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Libya

Executive Summary

Libya’s Government of National Accord is a transitional government, created through the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement. The 2011 Constitutional Declaration envisions a parliamentary democracy that allows for the exercise of political, civil, and judicial rights. Citizens elected an interim legislature, the House of Representatives, in free and fair elections in 2014. The country is in a state of civil conflict. The Government of National Accord, headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, governed only a limited portion of the country. Parallel, unrecognized institutions in eastern Libya, especially those aligned with the self-styled “Libyan National Army” led by General Khalifa Haftar, continued to challenge the authority of the Government of National Accord.

During the year the Government of National Accord had limited effective control over security forces, and these forces consisted of a mix of semiregular units, tribal nonstate armed groups, and civilian volunteers. The national police force, which reports to the Ministry of Interior, has official responsibility for internal security. The armed forces under the Ministry of Defense have the primary mission for external defense and also supported Ministry of Interior forces on internal security matters. Civilian authorities had only nominal control of police and the security apparatus, and security-related police work generally fell to disparate informal armed groups, which received salaries from the government and exercised law enforcement functions without formal training or supervision and with varying degrees of accountability. Members of security forces committed numerous abuses.

Conflict continued during the year between armed groups aligned with the Government of National Accord and nonstate actors including the Libyan National Army, with both sides benefiting from foreign military support. The Libyan National Army exercised varying levels of control over the majority of Libyan territory during the year. In June, following months of Turkish military intervention and support to the Government of National Accord as well as intense fighting through the spring, Libyan National Army-aligned forces, including Russian mercenaries belonging to the Wagner Group, pulled back from their prolonged offensive on the Libyan capital and other western cities, retreating to positions in central Libya. Foreign military forces, foreign fighters, and mercenaries continued to operate in the country, reinforcing units aligned with both the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army. Informal nonstate armed groups filled security vacuums across the country. ISIS-Libya attempted to maintain a limited presence in the southwestern desert region. The United Nations and international partners led efforts to broker a cessation of hostilities, including the signing of a nationwide ceasefire in October, and convinced stakeholders to return to a UN-mediated political process. The UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum convened to make preparations for holding national elections in December 2021, including seeking agreement on a constitutional basis for elections and a reformed executive authority to govern the country in the interim.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary and unlawful killings by various armed groups, including some aligned with the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army; forced disappearances; torture perpetrated by armed groups on all sides; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prison and detention facilities, some of which were outside government control; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; unlawful interference with privacy, often by nonstate actors; serious abuses in internal conflict, including killing of civilians and the worst forms of child labor, such as the recruitment or use of children in conflict; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence against journalists and criminalization of political expression; substantial interference with freedom of association; refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers; widespread corruption; lack of accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; threats of violence against ethnic minorities and foreigners; criminalization of same-sex sexual orientation; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including limits on collective bargaining and the right to strike; and forced labor.

Impunity from prosecution was a severe and pervasive problem. Divisions between governmental, political, and security apparatuses in the west and east, a security vacuum in the south, the presence of criminal groups throughout the country, and the government’s weakness and limited reach outside of western Libya severely inhibited the government’s ability to investigate or prosecute abuses across the country. The government took limited steps to investigate abuses within its area of reach; however, constraints on the government’s reach and resources, as well as political considerations, reduced its ability and willingness to prosecute and punish those who committed such abuses. Although bodies such as the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General issued arrest warrants and opened prosecutions for abuses, limited policing capacity and fears of retribution prevented orders from being carried out. In February the Government of National Accord called for the creation of an international fact-finding mission to investigate abuses perpetrated by all parties to the Libyan conflict. In June the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution to form this mission, and both the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army issued statements welcoming the decision.

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 numerous reports that armed groups aligned with both the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) and other nonstate actors, including foreign fighters and mercenaries, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Office of the Attorney General bore responsibility for investigating such abuses and pursuing prosecutions but were either unable or unwilling to do so in most cases due to severe capacity constraints.

Alliances, sometimes temporary, among elements of the government, nonstate actors, and former or active officers in the armed forces participating in extralegal campaigns made it difficult to ascertain the role of the government in attacks by armed groups.

In July, GNA Coast Guard officials shot and killed three migrants as they attempted to escape from authorities after being disembarked from a vessel intercepted on the Mediterranean.

In June at least eight mass graves were discovered in the city of Tarhouna and in areas of southern Tripoli, which had been under the territorial control of LNA-aligned forces, including the Kaniyat militia, since April 2019. According to Libya’s General Authority for the Search and Identification of Missing Persons (GASIMP), the remains of at least 102 persons, including women and children, had been uncovered as of late October. More than 100 additional bodies were recovered from Tarhouna Hospital, reportedly including many civilians. An additional 270 persons were missing from the area, according to accounts from families. On October 18, GASIMP reported the discovery of an additional five mass graves near Tarhouna containing the remains of at least 12 unidentified persons, six of whom were bound and blindfolded. According to GASIMP officials, their investigation into these mass graves continued.

Eastern authorities reportedly killed one civilian and injured three others during peaceful demonstrations in the city of al-Marj on September 12, according to UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

In some cases foreign mercenaries carried out unlawful killings with support from their home governments. The Russia-linked Wagner Group provided command and control support in the LNA’s offensive on Tripoli, which resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties.

Nonstate armed groups and criminal gangs committed other unlawful killings. In May a trafficking ring in the northwestern city of Mizda massacred 30 migrants and seriously injured several others. The MOI announced an investigation and arrest warrants for suspects shortly after the incident, which was ongoing at year’s end.

Armed groups in Tripoli linked to the GNA used machine guns and vehicle-mounted antiaircraft weapons to disperse largely peaceful anticorruption protests between August 23 and August 29, allegedly killing one protester, according to Human Rights Watch. The armed groups–including the Nawasi Brigade and the Special Deterrence Forces/Rada Group–reportedly arbitrarily detained at least 23 protesters and a journalist covering the event, with additional allegations of torture and disappearances.

In the absence of an effective judicial and security apparatus, most killings were not investigated. Between January and June, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented the deaths of 170 civilians and the injury of 319 others. From June to November, UNSMIL reported at least five civilian deaths and 16 injuries, including to three women and three boys younger than 10.

Between January and June, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented the deaths of 170 civilians and the injury of 319 others. From June to November, UNSMIL reported at least five civilian deaths and 16 injuries, including to three women and three boys younger than 10.

On June 3, drone strikes in support of the GNA struck the Qasr bin Gashir District of southern Tripoli, resulting in the killing of 17 civilians, according to UNSMIL.

In early June, as LNA units withdrew from Tripoli, Russian Wagner Group mercenaries indiscriminately planted land mines, booby traps, and improvised explosive devices around the outskirts of Tripoli, including in heavily residential areas. UNSMIL subsequently determined these devices were responsible for 43 civilian casualties, including the killing of two mine-clearing experts and the injury or maiming of 41 other civilians, including a number of children.

On November 10, unidentified gunmen shot and killed prominent lawyer and anticorruption activist Hanan al-Barassi in the eastern city of Benghazi. Al-Barassi was an outspoken critic of abuses in areas controlled by the LNA. Amnesty International reported al-Barassi had received death threats and had planned to release video exposing corruption within Haftar’s family on social media. The LNA ordered an investigation into the assassination.

b. Disappearance

GNA and LNA-aligned armed groups, other nonstate armed groups, criminal gangs, and tribal groups committed an unknown number of forced disappearances (see section 1.g.). Due to its limited capacity, the GNA made few effective efforts to prevent, investigate, or penalize forced disappearances.

In March, UNSMIL expressed concern over an increase in abductions and enforced disappearances in towns and cities across the country conducted by armed groups with total impunity. Migrants, refugees, and other foreign nationals were especially vulnerable to kidnapping. UNSMIL received reports that hundreds of migrants and refugees intercepted or rescued at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard went missing after disembarking at Libyan ports, and it was possible they were seized by armed groups engaged in human trafficking or smuggling. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that between January and November, 192 migrants and refugees were confirmed missing and 107 bodies were recovered during search and rescue operations.

Following the LNA’s capture of Sirte in January, UNSMIL received reports of enforced disappearances perpetrated by armed groups perceived as being loyal to the GNA.

In June following the discovery of mass graves in Tarhouna, UNSMIL reported it had received reports of hundreds of crimes, including a significant number of forced disappearances, perpetrated in Tarhouna in recent years. On February 5, it was widely reported that the Tarhouna-based Kaniyat militia abducted several women whose fates remain unknown.

July 17 marked the one-year anniversary of the high-profile disappearance of member of parliament Siham Sergiwa, who was abducted from her home shortly after criticizing the LNA’s Tripoli offensive in a television interview. Her whereabouts remained unknown, and her disappearance reportedly had a chilling effect on women’s political participation.

Libyan and international human rights organizations reported that dozens of civil society activists, politicians, judges, and journalists have been forcibly disappeared by both western and eastern security services or armed groups and detained for making comments or pursuing activities perceived as being disloyal to the GNA or LNA. On February 26, unknown individuals abducted Judge Mohamed bin Amer while he was walking with his wife and children in the western city of al-Khoms. Numerous judges, lawyers, and public prosecutors across western Libya protested publicly to demand his release. His whereabouts remained unknown. On March 2, armed men from the “Security Operations Room” of the LNA in Derna arrested the general manager of al-Harish hospital from his home; he was reportedly subsequently released. On October 21, the head of the GNA Media Corporation, Mohamed Bayou, along with his two sons and the newly appointed head of programs at the Libya al-Wataniya television channel, Hind Ammar, were abducted by the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, a Tripoli-based militia. Bayou’s two sons and Ammar were released soon afterwards.

Many disappearances that occurred during the Qadhafi regime, the 2011 revolution, and the postrevolutionary period remained uninvestigated. Due to the continuing conflict, weak judicial system, and legal ambiguity regarding amnesty for revolutionary forces, law enforcement authorities and the judiciary made no appreciable progress in resolving high-profile cases. Authorities engaged in documenting missing persons, recovering human remains, and reunifying families reported being underfunded. The International Commission on Missing Persons estimated there could be up to 15,000 missing persons in the country dating back to the Qadhafi era.

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

While the 2011 Constitutional Declaration and postrevolutionary legislation prohibit such practices, credible sources indicated personnel operating both government and extralegal prisons and detention centers tortured detainees (see section 1.g.). While judicial police controlled some facilities, the GNA continued to rely on armed groups to manage prisons and detention facilities. Furthermore, armed groups, not police, initiated arrests in many instances. An unknown number of individuals were held without judicial authorization in other facilities nominally controlled by the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, or in extralegal facilities controlled by GNA-affiliated armed groups, LNA-affiliated armed groups, and other nonstate actors. Treatment varied from facility to facility and typically was worst at the time of arrest. There were reports of cruel and degrading treatment in government and extralegal facilities, including beatings, administration of electric shocks, burns, and rape. In many instances this torture was reportedly initiated to extort payments from detainees’ families.

International and Libyan human rights organizations noted that the GNA-aligned Special Deterrence Force and Nawasi Brigade conducted summary executions, acts of torture, and other abuses at official prisons and unofficial interrogation facilities.

In June following the withdrawal of the LNA-aligned Kaniyat militia from the city of Tarhouna, advancing GNA forces found corpses at Tarhouna Hospital that bore wounds indicative of torture. In July a pro-GNA news network broadcast footage of an extralegal detention facility where it claimed the Kaniyat had tortured victims by confining them in metal cell-like containers and lighting fires on top of the containers.

In addition to individuals held in the criminal justice system, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that 2,565 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were held in migrant detention centers nominally controlled by the Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Illegal Migration (DCIM) as of December. An unknown number of other refugees and migrants were held in extralegal detention facilities, such as smugglers’ camps, controlled by criminal and nonstate armed groups. Persons held in these facilities were routinely tortured and abused, including being subjected to arbitrary killings, rape and sexual violence, beatings, forced labor, and deprivation of food and water according to dozens of testimonies shared with international aid agencies and human rights groups. In January, for example, UNSMIL interviewed 32 migrants who had been arbitrarily detained and subjected to torture or rape for ransom by nonstate criminal groups and state officials, including DCIM and Coast Guard employees.

In June and July, migrants who claimed to have escaped from informal human trafficking camps in Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, appeared at aid organization offices in Tripoli bearing wounds indicative of torture.

Impunity was a significant problem within the security forces, and the GNA lacked the ability seriously to pursue accountability for abuses due to challenges posed by the ongoing civil conflict, political fragmentation, a lack of territorial control over much of the country, and widespread corruption.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons and detention facilities were often overcrowded, and conditions were harsh and life threatening, falling well short of international standards. Many prisons and detention centers were outside GNA control (see section 1.g.).

Physical Conditions: During the year prisons remained overcrowded, were in need of infrastructural repairs, suffered from poor ventilation, lacked adequate hygiene facilities, and experienced power and water outages. Prisons lacked clean drinking water and served low-quality food. UN agencies reported malnutrition was a risk in some prisons and detention centers, notably at DCIM facilities, which did not receive a food budget.

Communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, scabies, and HIV/AIDS, affected detainees in some prisons and detention centers. There were unconfirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in the LNA-controlled Kweifiyah Prison in Benghazi. Most prisons lacked functioning health units, and inmates depended on family members to bring them medicine. Inmates who needed medical attention were sometimes transferred to public hospitals within the jurisdiction of whichever police unit or militia controlled the prison; these transfers often depended on the availability of private vehicles, as most prisons lack ambulances.

There was no centralized record keeping. There were reportedly no functioning juvenile facilities in the country, and authorities held juveniles in adult prisons, although sometimes in separate sections.

UNSMIL estimated there were approximately 500 women detained in Libyan prisons as of May. Women prisoners faced conditions that fell well short of international minimum standards. Although there were often separate facilities for men and women, women remained almost universally guarded by male prison guards. UNSMIL received numerous reports of women who were subjected to forced prostitution in prisons or detention facilities in conditions that amounted to sexual slavery.

According to international and Libyan migration advocates, migrant detention centers suffered from massive overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of access to medical care, food shortages, and significant disregard for the protection of detainees, including allegations of unlawful killing, sexual violence, and forced labor. As of July, the IOM estimated 27 percent of migrants and refugees held in DCIM detention centers were minors. A large number of migrant and refugee detainees were held in extralegal facilities, although numbers were unknown. There were numerous anecdotal reports that officials, nonstate armed groups, and criminal gangs moved migrants through a network of government and extralegal detention facilities with little monitoring by the government or international organizations.

Administration: The Judicial Police Authority, tasked by the GNA-aligned Ministry of Justice to run the prison system, operates from its headquarters in Tripoli. It remained administratively split, however, with a second headquarters in al-Bayda that reports to a rival, eastern “Ministry of Justice” that provides oversight to prisons in eastern Libya. During the year the ratio of detainees and prisoners to guards varied significantly. Monitoring and training of prison staff by international organizations remained largely suspended, although training of judicial police continued during the year.

Units affiliated with the GNA-aligned Ministries of Interior and Defense and rival eastern security forces operated other prisons and detention centers.

As of April, UNSMIL estimated there were 9,000 persons detained in 28 facilities under Ministry of Justice oversight and up to 10,000 individuals in prisons controlled by the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, or nonstate armed groups. As of July, the IOM estimated there were 2,400 persons detained in DCIM facilities and potentially thousands of other migrants held in extralegal and informal facilities.

Independent Monitoring: Multiple independent monitoring organizations reported difficulties gaining access to prison and detention facilities, particularly those in eastern Libya. The GNA permitted some independent monitoring by international organizations, including the ICRC, but these movements were tightly controlled. UN and international aid organization sources reported that DCIM officials repeatedly denied access requests. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created further barriers to humanitarian access. Although some international organizations received permission to visit migrant detention facilities during the year, the responsiveness of GNA authorities and level of access varied widely from visit to visit. As of November, UNHCR and its partners had conducted 250 visits to DCIM facilities to administer aid and register refugees and asylum-seekers.

Improvements: As of May, the GNA reported that it had released nearly 2,000 persons from Ministry of Justice prisons to reduce overcrowding and minimize possible vectors for the spread of COVID-19. The ministry reportedly prioritized the release of persons who had already served more than half their sentences. While international watchdogs welcomed the move, they noted that the vast majority of persons in prisons and detention facilities were being held in pretrial detention. These groups called on the GNA to immediately release vulnerable inmates in pretrial detention, including women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. UNSMIL maintained that all migrant detention facilities should be closed and the detainees released.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

There were continued reports by UNSMIL of prolonged and arbitrary detention for persons held in prisons and detention facilities. Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that a large but indeterminate number of persons held in such prisons and detention centers were arbitrarily detained for periods exceeding one year.

Nonstate actors detained and held persons arbitrarily in authorized and unauthorized facilities, including unknown locations, for extended periods and without legal charges or legal authority.

The prerevolutionary criminal code remains in effect. It establishes procedures for pretrial detention and prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but these procedures were often not enforced. The government had weak control over police and GNA-aligned armed groups providing internal security, and some armed groups carried out illegal and arbitrary detentions unimpeded. The low level of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of arbitrary detentions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law stipulates an arrest warrant is required, but authorities may detain persons without charge for as long as six days and may renew detention for up to three months, provided there is “reasonable evidence.” The law also specifies authorities must inform detainees of the charges against them and have a detainee appear before a judicial authority every 30 days to renew a detention order. The law gives the government power to detain persons for up to two months if considered a “threat to public security or stability” based on their “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

Although the 2011 Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right to counsel, the vast majority of detainees did not have access to bail or a lawyer. Government authorities and armed groups held detainees incommunicado for unlimited periods in official and unofficial detention centers.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities frequently ignored or were unable to enforce the provisions of the criminal code prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention. Various GNA-aligned and nonstate armed groups arbitrarily arrested and detained persons throughout the year. UNSMIL, along with other local and international organizations, reported that a number of individuals arriving in Tripoli from eastern Libya were arbitrarily arrested by armed groups in early November. At least one person was followed to his destination in Tripoli and then arrested, while others were allegedly arrested at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport upon arrival.

Pretrial Detention: While authorities must order detention for a specific period not exceeding 90 days, the law in practice results in extended pretrial detention. An ambiguity in the language of the law allows judges to renew the detention period if the suspect is of “interest to the investigation.” In addition, limited resources and court capacity resulted in a severe backlog of cases. UNSMIL estimated that 60-70 percent of persons detained in Ministry of Justice prisons were in pretrial detention. According to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), many of these detainees were held for periods longer than the sentences for the minor crimes they allegedly committed. The Ministry of Justice was working to improve practices by training the judicial police on international standards for pretrial detention. The number of persons held in pretrial detention in Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and extralegal detention facilities was not publicly known.

Some individuals detained during the 2011 revolution remained in custody, mostly in facilities in the west. International NGOs called for the release of detainees held for petty charges to mitigate overcrowding and COVID-19 transmission risk in prisons. The GNA-affiliated Office of the Attorney General established a committee in late 2018 to review cases of arbitrary detention and process detainees for potential release, but international watchdogs criticized the committee for acting slowly.

Armed groups held most of their detainees without charge and outside the government’s authority. With control of the security environment divided among various armed groups and a largely nonfunctioning judiciary, circumstances prevented most detainees from accessing a review process.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law allows a detained suspect to challenge pretrial detention before the prosecutor and a magistrate judge. If the prosecutor does not order release, the detained person may appeal to the magistrate judge. If the magistrate judge orders continued detention following review of the prosecutor’s request, and despite the detainee’s challenge, there is no further right to appeal the assigned detention order. A breakdown in the court system, intimidation of judges, and difficulties in securely transporting prisoners to the courts effectively limited detainee access to the courts during the year. For persons held in migrant detention facilities, there was no access to immigration courts or due process.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for an independent judiciary and stipulates every person has a right of recourse to the judicial system. Nonetheless, thousands of detainees lacked access to lawyers and information concerning the charges against them. In some cases trials were held without public hearings. Judges and prosecutors faced threats, intimidation, violence, and lack of resources. Judges and prosecutors in various parts of the country cited concerns regarding the overall lack of security in and around the courts, further hindering the rule of law. Civilian and military courts operated sporadically depending on local security conditions. Court proceedings were limited in areas affected by continuing hostilities and in the country’s south. All judicial sector proceedings in GNA-controlled areas, including court appearances, were suspended in April and May due to COVID-19 concerns. There were reports of some civilian activists tried in LNA military courts in eastern Libya under dubious charges.

Trial Procedures

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent. During the year GNA-affiliated and nonstate actors did not respect these standards. There were multiple reports of individuals denied fair and public trials, choice of attorney, language interpretation, the ability to confront plaintiff witnesses, protection against forced testimony or confessions, and the right to appeal.

According to reports from international and local NGOs, arbitrary detention and torture by armed groups, including those operating nominally under government oversight, contributed to a climate of lawlessness that made fair trials elusive. Armed groups and families of the victims or the accused regularly threatened lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.

Amid threats, intimidation, and violence against the judiciary, the GNA did not take steps to screen detainees systematically for prosecution or release. The courts were more prone to process civil cases, which were less likely to invite retaliation, although capacity was limited due to a lack of judges and administrators.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Armed groups, some of which were nominally under GNA authority, held persons on political grounds, particularly former Qadhafi regime officials and others accused of subverting the 2011 revolution, in a variety of temporary facilities.

The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for the right of citizens to have recourse to the judiciary. The judicial system did not have the capacity to provide citizens with access to civil remedies for human rights violations. The Law of Transitional Justice provided for fact-finding, accountability, and reparations for victims, but this was not implemented in practice. Courts did process civil, administrative, family, commercial, and land and property law matters. Lack of security and intimidation by armed groups challenged the ability of authorities to enforce judgements.

Impunity for the state and for armed groups also exists in law. Even if a court acquits a person detained by an armed group, that person has no right to initiate a criminal or civil complaint against the state or the armed group unless “fabricated or mendacious” allegations caused the detention.

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

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration considers correspondence, telephone conversations, and other forms of communication inviolable unless authorized by a court order. Nonetheless, reports in the news and on social media indicated GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, criminal groups, and other nonstate actors violated these prohibitions by monitoring communications without judicial authorization, imposing roadside checks, and entering private homes.

In August a number of Libyan human rights organizations protested the practice by Libyan authorities of searching cell phones, tablets, and laptops at roadside checkpoints, airports, and border crossings. These organizations noted the practice was widespread across both western and eastern Libya and was used as a means to target activists, lawyers, media professionals, bloggers, and migrants.

Invasion of privacy left citizens vulnerable to targeted attacks based on political affiliation, ideology, and identity. Extrajudicial punishment extended to targets’ family members and tribes. Armed groups arbitrarily entered, seized, or destroyed private property with impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various armed groups, including those aligned with the GNA, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists and reporters for political views.

Freedom of Speech: Freedom of speech was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2011.” The House of Representatives, since its election in 2014, and the GNA, since taking its seat in Tripoli in 2016, have done little to reduce restrictions on freedom of speech. Civil society organizations practiced self-censorship because they believed armed groups would threaten or kill activists. Widespread conflict in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.

International and local human rights organizations claimed that human rights defenders and activists faced continuing threats–including physical attacks, detention, threats, harassment, and disappearances–by armed groups, both those aligned with and those opposed to the GNA. Many armed groups aligned with the GNA or LNA maintained databases of persons being sought for their alleged opposition activities or due to their identity. Some journalists and human rights activists chose to depart the country during the year rather than remain and endure harassment.

Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech. Armed groups reportedly used social media to monitor and target political opponents, incite violence, and engage in hate speech. According to UNSMIL, various news publications and television stations published calls to violence, spread intentionally false news, and permitted ad hominem attacks.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Press freedoms were limited in all forms of media, creating an environment in which virtually no independent media existed. International news agencies reported difficulties obtaining journalist visas, encountered refusals to issue or recognize press cards, and were barred from reporting freely in certain areas, especially eastern cities. UNSMIL documented restrictions imposed by the Foreign Media Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which seriously affected the operations of journalists in Tripoli.

Violence and Harassment: The international NGO Reporters without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists. Harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings made it nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in areas of conflict.

Impunity for attacks on members of media exacerbated the problem, with no monitoring organizations, security forces, or functioning judicial system to constrain or record these attacks.

On January 1, a group of youth activists launched the National Initiative for Peace calling for a ceasefire and were immediately attacked by both LNA- and GNA-affiliated media outlets as “traitors.” Several members received death threats against themselves and their families, and some were arbitrarily detained by LNA forces in Benghazi. Well known blogger and activist Khalid Sakran was among those briefly detained in January. In June he was summoned by LNA military intelligence authorities and held arbitrarily for 11 days before being released after intensive lobbying by UNSMIL and other local and international organizations.

On January 20, the GNA-aligned Special Deterrence Force abducted a Libyan journalist working for al-Wataniya from his office in Tripoli, allegedly for sharing information with the LNA. He was tortured then released in late January.

On January 16, LNA-aligned units set fire to a radio station in Sirte.

In July it was reported that journalist Ismail Abuzreiba al-Zwei was sentenced in May in a Benghazi military court to 15 years in prison for his affiliation with a satellite television channel deemed “hostile” to eastern Libyan interests. Human rights activists said he was tried in a closed hearing without access to his lawyer and sentenced under the country’s 2014 counterterrorism law, which provides for the arrest of civilians for perceived terrorist acts. He is one of possibly dozens of such journalists, activists, and other civilians who have been detained and tried in LNA military courts in recent years. Human rights defenders have voiced concern that the LNA unfairly applied the counterterrorism law to silence dissent.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship due to the lack of security and intimidation. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing armed groups or political factions.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalizes a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It and other laws also provide criminal penalties for conviction of defamation and insults to religion. Most reports attributed infringement of free speech to intimidation, harassment, and violence.

National Security: The penal code criminalizes speech considered to “tarnish the [country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad,” but the GNA did not enforce this provision during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental armed groups, terrorist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists.

Internet Freedom

The GNA generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or widely censor online content. Selective filtering or blocking of access did exist, despite the fact that no reliable public information identified those responsible for censorship. There were reports that GNA-aligned groups monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority (see section 1.f.).

Facebook pages were regularly hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.

Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial government and nongovernmental communications. Facebook remained the main platform government officials, ministries, and armed groups used to transmit information to the public. A significant body of evidence suggested that foreign actors sought to influence domestic opinion and incite violence in the country by spreading deliberate misinformation on social media and other platforms.

A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to intimidation by armed groups and the uncertain political situation.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Some members of the Tebu minority residing in southern Libya reported their access to higher education was limited as university campuses were located in geographic areas controlled by Arab tribes that routinely harassed or denied freedom of movement to members of the Tebu minority. Universities reportedly did not provide offsite learning alternatives to these Tebu students.

According to Freedom House, teachers and professors faced intimidation by students aligned with nonstate armed groups.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for a general right to peaceful assembly, and the GNA generally respected this right. The law on guidelines for peaceful demonstrations, however, fails to include relevant assurances and severely restricts the exercise of the right of assembly. The law mandates protesters must inform the government of any planned protest at least 48 hours in advance and provides that the government may notify the organizers that a protest is banned as little as 12 hours before the event.

There were reports of several small public protests in Tripoli and other major cities, in which participants expressed frustration with civilian casualties and fatalities caused by the continuing conflict, lack of public utilities such as electricity, and poor service delivery by the national and municipal governments.

Freedom of Association

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration includes freedom of association for political and civil society groups. The government lacked capacity, however, to protect freedom of association, and targeted attacks on journalists, activists, and religious figures severely undermined freedom of association.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) are required to register with the GNA-affiliated Civil Society Commission (CSC) in Tripoli if they have activities in the west and with an eastern, parallel “CSC” in Benghazi if they have activities in the east. International and local CSOs report that the Tripoli and Benghazi commissions, along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Directorate of International Affairs, are known to sometimes delay or deny their attempts to register or renew registrations, or unduly to scrutinize their activities. Registration obstacles included: 1) ad hoc preapproval processes that required interfacing with formal and informal security forces, 2) restrictions and approvals for routine meetings, 3) inordinately detailed requests for financial and human resource information, and 4) direct harassment in some cases.

In the west, this type of interference was frequently attributed to Nawasi Brigade affiliates working in the Tripoli-based CSC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For example, in July the CSC in Tripoli directed one international CSO seeking to renew its registration to get “preapproval” from a Nawasi Brigade official. In another example, on September 10, the Tripoli-based CSC released an official letter that warned Libyan organizations not to meet with international organizations absent CSC approval, hampering local CSO operations. Threats, including death threats, were made against numerous CSO staff members because of their human rights activities, and several of them believed they were under surveillance by intelligence services; they also reported being unjustly detained for short periods. Numerous activists have sought sanctuary abroad

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 2011 Constitutional Declaration recognizes freedom of movement, including foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although the government has the ability to restrict freedom of movement. The law provides the government with the power to restrict a person’s movement if it views that person as a “threat to public security or stability,” based on the person’s “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

In-country Movement: The GNA did not exercise control over internal movement in the west, although GNA-aligned armed groups set up some checkpoints. The LNA established checkpoints in the east and south.

There were reports that armed groups controlling airports within the country conducted random checks on departing domestic and international travelers, including of their personal electronic devices. The country lacked a unified customs and immigration system.

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, western and eastern authorities as well as local municipalities imposed curfews and restrictions on intercity travel to curb the spread of the virus. International and local aid workers noted that these restrictions had the secondary effect of restricting humanitarian access to communities in need.

Citizenship: The Nationality Law states that citizens may lose citizenship if they obtain a foreign citizenship without receiving permission beforehand from authorities, but there is still no process for obtaining such permission. Authorities may revoke citizenship if it was obtained based on false information, forged documents, or the withholding of relevant information concerning nationality. The state lacked the capacity, however, to investigate the authenticity of citizenship applications.

If a father’s citizenship is revoked, the citizenship of his children is also revoked. The law does not specify if a mother’s citizenship is also revoked in this case. The law does not specify if only minor children are susceptible to losing their nationality in this way or if loss of nationality would apply to adult children as well.

Non-Arab communities were marginalized under the Arab nationalist Qadhafi regime. Qadhafi revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including minorities, such as the Tebu and Tuareg, after the regime returned the Aouzou strip along the Libya-Chad border to Chad in 1994. As a result there were many nomadic and settled stateless persons in the country. In addition, due to a lack of state control of the southern borders, a large number of irregular migrants of Tebu background entered the country, some of whom reportedly applied for and obtained documents attesting to nationality, including national identification numbers.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Limited access for local and international assistance organizations into areas affected by fighting between rival armed groups and to official and unofficial detention centers within the country hampered efforts to account for and assist the displaced.

As of September, the IOM estimated there were more than 392,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. More than half of these IDPs were displaced from the southern Tripoli area alone since April 2019. Following the end of hostilities in southern Tripoli, a slow return of some displaced households commenced in western Libya in July and August; however, the lack of basic services combined with the presence of explosive remnants of war and unexploded ordnance in previously contested areas hindered IDP returns.

IDPs generally resided in rented accommodations or with relatives and other host families. A smaller portion of IDPs lived in schools or other public buildings, in informal camps, shelter facilities, or abandoned buildings.

Most of the 48,000 former residents of the town of Tawergha, near Misrata, who were forcibly displaced after the 2011 revolution for their perceived affiliation with the former regime, remained displaced.

IDPs were vulnerable to abuses. The government struggled to facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their place of origin. Due to the lack of adequate laws, policies, or government programs, international organizations and NGOs assisted IDPs to the extent possible in the form of cash payments and provision of health services, including to those with disabilities.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies that operated within the country and were allowed to assist refugees and migrants in some geographic areas and facilities across the country. UN agencies monitored and publicly reported on the situation of refugees and migrants in the country, including those in GNA detention centers. During the year international aid organizations provided basic services directly and through local implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNSMIL and various UN agencies, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were routinely subjected to unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual exploitation, and other abuses. Perpetrators included state officials, armed groups, smugglers, traffickers, and criminal gangs.

Conditions in government and extralegal migrant detention facilities included severe overcrowding, insufficient access to toilets and washing facilities, malnourishment, lack of potable water, and spread of communicable diseases (see section 1.c.). Many press reports indicated refugees and migrants were summarily tortured in official and unofficial detention centers. According to numerous press reports, nonstate actors routinely held migrants for ransom payments.

Armed groups and criminal gangs involved in human smuggling activities targeted migrants. Numerous reports during the year suggested that various human smugglers and traffickers had caused the death of migrants. There were limited arrests and no known prosecutions by the GNA during the year of Libyan nationals engaged in trafficking or human smuggling. The GNA did not seriously pursue accountability for the massacre of 30 migrants in Mizda in May (see section 1.a.).

In 2018 UNHCR and the Ministry of Interior began receiving refugees at a new Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in Tripoli, intended to host vulnerable refugees while they awaited resettlement. In September 2019, UNSMIL assessed that GDF conditions were overcrowded, contributing to a deteriorating humanitarian situation. In January the deputy director of the Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Illegal Migration (DCIM), the state’s migration authority, mobilized hundreds of DCIM guards and Tripoli militia personnel at a site adjacent to the GDF. This militarization of the GDF raised concerns that the facility could be targeted in the continuing Tripoli conflict. UNHCR was forced to suspend its activities at the GDF and negotiated for the evacuation of its residents. According to migrant advocates, numerous other DCIM-affiliated migrant facilities were colocated with or in close proximity to weapons depots and other dual-use sites.

Migrants were exploited for forced labor at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, and GNA-aligned armed groups. There were reports that migrants in some official or informal detention locations were forced to engage in forced labor, such as construction and agricultural work, for no wages. According to international observers, some migrants were also forced to provide services for armed groups, such as carrying and transporting weapons, cooking food, cleaning, and clearing unexploded ordnance. In June reports emerged that some Libyan families had hired migrants to clear debris in mine-contaminated areas of Tripoli, exposing these migrants to potential grave bodily harm.

After the onset of COVID-19, there were numerous reports that migrants, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, were harassed or discriminated against by citizens due to the perception that foreigners were transmitting the virus.

Women refugees and migrants faced especially difficult situations, and international organizations received extensive reports of rape and other sexual violence. Nigerian women and girls were vulnerable to trafficking and were routinely detained in houses in Tripoli and Sebha, a southwestern Libyan city. Migrant women and girls were forced into prostitution in both official and unofficial detention facilities in conditions that sometimes amounted to sexual slavery. Other migrant women reported being harassed when leaving their homes to search for work. Many migrant women who had been abused could not return to their countries of origin for fear of stigmatization. The country lacks legal protections for survivors of sexual violence.

Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, although the 2011 Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right of asylum and forbids forcible repatriation of asylum seekers. The GNA has not established a system for protecting refugees or asylum seekers. Absent an asylum system, authorities can detain and deport asylum seekers without their having the opportunity to request asylum. The GNA did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits.

Authorities continued to expel migrants and asylum seekers across the country southern borders, and in some areas these activities reportedly increased. In May, UNSMIL noted that at least 1,400 migrants and refugees had been expelled from eastern Libya during the year, contrary to the 2011 Constitutional Declaration. These persons were forcibly deported to Sudan, Chad, Niger, and Somalia.

Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, refugee resettlement, emergency evacuation, and migrant voluntary humanitarian return flights were temporarily suspended in the second quarter of the year.

Freedom of Movement: Migrants and asylum seekers were generally considered to be illegally present in the country and were subject to fines, detention, and expulsion. Migrants attempting sea crossings on the Mediterranean and who were later intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard were considered to have violated the law and were often sent to migrant detention facilities in western Libya.

At least 6,000 migrants and asylum seekers were intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to the country during the year. UN agencies expressed concern that thousands of these migrants remained unaccounted for after disembarkation and disappeared into informal detention by human-trafficking networks.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees registered with UNHCR may access basic protection and assistance from UNHCR and its partners, but during the year the GNA did not provide refugees with reliable access to health care, education, or other services, given the limitations of its health and education infrastructure.

g. Stateless Persons

Libyan national mothers alone are generally unable to transmit citizenship to their children. The law permits female nationals to confer nationality to their children only in certain exceptional circumstances, such as when fathers are unknown, stateless, or of unknown nationality. In contrast, the law provides for automatic transmission of nationality to children born of a Libyan national father, whether the child is born inside or outside of Libya and regardless of the nationality of the mother. There are naturalization provisions for noncitizens.

According to some reports, up to 30 percent of the population in southern Libya are of undetermined legal status, which has fueled discrimination in employment and services. Noncitizens without national identification numbers cannot access basic services; register births, marriages, or deaths; hold certain jobs; receive state salaries; vote; or run for office.

Due to the lack of international monitoring and governmental capacity, there was no comprehensive data on the number of stateless persons.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides citizens the ability to change their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot to provide for the free expression of the will of the people. In practice national elections continued to be delayed as a result of the conflict. In November the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum agreed on the date of December 24, 2021, for national elections and an electoral roadmap on the structure and eligibility requirements for a reformed interim executive authority to govern the country in the run-up to those elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 the High National Electoral Commission successfully administered the election of members to the House of Representatives, an interim parliament that replaced the General National Congress, whose mandate expired that year. Observers mostly commended the performance of the electoral authorities, with the largest national observation umbrella group citing minor technical problems and inconsistencies. Violence affected some polling centers. A total of 11 seats remained vacant due to a boycott of candidate registration and voting by the Amazigh community.

The term of the House of Representatives has expired; however, the legislative body was recognized as the nation’s legitimate parliament by the Libyan Political Agreement signed in 2015, which created the interim GNA.

In 2018 leaders of the country’s rival factions agreed to convene parliamentary and presidential elections that year, but parties eventually delayed the elections to 2019. A UN-facilitated Libyan National Conference planned for April 2019 in Ghadames, a city in northwestern Libya, was intended to create a roadmap for elections, but LNA-aligned forces began their offensive on Tripoli, and the National Conference did not occur.

In March and April 2019, the GNA-aligned Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections (CCMCE) held 22 elections for municipalities in southern and western Libya. Although voter turnout was not high across the board, domestic observer organizations concluded they were professionally and fairly administered. Due to the conflict, elections did not go forward in 11 municipalities, including Kikla, al-Saabaa, South Zawiya, Sabratha, and Surman.

The CCMCE held municipal elections in Sebha in April 2019, electing a new municipal council. LNA-aligned forces had entered the city earlier in the year, and in May 2019 a local court annulled the municipal election results. Following an appeal, the court’s decision to annul the April results was overturned. In January a peaceful transfer of power to the duly elected municipal council occurred. In April the GNA unilaterally appointed a new steering council in Sebha, claiming that the elected council had violated its mandate by aligning with the LNA. In July a Sebha court ruled that the GNA lacked authority to appoint a new steering council. To date the presence of two rival councils in Sebha–a GNA-leaning one and an LNA-leaning one–reportedly complicated local governance. International aid organizations expressed frustration that political divisions in the city stifled COVID-19 mitigation and response efforts in the second quarter of the year.

In August following the initial ceasefire, the CCMCE gradually resumed its municipal elections schedule. Municipal elections were carried out successfully in Ghat (August 18), Kikla (August 25), and Misrata (September 3). A fourth election, in Traghen, was canceled after an armed group took over two polling centers. The CCMCE planned elections for six municipalities of Greater Tripoli in late December 2020 or in January 2021: Tripoli Center, Hay al-Andalous, Tajoura, Swani Beni Adam, Garabouli, and Qaser al-Akhiar.

LNA-aligned authorities in eastern Libya sought to establish a rival counterpart to the CCMCE and appointed several new municipal or steering councils in several eastern cities over the last two years, replacing elected officials with appointed personnel linked to the LNA.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties proliferated following the 2011 revolution, although political infighting among party leaders impeded the government’s progress on legislative and electoral priorities. Amid rising insecurity, public ire fell on political parties perceived to contribute to instability.

The Political Isolation Law (PIL) prohibits persons who held certain positions under Qadhafi between 1969 and 2011 from holding government office. Observers widely criticized the law for its overly broad scope and the wide discretion given to the PIL Committee to determine who to exclude from office. The House of Representatives voted to suspend the PIL in 2015, and individuals who served in political and military positions during the Qadhafi era are no longer categorically ineligible from serving in governmental office.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The 2011 Constitutional Declaration allows for full participation of women and minorities in elections and the political process, but significant social and cultural barriers–in addition to security challenges–prevented their proportionate political participation.

The election law provides for representation of women in the House of Representatives; of the 200 seats in parliament, the law reserves 32 for women. There were estimated to be 21 active female members in the House of Representatives. The disparity was due to resignations and parliamentary deputies who refused to take their seats in the House of Representatives.

Women were underrepresented in public health decision making related to COVID-19. The GNA’s two COVID-19 response committees–the Supreme Committee for Coronavirus Response and an advisory Scientific Committee–lacked female members.

Ethnic minorities and indigenous groups, including the Amazigh, Tebu, and Tuareg, voiced frustration with what they perceived as their deliberate marginalization from political institutions and processes.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, but, as in 2019, no significant investigations or prosecutions occurred.

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration states that the government shall provide for the fair distribution of national wealth among citizens, cities, and regions. The government struggled to decentralize distribution of oil wealth and delivery of services through regional and local governance structures. There were many reports and accusations of government corruption due to the lack of transparency in the GNA’s management of security forces, oil revenues, and the national economy. There were allegations that officials in the GNA submitted fraudulent letters of credit to gain access to government funds. The LNA-orchestrated shutdown of the country’s oil sector from January to September further disrupted the distribution of revenues.

Corruption: Internal conflict and the weakness of public institutions undermined implementation of the law. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, such as graft, bribery, and nepotism. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, including reports that officials engaged in money laundering, human smuggling, and other criminal activities. The government lacked significant mechanisms to investigate corruption among police and security forces.

Slow progress in implementing decentralization legislation, particularly with regard to management of revenues from oil and gas exports and distribution of government funds, led to accusations of corruption and calls for greater transparency.

The Audit Bureau, the highest financial regulatory authority in the country, made efforts to improve transparency by publishing annual reports on government revenues and expenditures, national projects, and administrative corruption. The Audit Bureau also investigated mismanagement at the General Electricity Company of Libya that had lowered production and led to acute power cuts.

In a landmark development in July, it was announced that an independent, international audit of the divided branches of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) would proceed after a lengthy delay. The audit was underway at year’s end and scheduled to conclude in early 2021. The CBL split between parallel western and eastern branches in 2014. In December the unified CBL board met for the first time in five years and agreed on a unified exchange rate and a process for reunifying the institution.

The UN Libya Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts, a committee established pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1970 (2011), continued to make recommendations, including on corruption and human rights issues.

Financial Disclosure: No financial disclosure laws, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials.

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

A number of human rights groups encountered government restrictions when investigating alleged abuses of human rights. The GNA and affiliated nonstate armed groups used legal and nonlegal means to restrict some human rights organizations from operating, particularly organizations with an international affiliation.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: UNSMIL maintained its headquarters and staff in Tripoli during the year. UN agency representatives were able to visit some areas of the country, contingent on the permission of government and nonstate actors and on local security conditions.

The GNA was unable to assure the safety of UN officials, particularly in areas of the country not under GNA control, but generally cooperated with UN representatives in arranging visits within the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights, a national human rights institution created by legislative authority in 2011, was not able to operate in the country due to security concerns and a lack of a budget. The council maintained limited engagement with other human rights organizations and the UN Human Rights Council. It had a minimal presence in Tripoli. Its ability to advocate for human rights and investigate alleged abuses was unclear.

The GNA Ministry of Justice chaired an interagency joint committee to investigate human rights abuses in the country. The joint committee reportedly compiled quarterly reports on human rights conditions. These reports were not publicly available. Domestic and international human rights organizations criticized the body for inactivity and noted that it lacked sufficient political influence to effect change.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not address spousal rape. The 2011 Constitutional Declaration prohibits domestic violence but does not contain reference to penalties for those convicted of violence against women.

There were no reliable statistics on the extent of domestic violence. Social and cultural barriers–including police and judicial reluctance to act and family reluctance to publicize an assault–contributed to lack of effective government enforcement. Some local civil society organizations reported in the second quarter of the year that women were experiencing higher rates of domestic violence due to COVID-19 curfews and extended confinement at home.

By law a convicted rapist may avoid a 25-year prison sentence by marrying the survivor, regardless of her wishes, provided her family consents. Rape survivors who could not meet high evidentiary standards could face charges of adultery.

Migrant women and girls remained particularly vulnerable to rape and sexual violence, including forced prostitution and sexual exploitation in conditions amounting to sexual slavery. There were reports of egregious acts of sexual violence against women and girls in government and extralegal detention facilities (see section 2.d., Protection of Refugees).

The Supreme Judicial Council established two courts in Tripoli and Benghazi dedicated to addressing violence against women, men, and children. In October authorities appointed five women judges who will serve on these two specialized courts.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There was no information available about laws on FGM/C. FGM/C was not a socially acceptable practice, although some of the migrant populations came from sub-Saharan countries where it was practiced.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, but there were no reports on how or whether it was enforced. According to civil society organizations, there was widespread harassment and intimidation of women by armed groups, including harassment and arbitrary detention based on accusations of “un-Islamic” behavior.

There were reports armed groups harassed women traveling without a male “guardian” and that men and women socializing in public venues were asked by armed groups to produce marriage certificates to verify their relationship.

Reproductive Rights: By law couples have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children free from discrimination, coercion, or violence; however, the law limits abortion to cases in which the life of a girl or woman is at risk. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) noted family planning services were significantly limited due to cultural and social norms favoring large families, as well as the absence of prioritization of the issue by the government. Access to information on reproductive health and contraception was also difficult for women to obtain given social norms surrounding sexuality.

According to UNFPA estimates, the reported contraceptive prevalence rate was approximately 27 percent, and nearly 41 percent of women had unmet needs with respect to family planning using modern methods. Women’s access to maternal health-care services and contraceptive supplies declined during the year due to continued political instability. Additionally, the UNFPA stated political unrest exacerbated existing social disparities in the provision of health-care services, creating inequities between urban and rural populations. According to the WHO, the large number of IDPs and access restrictions in conflict zones significantly affected the provision of reproductive health services. The WHO also reported lack of access to family planning services, obstetrical care, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

According to UNSMIL, incidents of conflict-related sexual violence by armed groups remained severely underreported because of fear, intimidation, and stigma related to underlying discriminatory gender norms. The government generally did not effectively provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual abuse. Civil society actors provided limited legal assistance to survivors in the absence of the government. A coalition of NGOs reported to the United Nations in 2019 that survivors and victims of sexual violence often found it difficult to locate information on existing services and resources available for them, particularly among indigenous and rural communities.

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

Discrimination: The 2011 Constitutional Declaration states citizens are equal by law with equal civil and political rights and the same opportunities in all areas without distinction on the grounds of gender. Absent implementing legislation, and operating with limited capacity, the GNA did not effectively enforce these declarations.

Women faced social forms of discrimination that affected their ability to access employment, their workplaces, and their mobility and personal freedom. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender, there was widespread cultural, economic, and societal discrimination against women. The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) noted that survey data indicated a significant disparity in earned incomes between men and women, even when adjusted for educational attainment. There were significant inequalities in women’s access to insurance, loans, and other forms of social protection.

The country lacks a unified family code. Sharia often governs family matters, including inheritance, divorce, and the right to own property. While civil law mandates equal rights in inheritance, women often received less due to interpretations of sharia that favor men.

Children

Birth Registration: By law, children derive citizenship from a citizen father. The law permits citizen women who marry foreign men to transmit citizenship to their children, although some contradictory provisions may potentially perpetuate discrimination. There are also naturalization provisions for noncitizens.

Education: The continuing conflict disrupted the school year for thousands of students across the country; many schools remained unopened due to lack of materials, damage, or security concerns. Internal displacement further disrupted school attendance as many schools were repurposed as IDP shelters. School and university classes were suspended in March following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women, although judges may permit those younger than 18 to marry. LNA authorities reportedly imposed a minimum age of 20 for both men and women. Early marriages were relatively rare, according to UN Women, although comprehensive statistics were not available due to the lack of a centralized civil registry system and the continuing conflict.

There were anecdotal reports of child marriage occurring in some rural and desert areas where tribal customs are more prominent. There were also unconfirmed reports that civil authorities could be bribed to permit underage marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There was no information available on laws prohibiting or penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of children or for child pornography, nor on laws regulating the minimum age of consensual sex.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

Most of the Jewish population left the country between 1948 and 1967. Some Jewish families reportedly remained, but no estimate of the population was available. There were no high-profile reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

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 2011 Constitutional Declaration addresses the rights of persons with disabilities by providing for monetary and other types of social assistance for the “protection” of persons with “special needs” with respect to employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other government services, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. IDPs, migrants, and refugees with disabilities were especially vulnerable to poor treatment in detention facilities.

Some organizations estimated that up to 13 percent of citizens may experience some form of disability, although GNA estimates were much lower. Years of postrevolutionary conflict also led to a greater incidence of persons maimed by shelling or explosive war remnants.

In the second quarter of the year, human rights activists called on health authorities to make their COVID-19 response plans more inclusive of persons with disabilities. These activists reported that COVID-19 curfews and movement restrictions made it more difficult for persons with disabilities to access cash, food, and medicine.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Arabic-speaking Muslims of Arab, Amazigh, or mixed Arab-Amazigh ancestry constitute a majority of the citizenry. The principal linguistic-based minorities are the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Tebu. With the exception of some Amazigh, who belong to the Ibadi sect of Islam, minority groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim but often identified with their respective cultural and linguistic heritages over Arab traditions.

The law grants the right for “all linguistic and cultural components to have the right to learn their language,” and the government nominally recognizes the right to teach minority languages in schools. Minority and indigenous groups complained that their communities were often allowed to teach their languages only as an elective subject within the curriculum.

The extent to which the government enforced official recognition of minority rights was unclear. There were reports that teachers of minority languages faced discrimination in receiving accreditation and in being eligible for bonuses, training, and exchange opportunities provided by the Ministry of Education.

There were also reports that individuals with non-Arabic names encountered difficulties registering these names in civil documents.

Ethnic minorities faced instances of societal discrimination and violence. Racial discrimination existed against dark-skinned citizens, including those of sub-Saharan African heritage. Government officials and journalists often distinguished between “local” and “foreign” populations of Tebu and Tuareg in the south and advocated expulsion of minority groups affiliated with political rivals on the basis they were not truly “Libyan.”

Some representatives of minority groups, including from the Amazigh, Tebu, and Tuareg communities, rejected the 2017 draft constitution because of a perceived lack of recognition of the status of these communities, although the draft explicitly protects the legal rights of minority groups.

A number of Tebu and Tuareg communities received substandard or no services from municipalities, lacked national identity numbers (see section 2.d.), faced widespread social discrimination, and suffered from hate speech and identity-based violence. In southern Libya, if a member of one tribe or group attacked a member of another tribe or group, it was not uncommon for the latter tribe to take retribution against multiple members of the former group.

Some members of ethnic minority communities in southern and western Libya reported being unwilling to enter certain courthouses and police stations for fear of intimidation and reprisal.

There were numerous reports throughout the year of ethnic minorities being injured or killed in confrontations with other groups.

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

Societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons persisted, and official discrimination was codified in local interpretations of sharia. Convictions of same-sex sexual activity carry sentences of three to five years’ imprisonment. The law provides for punishment of both parties.

There was little information on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, or health care. Observers noted that the threat of possible violence or abuse could intimidate persons who reported such discrimination.

There were reports of physical violence, harassment, and blackmail based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Armed groups often policed communities to enforce compliance with their commanders’ understanding of “Islamic” behavior, harassing and threatening with impunity individuals believed to have LGBTI orientations and their families.

In December 2019 an internationally recognized, Tripoli-based journalist, Redha al-Boum, was arbitrarily detained and tortured by a GNA-aligned group for two weeks for reporting on human rights conditions in the country, including coverage of the LGBTI community. According to international watchdog groups, he was conditionally released while awaiting a potential referral for trial proceedings.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was no available information on societal violence toward persons with HIV or AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions. It provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires the reinstatement of workers for union activity. By law, workers in the formal sector are automatically members of the General Trade Union Federation of Workers, although they may elect to withdraw from the union. Only citizens may be union members, and regulations do not permit foreign workers to organize. According to Freedom House, some trade unions formed after the 2011 revolution, but they remain in their infancy, and collective-bargaining activity was severely limited due to the continuing hostilities and weak rule of law.

The GNA was limited in its ability to enforce applicable labor laws. The requirement that all collective agreements conform to the “national economic interest” restricted collective bargaining. Workers may call strikes only after exhausting all conciliation and arbitration procedures. The government or one of the parties may demand compulsory arbitration, thus severely restricting strikes. The government has the right to set and cut salaries without consulting workers. State penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Employees organized spontaneous strikes, boycotts, and sit-ins in a number of workplaces, generally to protest delays in salary payments.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law did not criminalize all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Article 425 of the penal code criminalizes slavery and prescribes penalties of five to 15 years’ imprisonment. Article 426 criminalizes the buying and selling of slaves and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment although other forms of forced labor are not criminalized. The GNA, however, did not fully enforce the applicable laws. In 2018 the UN Security Council imposed sanctions against a commander from the Libyan Coast Guard and three other Libyans with close links to fundamentalist terror groups for their roles in human trafficking and labor exploitation. The resources, inspections, and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violators.

There were numerous anecdotal reports of migrants and IDPs being subjected to forced labor by human traffickers. According to numerous press reports, individuals were compelled to support the armed groups that enslaved them, including by preparing and transporting weapons. Others were forced to perform manual labor on farms, at industrial and construction facilities, and in homes under threat of violence.

Private employers sometimes used detained migrants from prisons and detention centers as forced labor on farms or construction sites; when the work was completed or the employers no longer required the migrants’ labor, employers returned them to detention facilities. In October, in the latest string of violence against migrant workers, three individuals stormed a factory in Tripoli where African migrants were working. During the attack, they poured gasoline on a Nigerian worker and burned him alive. Three other workers suffered burns in the attack, and the perpetrators were arrested.

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 children younger than 18 from employment, except in a form of apprenticeship. The law does prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The government lacked the capacity to enforce the law. No information was available concerning whether the law limits working hours or sets occupational health and safety restrictions for children.

There were reports of children forced into labor or military service by nonstate armed groups. These accounts were difficult to verify due to the absence of independent monitoring organizations and the ongoing hostilities.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Constitutional Declaration provides for a right to work for every citizen and prohibits any form of discrimination based on religion, race, political opinion, language, wealth, kinship, social status, and tribal, regional, or familial loyalty. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s employment or occupation. The limitations of the central government restricted its ability to enforce applicable laws. Discrimination in all the above categories likely occurred.

Women faced discrimination in the workplace. The law prohibits women from working in jobs that are deemed morally inappropriate. Regulations issued by the General People’s Committee prohibit women from working in roles that are unsuited to their nature as women, and women’s work hours may be reduced for certain professions and occupations determined by the General People’s Committee that takes into account the requirements of the work and the proportion of male and female workers, as set forth in implementing regulations under the law. Observers reported that authorities precluded hiring women for positions in the civil service. They reported social pressure on women to leave the workplace, especially in high-profile professions such as journalism and law enforcement. In rural areas societal discrimination restricted women’s freedom of movement, including to local destinations, and impaired their ability to play an active role in the workplace.

On October 15, UNHCR resumed charter flights from Libya, ending a seven-month suspension due to the pandemic. As of October 19, nearly 3,200 migrants trying to reach Europe via Tripoli’s rocky coastline (including unaccompanied children younger than 18 and refugees) were still confined in squalid and overcrowded conditions in 11 detention centers that lacked adequate food and water. UNHCR evacuated nationals from primarily the sub-Saharan countries of Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan. This second UNHCR flight during the year evacuated 501 migrants from Libya, including 221 individuals who were resettled in Europe. As of year’s end, more than 200 migrants drowned and more than 280 went missing while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, and more than 9,800 were intercepted and returned to Libya.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law stipulates a workweek of 40 hours, standard working hours, night shift regulations, dismissal procedures, and training requirements. The law does not specifically prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. There is a national monthly minimum wage. There is not an official poverty income level.

The law provides occupational health and safety standards, and the law grants workers the right to court hearings regarding violations of these standards. The limitations of the GNA restricted its ability to enforce wage laws and health and safety standards. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Certain industries, such as the petroleum sector, attempted to maintain standards set by foreign companies. There was no information available on whether inspections continued during the year. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for occupational safety and health concerns, but no information was available on enforcement and compliance.

No accurate data on foreign workers were available. Many foreign workers have departed the country due to continuing instability and security concerns.

Qatar

Executive Summary

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

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

Significant human rights issues included: restrictions on free expression, including criminalization of libel; restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including prohibitions on political parties and labor unions; restrictions on migrant workers’ freedom of movement; limits on the ability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; and reports of forced labor.

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

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.

The government interprets sharia as allowing corporal punishment for certain criminal offenses, including court-ordered flogging in cases of alcohol consumption and extramarital sex by Muslims. Courts typically reduced sentences to imprisonment or a fine. The Ministry of Interior reported 375 sentences that resulted in flogging as a punishment in 2019. In May authorities executed a death sentence by a firing squad against a Nepalese expatriate who was accused of murdering a Qatari citizen in 2017. The court upheld the sentence after the family of the victim had refused the blood money in return for degrading the sentence.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards. In 2019 the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) conducted 96 field visits to detention and interrogation facilities across the country.

Physical Conditions: In May social media users claimed the spread of COVID-19 among prisoners had created unrest in the Central Prison. Social media users circulated unconfirmed leaked photographs and audio recordings from inside the prison, claiming that there were clashes between prisoners and guards and prisoner strikes. The government denied the allegations. The NHRC conducted a number of visits to detention centers and sent a list of recommendations to the government, including accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), establishing an independent commission within the judiciary to investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment, and replacing corporal punishment with voluntary social work.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment. No statute allows ombudsmen to advocate for prisoners and detainees.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers and international bodies to all facilities except the state security prison. The government routinely provided foreign diplomats access to state security prisoners. NHRC representatives conducted regular visits to all facilities. In 2019 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Doha at the invitation of the government. Following the visit, the working group stated “there was an urgent need for a paradigm shift to guarantee the right of every individual to personal liberty, as well as independent and effective judicial control over detention.”

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reported in 2019 that the detainee tracking system did not allow police to determine the number and status of detainees held in any given institution. At some police stations, the register of persons in police custody did not state the date and time when individuals were taken into custody and transferred to the public prosecution. This lack of record keeping made it difficult to determine how long those detainees had been held. The UN Working Group invited authorities to address “shortcomings” in the detainee registers to prevent arbitrary detention.

In October, Amnesty International published a report detailing the 2018 arrest and detention for five months without charge of Mohamed al-Sulaiti and also posted on Twitter comments that criticized the government for imposing a travel ban on al-Sulaiti. In August, Amnesty International published a report regarding four persons, including al-Sulaiti, who were put under a travel ban without trial. Amnesty International alleged that in all of these cases authorities’ actions were conducted purely administratively, without affording any legal recourse by which the affected individuals could contest or appeal the decisions or present their claims to an independent reviewer.

In 2019 the NHRC reported receiving seven complaints of arbitrary detention and added that after examining the cases and contacting the authorities concerned, all detainees were released.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires that persons be apprehended with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official, be charged within 24 hours, and be brought before a court without undue delay.

The law provides procedures that permit detention without charge for as long as 15 days, renewable for up to six months. The law permits an additional six months’ detention without charge with the approval of the prime minister, who may extend the detention indefinitely in cases of threats to national security. The law allows the Ministry of Interior to detain persons suspected of crimes related to national security, honor, or impudence; in these cases persons detained are generally released within 24 hours or brought before a court within three days of detention. Decisions under this law are subject to appeal to the prime minister only. The law permits the prime minister to adjudicate complaints involving such detentions. The law permits a second six-month period of detention with approval from the criminal court, which may extend a detention indefinitely with review every six months. The state security service may arrest and detain suspects for up to 30 days without referring them to the public prosecutor.

In most cases a judge may order a suspect released, remanded to custody to await trial, held in pretrial detention pending investigation, or released on bail. Although suspects are entitled to bail (except in cases of violent crimes), allowing release on bail was infrequent.

Authorities were more likely to grant bail to citizens than to noncitizens. Noncitizens charged with minor crimes may be released to their employer (or a family member for minors), although they may not leave the country until the case is resolved.

By law in non-security-related cases, the accused is entitled to legal representation throughout the process and prompt access to family members. There are provisions for government-funded legal counsel for indigent prisoners in criminal cases, and authorities generally honored this requirement. There were no new reported cases invoking either the Protection of Society Law or the Combating Terrorism Law.

By law all suspects except those detained under the Protection of Society Law or the Combating Terrorism Law must be presented before the public prosecutor within 24 hours of arrest. If the public prosecutor finds sufficient evidence for further investigation, authorities may detain a suspect for up to 15 days with the approval of a judge, renewable for similar periods not to exceed 45 days, before charges must be filed in the courts. Judges may also extend pretrial detention for one month, renewable for one-month periods not to exceed one-half the maximum punishment for the accused crime. Authorities typically followed these procedures differently for citizens than for noncitizens. The law does not specify a time limit on preventive detention, which the NHRC recommended in 2019 be changed.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the amir, based on recommended selections from the Supreme Judicial Council, appoints all judges, who retain their positions at his discretion. Foreign detainees had access to the legal system, although some complained of opaque legal procedures and complications, mostly stemming from language barriers. Foreign nationals did not uniformly receive translations of legal proceedings, although interpretation was generally provided within courtrooms. Dispute settlement committees were established in 2018 to increase the efficiency and speed of decision making in the overloaded labor courts and included court translators who were present throughout all hearings. The establishment of these committees, however, did not shorten the time from complaint to resolution. Some employers filed successful deportation requests against employees who had lawsuits pending against them, thus denying those employees the right to a fair trial. In May the Supreme Judicial Council established a branch of the Enforcement Court at the worker dispute settlement committees to facilitate the process of implementing the committees’ verdicts. The enforcement cycle of verdicts continued to last for months.

Trial Procedures

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

The law provides defendants the presumption of innocence, and authorities generally inform defendants promptly of the charges brought against them, except for suspects held under the Protection of Society Law and Combating Terrorism Law. The defendant may be present at his or her trial.

Defendants are entitled to choose their legal representation or accept it at public expense throughout the pretrial and trial process. In matters involving family law, Shia and Sunni judges may apply their interpretations of sharia for their religious groups. The law approves implementing the Shiite interpretation of sharia upon the agreement and request of the parties involved in the dispute. In family law matters, a woman’s testimony is deemed one-half of a man’s testimony.

Defendants usually have free language interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, while court documents are provided only in Arabic. Defendants have access to government-held evidence, have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence, and have the opportunity to give a statement at the end of their trial. Defendants have the right to appeal a decision within 15 days; use of the appellate process was common.

The Court of Cassation requires a fee to initiate the appeals process. In some cases courts waived fees if an appellant demonstrated financial hardship.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no substantiated reports of political prisoners or detainees.

On September 22, the wife of Sheikh Talal bin Abdelazeez Al Thani, grandson of former amir of Qatar Sheikh Ahmad Al Thani (1960-72), submitted a complaint to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, requesting the release of her husband from prison. He had been serving a 22-year-imprisonment sentence since 2013 on charges of financial violations. Sheikh Talal’s wife, who deemed the trial politically motivated, claimed her husband had been in incommunicado detention and was suffering from severe medical conditions he developed in prison.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Civil remedies are available for those seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations, but no cases were reported during the year. The law specifies circumstances that necessitate a judge’s removal from a case for conflict of interest, and authorities generally observed this provision. Individuals and organizations may not appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution and the criminal procedures code prohibit such actions. Police and security forces, however, reportedly monitored telephone calls, emails, and social media posts.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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

In January the amir approved new provisions in the law that increase penalties for “crimes against internal state security” as the law defines them. Public figures and international organizations criticized the wording of the amendments and associated penalties as interfering with freedom of expression. The new law criminalizes a broad range of speech and publishing activities both on and offline with penalties including up to five years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine. Amnesty International noted that the law signaled “a worrying regression from commitments made two years ago to guarantee the right to freedom of expression,” referring to the government’s 2018 accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Human Rights Watch called the new regulation “a setback for freedom of expression.”

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law includes restrictive procedures on the establishment of newspapers, their closure, and the confiscation of assets of a publication. The Doha Center for Media Freedom, a government-funded entity known to be vocal on press freedom issues, was closed in 2019 without official explanation.

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

In July the al-Arab daily newspaper announced its closure due to financial struggles, leaving only three local Arabic-language newspapers. Local media outlets faced financial difficulty due to COVID-19 countermeasures and consequently underwent massive job cuts, making them depend primarily on the national news agency for content.

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

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

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

Internet Freedom

The maximum punishments for violations of the cybercrime law are up to three years in prison and a fine. The law prohibits any online activity that threatens the safety of the state, its general order, and its local or international peace. It also criminalizes the spread of “false news,” forces internet providers to block objectionable content, and bans the publication of personal or family information.

The law requires internet service providers to block objectionable content upon request from judicial authorities. Internet providers also are obligated to maintain long-term electronic records and traffic data, which must be made available on request by the government. The government-controlled internet service provider Ooredoo restricted the expression of views via the internet and censored the internet for political, religious, and pornographic content through a proxy server, which monitored and blocked websites, email, and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) platforms, including Skype and FaceTime. Users who believed authorities had mistakenly censored a site could request that the site be reviewed by the Ministry of Transportation and Communication for suitability; there were no reports that any websites were unblocked based on this procedure. The Supreme Judicial Council’s statistics showed that in 2019 the courts handled 595 cases related to cybercrimes, up from 104 cases in the previous year.

In June security forces summoned and interrogated a number of social media users in response to tweets critical of government entities and officials. During questioning, those called in were sometimes asked to sign pledges not to repeat such posts, upon which they were released. In other cases authorities deactivated Twitter accounts. In April internal security summoned a lawyer for posting a video criticizing policies of the Qatar Central Bank. He was charged with disrupting the public interest.

In April security authorities announced that five social media users were arrested and charged with “igniting societal strife.” Those charged were accused of making defamatory comments against certain tribes in response to the government’s public naming of individuals who violated home quarantine. At year’s end no further information was available on the progress of the investigations.

On December 9, former al-Arab columnist and social media influencer Faisal Muhamad al-Marzoqi announced that he received a final verdict from the Court of Appeal to serve three months in prison and pay a moderate fine for a tweet that he had put out criticizing some public figures. Al-Marzoqi added that the verdict stipulated a confiscation of his Twitter account.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The constitution provides for freedom of expression and scientific research. Instructors at Qatar University noted they sometimes exercised self-censorship. Instructors at foreign-based universities operating in the country, however, reported they generally enjoyed academic freedom. There were occasional government restrictions on cultural events, including bureaucratic barriers that in some cases resulted in the denial of event permits, and some groups organizing cultural events reported they exercised self-censorship. Authorities censored books, films, and internet sites for political, religious, and sexual content and for vulgar and obscene language.

In February the Qatar Foundation canceled a concert featuring the Lebanese band Mashrou Leila (Leila’s Project) hosted by Northwestern University Qatar. The cancellation came as a response to public online backlash against the organizers because of the sexual orientation of the band’s lead singer, who was openly gay.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but this right is restricted by law, including the General Assembly and Demonstration Law and the Associations and Private Institutions Law. Noncitizens are exempt from the constitutional protections on freedom of assembly. Organizers of public meetings must meet a number of restrictions and conditions and obtain approval from the Ministry of Interior to acquire a permit.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right to form groups, defined by the law as professional associations and private institutions, but the government significantly limited this right. In October the amir passed a new law amending articles in the Professional Association and Private Institutions law to facilitate registration, allowed meetings within an association’s mandate without requiring prior government notification and several other provisions aimed at increasing the ability of associations to operate and cooperate with likeminded organizations domestically and abroad. Despite the amendments, some stakeholders complained the changes were insufficient and multiple obstacles remained to freedom of speech, assembly, and association under local law.

Noncitizens are exempt from the constitutional protections on freedom of association. There were no reports of attempts to organize politically. There were no organized political parties, and authorities prohibited politically oriented associations. The government prohibits professional associations and private institutions from engaging in political matters or affiliating internationally. Civil society organizations must obtain approval from the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, which may deny their establishment if it deems them a threat to the public interest. In 2019 the ministry approved the establishment of seven new associations, bringing the total number to 21 associations working under the ministry’s umbrella.

Informal organizations, such as community support groups and activity clubs, operated without registration, but they may not engage in activities deemed political.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not fully respect these rights.

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

As part of the government’s COVID-19 countermeasures, approximately 20 square miles of the Industrial Zone, home to thousands of migrant workers, was completely locked down for two months from March to May. Human rights groups expressed concerns regarding the well-being of workers who were banned from leaving the area, including individuals showing no symptoms of COVID-19, despite reports of limited availability of food and supplies.

Foreign Travel: The government prevented the travel of its citizens only when they were involved in pending court cases. Despite partial exit permit reform, domestic workers were required to obtain permission from employers to exit the country. In 2018 authorities abolished exit permit requirements for 95 percent of the workforce in the private sector, with some exceptions including domestic workers and government employees. Employers may request exit permits for the remaining 5 percent of their workforce not covered by the 2018 law but must provide an explanation to the government justifying why an employee should retain an exit permit restriction. In January the government extended the categories of individuals not required to receive exit permit permission to include government employees and domestic workers. The government retained the right to request that up to 5 percent of private-sector employees and 5 percent of expatriate public-sector employees obtain permits prior to departure. The Ministry of Interior, however, asked domestic workers to notify employers 72 hours before departure from the country. According to the Ministry of Interior, the Exit Permit Grievances Committee received 1,053 complaints from workers who were denied exit permits by their employers. The committee approved 1,039, rejected 10, and archived the remainder.

The law prohibits employers from withholding workers’ passports and penalizes employers who do so, but noncitizen community leaders and officials from labor-exporting countries stated that passport confiscation remained a widespread problem with insufficient enforcement of penalties. The Ministry of Interior fined only six individuals in 11 passport-confiscation cases during the year.

Citizenship: The law allows for the revocation of citizenship. According to statistics of the Ministry of Interior, there were 10 cases of citizenship revocations in 2019. The ministry did not clarify the reason for the revocations.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to assist refugees in other countries.

Access to Asylum: In 2018 the government passed legislation to grant political asylum status to asylum seekers, although there were no reports or official announcements confirming that anyone had received asylum through this legislation, and there were examples annually that violated the spirit of the law. The law stipulates the creation of a specialized committee within the Ministry of Interior to handle requests from asylum seekers. Once granted political asylum, the individual and his or her family are entitled to a range of free services provided by the government, including travel documents, jobs, monthly allowances, medical and educational services, and housing. Previously the government accepted such individuals as “guests” on a temporary basis. The government legally classified the small number of persons granted residence on humanitarian grounds as visitors.

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

g. Stateless Persons

Citizenship derives solely from the father, and women cannot transmit citizenship to their noncitizen spouse or children. A woman must obtain permission from authorities before marrying a foreign national but does not lose citizenship upon such a marriage. Generally the government did not approve marriage requests between Qatari women and stateless men.

The law allows long-term residents to apply for citizenship after living in the country for 25 consecutive years, but the government rarely approved citizenship applications, which were by law capped at 50 per year. Restrictions and inconsistent application of the law prevented stateless persons from acquiring citizenship. Permanent residents have the right to own property, open businesses without local partners, and receive free education and health services.

According to official statistics provided by the Ministry of Interior, there were 2,461 Bidoon–stateless Arabs residing in the country–although population statistics remained the same since 2018. Official documents do not recognize the term Bidoon but rather “individuals with temporary Qatari identification documents.” Bidoon are a stateless minority in the Gulf states, born in the country, whose families were not included as citizens at the time of the country’s independence or shortly thereafter. The Bidoon, who are afforded residency with the sponsorship of a Qatari resident, were able to register for public services such as education and health care. Bidoon, however, are unable to own property in the country and cannot travel without a visa to other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The government did not allow the formation of political parties or opposition groups. The amir exercises full executive powers, including the appointment of cabinet members. In 2019 the amir issued a decree extending the term of the appointed Shura Council, the country’s titular legislative body, by two years to the end of June 2021. In November 2019 the amir assigned the prime minister to form and lead a committee to regulate the process of the Shura Council elections and announced elections would be held October 2021. According to the law, not every citizen has the right to participate in elections for the Shura Council. The law categorizes Qataris into “genuine” citizens who obtained their nationality before 1930 and “neutralized” citizens who became citizens after 1930. Only genuine citizens have the right to run and vote in the elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 citizens elected the 29 members of the fifth Central Municipal Council, including two women, to four-year terms. The council advises the minister of municipality and environment on local public services. Foreign diplomatic missions noted no apparent irregularities or fraud in the elections, although voter registration was lower than authorities expected, at approximately 9 percent.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not permit the organization of political parties, and there were no attempts to form them during the year. Voting is open to all citizens who are at least 18 years old, including those who have been naturalized for at least 15 years; members of the armed services and employees of the Ministry of Interior may not vote.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Although traditional attitudes and societal roles continued to limit women’s participation in politics, women served in various roles in public office, such as minister of public health, chair of the Qatar Foundation, head of the Qatar Museum Authority, and as ambassadors. In 2017 the amir appointed four women to the Shura Council for the first time in the legislative body’s history. There were five female judges and three female assistant judges, according to 2019 statistics of the Supreme Judicial Council. Noncitizen residents are banned from voting or otherwise participating in political affairs, although they serve as judges and staffers at government ministries.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

The law gives the State Audit Bureau financial authority and independence and allows it to publish parts of its findings provided confidential information is removed.

Corruption: In October the Attorney General’s Office opened investigations on five individuals related to charges of money laundering. The announcement did not include any details of the case or the identities of the accused.

The quasi-governmental commission responsible for the country’s World Cup 2022 bid denied new allegations during the year regarding vote buying in the 2010 FIFA bidding process.

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

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

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

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

In November 2019 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention carried out its first official visit to the country to assess the situation regarding deprivation of liberty. Following the visit, the group stated, “Existing laws that allow prolonged administrative detention without judicial control and due process guarantees ought to be abolished, as these place individuals outside the protection of the law.” The Working Group called on authorities to “immediately repeal the Protection of Community Law, the State Security Law, and the Law on Combating Terrorism.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Interior and the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are mandated to observe, report, and handle human rights issues. The NHRC is mandated by the cabinet to issue an annual report pertaining to the human rights conditions in the country. The NHRC provided mild criticism of abuses and conducted its own investigations into human rights violations. A law regulating the work of the NHRC granted the committee “full independence” in practicing its activities and providing immunity to the committee’s members. The NHRC typically handled petitions by liaising with government institutions to ensure a timely resolution to disputes.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape. Spousal rape is not illegal. Sexual assault and other gender-based crimes were rarely reported, mostly due to social taboo. The penalty for rape is life imprisonment, regardless of the age or gender of the victim. If the perpetrator is a nonspousal relative, teacher, guardian, or caregiver of the victim, the penalty is death. The government enforced the law against rape.

No specific law criminalizes domestic violence, whether against spouses or against any member of a household, including children and domestic workers. According to the NHRC, authorities may prosecute spousal violence as “general” violence under the criminal law. According to the Protection and Social Rehabilitation Center shelter (PSRC), rape and domestic violence against women continued to be a problem. Police treated domestic violence as a private family matter rather than a criminal matter and were reluctant to investigate or prosecute reports.

According to Human Rights Watch, extramarital sex is punishable by up to seven years in prison, flogging (for unmarried persons), or the death penalty (for married persons). A woman who gives birth out of wedlock receives a 12-month jail sentence, on average, which could also include deportation, and even corporal punishment (lashings); however, press reports indicated jail sentences and flogging were rare in such cases. On October 2, authorities at the Hamad International Airport deplaned more than a dozen female foreign nationals from an outbound flight and subjected them to gynecological examinations after a live infant was found in an airport restroom. Human rights groups and several foreign governments condemned the actions of the authorities and requested an investigation into the government’s handling of the situation. The Government Communication Office released a statement expressing regret for the incident and explained that authorities aimed to locate and arrest the mother promptly and prosecute her before she was able to leave the country. Officials underscored that the exams went against protocol and promised that those responsible would be referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The PSRC reported receiving 277 cases of physical violence against women and children and 155 cases of psychological violence in 2019, including 36 cases of sexual harassment. The center hosted 45 survivors at its shelter during the year and provided legal representation of eight victims in courts. Per the center’s statistics, they referred 10 cases to courts and 20 to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The center said one court case received a final verdict during the year.

In August authorities deported a Yemeni woman and her child to Djibouti, from where they could be returned to Yemen. The woman accused the government in a video posted online of kidnapping her and her child and forcefully deporting them to Djibouti. She called on the international community to help her and stop authorities in Djibouti from sending her and her child to Yemen because of the danger she would face there. The woman received a court ruling granting her divorce and custody of her child; however, she was threatened with repatriation to Yemen and separated from her child following the cancellation of her residency. An online campaign encouraged the management of the main Qatari shelter to host them for a short time, but authorities deported them to Djibouti.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and carries penalties of imprisonment or fines. In some cases sponsors sexually harassed and mistreated foreign domestic workers. The Ministry of Interior reported 13 cases of violence against domestic workers and four cases of rape against them in 2019, all of which were under judicial processing at year’s end.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of government interference in the rights of married couples to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. It is illegal to have children out of wedlock and even unmarried female expats risk jail time if they do. Due to the legal prohibitions and social stigma surrounding sex outside of marriage, obtaining documentation for children born out of wedlock is typically not possible.

No legal, social, or cultural barriers adversely affected married women’s access to contraception, or healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth, but women were routinely asked for marriage certificates when seeking prenatal care. According to 2015 estimates by the UN Population Fund, only 37 percent of citizen women ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraceptive, and the government generally encouraged large families through generous benefits. The Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal noted that the top three reasons for not using any family planning method were the desire for more children, potential side effects, and objections raised by husbands.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Unmarried individuals who reported pregnancies risked prosecution by authorities for extramarital sexual relations.

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

Discrimination: The constitution asserts equality between citizens in rights and responsibilities, but social and legal discrimination against women persisted. Sharia, as implemented in the country, discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, freedom of movement, marriage, child custody, and inheritance.

In line with local social norms, male relatives generally represented female relatives in court, although women have the legal right to attend court proceedings and represent themselves. The value of a woman’s testimony is in some cases considered one-half a man’s testimony.

Under the Nationality Law, female citizens face legal discrimination, since they, unlike men, are not permitted to transmit citizenship to their noncitizen spouses or to children born from marriage to a noncitizen. Citizen women are unable to pass citizenship to their offspring. A 2018 residency permit law allows children of citizen mothers to gain permanent status in country, even if the father is not a Qatari national. Citizens must obtain government permission to marry foreigners, which is sometimes not granted for female citizens. Male citizens may apply for residency permits and citizenship for their foreign wives, but female citizens may apply only for residency for their foreign husbands and children, not citizenship. According to official statistics, in 2018 there were 232 requests by citizens to marry foreigners, of which one was rejected, 19 were under processing, and the remainder were approved.

A non-Muslim wife does not have the automatic right to inherit from her Muslim husband. She receives an inheritance only if her husband wills her a portion of his estate, and even then, she is eligible to receive only one-third of the total estate. A female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir; for example, a sister would inherit one-half as much as her brother. In cases of divorce, children generally remain with the mother until age 13 for boys and 15 for girls, at which time custody reverts to the husband’s family, regardless of her religion.

To receive maternity care, a woman is required to present a marriage certificate, although in practice hospitals will generally assist in the birth of children of unwed mothers regardless. There were cases of hospitals reporting unwed mothers to authorities.

The housing law, which pertains to the government housing system, also discriminates against women married to noncitizen men and against divorced women.

A non-Muslim woman is not required to convert to Islam upon marriage to a Muslim, but many did so. The government documents children born to a Muslim father as Muslims, regardless of the religion of the mother.

Single women younger than age 25 require the permission of their male guardian to travel outside the country, although the requirement was rarely enforced. There were sporadic reports via social media that airport authorities prevented women older than 25 from traveling abroad without the approval of the male guardian, although the law allows women older than 25 to travel without a guardian’s permission. Male relatives may prevent married or single adult female family members from leaving the country by seeking and securing a court order.

Adult women were not allowed to leave home without a guardian’s approval. This included a need to obtain their male guardian’s permission to work outside the home, although the requirement was rarely enforced.

There was no specialized government office devoted to women’s equality.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship only from the father. Citizen mothers are unable to transmit citizenship to their children. The government generally registered all births immediately.

Education: Education is free and compulsory for all citizens through age 18 or nine years of education, whichever comes first. Education is compulsory for noncitizen children, but they pay a nominal fee. Islamic instruction is compulsory for Muslims and non-Muslims attending state-sponsored schools.

Child Abuse: There were limited cases of reported child abuse, family violence, and sexual abuse. The PSRC report mentioned 130 cases of violence against minors in 2018.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: By law the minimum age for marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. The law does not permit marriage of persons below these ages except with consent from the legal guardian and with permission from a judge. Underage marriage was rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: No specific law sets a minimum age for consensual sex. The law prohibits sex outside of marriage. In the criminal law, the penalty for sexual relations with a person younger than 16 is life imprisonment. If the individual is the nonspousal relative, guardian, caretaker, or servant of the victim, the penalty is death; there were no reports this sentence was ever implemented. No specific law prohibits child pornography because all pornography is prohibited, but the law specifically criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country does not have an indigenous Jewish community, and there are no official data on the number of Jewish expatriates in the country. Periodic cartoons and opinion articles in local papers carried anti-Semitic messages. In May the government-owned al-Jazeera news channel hosted Dr. Abduljabbar Saeed, head of the Quran and Sunnah Department at the Faculty of Sharia at Qatar University, on one of its talk shows. During the interview the host made negative statements against “the Jews” when discussing Israel.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against–and requires the allocation of resources for–persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, the judicial system, and other government services or other areas. The government is charged with acting on complaints from individuals, and the NHRC has responsibility for enforcing compliance.

Private and independent schools generally provided most of the required services for students with disabilities, but government schools did not. Few public buildings met the required standards of accessibility for persons with disabilities, and new buildings generally did not comply with standards.

The NHRC 2019 report called on authorities to accelerate the issuance of a new law on the rights of persons with disabilities to replace the 2004 law. The report stated the draft law was submitted to authorities in 2015 but had never been issued. The report stated the country became a signatory of International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008 but needed to apply Article 33 of the Convention on the “implementation and monitoring at the national level” in relation to guaranteeing the rights of persons with disabilities under the convention.

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

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced discrimination under the law and in practice. The law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men but does not explicitly prohibit same-sex sexual relations between women. Under the law a man convicted of having sexual relations with a boy younger than age 16 is subject to a sentence of life in prison. A man convicted of having same-sex sexual relations with a male 16 years of age or older may receive a sentence of seven years in prison.

In addition to banning sex outside marriage for all persons, the law provides penalties for any male, Muslim or not, who “instigates” or “entices” another male to commit an act of sodomy or immorality. Under the penal code, “leading, instigating, or seducing a male anyhow for sodomy or dissipation” and “inducing or seducing a male or a female anyhow to commit illegal or immoral actions” is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

There were no public reports of violence against LGBTI persons, who largely hid their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics due to an underlying pattern of discrimination toward LGBTI persons. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination, nor are there antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTI individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics.

Due to social and religious conventions, there were no LGBTI organizations, pride marches, or LGBTI rights advocacy events. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was discrimination against HIV-positive patients. Authorities deported foreigners found to be HIV positive upon arrival. Mandatory medical examinations were required for residents. Since health screenings are required for nonresidents to obtain work visas, some HIV-positive persons were denied work permits prior to arrival. The government quarantined HIV-positive citizens and provided treatment for them.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

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

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws or levy penalties commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. For those few workers covered by the law protecting the right to collective bargaining, the government circumscribed the right through its control over the rules and procedures of the bargaining and agreement processes. The labor code allows for only one trade union, the General Union of Workers of Qatar (General Union), which was composed of general committees for workers in various trades or industries. Trade or industry committees were composed of worker committees at the individual firm level. The General Union was not a functioning entity.

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

Although the law recognizes the right to strike for some workers, restrictive conditions made the likelihood of a legal strike extremely remote. The law requires approval for a strike by three-fourths of the General Committee of the workers in the trade or the industry, and potential strikers also must exhaust a lengthy dispute resolution procedure before a lawful strike may be called. Civil servants and domestic workers do not have the right to strike; the law also prohibits strikes at public utilities and health or security service facilities, including the gas, petroleum, and transportation sectors. The Complaint Department of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, in coordination with the Ministry of Interior, must preauthorize all strikes, including approval of the time and place. In May, several hundred migrant workers staged a protest over unpaid salaries. Security forces surrounded the location of the protest but did not disperse the protesters. The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs released a statement the following day assuring that the ministry would pay salaries in full.

In May the government gave the private sector the right to alter employee contracts without legal liability due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies forced workers to take a combination of unpaid leave, decreased salaries, or premature contract terminations, negatively affecting tens of thousands of workers. In June the Ministry of Finance instructed government ministries, institutions, and state entities to reduce monthly costs for non-Qatari employees by 30 percent, by either cutting salaries or laying off workers with a two-month notice.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. International media and human rights organizations alleged numerous abuses against foreign workers, including withheld wages, unsafe working conditions, poor living accommodations, employers who routinely confiscated worker passports, and a sponsorship system that gave employers inordinate control of workers. In February, National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking statistics recorded the average fine for physical and psychological violence against domestic workers in 2019 as 2,000 Qatari riyals ($550) and a penalty of one month in prison. There were 812 convictions for abuse. During the year Amnesty International reported multiple cases of slow access to justice after three medium-sized companies refused to pay wages, withheld passports, and refused to appear in court. The ILO noted the law allows for the imposition of forced labor on those who hold political views ideologically opposed to the established political and social system.

The government made efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor but did not in all cases effectively enforce the law; the restrictive sponsorship system left some migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation. The law allows employees in the private sector to switch employers at the end of their contract, which can be up to five years, without the permission of their employer. Employees may also switch employers in cases of failure to pay, violation of contract, mutual agreement, filing of a legal case in court, and bankruptcy or death of employer. Legal changes during the year extended the elimination of exit visa requirements to 95 percent of government workers and all domestic workers. In August the country abolished restrictions on migrant workers changing jobs without their employer’s permission and introduced a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275) as a basic salary. While the abolishment of the no-objection certificate was effective immediately, the implementation of the minimum wage provision was scheduled to come into force in March 2021. If fully implemented, these laws will protect migrant workers, who are prone to exploitation in the kafala system.

Workers who are still required to seek their employers’ permission to leave the country may request an exemption from a Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs jointly operated grievance committee in case of the employers’ refusal to grant the permission.

In 2019 the government opened the first trafficking-in-persons shelter, which had assisted 10 victims as of July. On October 27, the Criminal Court sentenced two expatriates to a 10-year prison term, a substantial fine, and deportation for trafficking-in-persons offenses, among other crimes. This was the country’s first conviction since 2016 under its antitrafficking law.

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

There were continuing indications of forced labor, especially among migrant workers in the construction and domestic-labor sectors. Exorbitant recruitment fees incurred abroad entrapped many workers in long-term debt, making them more vulnerable to exploitation. Some foreign workers who voluntarily entered the country to work had their passports, ATM cards, and pay withheld and worked under conditions to which they had not agreed. One migrant worker told an NGO that his employer threatened him and nearly 1,000 other employees with deportation if they refused to sign new contracts with substantially lower wages. Another migrant worker said his company had not paid its workers in five months. Contract substitution remained a problem, according to representatives of the migrant worker community; however, to help eliminate the practice, a government electronic contracting system existed in several third countries where workers are hired. Embassies of labor-sending countries reported this new system helped significantly reduce contract substitution and the number of workers who arrived in Doha without contracts.

Although the country witnessed a nearly total precautionary lockdown of all official and commercial activities from mid-March until mid-June, FIFA World Cup-related facilities continued construction despite crowded worksites and the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Human rights groups and international media condemned the exemption of World Cup projects from the precautionary countermeasures.

The Ministry of Interior received 817 reports of nonpayment of wages, down from 1,164 in the year before, 810 of which were referred to the Office of the Public Prosecutor. Courts issued final verdicts in 495 cases; the rest were under review at year’s end.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, language, and religion, but not political opinion, national origin, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Local custom, however, outweighed government enforcement of nondiscrimination laws, and legal, cultural, and institutional discrimination existed against women, noncitizens, and foreign workers. The labor law does not allow women to work in jobs deemed hazardous, dangerous, or morally inappropriate.

By law women are entitled to equal pay for equal work, but this did not always happen, and they often lacked access to decision-making positions in management of private companies and in the public sector. Gender-based violence or harassment occurred in the workplace. In 2019 there were reports of rape, but the outcomes of those cases were pending. The government prohibited lower-paid male workers from residing in specific “family” residential zones throughout the country. The government discriminated against noncitizens in employment, education, housing, and health services (see section 6). Other forms of discrimination targeted certain nationalities in the country. In January the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs gave orders to all private security companies to terminate immediately security guards with Egyptian nationality, causing hundreds of Egyptian residents to lose their jobs. Egyptian residents also reported discrimination in denial of the right to transfer employment, apply for bank loans, and request family visas.

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

In December 2019 the UN rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance highlighted the “remarkable and commendable progress” the country had made to end discrimination but raised concerns regarding discrimination against domestic workers and workers from South Asian and sub-Saharan African countries.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor law provides for a 48-hour workweek with a 24-hour rest period and paid annual leave days. The government sets occupational health and safety standards including restrictions on working during the hottest hours of the day during the summer and general restrictions related to temperature during the rest of the day as well. The labor law and provisions for acceptable conditions of work, including overtime pay provisions, do not apply to workers in the public sector or agriculture, or to domestic workers.

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

The government took limited action to prevent violations and improve working conditions. In 2018 the worker dispute settlement committees assumed their duties, chaired by first-instance judges appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council and members of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. In 2019 the committees received a total of 4,922 complaints and issued final 2,781 final verdicts, up from 1,088 in 2018. More than three-quarters of verdicts favored workers.

The Labor Inspection Department conducted monthly and random inspections of foreign worker camps. When inspectors found the camps to be below minimum standards, the operators received a warning, and authorities ordered them to remedy the violations within one month. For example, after inspectors reportedly checked companies’ payrolls and health and safety practices, they returned one month later to verify any recommended changes were made. If a company had not remedied the violations, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs imposed fines, blacklisted the company, and on occasion referred the matter to the public prosecutor for action. Inspections in 2019 fell by nearly half compared with 2018; inspections in 2020 were further limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs inspectors continued to conduct inspection visits to work and labor housing sites. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Officials from the ILO joined labor inspectors on several inspections and assisted in the formation of a new strategic plan for strengthening the Labor Inspections Unit. Violators faced penalties that were insufficient to deter violations.

Employers must pay their employees electronically to provide a digital audit trail for the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties. By law employees have a right to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively provide protection to employees exercising this right. Employers often ignored working-hour restrictions and other laws with respect to domestic workers and unskilled laborers, the majority of whom were foreigners.

The government did not effectively enforce these laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes. Violations of wage, overtime, and safety and health standards were relatively common, especially in sectors employing foreign workers, in which working conditions were often poor. Some employers did not pay workers for overtime or annual leave. Employers housed many unskilled foreign laborers in cramped, dirty, and hazardous conditions, often without running water, electricity, or adequate food. The government continued to serve eviction notices to property owners whose buildings were not up to code. Throughout the year international media alleged some abusive working conditions existed, including work-related deaths of young foreign workers, especially in the construction sector. A Kenyan worker said his employer required him to work unpaid overtime, seven days a week, paid wages months late, and provided insufficient personal protective equipment despite a risk of exposure to COVID-19.

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

International NGOs found that foreign workers faced legal obstacles and lengthy legal processes that prevented them from seeking redress for violations and exploitative conditions. Noncitizen community leaders also highlighted migrant workers’ continued hesitation to report their plight due to fear of reprisals. On June 11, Amnesty International reported that a contracting company constructing the World Cup 2022 al-Bayt Stadium failed to pay the salaries of hundreds of its workers for seven months. On August 24, Human Rights Watch published testimonies of 93 foreign workers who alleged nonpayment of wages, forced labor, manipulation, or fraud.

On October 4, both the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs published the National Policy on Occupational Safety and Health, which aims to prevent accidents, injuries, and diseases arising out of, linked with, or occurring in the course of work. In March the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the body responsible for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, announced that nine laborers working on the World Cup facilities died in 2019, bringing the number of deaths on World Cup projects to 34, since construction began six years ago. According to the committee, 31 of the deaths were classified as “nonwork related.”

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

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

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

Saudi Arabia continued air operations in Yemen throughout the year as leader of a coalition formed to counter the 2014 Houthi takeover of Yemeni government institutions and facilities. Houthi militants conducted missile, rocket, drone, and artillery attacks aimed at Saudi territory on an almost weekly basis. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen reportedly resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on multiple occasions. In June the UN secretary-general noted a “sustained, significant decrease in killing and maiming due to air strikes” and delisted the Saudi-led coalition from the list of parties responsible for grave violations against children in armed conflict. The Joint Incident Assessment Team, an independent investigative body, reviewed allegations of civilian casualties against the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and referred incidents for potential action. (See the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen).

During the year a royal decree abolished discretionary (tazir) death penalty sentences for crimes committed by minors, although the death penalty can still be applied to minors in instances specified by Islamic law (including for murder when the victim’s family seeks the death penalty). The decree also capped prison sentences for minors at 10 years. The Supreme Court instructed courts to end flogging as a discretionary sentence and replace it with prison sentences or fines, which could eliminate flogging in most cases. Authorities continued to expand women’s rights, including a court ruling that a woman living independently did not constitute a criminal act and the Ministry of Education’s decision to drop the requirement that women studying abroad on a government scholarship be accompanied by a male guardian.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including threats of violence or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and engaging in harassment and intimidation against Saudi dissidents living abroad; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to choose their government peacefully through free and fair elections; violence and discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were implemented; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including prohibition of trade unions and collective bargaining.

In several cases the government did not punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity. In September the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced a final verdict in the murder trial of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018. All five defendants previously sentenced to death for their roles had their sentences commuted to a maximum of 20 years in prison, following a pardon from the Khashoggi family. Three others had their prison sentences upheld. The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions called the verdicts a “parody of justice” and stated high-level officials “who organized and embraced the execution of Jamal Khashoggi have walked free from the start.”

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO), which reports to the King, is responsible for investigating whether security force actions were justifiable and pursuing prosecutions.

On April 13, media reported that security forces shot and killed tribal activist Abdulrahim al-Huwaiti in the northwestern town of al-Khuraybah, Tabuk region. Al-Huwaiti reportedly refused to leave his home, which was slated for demolition in preparation for the construction of a new high-tech city to attract foreign investors. He was killed following a clash with authorities at his home. Hours before his death, al-Huwaiti posted YouTube videos in which he criticized the project and claimed his neighbors had been forcibly removed after facing pressure from the government and rejecting financial compensation to move.

An August 13 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Saudi border guards of killing several dozen Ethiopian migrants in April as they crossed over the border from Yemen illegally, fleeing Houthi forces who were forcibly expelling migrant workers.

Under the country’s interpretation and practice of sharia (Islamic law), capital punishment may be imposed for a range of nonviolent offenses, including apostasy, sorcery, and adultery, although in practice death sentences for such offenses were rare and usually reduced on appeal. As of December 31, five of the 25 executions during the year were for crimes not considered “most serious” (drug related). The total number of executions during the year was considerably less than the 185 executions carried out in 2019.

Since the country lacks a comprehensive written penal code listing criminal offenses and the associated penalties for them (see section 1.e.), punishment–including the imposition of capital punishment–is subject to considerable judicial discretion.

On September 7, the Riyadh Criminal Court issued a final verdict in the murder trial of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed in Istanbul in 2018. All five government agents who were previously sentenced to death for their roles had their sentences commuted to a maximum of 20 years in prison. Three other defendants had their sentences of seven to 10 years’ imprisonment upheld. The court’s ruling came after Khashoggi’s sons announced in May they would exercise their right to pardon the five individuals who had been sentenced to death. On September 7, the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, called the final verdict a “parody of justice” and asserted that the high-level officials “who organized and embraced the execution of Jamal Khashoggi have walked free from the start.”

In April a royal decree abolished discretionary (tazir) death penalty sentences for those who committed crimes as minors. (The 2018 Juvenile Law sets the legal age of adulthood at 18 based on the Hijri calendar.) Minor offenders, however, who are convicted in qisas, a category of crimes that includes various types of murder, or hudud, crimes that carry specific penalties under the country’s interpretation of Islamic law, could still face the death penalty, according to HRW. The royal decree also capped prison sentences for minors at 10 years.

On April 8, government authorities in al-Bahah region carried out a qisas death sentence against Abdulmohsen al-Ghamdi, who had been charged with intentional homicide when he was a child, according to the European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR). Al-Ghamdi was reportedly arrested in 2012, at the age of 15, after he had shot and killed a classmate at a high school.

On August 26, the governmental Human Rights Commission (HRC) announced the Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) ordered a review of the death sentences of three Shia activists, Abdullah al-Zaher, Dawood al-Marhoon, and Ali al-Nimr, who were minors at the time of arrest. The statement indicated that the review order was an implementation of the April royal decree and applied retroactively.

In November a judge in the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) ruled to overturn al-Marhoon and al-Zaher’s death sentences, and resentenced them to 10 years. Al-Zaher and al-Marhoon were 16 and 17, respectively, at the time of their arrests in 2012. Both were charged in connection with their involvement in antigovernment protests.

As of December, al-Nimr’s case remained under review. Al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to death in 2014 for crimes allegedly committed when he was 17. He was charged with protesting, aiding and abetting fugitives, attacking security vehicles, and various violent crimes. Human rights organizations reported due process concerns relating to minimum fair-trial standards for his case. Al-Nimr is the nephew of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, executed in 2016.

There was also no update by year’s end as to whether the April royal decree would be applied retroactively in the case of the death sentence against Mustafa al-Darwish for his involvement as a minor in antigovernment protests in 2012. On February 26, Nashet Qatifi, a Shia activist group, claimed the Supreme Court had upheld al-Darwish’s death penalty.

In November the rights group Reprieve expressed concern for 10 minors who remained on death row, including Muhammad al-Faraj. The group reported that prosecutors continued to seek the death penalty in a trial against al-Faraj, who was arrested in 2017 for protest-related crimes when he was 15.

In February a court issued a final verdict reducing Murtaja Qureiris’ sentence from a 12-year prison term handed to him in June 2019 to eight years, followed by a travel ban for a similar period, according to the human rights organization al-Qst (ALQST). According to rights groups including Amnesty International, Qureiris was detained in 2014 for a series of offenses committed when he was between 10 and 13 years old, and the public prosecution had sought the death penalty in his case.

There were terrorist attacks in the country during the year. Iranian-backed Houthis continued to target Saudi civilians and infrastructure with missiles and unmanned aircraft systems launched from Yemen. There were no civilian casualties during the year.

The United Nations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), media, and humanitarian and other international organizations reported what they characterized as disproportionate use of force by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, including the Saudi-led coalition, Houthi militants, and other combatants. The Group of Experts concluded that four airstrikes conducted by the Saudi-led coalition (SLC) between June 2019 and June 2020 were undertaken without proper regard to the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution to protect civilians and civilian objects. A UN report released in June documented 395 instances of killing and 1,052 instances of maiming of children in Yemen between January and December 2019, of which 222 casualties were attributed to the SLC. The UN secretary-general noted this was a “sustained significant decrease in killing and maiming due to air strikes” and delisted the SLC from the list of parties responsible for grave violations against children in armed conflict. (See the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen.)

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances carried out by or on behalf of government authorities.

In early March authorities reportedly detained four senior princes: Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, King Salman’s full brother; his son, Prince Nayef bin Ahmed, a former head of army intelligence; Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, former crown prince and interior minister; and his younger brother, Prince Nawaf bin Nayef. The detentions were not announced by the government, but Reuters reported that the princes were accused of “conducting contacts with foreign powers to carry out a coup d’etat.” The Wall Street Journal reported that at the same time, security forces detained dozens of Interior Ministry officials, senior army officers, and others suspected of supporting the alleged coup attempt. In August lawyers representing Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said they were increasingly concerned about his well-being, alleging that his whereabouts remained unknown five months after he was detained and stating that he had not been allowed visits by his personal doctor. Prince Nawaf’s lawyers stated he was released in August, but there were no updates on the other three as of year’s end.

On March 16, authorities arrested Omar al-Jabri, 21, and Sarah al-Jabri, 20, in Riyadh and held them in incommunicado detention, according to HRW. They are the children of former intelligence official Saad al-Jabri, who has lived in exile in Canada since 2017. Prisoners of Conscience reported that the first trial hearing against Omar and Sarah occurred on September 10. They remained in detention at year’s end.

On March 27, authorities reportedly detained Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al Saud, son of the late king Abdullah and former head of the Saudi Red Crescent Society, and have since held him incommunicado and refused to reveal his whereabouts, according to HRW. The authorities previously detained Prince Faisal during a November 2017 anticorruption campaign.

On March 5, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions contacted the Foreign Ministry to urge the release of Princess Basmah bint Saud, 56, a daughter of the late king Saud. On April 15, a verified Twitter account owned by Princess Basmah issued a series of tweets stating that she and her daughter Suhoud al-Sharif were being held without charge in al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh and that her health was deteriorating, according to HRW. The tweets apparently disappeared after several hours. On May 5, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that family members had received no further information about her well-being or status. On April 6, the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council reported it sent a communication to the government alleging that authorities prevented Princess Basmah and her daughter from traveling to seek medical attention for her daughter’s health condition, that they were subsequently detained and held incommunicado for a period of approximately one month, and that they were being held at the al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh without charge, according to the ESOHR.

On May 17, State Security Presidency (SSP) officers arrested internet activist Amani al-Zain in Jeddah; her whereabouts remained unknown, according to the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and Prisoners of Conscience. They added that al-Zain was arrested after she apparently referred to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as “Abu Munshar,” meaning “father of the saw,” while on a live video chat with Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim in October 2019.

On June 28, the Geneva-based Organization for Rights and Liberties (SAM) called on the government to disclose the fate of five Yemenis it said were being held in its prisons. On June 10, Prisoners of Conscience confirmed Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Zubayri, a member of the Yemeni Congregation for Reform or al-Islah Party had been in Saudi detention since May 20 for participating in an online meeting hosted by Yemeni students in Turkey.

In February disappeared humanitarian aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan was permitted to call his family briefly, at which time he stated he was being held in al-Ha’ir Prison. His family has not heard from him since.

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

The law prohibits torture and makes officers, who are responsible for criminal investigations, liable for any abuse of authority. Sharia, as interpreted in the country, prohibits judges from accepting confessions obtained under duress. Statutory law provides that public investigators shall not subject accused persons to coercive measures to influence their testimony.

Human rights organizations, the United Nations, and independent third parties noted numerous reports of torture and mistreatment of detainees by law enforcement officers. ALQST alleged that authorities continued to use torture in prisons and interrogation rooms. Amnesty International assessed in a February statement that one of the most striking failings of the SCC in trials was “its unquestioning reliance on torture-tainted ‘confessions.’” It alleged at least 20 Shia men tried by the SCC have been sentenced to death on the basis of confessions obtained by torture since 2016, with 17 of them already executed. Former detainees in facilities run by the Mabahith alleged that abuse included beatings, sleep deprivation, and long periods of solitary confinement for nonviolent detainees.

On May 11, seven UN special rapporteurs sent a letter to the government regarding Shia cleric Sheikh Mohammed Hassan al-Habib and Shia teenager Murtaja Qureiris (see section 1.a.), expressing concern at the use of torture and mistreatment to extract confessions and possible incriminating evidence.

On July 11, the ESOHR stated the government continued to hold 49 women activists in detention, including several human rights advocates, and claimed they were subjected to torture and mistreatment.

On August 13, SAM alleged in Middle East Monitor that Jizan Prison authorities subjected hundreds of Yemeni detainees to torture and mistreatment. It said former Yemeni detainees claimed that prison officials subjected them to severe torture including electrocutions, crucifixions, being held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods, denial of health care, and being denied outside contacts, including with lawyers and family. According to the group, at least one detainee died.

Officials from the Ministry of Interior, the PPO, and the HRC, which is responsible for coordinating with other government entities to investigate and respond to alleged human rights violations (see section 5), claimed that rules prohibiting torture prevented such practices from occurring in the penal system. The Ministry of Interior stated it installed surveillance cameras to record interrogations of suspects in some criminal investigation offices, police stations, and prisons where such interrogations allegedly occurred.

Courts continued to sentence individuals to corporal punishment, but in April the Supreme Court instructed all courts to end flogging as a discretionary (ta’zir) criminal sentence and replace it with prison sentences, fines, or a mixture of both. Flogging still could be included in sentences for three hudud crimes: drunkenness, sexual conduct between unmarried persons, and false accusations of adultery. The Supreme Court stated the reform was intended to “bring the Kingdom in line with international human rights norms against corporal punishment.”

Impunity was a problem in the security forces. The ongoing crackdown on corruption, including the investigation of security services personnel, and the announced reform of the legal code indicate efforts to address impunity.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions varied, and some did not meet international standards; reported problems included overcrowding and inadequate conditions.

Physical Conditions: Juveniles constituted less than 1 percent of detainees and were held in separate facilities from adults, according to available information.

Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. They separated persons suspected or convicted of terrorism offenses from the general population but held them in similar facilities. Activists alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals in the same cells as individuals with mental disabilities as a form of punishment and indicated that authorities mistreated persons with disabilities.

Authorities differentiated between violent and nonviolent prisoners, sometimes pardoning nonviolent prisoners to reduce the prison population. Shia inmates were in some cases held in separate wings of prisons and reportedly faced worse conditions than Sunnis.

Certain prisoners convicted on terrorism-related charges were required to participate in government-sponsored rehabilitation programs before consideration of their release.

In a June 7 report, the Guardian newspaper quoted rights groups as saying that al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh has long been associated with physical abuse. An ALQST representative alleged the general criminal area of al-Ha’ir was overcrowded and had poor sanitation and that denial of medical treatment and temporary transfer of political prisoners into the overcrowded general criminal prison were used as punishment.

On March 26, the HRC announced that authorities released 250 foreign detainees held on nonviolent immigration and residency offenses as part of efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

On April 24, human rights defender Abdullah al-Hamid, 69, died in detention. Prisoners of Conscience, which tracks human rights-related cases in the country, asserted his death was due to “intentional health neglect” by prison authorities. According to ALQST and HRW, al-Hamid’s health deteriorated after authorities delayed a necessary heart operation. ALQST and HRW also reported that authorities took steps to prevent him from discussing his health condition with his family. Al-Hamid, cofounder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (known as ACPRA), was serving an 11-year prison sentence following his conviction in 2013 on charges related to his peaceful political and human rights activism. On June 2, UN experts sent the government a letter expressing deep concern over al-Hamid’s death in detention.

Administration: There were multiple legal authorities for prisons and detention centers. The General Directorate of Prisons administered approximately 91 detention centers, prisons, and jails, while the Mabahith administered approximately 20 regional prisons and detention centers for security prisoners. The law of criminal procedure gives the PPO the authority to conduct official visits of prisons and detention facilities “within their jurisdictional areas to ensure that no person is unlawfully imprisoned or detained.”

No ombudsmen were available to register or investigate complaints made by prisoners, although prisoners could and did submit complaints to the HRC, which has offices in a number of prisons, and the quasi-governmental National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) for follow up. The law of criminal procedure provides that “any prisoner or detainee shall have the right to submit, at any time, a written or verbal complaint to the prison or detention center officer and request that he communicate it to a member of the [former] Bureau of Investigations and Public Prosecution [renamed the PPO].” Inmates, however, required approval from prison authorities to submit complaints to an HRC office. Under the law there is no right to submit complaints directly to judicial authorities. There was no information available on whether prisoners were able to submit complaints to prison or prosecutorial authorities without censorship or whether authorities responded or acted upon complaints.

On January 13, the PPO launched Maakom, an electronic service that allows citizens and residents to submit complaints in case of any violation of the rights of detainees. Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Muqbel, the PPO’s assistant undersecretary for prison supervision and enforcement of sentences, declared, “The PPO will follow up on the case, go to where the detainee is held, conduct the necessary investigations, order the detainee’s release if there are irregularities in his arrest, and take necessary measures against perpetrators of the illegal arrest.” There were no updates on implementation of the system by year’s end.

Record keeping on prisoners was inadequate; there were reports authorities held prisoners after they had completed their sentences.

A Ministry of Interior-run website (Nafetha) provided detainees and their relatives access to a database containing information about the legal status of the detainee, including any scheduled trial dates. Activists said the website did not provide information about all detainees.

Authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners twice a week, although certain prisons limited visitation to once or twice a month. Prisoners were typically granted at least one telephone call per week. There were reports that prison, security, or law enforcement officials denied this privilege in some instances, often during investigations. The families of detainees could access the Nafetha website for applications for prison visits, temporary leave from prison (generally approved around post-Ramadan Eid holidays), and release on bail (for pretrial detainees). Some family members of detained persons under investigation said family visits were typically not allowed, while others said allowed visits or calls were extremely brief (less than five minutes). Authorities at times reportedly denied some detainees weekly telephone calls for several months. Some family members of prisoners complained authorities canceled scheduled visits with relatives without reason. Since March human rights groups reported that in-person visitation in prisons was suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Authorities generally permitted Muslim detainees and prisoners to perform religious observances such as prayers.

Independent Monitoring: Independent institutions were not permitted to conduct regular, unannounced visits to places of detention, according to the UN Committee against Torture. During the year the government permitted some foreign diplomats restricted access to some prison facilities in nonconsular cases. In a limited number of cases, foreign diplomats were granted consular visits to individuals in detention, but the visits took place in a separate visitors’ center where conditions may differ from those in the detention facilities holding the prisoners.

The government permitted the HRC and quasi-governmental NSHR to monitor prison conditions. The organizations stated they visited prisons throughout the country and reported on prison conditions. On July 9, local media reported the HRC conducted 2,094 prison visits during the fiscal year 2019-20, including visits to public prisons, security prisons, and various detention centers, as well as “social observation centers” and girls’ welfare institutions.

Improvements: On April 7, King Salman ordered the temporary suspension of execution of final verdicts and judicial orders related to the imprisonment of debtors involved in private rights-related cases in an effort to reduce the prison population and limit the spread of COVID-19. He also ordered the immediate, temporary release of prisoners already serving time for debt-related convictions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law provides that no entity may restrict a person’s actions or imprison a person, except under the provisions of the law. The law of criminal procedure provides that authorities may not detain a person for more than 24 hours, but the Ministry of Interior and the SSP, to which the majority of forces with arrest powers reported, maintained broad authority to arrest and detain persons indefinitely without judicial oversight, notification of charges, or effective access to legal counsel or family.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

On May 11, the Council of Ministers established a new system for the PPO and amended Article 112 of the law of criminal procedure, giving the PPO “complete and independent powers” to identify major crimes that require detention, according to local media. On August 21, Public Prosecutor Saud al-Mu’jab issued a list of 25 major crimes that mandate arrest and pretrial detention, including types of border crimes, corruption, homicide, and offenses against national security, among others.

According to the law of criminal procedure, “no person shall be arrested, searched, detained, or imprisoned except in cases provided by law, and any accused person shall have the right to seek the assistance of a lawyer or a representative to defend him during the investigation and trial stages.” By law authorities may summon any person for investigation and may issue an arrest warrant based on evidence. In practice authorities frequently did not use warrants, and warrants were not required under the law in all cases.

The law requires authorities to file charges within 72 hours of arrest and hold a trial within six months, subject to exceptions specified by amendments to the law of criminal procedure and the counterterrorism law (see section 2.a.). Authorities may not legally detain a person under arrest for more than 24 hours, except pursuant to a written order from a public investigator. Authorities reportedly often failed to observe these legal protections, and there was no requirement to advise suspects of their rights.

The law specifies procedures required for extending the detention period of an accused person beyond the initial five days. Authorities may approve detentions in excess of six months in “exceptional circumstances,” effectively allowing individuals to be held in pretrial detention indefinitely in cases involving terrorism or “violations of state security.” There is a functioning bail system for less serious criminal charges. The PPO may order the detention of any person accused of a crime under the counterterrorism law for up to 30 days, renewable up to 12 months, and in state security cases up to 24 months with a judge’s approval.

By law defendants accused of any crime cited in the law are entitled to hire a lawyer to defend themselves before the court “within an adequate period of time to be decided by the investigatory body.” In cases involving terrorism or state security charges, detainees generally did not have the right to obtain a lawyer of their choice. The government provided lawyers to defendants who made a formal application to the Ministry of Justice to receive a court-appointed lawyer and proved their inability to pay for their legal representation.

There were reports authorities did not always allow legal counsel access to detainees who were under investigation in pretrial detention. Authorities indicated a suspect could be held up to 12 months in investigative detention without access to legal counsel if authorized by prosecutors. Judicial proceedings begin after authorities complete a full investigation.

The king continued the tradition of commuting some judicial punishments. Royal pardons sometimes set aside a conviction and sometimes reduced or eliminated corporal punishment. The remaining sentence could be added to a new sentence if the pardoned prisoner committed a crime subsequent to release.

Authorities commuted the sentences of some who had received prison terms. The counterterrorism law allows the PPO to stop proceedings against an individual who cooperates with investigations or helps thwart a planned terrorist attack. The law authorizes the SSP to release individuals already convicted in such cases.

Arbitrary Arrest: Rights groups received reports from families claiming authorities held their relatives arbitrarily or without notification of charges. During the year authorities detained without charge security suspects, persons who publicly criticized the government, Shia religious leaders, individuals with links to rights activists, and persons accused of violating religious standards.

On September 4, Prisoners of Conscience reported that the SCC sentenced six academics and journalists detained in 2017, including Abdullah al-Maliki, Fahd al-Sunaidi, Khalid al-Ajeemi, Ahmed al-Suwayan, Ibrahim al-Harthi, and Yousef al-Qassem, to prison sentences of three to seven years. Saudi rights activist Yahya al-Assiri stated the men were arbitrarily detained and that their convictions were based on solely on tweets.

Pretrial Detention: In August, ALQST and the Geneva-based MENA Rights Group lodged a complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva over the “arbitrary” detention of Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman and his father. In 2018 Prince Salman was detained along with 11 other princes after they staged what the PPO called a “sit-in” at a royal palace in Riyadh to demand the state continue to pay their electricity and water bills. Sources told AFP that the prince and his father have never been interrogated or charged since their detention began more than two and a half years ago.

Incommunicado detention was also a problem (see section 1.b.). Authorities reportedly did not always respect a detainees’ right to contact family members following detention, and the counterterrorism law allows the investigatory body to hold a defendant for up to 90 days in detention without access to family members or legal counsel (and the SCC may extend such restrictions beyond this period). Security and some other types of prisoners sometimes remained in prolonged solitary detention before family members or associates received information of their whereabouts, particularly for detainees in Mabahith-run facilities.

On September 6, HRW stated authorities denied some prominent detainees, including former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Muslim scholar Salman al-Odah, contact with their family members and lawyers for months. After almost three months in incommunicado detention, according to HRW, family members of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul said authorities allowed her parents to visit on August 31, following her six-day hunger strike; she started another hunger strike October 26 in protest of prison conditions (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Under the law detainees are not entitled to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court. In the case of wrongful detention, the law of criminal procedure, as well as provisions of the counterterrorism law, provide for the right to compensation if detainees are found to have been held unlawfully.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides that judges are independent and not subject to any authority other than the provisions of sharia and the laws in force. Nevertheless, the judiciary, the PPO, and the SSP were not independent entities, as they were required to coordinate their decisions with executive authorities, with the king and crown prince as arbiters. Although public allegations of interference with judicial independence were rare, the judiciary reportedly was subject to influence, particularly in the case of legal decisions rendered by specialized judicial bodies, such as the SCC, which rarely acquitted suspects. Human rights activists reported that SCC judges received implicit instructions to issue harsh sentences against human rights activists, reformers, journalists, and dissidents not engaged in violent activities. Activists also reported that judicial and prosecutorial authorities ignored due process-related complaints, including lack of access by lawyers to their clients at critical stages of the judicial process, particularly during the pretrial investigation phase.

Women’s ability to practice law was limited; there were no women on the High Court or Supreme Judicial Council and no female judges or public prosecutors. On June 17, the Shoura rejected a proposal to study appointing women as judges in personal status courts. In August 2019, however, the PPO announced the appointment of 50 women as public prosecution investigators, marking the first time that women had held this position. On June 4, the PPO appointed an additional 53 women as public prosecution investigators.

Defendants are able to appeal their sentences. The law requires a five-judge appellate court to affirm a death sentence, which a five-judge panel of the Supreme Court must unanimously affirm. Appellate courts may recommend changes to a sentence, including increasing the severity of a lesser sentence (up to the death penalty), if the trial court convicted the defendant of a crime for which capital punishment is permitted.

Defendants possess the right under the law to seek commutation of a death sentence for some crimes and may receive a royal pardon under specific circumstances (see section 1.d.). In some prescribed cases (qisas), the families of the deceased may accept compensation from the family of the person convicted in an unlawful death, sparing the convicted from execution.

On February 6, Amnesty International reported that authorities were using the SCC “to systematically silence dissent.” Amnesty accused the SCC of using overly broad counterterror and anticybercrime laws in unfair trials to hand down prison sentences of up to 30 years as well as the death penalty to human rights defenders, writers, economists, journalists, religious clerics, reformists, and political activists, particularly from the Shia minority. Amnesty asserted that “every stage of the SCC’s judicial process is tainted with human rights abuses, from the denial of access to a lawyer, to incommunicado detention, to convictions based solely on so-called ‘confessions’ extracted through torture.”

On April 17, HRW reported 68 Palestinians and Jordanians on trial before the SCC on the charge of links with an unnamed “terrorist organization” were subjected to a range of abuses, including forced disappearances, long-term solitary confinement, and torture, according to their family members, and that their trial raised serious due process concerns.

Trial Procedures

In the judicial system, there traditionally was no published case law on criminal matters, no uniform criminal code, no presumption of innocence, and no doctrine of stare decisis that binds judges to follow legal precedent. The Justice Ministry continued to expand a project started in 2007 to distribute model judicial decisions to ensure more uniformity of legal application, and as recently as August 2019, the ministry published judicial decisions on its website. The law states that defendants should be treated equally in accordance with sharia. The Council of Senior Scholars, or the ulema, an autonomous advisory body, issues religious opinions (fatwas) that guide how judges interpret sharia.

In the absence of a formalized penal code that details all criminal offenses and punishments, judges in the courts determine many of these penalties through their interpretations of sharia, which varied according to the judge and the circumstances of the case. Because judges have considerable discretion in decision making, rulings and sentences diverged widely from case to case.

Several laws, however, provide sentencing requirements for crimes including terrorism, cybercrimes, trafficking in persons, and domestic abuse. In 2016 the Ministry of Justice issued a compilation of previous decisions that judges could refer to as a point of reference in making rulings and assigning sentences.

Appeals courts cannot independently reverse lower-court judgments; they are limited to affirming judgments or returning them to a lower court for modification. Even when judges did not affirm judgments, appeals judges in some cases remanded the judgment to the judge who originally authored the opinion. This procedure sometimes made it difficult for parties to receive a ruling that differed from the original judgment in cases where judges hesitated to admit error. While judges may base their decisions on any of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, all of which are represented in the Council of Senior Scholars, the Hanbali School predominates and forms the basis for the country’s law and legal interpretations of sharia. Shia citizens use their legal traditions to adjudicate family law cases between Shia parties, although either party can decide to adjudicate a case in state courts, which apply Sunni legal traditions.

While the law states that court hearings shall be public, courts may be closed at the judge’s discretion. As a result, many trials during the year were closed. Since 2018 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs barred foreign diplomatic missions from attending court proceedings at the SCC as well as trials related to security and human rights issues. Diplomatic personnel were generally allowed to attend consular proceedings of their own citizens. Some family members of prisoners complained that neither they nor the legal representatives of the accused were permitted access to trials or notified about the status of trial proceedings. In a number of cases, family members were given only 24 hours’ notice before an SCC trial hearing.

According to the Ministry of Justice, authorities may close a trial depending on the sensitivity of the case to national security, the reputation of the defendant, or the safety of witnesses. Representatives of the HRC sometimes attended trials at the SCC.

According to the law, authorities must offer defendants a lawyer at government expense. In 2017 the Ministry of Justice stated that defendants “enjoy all judicial guarantees they are entitled to, including the right to seek the assistance of lawyers of their choosing to defend them, while the ministry pays the lawyer’s fees when the accused is not able to settle them.” Activists alleged that many political prisoners were not able or allowed to retain an attorney or consult with their attorneys during critical stages of the investigatory and trial proceedings. Detained human rights activists often did not trust the courts to appoint lawyers for them due to concerns of lawyer bias.

The law provides defendants the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney during the trial. The counterterrorism law, however, authorizes the attorney general to limit the right of defendants accused of terrorism to access legal representation while under investigation “whenever the interests of the investigation so require.” There is no right to discovery, nor can defendants view their own file or the minutes from their interrogation. Defendants have the right to call and cross-examine witnesses under the law. Activists reported, however, that SCC judges could decide to restrict this right in “the interests of the case.” The law provides that a PPO-appointed investigator question the witnesses called by the defendant during the investigation phase before the initiation of a trial. The investigator may also hear testimony of additional witnesses he deems necessary to determine the facts. Authorities may not subject a defendant to any coercive measures or compel the taking of an oath. The court must inform convicted persons of their right to appeal rulings.

The law does not provide for a right against self-incrimination.

The law does not provide free interpretation services, although services were often provided in practice. The law of criminal procedure provides that “the court should seek the assistance of interpreters,” but it does not obligate the court to do so from the moment the defendant is charged, nor does the law specify that the state will bear the costs of such services.

While sharia as interpreted by the government applies to all citizens and noncitizens, the law in practice discriminates against women, noncitizens, nonpracticing Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, and persons of other religions. In some cases the testimony of a woman equals half that of a man. Judges have discretion to discount the testimony of nonpracticing Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, or persons of other religions; sources reported judges sometimes completely disregarded or refused to hear testimony by Shia Muslims.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government maintained there were no political prisoners, including detainees who reportedly remained in prolonged detention without charge, while local activists and human rights organizations claimed there were “hundreds” or “thousands.” Credible reporting by advocacy groups and press suggested authorities detained persons for peaceful activism or political opposition, including nonviolent religious figures, women’s rights defenders, and human rights activists, and those who the government claimed posted offensive or antigovernment comments on social media sites.

In many cases it was impossible to determine the legal basis for incarceration and whether the detention complied with international norms and standards. During the year the SCC tried political and human rights activists for nonviolent actions unrelated to terrorism, violence, or espionage against the state. Authorities restricted attorneys’ access to detainees on trial at the SCC.

International NGOs, the United Nations, and others criticized the government for abusing its antiterrorism legal authorities to detain or arrest some dissidents or critics of the government or royal family on security-related grounds, who had not espoused or committed violence. At least 192 persons remained in detention for activism, criticism of government leaders or policies, impugning Islam or religious leaders, or “offensive” internet postings, including prominent activists such as Raif Badawi, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Naimah Abdullah al-Matrod, Maha al-Rafidi, Eman al-Nafjan, Waleed Abu al-Khair, and Nassima al-Sadah; clerics including former grand mosque imam Salih al-Talib; and Sahwa movement figures Safar al-Hawali, Nasser al-Omar, and others.

Between January and March, the Riyadh Criminal Court resumed trials against 11 women activists, including several arrested in 2018. Among them were Nassima al-Sadah, Samar Badawi, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Nouf Abdelaziz al-Jerawi, and Loujain al-Hathloul–all of whom remained detained and faced charges related to their human rights work and contact with international organizations, foreign media, and other activists. The women were accused of violating the cybercrimes law, which prohibits production of materials that harm public order, religious values, or public morals, and carries penalties of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to three million riyals ($800,000). On November 25, all five appeared in criminal court, where the judge referred al-Hathloul’s case to the SCC. There was no information about the outcome of the hearing for al-Sadah, Badawi, al-Zahrani and al-Jerawi.

On August 26, media reported authorities severed contact between some detainees and their families, including Loujain al-Hathloul (see section 1.d.), Princess Basmah bint Saud, and Salman al-Odah.

On December 22, the Riyadh Criminal Court dismissed al-Hathloul’s complaint that she had been tortured during the first months of her detention. On December 28, the SCC found al-Hathloul guilty of violating the antiterrorism law, specifically by “seeking to implement a foreign agenda and change the Basic Law of Governance,” through online activity. She was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison with two years and 10 months of that suspended and credit for time served since her May 2018 arrest.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

In August, Saad al-Jabri, a former high-ranking Saudi intelligence official who fled the country in 2016, filed a suit in Canada alleging that a hit squad (Tiger Squad) had been sent to track and kill him in 2018. The team was reportedly stopped by Canadian border services and refused entry, around the same time that Saudi officials killed Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. The suit also alleged al-Jabri’s family members were held hostage in Saudi Arabia and that spyware was implanted on his smartphone. According to media reports, INTERPOL lifted a Red Notice that Saudi Arabia filed against him in 2017 on the basis that it was politically motivated.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Complainants claiming human rights violations generally sought assistance from the HRC or the NSHR, which either advocated on their behalf or provided courts with opinions on their cases. The HRC generally responded to complaints and could refer cases to the PPO; domestic violence cases were the most common. Individuals or organizations may petition directly for damages or government action to end human rights violations before the Board of Grievances, except in compensation cases related to state security, where the SCC handles remediation. The counterterrorism law contains a provision allowing detainees in Mabahith-run prisons to request financial compensation from the Ministry of Interior/SSP for wrongful detention beyond their prison terms. In some cases the government did not carry out judicially ordered compensation for unlawful detentions in a timely manner.

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

The law prohibits unlawful intrusions into the privacy of persons, their homes, places of work, and vehicles. Criminal investigation officers are required to maintain records of all searches conducted; these records should contain the name of the officer conducting the search, the text of the search warrant (or an explanation of the urgency that necessitated the search without a warrant), and the names and signatures of the persons who were present at the time of search. While the law also provides for the privacy of all mail, telegrams, telephone conversations, and other means of communication, the government did not respect the privacy of correspondence or communications and used the considerable latitude provided by the law to monitor activities legally and intervene where it deemed necessary.

Authorities targeted family members of activists and critics of the government. On May 12, security officers raided the home of Saad al-Jabri’s brother, Abdulrahman, a professor at King Saud University, and detained him without explanation, according to HRW. On August 24, authorities arrested Saad al-Jabri’s son-in-law, Salem Almuzaini. His family said he was arrested without charge or justifiable cause, alleging the detention was in retaliation against and aiming to intimidate Saad al-Jabri for filing a lawsuit against Saudi government officials in a foreign court.

There were reports from human rights activists of governmental monitoring or blocking of mobile telephone or internet usage. The government strictly monitored politically related activities and took punitive actions, including arrest and detention, against persons engaged in certain political activities, such as calling for a constitutional monarchy, publicly criticizing senior members of the royal family by name, forming a political party, or organizing a demonstration (see section 2.a.). Customs officials reportedly routinely opened mail and shipments to search for contraband. In some areas, Ministry of Interior/SSP informants allegedly reported “seditious ideas,” “antigovernment activity,” or “behavior contrary to Islam” in their neighborhoods.

Encrypted communications were banned, and authorities frequently attempted to identify and detain anonymous or pseudonymous users and writers who made critical or controversial remarks. Government authorities regularly surveilled websites, blogs, chat rooms, social media sites, emails, and text messages. Media outlets reported that authorities gained access to dissidents’ Twitter and social media accounts and in some cases questioned, detained, or prosecuted individuals for comments made online. The counterterrorism law allows the Ministry of Interior/SSP to access a terrorism suspect’s private communications and banking information in a manner inconsistent with the legal protections provided by the law of criminal procedure.

The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) is charged with monitoring and regulating public interaction between members of the opposite sex, although in practice CPVPV authorities were greatly curtailed compared with past years.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

For information on Saudi Arabia’s conflict in Yemen previously found in this section, please see the executive summary and section 1.a. of this report and the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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

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

The government detained a number of individuals for crimes related to their exercise of free speech during the year. On February 27, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged the government to uphold the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly and review convictions of activists, religious leaders, and journalists.

ALQST reported that authorities arrested Hezam al-Ahmari on February 10 for filming and publishing a video complaining about the opening of a nightclub in his neighborhood in Jeddah. It said he was charged with “inciting public opinion,” under Article 6 of the cybercrimes law.

In March the PPO stated it ordered the arrest of “three people who exploited social media to interpret God’s will amid the coronavirus.” The arrestees, including Quran reciter Khaled al-Shahri, preacher Ibrahim al-Duwaish, and health worker Khaled Abdullah, tweeted or appeared in a video claiming the spread of novel coronavirus was a “punishment from Allah (God),” according to Prisoners of Conscience.

On April 8, the PPO announced that the dissemination of misinformation related to COVID-19 would be punishable under the cybercrimes law, adding that the PPO’s Social Media Monitoring Unit would track offensive and illegal social media content and report violations to authorities. Several persons were reportedly arrested and charged for “rumor mongering” and “disrupting order” for comments related to COVID-19. The PPO stated it ordered “the arrest of a person who appeared in a video mocking the COVID-19 crisis and giving misleading information about the current situation.”

On April 1, Prisoners of Conscience reported that authorities arrested a number of social media personalities, including Rakan al-Assiri, Mohammed al-Fawzan, Majed al-Ghamdi, and Mohammed al-Jedaie, over old tweets and videos expressing personal views, while Ministry of Interior spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Talal al-Shalhoub stated they were arrested for breaking COVID-19 curfew restrictions.

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

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

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

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

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists, writers, and bloggers to arrest, imprisonment, and harassment during the year (see sections 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions and 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). NGOs, academics, and the press claimed the government targeted dissidents using automated social media accounts to ensure that progovernment messages dominated social media trend lists and effectively silenced dissenting voices. Automated account activity was reportedly accompanied by online harassment by progovernment accounts in some instances.

On July 19, writer and journalist Saleh al-Shehi died in the hospital two months after his early release from prison due to poor health. Al-Shehi had served more than two years of a five-year sentence for insulting, defaming, and offending the royal court and its staff after accusing the royal court of corruption. Local media reported COVID-19 as the cause of death. According to the GCHR, his health deteriorated while in prison. Reporters without Borders, the GCHR, and ALQST called for an independent international inquiry into al-Shehi’s death.

On July 21, ALQST reported that in late April authorities arrested journalist Aql al-Bahili, writer Abdulaziz al-Dukhail, and activist Sultan al-Ajmi, among other journalists and intellectuals, for tweeting condolences following the death of reformer and rights activist Abdullah al-Hamid (see section 1.a.).

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

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

The government censored published online and print material it considered blasphemous, extremist, racist, offensive, or inciting chaos, violence, sectarianism, or harm to the public order, as well as criticism of the royal family or its allies among the Gulf Arab states.

On April 6, local media reported that the governor of Asir Province, Prince Turki bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, ordered the suspension of two episodes of a drama series deemed offensive to the population of Asir.

Online self-censorship was pervasive, as social media users were extremely cautious about what they post, share, or “like” due to the threat of harassment or prosecution under broadly worded antiterrorism and other laws. The government closely monitored and often targeted users who expressed support for liberal ideals, minority rights, or political reform, in addition to those who exposed human rights violations. Questioning religious doctrine was strictly taboo, particularly content related to the Prophet Muhammed. Twitter users were fearful of expressing support for outspoken activists who were detained or received prison sentences. Such pressures reportedly led many users to join social media networks that offer more privacy, such as Snapchat and Path.

In some cases, however, individuals criticized specific government bodies or actions publicly without repercussions.

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

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

Internet Freedom

The Ministry of Media or its agencies must authorize all websites registered and hosted in the country. The General Commission for Audiovisual Media has responsibility for regulating all audio and video content in the country, including satellite channels, film, music, internet, and mobile applications, independent from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Internet access was widely available.

The press and publications law implicitly covers electronic media, since it extends to any means of expression of a viewpoint meant for circulation, ranging from words to cartoons, photographs, and sounds. Laws, including the cybercrimes law, criminalize a number of internet-related activities, including defamation, hacking, unauthorized access to government websites, and stealing information related to national security as well as the creation or dissemination of a website for a terrorist organization. Security authorities actively monitored internet activity, both to enforce laws, regulations, and societal norms and to monitor recruitment efforts by extremist organizations such as ISIS.

The government reportedly collected information concerning the identity of persons peacefully expressing political, religious, or ideological opinions or beliefs online. According to Freedom House, authorities regularly monitored nonviolent political, social, and religious activists and journalists in the name of national security and maintaining social order.

Multiple rights groups reported that at least six individuals who had anonymous Twitter accounts critical of the government were arrested subsequent to a breach of Twitter user data.

Access to the internet is legally available only through government-authorized internet service providers (ISPs). The government required ISPs to monitor customers and required internet cafes to install hidden cameras and provide identity records of customers. Although authorities blocked websites offering proxies, persistent internet users accessed the unfiltered internet via other means.

On a number of occasions, government officials and senior clerics publicly warned against inaccurate reports on the internet and reminded the public that criticism of the government and its officials should be done through private channels, including official complaint processes.

The government charged those using the internet to express dissent against officials or religious authorities with terrorism, blasphemy, and apostasy.

The press and publications law criminalizes the publication or downloading of offensive sites, and authorities routinely blocked sites containing material perceived as harmful, illegal, offensive, or anti-Islamic. The governmental Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) filtered and blocked access to websites it deemed offensive, including sexual content, as well as pages calling for domestic political, social, or economic reforms or supporting human rights, including websites of expatriate Saudi dissidents.

The CITC coordinated decisions with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency on blocking phishing sites seeking to obtain confidential personal or financial information. Authorities submitted all other requests to block sites to an interagency committee, chaired by the Ministry of Interior, for decision. Under the Telecommunication Act, failure by ISPs to block banned sites can result in a substantial fine.

Several voice-over-internet-protocol call services, including WhatsApp, remained blocked and only accessible using a virtual private network.

Authorities blocked websites of some news and advocacy groups deemed critical of the government, including London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, and the global advocacy organization Avaaz. Authorities also blocked the website of the Islamic Umma Party, which operated underground because political parties are illegal (see section 3).

The government blocked Qatari websites, such as al-Jazeera, since 2017, due to a dispute between Qatar and a group of countries that included Saudi Arabia. In April the government blocked access to the websites of the Turkish official news agency, Anadolu Agency and the Turkish public broadcaster TRT’s Arabic edition. Writing for blocked websites, providing them with materials to publish, or promoting alternative addresses to access them is a crime under the cybercrimes law.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted some public artistic expression but opened up cultural expression in a number of areas. Academics reportedly practiced self-censorship, and authorities prohibited professors and administrators at public universities from hosting meetings at their universities with foreign academics or diplomats without prior government permission (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

On April 14, local media reported that Umm al-Qura University suspended a staff member and a student following their circulation of “deviant ideologies” on Twitter.

In 2016 King Salman issued royal decrees creating the General Entertainment Authority and the General Authority for Culture with a mandate to expand the country’s entertainment and cultural offerings in line with its social and economic reform plan, known as Vision 2030. During the year the General Entertainment Authority sponsored events dedicated to film, comics, music, and dance; however, programs were scaled down due to COVID-19 restrictions.

On February 20, Mecca regional authorities tweeted that the governor had ordered the arrest of female rapper Ayasel al-Bishi, calling the music video of her song “Bint Mecca” (Girl from Mecca) offensive to the customs and traditions of the holy city. Al-Bishi’s Twitter account was suspended, and the video was removed from YouTube. Local media reported that the PPO questioned al-Bishi over filming without a permit and then released her.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law requires a government permit for an organized public assembly of any type. The government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies, and security forces reportedly arrested demonstrators and detained them for brief periods. Security forces at times allowed a small number of unauthorized demonstrations throughout the country.

In May security authorities arrested Egyptian national Hossam Magdy after he allegedly threatened to protest in front of his country’s embassy to demand a seat on a repatriation flight.

Freedom of Association

The law provided for limited freedom of association, but the government strictly restricted this right. The law provides a comprehensive legal framework to govern the establishment, operation, and supervision of associations and foundations. The government prohibited the establishment of political parties. All associations must be licensed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development and comply with its regulations. Some groups that advocated changing elements of the social or political order reported their licensing requests went unanswered for years, despite repeated inquiries. The ministry reportedly used arbitrary means, such as requiring unreasonable types and quantities of information, to delay and effectively deny licenses to associations. The government also harassed and detained Saudi-based family members and associates of Saudi citizens living abroad who were outspoken critics of the government (see sections 1.b., Disappearances and 1.f., Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence, for more details).

In September, Abdullah al-Maliki, an Islamic intellectual who defended the banned association ACPRA, was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Government-chartered associations limited membership only to citizens.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the free movement of male citizens within the country. The guardianship system no longer requires a woman to have the permission of her male guardian (normally a father, husband, son, brother, grandfather, uncle, or other male relative) to move freely within the country (see section 6, Women). On July 14, a court ruled in favor of a woman, whose trial lasted three years, after being charged with absenteeism, or taghayyub, under a law that allows guardians to report the unapproved absence of anyone under their guardianship. The court ruled that living independently did not constitute a criminal act subject to “discretionary” punishment (see section 6, Women).

Authorities respected the right of citizens to change residence or workplace, provided they held a national identification card.

Foreign Travel: There are restrictions on foreign travel. Many foreign workers require an exit visa and a valid passport to depart the country. Saudi citizens of both genders younger than 21, other dependents, or foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a guardian’s consent to travel abroad. Royal Decree 134/M of August 2019 stipulates that citizens of either gender older than 21 can obtain and renew a passport and travel abroad without guardian permission.

The government reportedly confiscated passports for political reasons and revoked the rights of some citizens to travel, often without providing them notification or opportunity to contest the restriction. Most travel bans reportedly involved individuals in court cases relating to corruption, state security concerns, or labor, financial, and real estate disputes.

The Washington Post alleged the government increased the use of travel bans as part of a broader effort to suppress dissent within the royal family and business elite. Media estimated that thousands of Saudis were placed under travel restrictions, including relatives of citizens detained in the government’s anticorruption campaign as well as relatives of detained clerics and human rights activists. The government seized the U.S. passports of the wife and children of dual U.S.-Saudi citizen Walid Fitaihi, barring them from leaving the kingdom and freezing their assets following Fitaihi’s detention in 2017. While the international travel ban for family members had been lifted at times during Fitaihi’s detention, it was reinstated following Fitaihi’s release on bond and subsequent charging. Fitaihi was sentenced December 8 to six years in prison; as of year’s end he was out of prison pending appeal.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

On April 4 and July 5, the government announced free three-month extensions of residency permits of all expatriates inside the country as well as the visas of visitors whose visa validity expired during the period of COVID-19-related suspension of flights. On April 6, the General Directorate of Passports announced electronic renewal of visitor identification cards for Yemeni citizens until May 14 in accordance with royal directives.

In an August report, HRW alleged that “thousands of Ethiopian migrants are now languishing in squalid detention centers in Saudi Arabia or remain stranded at the border” after being pushed out of Yemen by Houthi forces and COVID-19 travel restrictions with their home countries. Multiple media sources claimed the detainees faced overcrowding, abuse, and poor sanitation at immigration detention facilities in Jizan Province, without the ability to legally challenge their detention, according to HRW. On September 15, the International Organization for Migration expressed alarm at reports of the deteriorating situation and called for urgent action.

Media published purported mobile cell phone images received from migrants held inside immigration detention centers in Jizan, showing dozens of emaciated men lying in rows inside small rooms with barred windows. There were claims that one migrant died of heatstroke, a 16-year-old killed himself, and others lacked adequate food and water.

On November 20, HRW reported that two Uyghur men–Hemdullah Abduweli (or Aimidoula Waili on his Chinese passport) and Nurmemet Rozi (or Nuermaimaiti on his Chinese passport)–were arrested and potentially faced deportation to China. Both were residents in Turkey. Abduweli had been in hiding since February. In a November interview with Middle East Eye, Abduweli claimed that the Chinese government wanted him deported back to China.

The government did not recognize the right of Saudi citizens to petition for access to asylum or refugee status in foreign countries. In several cases the government prosecuted and penalized Saudi citizens who sought asylum in foreign countries, according to multiple sources.

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

Access to Basic Services: The government provides preferential access to education, health care, public housing, and other social services to citizens and certain legal residents. The UNHCR office in Riyadh provided a subsistence allowance covering basic services to a limited number of vulnerable families, based on a needs assessment. Authorities worked with UNHCR to provide medical treatment, also following a needs assessment. On March 30, King Salman ordered free coronavirus treatment for all citizens and residents, regardless of residency status, in all government and private health facilities. In November the government announced all citizens and residents would be provided the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost.

g. Stateless Persons

The country had a number of habitual residents who were legally stateless, but data on the stateless population were incomplete and scarce.

Citizenship is legally derived only from the father. Children born to an unmarried citizen mother who is not legally affiliated with the citizen father may be considered stateless, even if the father recognized the child as his. If the government did not authorize the marriage of a citizen father and a noncitizen mother prior to birth of the children, they may also be considered stateless. The nationality laws do not allow Saudi women married to foreign citizens to pass their nationality to their children, except in certain circumstances, such as fathers who are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish filiation. Sons of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers may apply for citizenship once they turn 18 (if not already granted citizenship at birth under certain circumstances); daughters in such cases can obtain citizenship only through marriage to a Saudi man. A child may lose legal identification and accompanying rights if authorities withdraw identification documents from a parent (possible when a naturalized parent denaturalizes voluntarily or loses citizenship through other acts). Since there is no codified personal status law, judges make decisions regarding family matters based on their own interpretations of Islamic law.

Foreign male spouses of female citizens can obtain permanent residency in the country without needing a sponsor, and they can receive free government education and medical benefits, although in general they cannot apply for citizenship on the basis of their marriage and residence. These spouses are also included in the quota of Saudis employed in private companies under the labor quota system, which improves their employment prospects. Female citizens must be between the ages of 30 and 50 to marry a non-Saudi man. Non-Saudi wives of Saudi men receive more rights if they have children resulting from their marriage with a Saudi man. Male citizens must be between the ages of 40 and 65 to marry a non-Saudi woman. The extent to which those strictures were enforced was unclear; there was anecdotal evidence they were not uniformly enforced. Children of Saudi women married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother.

In past years, UNHCR unofficially estimated there were 70,000 stateless persons in the country, almost all of whom were native-born residents known locally as Bidoon (an Arabic word that means “without” [citizenship]). Updated information on stateless persons was not available. Bidoon are persons whose ancestors failed to obtain nationality, such as descendants of nomadic tribes not counted among the native tribes during the reign of the country’s founder, King Abdulaziz; descendants of foreign-born fathers who arrived before there were laws regulating citizenship; and rural migrants whose parents failed to register their births. As noncitizens, Bidoon are unable to obtain passports. The government sometimes denied them employment and educational opportunities, and their marginalized status made them among the poorest residents of the country. In recent years the Ministry of Education encouraged them to attend school. The government issues Bidoon five-year residency permits to facilitate their social integration in government-provided health care and other services, putting them on similar footing with sponsored foreign workers. The General Directorate of Passports issued special identification cards to Bidoon similar to residency permits issued to foreigners in the country, but with features entitling their holders to additional government services similar to those available to citizens.

Baloch, West African, and Rohingya Muslims from Burma resident in Saudi Arabia were stateless. Some Rohingya had expired passports that their home government refused to renew; others had entered the country with fraudulent travel documents. Many of them had been held in detention for years following their entry into the country under fake passports. UNHCR estimated there were 280,000 Rohingya in the country. Some of these individuals benefited from a prior program to correct their residency status; in 2014 the government issued nearly 200,000 four-year residency permits to Rohingya who entered the country prior to 2008. Rohingya who arrived in the country after 2008 were not eligible for residency permits, although NGOs reported that Rohingya, including those without legal residency, were generally not subject to deportation prior to 2018. In January the government granted more than 190,000 free, four-year residency permits to Rohingya who were sponsored by companies, institutions, and members of their community.

There were reports of growing anti-Rohingya sentiment related to the perception that the Burmese community in Mecca was spreading COVID-19. On May 4, the government began demolitions of 114 buildings in al-Nakasah, in the municipality of Mecca–an impoverished area inhabited primarily by Rohingya residents. The decision garnered praise on social media, with some social media users referring to Rohingya as “garbage” and accusing them of spreading COVID-19.

There also were between 300,000 and 400,000 Palestinian residents not registered as refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

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

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 elections were held for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats on 284 municipal councils; the government appointed the remaining third. Council members serve until an intervening election–nominally for four-year terms–but there was no active discussion of holding municipal elections during the year. Women were allowed to vote and run as candidates for the first time in 2015. The voting age was also lowered universally to 18. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs actively encouraged women’s participation in the municipal elections. Election regulations prohibited candidates from contesting under party affiliation. Twenty-one women won seats and 17 were appointed to seats, totaling approximately 1 percent of all available seats.

The NSHR observed the elections, and select international journalists were also permitted to observe. Independent polling station observers identified no irregularities with the election. Prior to the election, several candidates reported they were disqualified for “violating the rules and regulations” without further explanation. They had the right to appeal, and some were reinstated in time for the elections. Uniformed members of the security forces, including the military and police, were ineligible to vote.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no political parties or similar associations. The law does not protect the right of individuals to organize politically and specifically bans a number of organizations with political wings, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as regional and local terrorist groups. The government continued to regard human rights organizations, such as ACPRA, as illegal political movements and treated them accordingly.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The government changed laws and regulations to open new social and economic opportunities for women, but societal and institutional gender discrimination continued to exclude women from some aspects of public life. Political participation remained restricted, and authorities arrested and abused women’s rights activists perceived as critical or independent of the government. Nevertheless, women served in senior advisory positions within government ministries.

In October a royal decree appointed academic Hanan al-Ahmadi to serve as deputy speaker of the Shoura Council, making her the third-ranking official in the Shoura Council and the first woman in that leadership role. Thirty women were members of the Shoura, or Consultative Council, the 150-person royally appointed body that advises the king and may propose but not pass laws.

On January 28, Shorooq bint Mohammed al-Jadaan was appointed as the first woman to assume a leadership position at the country’s Alimony Fund. On February 24, the Saudi Sports for All Federation announced the creation of a female soccer league. On June 7, HRC president Awad Alawad appointed Norah bint Mohammed al-Haqbani as the first spokeswoman for the HRC. On July 3, King Salman issued a royal decree appointing 13 women as members of the HRC’s council, giving them half of the 26 seats.

On August 10, the governor of Tabuk Region, Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, appointed Khulood Mohammed al-Khamis as the secretary general of Tabuk’s regional council, making her the first woman to hold the role in the kingdom. On August 15, the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques appointed 10 female officials to leadership positions for the first time, naming Munira bint Awad al-Jamihi to head the General Directorate for Women’s Affairs.

No laws prevent male citizens from minority groups from participating in political life on the same basis as other male citizens. Societal discrimination, however, marginalized the Shia Saudi population, and tribal factors and longstanding traditions continued to dictate many individual appointments to positions. Unofficially, government authorities will not appoint a Bedouin tribesman to a high-ranking ministerial-level position, and Bedouins can reach only the rank of major general in the armed forces. All Council of Ministers members from tribal communities were members of urbanized “Hamael” tribes, rather than Bedouin tribes. While the religious affiliation of Shoura Council members was not known publicly, the council included an estimated seven or eight Shia members. The Council of Ministers contained one religious minority member, Mohammad bin Faisal Abu Saq, a Shia Ismaili, who had held the position of minister of state for Shoura affairs since 2014. Multiple municipal councils in the Eastern Province, where most Shia Saudis resided, had large proportions of Shia Saudis as members to reflect the local population, including a majority in Qatif and 50 percent in al-Ahsa. Eastern Province Shia judges dealing with intra-Shia personal status and family laws operated specialized courts.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. Some officials engaged in corrupt practices, and perceptions of corruption persisted in some sectors. Government employees who accepted bribes faced 10 years in prison or substantial fines.

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

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

In December 2019 King Salman issued three royal decrees consolidating anticorruption responsibilities under a single entity, the new Control and Anticorruption Commission. The decrees consolidate the Control and Investigation Board, Mabahith’s Administrative Investigations Directorate (within the General Investigation Directorate) and Nazaha into the new commission, led by Mazen bin Ibrahim al-Khamous. The consolidated agency is intended to have criminal investigation and prosecutorial authorities that its predecessors lacked. As with Nazaha, the new Control and Anticorruption Commission reports directly to the king. Local press reported in November that the new Control and Anticorruption Commission had launched more than 150 criminal investigations. On July 27, a royal decree approved a Council of Ministers decision that brought the General Auditing Bureau, the country’s oldest audit institution, under the authority of the king.

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

Corruption: Nazaha continued operations and referred cases of possible public corruption to the PPO. On February 12, Nazaha announced it would refer to court the cases of 386 persons accused of financial and administrative corruption. On March 15, Nazaha announced it had criminally investigated 674 state employees and ordered the detention of 298, including eight military officers and two judges, for “financial and administrative corruption, consisting of bribery crimes, embezzlement and waste of public money, misuse of employment powers, and administrative misuse” involving a total of 379 million riyals ($101 million). On May 4, Nazaha stated a court sentenced 14 individuals, including several court employees, to 22 years and 10 months in prison and substantial fines for abuse of power and bribery.

On July 6, Nazaha announced it initiated 105 cases in crimes such as bribery and abuse of power. On August 11, Nazaha stated it had initiated 218 corruption cases involving a current Shoura member, a judge, and a number of security officers, among others, for fraud, bribery, and financial and professional corruption. On August 21, a royal decree fired a number of officials on suspicion of corruption. On August 31, King Salman dismissed high-ranking officials, including the commander of the Joint Forces, Prince Fahd Bin Turki Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and deputy emir of al-Jouf region, Prince Abdulaziz Bin Fahd Bin Turki Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, over corruption charges.

In February 2019, Public Prosecutor Saud al-Mu’jab announced the launch of the Financial Reports Office, part of the General Auditing Bureau. Al-Mu’jab noted the office would monitor state spending and help sustain the fight against corruption after the end of the anticorruption campaign in January 2019.

Human rights organizations criticized the government for using anticorruption campaigns as a pretext to target perceived political opponents and for arbitrarily detaining and abusing individuals targeted in the crackdown (see sections 1.c. and 1.d., Pretrial Detention). On March 17, HRW voiced concern over the arrest of 298 government employees on suspicion of corruption, warning of possible “unfair legal proceedings” in the judicial system.

Financial Disclosure: The government had a uniform schedule of financial disclosure requirements for public officials. These disclosures were not made public.

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

The law provides that “the State shall protect human rights in accordance with Islamic sharia.” The government restricted the activities of domestic and international human rights organizations. The government did not allow international human rights NGOs to be based in the country and restricted their access to the country for visits. International human rights and humanitarian NGOs reported the government was at times unresponsive to requests for information and did not establish a clear mechanism for communication with NGOs on both domestic human rights issues and issues relating to the conflict in Yemen. There were no transparent standards governing visits by international NGO representatives.

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

The government blocked websites of unlicensed local human rights groups and charged their founders with founding and operating unlicensed organizations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The HRC is part of the government and requires the permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before meeting with diplomats, academics, or researchers with international human rights organizations. The HRC president has ministerial status and reports to the king. The HRC worked directly with the Royal Court and the Council of Ministers, with a committee composed of representatives of the Shoura Council and the Ministries of Labor and Social Development and Interior, and with the Shoura Council committees for the judiciary, Islamic affairs, and human rights.

During the year the HRC and NSHR were more outspoken in areas deemed less politically sensitive, including child abuse, child marriage, and trafficking in persons. While they avoided topics such as protests or cases of political activists that would require directly confronting government authorities, they did inquire into complaints of mistreatment by some high-profile political prisoners, including Loujain al-Hathloul and Raif Badawi. The HRC board’s 18 full-time members included nine women, making up half of the board members for the first time, and at least three Shia members; they received and responded to complaints submitted by their constituencies, including problems related to persons with disabilities, religious freedom, and women’s rights. The Shoura Council’s Human Rights Committee also actively followed cases and included women and Shia among its members; a woman served as chairperson of the committee.

The HRC and NSHR maintained records of complaints and outcomes, but privacy laws protect information about individual cases, and information was not publicly available. On August 12, the HRC said it monitored 243 human rights-related cases in 2019. On September 8, local media reported the HRC received 4,211 complaints in 2019. The NSHR stated it received 3,739 complaints in 2019. Topics of complaints included labor, abuse, citizenship, social welfare, health, and education.

The Board of Grievances, a high-level administrative judicial body that hears cases against government entities and reports directly to the king, is the primary mechanism to seek redress for claims of abuse. During the year the Board of Grievances held hearings and adjudicated claims of wrongdoing, but there were no reported prosecutions of security force members for human rights violations. Military and security courts investigated an unknown number of abuses of authority and security force killings. Citizens may report abuses by security forces at any police station or to the HRC or NSHR. The HRC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, provided materials and training to police, other security forces, the Ministry of Defense, and the CPVPV on protecting human rights.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense under sharia law with a wide range of penalties, from flogging to execution. The law does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. The government enforced the law based on its interpretation of sharia, and, in some cases, courts punished victims as well as perpetrators for illegal “mixing of genders,” even when there was no conviction for rape. Victims also had to prove that the rape was committed, and a woman’s testimony in court was not always accepted.

Due to these legal and social obstacles, authorities brought few cases to trial. Statistics on incidents of, and prosecutions, convictions, or punishments for rape were not available. Most rape cases were likely unreported because victims faced societal and familial reprisal, including diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanctions up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery or sexual relations outside of marriage, which are punishable under sharia.

The law against domestic violence defines domestic abuse broadly and criminalizes domestic abuse with penalties of one month to one year of imprisonment or a fine, unless a court provides a harsher sentence.

Researchers stated it was difficult to gauge the magnitude of domestic abuse, which they believed to be widespread. Recent studies varied widely, finding the rate of domestic abuse to be anywhere between 15 to 60 percent. The National Family Safety Program, a quasi-governmental organization under the Ministry of National Guard, is charged with spreading awareness of and combatting domestic violence, including child abuse, and continued to report abuse cases.

Officials stated the government did not clearly define domestic violence and procedures concerning cases, including thresholds for investigation or prosecution, and thus enforcement varied from one government body to another. Some women’s rights advocates were critical of investigations of domestic violence, claiming investigators were hesitant to enter a home without permission from the male head of household, who may also be the perpetrator of violence. Activists reported the situation had improved in recent years, with greater awareness of resources for domestic violence victims, such as the domestic violence hotline managed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development. They also noted, in the previous two years, increased willingness from authorities to investigate and prosecute domestic violence perpetrators, but they expressed concern that some police departments continued to neglect domestic violence cases.

On May 4, a Riyadh police spokesperson stated security authorities arrested and referred to the PPO a man for allegedly abusing his two sisters, adding that all legal measures were taken against him.

On June 19, Public Prosecutor Saud al-Mu’jab ordered the arrest of a man for physically abusing his wife and locking her up along with their three children in al-Baha Province.

The government made efforts to combat domestic violence. On March 14, the HRC branch in the Northern Borders Province held a workshop on domestic violence that included participants from government ministries as well as from civil society organizations. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development administered government-supported family-protection shelters. Women reported that remaining in the shelters was not always voluntary.

Women reported that domestic abuse in the form of incest was common but seldom reported to authorities due to fears over societal repercussions, according to local sources.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The official government interpretation of sharia prohibits the practice; however, some studies indicated up to 18 percent of women reported having undergone some type of FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The extent of sexual harassment was difficult to measure, with little media reporting and no official government data. No statistics were available on the incidence of sexual harassment due to past reluctance to report violations.

The 2018 sexual harassment law, passed by the Council of Ministers, carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a substantial fine. On August 30, the HRC explained that a legal punishment against sexual harassment is irreversible, even if the victim renounced his or her own rights or did not file a legal complaint.

In May 2019 the PPO issued a statement on its Twitter page explaining the legal definition of harassment, noting that the law provides for penalties of up to two years in prison and substantial fines. Local media reported a number of incidents of harassment during the year. On February 29, the PPO ordered the arrest of a number of individuals who appeared in a video harassing girls outside a mall in Jeddah and filed a criminal lawsuit against the individuals.

Reproductive Rights: Married couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health, and to have access to the information and means to do so is generally free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Premarital sex is illegal under Sharia law, however, and hospitals and health centers may report extramarital pregnancies to police. Sterilization for health reasons was allowed and required spousal consent and a hospital committee’s approval. Sterilization is not a common procedure in the country, and young, healthy women reportedly had a harder time receiving approval for the procedure than older women with health problems.

Although no legal barriers prevent access to contraception, lack of awareness, cultural and religious beliefs, and social pressure for large families likely affected many women, especially those in rural areas.

Almost all women had access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth; however, some women in rural areas had to travel to the closest medical facility to receive treatment, while others in rural communities received health services from Ministry of Health-sponsored mobile health clinics.

Government and quasi-government agencies provided social, medical, and psychological care to survivors of sexual violence.

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

Discrimination: Women continued to face discrimination under law and custom. Regulations issued in 2019 and during the year, however, granted women many of the same rights enjoyed by men pertaining to travel abroad, civil status, and employment.

In August 2019 most restrictions under the guardianship system, which had required women to have permission from close male relatives to conduct certain actions, were eliminated. There were reports, however, that government and nongovernment entities, primarily in rural areas, continued to require women to obtain guardian permission prior to providing services.

Amendments to the Civil Status Regulation, which entered into effect in September 2019, grant women older than 18 the right to perform several actions pertaining to civil status that were previously limited to men. These include registering the birth of a child; registering the death of a spouse or close relative; registering a marriage or divorce (whether initiated by the husband or wife); and being designated “head of household,” thereby allowing women to serve as the guardian of their minor children. Women can also obtain from the Civil Status Administration a “family registry,” which is official documentation of a family’s vital records that verifies the relationship between parents and children. This reform allows mothers to perform administrative transactions for their children, such as registering them for school or obtaining services at a hospital.

On July 14, a court ruled in favor of Maryam al-Otaibi after her family filed a complaint that she was living and traveling in Riyadh. She was charged with absenteeism, or taghayyub, under a law that allows guardians to report unauthorized absence of anyone under their guardianship, which could lead to the arrest, detention, or forcible return of the individual. The court ruled that living independently did not constitute a criminal act subject to discretionary punishment, adding that al-Otaibi was “a sane adult who has the right to decide where she wants to live,” according to court documents.

Women may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their guardian. They can make their own determinations concerning hospital care. In 2018 the Ministry of Commerce and Investment announced women no longer need their male guardian’s permission to start a business. Women still require a guardian’s permission to exit prisons after completing their terms.

The law prohibits women from directly transmitting citizenship to their children, particularly if the children’s father is a noncitizen (see section 2.d. and section 6, Children). The country’s interpretation of sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, but Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women. Women require government permission to marry noncitizens; men must obtain government permission if they intend to marry citizens from countries other than Gulf Cooperation Council-member states (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates). Regulations prohibit men from marrying women from Bangladesh, Burma, Chad, and Pakistan. The government additionally requires Saudi men wishing to marry a second wife who is a foreigner to submit documentation attesting to the fact that his first wife was disabled, had a chronic disease, or was sterile.

Societal pressures restricted women from using some public facilities. Some but not all businesses still required or pressured women to sit in separate, specially designated family sections in public places.

Cultural norms selectively enforced by state institutions require women to wear an abaya (a loose-fitting, full-length cloak) in public. Female foreigners were only required to dress modestly.

In July a Saudi woman was barred from entering a private park in Hail because park employees believed she was not dressed modestly. In a video posted to social media, the woman said she called police who came to the scene and told her the park owner could decide whether to allow her to enter.

Women also faced discrimination in courts, where in some cases the testimony of a woman equals half that of a man. All judges are male, and women faced restrictions on their practice of law (see section 1.e., Denial of Fair Public Trial). In divorce proceedings women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men may divorce without giving cause, citing “irreconcilable differences.” In doing so, men must pay immediately an amount of money agreed at the time of the marriage that serves as a one-time alimony payment. Men may be forced, however, to make subsequent alimony payments by court order. The Ministry of Justice reported it compelled 7,883 fathers to pay alimony in 2018. The government began implementing an identification system based on fingerprints, designed to provide women more access to courts, even if they chose to cover their faces with the niqab covering.

In February, Justice Minister Sheikh Walid al-Samaani issued a decision binding both spouses to appear in court to complete their divorce, ending the so-called secret divorce, whereby men could divorce their wives without the woman’s consent or knowledge. In February the Ministry of Justice also canceled an article in the marriage law that gave a husband the right to force his wife to return to her home against her will.

Women faced discrimination under family law. For example, a woman needs a guardian’s permission to marry or must seek a court order in the case of adhl (male guardians refusing to approve the marriage of women under their charge). In such adhl cases, the judge assumes the role of the guardian and may approve the marriage. During the year courts executed marriage contracts for women whose male guardians refused to approve their marriage, according to informed judicial sources quoted by local media. On February 7, local media reported that courts considered an average of 750 cases annually.

In February local media reported that a male guardian can be imprisoned for up to one year and fined for forcing a woman under his charge to marry against her will. In January media reported that the Personal Status Court in Dammam issued an unprecedented ruling granting a woman in her fifties the right to marry without her guardian’s approval after her son, who was her male guardian, refused to approve her marriage. On May 30, however, the Judicial Committee at the Shoura Council rejected a proposal to allow women to contract their marriage without requiring the permission of a male guardian.

Courts routinely award custody of children when they attain a specified age (seven years for boys and nine years for girls) to the divorced husband or the deceased husband’s family. In numerous cases, former husbands prevented divorced noncitizen women from visiting their children. In 2018 Justice Minister Sheikh Walid al-Samaani directed all courts to drop the requirement for divorced women to file a lawsuit to gain custody of their children. Provided there were no disputes between the parents, mothers may simply submit a request to the relevant court, without the need for legal action.

On February 16, the Ministry of Justice added an article to the regulations of legal proceedings ordering that resolution of custody, alimony and visitation issues in divorce cases be resolved prior to the finalization of a divorce and within 30 days of the initial hearing.

Sharia-based inheritance laws discriminate against women, giving daughters half the inheritance awarded to their brothers.

According to recent surveys, women constituted 52 percent of public education and higher education students. Segregated education through university level was standard. The only exceptions to segregation in higher education were medical schools at the undergraduate level and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a graduate-level research university, where women worked jointly with men, were not required to wear an abaya, and have long driven cars on campus. Other universities, such as al-Faisal University in Riyadh, offered partially segregated classes with students receiving instruction from the same teacher and able to participate together in class discussion, but with the women and men physically separated by dividers.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from the father, and both the father and mother may register a birth. There were cases of authorities denying public services to children of citizen parents, including education and health care, because the government failed to register the birth entirely or had not registered it immediately, sometimes because the father failed to report the birth or did not receive authorization to marry a foreigner. Children of women who were married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons).

Child Abuse: Abuse of children occurred. The National Family Safety Program operated a child helpline dedicated to assisting children in matters ranging from bullying to abuse, providing counseling, tracking, and referrals to social services. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development had 17 social protection units across the country providing social protection to children younger than 18 as well as other vulnerable populations suffering domestic violence and abuse.

In April the spokesperson of Asir Province police said a man was arrested for abusing his 15-year-old daughter, which reportedly led her to take her own life.

In September the ministry’s Domestic Violence Center announced that authorities opened an investigation based on a video, which went viral on social media, showing a father beating his two-year-old son. The Family Protection Unit managed to locate the toddler, and the father was referred to authorities to take legal action against him in line with the child protection law.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: In March the Ministry of Justice set the minimum age for marriage at 18 and stipulated that girls and boys younger than 18 can only marry with court approval. According to local media, the court would ensure several conditions are met before approving a marriage contract for a bride or groom younger than 18, including assessing their psychosocial development and hearing statements from the potential bride, groom, and guardians to determine consent. Previously, marriage officials had the authority to endorse marriage contracts; this reform ended their authority in cases where the potential bride and groom are younger than 18. The HRC and NSHR monitored cases of child marriages, which they reported were rare or at least rarely reported, and took steps to prevent consummation of the marriage. The application for a marriage license must record the bride’s age, and registration of the marriage is a legal prerequisite for consummation.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The cybercrimes law stipulates that punishment for such crimes, including the preparation, publication, and promotion of material for pornographic sites, may be no less than two-and-one-half years’ imprisonment or a substantial fine if the crime includes the exploitation of minors. The law does not define a minimum age for consensual sex. On January 14, the Riyadh Criminal Court sentenced a man to 40 days in prison and 70 lashes, to be administered in two rounds, for sexually harassing a 12-year-old boy online.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were no known data on Jewish citizens and no statistics available concerning the religious denominations of foreigners.

Cases of government-employed imams using anti-Jewish language in their sermons were rare and occurred without authorization by government authorities. The law requires government-employed imams to deliver all sermons in mosques in the country. Sermons are vetted and cleared by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. During the year the ministry issued periodic circulars to clerics and imams in mosques directing them to include messages on the principles of justice, equality, and tolerance and to encourage rejection of bigotry and all forms of racial discrimination in their sermons.

Some NGOs reported that anti-Semitic material remained in school textbooks and online in private web postings and that some journalists, academics, and clerics made anti-Israel comments that sometimes strayed into anti-Semitism, including at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Speaking on the sidelines of the November G20 Summit, Education Minister Hamad Al al-Sheikh claimed the ministry revised school curricula to remove extremist ideas and promote the concept of moderation and tolerance.

Saudi Council of Senior Scholars member and Muslim World League secretary general Mohammed al-Issa condemned anti-Semitism and intolerant speech. On January 23, al-Issa led a delegation of Muslim leaders to visit the Auschwitz death camp to mark the 75th anniversary of its liberation. The visit was part of a joint enterprise between the Muslim World League and the American Jewish Committee. On February 20, King Salman received a delegation from the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue that included Israeli rabbi David Rosen, becoming the first Israeli rabbi to meet with a Saudi king in recent history.

On September 5, shortly after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain agreed to normalize ties with Israel, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Abdulrahman al-Sudais, said in a televised sermon that Muslims should avoid “passionate emotions and fiery enthusiasm” towards Jews and emphasized that the Prophet Muhammad was good to his Jewish neighbors.

In April, Umm Haroun, a Ramadan television series that aired on the state-controlled MBC network, centered around the story of a Jewish midwife in an unspecified multireligious Gulf state. Experts said the series was a sign of shifting discourse on Jews and Israel.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services or other areas. The law does not require public accessibility to buildings, information, and communications. Newer commercial buildings often included such access, as did some newer government buildings. On July 19, the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs ordered all stores and shopping malls to install ramps for persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Vocational rehabilitation projects and social care programs increasingly brought persons with disabilities into the mainstream. Children with disabilities could attend government-supported schools. In June 2019 the Ministry of Education stated it had taken measures to integrate disabled students, including special education programs in regular schools, training faculty members who work with students with disabilities, and providing technological instruments for students with disabilities free of charge.

Persons with disabilities could generally participate in civic affairs, and there were no legal restrictions preventing persons with disabilities from voting in municipal council elections. Persons with disabilities were elected and appointed to municipal councils in 2015, and two individuals with disabilities served on the consultative Shoura Council, which was reconstituted in 2016.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Although racial discrimination is illegal, societal discrimination against members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities was a problem. Descendants of former slaves in the country, who have African lineage, faced discrimination in both employment and society. There was formal and informal discrimination, especially racial discrimination, against foreign workers from Africa and Asia. There was also discrimination based on tribal or nontribal lineage. A tolerance campaign by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue sought to address discrimination, and it provided training during the year to combat discrimination against national, racial, or ethnic groups.

On September 3, a video widely circulated on social media showed black Saudi model Ziad al-Mesfer being assaulted by a group of young men on a street in Riyadh, with some hurling racial slurs during the attack. The video sparked an online debate, with many defending al-Mesfer’s right to dress as he chooses and calling on authorities to hold the attackers accountable. Others said his choice of dress and modeling activities went against customs and traditions.

The government continued its multiyear Tatweer project to revise textbooks, curricula, and teaching methods to promote tolerance and remove content disparaging religions other than Islam.

Local sources claimed that Saudi citizens received preferential access to COVID-19 testing and treatment, with some foreign residents reportedly being refused admittance to hospitals during periods of high rates of infection.

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

Under sharia, as interpreted in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the case. It is illegal for men “to behave like women” or to wear women’s clothes, and vice versa. Due to social conventions and potential persecution, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations did not operate openly, nor were there LGBTI rights advocacy events of any kind. There were reports of official and societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, and health care. Stigma or intimidation limited reports of incidents of abuse. Saudi clerics condemned homosexuality during government-approved Friday sermons at some mosques, most notably at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on August 14.

There were no government efforts to address discrimination. In 2016 newspapers quoted PPO officials as stating the bureau would seek death sentences for anyone using social media to solicit homosexual acts. There were no reports, however, that the PPO sought death sentences in LGBTI cases during the year (see section 1.a.).

During the year local newspapers featured opinion pieces condemning homosexuality and calling on authorities to punish harshly individuals engaging in same-sex relations.

A conversation about homosexuality in a comedy series broadcast on MBC during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan sparked controversy. In a scene from the series, Exit 7, a man and his teenage daughter discussed the topic of homosexuality, with the daughter defending the rights of the LGBTI community.

On April 8, authorities arrested Mohamad al-Bokari, a Yemeni blogger living in Riyadh, for posting a video on social media calling for equal rights, including for gay men. On July 20, a court sentenced him to 10 months in prison and a fine, followed by deportation to Yemen, according to HRW. HRW reported that al-Bokari was charged with violating public morality by promoting homosexuality online and “imitating women.” A source in contact with al-Bokari told HRW that before his trial he was held in solitary confinement for six weeks in al-Malaz Prison in Riyadh, where he was subjected to torture, including beatings and a forced anal exam, an internationally discredited practice used to seek “proof” of homosexual conduct.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. By law the government deported foreign workers who tested positive for HIV/AIDS upon arrival or who tested positive when hospitalized for other reasons. There was no indication that HIV-positive foreigners failed to receive antiretroviral treatment or that authorities isolated them during the year. The Ministry of Health’s HIV/AIDS program worked to counter stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Social, legal, economic, and political discrimination against the country’s Shia minority continued. HRW claimed that some state clerics and institutions “incited hatred and discrimination against religious minorities, including the country’s Shia Muslim minority.”

To address the problem, the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Guard included antidiscrimination training in courses offered by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue for police and other law enforcement officers.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions. The law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining or the right to conduct legal strikes. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There was little information on government efforts to enforce applicable laws and whether penalties were commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

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

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

The Saudi National Committee of Workers Committees, an umbrella organization that supports dozens of workers committees and advocates for workers’ rights, chaired the Labor20 engagement group, as the country hosted the year’s G20 meeting.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which can receive up to the death penalty. The fine for trafficking in persons is 15 years in prison and fines up to one million riyals (approximately $267,000). Forced labor occurred, especially among migrant workers–notably domestic servants. Conditions indicative of forced labor experienced by foreign workers reportedly included withholding of passports; nonpayment of wages; restrictions on movement; and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Labor law prohibits the confiscation of passports and nonpayment of wages. Violations of labor laws could result in penalties, but these did not sufficiently deter violations. Many migrant workers, particularly domestic employees not covered under the labor law, were unable to exercise their right to end their contractual work. An employer may require a trainee to work for him or her upon completion of training for a period not to exceed twice the duration of the training or one year, whichever is longer.

Restrictive sponsorship laws increased workers’ vulnerability to forced labor conditions and made many foreign workers reluctant to report abuse. The contract system does not allow workers to change employers or leave the country without the written consent of the employer under normal circumstances. Employers or sponsors were responsible for processing residence permits and exit visas on their behalf.

If wages are withheld for 90 days, a ministerial decree permits an employee to transfer his or her sponsorship to a new employer without obtaining prior approval from the previous employer. There were reports, however, that the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development did not always approve petitions to transfer sponsorship due to withheld wages, including some cases in which wages had been withheld for more than three months.

Due to the economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of expatriate workers lost their jobs. Many who could not or chose not to repatriate were left without legal status, putting them at greater risk of exploitation and trafficking. The government encouraged companies to place employees on reduced hours, vacation leave, or unpaid leave, rather than terminating contracts. In April, Article 41 was inserted in the Implementation Regulation of the Labor Law, which enabled the employer and employee, between April and October 2020, to agree to any of the following: a reduction in salary provided that there is a corresponding reduction in working hours; placing the employee on paid annual leave (as part of their holiday entitlement); or implementing a period of unpaid leave. Officials confirmed that Article 74 of the labor law still applied during the pandemic, which only recognized termination when either the business or the business unit within which the employee worked was closing permanently.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, Ministry of Interior, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs developed an electronic platform and integrated system in 2014 to facilitate recruitment of domestic workers and regularize contractual relationships. The platform was also designed to lower recruitment costs and address worker shortages due to source country deployment bans. The system failed to prevent completely exploitative practices by middlemen, brokers, and other stakeholders that both workers and employers encounter before they reach registered agencies. Some domestic workers lacked access to the platform, and source country agencies lacked influence on the platform’s procedures.

A few countries that previously allowed their citizens to migrate to the country for work prohibited their citizens from seeking work in Saudi Arabia after widespread reports of worker abuse.

The government continued implementation of the Wage Protection System (WPS), which requires employers to pay foreign workers through bank transfers, thereby allowing the ministry to track whether workers were paid appropriately. On August 1, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development started implementing stage 16 of the WPS, requiring all employers with more than five employees to comply with WPS regulations. The ministry fined companies for delaying payment for employees’ salaries on the first occurrence and blocked companies from accessing government services if a company delayed salaries for two or more months. In November the ministry announced that 200,000 establishments were already using the WPS application and stated that by the end of the year, all private-sector companies with one or more employees would be required to utilize the WPS.

In November the government announced the Labor Reform Initiative, scheduled to come into effect on March 14, 2021, which will allow workers to change employers upon the conclusion of an employment contract without the original employer’s approval. The reform will also enable workers to obtain exit-reentry visas and depart the country upon the contract’s conclusion without employer approval. The changes will benefit roughly seven million private-sector expatriate workers but will not initially apply to domestic workers.

Undocumented workers were not protected by labor laws and were particularly susceptible to forced labor, substandard wages, and deportation by authorities.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law provides that no person younger than 15 may legally work unless that person is the sole source of support for the family. Children between the ages of 13 and 15 may work if the job is not harmful to health or growth and does not interfere with schooling. Ministerial Decree No. 1/2834, Article 1, provides that hazardous operations, such as power-operated machinery, or harmful industries, such as mines and quarries, may not employ legal minors. Children younger than 18 may not be employed for shifts exceeding six hours a day. There is no minimum age for workers employed in family-owned businesses or other areas considered extensions of the household, such as farming, herding, and domestic service.

The HRC and NSHR are responsible for monitoring enforcement of child labor laws. There was little information on government efforts to enforce applicable laws and whether penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Authorities most commonly enforced the law in response to complaints about children begging on the streets.

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

No regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, language, or HIV-positive status. Gender-based violence and harassment occurred in the world of work (see section 6). Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation occurred in all these categories. There are no effective complaint resolution mechanisms present to deter these discriminatory regulations and practices.

A 2019 amendment to the labor law enacted a general prohibition on discrimination during employment as well as in the terms of recruitment. The amendment mandated that employers treat all workers equally and barred discrimination on the basis of gender, disability, age, or any other forms of discrimination, whether in work, employment, or advertising a vacancy. Women may work without their guardian’s permission, but some employers required women to have such permission, even though the law prohibits the practice. The decree expands previous regulations barring employers from firing female workers on maternity leave and includes protection from dismissal for pregnancy-related illness if the absence is less than 180 days per year. Employers who violate the antidiscrimination law can be fined. The antidiscrimination law only applies to citizens and does not protect the rights of expatriates. There is widespread societal discrimination against African and Asian expatriate workers. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

In recent years the government decreased the number of restrictions on women’s employment in various sectors (see section 6, Women). On August 26, the Council of Ministers approved two amendments in the labor law removing Articles 149 and 150, which had prohibited employment of women in some hazardous jobs and night shifts. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development explicitly approved and encouraged the employment of women in specific sectors, particularly in government and retail, but women continued to face societal discrimination, and in practice gender segregation continued in the workplace. In medical settings and the energy industry, women and men worked together, and in some instances women supervised male employees. Bureaucratic procedures largely restricted women working in the security services to employment in women’s prisons, at women’s universities, and in clerical positions in police stations. There were no women working as judges or as members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars.

The first-quarter Labor Market Report by the General Authority for Statistics found that Saudi girls and women (15 years of age and older) constituted 8.3 percent of the country’s total labor force (Saudi and non-Saudi, 15 years of age and older). The same report estimated that women and girls, both Saudi and foreign, represented 25.4 percent of all employed persons (15 years of age and older) in the country. Most non-Saudi women were employed as domestic workers.

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

The law grants women the right to obtain business licenses without the approval of their guardians, and women frequently obtained licenses in fields that might require them to supervise foreign workers, interact with male clients, or deal with government officials. Although it is illegal for a potential employer to ask a female applicant for her guardian’s permission when she applies for a job, some employers required them to prove such permission. Women who work in establishments with 50 or more female employees have the right to maternity leave and childcare.

The country had an increasing number of female diplomats; in March local media reported the number reached 151 in 2019. On August 2, the minister of education appointed the country’s first three women overseas cultural attaches. On August 25, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed Ahlam bint Abdulrahman Yankasar as the director-general of the general department of cultural affairs, the first woman to serve as a director general in the ministry. In February 2019 a royal decree appointed the first female Saudi ambassador.

Bureaucratic procedures largely restricted women working in the security services to employment in women’s prisons, at women’s universities, and in clerical positions in police stations, where they were responsible for visually identifying other women, for example wearing niqabs, for law enforcement purposes. On January 19, the military chief of general staff inaugurated the first women’s wing in the Armed Forces. In October 2019 officials announced that women would be able to join the armed forces in a wide range of positions, including corporals and sergeants. In June, Director of Government Affairs Moaid Mahjoub tweeted a photograph of one of the first female members of a Saudi Royal Guard regiment.

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage for public-sector employees was above the estimated poverty-income level. In November the minister of human resources announced the minimum wage for Saudis in the private sector would be set at 4,000 riyals (approximately $1,066) per month. There was no private-sector minimum wage for foreign workers.

By law a standard workday is eight hours. A standard workweek is 48 hours but can extend to 60 hours, subject to payment of overtime, which is 50 percent more than the basic wage. Labor law requires employers to provide paid holidays on Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Saudi National Day but does not apply to domestic workers–those sponsored by individuals rather than companies.

An estimated 10.4 million foreign workers, including approximately 1.3 million women, made up approximately 76.5 percent of the labor force, according to the General Authority for Statistics’ labor market survey for the first quarter. Legal workers generally negotiated and agreed to work conditions prior to their arrival in the country, in accordance with the contract requirements contained in the labor law.

The law provides penalties for bringing foreigners into the country to work in any service, including domestic service, without following the required procedures and obtaining a permit. The penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are appropriate for main industries. The labor law provides for regular safety inspections and enables ministry-appointed inspectors to make unannounced inspections, initiate sanctions, examine materials used or handled in industrial and other operations, and submit samples of suspected hazardous materials or substances to government laboratories. The government effectively enforced the law. The Ministry of Health’s Occupational Health Service Directorate worked with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development on health and safety matters. In accordance with Articles 121 and 122 of the labor law, employers are obligated to safeguard safety and health requirements in the workplace to protect employees from harm and disease. Regulations require employers to protect some workers from job-related hazards and disease, although some violations occurred. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were not commensurate with those for crimes of negligence. Under Article 121, punishment for labor violations can range up to 100,000 riyals (approximately $26,700) and possibly temporary or permanent closure of a business (commensurate with the punishment for vandalizing cultural or historical sites). These regulations did not cover farmers, herdsmen, domestic servants, or workers in family-operated businesses. Although the ministry employed nearly 1,000 labor inspectors, foreign workers privately reported frequent failures to enforce health and safety standards. Although statistics were unavailable, examples of major industrial accidents during the year that caused the death or serious injury to workers include local media reports from June 11 that six workers died in a water pipeline construction accident in al-Aziziah district in Riyadh and from December 16 that one worker died and three others were injured due to gas leakage in an air-conditioner shop in Riyadh.

On April 25, local media reported that the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs began preparing residences belonging to the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones to be used as temporary housing for up to 29,000 workers. According to the ministry, the residences were established in response to the rapid rise in number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among expatriate workers in densely populated labor camps and neighborhoods.

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

Bilateral labor agreements set conditions on foreign workers’ minimum wage, housing, benefits including leave and medical care, and other topics. Those provisions were not drafted in line with international standards and varied depending on the bargaining power of the foreign workers’ country. The labor law and the law against trafficking in persons do not provide penalties commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

In July the HRC, in coordination with other government bodies, conducted a large-scale awareness campaign, Together to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which included educational messages coordinated across social media platforms, print media, and television.

There were reports that some migrant workers were employed on terms to which they had not agreed and experienced problems, such as delays in the payment of wages, changes in employer, or changed working hours and conditions. Migrant workers, especially domestic workers, were vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and conditions contravening labor laws, including nonpayment of wages, working for periods in excess of the 48-hour workweek, working for periods longer than the prescribed eight-hour workday without due compensation, and restrictions on movement due to passport confiscation. There were also reports of physical, psychological, sexual, and verbal abuse.

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

While some foreign workers were able to contact the labor offices of their embassies for assistance, domestic workers in particular faced challenges when attempting to gain access to their embassies, including restrictions on their freedom of movement and telephone access, confiscation of their passports, and being subjected to threats and verbal and physical abuse. During the year hundreds of primarily female domestic workers sought shelter at their embassies’ safehouses to escape physical and sexual abuse by their employers. Those workers usually sought legal assistance from their embassies and government agencies to obtain end-of-service benefits and exit visas. In addition to their embassies, some domestic servants could contact the NSHR, the HRC, the governmental Interministerial General Secretariat to Combat Human Trafficking, and the Migrant Workers’ Welfare Department, which provided services to safeguard migrant workers’ rights and protect them from abuse. Some were able to apply to the offices of regional governors and lodge an appeal with the Board of Grievances against decisions by those authorities.

In June media outlets reported that Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons had received distress calls and evidence that Nigerian women in Saudi Arabia were subjected to cruel working conditions, unpaid salaries and other entitlements, 18-hour workdays, and hazardous duties.

Yemen

Executive Summary

Yemen is a republic with a constitution that provides for a president, a parliament, and an independent judiciary. In 2012 the governing and opposition parties chose Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi as the sole consensus candidate for president. Two-thirds of the country’s eligible voters confirmed him as president, with a two-year mandate. In 2014 Houthi forces aligned with forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh occupied the capital, Sana’a, igniting a civil conflict between Houthi forces and the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) that continued through the year. As a result of the conflict, currently approximately 80 percent of the population lives in territory controlled by the Houthis, not the ROYG.

The primary state security and intelligence-gathering entities, the Political Security Organization and the National Security Bureau, came under Houthi control in 2014, although their structure and operations appeared to remain the same. The ROYG staffed these entities in areas under its control. By law both organizations report first to the interior minister and then to the president; coordination efforts between the two entities were unclear. The Criminal Investigation Division reports to the Ministry of Interior and conducts most criminal investigations and arrests. The paramilitary Special Security Forces was under the authority of the interior minister, as was the counterterrorism unit. The Ministry of Defense supervised units to quell domestic unrest and to participate in internal armed conflicts. Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over security forces. Houthis controlled most of the national security apparatus in sections of the north and some former state institutions. Competing tribal, party, and sectarian influences further reduced ROYG authority, exhibited in April when the secessionist Southern Transitional Council declared “self-administration” over Aden. Saudi-brokered diplomatic efforts to restore the ROYG to Aden under the Riyadh Agreement were successful in December. Members of the security forces on all sides committed abuses.

In 2014 the Houthi uprising compelled the ROYG to sign an UN-brokered peace deal calling for a “unity government.” The ROYG resigned after Houthi forces, allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party, seized the presidential palace in 2015. Houthi forces then dissolved parliament, replacing it with the Supreme Revolutionary Committee. Hadi escaped house arrest and fled to Aden, where he declared all actions taken by Houthi forces in Sana’a unconstitutional, reaffirmed his position as president, pledged to uphold the principles of the 2014 National Dialogue Conference, and called on the international community to protect the country’s political process.

After Houthi forces launched an offensive in the southern part of the country and entered Aden in 2015, Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia formed a military coalition, which undertook Operation “Decisive Storm,” on behalf of the ROYG. Peace talks in Kuwait in 2016 between the Houthis and ROYG ended inconclusively. In 2017 Houthi forces killed Saleh after he publicly split from the Houthis and welcomed cooperation with the coalition. In 2018 direct talks between the ROYG and Houthis under UN supervision in Sweden led to agreements on a ceasefire in and around the city and port of Hudaydah, as well as on prisoner exchanges and addressing the humanitarian situation in Ta’iz. These agreements were not effectively implemented; hostilities–including Houthi military offensives, Houthi drone and missile strikes within the country and on Saudi Arabia, and coalition airstrikes–continued to date.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by all parties; forced disappearances by all parties; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the ROYG, Houthis, and Emiratis; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary infringements on privacy rights; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, primarily by the Houthis; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; substantial interference with freedom of assembly and association; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; pervasive abuse of migrants; the inability of citizens to choose their government through free and fair elections; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the worst forms of child labor.

Impunity for security officials remained a problem, in part because the government exercised limited authority and in part due to the lack of effective mechanisms to investigate and prosecute abuse and corruption. The ROYG had limited capacity to address human rights abuses due to the continued civil war. Houthi control over government institutions in the north severely reduced the ROYG’s capacity to conduct investigations.

Nonstate actors, including the Houthis, tribal militias, militant secessionist elements, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, and a local branch of ISIS committed significant abuses with impunity. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure. (See the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran.)

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 numerous reports of existing or former members of the ROYG security forces committing arbitrary or unlawful killings. Politically motivated killings by nonstate actors, including Houthi forces, militant secessionist elements, and terrorist and insurgent groups claiming affiliation with al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or ISIS, also continued during the year (see section 1.g, Abuses in Internal Conflict).

In June unidentified gunmen killed Nabeel al-Quaiti, an Agence France Presse photojournalist, in front of his home in Aden. He had been reporting on the clashes between the ROYG and Southern Transitional Council (STC) forces in Abyan.

The ROYG Human Rights Ministry reported in April that sporadic Houthi attacks in the al-Ghail district of al-Jawf governorate killed and injured 16 persons and displaced several families.

In August several ROYG media and local human rights organizations reported that a Houthi sniper in Ta’iz shot a nine-year-old girl, Rawida Saleh Mohammed, on her way to fill her jerrycan with water. Also in August the Yemeni Coalition for Monitoring Human Rights Violations (Rasd Coalition) issued a report stating that Houthi elements in Ta’iz shot three other children between February and August, in addition to Rawida.

On December 30, an attack attributed to the Houthis killed 17 persons, according to a Ministry of Interior report, including three International Committee of the Red Cross staffers, and wounded more than 100 others at the Aden airport. The attack occurred as a plane carrying the newly formed government’s ministers and other officials landed from Saudi Arabia, prompting concerns that its purpose was to destabilize the new government.

b. Disappearance

In September the UN Human Rights Council Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (UN Group of Experts) report stated it believed that parties to the conflict were continuing to engage in enforced disappearances. There were reports of politically motivated disappearances and kidnappings by both ROYG and Houthi forces of individuals associated with political parties, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media outlets critical of the ROYG or the Houthi movement (see section 1.g, Abuses in Internal Conflict). The Houthis and their allies sometimes detained civilian family members of ROYG security officials. The Houthis targeted and detained foreigners, including those believed to be working for foreign diplomatic missions. There were also reports of disappearances carried out by other parties to the conflict.

From August 2019 to July 31, the ROYG’s National Commission to Investigate Alleged Violations to Human Rights (NCIAVHR) documented 1,298 cases of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances committed by various parties to the conflict, a 400 percent increase over the previous year.

According to a July report by Sana’a-based Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, from May 2016 to April, the ROYG was responsible for 90 incidents of enforced disappearance; the Houthis were responsible for 353 incidents of enforced disappearance; and United Arab Emirates (UAE) forces and UAE-aligned armed groups, including the STC, were responsible for 327 incidents of enforced disappearance.

In a March report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented 16 cases of arbitrary detentions of citizens by Saudi and allied Yemeni forces in al-Mahrah between June 2019 and February. Saudi security forces transferred 11 of the 16 detainees to Saudi Arabia and eventually released the five others. Five detainees were reportedly transferred in June to a prison in Abha, the capital of Asir province in Saudi Arabia; the families of these detainees were unaware of their whereabouts for five months until the detainees were registered at the prison in Abha. The other six detainees were reportedly men from the northern part of the country who were arrested while crossing the border from Oman into the country after receiving medical treatment in Oman.

The Aden branch of the Mothers of the Abducted Association issued a statement in August stating that association members continued searching for 38 forcibly disappeared individuals; their fate and medical condition and those responsible for their disappearances were unknown. The association conducted a protest in September in Aden, which was then under STC control, to demand that security forces disclose their sons’ whereabouts.

During the year, the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict reported 22 child abduction cases.

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

The constitution prohibits torture and other such abuses. Although the law lacks a comprehensive definition of torture, there are provisions allowing prison terms of up to 10 years for acts of torture.

The UN and human rights organizations continued to report that torture and other forms of mistreatment were common in ROYG-, Houthi-, and Emirati-controlled detention facilities. The UN Group of Experts reported abuses in detention included sexual violence, prolonged solitary confinement, electric shock, burning, and other forms of torture (see section 1.g., Abuses in Internal Conflict.).

According to the July report by the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, from May 2016 to April, the ROYG was responsible for 65 incidents of torture; the Houthis were responsible for 138 incidents of torture, including 27 deaths in detention centers; and UAE forces and UAE-aligned armed groups, including the STC, were responsible for 141 incidents of torture, including 25 deaths in detention centers. In June gunmen, allegedly from a ROYG-appointed brigade, reportedly stormed the house in Ta’iz of ROYG Colonel Abdul Hakim al-Jabzi, the Operations Commander of the 35th Brigade, and kidnapped and tortured his son Aseel to death before throwing Aseel’s body on a road. The motive was reportedly an internal political dispute.

According to several reports in August by Ma’rib-based Erada Organization against Torture and Forced Disappearance, Houthi militia forces in al-Bayda captured, tortured, and killed a ROYG soldier, Abdul Hafidh Abd al-Rab al-Tahiri. On August 25, Erada reported that Houthis in Dhammar captured Ahmed Ali al-Saqhani, a ROYG soldier, and tortured him to death while in detention.

Impunity remained a significant problem in the security forces. Civilian control of security agencies continued to deteriorate as regional efforts to promote national reconciliation stalled. Exacerbating the problem of impunity, interest groups–including former president Saleh’s family and other tribal and party entities–expanded their influence over security agencies, often through unofficial channels rather than through the formal command structure.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening and did not meet international standards. The ROYG exercised limited control over prison facilities. Government officials and NGOs identified overcrowding, lack of professional training for corrections officials, poor sanitation, inadequate access to justice, intermingling of pretrial and convicted inmates, lack of effective case management, and deteriorating infrastructure as problems within the 18 central prisons and 25 reserve prisons (also known as pretrial detention centers). Lacking special accommodations, authorities held prisoners with physical or mental disabilities with the general population. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported conditions of detention facilities continued to deteriorate, including with respect to overcrowding, damaged buildings, and shortages of food and medicine.

Tribes in rural areas operated unauthorized “private” detention centers based on traditional tribal justice. Tribal leaders occasionally placed “problem” tribesmen in private jails, which sometimes were simply rooms in a sheikh’s house, to punish them for noncriminal actions. Tribal authorities often detained persons for personal reasons without trial or judicial sentencing.

According to the OHCHR, Houthi-affiliated tribal militias, known locally as popular committees, operated at least eight detention facilities in Sana’a, including Habra in the al-Shu’aub district, Hataresh in the Bani Hashaysh district, and al-Thawra and the house of Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar in Haddah.

Reports from human rights organizations and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicated authorities and smugglers continue to detain migrants throughout the country, often in inhuman conditions and subject to repeated abuses of human rights including indiscriminate violence and rape (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

Physical Conditions: The armed conflict negatively affected the condition of prisons. Observers continued to describe most prisons, particularly in rural areas, as overcrowded with poor sanitary conditions, inadequate food and access to potable water, and inadequate medical care. Limited information was available on prison populations during the year. Political prisoners reportedly faced torture, abuse, and other forms of mistreatment, while all prisoners experienced harsh physical conditions.

Media and international NGO reporting in past years found squalid conditions in Houthi detention facilities, including food infested with cockroaches, widespread torture, and absence of any medical care.

According to several reports from HRW and the OHCHR, individuals in detention facilities faced serious health risks from the COVID-19 pandemic. In July relatives of five detainees in Bir Ahmed Prison, an overcrowded, informal detention facility in a military camp controlled by the STC, told HRW that authorities in early April transferred 44 detainees into a room of only approximately 100 square feet that had previously held four persons. The detainees lacked masks, gloves, and hygiene products to protect themselves from COVID-19, as well as lacking basic healthcare services.

No credible statistics were available on the number of inmate deaths during the year.

Administration: Limited information was available on prison administration since the Houthi takeover in 2014. Poor recordkeeping and a lack of communication between prisons and the government made it difficult for authorities to estimate accurately the size of the prison population.

There was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. ROYG authorities generally allowed visitors to see prisoners and detainees when family members knew a detainee’s location but granted limited access to family members of those accused of security offenses. Family visits were arbitrarily halted in some cases. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to engage in Islamic religious observances but prevented religious minorities from practicing their faiths.

Independent Monitoring: The continuing conflict prevented substantial prison monitoring by independent human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the UN Group of Experts found that all parties to the conflict continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals accused of crimes. Persons arrested were frequently denied their constitutional right to be charged within 24 hours. They were frequently held incommunicado for periods of time, and subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman treatment. (See section 1.c, Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and 1.g, Abuses in Internal Conflict.) The law prohibits arrests or serving subpoenas between sundown and dawn, but local NGOs reported authorities, including but not limited to the ROYG, the Houthis, and STC, took some persons suspected of crimes from their homes at night without warrants.

According to the July report by Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, from May 2016 to April, the ROYG was responsible for 282 incidents of arbitrary or abusive detention; the Houthis were responsible for 904 cases of arbitrary or abusive detention; and UAE forces and UAE-aligned armed groups, including the STC, were responsible for 419 incidents of arbitrary or abusive detention.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Since the capital’s temporary relocation in 2015 to Aden, the ROYG lost control of most state institutions, including the court and prison systems, and both have deteriorated. The law provides that authorities cannot arrest individuals unless they are apprehended while committing a criminal act or being served with a warrant. In addition, authorities must arraign a detainee within 24 hours or release him. The judge or prosecuting attorney, who decides whether detention is required, must inform the accused of the basis for the arrest. The law stipulates authorities may not hold a detainee longer than seven days without a court order. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, provides detainees the right to inform their families of their arrest, and allows detainees to decline to answer questions without an attorney present. The law states the government must provide attorneys for indigent detainees. UN, NGO, and media reporting concluded that all parties to the conflict frequently ignored these stipulations during the year. The law contains provisions for bail, and Houthi authorities in particular were accused of allowing bail only if they received a bribe. Tribal mediators commonly settled cases in rural areas without reference to the formal court system.

Detainees often did not know which investigating agency arrested them, and the agencies frequently complicated matters by unofficially transferring custody of individuals between agencies.

Arbitrary Arrest: In September the UN Group of Experts report stated it had “found reasonable grounds” to believe that parties to the conflict engaged in arbitrary detention. Two boys, one age 14 and the other age 16, were arrested in Khubar village in Shabwah in February by ROYG Special Security Forces. They were detained on the basis of their reported affiliation to the STC and Shabwani Elite Forces.

In April the Specialized Criminal Court in the Houthi-held capital of Sana’a sentenced four journalists to death and six others to jail on charges of “publishing and writing news, statements, false and malicious rumors and propaganda with the intent to weaken the defense of the homeland, weaken the morale of the Yemeni people, sabotage public security, spread terror among people and harm the country’s interest.” The OHCHR stated in an August 6 press release that despite a pending appeal of the conviction to the appellate division of the court, concerns were growing that the Houthi authorities might carry out the death sentence against the journalists. During their five-year detention, the journalists have been denied family visits, access to their attorney, and health care. According to the OHCHR, they have also been tortured and subjected to “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press–Violence and Harassment.).

In April the Specialized Criminal Court ordered that another six detained journalists be released and placed under police surveillance. Only one has since been released, according to the OHCHR. There were no updates as of year’s end.

Houthi authorities continued to detain Levi Salem Marhabi, a Yemeni Jew who has been arbitrarily detained for more than four years despite a court ordering his release in September 2019.

Other nonstate actors also arbitrarily detained persons, including migrants.

Pretrial Detention: Limited information was available on pretrial detention practices during the year, but prolonged detentions without charge or, if charged, without a public preliminary judicial hearing within a reasonable time were believed to be common practices despite their prohibition by law. Staff shortages, judicial inefficiency, and corruption caused trial delays.

In July the Mothers of Abductees Association stated that detainees had been held at Bir Ahmed, which is controlled by the STC, without charge or trial for up to two years.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Information was limited on whether persons arrested or detained were entitled to challenge the legal basis of their detention in court. The law provides that authorities must arraign a detainee within 24 hours or release him. It also provides that the judge or prosecuting attorney must inform the accused of the basis for the arrest. The ROYG, however, lacked the capacity to enforce the law.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The OHCHR reported the criminal justice system had become largely defunct in the areas where progovernment forces retained or reclaimed control, with Saudi coalition-backed forces filling the void. In most cases, as documented by the OHCHR, detainees were not informed of the reasons for their arrest, were not charged, were denied access to lawyers or a judge, and were held incommunicado for prolonged or indefinite periods.

In areas under Houthi control, the judiciary was weak and hampered by corruption, political interference, and lack of proper legal training. Judges’ social and political affiliations, as well as bribery, influenced verdicts.

The ROYG’s lack of capacity to enforce court orders undermined the credibility of the judiciary. Criminals threatened and harassed members of the judiciary to influence cases.

The Baha’i International Community reported that on July 30 the Houthis released six Baha’is who had been detained because of their beliefs. The Houthis continued to prosecute more than 20 Baha’is for apostasy and espionage.

Trial Procedures

The law considers defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials were generally public, but all courts may conduct closed sessions “for reasons of public security or morals.” Judges, who play an active role in questioning witnesses and the accused, adjudicate criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants can confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. The law provides for the government to furnish attorneys for indigent defendants in serious criminal cases; in the past the government did not always provide counsel in such cases. The law allows defense attorneys to counsel their clients, address the court, and examine witnesses and any relevant evidence. Defendants have the right to appeal and could not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. There was limited information available regarding respect for due process during the year.

A court of limited jurisdiction considers security cases. A specialized criminal court, the State Security Court, operated under different procedures in closed sessions and did not provide defendants the same rights provided in the regular courts. Defense lawyers reportedly did not have full access to their clients’ charges or court files. The lack of birth registration compounded difficulties in proving age, which reportedly led courts to sentence juveniles as adults, including for crimes eligible for death sentences (see section 6, Children).

In addition to established courts, there is a tribal justice system for noncriminal matters. Tribal judges, usually respected sheikhs, often also adjudicated criminal cases under tribal law, which usually involved public accusation without the formal filing of charges. Tribal mediation often emphasized social cohesion more than punishment. The public often respected the outcomes of tribal processes more than the formal court system, which was viewed by many as corrupt and lacking independence.

The UN Group of Experts reported in September that the Specialized Criminal Court operating in Houthi-controlled areas, particularly in Sana’a, was being used to suppress dissent, intimidate political opponents, and develop political capital to be used in negotiations. The Group of Experts noted that the rights of the accused were regularly denied and that security and political leadership exercised significant control. For example, the court sentenced 35 members of parliament to death in absentia on March 4 for “having taken actions threatening the stability of the Republic of Yemen, its unity, and security of its territory.” The charges were brought against members of parliament who supported the ROYG.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were numerous reports of political prisoners and detainees.

Following their takeover of state institutions, the Houthis detained activists, journalists, demonstration leaders, and other political figures representing various political groups and organizations opposed to the Houthis. The Houthis did not charge detainees publicly, and severely restricted or barred information to and access by local or international human rights organizations. NGOs claimed that, absent public charges, it was often difficult to determine whether authorities held detainees for criminal or political activity.

The Mwatana Organization for Human Rights released a report in June describing the regular mistreatment of detainees in secret prisons, taken from interviews with detained civilians, including journalists, activists, lawyers, and students.

Mwatana also reported in September that the parties to the conflict prioritized the exchange of military detainees over civilian detainees following the Stockholm Agreement in 2018.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides a limited ability to pursue civil remedies for human rights abuses as tort claims against private persons. There were no reports of such efforts during the year. Citizens cannot sue the government directly but may petition the public prosecutor to initiate an investigation.

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

The law prohibits these actions, but Houthi authorities continued such interference. According to human rights NGOs, Houthi authorities searched homes and private offices, monitored telephone calls, read personal mail and email, and otherwise intruded into personal matters without legally issued warrants or judicial supervision.

The law requires the attorney general personally to authorize telephone call monitoring and reading of personal mail and email, but there was no indication the law was followed.

Citizens may not marry a foreigner without permission from the Ministry of Interior, the National Security Bureau, and, in some instances, the Political Security Organization under regulations authorities enforced arbitrarily. The ministry typically approved marriages to foreigners if they provided a letter from their embassy stating the government of the non-Yemeni spouse had no objection to the marriage and presented a marriage contract signed by a judge. There was no available information on existing practice.

The UN Group of Experts reported the Houthis threatened and harassed relatives of disappeared detainees who were searching for the whereabouts of their loved ones.

The ROYG Ministry of Human Rights condemned a July raid by the Houthis on the home of Abdurrazaq al-Hagri, a Sana’a-based member of parliament, during which they stole personal belongings and threatened his family, including women and children, while forcing them to evacuate their home.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The UN Group of Experts concluded that the ROYG, Houthis, Saudi-led coalition, and STC were “responsible for human rights violations including arbitrary deprivation of life, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, including sexual violence, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, the recruitment and use in hostilities of children, the denial of fair trial rights, violations of fundamental freedoms, and economic, social and cultural rights.” The United Nations, NGOs, media outlets, as well as humanitarian and international organizations reported what they characterized as disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by all parties to the continuing conflict, causing civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure from shelling and airstrikes. UNICEF reported that 2,000 children have been killed since the beginning of the conflict. The conflict resulted in at least 1,318 civilian casualties, including 511 deaths, from January through August, according to the Civilian Impact Monitoring Project.

In 2014 the Houthis took control of the capital and occupied many government offices. The conflict that ensued in 2015 continued during the year. The UN-led peace process included renewed attempts to bring about cessation of hostilities, despite limited implementation of the agreements reached during peace talks in Stockholm in 2018. Since 2015 Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support to the Houthi rebels and proliferated weapons that exacerbated and prolonged the conflict. Houthi rebels used Iranian funding and weapons to launch attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure both within the country and in Saudi Arabia. Throughout the year the Saudi-led coalition continued military operations against the Houthis (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran).

The ROYG re-established a presence in Aden and additional areas in the south in 2016. While the president, vice president, and foreign minister remained in exile in Saudi Arabia, the remainder of the cabinet moved to Aden in 2018 and remained there until August 2019, when the STC seized control of the city. The STC remained in full control of Aden throughout the year until the newly formed government returned to Aden on December 30 under the Saudi-brokered Riyadh Agreement.

In a Yemeni Network for Rights and Freedoms report focused on one indicative month of Houthis abuses from July 15 through August 15, the report documented 141 Houthi abuses of civilians. The network’s field team documented 26 killings and 21 injuries, including to women and children, resulting from Houthi bombing of residential neighborhoods, sniper shootings, and landmines. They also recorded 49 cases of kidnapping, including of women, enforced disappearance, torture, and humiliation of detained abductees by the Houthis. According to the report, the Houthi militia established nine new secret prisons, most of them in confiscated civilian homes or educational facilities. The team also investigated 27 cases of attacks against civilian targets by Houthi gunmen, particularly the homes of civilians, during the same period.

Because of damage to health facilities and water and sanitation infrastructure, as well as a lack of effective public measures to mitigate disease transmission, the country continued to experience several major communicable disease outbreaks, including cholera, COVID-19, polio, diphtheria, and other diseases. Between January and August, there were more than 180,000 cholera cases, which resulted in 55 deaths countrywide, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO). More than 2,030 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 587 associated deaths were recorded in the country between early April and late September, although WHO reported that cases were significantly underreported. Furthermore, the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in decreased utilization of other health care services due to COVID-19-related fear and stigma, including cholera detection and treatment interventions.

Killings: The ROYG-based NCIAVHR reported 928 civilian casualties (comprising both injuries and deaths) during the year, which included 326 killed by the Houthis, 321 by the Saudi-led coalition, and 65 by unspecified other parties. (See section 1.a., Arbitrary Deprivation of Life.)

On January 18, the Houthis launched a drone attack on a mosque in a military camp in Ma’rib during evening prayers, killing more than 100 soldiers while they were praying, according to press reports.

On January 22, a missile hit Member of Parliament Hussein Bin Hussein al-Sawadi’s home in Ma’rib, killing his daughter-in-law and two of his granddaughters and wounding five others, including al-Sawadi.

On February 15, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen reported that as many as 31 civilians were killed and 12 others were wounded as a result of Saudi-led airstrikes conducted in al-Jawf governorate. The Saudi-led coalition claimed it conducted a search-and-rescue operation in the vicinity of a downed Saudi fighter jet and referred the incident to the Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT) for investigation.

The UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen reported in April that six women and a child were killed and at least 11 others were injured when shells hit the women’s section of the Central Prison in al-Mudhaffar district in Ta’iz.

During his July 28 briefing to the UN Security Council, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock reported that at least 12 civilians were killed in a June 15 air strike of unknown origin on a vehicle in Sa’ada. Lowcock also described an air strike that killed nine civilians in Hajjah on July 12, and another that killed 11 civilians in al-Jawf on July 15.

On August 7, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen reported that as many as nine children were killed and seven others were injured during Saudi-led strikes that occurred while the children were traveling by road in al-Jawf governorate. The report stated it was the third attack in less than a month to cause multiple civilian casualties.

The government of Saudi Arabia established the JIAT in 2016 to identify lessons and corrective actions, and to implement national accountability mechanisms, as appropriate. The Riyadh-based group, consisting of military and civilian members from coalition member states, investigated allegations by international organizations and individuals regarding civilian casualties and targeting of humanitarian aid convoys and infrastructure. The JIAT hosted press conferences throughout the year publicizing the results of more than two dozen investigations, which largely absolved the coalition of responsibility for civilian deaths in the incidents reviewed. The Saudi government has not prosecuted any cases based on JIAT findings to date. The OHCHR and others asserted the JIAT’s investigations did not provide sufficient transparency on the targeting process for strikes. In 2018 HRW stated the JIAT’s public conclusions raised serious questions regarding the ways in which the JIAT conducted investigations and applied international humanitarian law.

Other deaths resulted from attacks and killings by armed groups including the terrorist groups AQAP and ISIS-Yemen. The two groups carried out several deadly attacks against civilians, Houthi combatants, members of southern movements, and other actors. According to several reports, including from the ROYG, the designated terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia (an alias for AQAP) killed and crucified dentist Motthar al-Youssoufi on August 15 at a health center in Assowma’a district in al-Bayda governorate. The terrorist group 10 days later bombed the health center where the victim worked, accusing the center of debauchery because it allowed mixing of the sexes.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Torture and other forms of mistreatment were common in all detention facilities. The UN Group of Experts found reasonable grounds to believe that parties to the conflict engaged in torture, including sexual violence (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.).

The UN Group of Experts documented detention-related abuses. They also reported cases of torture in ROYG-controlled facilities at the Ma’rib Political Security Prison, including one case involving five men and two boys who were subjected to torture by “suspension in painful positions, crawling on broken glass and screws, beating and electric shock to genitals with threats of sterilization, and burning of genitals.”

The UN Group of Experts reported that the Houthis tortured and mistreated detainees in detention facilities under their control, including at Sana’a Central Prison, unofficial facilities such as the security and intelligence detention center, and in secret detention facilities. They reported similar cases of torture at al-Saleh Prison in Ta’iz, particularly in the national security section operated by the Houthis. Methods of torture included “repeated and severe beating with sticks, electric cables, iron bars; electrocution; removal of fingernails; electrocution and beating of the genitals with threats of sterilization; forced nudity; sexual violence; and solitary confinement.”

In August the Defense Foundation for Rights and Freedoms (DFRF), a local NGO, reported that Saeed Arif Saeed Moqbel Jalijal had been forcibly disappeared by UAE officers and tortured in al-Wadah Hall in Aden for four years. According to his statements, an Emirati officer tortured him by burning and electric shock.

Also in August the DFRF stated that pro-STC forces in Aden unlawfully and repeatedly detained and tortured three youths from rival factions.

Child Soldiers: Although the law and ROYG policy expressly forbid the practice, HRW found that one-third of all combatants were minors. The UN Group of Experts assessed that during the year both coalition-backed forces and Houthi forces conscripted or enlisted children younger than age 18 into armed forces or groups and used them to participate actively in hostilities, with cases of recruitment and use of boys as young as seven years old. The Yemeni Armed Forces, Houthi-affiliated resistance groups, and the different southern forces, including but not limited to the STC, have all been documented as having recruited children, according to the UN Group of Experts.

Most cases of child soldiers were attributed to Houthi forces. The UN Group of Experts reported that the Houthis used the education system to indoctrinate students in Houthi ideology, incite violence, and recruit children from 34 schools across six governorates (Amran, Dhamar, Raymah, Sa’ada, Sana’a, and Ta’iz). The group also documented the recruitment of girls by the Houthis into the Zainabiyat forces, the female Houthi security apparatus. Since 2015, 12 girls aged 13-17 allegedly survived sexual violence as well as forced and early marriage directly linked to their recruitment.

Tribes, primarily affiliated with the Houthis, but also including some tribes armed and financed by the ROYG to fight alongside its regular army, used underage recruits in combat zones, according to reports by international NGOs such as Save the Children. Combatants reportedly included married boys between the ages of 12 and 15 in fighting in the northern tribal areas; tribal custom considered married boys as adults who owe allegiance to the tribe. As a result, according to international and local human rights NGOs, one-half of tribal fighters were youths younger than age 18. Other observers noted tribes rarely placed boys in harm’s way but used them as guards rather than fighters.

The lack of a consistent system for birth registration compounded difficulties in proving age, which at times contributed to the recruitment of minors into the military. The United Nations also documented the deprivation of liberty of boys by armed forces and groups for their alleged association with opposing parties.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: All parties to the conflict routinely imposed severe restrictions on the movement of persons, goods, and humanitarian assistance. Continued clashes, worsening macroeconomic conditions, fuel shortages, damage to civilian infrastructure, and lack of access for and bureaucratic constraints on humanitarian organizations to reach vulnerable populations contributed to the worsening humanitarian situation. The United Nations reported that 24.3 million individuals needed humanitarian assistance as of November. As of November, the United Nations reported that there were more than 40 front lines where relief workers must negotiate passage with various armed groups, which complicated and delayed aid delivery.

The United Nations reported that since 2019, parties to the conflict increasingly impeded humanitarian operations. Continued Houthi interference in relief operations had resulted in the disruption of humanitarian activities in the north, affecting an estimated 9 million persons as of November. Houthi officials issued more than 310 directives between January 2019 and November to control organizations providing humanitarian assistance.

Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council in October that humanitarian staff in the south also faced challenges due to insecurity, including harassment by armed groups.

There were reports of attacks on health-care facilities and health-care workers. The WHO recorded 142 attacks on health facilities from March 2015 to March.

On February 7, a number of international NGOs released a joint statement that described an attack on Ma’rib’s main hospital, which serves up to 15,000 patients. In addition, a nearby hospital and mobile clinic were also structurally damaged. The Group of Eminent Experts found reasonable grounds to believe that these attacks were, at a minimum, prohibited indiscriminate attacks due to the imprecise nature or deployment of the weapons used.

On March 13, the al-Thawra hospital, supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), was struck multiple times by shelling by an unknown group. A week earlier, on March 5, the hospital’s general laboratory was damaged and a medical staff member was wounded by shelling. Since 2018 MSF recorded at least 40 incidents of violence against the hospital, its personnel, and patients, including shootings inside or near hospital premises. Hospital buildings and structures were hit more than 15 times by small arms fire and shelling, and there were several incidents of medical staff being harassed and attacked. An MSF-supported hospital in Ta’iz was also affected by shelling in October.

There were reports of the use of civilians to shield combatants. Houthi forces reportedly used captives as human shields at military encampments and ammunition depots under threat of coalition airstrikes.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press “within the limits of the law,” the law calls for journalists to uphold national unity and prohibits criticism of the head of state. The Houthis did not respect the rights as provided in the constitution, and the government was unable to enforce them.

Freedom of Speech: All parties to the conflict severely restricted the right to freedom of expression. Female human rights defenders, journalists, and activists faced specific repression on the basis of gender. Local human rights defenders faced harassment, threats, and smear campaigns from the government, Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi forces. Freedom House reported that freedom of personal expression and private discussion remained severely limited as a result of intimidation by armed groups and unchecked surveillance by the Houthi authorities. In multiple instances Houthis went to the homes of activists, journalists, and political leaders opposed to the Houthis and used the threat of arrest and other means to intimidate perceived opponents and to silence dissent.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Prior to the outbreak of conflict, the transitional government approved legislation to regulate broadcasting and television channels. A number of domestic private radio and television stations operated under media production company permits, and several stations broadcast from abroad for domestic audiences.

Violence and Harassment: The government was unable to take any substantive steps to protect journalists from violence and harassment. Progovernment popular resistance forces, Houthis, and tribal militias were responsible for a range of abuses against media outlets.

The UN Group of Experts reported that the Houthis arbitrarily detained journalists and human rights defenders in Sana’a prisons, such as Sana’a Central Prison, unofficial facilities like the security and intelligence detention center, and in secret detention facilities, including former residential buildings in and around Sana’a.

Reporters Without Borders reported that photographer Abdullah Bukeir, who was arrested and detained in a ROYG-controlled facility in April, began a hunger strike and by June was hospitalized because of his condition. As of December, he remained in detention.

Amnesty International reported in July that the Houthis had detained 10 journalists since 2015 on false charges, subjected them to torture and other forms of abuse, and sentenced four of them–Akram al-Walidi, Abdelkhaleq Amran, Hareth Hamid, and Tawfiq al-Mansouri–to death in April for espionage (see section 1.d, Arbitrary Arrest or Detention.). The journalists reportedly suffered from a range of medical problems while in detention.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Houthis controlled several state ministries responsible for press and communications, including the Ministry of Telecommunications. In that capacity they selected items for formerly government-run broadcast and print media and did not allow reports critical of themselves. The Ministry of Telecommunications and internet service providers reportedly blocked websites and domains that authorities deemed critical of the Houthi agenda. The OHCHR reported Houthi forces censored television channels and banned newspapers from publication.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes criticism of the “person of the head of state”; the publication of “false information” that may spread “dissent and division among the people”; materials that may lead to “the spread of ideas contrary to the principles of the Yemeni revolution”; and “false stories intended to damage Arab and friendly countries or their relations.” There was no information during the year whether the ROYG or the Houthis used these laws to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental actors inhibited freedom of expression, including for members of the press. The OHCHR reported that since the start of the conflict in March 2015 there were 357 human rights abuses against journalists, including 28 killings, two enforced disappearances, one abduction, 45 physical assaults, and 184 arbitrary arrests and detentions. These abuses were committed by both government authorities and nonstate actors.

Internet Freedom

Censorship affected internet freedom, and there were notable cases of Houthi intrusion into cyberspace. The Houthi-controlled Public Telecommunications Corporation systematically blocked user access to websites and internet domains it deemed dangerous to their political agenda.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The NSB maintained permanent offices on campuses, reflecting continued government concern regarding security and, in some cases, controversial speech. Partisan officials at the Ministry of Higher Education and academic institutions reviewed prospective university professors and administrators for political acceptability before hiring them and commonly showed favoritism toward supporters of specific political parties. There were no reported instances of censored curriculums or sanctioned professors or students; however, after their takeover, Houthi and other actors’ incursions onto campuses and detentions of academics appeared designed to intimidate perceived opponents.

Scholars at Risk (SAR) reported that armed groups, mostly Houthi forces, targeted individual students, faculty, and university administrators over perceived disloyalty to a particular armed group. The Houthis subjected scholars and students to a number of academic reforms aimed at bolstering Houthi influence and quashing opposition. The reforms include the imposition of lectures and apparently politicized courses developed by the Houthis. Students have reportedly been required to study speeches and sermons by Houthi military leaders. One scholar in exile told SAR that Houthi forces have required faculty to attend lectures on the group’s ideology.

On January 25, Houthi militants arrested Hamid Aqlan, president of the Sana’a-based University of Science and Technology, along with one of his administrative colleagues. The Houthis reportedly charged Aqlan with “aiding aggression” based on accusations that he smuggled the university’s financial and electronic records, including those of the university hospital, to the private university’s owners in Aden. Aqlan was brought to an undisclosed location where Houthi soldiers denied him contact with family and colleagues. The day of his arrest, the Houthis announced the appointment of a new president, Adel al-Mutawakkil, whom the ROYG identified as a supporter of the Houthis. On February 2, Houthi forces released Aqlan; however, they detained him again on February 11 at a checkpoint in Ibb governorate, along with his brother and three other companions. On March 4, Aqlan was charged with “falsifying a personal identity.” While his companions were released, Aqlan remained in custody at year’s end.

On February 2, armed Houthi forces raided a Sana’a University lecture hall and assaulted sociology professor Ali Baalawi, apparently for allegedly criticizing the appointment of a military commander’s relative as dean of the Faculty of Arts, despite lacking the appropriate qualifications. Baalawi was promptly removed from campus and reportedly barred from returning to the university.

On May 19, Houthi forces detained Hodeidah University faculty member Wadih al-Sharjabi, apparently for social media commentary critical of the Houthi militia. Al-Sharjabi, a communications lecturer, had reportedly demanded over Facebook that the militia release several university students who were arrested for allegedly fighting alongside state armed forces.

SAR also documented Houthi activities to deter campus activities the Houthis found objectionable. On February 2, Houthi soldiers and a number of pro-Houthi student informants shut down an academic competition hosted at the University of Ibb that they claimed was “immoral” and did not have their advance approval.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but these rights were not respected in the majority of the country, i.e., areas that the ROYG did not control.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. The Houthis and their affiliates responded to demonstrations and protests in various parts of the country with excessive force. SAR reported that in March students at the University of Science and Technology in Sana’a allegedly received threatening letters after holding a peaceful campus protest against the Houthi occupation of the university and the continued detention of the university’s former president Dr. Hamid Aqlan (see section 2.a, Freedom of Expression–Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).

Freedom of Association

While the law provides for freedom of association, there were reports the Houthis harassed and detained activists and shut down NGOs. Houthi authorities closed numerous NGOs during the year without proper due process, citing treason or conspiring with foreign powers. Houthi authorities created the Executive Office for Monitoring Operations of International Organizations to oversee the work of NGOs and reportedly police NGO activity. Several NGOs originally based in Sana’a moved to Aden or other cities in government-controlled areas, or abroad.

The law regulates associations and foundations and outlines the establishment and activities of NGOs. Authorities required annual registration. The law exempts registered NGOs from taxes and tariffs and requires the government to provide a reason for denying an NGO registration, such as deeming an NGO’s activities “detrimental” to the state. It forbids NGO involvement in political or religious activities. It permits foreign funding of NGOs. The law requires government observation of NGO internal elections. There were no known attempts by NGOs to register during the year.

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; however there were many restrictions on these freedoms.

In-country Movement: Rebel forces, resistance forces, security forces, and tribes maintained checkpoints on major roads. In many regions, especially in areas outside effective central security control, armed tribesmen frequently restricted freedom of movement, operated their own checkpoints, sometimes with military or other security officials, and often subjected travelers to physical harassment, extortion, theft, or short-term kidnappings for ransom. Damage to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure from the conflict also hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid and commercial shipments (see section 1.g, Abuses in Internal Conflict).

Women in general did not enjoy full freedom of movement, although restrictions varied by location. Oxfam reported that in areas controlled by radical Islamic groups such as AQAP, men at checkpoints increasingly insisted on adherence to the mahram system, the cultural obligation of women to be accompanied by male relatives in public. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that harassment at checkpoints of women and girls not accompanied by a male, as well as inability to afford transport, hampered women’s ability to reach health, nutrition, and other services.

The Houthis banned the mixing of genders in cafes unless the couple had children or carried a marriage certificate.

Local observers reported individuals from Houthi-controlled areas faced increasing discrimination and difficulties when traveling in the southern portion of the country.

Foreign Travel: The Houthi takeover of Sana’a in 2014 and the government relocation to Aden in 2015 left no official government authority in control of Sana’a airport customs or immigration functions. In 2016 the coalition closed Sana’a International Airport to commercial traffic, permitting only UN humanitarian flights, thereby preventing thousands of local citizens from traveling abroad. Those who needed to leave the country attempted alternative routes that required long journeys across active front lines at high risk and cost.

The closure of airports and land borders as a result of COVID-19 further complicated international travel. In September the Houthi authorities temporarily closed Sana’a airport to UN flights.

In the past women needed the permission of a male guardian, such as a husband, before applying for a passport or leaving the country. A husband or male relative could bar a woman from leaving the country by placing a woman’s name on a “no-fly list” maintained at airports. Prior to the conflict, authorities strictly enforced this requirement when women traveled with children, but there were no reports of government authorities enforcing this requirement during the year. There were attempts, however, by the Houthis to impose similar restrictions on women’s international travel. In view of the deterioration of infrastructure and lack of security due to the conflict, many women reportedly declined to travel alone (see section 6, Women).

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Prior to 2014 the transitional government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees (see section 2.f, Protection of Refugees), returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The Houthi takeover, coalition airstrikes, and active fighting made it difficult for humanitarian organizations to reach many areas of the country due to security concerns (see section 1.g, Abuses in Internal Conflict–Other Conflict-related Abuse).

UNHCR reported in September that more than 156,000 additional persons had been internally displaced since the beginning of the year, and further displacement occurred during increased fighting in Ma’rib. Close to one million IDPs were living in more than 1,600 IDP sites in deplorable conditions; UNHCR and its partners had access to 660 of those sites to provide assistance.

The European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations reported in March that heavy fighting in al-Hazm caused massive secondary and tertiary displacements of IDPs towards Ma’rib. An estimated 1,800 households reportedly fled the area as fighting escalated and more than 2,100 IDPs had already reached Ma’rib.

In April, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Lowcock said that 60,000 persons had fled conflict in al-Jawf since January, most of them arriving in Ma’rib.

UNHCR declared in July that up to 670 IDP families had been newly displaced in Abyan due to recent clashes between STC and ROYG forces.

In August the Executive Unit for the Management of IDPs in Ma’rib reported the displacement of 1,580 families from their homes and displacement camps due to military operations launched by Houthi rebels in the Medghal district of Ma’rib.

According to UNHCR, summer flooding temporarily displaced an additional 300,000 individuals, some of whom were already living in IDP camps. The worst hit areas were Ma’rib, Amran, Hajjah, Hudaydah, Ta’iz, Lahj, Aden, and Abyan governorates, where floods killed more than 150 persons.

Humanitarian organizations’ access to IDPs and other vulnerable populations was generally limited and unpredictable due to the continuing conflict; however, many humanitarian organizations maintained a presence in multiple locations. According to the United Nations, humanitarian organizations, local NGOs, and charities that still functioned in the capital supported IDPs and other conflict-affected persons in Sana’a and other parts of the country with food, shelter, nonfood items, and other support. IDPs from Sa’ada reported limited access to cash for purchasing basic household items. COVID-19 exacerbated the challenges of reaching IDPs.

NGOs reported shelter continued to be a primary concern for IDPs. The IOM reported IDPs largely sought refuge with relatives or friends, or rented accommodations where many faced frequent threats of eviction due to late rent payments. Others were held in unconventional shelters in public or private buildings such as schools, health facilities, or religious buildings, primarily in Ta’iz and Lahj. The shifting nature of the conflict displaced many IDPs multiple times as the front lines of the conflict changed, requiring individuals to seek new shelter with every subsequent displacement.

f. Protection of Refugees

The IOM reported that new arrivals of migrants declined significantly due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Between January and September, the IOM recorded somewhat more than 33,000 arrivals, compared to more than 84,000 during the same period in 2019.

The country received refugees from a variety of countries. Many refugees became increasingly vulnerable due to the worsening security and economic situation in the country. Somali, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants shared in the general poverty and insecurity of the country.

According to UNHCR, there were 283,898 refugees and asylum seekers in the country as of August, mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia. Many were attempting to reach or return to Saudi Arabia for work and had entered the country based on false information from smugglers that the conflict in the country was over, according to UNHCR and the IOM. Many took refuge at the Kharaz refugee camp and towns in the south. The ROYG could not provide physical protection to refugees or migrants; many were held in detention centers operated by the Houthis in the north and by the government in the south. UNHCR and other organizations stated there were reports of refugees and migrants facing physical and sexual abuse, torture, and forced labor in both Houthi and ROYG-controlled facilities, and that many refugees and migrants were vulnerable to human trafficking.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to the IOM, migrants in the country continued to face egregious forms of abuse at the hands of smugglers and traffickers, including sexual and gender-based violence, torture, abduction for ransom, forced labor, and physical violence. The IOM considered women and girls to be particularly vulnerable and more likely to be trafficked and exposed to sexual abuse. The OHCHR reported that UAE-supported Security Belt Forces (SBF) committed rape and other forms of serious sexual violence targeting foreign migrants and other vulnerable groups (see section 1.c, Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and 1.g, Abuses in Internal Conflict.).

These risks were compounded by armed hostilities concentrated around Shabwah, Abyan, al-Bayda, al-Jawf, Ma’rib, and Sa’ada governorates, and by internal movement restrictions due to COVID-19. These factors resulted in more migrants becoming stranded or trapped for longer periods in areas without assistance and at risk of being injured or killed, according to the IOM. Multiple NGOs and media reported that criminal smuggling groups built a large number of “camps” near the Yemen-Saudi border city of Haradh and in other parts of the country, where militants held migrants for extortion and ransom.

The UN Department of Economic Affairs reported there were 385,600 migrants, including women and children, as of mid-2019. The IOM estimated that more than 14,500 migrants were stranded in August because of the COVID-19 border closures in Aden, Ma’rib, Lahj, and Sa’ada governorates. Through the end of July, the IOM assisted in the return of 946 migrants from the country.

Authorities in both the north and south of the country often detained migrants. According to the IOM, migrants in detention who could afford to pay for their release were reportedly loaded on trucks and moved to other governorates where they were left in secluded areas, on the outskirts of towns, or forcibly transferred to the Sana’a Immigration, Passport, and Naturalization Authority facility. In the north, from April to June, Houthi authorities arrested and relocated 1,500 migrants to the south. The IOM estimated that approximately 5,000 migrants were living in Aden on the streets.

The IOM reported both the ROYG and Houthis detained migrants due to concerns the migrants could be recruited by the other party, and to scapegoat migrants for being carriers of COVID-19. UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations faced challenges accessing detention centers to monitor detained refugees and asylum seekers.

While the government generally deported migrants back to their country of origin, the Houthis frequently detained migrants for indefinite periods.

HRW and the IOM reported overcrowding in detention facilities, lack of access to medical care, and physical abuse, with detainees showing signs of sores and festering wounds.

According to local authorities, 390 migrants were relocated from detention centers in Houthi-controlled areas to al-Jawf, and from mid-April to mid-May, 486 were moved to Ta’iz. The Houthis reportedly left at least 20,000 migrants stranded along the border with Saudi Arabia. As of June, approximately 7,000 migrants were reportedly still on the Saudi-Yemen border.

The IOM reported in September that an estimated 4,000 or more migrants in Ma’rib were stranded across the governorate, with many of them having lived there for more than six months, unable to continue their journey northwards due to movement restrictions along the main roads. In addition, more than 500 migrants were under risk of eviction in Ma’rib due to a lack of acceptance from the local community.

HRW reported that in April, Houthi forces forcibly expelled thousands of Ethiopian migrants from Sa’ada in the northern part of the country. The Houthi forces described the migrants as “coronavirus carriers,” killing dozens and forcing them to the Saudi border. Saudi border guards reportedly fired on the migrants, killing dozens more, while hundreds of survivors escaped to a mountainous border area (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia).

From January 1 through July 31, the IOM reported that 13,416 citizens returned to the country from Saudi Arabia and 366 from the Horn of Africa.

According to reports, the head of the militia that previously detained refugees at the Bureiqa migrant detention center was arrested and all refugees were released.

Access to Asylum: No law addresses the granting of refugee status or asylum, and there was no system for providing protection to asylum seekers. In past years the government provided automatic refugee status to Somalis who entered the country. The Houthis attempted to take over the refugee status determination process in areas under their control, leading many refugees to have lapsed documentation. Houthi armed groups arbitrarily detained migrants in poor conditions and failed to provide access to asylum and protection procedures in multiple facilities in Houthi-controlled territories. UNHCR was generally able to access populations to provide assistance and was working with the Houthis to come to a resolution on registration of refugees. UNHCR continued to conduct refugee status determinations in southern territory under ROYG control, in coordination with the government.

Freedom of Movement: Freedom of movement was difficult for all persons in the country, including refugees, in view of the damage to roads, bridges, and other basic infrastructure, and COVID-19 travel restrictions. Most of the country’s airports had significant damage or were closed to commercial traffic, making air travel difficult for all, including refugees. In areas controlled by Houthis, unofficial checkpoints blocked and delayed the movement of individuals and goods.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees lacked access to basic services due to the continuing conflict. The United Nations estimated only approximately half of the country’s public-health facilities remained functional during the year. Many were closed due to damage caused by the conflict, some were destroyed, and all facilities faced shortages in supplies, including medications and fuel to run generators.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens with the ability to choose their government peacefully through free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. The outbreak of conflict interrupted a government-initiated new voter registration program. There have been no elections since the outbreak of conflict in 2014.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 the major political parties, acting within the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), endorsed an extension of President Hadi’s term, in view of the conflict. In 2014, 13 parties signed a Peace and National Partnership Agreement that temporarily ended the violence associated with the Houthi movement into Sana’a and called for implementation of the NDC outcomes, including holding elections and establishing a new constitution.

In 2015 the Houthis declared the constitution null and void, disbanded parliament, and announced the formation of an appointed Supreme Revolutionary Committee as the highest governing body. Houthi-aligned members of the General People’s Congress, the largest political party, announced the formation of a Supreme Political Council and the reconvening of parliament in Sana’a, followed by the announcement of a “national salvation government.” The institutions did not receive international recognition as government bodies, and elections for parliament were not held.

In Sayoun in April 2019, the ROYG reconvened parliament for the first time since 2015. Parliament has not reconvened since that time, in part due to events in August 2019 when the STC forced the ROYG out of the temporary capital of Aden to Riyadh.

The November 2019 Riyadh Agreement was aimed at ending three months of hostilities in the country’s south, producing a more inclusive cabinet, and bringing all military forces under the ROYG umbrella. In July the ROYG and the STC agreed to a mechanism for implementing the Riyadh Agreement, including the STC’s reversal of its April 25 declaration of self-administration of governance in Aden. The newly formed government arrived in Aden on December 30.

The UN-led political process continued at year’s end. UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths continued his efforts to broker agreement between the ROYG and the Houthis on a joint declaration to establish a ceasefire, implement certain economic and humanitarian measures, and restart political negotiations.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires political parties to be national organizations that do not restrict their membership to residents of a particular region or to members of a given tribe, religious sect, class, or profession.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides for criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively. There were reports of official corruption. A burdensome criminal judicial process creates a separate legal system for the political elite. According to the constitution, approval of one-fifth of the members of parliament is necessary to conduct a criminal investigation of a deputy minister or higher-ranking official. The law then requires a two-thirds majority in parliament and presidential permission to bring criminal investigation results to the general prosecutor for indictment. The government has never used the procedure.

Corruption: Corruption was pervasive throughout the country, and observers reported petty corruption in nearly every government office. Job applicants were often expected to purchase their positions. Observers believed tax inspectors undervalued assessments and pocketed the difference. Many government officials and civil service employees received salaries for jobs they did not perform or multiple salaries for the same job. Corruption also regularly affected government procurement. Corruption and goods on the black market increased overall in parts of Houthi-controlled areas, particularly in institutions controlled from Sana’a.

Recent analyses by international and local observers, including Transparency International, agreed corruption was a serious problem in every branch and level of government, and especially in the security sector. International observers claimed government officials benefited from insider arrangements, embezzlement, and bribes. Political leaders and most government agencies took negligible action to combat corruption. In the view of informed local observers, the leading cause of the 2011 protests that eventually led to the internal conflict was the anger against decades-long pervasive corruption in the central government.

Some police stations reportedly maintained an internal affairs section to investigate security force abuses and corruption, and citizens have the right to file complaints with the Prosecutor’s Office. The Ministry of Interior had a fax line for citizens to file claims of abuse for investigation. No information was available on the number of complaints the ministry received or investigated, or whether the mechanism still existed.

A government plan to collect biometric information on all government employees, including soldiers and other security force members, and to create a central registry designed to eliminate the alleged tens of thousands of fraudulent and duplicate names from the payroll, was suspended following the armed Houthi takeover in 2015. The government also suspended implementation of a payment system for soldiers and other security force members via bank or post office accounts. Prior to the outbreak of conflict, that system bypassed paymasters who had previously paid soldiers in cash.

In June the ROYG Human Rights Ministry called on institutions, including universities and trade unions, to reject a new Houthi law calling for a 20 percent tax for the benefit of Hashemite families, particularly the Houthi dynasty, as purported descendants of the prophet Muhammad.

Prior to the outbreak of conflict, the independent Supreme National Authority for Combating Corruption (SNACC) received complaints and developed programs to raise awareness of corruption. It included a council of government, civil society, and private-sector representatives. A lack of capacity, particularly in terms of financial analysis, hampered the SNACC. The November 2019 Riyadh Agreement called for reactivating the SNACC and “strengthening it with honest and professional figures and…[re-]activating its oversight role.” The ROYG prime minister formally announced the “reconstitution” of the SNACC in December 2019.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires annual disclosure of financial assets by all ministers, deputy ministers, agency heads, members of parliament, and Shura Council members. Filers are to provide disclosures to the SNACC for verification. The information was not publicly available. The SNACC may also request disclosures from any other government employee and provides for penalties for false filing of information. The law does not require disclosure of assets of children or spouses. There was no information on whether officials complied with the law.

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

International human rights organizations stated their personnel were unable to obtain coalition permission to use UN flights into and out of Sana’a since 2017. Independent observers must take commercial flights to government-controlled areas in the south and then travel by land across dangerous front lines to other areas.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In October 2019 media reports stated Houthi rebels denied entry to OHCHR representative Ahmed Elobeid. When Elobeid landed in Sana’a, Houthi security officers boarded his plane, confiscated his travel permit, and ordered his plane to depart. Prior to this incident, the OHCHR had published a critical report detailing abuses by all parties in the civil war, including sexual violence against women in Houthi-run prisons. In June the United Nations appointed Abeer al-Khraisha as chief of mission to replace Elobeid.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NCIAVHR was established in 2015 as an independent group responsible for investigating all alleged human rights abuses since 2011. The commission consists of a chair and eight members with legal, judicial, or human rights backgrounds. The NCIAVHR continued to investigate and report on human rights conditions during the year and conducted training with the United Nations.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, but it does not criminalize spousal rape. The punishment for rape is imprisonment for up to 25 years. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

The United Nations reported incidents of gender-based violence increased (see section 1.g, Abuses in Internal Conflict–Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture.). The Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence reported in June that women and children faced a high risk of sexual violence, and noted that female political leaders and activists have been systemically targeted by the Houthis since 2017. The UN Group of Experts reported that in Houthi-controlled territory, women either were threatened with or experienced prostitution charges, physical harm, arbitrary and secret detention, and sexual violence if they spoke out against the Houthis. Women also were reported as having an increased vulnerability due to the conflict and subsequent displacements.

From December 2017 through December 2019, the Group of Experts reported the detention and arrest of 11 women, three of whom were repeatedly raped while in custody. The Zainabiyat, the female Houthi security force that worked as prison guards, was implicated in abetting the rape of these women, including during interrogation. The UN Panel of Eminent Experts also documented abuses committed by the Zainabiyat, including sexual assault, beatings, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, and facilitating rape in secret detention centers.

The UN Group of Experts also noted the role of the SBF and 35th Armored Brigade personnel (over whom the ROYG exercised minimal control) in perpetrating rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls.

NGOs documenting human rights abuses reported multiple incidents of sexual violence. In December 2019 the brother and male cousin of a young girl were arrested for defending her after she was harassed by the bodyguard of a prominent STC official. In March an STC battalion attacked an IDP camp and reportedly raped female residents. Also in March a Houthi official sexually harassed an aid worker in an attempt to coerce her into preferential distribution of food to Houthi officials.

There were no reliable rape prosecution statistics, and the number of rape cases was unknown. Human rights NGOs stated their view that underreporting of sexual and gender-based violence cases was common. By law authorities can prosecute rape victims on charges of fornication if authorities do not charge a perpetrator with rape. According to law, without the perpetrator’s confession, the rape survivor must provide four male witnesses to the crime.

The law states that authorities should execute a man if convicted of killing a woman. The law, however, allows leniency for persons guilty of committing an “honor” killing or violently assaulting or killing a woman for perceived “immodest” or “defiant” behavior. The law does not address other types of gender-based abuse, such as forced isolation, imprisonment, and early and forced marriage.

The law provides women with protection against domestic violence, except spousal rape, under the general rubric of protecting persons against violence, but authorities did not enforce this provision effectively. Victims rarely reported domestic abuse to police and criminal proceedings in cases of domestic abuse were rare.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C, although a 2001 ministerial directive banned the practice in government institutions and medical facilities, according to HRW. According to the UN Population Fund, the most recent data, from 2013, indicated 19 percent of women ages 15 to 49 have undergone FGM, with prevalence rates as high as 80 percent and 85 percent in al-Mahrah and Hadramout, respectively.

Sexual Harassment: No laws specifically prohibit sexual harassment, although the penal code criminalizes “shameful” or “immoral” acts. Authorities, however, rarely enforced the law. Sexual harassment was a major problem for women.

Reproductive Rights: The ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in the country made it difficult to find reports on the government’s approach to reproductive rights, including possible interference by the government with the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.

The conflict led to a breakdown of the healthcare system, and women and girls did not have access to essential reproductive health services. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that only 20 percent of health facilities offered maternal and child health services due to lack of supplies, staff shortages, damage due to conflict, inadequate equipment and supplies, and inability to meet operational costs. Access to medications and pharmaceutical products, including contraceptives, also decreased due to the conflict and reportedly due to Houthi interference with distribution of the available supplies.

According to the most recent World Bank and UNICEF estimates (2017), the maternal mortality ratio was 164 deaths per 100,000 live births. The majority of births took place at home, and only 40 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel, according to 2020 UNFPA estimates. The adolescent birth rate remained high at 60 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19, according to 2017 UN Population Division estimates.

According to a 2020 survey conducted by the Track20 Project, 22 percent of all women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraceptives, 36 percent of married women were using modern contraceptives, and 34 percent of women had an unmet need for family planning. Cultural taboos and misconceptions affected the contraceptive prevalence rate throughout the country, particularly in Houthi-controlled areas. There were media reports of Houthi interference with contraceptive distribution by telling reproductive health centers to stop issuing contraceptives, which the Houthis characterized as a “foreign invasion” of traditional culture.

The government struggled to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence due to the ongoing conflict and the breakdown of the healthcare system. According to 2020 UNFPA estimates, 6.1 million girls and women were in need of gender-based violence services. Reported cases of gender-based violence rose, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The UNFPA also reported a rise in the rate of child marriages, most acutely among internally displaced persons (IDPs). The UNFPA reported that in IDP camps, one in five girls aged 10 to 19 were married, compared to 1 in 8 in host communities.

According to the most recent UNFPA report, 19 percent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have undergone some form of FGM/C, but FGM/C was less common among young girls aged 15 to 19 than among women aged 45 to 49.

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

Discrimination: Women faced deeply entrenched discrimination in both law and practice in all aspects of their lives. Mechanisms to enforce equal protection were weak, and the government did not implement them effectively.

Women cannot marry without permission of their male guardians, do not have equal rights in inheritance, divorce, or child custody, and have little legal protection. They experienced discrimination in areas such as employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing (see section 7.d, Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation). A 2015 estimated female literacy rate of 55 percent, compared with 85 percent for men, accentuated this discrimination.

A male relative’s consent was often required before a woman could be admitted to a hospital, creating significant problems in a humanitarian context in which the men of the household were absent or dead.

Women also faced unequal treatment in courts, where the importance given a woman’s testimony equals half that of a man’s.

A husband may divorce a wife without justifying the action in court. In the formal legal system, a woman must provide justification.

Any citizen who wishes to marry a foreigner must obtain the permission of the Ministry of Interior (see section 1.f, Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence). A woman wishing to marry a foreigner must present proof of her parents’ approval. A foreign woman who wishes to marry a male citizen must prove to the ministry that she is “of good conduct and behavior.”

Women experienced economic discrimination (see section 7.d, Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from a child’s parents. A child of a Yemeni father is a citizen. Yemeni women may confer citizenship on children born of a foreign-born father if the child is born in the country. If the child is not born in the country, in rare cases the Ministry of Interior may permit a woman to transmit citizenship to the child if the father dies or abandons the child.

There is no universal birth registration, and many parents, especially in rural areas, never registered children or registered them several years after birth. The requirement that children have birth certificates to register for school was not universally enforced, and there were no reports of authorities denying educational or health-care services and benefits to children based on lack of registration.

Education: The law provides for universal, compulsory, and tuition-free education from ages six to 15. Public schooling was free to children through the secondary school level, but HRW reported that many children, especially girls, did not have easy access. For school attendance statistics, see the 2020 Humanitarian Situation Report from UNICEF.

UNICEF and other agencies reported an estimated two million children have dropped out of school since 2015. The United Nations further estimated that only two-thirds of schools were functioning, even prior to COVID-19 restrictions.

The UN Group of Experts raised concern that some parties to the conflict deprived children of their right to education through the military use of schools, manipulation of education, and targeting of educators. The ROYG Special Security Forces reportedly used a school in Shabwah as a military barracks and detention facility, and the Houthis had allegedly used four schools for weapons storage, manufacturing, and training.

Approximately 160,000 teachers have not been paid regularly since 2016. As a result of the irregular payment of salaries, as well as attacks on schools, many teachers were forced to seek alternate sources of income for support.

Child Abuse: The law does not define or prohibit child abuse, and there was no reliable data on its extent. Authorities considered violence against children a family affair.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Early and forced marriage was a significant, widespread problem. According to UNICEF, 32 percent of girls were married before age 18 and 9 percent of girls were married before age 15. The conflict has exacerbated the situation. The United Nations reported that forced marriage and child marriage for financial reasons due to economic insecurity was a systemic problem. There is no minimum age for marriage, and girls reportedly married as young as age eight.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not define statutory rape and does not impose an age limit for consensual sex. The law prohibits pornography, including child pornography, although there was no information available on whether the legal prohibitions were comprehensive. The law criminalizes the prostitution of children.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

Approximately 20 Jews remained in the country. According to media reports, most lived in a compound in Sana’a. The continuing conflict further weakened law enforcement. Targeted discrimination by the Houthi authorities put the Jewish community at risk. Many fled the country as a result.

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

Use of anti-Semitic language was increasingly prevalent throughout the year. The Houthi movement adopted anti-Semitic slogans, including “death to Israel, a curse on the Jews.” Anti-Israel rhetoric often blurred into anti-Semitic propaganda. The Houthis propagated such materials and slogans throughout the year, including adding anti-Israel slogans and extremist rhetoric into the elementary education curriculum and books.

Members of the Jewish community are not eligible to serve in the military or national government. Authorities forbid them from carrying the ceremonial Yemeni dagger.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and laws affirm the rights of persons with disabilities. The laws permit persons with disabilities to exercise the same rights as persons without disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce them. Social stigma, official indifference, and the continuing conflict were obstacles to implementation.

Children with disabilities may attend public schools, although schools made no special accommodations for them.

Although the law mandates that new buildings have access for persons with disabilities, compliance was poor.

Amnesty International estimated that there are 4.5 million persons with disabilities, including among IDPs. Approximately 37 percent of persons with disabilities were aged 65 and above, according to Amnesty International. Information concerning patterns of abuse of persons with disabilities in educational and mental health institutions was not publicly available.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor was responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The ROYG could not collaborate with the World Bank to administer a social development fund. The ministry was also unable to oversee the Fund for the Care and Rehabilitation of the Disabled, which provided limited basic services and supported more than 60 NGOs assisting persons with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Although racial discrimination is illegal, some groups, such as the Muhamasheen or Akhdam community, and the Muwaladeen (Yemenis born to foreign parents), faced social and institutional discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and social status. The Muhamasheen, who traditionally provided low-prestige services such as street sweeping, generally lived in poverty and endured persistent societal discrimination. Muhamasheen women were particularly vulnerable to rape and other abuse because of the general impunity for attackers due to the women’s low-caste status. The UN Group of Experts reported the Muhamasheen continued to be targets of extreme sexual violence. There were reports of chattel slavery of the Muhamasheen (see section 7.b, Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor). During the year the Houthis have reportedly recruited Muhamasheen fighters more actively to fight against the ROYG. In July, Houthis killed four Muhamasheen and injured another in Amran province after they refused to join Houthi fighters on the front lines.

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

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, with the death penalty as a sanction under the country’s interpretation of Islamic law. There have been no known executions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in more than a decade.

The government did not consider violence or discrimination against LGBTI persons “relevant” for official reporting.

Due to the illegality of and possibly severe punishment for consensual same-sex sexual conduct, few LGBTI persons were open regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity. Individuals known or suspected of being LGBTI faced discrimination.

There is one active LGBTI-related social media site.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While there were no reports of social violence against persons with HIV or AIDS, the topic was socially sensitive and infrequently discussed. Discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS is a criminal offense. Information was not available on whether there were reports on incidents of discrimination.

Section 7. Worker Rights

Government enforcement of labor law was weak to nonexistent due to the continuing conflict. Labor laws were still in effect, but the Houthis controlled the ministries responsible for their implementation.

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of salaried private-sector employees to join unions and bargain collectively. These protections do not apply to public servants, day laborers, domestic servants, foreign workers, and other groups who together made up the majority of the work force. The civil service code covers public servants. The law generally prohibits antiunion discrimination, including prohibiting dismissal for union activities.

While unions may negotiate wage settlements for their members and may conduct strikes or other actions to achieve their demands, workers have the right to strike only if prior attempts at negotiation and arbitration fail. They must give advance notice to the employer and government and receive prior written approval from the executive office of the General Federation of Yemen Workers’ Trade Unions (GFYWTU). Strikes may not be carried out for “political purposes.” The proposal to strike must be put to at least 60 percent of all workers concerned, of whom 25 percent must vote in favor for a strike to be conducted.

The government did not enforce laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

While not formally affiliated with the government, the GFYWTU was the only official federation and worked with the government to resolve labor disputes. In practical terms, a union’s ability to strike depended on its political strength. Authorities often accused unions and associations of being linked to a political party.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prescribes up to 10 years’ imprisonment for any person who “buys, sells, gives [a human being] as a present, or deals in human beings.” This statute’s narrow focus on transactions and movement means the law does not criminalize many forms of forced labor.

The ROYG did not effectively enforce the law due to the continuing conflict and lack of resources.

Although information was limited, in the past there were numerous reports of forced labor in both urban and rural areas. The Asharq alAwsat newspaper reported in July 2019 that prominent Houthis held more than 1,800 Yemenis as slaves and servants who work in their residences and places of work.

Migrant workers and refugees were vulnerable to forced labor. For example, some Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Somalis were forced to work on khat farms (khat is a flowering plant that contains stimulants); some women and children among this population may also have been exploited in domestic servitude.

See also 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 child labor, but the government did not implement its regulations effectively. The Combating Child Labor Unit within the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor was responsible for implementing and enforcing child labor laws and regulations.

The country’s minimum employment age is 14 or not lower than the age of completion of compulsory education, which is generally age 15.

Children younger than 18 with formal contracts may work no longer than six hours a day, with a one-hour break after four consecutive hours, on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Child labor was common, including its worst forms. According to a 2013 International Labor Organization study, which had the most recent available data, more than 1.3 million children participated in the workforce.

In rural areas, family poverty and traditional practice led many children to work in subsistence farming. In urban areas, children worked in stores and workshops, sold goods, and begged on the streets. Children also worked in some industries and construction. Continued weak economic conditions forced hundreds of children to seek work in the hazardous fishery, construction, and mining sectors. Children also reportedly worked in dangerous conditions in waste dumps. According to HRW, nearly one-third of all combatants in the country were younger than 18 years of age (see section 1.g, Abuses in Internal Conflict–Child Soldiers).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not address employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, political opinion, national origin, social origin, gender identity, HIV status, or other communicable diseases. Discrimination based on race, gender, and disability remained a serious problem in employment and occupation. The law prohibits women from working the same hours as men and in jobs deemed hazardous, arduous, or morally inappropriate. The law reserves 5 percent of government jobs for persons with disabilities and mandates the acceptance of persons with disabilities in universities, exempts them from paying tuition, and requires schools be accessible to persons with disabilities. The extent to which any authority implemented these laws was unclear.

Racial and employment discrimination against the Muhamasheen were problems. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and limited access to the workplace (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). Foreign workers may join unions but may not be elected to office. Women were almost absent from the formal labor market, with a labor force participation rate as low as 6 percent.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There was no established minimum wage in the private sector. The minimum civil service wage was more than the estimated poverty income level; however, civil servant salaries have not been paid consistently for several years, and most were too low to provide for a large family.

The law specifies a maximum 48-hour workweek with a maximum eight-hour workday, although many workshops and stores operated 10- to 12-hour shifts without penalty. The 35-hour workweek for government employees was nominally seven hours per day from Sunday through Thursday. The law requires overtime pay, paid holidays, and paid leave, and it prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime.

The law prescribes occupational safety and health standards. It states every employer must provide industry-appropriate safe and healthy conditions for workers. The law recognizes the right of workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations, and workers may challenge dismissals based on such actions in court. The safety law does not apply to domestic servants, casual workers, or agricultural workers.

There were reports of migrant workers being mistreated in detention centers before being sent back to their country of origin due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus left many migrant workers stranded.

Government enforcement of labor law was weak to nonexistent; penalties, if enforced, were not commensurate with those for analogous violations such as civil rights. Working conditions generally were poor, and wage and overtime violations were common. Foreign migrant workers, youth, and female workers typically faced the most exploitative working conditions. Working conditions were poor in the informal sector, which included an estimated 89 percent of the workforce. There was no credible information available regarding work-related accidents or fatalities during the year.