallinn, Tartu, and Valga detention houses as well as at the Tallinn East Police Station and over the small size of some of the cells seen in various police establishments. The report also expressed the CPT’s “serious misgivings” that remand prisoners were frequently held in deficient police detention houses for one to four weeks, and in some cases for several months, beyond the period of police custody (pending their transfer to a prison).

With regard to prison conditions, the CPT report noted that the use of solitary confinement as a punishment appeared to be widespread in all three of the country’s prisons and that the practice appeared to be particularly excessive at Viru Prison. Prisoners were placed in disciplinary solitary confinement continuously for more than 14 days, thus exceeding the maximum permissible time. At Viru Prison, multiple periods in solitary confinement were imposed on prisoners consecutively, which in a number of cases resulted in very long periods of solitary confinement (in one prisoner’s case, 225 days). There were no major concerns in prisons regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse except for the excessive use of solitary confinement.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, including human rights groups, media, and international bodies.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention in court, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Apart from those arrested during the commission of a crime, the law requires that in making arrests, authorities must possess warrants issued by a court based on evidence and must inform detainees promptly of the grounds for their arrest. There is a functioning bail system and other alternatives for provisional release pending trial. Authorities may hold individuals for 48 hours without charge; further detention requires a court order. Police generally complied with these requirements. Criminal procedure rules provide for a maximum detention of two months during preliminary investigations in cases where the accused is a minor and four months in cases of second-degree (less serious) crimes. Detainees are entitled to immediate access to legal counsel, and the government pays for legal counsel for indigent persons.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants enjoy the right to: a presumption of innocence; prompt and detailed notification of the charges (with free interpretation if neces