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Argentina

Executive Summary

Argentina is a federal constitutional republic. Mauricio Macri was elected president in 2015 in elections generally considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included torture by federal and provincial police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; interference in judicial independence; corruption at all levels of government; gender-based killings of women; and forced labor despite government efforts to combat it.

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

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

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

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

The Committee against Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission reported 121 deaths in 2017 due to unwarranted or excessive force by police in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires. A credible domestic nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported there were 258 deaths in 2017 as a result of unwarranted or excessive force by police in the country.

On June 20, 18 police officers were indicted for tampering with the official autopsy to hide signs of violence in the case of Franco Casco, who allegedly died in police custody in 2014, and for failing to register Casco’s original detention in police reports. At year’s end 10 of those officers remained in pretrial detention. Federal prosecutors removed charges against the remaining police officers. The case remained ongoing at year’s end.

On March 8, police fatally shot 12-year-old Facundo Ferreira in Tucuman Province. Ferreira’s family alleged two provincial police officers fired without cause. Criminal proceedings against the officers began on July 3. One officer remained employed on the police force in an administrative capacity, and the other was dismissed for unrelated reasons. The case against the two officers was ongoing at year’s end.

b. Disappearance

On November 29, a federal judge ruled the death of activist Santiago Maldonado was not a forced disappearance and that there are no criminal penalties applicable in the case. Maldonado was allegedly last seen during a protest on August 1, 2017, and an official autopsy stated that Maldonado died of drowning and hypothermia. His family announced their intent to appeal the ruling.

Authorities continued to investigate and prosecute individuals implicated in disappearances, killings, and torture committed during the 1976-83 military dictatorship and the 1974-76 government of Isabel Peron. On August 13, oral hearings began in a trial encompassing more than 800 cases of kidnapping, torture, and murder. The trial against two former Ford Motor executives charged with allegedly helping the military kidnap and torture workers, which began in December 2017 continued at year’s end. The case represented the first time private-sector defendants had faced trial for dictatorship-era crimes.

On December 12, the Supreme Court ruled against a reduced sentence for Rufino Batalla, convicted in 2014 for murder, torture, and kidnapping during the military dictatorship, that counted the time Batalla served in prison before conviction as double the time served toward his sentence. The retroactive application of a controversial 1994-2001 “2×1” law in a separate Supreme Court case in 2017 prompted the congressional passage in May 2017 of a new law preventing the “2×1” sentencing benefit to crimes against humanity.

On March 16, the Federal Cassation Court–the nation’s highest federal appellate court–rescinded house arrest for 88-year-old Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz, based on medical testimony concluding Etchecolatz was fit to remain in jail. Etchecolatz, one of the country’s most egregious human rights violators, was convicted five times, most recently in 2016, for kidnapping, torture, and murder as chief of police investigations in Buenos Aires Province from 1976 to 1977, when he oversaw 29 clandestine detention centers.

Judicial authorities continued to investigate cases of kidnapping and illegal adoption of children born to detained dissidents by members of the former military dictatorship. On August 3, the NGO Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo reported that the 128th missing grandchild of the estimated 500 persons born to detained and missing dissidents during the dictatorship and illegally adopted by former military officials had been identified and made aware of his background.

The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team continued to provide technical support and assistance in the identification of remains of victims of the military junta.

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and provides penalties for torture similar to those for homicide. NGOs, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), the Prosecutor General’s Office, the National Penitentiary Prosecutor’s Office (an independent government body that monitors prison conditions), and the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission’s Committee against Torture (an autonomous office established by the provincial government) reported complaints of torture perpetrated by provincial and federal prison officials.

The Buenos Aires Provincial Criminal Court of Cassation’s Office of Public Defenders reported that in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, there were 733 complaints of torture and mistreatment by law enforcement officers during arrest or institutional confinement.

No unified registration system to record acts and victims of torture existed at the federal level. On April 23, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment ratified observations by the UN Committee Against Torture in 2017 that there was excessive and arbitrary use of force by police; prison overcrowding and related institutional violence including torture; uneven implementation of torture prevention laws between provinces; politicization and unclear mandates of various torture prevention institutions; and the lack of an ombudsman against torture since 2008.

According to the Penitentiary Prosecutors Office, 274 cases of torture and mistreatment were registered in the Federal Penitentiary Service during the first half of the year; however, only 84 complaints resulted in criminal investigations.

On May 17, a federal prosecutor in Tierra del Fuego Province filed a motion deposing 26 former military officers for human rights abuses by the armed forces against their own soldiers during the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War. Prosecutors argued the officers were implicated in more than 20 cases of alleged torture of army conscripts and a subsequent cover-up, both classified as crimes against humanity. Defendants included a brigadier general, a lieutenant, and two deceased colonels to be tried in absentia. The case, which marked the first legal action against regime officials for allegedly torturing their own troops during the Falklands/Malvinas military campaign, continued at year’s end.

On September 20, a Buenos Aires City criminal court sentenced six Naval Prefecture officers to between eight to 10 years imprisonment for the 2016 torture of minors Ivan Navarro and Ezequiel Villanueva. The officers were found guilty of torture, illegal detention, and armed robbery.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions often were harsh due to overcrowding, poor medical care, and unsanitary conditions. Particularly in the province of Buenos Aires, which held more than half the country’s total prison population, there were reports of forced transfers and the recurrent use of solitary confinement as a method of punishment. On April 23, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment highlighted deteriorating and excessively harsh prison conditions and expressed concern about detention practices for juveniles and marginalized communities.

Physical Conditions: While prison capacity in federal penitentiaries was marginally adequate, prison overcrowding remained a problem. Prisoners in Buenos Aires provincial penitentiaries exceeded facility capacity by an estimated 91 percent, while prisoners in provincial police holding facilities exceeded capacity by more than 200 percent, according to CELS and the Committee against Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission. In June, NGOs reported a record number of approximately 45,000 detainees in Buenos Aires Province, a 12.5 percent increase over 2017 and an increase of more than 30 percent during the last six years. Many pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners.

Inmates in many facilities suffered from overcrowding; poor nutrition; inadequate medical and psychological treatment; inadequate sanitation, heating, ventilation, and light; limited family visits; and frequent degrading treatment, according to reports by human rights organizations and research centers.

Overcrowding in juvenile facilities often resulted in minors being held in police station facilities, although some NGOs and the national prison ombudsman noted the law prohibited doing so.

Women’s prisons were generally less violent, dangerous, and crowded than men’s prisons. Pregnant prisoners were exempted from work and rigorous physical exercise and were transferred to the penitentiary clinic prior to their delivery date. Children born to women in prison may remain in a special area of the prison with the mother until the age of four and receive daycare.

In the first six months of the year, the Federal Penitentiary Service reported 22 inmate deaths in federal prisons, six of which were violent. The Committee of Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission stated that 134 prisoners died in the province of Buenos Aires in 2017, 60 from health problems and lack of medical attention. The Ministry of Justice had not published official statistics on prisoner deaths since 2016.

On May 12, the chief of Police Station No. 1 in Pergamino, Buenos Aires Province, turned himself over to federal authorities for charges related to a March 2017 fire that killed seven detainees. The police chief and five other police offers remained under arrest at year’s end.

On November 15, four inmates died in a fire at a Buenos Aires Province police station. Ten other detainees were injured.

Administration: Authorities sometimes conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. According to local NGOs, prisoners occasionally did not submit complaints to authorities due to fear of reprisal.

Independent Monitoring: The government usually permitted monitoring by independent local and international human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the federal and provincial police forces, the armed forces, and other federal police authorities including the airport security police, the Gendarmerie, the Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Prisons. The federal police generally have jurisdiction for maintaining law and order in the federal capital and for federal crimes in the provinces. All federal police forces fall under the authority of the Ministry of Security. Each province, including the city of Buenos Aires, also has its own police force that responds to a provincial (or municipal) security ministry or secretariat. Individual forces varied considerably in their effectiveness and respect for human rights. The armed forces fall under the Ministry of Defense. The federal security forces have authority to conduct internal investigations into alleged abuses and to dismiss individuals who allegedly committed a human rights violation.

On July 24, President Macri issued a presidential decree to expand the role of the armed forces to combat transnational criminal networks, such as drug trafficking organizations, and international terrorism. Local NGOs expressed concern over the possible future domestic implications of this decree and demonstrated against it on July 26.

The federal government can file complaints about alleged abuses with the federal courts, and provincial governments can do the same for provincial security forces. Members of security forces convicted of a crime were subject to stiff penalties. Authorities generally administratively suspended officers accused of wrongdoing until their investigations were completed. While authorities investigated and in some cases detained, prosecuted, and convicted the officers involved, impunity at the federal and provincial level remained a problem. International organizations and NGOs reported that authorities carried out investigations unevenly while slow judicial processes hampered timely resolution of complaints.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police generally apprehended individuals openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. Police may detain suspects for up to 10 hours without an arrest warrant if authorities have a well founded belief they have committed or are about to commit a crime or police are unable to determine the suspect’s identity. Human rights groups reported that police occasionally arrested persons arbitrarily and detained suspects longer than 10 hours.

The law provides detainees with the right to a prompt determination of the legality of their detention by a lower criminal court judge, who determines whether to proceed with an investigation. In some cases there were delays in this process and in informing detainees of the charges against them.

The law provides for the right to bail except in cases involving flight risk or risk of subornation of justice.

Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to counsel and provided public defenders if they were unable to afford counsel. In some cases such access was delayed due to an overburdened system.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police on occasion arrested and detained citizens arbitrarily.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for investigative detention of up to two years for indicted persons awaiting or undergoing trial; the period may be extended by one year in limited circumstances. The slow pace of the justice system often resulted in lengthy detentions beyond the period stipulated by law. The National Penitentiary Prosecutors Office reported that 60 percent of prisoners were awaiting trial during the first three months of the year.

On August 18, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of house arrest for Tupac Amaru social activist Milagro Sala, revoking an August 7 decision by a federal judge to return Sala to prison. Sala was arrested in January 2016 during a protest against a provincial government’s reforms to social spending. In December 2016 a judge convicted her for aggravated material damages and civil disturbance. Despite a three-year suspended sentence on that conviction, Sala remained in detention due to pending charges for financial crimes, assault, and fraud. In December 2017 the Supreme Court directed Jujuy Province to allow house arrest in Sala’s case while affirming the legal rationale for her continued detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the government did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality. According to local NGOs, judges in some federal criminal and ordinary courts were subject at times to political manipulation. NGOs also criticized all three branches of the government for use of inappropriate procedures for selecting judges and for manipulating the assignment of judges to specific cases. The judiciary continued to investigate a number of these alleged irregularities.

A law enacted in 2015 allowed the Magistrates’ Council to designate “substitute judges” from congressionally approved lists of judges, attorneys, and court secretaries, circumventing the normal qualifying and order of merit criteria reserved for permanent appointments. Media reported that the government selected substitute judges sympathetic to its interests. In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional. Nonetheless, the civil society organization Fores reported that almost 25 percent of judges remained “substitute” or temporary judges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

In federal and provincial courts, all defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to legal counsel and free assistance of an interpreter, to remain silent, to call defense witnesses, and to appeal. If needed, a public defender is provided at public expense. During the investigative stage, defendants can submit responses to questions in writing. If an investigating judge determines sufficient evidence exists to proceed with a trial, the investigating judge refers the case to a panel of judges, who decide guilt or innocence in a separate oral trial proceeding. During the oral trial, defendants can present witnesses and provide expert witness reports, in addition to the defendant’s own evidence. Defendants have the right to be present at their hearings, and there is no trial in absentia.

Lengthy delays, procedural logjams, long gaps in the appointment of permanent judges, inadequate administrative support, and general inefficiency hampered the judicial system. Judges’ broad discretion on whether and how to pursue investigations contributed to a public perception that many decisions were arbitrary.

Provincial courts in Catamarca, Salta, Cordoba, Chubut, La Pampa, Buenos Aires, Neuquen, Rio Negro, Entre Rios, Buenos Aires City, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero, Chaco, Mendoza, Jujuy, and Tucuman continued the transition to trials with oral arguments in criminal cases, replacing the old system of written submissions. Neuquen, Salta, Chaco, and Buenos Aires Provinces provide defendants accused of certain serious crimes the right to a trial by jury. Full implementation of trial by jury procedures was pending in Chaco, Rio Negro, Mendoza, and San Juan.

In 2014 congress enacted supplementary legislation implementing a new code of criminal procedure for the federal courts, but the government suspended its implementation. The 2014 code would transform the country’s hybrid federal inquisitive system into a full accusatory system, with expanded prosecution under the authority of the attorney general and trial by jury. The new criminal code would impose time limitations on prosecutions (most cases under the new system must be disposed of in three years), expand victims’ rights, and provide for expedited deportations of foreigners in lieu of prosecution. The code would create direct interaction between security forces and prosecutors, who would assume prosecutorial responsibilities exercised by investigating magistrates. During the year the government and congress worked on a new bill to update the 2014 code, including by incorporating legislation passed in the interim, such as a law authorizing the use of cooperating witnesses in cases of corruption. As of November the federal courts had not implemented the 2014 code of criminal procedure, and congress had not finished debating the bill to update it.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to the courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages or the protection of rights provided by the constitution.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. In 2016 the National Administration for Social Security (ANSES) and the Secretariat of Public Communications under the Chief of Staff’s Office officially announced an interagency information-sharing agreement. The agreement sought to make the ANSES database of citizen personal information available to facilitate government public-service communications to the population. A group of citizens, including some opposition legislators, filed the criminal complaint; on September 6, a federal court ruled such an information-sharing procedure would be a violation of the right to privacy.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were reports of media outlet shutdowns and staff dismissals during the year, primarily due to economic concerns. Media observers noted the closures mainly affected outlets that were maintained artificially through public funding mechanisms from the previous administration. On June 26, 350 employees of state news agency Telam were terminated, representing approximately 40 percent of the organization’s workforce. Some viewed the dismissals as a political attempt to shape the outlet’s editorial line, as the agency cited the alleged political polarization of employees hired under prior administrations as one of the reasons for the downsizing.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of physical attacks, threats, and harassment against journalists in relation to their reporting, most of which covered protests.

On October 11, unknown assailants set fire to the car of in radio journalist Enrique Nicolini in La Rioja Province. Nicolini believed the attack was related to his coverage of financial corruption. No arrests had been made in the case, and an investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

The Argentine Journalism Forum reported 29 physical attacks against journalists as of October, a decline compared with the previous year.

On March 8, a criminal court in the city of Cordoba sentenced a former police chief to two and one-half years’ imprisonment for repeated threats against journalist Dante Leguizamon in 2014. Press organizations characterized the sentence as an important judicial validation of press freedoms.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union reported that 76 percent of citizens used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Local NGOs, including CELS, expressed concerns that security-related protocols the Ministry of Security implemented informally beginning in 2016 imposed restrictions on the right to peaceful protest and assembly.

Amnesty International reported that authorities violently suppressed a public protest in La Plata, Buenos Aires Province on August 21. Violent confrontations with police occurred after some protesters attempted to break into a provincial government building. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to halt the demonstration. Five protesters were arrested and dozens were injured, including one protester who was hit by a police patrol car.

The government filed charges against approximately 20 civilians for the violence that occurred during December 2017 demonstrations against pension reform, which injured 160, including 88 police officers. On May 23, the Ministry of Security offered a monetary award for information leading to the arrest of one of the fugitive protesters. On August 31, a federal court ordered one protester to pretrial detention. Additional defendants were at liberty while awaiting trial. The cases were ongoing at year’s end. Local and international NGOs, including CELS and Amnesty International, stated that law enforcement had violently suppressed the protests and called for official investigation into actions by security forces.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

Local NGOs continued to express concern that government reforms to immigration law, passed in January 2017, introduced barriers to migrant admission, complicated obtaining legal residency, accelerated deportation procedures, and restricted access to citizenship.

On June 30, the National Migration Office reported 70,000 Venezuelan migrants arrived in the country over the first semester of the year, constituting 25 percent of total residence permits granted by immigration authorities, an increase of 320 percent over 2016.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

The National Migration Office reported that under a humanitarian visa program for Syrians inaugurated in 2016, as of the end of 2017, authorities had resettled 318 Syrians in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Mauricio Macri was elected president in 2015 in elections generally considered free and fair. The country held legislative elections in October 2017. Voters elected more than one-half of the members of the Chamber of Deputies, representing all of the provinces and the city of Buenos Aires, and one-third of the members of the Senate, representing eight provinces. Local and international observers considered the legislative elections generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Local NGOs pointed to a lack of female representation at higher ranks, particularly in the executive and legislative branches. Two of 10 cabinet ministers were women. In December 2017 a gender parity law came into force, requiring any electoral list of candidates for national legislative office to contain equal percentages of male and female candidates. In 2016 the provinces of Buenos Aires, Salta, Chubut, and Neuquen enacted gender parity laws pertaining to candidates for provincial and municipal bodies; Santa Fe Province approved a similar bill on May 22. The law states that gender is determined by the national identity document, in which persons may register gender of preference regardless of their biological sex. It also states that in the case of resignation, temporary absence, or death of an elected official, the replacement must be the same gender.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Cases of corruption occurred in some security forces. The most frequent abuses included extortion of, and protection for, those involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, and the promotion of prostitution. Allegations of corruption in provincial as well as in federal courts were also frequent.

On August 1, federal authorities arrested 12 former government officials and business executives on corruption-related charges based on handwritten notebooks in which a former government chauffeur allegedly chronicled cash payments he delivered to the official and private residences of former presidents Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as kickbacks for public works contracts from 2008 to 2015. Prosecutors alleged the bribery scheme totaled approximately $160 million. On September 17, a federal court indicted Fernandez de Kirchner for her role in the notebooks corruption scheme. A sitting senator, Fernandez de Kirchner had immunity from arrest but not from prosecution.

Former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her children faced five other separate financial corruption cases. On September 3, a federal judge confirmed Fernandez de Kirchner and two former government ministers would face oral trial beginning on February 26, 2019, on charges of illicit association and fraudulent administration of public construction contracts. On September 18, a federal judge officially questioned Fernandez de Kirchner on charges of international money laundering. On October 3, a federal judge ordered Fernandez de Kirchner and her children, Maximo and Florencia, to stand oral trial for money laundering and criminal association related to real estate dealings. On October 8, a federal court confirmed on appeal the indictment of Fernandez de Kirchner and her children for money laundering related to hotel properties in a separate case. A federal judge ordered Fernandez de Kirchner and 14 former government officials to stand oral trial on charges of manipulating currency exchange future markets in March 2017; a trial date had not been set at year’s end.

On August 7, former vice president Amado Boudou was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison on charges of bribery and criminal conduct incompatible with public office. Boudou served as economy minister and then vice president under Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and was the highest-level official in her administration to be convicted for corruption. Boudou also faced charges of illicit association and enrichment in a separate judicial case, which was ongoing at year’s end.

On September 25, national deputy and former national planning minister Julio de Vido was arrested and placed in pretrial detention due to corruption charges after the Chamber of Deputies voted to revoke his legislative immunity. On October 10, de Vido was sentenced to five years and eight months’ imprisonment for fraudulent administration, misuse of funds, and lack of oversight, which contributed to a 2012 train accident that killed 52 individuals. The sentence was under appeal by prosecutors seeking a harsher conviction.

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

On July 7, the Anti-Corruption Office reported that approximately 10 percent of all national public officials failed to comply with financial disclosure and transparency laws in 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women, including spousal rape, is a crime. The penalties range from six months’ to 20 years’ imprisonment. There were anecdotal reports of police or judicial reluctance to act on rape cases; women’s rights advocates claimed that the attitudes of police, hospitals, and courts toward survivors of sexual violence sometimes victimized them again.

The law prohibits domestic violence, including spousal abuse. Survivors may secure protective measures. The law imposes stricter penalties on those who kill their spouses, partners, or children as a consequence of their gender. According to local NGOs, lack of police and judicial vigilance often led to a lack of protection for victims.

On October 17, a criminal court in Entre Rios Province sentenced Sebastian Wagner to life imprisonment for the April 2017 kidnapping, rape, and killing of Micaela Garcia. Nestor Pavon, Wagner’s former employer, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for serving as a material accessory to the crime. Wagner, who confessed to Garcia’s killing, was previously convicted and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment on two counts of sexual abuse and rape but was released on parole in 2016. The judge who approved Wagner’s parole release, who had been under investigation and faced calls to resign, was cleared of charges of judicial impropriety on July 30 and reinstated.

The National Register of Femicides, maintained by the Supreme Court’s Women’s Office, recorded that 251 women died as a result of domestic or gender-based violence during 2017. A local NGO reported 101 femicides from January to May 31. The same source reported 18 percent of these victims had filed a police report and that 10 percent had active protection orders from authorities.

The Supreme Court’s Office of Domestic Violence provided around-the-clock protection and resources to victims of domestic violence. The office received approximately 3,400 cases of domestic violence in the city of Buenos Aires during the first three months of the year, an estimated 76 percent of which involved violence against women. The office also carried out risk assessments necessary to obtain a restraining order.

Public and private institutions offered prevention programs and provided support and treatment for abused women. Nine shelters were fully operational during the year, with one other shelter under construction. More than 2,800 officials and service providers received training in preventing gender-based violence.

On July 4, the National Congress passed legislation to provide financial reparations to children nationwide whose mothers were victims of femicide. The law came into effect on October 1, and children up to 21 years of age are eligible to apply for the financial benefit, which totaled approximately 11,400 pesos ($300) monthly. The city of Buenos Aires passed an equivalent law in August 2017 and launched the reparations program in January.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the public sector and imposes disciplinary or corrective measures. In some jurisdictions, such as the city of Buenos Aires, sexual harassment might lead to the abuser’s dismissal, whereas in others, such as Santa Fe Province, the maximum penalty is five days in prison. In September 2017 a poll by the city of Buenos Aires ombudsman’s office reported that 80 percent of women suffered from harassment or violence in the street at least once during the year and that 97 percent of these abuses were not reported to authorities. Under a 2016 law against street harassment in the city of Buenos Aires, violators may be fined or given court-ordered public service for making catcalls and other forms of street harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men, they continued to face economic discrimination and held a disproportionately high number of lower-paying jobs. Women also held significantly fewer executive positions in the private sector than men, according to several studies. Although equal payment for equal work is constitutionally mandated, women earned approximately 27 percent less than men earned for similar or equal work.

The Supreme Court’s Office of Women trained judges, secretaries, and clerks to handle court cases related to gender issues and to ensure equal access for women to positions in the court system. The office also trained judges, prosecutors, judicial staff, and law enforcement agents to increase awareness of gender-related crimes and develop techniques to address gender-related cases and victims.

Children

Birth Registration: The government provides universal birth registration, and citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Parents have 40 days to register births, and the state has an additional 20 days to do so. The Ministry of Interior and Transportation may issue birth certificates to children under the age of 12 whose births were not previously registered.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was common; the Supreme Court’s Office of Domestic Violence reported that 30 percent of the complaints it received involved children as of the first trimester of the year. The government launched a 24/7 hotline staffed by professional child psychologists for free consultations and advice; 81 percent of the complaints involved abuse by a father or stepfather.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for men and women is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children, including in prostitution, was a problem. The minimum age of consensual sex is 13, but there are heightened protections for persons ages 13 to 16. A statutory rape law provides for penalties ranging from six months to 20 years in prison, depending on the age of the victim and other factors.

On March 21, a young player with the soccer club Independiente FC revealed to his psychologist that he and 20 other trainees in the soccer minor league were victims of a prostitution ring. On April 2, a civil society organization filed a judicial complaint against River Plate FC for child sex abuse in the club from 2008 to 2011. Seven individuals were detained in relation to the two investigations. Both cases were ongoing at year’s end.

On September 6, police raided the headquarters of the Antonio Provolo Institute for the hearing impaired in the city of La Plata after seven victims accused three clergymen of sexually abusing up to 28 deaf children from 1982 to 2002. The case remained ongoing at year’s end.

The law prohibits the production and distribution of child pornography, with penalties ranging from six months to four years in prison. While the law does not prohibit the possession of child pornography by individuals for personal use, it provides penalties ranging from four months to two years in prison for possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute it. The law also provides penalties ranging from one month to three years in prison for facilitating access to pornographic shows or materials for minors under the age of 14.

During the year prosecutors from the nationwide Point of Contact Network against Child Pornography on the Internet pursued cases of internet child pornography. The network reported improvements on the national level in the ability to punish offenders.

On June 20, local authorities and Interpol dismantled an international network of child pornography that produced and distributed illicit material from the country to other countries in Latin America. Four arrests were made during the operation, and investigations were ongoing at year’s end.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community consisted of approximately 250,000 persons. Sporadic acts of anti-Semitic discrimination and vandalism continued. According to the most recent statistics available, the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations received 404 complaints of anti-Semitism in 2017, compared with 351 in 2016, with more than 88 percent occurring online. The most commonly reported anti-Semitic incidents were slurs posted on various websites, graffiti, verbal slurs, and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries.

On September 27, President Macri in his address to the UN General Assembly called on all countries to respect the Interpol Red Notices on five Iranians, one Lebanese, and one Colombian suspected in the 1994 bombing of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 persons. He also requested improved judicial and investigatory cooperation from Iran.

On March 6, a federal court ruled that former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and 11 other officials in her administration, including former foreign minister Hector Timmerman, should face trial for complicity and false testimony to cover up the 1994 AMIA bombing.

On June 1, a federal court ruled that the 2015 death of Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor in charge of the AMIA bombing investigation, was a homicide and a direct consequence of his work. The federal judge named former Nisman employee Diego Lagomarsino as a suspect in the murder.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law also mandates access to buildings by persons with disabilities. According to media reports, the ombudsman of the city of Buenos Aires reported that only 33 percent of the metropolitan subway stations had elevators or escalators and that only 29 percent of the stations were equipped with bathrooms for persons with disabilities.

While the federal government has protective laws, many provinces had not adopted such laws and had no mechanisms to ensure enforcement. An employment quota law reserves 4 percent of federal government jobs for persons with disabilities, but NGOs and advocacy groups claimed the level of disability employment achieved during the year was less than 1 percent.

Congress proposed and passed a budget cut to the National Disability Agency, which provides a range of services and subsidies for disabled persons.

Indigenous People

The constitution recognizes the ethnic and cultural identities of indigenous peoples and states that congress shall protect their right to bilingual education, recognize their communities and the communal ownership of their ancestral lands, and allow for their participation in the management of their natural resources.

The lack of trained teachers hampered government efforts to offer bilingual education opportunities to indigenous peoples.

Indigenous people were not fully consulted in the management of their lands or natural resources, particularly lithium mining, in part because responsibility for implementing the law is delegated to the 23 provinces, the constitutions of only 11 of which recognize indigenous rights.

Projects carried out by the agricultural and extractive industries displaced individuals, limited their access to traditional means of livelihood, reduced the area of lands on which they depended, and caused pollution that in some cases endangered the health and welfare of indigenous communities. Conflict occurred when authorities evicted indigenous peoples from ancestral lands then in private ownership.

On July 16 and 17, indigenous Mapuche activists occupied an inactive hotel, staged a sit-in at a government office, and blocked a major roadway in the city of Bariloche. Protesters advocated for the release of Facundo Jones Huala, founder of the militant Mapuche Ancestral Resistance. On August 24, the Supreme Court approved the extradition of Jones Huala to Chile, where he faced terrorism charges.

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

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons generally enjoyed the same legal rights and protections as heterosexual persons. No laws criminalize consensual same-sex conduct between adults. LGBTI persons could serve openly in the military.

The law gives transgender persons the right legally to update their name and gender marker on identity documents to reflect their gender identity without prior approval from a doctor or judge.

National antidiscrimination laws do not specifically include the terms “sexual orientation or gender identity” as protected grounds, only “sex.” There was no official discrimination, however, based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. Media and NGOs reported cases of discrimination, violence, and police brutality toward LGBTI individuals, especially transgender persons.

On May 18, the National Observatory of Hate Crimes registered 103 official complaints of discriminatory or violent acts against LGBTI individuals in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, compared with only 31 complaints in 2016. These complaints included 13 hate-crime-related homicides. The transgender population made up 58 percent of reported cases and 90 percent of reported homicides of LGBTI persons.

On June 18, a criminal court sentenced Gabriel David Marino to life imprisonment for the killing of influential LGBTI activist Diana Sacayan in 2015. The ruling was the first to apply aggravated penalties for a hate crime based on gender identity. Sacayan’s case remained open, as a second unknown assailant, believed by law enforcement to have acted as an accomplice, was still at large.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

In 2015 officers from the Buenos Aires provincial police attempted to unionize. The national Labor, Employment, and Social Security Ministry, whose status the government changed in September from an independent ministry to a secretariat within the Ministry of Production and Labor, rejected the police petition. The officers appealed the ministry’s decision, but the Supreme Court affirmed the ministry’s decision in April 2017, ruling the Buenos Aires provincial police did not have the right to form a union under the country’s constitution and applicable laws.

The CTA Autonoma and other labor groups not affiliated with the General Confederation of Labor continued to contend that the legal recognition of only one union per sector conflicted with international standards, namely ILO Convention No. 87, and prevented these unions from obtaining full legal standing. In 2013 the Supreme Court reaffirmed the need for more than one official union per sector and for amendments to the legislation. The ILO urged the government to bring the legislation into conformity with international labor standards.

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

Workers exercised freedom of association. Employers generally respected the right to bargain collectively and to strike. The CTA Autonoma claimed a decrease in the Labor Ministry’s ratifications of bargaining agreements in 2017.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

Despite these mechanisms, forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security carried out 184,440 inspections in 2017 and found 32 cases of forced labor, all of which became formal judicial complaints. Efforts to hold perpetrators accountable continued during the year. In February a federal court overruled a prior ruling to acquit three individuals who recruited, transported, and lodged nine Bolivian individuals for forced labor in rural activities in Sierra de los Padres, Buenos Aires Province. Employers subjected a significant number of Bolivians, Paraguayans, and Peruvians, as well as Argentines from poorer northern provinces, to forced labor in the garment sector, agriculture, construction, domestic work, and small businesses (including restaurants and supermarkets). There was a report that Chinese citizens were victims of forced labor in supermarkets in the city of Cinco Saltos. Men, women, and children were victims of forced labor, although victims’ typical gender and age varied by employment sector (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

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

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

Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking, and illicit activities such as the transport and sale of drugs. In 2017 authorities completed the Survey of Activities of Boys, Girls, and Adolescents to understand better child labor in the country. Preliminary findings indicated 9.4 percent of children between the ages of five and 15 and 30.6 percent of adolescents ages 16 and 17 engaged in some form of labor during the 2016-17 survey period. Principal activities were helping in a business or office; repair or construction of homes; cutting lawns or pruning trees; caring for children, the elderly, or the infirm; helping in a workshop; making bread, sweets, or other food for sale; gathering paper, boxes, cans, and other recyclables in the street; handing out flyers or promotional materials for a business; cleaning homes and businesses or washing and ironing clothes for others; and cultivating or harvesting agricultural products.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The most prevalent cases of workplace discrimination were based on disability, gender (see section 6, Women), and age. Discrimination also occurred on the basis of HIV-positive status (see section 6, HIV/AIDS and Social Stigma) and against individuals of indigenous origin. In 2016 the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security issued a resolution promoting progressive actions in the workplace and prohibited companies from screening blood for HIV when conducting employment-related medical screening.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In August the government announced increases to the national monthly minimum wage for the June 2018 to June 2019 term, but the minimum wage remained below the official poverty income level for a family for four.

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

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

The government sets occupational safety and health standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The law requires employers to insure their employees against accidents at the workplace and when traveling to and from work. The law requires employers either to provide insurance through a labor-risk insurance entity or to provide their own insurance to employees to meet requirements specified by the national insurance regulator. In 2016 Congress amended the Labor Risks Law to limit the worker’s right to file a complaint if he or she does not exhaust compulsory administrative proceedings before specified medical committees.

Laws governing acceptable conditions of work were not enforced universally, particularly for workers in the informal sector. The Ministry of Production and Labor has responsibility for enforcing legislation related to working conditions. The ministry continued inspections to ensure companies’ workers were registered and formally employed. The ministry conducted inspections in various provinces during the year, but the Labor Inspectorate employed well below the number of inspectors recommended by the ILO, given the size of the workforce. The National Statistics and Census Institute reported approximately 34 percent of the workforce worked informally as of the fourth quarter of 2017. The Superintendence of Labor Risk served as the enforcement agency to monitor compliance with health and safety laws and the activities of the labor risk insurance companies.

Most workers in the formal sector earned significantly more than the minimum wage. The minimum wage generally served to mark the minimum pay an informal worker should receive, although formal workers’ pay was usually higher.

Workers could not always recuse themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in these circumstances.

Belize

Executive Summary

Belize is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. In 2015 the United Democratic Party won 19 of 31 seats in the House of Representatives following generally free and fair multiparty elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of unlawful killings by security officers; allegations of corruption by government officials; crimes involving violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; trafficking in persons; and child labor.

In some cases the government took steps to prosecute public officials who committed abuses, both administratively and through the courts, but there were few successful prosecutions. While some lower-ranking officials faced disciplinary action, criminal charges, or both, higher-ranking officials were less likely to face punishment, resulting in a perception of impunity.

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

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

There were allegations that government agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In January a police officer allegedly shot and killed a man from Punta Gorda Town. The officer was believed to have been under the influence of alcohol. While the officer claimed the victim had a firearm in his hand, witnesses contradicted the officer’s account. The Police Standards Branch (PSB) investigated the matter, and the officer was criminally charged with manslaughter. As of October he was on interdiction (administrative leave at half pay) pending the outcome of the case. A separate investigation by the Office of the Attorney General found the death was a case of extrajudicial killing and financially compensated the family of the victim.

In February, seven Belize Defense Force (BDF) soldiers and one member of the police’s Special Branch Unit seconded to the BDF allegedly beat a man to death in Orange Walk over a suspected cell phone theft. The eight men were taken into custody and charged with murder. In September the court dismissed the case after the case file was lost.

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 prohibits torture or other inhuman punishment, but there were reports that police used excessive force as well as allegations of abuse by security force personnel. The Ombudsman’s Office reported that as of June it received 18 complaints of police abuse and unlawful detention. The ombudsman also received complaints against the Immigration and Nationality Department.

In July the mothers of two male minors publicly complained that the Belize Police Department (BPD) physically abused their sons during a police chase. According to police, the minors were being chased after stealing two guns from a security firm. The minors claimed the officers detained and handcuffed them and then severely beat them. Formal complaints were subsequently registered with the PSB.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: Prisoners in pretrial detention and immigration offenses were not separated from convicted prisoners. Officials used isolation in a small, unlit, unventilated punishment cell to discipline inmates. Conditions in the women’s area were significantly better than in the men’s compound.

The Kolbe Foundation, a local Christian nonprofit organization, administered the country’s only prison, which held men, women, and juveniles. The government retained oversight and monitoring responsibility.

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

Independent Monitoring: The prison administrator permitted visits from independent human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

While the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, there were several allegations made through the media and to the PSB that the government failed to observe these requirements. In addition, due to substantial delays and a backlog of cases in the justice system, the courts did not bring some minors to trial until they reached age 18. In such cases the defendants were tried as minors.

On September 4, the government imposed a 30-day state of public emergency in two zones of Belize City in response to gang violence. The government authorized BPD agents to detain citizens suspected of gang activity for up to 30 days without levying criminal charges, search homes without the need to present court-sanctioned warrants, impose curfews, and prohibit public assembly. Police officers implemented the state of public emergency with assistance from the BDF. On the first day the legal instrument was introduced, police detained more than 100 persons believed to be affiliated with gang activities. The constitution states that even under a state of emergency, detainees should be charged within seven days of detention, but authorities did not follow the law. After seven days, 70 of the detainees were released and 40 were informed that because of their engagement in gang activity, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and suspicion of murder, they were being placed under detention for the remainder of the state of emergency. Under the provision, detained persons have the right to question the reason for their detention before a court. There was no information available if any of the persons sought the intervention of the court. Local human rights observers raised concerns that the conditions under which detainees were being held were inhuman and that minors were being held in the same rooms as adult men. The Human Rights Commission of Belize expressed “grave concern” with the mechanism used by the state in introducing the proclamation, which “allows for the suspension of the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.”

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of National Security is responsible for oversight of police, prisons, the coast guard, and the military. Although primarily charged with external security, the military also provides limited domestic security support to civilian authorities and has limited powers of arrest that are executed by the BDF for land and littoral areas and the coast guard for coastal and maritime areas. In March the government deployed BDF soldiers to assist with BPD patrols in Southside Belize City in an effort to quell gang violence. The joint patrols were supposed to last 30 days but continued until the end of September.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Ministry of National Security and security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. Nevertheless, there were reports of impunity involving the security forces, including reports of police brutality and corruption (primarily extortion cases and involvement in narcotrafficking). The government often ignored reports of police abuse, delayed action, failed to take disciplinary action, or transferred accused officers to other areas within the department.

The PSB investigates complaints against police. The law authorizes the police commissioner to place police personnel on suspension or interdiction. Additionally, authorities use police investigations, coroner inquests, and the Office of Public Prosecutions to evaluate allegations against police. While police officers are under investigation, they remain on active duty in a nonworking, partial pay status. In September police superintendent David Chi and police corporal Norman Anthony were criminally charged with conspiracy to land an airplane on an unauthorized aerodrome and abetment to import cocaine into the country.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police must obtain search or arrest warrants issued by a magistrate, except in cases of hot pursuit, when there is probable cause, or when the presence of a firearm is suspected. Police must inform detainees of their rights at the time of arrest and of the cause of their detention within 24 hours of arrest. Police must also bring a detainee before a magistrate to be charged officially within 48 hours. The BPD faced allegations that prior to the introduction of the state of public emergency, its members arbitrarily detained persons beyond 24 hours without charge, did not take detainees directly to a police station, and used detention as a means of intimidation.

The law requires police to follow the Judges’ Rules, a code of conduct governing police interaction with arrested persons. Although judges sometimes dismissed cases that involved violations of these rules, they more commonly deemed confessions obtained through violation of the rules to be invalid. Police usually granted detainees timely access to family members and lawyers, although there were reports of persons held in police detention without the right to contact family or seek legal advice.

By law a police officer in charge of a station or a magistrate’s court may grant bail to persons charged with minor offenses. The Supreme Court can grant bail to those charged with more serious crimes, including murder, gang activity, possession of an unlicensed firearm, and specific drug trafficking or sexual offenses. The Supreme Court reviews the bail application within 10 working days.

Arbitrary Arrest: The Office of the Ombudsman received complaints against the BDF claiming unlawful detention involving four Guatemalan nationals who claimed they were apprehended in Guatemalan territory. The complainants accused the BDF of beating them. The four were criminally charged with unlawful possession of firearms and immigration offenses and were subsequently incarcerated. The men claimed they did not have access to legal representation.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy trial backlogs remained, particularly for serious crimes such as murder. Problems included police delays in completing investigations, lack of evidence collection, court delays in preparing depositions, and adjournments in the courts. Judges occasionally were slow to issue rulings, in some cases taking a year or longer. The time lag between arrest, trial, and conviction generally ranged from six months to four years and in some cases up to seven years. Pretrial detention for persons accused of murder averaged three to four years.

During the year the government took measures to reduce the backlog. Three new justices were named to deal specifically with criminal matters. Several persons in pretrial detention were placed on bail after the court determined their cases were taking too long in police investigation. There was still an extensive criminal backlog, but the civil backlog was mostly resolved.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although delays in holding trials occurred.

The law stipulates that nonjury trials are mandatory in cases involving charges of murder, attempted murder, abetment of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. Government officials stated the law protects jurors from retribution. A single Supreme Court judge hears these cases. A magistrate generally issues decisions and judgments for lesser crimes after deliberating on the arguments presented by the prosecution and defense.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and standard procedure is for the defendant to be informed promptly of the charges and to be present at the trial. If the defendants are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or there are language barriers, they are informed of the reason of arrest at the earliest possible opportunity. Defendants have the right to defense by counsel and appeal, but the prosecution can apply for the trial to proceed if a defendant skips bail or does not appear in court.

There is no requirement for defendants to have legal representation except in cases involving murder. The Supreme Court’s registrar is responsible for appointing an attorney to act on behalf of indigent defendants charged with murder. In lesser cases the court does not provide defendants an attorney, and defendants sometimes represented themselves. The Legal Advice and Services Center, staffed by three attorneys, can provide legal services and representation for a range of civil and criminal cases, including domestic violence and other criminal cases up to attempted murder. These legal aid services were overstretched and could not reach rural areas or districts. Defendants are entitled to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense or request an adjournment, a common delay tactic. The court provides Spanish interpreters for defendants upon request. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt.

The law allows defendants to confront and question witnesses against them and present witnesses on their behalf. Witnesses may submit written statements into evidence in place of court appearances. Defendants have the right to produce evidence in their defense and examine evidence held by the opposing party or the court.

The rate of acquittals and cases withdrawn by the prosecution due to insufficient evidence continued to be high, particularly for sexual offenses, murder, and gang-related cases. These actions were often due to the failure of witnesses to testify because of fear for life and personal safety, as well as a lack of basic police investigative or forensic capability in the country.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts, including the Supreme Court. Litigants may appeal cases to the Caribbean Court of Justice, the country’s highest appellate court. Individuals can also present petitions to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. In May, Belize Telemedia Limited, the state-owned telecommunications provider, stopped advertising with all KREMANDALA companies, one of the most popular media conglomerates in the country. The provider explained it was a general cut on all advertising, but it did not reduce advertising with other media firms. KREMANDALA was known to be critical of the government and was owned by the family of a prominent opposition politician.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 47 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. A state of public emergency was declared on September 4 for 30 days in two areas of Belize City as a result of gang violence, which limited assembly in the areas.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. Although the government committed to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, persons at risk of becoming stateless, or other persons of concern under the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, the Belize Refugees Act, and the UN Convention for Statelessness, the government severely restricted approval of asylum applications after reinstating the Refugee Eligibility Committee in 2015.

Citizenship: The government continued to enforce a moratorium on the issuance of Belize citizenship to Guatemalan citizens that started in 2012. The moratorium began in response to complaints that the constitution does not allow for Belizean nationality to be awarded to Guatemalans if they do not renounce their previous nationality first. Guatemala does not have a formal nationality renunciation process, so Guatemalan nationals cannot technically qualify for Belizean citizenship. As a result, several Guatemalan nationals who met the criteria to become Belize citizens found themselves in limbo.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government does not distinguish between refugees and asylum seekers, as the law itself does not reference asylum seekers–only refugees and recognized refugees. During the year the government granted asylum status to 28 persons of the more than 3,000 applicants. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Help for Progress, UNHCR’s implementing partner in the country, continued to assist by providing limited basic services, including shelter, clothing, and food to refugees and asylum seekers.

Employment: Persons awaiting adjudication of their refugee applications were unable to work legally in the country.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees were able to use the education system and the socialized medical system, but the government offered no assistance with housing or food except in extreme cases that involved children and pregnant women.

Temporary Protection: The Immigration Department issued renewable special residency permits for periods of 60 to 90 days to those who applied for refugee status within the 14-day deadline.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In municipal elections in March, the United Democratic Party retained 62 percent of all municipal seats, and the People’s United Party (PUP) increased its margin to 38 percent. The results of the San Pedro municipal election were challenged in court by the PUP. The court did not find enough evidence to invalidate the results and the case was dismissed.

The law does not allow citizens to hold public office while seeking political office at the same time. During the year the government asked several public officers to resign after they entered their names as political candidates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Observers suggested cultural and societal constraints limited the number of women participating in government. Women remained a clear minority in government. Two of 31 members of the House of Representatives and three of 13 senators were women. In the March municipal election, women won 18 of 67 seats. No woman was elected as a mayor. Although both major parties declared they took steps to increase female participation, neither adopted party policies to promote an increase in female candidates.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Allegations of corruption in government among public officials, including ministers, chief executive officers, and deputy ministers, were numerous, although no substantial proof was presented in most cases. Investigations into corruption within the Immigration and Nationality Department in the 2011-13 period concluded in January. Public hearings of the investigation revealed several instances of questionable activities involving high-ranking government officials, including ministers of government.

In March Minister of Human Development, Social Transformation, and Poverty Anthony Martinez was accused by one of his former employees of setting up a scheme to profit from public funds. The employee alleged that Martinez asked him to open a bank account where funds would be deposited for the building of low-income houses, and then the money would be withdrawn and passed on to Martinez. The employee indicated that he was not a contractor and was not involved in any construction but merely carried out a favor for his employer. Martinez denied the accusations, and despite calls from the opposition party, the government did not investigate the minister.

Although the Ombudsman’s Office reported fewer official complaints than in previous years, citizens continued to allege corruption against the Lands and Surveys Department in the Ministry of Natural Resources for illegally distributing lands to party associates. Despite accusations of political cronyism, the government insisted that it maintained transparency in the distribution of land.

In 2017 media reported that several land documents indicated questionable transactions in the Lands and Surveys Department. The government pursued legal action against the son of former deputy prime minister Gaspar Vega, Andre Vega, and attorney Sharon Pitts, who were accused of unjustifiably enriching themselves from questionable land transactions while Vega was minister. Vega’s case remained before the court. Pitts entered into mediation with the government in an effort to find an amicable solution to return money made in the scheme.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to submit annual financial disclosure statements, which the Integrity Commission reviews. At the same time, the constitution allows authorities to prohibit citizens from questioning the validity of such statements. Anyone who does so outside a rigidly prescribed procedure is subject to a fine of up to 5,000 Belize dollars ($2,500), three years’ imprisonment, or both. Many public officials did not submit annual financial disclosure statements and suffered no repercussions. In 2017 the Integrity Commission informed 10 members of the National Assembly and 60 members of local governments of their failure to declare their financial affairs. As a result, four members of parliament submitted their reports during the year. In August the commission published the names of eight members of the National Assembly and 34 members of local government who had failed to file sworn declaration of assets for the year.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman, although appointed by the government, acts as an independent check on governmental abuses. The Office of the Ombudsman holds a range of procedural and investigative powers, including the right to enter any premise to gather documentation and the right to summon persons. The office operated under significant staffing and financial constraints. The law requires the ombudsman to submit annual reports, and the office wrote a midyear report to address problem trends. The office does not have the power to investigate allegations against the judiciary. While the Office of the Ombudsman technically has wide investigative powers, noncompliance from the offices it investigated severely limited its effectiveness.

The Human Rights Commission, an independent, volunteer-based government agency, continued to operate, but only on an ad hoc basis due to funding and staffing limitations. The commission provided human rights training for police recruits, prison officers, and the BDF.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The criminal code criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. The code states that a person convicted of rape shall be sentenced to imprisonment for eight years to life, although sentences were sometimes much lighter. Challenges to the wider justice system generally resulted in poor conviction rates for rape.

Domestic violence was often prosecuted with charges such as harm, wounding, grievous harm, rape, and marital rape, but charges were treated as civil matters. Police, prosecutors, and judges recognized both physical violence and mental injury. Penalties include fines or imprisonment for violations. The law empowers the Family Court to issue protection orders against accused offenders.

The government ran awareness campaigns against gender-based and domestic violence, a domestic violence hotline, and shelters, and major police stations had designated domestic abuse officers, although these measures were not always effective.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides protection from sexual harassment in the workplace, including provisions against unfair dismissal of a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. The Women’s Department recognizes sexual harassment as a subset of sexual violence, but no cases had ever been brought under the sexual harassment protections.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no confirmed reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. According to the Maya Leaders Alliance and Toledo Alcaldes Association, there were several unconfirmed reports of involuntary sterilization of Maya women. The reports referred to medical missions (mostly church-based) and state-run hospitals where women claimed to have been sterilized during cesarean deliveries (C-sections) without their consent. The Maya NGOs were unable to confirm the cases.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law also mandates equal pay for equal work, but the labor commissioner verified that men earned on average 90 Belize dollars ($45) more per month than women did because they held higher managerial positions. The law provides generally for the continuity of employment and protection against unfair dismissal, including for sexual harassment in the workplace, pregnancy, or HIV status.

The BDF and coast guard lifted a cap on the number of female service members. Despite legal provisions for gender equality and government programs aimed at empowering women, NGOs and other observers reported women faced social and economic discrimination. Although participating in all spheres of national life and outnumbering men in university classrooms and high school graduation rates, women held relatively few top managerial or government positions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory, regardless of the parents’ nationality. Citizenship may also be acquired by descent if at least one parent is a citizen of the country. The standard provision is for births to be registered no later than a week after birth; registration after a month is considered late and includes a minimal fine. Failure to register does not result in any denial of public service, but it slows the process for receiving a social security card and therefore accessing health care.

Education: Primary education is free, and education is compulsory between the ages of six and 14; however, primary schools may incorporate other fees, and parents may be required to pay for textbooks, uniforms, and meals.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children occurred. Human service officers expressed concern for male minors being held in detention in deplorable conditions and in the same cells as adult males as part of the state of public emergency.

In March a man was charged with the murder of his 17-month-old stepdaughter. Police believed he sexually molested the baby on two occasions, the latter incident causing her death. In addition to the murder charges, the stepfather was charged with attempted rape and attempted assault of the child.

The law allows authorities to remove a child from an abusive home environment and requires parents to maintain and support children until the age of 18. There were publicized cases of underage girls being victims of sexual abuse and mistreatment, in most cases in their own home or in a relative’s home.

The Family Services Division in the Ministry of Human Development is the government office with the lead responsibility for children’s problems. The division coordinated programs for children who were victims of domestic violence, advocated remedies in specific cases before the Family Court, conducted public education campaigns, investigated cases of human trafficking in children, and worked with local and international NGOs and UNICEF to promote children’s welfare.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age to marry is 18, but persons between ages 16 and 18 may marry with the consent of parents, legal guardians, or judicial authority. According to UNICEF, 29 percent of women ages 20 to 49 were married or cohabitating before reaching age 18. The government did not undertake any prevention or mitigation efforts to reduce the rate of early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law establishes penalties for child prostitution, child pornography, child sexual exploitation, and indecent exhibition of a child. It defines a “child” as anyone younger than age 18. The law stipulates that the offense of child prostitution does not apply to persons exploiting 16- and 17-year-old children in sexual activity in exchange for remuneration, gifts, goods, food, or other benefits.

The legal age for consensual sex is 16, but prostitution is not legal under 18. Sexual intercourse with a minor younger than age 14 is an offense punishable by 12 years’ to life imprisonment. Unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor age 14-16 is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment.

There were anecdotal reports that boys and girls were exploited in child prostitution, including the “sugar daddy” syndrome whereby older men provided money to minors, their families, or both for sexual relations. Similarly, there were reports of increasing exploitation of minors, often to meet the demand of foreign sex tourists in tourist-populated areas or where there were transient and seasonal workers. The law criminalizes the procurement or attempted procurement of “a person” younger than age 18 to engage in prostitution; an offender is liable to eight years’ imprisonment. The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child sex trafficking.

The law establishes a penalty of two years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of publishing or offering for sale any obscene book, writing, or representation.

Displaced Children: There were reports of unaccompanied children who were detained by authorities as they made their way to the United States to join their families. Government agencies worked closely with the embassies of the respective children in an effort to provide them protection and services.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not expressly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the constitution provides for the protection of all citizens from any type of discrimination. The law does not provide for accessibility accommodations for persons with disabilities, and most public and private buildings and transportation were not accessible to them. Certain businesses and government departments had designated clerks to attend to the elderly and persons with disabilities. There were no policies to encourage hiring of persons with disabilities in the public or private sectors.

Mental health provisions and protections generally were poor. Informal government-organized committees for persons with disabilities were tasked with public education and advocating for protections against discrimination. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sports maintained an educational unit offering limited special education programs within the regular school system. There were two schools and four special education centers for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities attended mainstream schools through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other children and were placed with nondisabled peers.

The special envoy for women and children continued advocacy campaigns on behalf of persons with disabilities, especially children, and supported efforts to promote schools that took steps to create inclusive environments for persons with disabilities.

Indigenous People

No separate legal system or laws cover indigenous persons as the government maintains that it treats all citizens the same. Employers, public and private, generally treated indigenous persons equally with other ethnic groups for employment and other purposes.

The Maya Leaders’ Alliance, composed of the Toledo Maya Council, Q’eche Council of Belize, Toledo Alcaldes Association, Julian Cho Society, and Tumul K’in Center of Learning, monitored development in the Toledo District with the goal of protecting Mayan land and culture. While the government noted the need to respect and consult the Mayan communities when issuing oil exploration licenses in the south, the alliance believed it was not consulted before decisions were made. The Maya in the southern part of the country continued to raise concerns regarding the manner in which a Caribbean Court of Justice order regarding indigenous land was being implemented by the government. The government noted that both a work plan for implementation of the court order and a dispute resolution mechanism were completed with consultation with the Maya communities. The Maya Leaders’ Association, however, accused the government of “unencumbered by coercion and intimidation” and of failing to consult with the proper representatives of the indigenous community before taking action regarding indigenous lands.

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services such as health care, but the constitution provides for the protection of all citizens from any type of discrimination.

In 2016 the Supreme Court struck down the interpretation of Section 53 of the criminal code, which criminalized sexual acts “against the order of nature.” The government partially appealed the ruling in September 2017, conceding the decriminalization of homosexuality but questioning a section of the decision that made “sexual orientation” a protected class. The Roman Catholic Church appealed the entire ruling in September 2017 but withdrew its appeal in March, leaving the government as the sole appellant. The Court of Appeals commenced proceedings to consider the grounds for the appeal in November.

The Immigration Act prohibits “homosexual” persons from entering the country, but immigration authorities did not enforce the law.

The extent of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was difficult to ascertain due to a lack of official reporting. The NGO United Belize Advocacy Movement (UniBAM) registered four homicides, one attempted homicide, one robbery, and 17 cases of harassment and physical assault on young persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity from January to September. Based on a survey, UniBAM recorded that LGBTI persons between the ages of 14 to 24 faced the most violence in rural communities, especially in very religious parts of the country. UniBAM’s executive director, Caleb Orozco, noted that in these religious communities, police often refused to take reports from survivors.

According to UniBAM, LGBTI persons were also denied medical services and education and encountered family-based violence.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was some societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, and the government worked to combat it through public education efforts of the National AIDS Commission under the Ministry of Human Development.

The law provides for protection of workers against unfair dismissal, including for HIV status. The government provided free antiretroviral medication and other medical services to persons with HIV registered in the public health system; however, the government sometimes had insufficient supplies of medication.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutes, generally provides for the right to establish and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The Ministry of Labor, Local Government, and Rural Development (Ministry of Labor) recognizes unions and employers associations after they are registered, and the law establishes procedures for the registration and status of trade unions and employers organizations and for collective bargaining. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination, dissolution, or suspension of unions by administrative authority. It requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law allows authorities to refer disputes involving public- and private-sector employees who provide “essential services” to compulsory arbitration, prohibit strikes, and terminate actions. The national fire service, postal service, monetary and financial services, civil aviation and airport security services, port authority personnel (stevedores and pilots), and security services are deemed essential services beyond the International Labor Organization definition of essential services. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination, but there were some reports workers were intimidated into either not joining a union or dropping union membership if they had joined.

Workers can file complaints with the Ministry of Labor or seek redress from the courts, although it remained difficult to prove that terminations were due to union activity. The ministry’s Labor Department generally handled labor cases without lengthy delays and dealt with appeals via arbitration outside of the court system. The court did not apply the law requiring reinstatement of workers fired for union activity and provided monetary compensation instead. A complaint was filed at the Office of the Ombudsman against the Ministry of Education and the Catholic School Management by a female teacher who claimed that both authorities were refusing to accept her retirement and award her pension and gratuity based on medical grounds. The matter was under investigation.

The Labor Department was hampered by factors such as a shortage of vehicles and fuel in its efforts to monitor compliance, particularly in rural areas. There were complaints of administrative or judicial delays relating to labor complaints and disputes. Information on penalties for violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining was unavailable.

The government and employers did not always effectively enforce the law. Antiunion discrimination and other forms of employer interference in union functions sometimes occurred, and on several occasions unions threatened or carried out strikes. At least one NGO continued to petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to highlight, among other things, concerns with employers’ measures that do not allow migrant workers to unionize and that require migrants to submit to HIV tests in certain industries. The NGO asserted that in certain industries, particularly banana, citrus, and construction, employers often did not respect due process, did not pay minimum wages, and classified workers as contract and nonpermanent employees to avoid providing certain benefits. An NGO noted that both national and migrant workers were denied rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced or compulsory labor are covered under the antitrafficking law and carry prison sentences of one to eight years for adult victims and one to 12 years for child victims, which were comparable to penalties for other major offenses and sufficient to deter violations, although the government did not enforce the law. Resources and inspections to deter violations were limited. The government reportedly investigated three forced labor cases; it did not identify any forced labor victims during the year.

Forced labor of both Belizean and foreign women occurred in bars, nightclubs, and domestic service. Migrant men, women, and children were at risk for forced labor in agriculture, fishing, and in the service sector, including restaurants and shops, particularly among the South Asian and Chinese communities.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 14 years old generally, with the exception of work in wholesale or retail trade or business, for which the minimum age is 12. “Light work,” which is not defined in the law, is allowed for children ages 12 to 13. Children ages 14-18 may be employed only in an occupation that a labor officer determines is “not injurious to the moral or physical development of nonadults.” Children older than age 14 are explicitly permitted to work in “industrial undertakings,” which include mining, manufacturing, and construction. Children younger than age 16 are excluded from work in factories, and those younger than age 18 are excluded from working at night or in certain kinds of employment deemed dangerous. The Labor Department used a list of dangerous occupations for young workers as guidance, but the list was not adopted as law.

The law permits children to work on family farms and in family-run businesses. National legislation does not address a situation in which child labor is contracted between a parent and the employer. The National Child Labor Policy distinguishes between children engaged in work that is beneficial to their development and those engaged in the worst forms of child labor. The policy identifies children involved in the worst forms of child labor as those engaged in hazardous work, human trafficking and child slavery, commercial sexual activities, and illicit activities.

The Labor Department has primary responsibility for implementing labor policies and enforcing labor laws, but it was not effective in investigating complaints. Inspectors from the Labor and Education Departments are responsible for enforcing these regulations, with the bulk of the enforcement falling to truancy officers. The penalty for employing a child younger than the minimum age is a fine not exceeding 20 Belize dollars ($10) or imprisonment not exceeding two months. On a second offense, the law stipulates a fine not exceeding 50 Belize dollars ($25) or imprisonment not exceeding four months. Information was inadequate to determine if the penalties, remediation, and inspections were sufficient to deter violations. Child labor laws were not well enforced. There is also a National Child Labor Committee under the National Committee for Families and Children, a statutory interagency group that advocates for policies and legislation to protect children and eliminate child labor.

Some children were vulnerable to forced labor, particularly in the agricultural and service sectors. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). According to the most recent data available from the Statistical Institute of Belize from 2013, the country’s child labor rate was 3.2 percent, with half of those children involved in hazardous work. The problem was most prevalent in rural areas. Boys accounted for 74 percent of children illegally employed, mostly engaged in hazardous activities.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, language, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment with respect to disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. There were reports that discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to sexual orientation. One NGO reported that members of the LGBTI community often had problems gaining and retaining employment due to discrimination in the workplace. There were no officially reported cases of discrimination at work based on ethnicity, culture, or skin color; although anecdotal evidence suggested that such cases occurred.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was 3.30 Belize dollars ($1.65) per hour. A full-time worker receiving the minimum wage earned between 1.5 to two times the poverty-limit income, depending on the district. The law sets the workweek at no more than six days or 45 hours and requires premium payment for overtime work. Workers are entitled to two workweeks’ paid annual holiday. Additionally there are 13 days designated as public and bank holidays. Employees who work on public and bank holidays are entitled to pay at time-and-a-half, except for Good Friday and Christmas, which are paid at twice the normal rate.

Several different health and safety regulations cover numerous industries. The law, which applies to all sectors, prescribes that the employer must take “reasonable care” for the safety of employees in the course of their employment. The law further states that every employer who provides or arranges accommodation for workers to reside at or in the vicinity of a place of employment shall provide and maintain sufficient and hygienic housing accommodations, a sufficient supply of wholesome water, and sufficient and proper sanitary arrangements.

The Ministry of Labor did not always effectively enforce minimum wage and health and safety regulations. The Labor Department had 25 labor officers in 10 offices throughout the country. Inspections were not sufficient to secure compliance, especially in the more remote areas. Fines varied according to the infraction but generally were not very high and thus not sufficient to deter violations. Several cases were pending. In 2017 a labor tribunal was established, but it was uncertain how many cases the tribunal had heard.

The minimum wage was generally respected. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence from NGOs and employers suggested that undocumented Central American workers, particularly young service workers and agricultural laborers, were regularly paid below the minimum wage.

In January the Christian Workers Union (CWU) was able successfully to resolve a dispute between its members and the Social Security Board of Belize over salary adjustments. The board had refused to honor the accrued adjustment for the period 2015-18, but in the end it decided to award the 1.75-percent increase.

In September the CWU issued a notice of intended industrial action against the Port of Belize Limited after negotiations between the two reached an impasse over working hours. The CWU stated that the “refusal to engage on any other matter that remains on the agreed list is no less than extreme bad faith.” Two days before the union began industrial action, the CWU and the port authorities agreed to return to the negotiations in an effort to conclude the collective agreement between stevedores and the port. Negotiations continued as of November.

It was unclear whether workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment or whether authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

Bolivia

Executive Summary

Bolivia is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and a bicameral legislature. In 2014, in a process deemed free but whose fairness was questioned by international observers, citizens re-elected President Evo Morales Ayma, leader of the Movement Toward Socialism Party (MAS), for a third term. In 2016 the government held a referendum to allow the president to seek a fourth term in office. Citizens voted the measure down in a process that international observers deemed mostly fair and free. In November 2017 the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal struck down the constitution’s ban on term limits, in a controversial ruling that stated term limits violate an article of the American Convention on Human Rights that guarantees a right to political participation. On December 4, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal approved Morales’ petition to run for a fourth consecutive term in 2019.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings and torture by government officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; lack of judicial independence; political prosecutions; arbitrary detention; reports of censorship and physical attacks on journalists by state security forces; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; corruption in all levels of government; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; mob violence; and forced labor and use of child labor.

The government took steps in some cases to prosecute members of the security services and other government officials who committed abuses, but inconsistent application of the law and a dysfunctional judiciary led to impunity.

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

During May 24 protests to increase the university budget, Bolivian National Police Second Lieutenant Cristian Casanova Condori shot and killed Jonathan Quispe, a student at the Public University of El Alto. After initially denying government responsibility for the shooting and blaming protesters, Minister of Government Carlos Romero eventually acknowledged police culpability, stating the officer acted autonomously to modify his shotgun and introduced a marble as a projectile in the weapon. On June 1, Casanova Condori was dismissed from his police duties and detained under preventive detention. Many observers doubted the officer acted on his own accord.

In May the prosecution formally accused 16 miners and a lawyer of the 2016 murder of then vice minister of the interior Rodolfo Illanes, who was tortured and killed after an incident in which police killed four miners during a protest. In addition, two police chiefs were placed under house arrest after formal charges were brought against them for the deaths of the four miners. As of October neither case had a final sentence.

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 prohibits all forms of torture, coercion, and physical and emotional violence, but there were credible reports that government officials employed them. The penal code carries only minimum penalties for those found guilty of torture, but no public official had ever been found guilty of violating these provisions.

An antitorture nongovernmental organization (NGO) noted that 20 cases of state torture were reported to them from January to November. NGOs charged that the Ministry of Justice’s Service to Prevent Torture failed to consistently denounce torture by police and military, where it occurred most frequently. NGO reports indicated police investigations relied heavily on torture to try to procure information and extract confessions. The majority of abuses reportedly occurred while officials were transferring detainees to police facilities or holding them in detention. According to reports from NGOs engaged with prison populations, the most common forms of torture for detainees included sensory deprivation, use of improvised tear gas chambers, and the use of tasers, asphyxiation, verbal abuse, and threats of violence.

An NGO that works with prisoners reported that in August prison guards handcuffed five prisoners together, locked them in a small room without ventilation, and sprayed the room with teargas and pepper spray for hours. The NGO reported that weeks after the incident, the prisoners’ eyes remained burned and that they suffered from chronic respiratory pain.

On September 17, Jorge Paz, the representative of the ombudsman in Santa Cruz, stated he had witnessed torture in the prison system.

As of September the case continued regarding a La Paz municipal guard accused of sexually assaulting two trafficking victims ages 11 and 17 in 2017. Also pending was the 2017 case regarding allegations that police officers employed torture as an “investigation technique” against a rape suspect to extract his confession.

Within the military, torture and mistreatment occurred both to punish and to intimidate trainees into submission. Military officials regularly verbally abused soldiers for minor infractions and perceived disobedience.

There were no reported developments in the investigation regarding the suspected hazing of a 17-year-old soldier in training in the city of La Paz in 2017.

A study released in March 2017 by the human rights ombudsman found that police officials sometimes abused sex workers. The study noted the rights of the sex workers were easy to violate because no specific law protects them, even though prostitution is legal.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons were overcrowded, underfunded, and in poor physical condition, resulting in harsh and life-threatening conditions. Violence was pervasive due to inadequate internal security.

Physical Conditions: The prison population was more than three times the capacity. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of June 19, there were 18,195 prisoners in facilities designed to hold 5,000 persons. For example, built to accommodate 70 individuals, Montero Prison held 430, including 33 women. The 430 inmates shared three bathrooms. Approximately 80 detainees slept in rotating six-hour shifts in the open-air “patio” portion of the facility. Men and women shared sleeping quarters in some facilities.

Approximately 70 percent of all prisoners were being held in pretrial (preventive) detention. In Montero Prison, 85 percent of the detainees had yet to be tried. In addition, many prisoners remained incarcerated beyond the maximum sentence allowed for the crime for which they had been convicted.

Women’s prisons operated in La Paz (two), Trinidad, and Cochabamba. Men and women shared sleeping facilities in Morros Blancos Prison in Tarija, Montero Prison in Santa Cruz, Riberalta Prison in Beni, and Oruro Prison in Oruro. In other facilities men and women had separate sleeping quarters but comingled daily. Female inmates experienced sexual harassment and assault on a regular basis, mostly by other incarcerated persons, and some were forced to pay antirape extortion fees. While observers noted that violence against women reportedly was rampant, they reported a culture of silence that suppressed reporting of gender-based violence for fear of reprisal.

Although the law permits children up to the age of six to live with an incarcerated parent under “safe and regulated conditions,” children as old as 12 resided in detention centers with incarcerated parents, despite unsafe conditions, often because the parents lacked viable alternative living arrangements due to poverty or family constraints. According to the government, approximately 550 children were living in prison with their mothers; an independent news source indicated at least 1,000 children were living with one or both of their parents in prison. In May Deputy Minister of the Interior Jose Luis Quiroga announced that minors six years and under would be allowed only in women’s prisons. Due to repeated incidents of sexual violence, Quiroga stated minors were no longer allowed to live in male detention centers.

The law sets the juvenile detention age from 16 to 14 and requires juvenile offenders be housed in facilities separate from the general prison population in order to facilitate rehabilitation. Children younger than age 14 years are exempt from criminal liability but may be subject to civil liability. Adult inmates and police reportedly abused juvenile prisoners. Rehabilitation programs for juveniles or other prisoners remained scarce.

Violence was ubiquitous due to inadequate internal security. Abuses perpetrated by penitentiary officials included systematic intimidation, psychological mistreatment, extortion, torture, and threats of death. There were reports of rape and sexual assault by authorities and other inmates. Corruption exacerbated these problems and hindered their exposure and resolution. Prisoner-on-prisoner violence was endemic. On March 14, police shot and killed eight persons during an operation to regain control of Palmasola Prison in Santa Cruz. According to media reports, police were conducting a search for contraband in the prison when prisoners began shooting at the police officers. Police responded with firearms, killing eight inmates during the confrontation.

The state budget allocated only eight bolivianos ($1.17) per day per prisoner for meals. The ability to exercise varied greatly depending on the security situation in the prison. According to some contacts, prisoners may be arbitrarily confined to their cells for a long period of time or placed in solitary confinement by guards without explanation. Prisoners with independent means could purchase a transfer to the rehabilitation center, a newly built detention facility with better living conditions. One doctor attended to prisoners in each prison twice a month. Although medical services were free, prisons rarely had medications on hand. Skin disease and tuberculosis were widespread due to the cramped sleeping quarters and lack of medicine to manage contagion. Incarcerated women lacked access to obstetric services.

Corruption was persistent. A prisoner’s wealth often determined his or her physical security, cell size, visiting privileges, ability to attend court hearings, day-pass eligibility, and place and length of confinement. Inmates and NGOs both alleged there were an insufficient number of police officers to escort inmates to their hearings, and prison directors often refused to intervene, exacerbating delays. Police sometimes demanded bribes in exchange for granting inmates the right to attend their own hearings.

On August 16, the director general of the penitentiary system, Jorge Lopez, announced that 36 prison security personnel were being prosecuted for acts of corruption. Independent media reported corruption complaints against police for collections inside were common. Prison inmates stated guards extorted money for the entry of goods.

Administration: Authorities generally did not conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, prisoners could submit complaints to a commission of district judges for investigation, but due to fear of retaliation by prison authorities, inmates frequently did not do so.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent nongovernmental observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, local NGOs, judges, religious authorities, legislators, and media.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

The government sometimes used the judicial system for political purposes, taking legal action against several opposition members and critics of the government. For example, the government threatened charges against former president Carlos Mesa (2003-05) of “damage to the state” for the loss of $42.6 million related to the arbitration won by the Chilean mining company Quiborax. During Mesa’s term as president, the government initiated the process of rescinding the mining concession with Quiborax. Mesa was accused of beginning the process improperly in 2004. The Quiborax case was still open during Evo Morales’ first term in office. During that time Quiborax representatives offered a settlement of three million dollars. In 2016 Quiborax again offered to settle the case, this time for $27 million. The government rejected both offers, which led to prolonged international arbitration and ultimately a $42.6 million dollar judgement against Bolivia. On July 26, the vice president announced that charges against Mesa would not proceed during the year but left open the possibility they would be renewed thereafter.

Criminal proceedings remained pending against various former government officials, which the Attorney General’s Office began in 2016. Media reported 40 open cases targeting the mayor of La Paz, Luis Revilla; 30 against Ernesto Suarez, the former prefect of Beni; and multiple cases against the governor of Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas; the governor of La Paz, Feliz Patzi; the mayor of El Alto, Soledad Chapeton; former presidents Jorge Tuto Quiroga and Carlos Mesa; the mayor of Tarija, Rodrigo Paz; and the leader of the National Unity opposition party, Samuel Doria Medina. In addition, on January 29, the government opened an investigation of the mayor of El Alto, Soledad Chapeton, for mishandling municipal land that was transferred to the private sector by the then mayor of El Alto in 1990. Although Chapeton was 10 years old at the time the land transfer occurred, her supposed transgression was the failure to recuperate the land from the private owner.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the Ministry of Government’s authority, have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order within the country, but military forces that report to the Ministry of Defense may be called to help in critical situations. Migration officials report to the Ministry of Government, and police and military share responsibilities for border enforcement.

The law to investigate and punish internal police abuse and corruption remained suspended and unenforced as a result of national police strikes in 2012, when the government agreed to revise it. There was no progress in negotiations between the Ministry of Government and the National Police Association on this problem. Congress did not act on the Constitutional Court’s 2012 ruling to adjust the military criminal code and the military code of criminal procedure to stipulate that human rights violations be judged by the ordinary justice system, in compliance with the constitution. Inconsistent application of the laws and a dysfunctional judiciary further exacerbated the impunity of security forces in committing abuses.

As of September there were no developments in the case of five female police officers in the city of Potosi who filed a formal complaint in March 2017 of “psychological abuse and extreme work pressure.”

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires that police obtain an arrest warrant from a prosecutor and that a judge substantiate the warrant within eight hours of an arrest. Police did not strictly adhere to these time restrictions, except in cases in which the government specifically ordered adherence. The law also mandates that a detainee appear before a judge within 24 hours (except under a declared state of siege, during which a detainee may be held for 48 hours) at which time the judge must determine the appropriateness of continued pretrial detention or release on bail. The judge is to order the detainee’s release if the prosecutor fails to show sufficient grounds for arrest. The government allows suspects to select their own lawyers and provides a lawyer from the Public Defender’s Office if the suspect requests one. The public defenders were generally overburdened and limited in their ability to provide adequate, timely legal assistance. While bail is permitted, most detainees were placed in pretrial detention or could not afford to post bail. Several legal experts noted pretrial detention was the rule rather than the exception.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always respect the law.

On August 28, following the shooting death of police lieutenant Daynor Sandoval during a skirmish with coca growers, police arrested Franclin Gutierrez, a coca grower leader in the Yungas region of the department of La Paz opposed to the government, and placed him in preventive detention. The Prosecutor’s Office charged Gutierrez with five crimes–murder, attempted murder, attacks against public services, attacks against transportation services, and unlawful possession of arms–although numerous observers argued there was little evidence to support those charges. As of November the case against Gutierrez was pending.

Pretrial Detention: The law affords judges the authority to order pretrial detention if there is a high probability that a suspect committed a crime, if evidence exists that the accused seeks to obstruct the investigation process, or if a suspect is considered a flight risk. If a suspect is not detained, a judge may order significant restrictions on the suspect’s movements.

The law states no one shall be detained for more than 18 months without formal charges. If after 18 months the prosecutor does not present formal charges and conclude the investigatory phase, the detainee may request release by a judge. The judge must order the detainee’s release, but the charges against the detainee are not dropped. By law the investigatory phase and trial phase of a case cannot exceed 36 months combined. The law allows a trial extension if the delays in the process are due to the defense. In these circumstances pretrial detention may exceed the 36-month limit without violating the law.

Despite the legal limits on pretrial detention, denial of justice due to prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. Complex legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, executive interference, corruption, a shortage of public defenders, and inadequate case-tracking mechanisms contributed to trial delays that lengthened pretrial detention and kept many suspects detained beyond the legal limits for the completion of a trial or the presentation of formal charges. Many defense attorneys intentionally did not attend hearings in order to delay trial proceedings and ultimately avoid a final sentencing. According to the Ministry of Justice, approximately 70 percent of persons accused of a crime were being held under preventive detention. Some NGOs estimated 85 percent were in preventive detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary remained overburdened, vulnerable to undue influence by the executive and legislative branches, and plagued with allegations of corruption. Authorities generally respected court orders, but on several occasions they pressured judges to change verdicts. Judges and prosecutors sometimes practiced self-censorship when issuing rulings to avoid becoming the target of verbal and legal harassment by the government.

Physician Jhiery Fernandez was detained and imprisoned in December 2014 for the alleged rape and death of “baby Alexander,” who died in November 2014 while at the hospital where Fernandez was on duty. On March 27, after nearly four years of preventive detention, during which he suffered from what local NGOs characterized as “biological torture” that included sensory deprivation and solitary confinement, a court sentenced Fernandez to 20 years in prison for rape, homicide, and failure to perform medical duties. The president of the court, Patricia Pacajes, admitted in secretly recorded audio, however, she had known Fernandez was innocent. Nevertheless, she convicted him to cover up a mistake made by the forensic doctor, Angela Mora. According to her own account, Pacajes knew the baby was never a victim of rape and that an incorrect autopsy was made public due to a forensic diagnostic error. After the president of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights and other human rights groups called for an investigation of the case, the president of the Council of Magistrates, Gonzalo Alcon, stated there were indications of criminal responsibility against Pacajes. On September 24, Pacajes was dismissed from her duties as a judge, and on October 29, the Court of Anticorruption and Violence ordered that Pacajes be held in prison under preventive detention for discussing the Fernandez case with friends, which the court qualified as a breach of duty. On October 10, Fernandez was released from prison and placed under house arrest. On November 16, a sentencing court granted Fernandez “pure and simple liberty,” meaning his movement was not restricted and he was no longer under arrest. The court simultaneously stated the judges and prosecutors involved in the case were corrupt, but authorities had not announced official judicial punishment for their actions. Fernandez was to undergo a process to have the initial sentence annulled.

The judiciary faced a myriad of administrative and budgetary challenges. NGOs asserted the amount of funds budgeted for the judiciary was insufficient to guarantee equal and efficient justice and that underfunding overburdened public prosecutors had led to serious judicial backlogs. As a result, justice officials were vulnerable to bribery and corruption, according to credible observers, including legal experts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants are entitled to be informed of charges promptly and in detail and to a presumption of innocence and trial by a panel of judges. They have the right to avoid self-incrimination and to consult an attorney of their choice, receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and confront adverse witnesses, present witnesses and evidence, and file an appeal. Defendants who cannot afford an attorney have the right to a public defender or private attorney at public expense.

Corruption, influence by other branches of government, and insufficient judicial coverage undermined these constitutional rights. Free translation and interpretation services are required by law. Officials did not always comply with the law.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law permits individuals and organizations to seek criminal remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. At the conclusion of a criminal trial, the complainant can initiate a civil trial to seek damages. The human rights ombudsman can issue administrative resolutions on specific human rights cases. The ombudsman’s resolutions are nonbinding, and the government is not obligated to accept his or her recommendations.

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

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

There were credible reports that the ruling MAS party required government officials to profess party loyalty to the government or register formally as party members to obtain/retain employment or access to other government services.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government frequently carried out reprisals against media outlets that expressed dissenting opinions. Government actions to curb criticism created a climate of hostility towards independent journalists and media and resulted in self-censorship of many news sources. Some media sources reported the government pressured and intimidated them to report favorably about its policies, particularly by withholding of government advertising and imposing steep taxes.

Freedom of Expression: The government continued to denounce press critics and independent media sources. In February National Press Association President Marcelo Miralles Iporre told the Inter-American Court of Human Rights the country suffered from “censorship caused by state publicity, law, the financial asphyxiation of the media, and intolerance of those with critical points of view.” He said these factors put at risk “freedom of the press and expression, and democracy.”

In its 2017 annual report, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights highlighted several limitations placed by the government on media, including the use of the term “the Cartel of Lies” to discredit journalists or pressure journalists who criticized the government, in addition to the discriminatory use of state advertising. The report noted verbal attacks by national and local officials against the press. Progovernment demonstrators and security forces physically attacked journalists during protests, and the justice system allowed “preventive imprisonment” of journalists with little evidence.

Press and Media Freedom: According to the Inter American Press Association, the government regularly attempted to disqualify the independent press by claiming it acted on behalf of the political opposition and spread fake news to generate social tension. According to Supreme Decree 181, the government should provide goods and services to all media outlets in a nondiscriminatory manner, but in practice it did not purchase advertisements in media outlets considered adversarial.

Media outlets alleged the government pressured news organizations to report favorably on government policies and retaliated against news organizations that did not comply. The National Press Association (ANP) and several journalists alleged the government’s retaliatory tactics included withdrawing advertisements and conducting excessive tax audits, which forced companies to spend significant time and resources to defend themselves. Government entities such as the National Tax Service, National Delivery Service, Business Authority, Telecommunications and Transport Regulation and Control Authority, Gaming Control Authority, Departmental Labor Directorates, and Vice Ministry for Communication Policies, which is responsible for monitoring free advertising, carried out inspections and applied fines many observers claimed were unwarranted. The ANP expressed concern that the government attacked independent news outlets and attempted to “economically suffocate” media entities that did not cater to the government. The allocation of state advertising often excluded media that questioned the actions of government, to the extent that some media fired several investigative journalists due to fear of losing official advertising.

Violence and Harassment: From 2010 to 2017, the ANP reported 136 physical aggressions against journalists and other media members, as well as 155 cases of verbal aggressions and threats.

On August 9, military security forces beat two female journalists during the inauguration of the new presidential palace in La Paz and prevented other reporters from entering the location where President Morales was speaking.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reported various cyberattacks against media outlets in 2017. For example, the websites of Sol de PandoAgencia de Noticias FidesLa Razon, and Pagina Siete, which sometimes published articles critical of the Morales administration, were rendered unavailable by cyberattacks executed by unknown actors.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government censored journalists, and journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of losing their jobs, fear of prosecution, and fear of losing access to government sources. Human rights organizations reported many reporters were dismissed for reporting on controversial topics that conflicted with the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. On November 28, in a widely circulated recording, purportedly of a briefing for President Morales, Police Commander Faustino Mendoza stated police officers systematically monitored journalist and opposition politicians on social networks. In the audio recording, Mendoza revealed that police had 84 social media accounts specifically used for this purpose. The National Association of the Press of Bolivia, which represented the main print media of the country, expressed its “deep concern for the police control and surveillance of the informative work of journalists.” The government sharply criticized the release of the recording but did not deny its authenticity.

Government employees faced reprisal for expressing support for initiatives, ideas, and events critical of the MAS administration online and on social media. Reprisals included termination of employment.

The number of fake accounts on social media such as Facebook and Twitter sharply increased, particularly those favoring the government and ruling party, during the year. The accounts regularly criticized social media posts made by opposition leaders while expressing support for content produced by the government. The government openly admitted to funding “cyberwarriors” who targeted opposition leaders on social media through fake accounts.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 44 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although political considerations allegedly influenced academic appointments.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, civil society groups, especially, but not limited to, those critical of the government, faced harassment from government officials.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the law requires a permit for most demonstrations, the government rarely enforced the provisions, and most protesters demonstrated without obtaining permits. Most demonstrations were peaceful, but occasionally demonstrators carried weapons, including clubs, machetes, firearms, firecrackers, and dynamite. Security forces at times dispersed protest groups carrying weapons or threatening government and private facilities.

There were several demonstrations during the year defending the “21F” movement, which opposed Morales’ candidacy for president and rejected the constitutional change that ended presidential term limits. On May 29, during the South American Games in Cochabamba, a group of 21F supporters began shouting “Bolivia said no” and wore T-shirts with “21F” printed on the front. Police asked the protesters to cover their 21F shirts. After the incident the police subcommander, General Agustin Moreno, warned he would not allow 21F demonstrations during patriotic celebrations on the country’s national day in Potosi on August 6. In Potosi on August 6, police did not permit access to public space for those critical of the government. In September police in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba did not allow 21F supporters access to the main plaza and other public spaces.

On July 21, a small group of persons arrived at the Plaza Murillo in La Paz with 21F T-shirts. Within minutes a police contingent pushed the protesters out of the plaza and ended the protest.

According to the NGO UNIR Bolivia Foundation, on average there were approximately three different types of protests per day throughout the country between January and March. These demonstrations, radical protest actions, and confrontations with police resulted in one person dead and more than 100 injured.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not consistently respect this right. NGOs continued to be targets of government officials, including the president, vice president, and government ministers, if they operated in a manner perceived as adversarial to the government. Some NGOs alleged government registration mechanisms were purposefully stringent in order to deter an active civil society.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The law prohibits travel on election days and on census days and restricts foreign and domestic travel for up to three months as a penalty for persons who do not vote. A number of opposition politicians with legal cases against them were prohibited from leaving the country and were required to turn in their passports.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees through the National Commission on Refugees. The country has a legal structure and framework to accommodate those seeking refuge and has a registry of refugees and stateless persons.

Employment: Refugees have the right to work once authorities grant their residency status but not while waiting on pending applications.

Durable Solutions: By law refugees have a path to naturalization, and the government assumes 90 percent of the fees associated with this process.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In December 2017 the government held judicial elections for the Supreme Justice Tribunal, Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal, Magistrate Council, and Agroenvironment Tribunal. These elections were the second held under the 2009 constitution, and for the second time, more than 60 percent of voters cast nulo (spoiled) or blanco (blank) ballots. In 2016 the government held a referendum to allow the president to seek a fourth term in office. Citizens voted the measure down in a process that international observers deemed mostly free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: On April 18, the UN Human Rights Committee found that Bolivia violated the human rights of two former members of parliament by disqualifying them as candidates for the positions of mayors of their respective cities in the 2015 subnational elections. The committee concluded that the political rights of former parliamentarians Rebeca Elvira Delgado Burgoa and Eduardo Humberto Maldonado Iporre were violated after examining the individual complaints they filed under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Delgado and Maldonado were disqualified based on Circular 71/2014, issued by the Supreme Electoral Court, which establishes that national parliamentarians (deputies and senators) of the 2010-15 term may not run as candidates for various municipal and regional government positions, including that of mayor. The committee concluded the disqualification of the former parliamentarians constituted a “restriction of their political rights, which was not based on reasonable and objective criteria that were clearly established by law, in violation of article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

In November 2017 the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal struck down the constitution’s ban on term limits, in a controversial ruling that stated term limits violate an article of the American Convention on Human Rights that guarantees a right to political participation. On December 4, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal approved Morales’ petition to run for a fourth consecutive term in 2019.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law mandates gender parity in the candidate selection process at national, regional, and municipal legislative level.

While women had a substantial amount of representation on the legislative level with 86 of 175 legislative seats, they remained significantly underrepresented in executive positions. Candidates for mayor, governor, vice president, and president were not chosen from party lists, and the majority of executive political positions remained male dominated. Women participating in politics faced violence and harassment (see section 6, Women). According to the Association of Female Mayors and Councilwomen, from January to June, there were 70 reported cases of political harassment against female politicians.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: In April the opposition mayor of Cochabamaba, Jose Maria Leyes, was placed under house arrest and suspended from his official duties on charges of corruption. Authorities accused him of purchasing 91,300 backpacks for nearly $1.8 million, when the backpacks were worth approximately $300,000. Some media reports alleged the judicial system was processing corruption cases involving members of the political opposition such as this one much more quickly than cases involving MAS leadership. Leyes was suspended from office and brought to court within hours of being accused of corruption, whereas cases involving MAS authorities often took years to proceed.

Police corruption remained a significant problem, partially due to low salaries and lack of training. The Ministry of Anticorruption and Transparency and the Prosecutor’s Office are responsible for combating corruption, but most corrupt officials operated with impunity. Since 2006 at least 12 former police chiefs were prosecuted for corruption, drug trafficking, and breach of duty, but as of September none had received a sentence.

Cases involving allegations of corruption against the president and vice president require congressional approval before prosecutors may initiate legal proceedings, and congress rarely allowed cases against progovernment public officials to proceed. The government ignored court rulings that found unconstitutional the awarding of immunity for corruption charges.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to report potential personal and financial conflicts of interest and to declare their income and assets. The law mandates that elected and appointed officials disclose their financial information to the auditor general, but their declarations are not available to the public. By law noncompliance results in internal sanctions, including dismissal.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. NGOs and human rights groups working on problems deemed sensitive by the government were subject to verbal attacks and criticism by the president, vice president, and government ministers.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution establishes a human rights ombudsman subject to confirmation by both houses of the Legislative Assembly to serve a six-year term. The ombudsman is charged with overseeing the defense and promotion of human rights, specifically defending citizens against government abuses. The constitution also affords the ombudsman the right to propose new legislation and recommend modifications to existing laws and government policies. The ombudsman operated with adequate resources. Civil society groups and several political figures contended the ombudsman lacked independence from the central government, in part because the MAS supermajority in congress allowed for his confirmation without meaningful debate.

Both houses of congress have human rights committees that propose laws and policies to promote and protect human rights. Congressional deputies and senators sit on the committees for one-year terms.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law establishes penalties of imprisonment for 15 to 20 years for the rape of an adult (man or woman). Domestic abuse resulting in injury is punishable by three to six years’ imprisonment, and the penalty for serious physical or psychological harm is a five- to 12-year prison sentence. Despite these legal provisions, the NGO Community of Human Rights reported two-thirds of domestic violence cases were closed without action, and the conviction rate of the remaining cases was less than 1 percent.

In 2013 the government passed a law against domestic violence, but lack of training on the law and slow judicial processes, among other factors, continued to prohibit the law’s full implementation, according to the UN Entity on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and human rights groups. Domestic violence was the most frequently committed crime in the country, according to the National Observatory of Public Safety. According to a survey conducted by the local NGO Coordinator of Women, 50 percent of women were victims of a violent crime some time in their lives; two-thirds of these women suffered violence in their own home. A 2017 UN Women report affirmed that 92.7 percent of women suffered psychological abuse at some point in their lives.

The law criminalizes femicide, the killing of a woman based on her identity as a woman, with 30 years in prison. Activists said corruption, lack of adequate crime scene investigation, and a dysfunctional judiciary hampered convictions for femicide.

Victor Hugo Soria, director of a police unit, the Special Force of the Fight Against Violence, reported on a femicide that occurred in July in which a 19-year-old girl was raped and beaten to death by her partner in Coroico. Women’s rights organizations reported police units assigned to the special force did not have sufficient resources and that frontline officers lacked proper training about their investigatory responsibilities. Women’s organizations also reported domestic violence victims received poor representation from public defenders and generally abandoned their cases after they languished in the justice system for years. On average it took three years for a domestic violence case to conclude. Once the case was closed, the victim was often responsible for the legal fees. The lack of public services, lengthy judicial process, and financial burden discouraged most women from reporting domestic abuse by their spouses.

The law calls for the construction of women’s shelters in each of the country’s nine departments. The municipalities of La Paz and Santa Cruz both had temporary shelters for victims of violence and their children. Human rights specialists explained the shelters for domestic violence survivors were not well staffed, did not promise anonymity, and could not provide protection from abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law considers sexual harassment a civil offense. There were no comprehensive reports on the extent of sexual harassment, but observers generally acknowledged it was widespread.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, but women generally did not enjoy a social status equal to that of men. While the minimum wage law treats men and women equally, women generally earned less than men for equal work. Additionally, antidiscrimination laws were not uniformly or effectively implemented to protect women from harassment and political violence.

The rate of female participation in government was high, but there were reports female policymakers faced discrimination, violence, and harassment. According to a poll conducted by the Association of Female Mayors and Councilwomen of Bolivia, 59 percent of councilwomen polled had suffered some type of violence or political harassment in their municipality, and 39 percent did not complete their term due to the severity of the threats and hostility they received.

The Law of Political Organizations, passed in September, provides political organizations with the authority to punish political harassment. According to the law, each political party must have a member whose duty is to promote parity and follow up on complaints of harassment and political violence with appropriate sanctions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both through birth within the country’s territory (unless the parents have diplomatic status) and from parents. The 2015 civil registry–the most recent available–indicated that 56 percent of citizens were registered within one year of their birth and 97 percent by age 12.

Child Abuse: Rape of a child younger than 14 carries a penalty of 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for consensual sex with an adolescent 14 to 18 years old is two to six years’ imprisonment. The Attorney General’s Office reported at least 37 cases of infanticide between January and June. The penal code defines infanticide as the killing of a child younger than 13 years old.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 14 for girls and 16 for boys. Minors’ parents or guardians must approve marriages between adolescents younger than 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children is punishable with 15- to 20-year prison sentences but remained a serious problem. The law also prohibits child pornography, punishable with 10- to 15-year sentences.

Displaced Children: UNICEF reported in 2015 that 20,000 to 32,000 minors lived in shelters after their parents abandoned them.

Institutionalized Children: Child advocacy organizations reported abuse and negligence in some government-run shelters. The La Paz Department Social Work Service confirmed that, of the country’s 380 shelters, including centers for abuse victims, orphans, and students, only 30 had government accreditation for meeting minimal standards.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population numbered fewer than 500. Jewish leaders reported the public often conflated Jews with Israelis. There were no reports of anti-Semitism.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law requires access for wheelchair users to all public and private buildings, duty-free import of orthopedic devices, and a 50 percent reduction in public transportation fares for persons with disabilities. The law also requires communication outlets and government agencies to offer services and publications in sign language and braille. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

A national law to protect the rights of persons with disabilities exists, but it lacked full implementation. No official action was taken to investigate or punish those responsible for violence against persons with disabilities.

Architectural and infrastructure barriers prohibited ease of movement in urban areas for individuals with physical disabilities. There were advances, however, in the public transportation sector in the city of La Paz. The city bus and gondola system was substantially expanded during the year and provided accommodations for persons with disabilities.

A 2017 law stipulates that persons with “serious and severe” disabilities are entitled to 250 bolivianos ($37) per month. The law requires both public and private institutions to employ a certain percentage of workers with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The 2012 census established the existence of 23,300 Afro-Bolivians. Afro-Bolivians in rural areas experienced the same type of problems and discrimination as indigenous persons who lived in those areas. Afro-Bolivian community leaders reported employment discrimination was common and that public officials, particularly the police, discriminated in the provision of services. Afro-Bolivians also reported the widespread use of discriminatory language. The government made little effort to address such discrimination.

Indigenous People

In the 2012 census, approximately 41 percent of the population older than the age of 15 self-identified as indigenous, primarily from the Quechua and Aymara communities. The government facilitated major advances in the inclusion of indigenous peoples in governmental posts and in society writ large.

Indigenous communities were well represented in government and politics, but they continued to bear a disproportionate share of poverty and unemployment. Government educational and health services remained unavailable to many indigenous groups living in remote areas.

Indigenous lands were not fully demarcated, and land reform remained a central political problem. Historically, some indigenous persons shared lands collectively under the ayllu system, which did not receive legal recognition during the transition to private property laws. Despite laws mandating reallocation and titling of lands, recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands were not completed.

On July 16, the indigenous people of Beni Department stated the government was unlawfully developing land they hold sacred. Persons from Trinidadcito, an indigenous community with 42 families in rural Beni, gave testimony regarding the negative effects of the construction of the road through Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park. According to their complaint, the government was promoting policies that would lead to the dispossession of their ancestral lands and failed to respect the constitution.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law allows transgender individuals to update their name, gender marker, and photograph to reflect their gender identity on all legal identity cards and birth certificates.

The human rights ombudsman reported in May 2017 that the government registered 64 killings of LGBTI individuals in the previous 10 years. Authorities investigated 14 cases, but the courts had not sentenced anyone for these crimes.

According to activists in the LGBTI community, violence against transgender persons decreased due in part to better community awareness of LGBTI issues. For example, the Santa Cruz police commander regularly received updates from LGBTI activists about the violence and social problems the community faced. Moreover, the commander allowed transgender individuals who were incarcerated to be held in areas in accordance with their gender identity.

LGBTI persons faced discrimination in the work place, at school, and when seeking to access government services, especially in the area of health care. Transgender individuals remained particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. The Bolivian Coalition of LGBT Collectives reported in 2016 that 72 percent of transgender individuals abandoned their secondary school studies due to intense discrimination. Transgender activists said a majority of the transgender community was forced to turn to sex work because of discrimination in the job market and unwillingness on the part of employers to accept their identity documents and professional licensures. Activist reported police targeted transgender individuals who were sex workers.

Elderly LGBTI persons faced high rates of discrimination when attempting to access health-care services. There were no legal mechanisms in place to transfer power of attorney to a same-sex partner.

According to LGBTI activists, “biological women” often failed to include transgender women in advocacy efforts when fighting for greater rights for women in society.

On July 3, Minister of Communication Gisela Lopez presented a manual titled Communicate to Live with Diversity. According to LGBTI organizations, this was created with the goal of generating dialogue between communicators and journalists on appropriate terminology when reporting on or discussing LGBTI issues to avoid bias or discriminatory language.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, pervasive discrimination persisted. Ministry of Health authorities reported discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS was most severe in indigenous communities, where the government was also least successful in diagnosing cases.

Activists reported discrimination forced HIV-positive persons to seek medical attention outside the country.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Mob violence in lieu of justice was a consequence of an inefficient judicial system, among other factors. Supporters of mob violence claimed limited policing and lack of faith in the justice system properly to punish criminals justified their actions. Although official statistics did not exist, media reports suggested mob violence in lieu of justice led to 30-40 deaths each year. The government took no formal action to combat acts of mob violence couched as “vigilante justice.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provides for the freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, and the right to strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The constitution provides for protection of general and solidarity strikes and for the right of any working individual to join a union.

Workers may form a union in any private company of 20 or more employees, but the law requires that at least 50 percent of the workforce be in favor. The law requires that trade unions register as legal entities and obtain prior government authorization to establish a union and confirm its elected leadership, permits only one union per enterprise, and allows the government to dissolve unions by administrative fiat. The law also requires that members of union executive boards be Bolivian by birth. The labor code prohibits most public employees from forming unions, including the military, police, and public security forces. Some public-sector workers (including teachers, transportation workers, and health-care workers) were legally unionized and actively participated without penalty as members of the Bolivian Workers’ Center, the country’s chief trade union federation. The government enforced applicable laws, but the enforcement process was often slow due to bureaucratic inefficiency.

The National Labor Court handles complaints of antiunion discrimination, but rulings took a year or more to be issued. The court ruled in favor of discharged workers in some cases and required their reinstatement. Union leaders stated problems often were resolved or no longer relevant by the time the court ruled. Government remedies and penalties–including fines and threats of prosecutorial action for businesses that violate labor laws–were often ineffective and insufficient to deter violations for this reason.

The ineffectiveness of labor courts and the lengthy time to resolve cases and complaints limited freedom of association. Moreover, the 20-worker threshold for forming a union proved an onerous restriction, since an estimated 72 percent of enterprises had fewer than 20 employees.

Labor inspectors may attend union meetings and monitor union activities. Collective bargaining and voluntary direct negotiations between employers and workers without government participation was common. Most collective bargaining agreements were restricted to addressing wages.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, yet they remained serious problems. Labor exploitation, forced labor, and other forms of servitude are punishable with 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for exploitation of adults, and 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for exploitation of children.

The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors. Ministry of Labor officials were not effective in enforcement efforts or provision of services to victims of forced labor. The ministry held various workshops to educate vulnerable workers of their rights, levied penalties against offending employers, and referred cases of suspected forced labor and human smuggling to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. Penalties against employers found violating forced labor laws were insufficient to deter violations, in part because they were generally not enforced.

Men, women, and children were victims of forced labor in domestic service, mining, ranching, and agriculture as well as sex trafficking. Indigenous populations were especially vulnerable to forced labor in the agriculture sector.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

In February the Constitutional Tribunal declared unconstitutional provisions in the 2014 Child and Adolescent Code that allowed children as young as 10 years old to work. Gaps remained in the code, however, as it permits children ages 12-13 years old to engage in light work but does not specify the conditions or hours in which light work may be undertaken.

Ministry of Labor inspectors are responsible for identifying situations of forced child labor. When inspectors suspect such situations, they refer the cases to the municipal offices of the child and adolescent advocate for further investigation in coordination with the Prosecutor’s Office. The law states that work should not interfere with a child’s right to education and should not be dangerous or unhealthy. Dangerous and unhealthy work includes work in sugarcane and Brazil nut harvesting, mining, brick making, hospital cleaning, selling alcoholic beverages, and working after 10 p.m., among other conditions. The municipal offices of the child and adolescent advocate must answer a request for an underage work permit within 72 hours. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for authorizing work activity for adolescents older than age 14 who work for a third-party employer. Municipal governments, through their respective offices of the child and adolescent advocates, are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, including laws pertaining to the minimum age and maximum hours for child workers, school completion requirements, and health and safety conditions for children in the workplace. The ministry is responsible for identifying such cases through inspections and referring them to the offices of the child and adolescent advocates.

Labor Ministry officials stated inspectors conducted investigations throughout the year. Ministry officials did not have statistics on the number of children they had removed from hazardous situations. The ministry dedicated six inspectors to investigate child labor and report instances of forced labor and trafficking in persons.

Beginning in 2016 the ministry collaborated with the Inter-American Development Bank to implement a program that identifies and employs unemployed parents who have children in the workforce. A ministry official stated that while there were varying reasons why children as young as 10 chose to work, one main reason was because their parents could not find steady employment. This program intended to secure jobs for underemployed parents on the condition that their children stop working. The ministry also provided the parents’ salaries for the first three months to avoid burdening the businesses that provided employment.

The government did not consistently enforce the law in all areas, and child labor remained a serious problem. Government officials admitted instances of child labor violations occurred throughout the country, especially in the mining sector. Officials acknowledged adolescents ages 15-17 were working in the mining sector unregulated, because it was hard for inspectors to detect these individuals in the mines since they conducted inspections only in the formal sector.

The Ministry of Labor received funds to conduct a national survey on child labor in 2016. Although the ministry stated the study was conducted, the results had not been published. Preliminary government estimates indicated 740,000 children were employed, with 60 percent engaged in “familial work,” either in family businesses or alongside their parents, in often hazardous conditions.

Authorities did not provide information on the penalties for violation of child labor laws or the effectiveness of such penalties, nor did courts prosecute individuals for violations of child labor law during the year, although ministry inspectors referred cases for prosecution.

Among the worst forms of child labor were instances of children working in the sugarcane harvest, the Brazil nut harvest, brick production, hospital cleaning, domestic labor, transportation, agriculture, and vending at night. Children were also subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. A 2013 study estimated 3,000 to 4,000 children and adolescents worked in the Brazil nut harvest in Beni Department; indigenous groups confirmed a majority of these children were indigenous. Researchers also found that some children worked in Brazil nut processing factories, including at night.

There was little progress in removing children from mining activities. Media reported that minors younger than age 14 worked in brick manufacturing in the cities of El Alto and Oruro, and their parents sometimes contracted them to customers who needed help transporting the bricks.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, sex, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors, and discrimination with respect to employment and occupation occurred. Women in office faced high levels of political violence and harassment. Civil society leaders reported credible instances of employment discrimination against indigenous peoples, women, Afro-Bolivians, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTI community. Employers charged with discriminatory practices must offer affected employees restitution, but no cases were reported.

In 2017 UN Women reported that women in the informal sector on average earned 19 percent less than their male counterparts. Women in the informal sector were not protected by formal-sector labor laws, which afford maternity benefits, breast-feeding hours, permission to work fewer hours, and more holidays than their male counterparts. According to UN Women, men in the formal sector earned between 1.5 and four times more than women for the same work. Critics contended these laws encouraged companies to give preference to men in hiring.

The former human rights ombudsman for Santa Cruz Department reported many women were fired due to their pregnancies, in violation of labor law.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage was 2,060 bolivianos ($300), greater than the government’s official poverty income level of 733 bolivianos ($107) per month. An estimated 45 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. The law establishes a maximum workweek of 48 hours and limits the workday to eight hours for men. The law also sets a 40-hour workweek for women, prohibits women from working at night, mandates rest periods, and requires premium pay for work beyond a standard workweek. The law stipulates a minimum of 15 days of annual leave. The Ministry of Labor sets occupational health and safety standards and monitors compliance. The law mandates that the standards apply uniformly to all industries and sectors. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

The Ministry of Labor’s Bureau of Occupational Safety has responsibility for the protection of workers’ health and safety, but the relevant standards were poorly enforced. The 97 inspectors were insufficient to provide effective workplace inspection. The law provides for penalties for noncompliance, but enforcement was not effective, and the fines of 1,000 to 10,000 bolivianos ($146 to $1,460) were insufficient to deter violations. A national tripartite committee of business, labor, and government representatives is responsible for monitoring and improving occupational safety and health standards and enforcement. The Ministry of Labor maintained offices for worker inquiries, complaints, and reports of unfair labor practices and unsafe working conditions, but it was unclear if the offices were effective in regulating working conditions.

The law prohibits firing employees for removing themselves from work conditions they deem hazardous and provides for the Ministry of Labor to mandate they be rehired following an inspection.

While the government did not keep official statistics, there were reports workers died due to unsafe conditions, particularly in the mining and construction sectors. Labor experts estimated an average of five individuals who worked in construction in La Paz died each year; most were employed by small businesses. There were no significant government efforts to improve occupational safety and health conditions. Working conditions in cooperative-operated mines remained poor. Miners worked with no scheduled rest for long periods in dangerous, unhealthy conditions.

Workers in informal part-time and hourly jobs did not have labor protections. Many companies and businesses preferred workers hired on an hourly or part-time basis to avoid paying required maternity and pension benefits. According to labor-law experts, the informal sector comprised approximately 65-75 percent of the economy. They claimed labor regulations meant to protect employees actually promoted the large informal sector because the regulations reportedly resulted in employers not hiring full-time employees due to the higher costs they entailed.

NGOs documented the growing role of Chinese companies, which expanded their presence in the mining, hydrocarbon, and infrastructure sectors over the last 10 years. In 2017 the director of CooperAccion, Julia Cuadros, stated a lack of respect for labor laws accompanied this expansion. NGOs noted Chinese companies imported their own workers and typically followed Chinese labor laws, which are less stringent than Bolivian labor laws; the government reportedly permitted flexibility in compliance with the national law.

Brazil

Executive Summary

Brazil is a constitutional, multiparty republic. On October 28, voters elected Federal Deputy Jair Bolsonaro as the next president in a runoff election. International observers reported the elections were free and fair.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by state police; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; violence against journalists; corruption by officials; societal violence against indigenous populations and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; killings of human rights defenders; and slave labor that may amount to human trafficking.

The government prosecuted officials who committed abuses; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces was a problem, and an inefficient judicial process delayed justice for perpetrators as well as victims.

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 reports that state police committed unlawful killings. In some cases police employed indiscriminate force. The extent of the problem was difficult to determine because comprehensive, reliable statistics on unlawful police killings were not available. Official statistics showed police killed numerous civilians but did not specify which cases may have been unlawful. For instance, the Rio de Janeiro Public Security Institute, a state government entity, reported that from January to July, police killed 890 civilians in “acts of resistance” (similar to resisting arrest) in Rio de Janeiro State, a 39 percent increase over the same period in 2017. Government and police authorities attributed the rise to increased law enforcement engagement as part of the federal public security intervention in the state that began on March 16.

Most of the deaths in the city of Rio de Janeiro occurred while police were conducting operations against narcotics trafficking gangs in the 1,018 favelas (poor neighborhoods or shantytowns), where an estimated 1.5 million persons lived. A disproportionate number of the victims were Afro-Brazilians under age 25. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Rio de Janeiro questioned whether all of the victims actually resisted arrest, suggesting police often employed unnecessary force. On August 20, the armed forces conducted an operation targeting crime in the poor communities of Complexo do Alemao, Mare, and Penha that resulted in the death of five civilians and three military personnel. The operation involved 4,200 military personnel and 70 civil police officers backed by armored cars and helicopters. On the same day, military police officers killed six other civilians on the bridge connecting the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Niteroi. Military police officials stated the civilians were fleeing the neighborhoods where the military operations were taking place.

According to the Sao Paulo State Secretariat of Public Security, on- and off-duty military and civil police officers were responsible for 205 deaths in the state in the first half of the year, compared with 459 during the same period in 2017. According to civil society organizations, the victims of police violence in Sao Paulo State were overwhelmingly Afro-Brazilian youth. In June David Wayot Soares de Freitas died in the city of Sao Paulo from a gunshot fired by a military police officer. The police officer stated he fired the shot accidentally while approaching Freitas and his friend, who were on a motorbike. The officer stated he had received a report of cell phone theft by persons on a motorbike and was suspicious of the backpack worn by Freitas. Officials subsequently discovered the backpack contained a pizza, which Freitas was helping his friend deliver. The police report stated the two men held their hands up in surrender and were not carrying illegal items.

During national elections in October, politically motivated violence, especially against journalists, Afro-Brazilians, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons, was reported throughout the country. Media reported 50 attacks perpetrated by supporters of leading presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, including the killing of a supporter of the Workers Party (PT) in Bahia State after he declared his vote for the PT. High-profile leaders, including Superior Electoral Court President Rosa Weber, and Bolsonaro himself also were victims of violence and threats. On September 6, while campaigning in Minas Gerais State, Bolsonaro was the victim of a knife attack that left him in serious condition.

Police officers Fabio de Barros Dias and David Gomes Centeio of the 41st Military Police Battalion of Iraja, accused of killing two men in Rio de Janeiro in March 2017, were free and awaiting trial as of November.

In the first three months of the year, seven politicians were killed. In March unknown gunmen killed Rio de Janeiro council member Marielle Franco and her driver. On December 13, state police in Rio arrested a number of suspects. The crime was allegedly carried out by local organized-crime groups with ties to local politicians.

The NGO Global Witness reported 57 activists were killed in 2017, leading it to classify the country as extremely lethal for social, human rights, and environmental activists.

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 prohibits such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them.

In October the ombudsman for the Rio de Janeiro Public Defender’s Office released a report of findings on 15 neighborhoods affected by the federal military intervention, which began in March. The report documented 30 types of violations, including cases of rape, physical aggression, robberies, and home invasions perpetrated by federal law enforcement officials.

In November the press reported claims that federal military officers tortured three male favela residents in Rio de Janeiro in August. The men alleged the military held them for 17 hours, during which they were beaten, electrically shocked, and sprayed in the face with pepper spray.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening, mainly due to overcrowding. Abuse by prison guards continued, and poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.

Physical Conditions: Endemic overcrowding was a problem. According to the National Council of the Public Ministry, in August the overall occupation rate was 175 percent of capacity. The northern region had the worst situation, with three times more prisoners than designed capacity.

Reports of abuse by prison guards continued. Multiple reports filed with the Sao Paulo Public Defender’s Office, the National Penitentiary Department, and members of the National Council of Justice detailed abuse at the Unidade Prisional de Avare I, in the state of Sao Paulo, including suffocation with bags filled with urine and feces. Another prisoner claimed prison guards at the Complexo Medico-Penal prison in the state of Parana slammed his head against the wall and punched and kicked him.

Prisoners convicted of petty crimes frequently were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required placing convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. In many prisons, including those in the Federal District, officials attempted to separate violent offenders from other inmates and keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population. Multiple sources reported adolescents were held with adults in poor and crowded conditions. In many juvenile detention centers, the number of inmates greatly exceeded capacity.

The National Council of Justice found that, as of the end of 2017, there were 373 pregnant and 249 breastfeeding inmates in the prison system. In February the Supreme Court ruled that women who are pregnant or have children age 12 months and younger have the right to wait for the start of their trials under house arrest as opposed to preventive detention.

Prisons suffered from insufficient staffing and lack of control over the prison population. Violence was rampant in several prison facilities in the Northeast. In addition to overcrowding, poor administration of the prison system, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence within the penitentiary system. Media reports indicated most leaders of major criminal gangs were incarcerated and were controlling their expanding transnational criminal enterprises from inside prisons.

Multiple prison riots throughout the year led to the deaths of inmates, including a January riot in Ceara State in which 10 prisoners were killed and a September riot in Para State in which seven prisoners were killed. In February inmates at a prison in Japeri, a metropolitan area of the city of Rio de Janeiro, took prison guards hostage during a riot following a failed escape attempt. Three persons were wounded in the disturbances. Approximately 2,000 inmates were held in the Japeri facility, built for fewer than 900.

General prison conditions were poor. There was a lack of potable water for drinking and bathing, inadequate nutrition, rat and cockroach infestations, damp and dark cells, and beatings of inmates. According to the Ministry of Health, prisoners were 28 times more likely to contract tuberculosis, compared to the general public. In November the Organization of American States’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited prisons in the states of Maranhao, Roraima, and Rio de Janeiro, declaring the Jorge Santana Prison in Rio de Janeiro as one of the worst prisons commission members had seen and denouncing the Monte Cristo Agricultural Penitentiary Center in Roraima for subjecting prisoners to serious diseases and without the minimum right to food.

Administration: State-level ombudsman offices and the federal Secretariat of Human Rights monitored prison and detention center conditions and conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers.

Improvements: In May the National Council of Justice launched the National Registry of Prisoners, designed to contain basic data about all prisoners in the penitentiary system, including prisoner biographic data, the reason for the detention, the location of the prisoner, and the court order under which the prisoner was incarcerated.

In June the Pernambuco state government transferred the first inmates to Unit I of the newly constructed Itaquitinga Prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits arrests to those caught in the act of committing a crime or called for by order of a judicial authority; however, police at times did not respect this prohibition. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police force, operating under the Ministry of Public Security, is primarily an investigative entity and plays a minor role in routine law enforcement. Most police forces are under the control of the states. There are two distinct units within the state police forces: the civil police, which performs an investigative role, and the military police, charged with maintaining law and order. Despite its name, the military police does not report to the Ministry of Defense. The law mandates that special police courts exercise jurisdiction over state military police except those charged with “willful crimes against life,” primarily homicide. Police personnel often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers, although independent investigations increased. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitations.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, and the government has mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces was a problem. In October the Ombudsman’s Office of the Rio de Janeiro Public Defender published the report Favela Circuit for Rights, which documented the complaints from the city’s favela residents of home invasion, robbery, destruction of personal property, and sexual assault perpetrated by law enforcement officials under the jurisdiction of the federal public security intervention that began in the state in March. A survey released in August conducted by the Ombudsman’s Office of the Sao Paulo Military Police showed the use of excessive force in 74 percent of civilian deaths caused by the military police in 2017. The agency analyzed 756 of the 940 deaths due to police intervention in 2017, which represented 80 percent of the total.

In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, so-called militia groups, often composed of off-duty and former law enforcement officers, reportedly took policing into their own hands. Many militia groups intimidated residents and conducted illegal activities such as extorting protection money and providing pirated utility services. The groups also exploited activities related to the real estate market and the sale of drugs and arms.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Officials must advise persons of their rights at the time of arrest or before taking them into custody for interrogation. The law prohibits use of force during an arrest unless the suspect attempts to escape or resists arrest. According to human rights observers, some detainees complained of physical abuse while being taken into police custody.

Authorities generally respected the constitutional right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. Detainees were informed promptly of the charges against them. The law permits provisional detention for up to five days under specified conditions during an investigation, but a judge may extend this period. A judge may also order temporary detention for an additional five days for processing. Preventive detention for an initial period of 15 days is permitted if police suspect a detainee may flee the area. Defendants arrested in the act of committing a crime must be charged within 30 days of arrest. Other defendants must be charged within 45 days, although this period may be extended. In cases involving heinous crimes, torture, drug trafficking, and terrorism, pretrial detention could last 30 days with the option to extend for an additional 30 days. Often the period for charging defendants had to be extended because of court backlogs. The law does not provide for a maximum period for pretrial detention, which is decided on a case-by-case basis. Bail was available for most crimes, and defendants facing charges for all but the most serious crimes have the right to a bail hearing. Prison authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer. Indigent detainees have the right to a lawyer provided by the state. Detainees had prompt access to family members. If detainees are convicted, time in detention before trial is subtracted from their sentences.

Pretrial Detention: Approximately 40 percent of prisoners nationwide were in prison provisionally (without a sentence from a judge), according to former minister of justice Alexandre de Moraes. A study conducted by the Ministry of Justice’s National Penitentiary Department found that more than half of the pretrial detainees in 17 states had been held in pretrial detention for more than 90 days. The study found 100 percent of pretrial detainees in Sergipe State, 91 percent in Alagoas State, 84 percent in Parana State, and 74 percent in Amazonas State had been held for more than 90 days.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Local NGOs, however, cited that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, was a concern.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although NGOs reported that in some rural regions–especially in cases involving land rights activists–police, prosecutors, and the judiciary were perceived to be more susceptible to external influences, including fear of reprisals. Investigations, prosecutions, and trials in these cases often were delayed.

After an arrest a judge reviews the case, determines whether it should proceed, and assigns the case to a state prosecutor, who decides whether to issue an indictment. Juries hear cases involving capital crimes; judges try those accused of lesser crimes. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be present at their trial, to be promptly informed of charges, not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, to confront and question adverse witnesses, to present their own witnesses and evidence, and to appeal verdicts. Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense but do not have the right to free assistance of an interpreter.

Although the law requires trials be held within a set time, there were millions of backlogged cases at state, federal, and appellate courts, and cases often took many years to be concluded. To reduce the backlog, state and federal courts frequently dismissed old cases without a hearing. While the law provides for the right to counsel, the Ministry of Public Security stated many prisoners could not afford an attorney. The court must furnish a public defender or private attorney at public expense in such cases, but staffing deficits persisted in all states.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may submit lawsuits before the courts for human rights violations. While the justice system provides for an independent civil judiciary, courts were burdened with backlogs and sometimes subject to corruption, political influence, and indirect intimidation. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

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

Although the law and constitution prohibit such actions, NGOs reported police occasionally conducted searches without warrants. Human rights groups, other NGOs, and media reported incidents of excessive police searches in poor neighborhoods. During these operations, police stopped and questioned persons and searched cars and residences without warrants.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with minimal restriction, but nongovernmental criminal elements subjected journalists to violence due to their professional activities. National laws prohibit politically motivated judicial censorship, but some local-level courts engaged in judicial censorship. In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during massive demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations. There were also cases of protesters attacking journalists.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subject to harassment, physical attacks, and threats as a result of their reporting. From January to April, the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters recorded the deaths of two journalists as well as 14 physical attacks, 11 threats, and nine acts of vandalism against journalists. On January 18, Jefferson Pureza Lopes, host of the radio program A Voice of the People, was killed in his home in Goias State. He had received death threats for years, and both his home and radio station office were burned down in response to denunciations of city irregularities made on his radio show. According to the international organization Reporters without Borders, a third Brazilian journalist was killed on August 16.

In August media outlets reported physical attacks against journalists by demonstrators in the states of Ceara and Sao Paulo as journalists were covering protests against the decision by the Federal Court of Parana on the imprisonment of former president Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The 2014 Marco Civil law, considered an internet “bill of rights,” enshrines net neutrality and freedom of expression online and provides for the inviolability and secrecy of user communications online, permitting exceptions only by court order. Nevertheless, several legal and judicial rulings citing the Marco Civil law had the potential to threaten freedom of expression on the internet. Anonymous speech is explicitly excluded from constitutional protection, which left little privacy protection for those who used the internet anonymously through a pseudonym. Police and prosecutors may obtain data pursuant to three main statutes: the Wiretapping Act, Secrecy of Financial Data Act, and Money Laundering Act. In August President Temer approved a new data protection law regulating the use, protection, and transfer of personal data. NGOs praised the new law, with the NGO Article 19 calling it “an important advancement in the right to privacy and freedom of expression.” The local NGO Intervozes said the new law “creates an important legal framework that guarantees privacy and protection of fundamental rights” and puts the country in line with other international legislation in the field of data protection.

The electoral law regulates political campaign activity on the internet. The law prohibits paid political advertising online and in traditional media. During the three months prior to an election, the law also prohibits online and traditional media from promoting candidates and distributing content that ridicules or could offend a candidate.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 65 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected the right of freedom of peaceful assembly, but police occasionally intervened in citizen protests that turned violent.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The National Committee for Refugees cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. By law refugees are provided official documentation, access to legal protection, and access to public services. The migration law signed by President Temer in May 2017 went into effect in November 2017, with implementing regulations developed during 2018. The law codifies protections for asylum claimants but overall made few changes to existing practices. It creates a new humanitarian visa as well as a new residency status that serves as an alternative to refugee claims for some categories of regional migrants, particularly from Venezuela.

During the year increasing numbers of Venezuelan economic migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees arrived in Roraima State in the north. As of August, 75,000 Venezuelans had applied for asylum or temporary residency in Brazil. The influx of Venezuelans into the small state of Roraima aggravated relations between local residents and the migrants and refugees, leading to some incidents of violence. On August 18, an anti-Venezuelan riot broke out in the border town of Pacaraima after a group of Venezuelans allegedly assaulted a local restaurant owner. While no deaths were reported, 1,200 Venezuelans were temporarily forced to return to their country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In national elections held in October, citizens elected Federal Deputy Jair Bolsonaro as the next president. His inauguration was set for January 1, 2019. An observer mission from the Organization of American States considered the elections free and fair.

The law provides for the freedom to contest elections, except for certain enumerated ineligible acts. A 2010 electoral law amendment bars candidates who have been impeached or convicted of corruption crimes or who have renounced office to avoid impeachment. The law does not require a final and unappealable conviction, and it was contested as being counter to the constitution’s article concerning the presumption of innocence. On August 31, former president Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva was ruled ineligible by the Superior Electoral Court to run in the 2018 presidential election under this clause. Da Silva contested the finding in the Supreme Court, arguing among other points that the ruling on his ineligibility before all appeals were exhausted was a violation of his constitutional rights. On September 6, the Supreme Court rejected his appeals.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

By law, 20 percent of the political television and radio advertising must be used to encourage female participation in politics. Parties that do not comply with this requirement may be found ineligible to contest elections. In August the Social Liberal Party was banned from fielding candidates in the state of Sergipe for failure to abide by the gender minimums. Some parties also fielded the minimum number of female candidates but reportedly did not provide sufficient support for them to campaign effectively. In May the Superior Electoral Court ruled parties must provide a minimum of 30 percent of campaign funds to support the election of female candidates. Women remained underrepresented in elected positions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials and stipulates civil penalties for corruption committed by Brazilian citizens or entities overseas. There were numerous reports of corruption at various levels of government, and delays in judicial proceedings against persons accused of corruption were common, often due to constitutional protections from prosecution for sitting members of Congress and government ministers. This often resulted in de facto impunity for those responsible.

Corruption: The investigation of the Petrobras state oil company embezzlement scandal (Operation Carwash, or Lava Jato), which began in 2014, continued and led to arrests and convictions of money launderers and major construction contractors and also to the investigation, indictment, and conviction of politicians across the political class. Information gained through collaboration and plea bargains with suspects launched a widening net of new investigations. Through October courts handed down 215 convictions related to the investigations, including that of former president Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva.

On November 29, federal police agents arrested Rio de Janeiro Governor Luiz Fernando Pezao on charges of corruption and money laundering. He allegedly received $40 million in bribes from 2007 to 2015, while serving as the vice governor to former governor Sergio Cabral, who was in prison serving a 14-year sentence for corruption and money laundering connected to Operation Carwash.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and officials generally complied with these provisions. Not all asset declarations are made public, but federal employees’ salaries and payment information are posted online and can be searched by name.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Federal officials were cooperative and responsive to their views. Federal and state officials in many cases sought the aid and cooperation of domestic and international NGOs in addressing human rights problems.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Some local human rights organizations were critical of the Ministry of Human Rights, re-established by President Temer in 2017, stating their long-time contacts had been removed, many positions were unfilled, and the role of civil society in policy discussions had been severely reduced.

The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate had human rights committees that operated without interference and participated in several activities nationwide in coordination with domestic and international human rights organizations. Most states had police ombudsmen, but their accomplishments varied, depending on such factors as funding and outside political pressure.

A National Council for Human Rights, composed of 22 members–11 from various government agencies and 11 from civil society–met regularly. Other councils using this mixed government and civil society model included the National LGBT Council, National Council for Religious Freedom, National Council for Racial Equality Policies, National Council for Rights of Children and Adolescents, and National Council for Refugees.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. The Maria da Penha Law criminalizes physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women, as well as defamation and damage to property or finances by someone with whom the victim has a marriage, family, or intimate relationship. Persons convicted of killing a woman or girl in cases of domestic violence may be sentenced to 12 to 30 years in prison.

In July Parana state officials accused Luis Felipe Manvailer of killing his wife, Tatiane Spitzner. Security camera footage showed Manvailer hitting and choking his wife and dragging her body into an elevator of their apartment building. As of November 30, he was in detention and awaiting trial.

The federal government maintained a toll-free nationwide hotline for women to report instances of intimate partner violence. Hotline operators have the authority to mobilize military police units to respond to such reports and follow up regarding the status of the case.

Each state secretariat for public security operated police stations dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women. State and local governments also operated reference centers and temporary women’s shelters, and many states maintained domestic violence hotlines. Despite these protections, allegations of domestic violence were not always treated as credible by police; a study in the state of Rio Grande do Sul found 40 percent of femicide victims had previously sought police protection.

On October 4, Claudecir Kuster dos Soares shot his ex-wife Celia Oliveira on a public bus in Lages, in the state of Santa Catarina. Soares then shot himself. Both were taken to a hospital for emergency surgery and were expected to recover. Oliveira had a restraining order against Soares and had reported receiving a death threat from him in September. As of November 30, Soares was in police custody.

The law requires health facilities to contact police regarding cases in which a woman was harmed physically, sexually, or psychologically and to collect evidence and statements should the victim decide to prosecute.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense, punishable by up to two years in prison. NGOs reported sexual harassment was a serious concern, and perpetrators were frequently not held accountable.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all circumstances. The government did not enforce the law effectively. According to the recruitment agency Catho, women received 62 percent of the amount men received for equal work as of March.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth in the country or from birth to a Brazilian citizen parent. The National Council of Justice, in partnership with the Secretariat of Human Rights, acted to reduce the number of children without birth certificates by registering children born in maternity wards.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and negligence. Abuse and neglect of children and adolescents were problems. Child pornography carries a prison sentence of up to eight years and a fine.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 (16 with parental or legal representative consent). According to 2017 data from UNICEF, 11 percent of women ages 20-24 were married by age 15, and 36 percent of women ages 20-24 were married by age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children, adolescents, and other vulnerable persons is punishable by four to 10 years in prison. The law defines sexual exploitation as child sex trafficking, sexual activity, production of child pornography, and public or private sex shows. The government enforced the law unevenly. The law sets a minimum age of 14 for consensual sex, with the penalty for statutory rape ranging from eight to 15 years in prison.

In August police arrested former civil police officer Alzemar da Conceicao dos Anjos for running a child sex ring in the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area. A joint telephone wiretap investigation by the Public Ministry and civil police revealed that dos Anjos notified staff about the arrival of police and instructed that girls younger than age 18 be removed from the home where they were kept.

While no specific laws address child sex tourism, it is punishable under other criminal offenses. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. In addition girls from other South American nations were exploited in commercial sex in the country.

The law criminalizes child pornography. The penalty for possession of child pornography is up to four years in prison and a fine.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to the Jewish Federation, there were approximately 120,000 Jewish citizens, of whom approximately 50,000 were in the state of Sao Paulo and 30,000 in Rio de Janeiro State.

Several leaders of the Jewish and interfaith communities stated overt anti-Semitism was limited. Small neo-Nazi groups existed in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and Parana.

In September the Israeli Federation of Rio de Janeiro reported that in Zona Sul, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, individuals spray-painted a swastika on a wall of a residence decorated with a mezuzah. Police were investigating the incident.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, and the federal government generally enforced these provisions. While federal and state laws mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities, states did not enforce them effectively.

The Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities Act, a legal framework on the rights of persons with disabilities, seeks to promote greater accessibility through expanded federal oversight of the City Statute (a law intended to foster the safety and well-being of urban citizens, among other objectives). The act also includes harsher criminal penalties for conviction of discrimination based on disability and inclusive health services with provision of services near residences and rural areas.

The National Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the National Council for the Rights of the Elderly have primary responsibility for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. The lack of accessible infrastructure and schools significantly limited the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce.

Civil society organizations acknowledged monitoring and enforcement of disability policies remained weak and criticized a lack of accessibility to public transportation, weak application of employment quotas, and a limited medical-based definition of disability that often excludes learning disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits racial discrimination, specifically the denial of public or private facilities, employment, or housing to anyone based on race. The law also prohibits the incitement of racial discrimination or prejudice and the dissemination of racially offensive symbols and epithets, and it stipulates prison terms for such acts.

Approximately 52 percent of the population identified themselves as belonging to categories other than white. Despite this high representation within the general population, darker-skinned citizens, particularly Afro-Brazilians, encountered discrimination. Afro-Brazilians were underrepresented in the government, professional positions, and middle and upper classes. They experienced a higher rate of unemployment and earned average wages below those of whites in similar positions. There was also a sizeable education gap. Afro-Brazilians were disproportionately affected by crime.

The 2010 Racial Equality Statute continued to be controversial, due to its provision for nonquota affirmative action policies in education and employment. In 2012 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of racial quota systems at universities. The 2010 law requires 20 percent of federal public administration positions be filled by Afro-Brazilians.

The Ministry of Planning requires government ministries to create internal committees to validate the self-declared ethnicity claims of public-service job applicants by using phenotypic criteria, assessing “blackness” in an attempt to reduce abuse of affirmative action policy and related laws. Universities also had race evaluation committees.

In April the Supreme Court ruled that 20 percent of vacancies for the military services must be filled by Afro-Brazilians, either men or women.

Indigenous People

According to data from the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) and the 2010 census, there were approximately 897,000 indigenous persons, representing 305 distinct indigenous ethnic groups that spoke 274 distinct languages. The law grants the indigenous population broad protection of their cultural patrimony, exclusive use of their traditional lands, and exclusive beneficial use of their territory.

According to the constitution, all aboveground and underground minerals as well as hydroelectric power potential belong to the government. Congress must consult with the tribes involved when considering requests to exploit mineral and water resources, including ones with energy potential, on indigenous lands. Human rights groups expressed concerns that most of the requirements for indigenous consultation were not met.

Illegal logging, drug trafficking, and mining, as well as changes in the environment caused by large infrastructure projects, forced indigenous tribes to move to new areas or make their demarcated indigenous territories smaller than established by law. In some areas of Maranhao State, there were nightly curfews that applied only to indigenous persons.

According to FUNAI, the federal government established rules for providing financial compensation following the occupation in good faith of indigenous areas, as in the cases of companies that won development contracts affecting indigenous lands. Various indigenous groups protested the slow pace of land demarcations. In a case that lasted more than 30 years, during the year a court ordered the return of 20,000 acres of land to the Pankararu indigenous community in the municipalities of Tacaratu, Petrolandia, and Jatoba in the state of Pernambuco.

On August 11, indigenous leader Jorge Guajajara was killed in Maranhao. Police were investigating the case.

The Quilombola population–descendants of escaped African slaves–was estimated to include 6,000 communities and approximately five million individuals, although the government had no official statistics. The constitution recognizes Quilombola land ownership rights. In February the Supreme Court rejected the president’s attempt to apply “marco temporal” to Quilombola land claims, which would have prevented claims to lands the Quilombolas did not physically occupy in 1988, when the constitution was promulgated. In March the governor of Para State concluded a 23-year land dispute by signing over titles for more than 543,000 acres of Amazon forest to the Quilombola community in Cachoeira Porteira.

Of the 70 land-conflict deaths recorded by the NGO Pastoral Land Commission in 2017, 11 victims were Quilombola leaders. In April Quilombola leader Nazildo dos Santos Brito was killed in Para State, following threats to his physical safety after protesting a palm oil plantation’s alleged illegal deforestation and pollution practices.

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

Federal law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, but several states and municipalities have administrative regulations that prohibit such discrimination and provide for equal access to government services. The criminal code states offenses subject to criminal prosecution fall under federal statutes, leaving hate crimes subject to administrative, not criminal penalties. Sao Paulo was the only state to codify punishments for hate-motivated violence and speech against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, the law penalizes commercial establishments that discriminate against individuals on the basis of their LGBTI status. In Brasilia the law penalizes both individuals and businesses for discrimination against LGBTI persons. In both Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, sanctions vary from warnings and fines to the temporary suspension or termination of a business license.

Violence against LGBTI individuals was a serious concern. Through June there were 85 killings of LGBTI individuals. On April 5, five persons accused of the 2017 murder of a transgender woman, Dandara dos Santos, in Fortaleza, Ceara State, were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment ranging from 14 years and six months to 21 years.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS is punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine. Civil society organizations and the press reported discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In August and September, unknown perpetrators committed acts of arson, vandalism, and destruction of sacred objects against seven Afro-Brazilian temples or places of worship (terreiros) on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. The state secretary of human rights said the incidents were likely the work of an unidentified “religious militia.” There were eight similar incidents in the state of Sao Paulo in September. In another case an individual entered a terreiro during a meeting of practitioners and stabbed four persons, including one minor.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for freedom of association for all workers (except members of the military, military police, and firefighters), the right to bargain collectively with some restrictions, and the right to strike. The law limits organizing at the enterprise level. By law the armed forces, military police, or firefighters may not strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, including the dismissal of employees who are candidates for, or holders of, union leadership positions, and it requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activity.

New unions must register with the Ministry of Labor, which accepts the registration unless objections are filed by other unions. The law stipulates certain restrictions, such as unicidade (in essence one union per occupational category per city), which limits freedom of association by prohibiting multiple, competing unions of the same professional category in a single geographical area. Unions that represent workers in the same geographical area and professional category may contest registration.

The law stipulates a strike may be ruled “disruptive” by the labor court, and the union may be subjected to legal penalties if the strike violates certain conditions, such as if the union fails to maintain essential services during a strike, notify employers at least 48 hours before the beginning of a walkout, or end a strike after a labor court decision. Employers may not hire substitute workers during a legal strike or fire workers for strike-related activity, provided the strike is not ruled abusive. In April the Supreme Court ruled against the right of civil police to strike, stating all public security organs are prohibited from striking, including civil police, military police, federal police, fire brigades, railway police, and highway police. Civil police officials filed a grievance with the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The law obliges a union to negotiate on behalf of all registered workers in the professional category and geographical area it represents, regardless of whether an employee pays voluntary membership dues. The law permits the government to reject clauses of collective bargaining agreements that conflict with government policy. A July 2017 law includes collective bargaining changes, such as the ability to negotiate remuneration for the commute to and from work, working remotely, and a flexible hours schedule.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Collective bargaining was widespread in establishments in the private sector. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. The Ministry of Labor suspended union registration processes for a period of 90 days beginning on July 23 after a police investigation uncovered evidence that nonexistent unions were being registered fraudulently.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits “slave labor,” defined as “reducing someone to a condition analogous to slavery,” including subjecting someone to forced labor, debt bondage, exhausting work hours, and labor performed in degrading working conditions.

Many individuals in slave labor, as defined by the country’s law, were victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation. The government took actions to enforce the law, although forced labor occurred in a number of states. Violations of forced labor laws are punishable by up to eight years in prison, but this was often not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides penalties for various crimes related to forced labor, such as illegal recruiting or transporting workers or imposing onerous debt burdens as a condition of employment. Every six months the Ministry of Labor publishes a “Dirty List” of companies found to have employed forced labor. Inclusion on the list prevents companies from receiving loans from state-owned financial institutions. The Labor Prosecutor’s Office, in partnership with the ILO, maintained an online platform that identified hotspots for forced labor.

The National Commission to Eradicate Slave Labor coordinated government efforts to combat forced and exploitative labor and provide a forum for input from civil society actors. The commission’s members included representatives from 10 government agencies or ministries–including Human Rights, Justice, Federal Police, Agriculture, Labor, and Environment–and 20 civil society groups and the private sector. The ILO was also a member.

The Ministry of Labor’s Mobile Inspection Unit teams conducted impromptu inspections of properties where forced labor was suspected or reported, using teams composed of labor inspectors, labor prosecutors from the Federal Labor Prosecutor’s Office, and federal police officers. Mobile teams levied fines on landowners who used forced labor and required employers to provide back pay and benefits to workers before returning the workers to their municipalities of origin. Labor inspectors and prosecutors, however, could apply only civil penalties; consequently, many cases were not criminally prosecuted. Workers removed by mobile units were entitled to three months’ salary at the minimum wage. In early August ministry investigators rescued 18 workers who were laboring on coffee plantations in conditions analogous to slavery.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, was reported in jobs such as clearing forests to provide cattle pastureland, logging, producing charcoal, raising livestock, and other agricultural activities. Forced labor often involved young men drawn from the less-developed northeastern states–Maranhao, Piaui, Tocantins, and Ceara–and the central state of Goias to work in the northern and central-western regions of the country. In addition there were reports of forced labor in the construction industry. News outlets reported cases that amounted to forced labor in production of carnauba wax. Cases of forced labor were also reported in the garment industry in the city of Sao Paulo; the victims were often from neighboring countries, particularly Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay, while others came from Haiti, South Korea, and China.

According to Global Slavery Index 2018 data, an estimated 369,000 persons were living in modern slavery. These individuals were concentrated in areas that had experienced rapid economic development, mainly in the agricultural sector.

In January labor inspectors rescued 10 men working in “slave-like conditions” in a salt production company in the municipality of Araruama in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The laborers were living in filthy and makeshift accommodations and did not have appropriate equipment to work. The Labor Prosecutor’s Office required employers to terminate their contracts, compensate the victims, and pay unemployment insurance for the rescued workers.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum working age is 16, and apprenticeships may begin at age 14. The law bars all minors younger than age 18 from work that constitutes a physical strain or occurs in unhealthy, dangerous, or morally harmful conditions. Hazardous work includes an extensive list of activities within 13 occupational categories, including domestic service, garbage scavenging, and fertilizer production. The law requires parental permission for minors to work as apprentices.

According to the Ministry of Labor, in the last two decades, the number of underage working children declined from eight million to 2.7 million. The remaining cases were the most difficult to identify because they often took place in inaccessible rural areas or within a family home.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for inspecting worksites to enforce child labor laws. Penalties for violations range from 402 reais to 1,891 reais ($105 to $500), doubling for a second violation and tripling for a third, and were generally enforced; however, observers asserted fines were usually too small to serve as an effective deterrent. Most inspections of children in the workplace were driven by complaints brought by workers, teachers, unions, NGOs, and media. Due to legal restrictions, labor inspectors remained unable to enter private homes and farms, where much of the child labor allegedly occurred.

In May a study published by Abrinq Foundation, a Sao Paulo-based entity devoted to the protection of children’s rights, found that 3.3 million children and adolescents (ages five to 17) were in a situation of child labor, including in activities involving bananas, cacao, coffee, corn, fish, hogs, poultry, sheep, and sugarcane. The Ministry of Labor’s National Committee for the Eradication of Child Labor continued to implement the country’s National Plan to Combat Child Labor and maintained a database on the worst forms of child labor occurring in the country.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, natural origin or citizenship, age, language, and sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination against individuals who are HIV positive or suffer from other communicable diseases is also prohibited. The government generally enforced the laws and regulations, although discrimination in employment occurred with respect to Afro-Brazilians, women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and transgender individuals. The Ministry of Labor implemented rules to integrate promotion of racial equality in its programs, including requiring race be included in data for programs financed by the ministry. According to the ILO, women not only earned less than men but also had difficulties entering the workplace: 78 percent of men held paid jobs, compared with 56 percent of women. Although the law prohibits gender discrimination in pay, professional training, and career advancement, the law was not enforced and discrimination existed.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a minimum wage. The minimum wage was greater than the official poverty income level. According to 2016 Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) data, however, the per capita income of approximately 40 percent of workers was below the minimum wage. IBGE data also revealed 6.8 percent of workers (12.9 million) were considered “extremely poor” or earning less than 70 reais ($18.40) per month. The Ministry of Labor verified enforcement of minimum wage laws as part of regular labor inspections. Penalties alone were not sufficient to deter violations.

The law limits the workweek to 44 hours and specifies a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours, preferably on Sundays. The law also provides for paid annual vacation, prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to two hours per workday, and stipulates that hours worked above the monthly limit must be compensated with at least time-and-a-half pay; these provisions generally were enforced for all groups of workers in the formal sector. The constitution also provides for the right of domestic employees to work a maximum of eight hours of per day, a maximum of 44 hours’ work per week, a minimum wage, a lunch break, social security, and severance pay.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational, health, and safety standards that are consistent with internationally recognized norms, although unsafe working conditions were prevalent throughout the country, especially in construction. The law requires employers to establish internal committees for accident prevention in workplaces. It also provides for the protection of employees from being fired for their committee activities. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although those in forced labor situations without access to transportation were particularly vulnerable to situations that endangered their health and safety.

In March the regional labor court in Sao Paulo upheld the conviction of M5 Industria e Comercio, owner of the M.Officer brand, under the state’s antislavery law for dumping. The court found M5 had been contracting its production out to firms that hired immigrant persons, who were forced to work beyond the legal maximum number of hours and in unsafe conditions. The court also confirmed the fine of six million reais ($1.6 million).

The Ministry of Labor addressed problems related to acceptable conditions of work such as long workdays and unsafe or unhygienic work conditions. Penalties for violations include fines that vary widely depending on the nature of the violation; the fines were generally enforced and were sometimes sufficient to deter violations. The National Labor Inspection School held various training sessions for labor inspectors throughout the year. The Ministry of Labor reported the number of labor inspectors (2,367) in the country was insufficient to enforce full compliance nationwide. Inspections continued to take place despite reduced funding, leading to fewer inspectors and inspections.

According to the IBGE, 33.3 million persons were employed in the formal sector as of May 2017. The IBGE also reported 22.9 million persons were working in the informal economy, an increase of 5 percent, compared with 2016.

Chile

Executive Summary

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

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of torture by law enforcement officers; abuse of minors under the state’s care; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and violence, including police abuse, against indigenous populations.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

In March 2017 the 1985 disappearance case of U.S. citizen Boris Weisfeiler was placed on schedule for an appeals court hearing. There were no developments in the case during the year.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports of excessive force, abuse, and degrading treatment by law enforcement officers. During the year the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) filed seven criminal accusations that members of law enforcement had committed acts of torture during detention of student protesters, or for criminal arrests, or at prisons. On May 28, Carabineros special forces allegedly beat and strangled a Swiss Confederation High School student to the point of unconsciousness while removing student protesters from the school. On June 1, the INDH filed a criminal accusation for the case; the investigation was pending at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Independent auditors determined that conditions in some prisons were considered below generally accepted standards, as promulgated by the Organization of American States, due to antiquated and overpopulated prisons that typically had substandard sanitary infrastructure and an inadequate water supply. Human rights organizations reported violence, including torture, occurred, as did violence among inmates.

Physical Conditions: The prison population was unevenly distributed across the prison system, with approximately 50 percent of prisons operating beyond maximum capacity, while others were underpopulated. Overpopulation and antiquated, inadequate facilities led to comingling of pre- and post-trial prisoners as a common practice. An independent magistrate’s report stated prisoners were often confined to their cells for the majority of the day, a practice that did not allow sufficient time for participation in rehabilitation and readjustment programs.

Administration: Independent government authorities, including the INDH, generally investigated credible allegations of mistreatment. The government usually investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits took place at both government and privately operated facilities. Prisoner and human rights groups continued to investigate alleged abuse or use of excessive force against detainees, and media covered some of the allegations.

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, and the government generally observed those requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Carabineros and the Investigative Police (PDI) have legal responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order, including migration and border enforcement, within the country. The Ministry of the Interior and Public Security oversees both forces. The INDH monitors complaints and allegations of abuse.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the Carabineros and the PDI, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Only public officials expressly authorized by law may arrest or detain citizens, and they generally did so openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence brought before an independent judiciary. Authorities must immediately inform a prosecutor of an arrest and generally did so.

The prosecutor must open an investigation, receive a statement from the detainee, and ensure that the detainee is held at a local police station until the detention control hearing. Detention control hearings are held twice daily, allowing for a judicial determination of the legality of the detention within 24 hours of arrest. Detainees must be informed of their rights, including the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent until an attorney is present. Public defenders are provided for detainees who do not hire their own lawyer. Authorities must expedite notification of the detention to family members. If authorities do not inform detainees of their rights upon detention, the judge can declare the process unlawful during the detention control hearing.

The law allows judges to set bail, grant provisional liberty, or order continued detention as necessary for the investigation or the protection of the prisoner or the public.

The law affords detainees 30 minutes of immediate and subsequent daily access to a lawyer (in the presence of a prison guard) and to a doctor to verify their physical condition. Regular visits by family members are allowed.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have a right of appeal. They have the right to be informed promptly of charges, to have time to prepare their defense, and not to be compelled to testify or admit guilt. Three-judge panels form the court of first instance. The process is oral and adversarial, defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and judges rule on guilt and dictate sentences. Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter. Court records, rulings, and findings were generally accessible to the public.

The law provides for the right to legal counsel, and public defenders’ offices across the country provided professional legal counsel to anyone seeking such assistance. When human rights organizations or family members requested, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Corporation for the Promotion and Defense of the Rights of the People and other lawyers working pro bono assisted detainees during interrogation and trial. Defendants may confront or question adverse witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf, although the law provides for secret witnesses in certain circumstances.

For crimes committed prior to the implementation of the 2005 judicial reforms, criminal proceedings are inquisitorial rather than adversarial. As of December 1, one inquisitorial criminal court remained open and had an extensive wait for trials.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

In civil matters there is an independent and impartial judiciary, which permits individuals to seek civil remedies for human rights violations; however, the civil justice system retained antiquated and inefficient procedures, which resulted in civil trials lasting years if not decades. Administrative and judicial remedies are available for alleged wrongs. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies including fair compensation to the individual injured.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 82 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Durable Solutions: In April the government announced a Democratic Responsibility Visa for Venezuelans fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Under the government’s immigration reform, the Democratic Responsibility Visa is the primary means for Venezuelans to work or establish legal residency in Chile. On November 7, the government facilitated the voluntary repatriation of 160 Haitians to Port-au-Prince under its Humanitarian Plan for Orderly Returns program. Haitians wishing to participate must sign a declaration that they will not return to Chile within the next nine years.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held concurrent presidential and legislative elections in November 2017, both of which observers considered free and fair. The center-right candidate, Sebastian Pinera, won the December 2017 runoff election against the center-left independent candidate Senator Alejandro Guillier.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

The Mapuche minority, which represents approximately 9 percent of the population, have historically been underrepresented in government. In November 2017 two candidates from the Mapuche indigenous group were elected to congress–one to the current 43-seat Senate and one to the 155-seat Chamber of Deputies (see section 6, Ethnic Minorities).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: On March 1, the Public Ministry summoned for questioning the former general director of the Carabineros, Eduardo Gordon, for misappropriation of funds in excess of 25 billion pesos ($37 million). Gordon was also under investigation for the use of more than 14 billion pesos ($21 million) in representation expenses by the Public Relations Department of the Carabineros while serving as general director between 2010 and 2011. As of November the Public Ministry’s investigation remained open.

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

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The INDH operated independently and effectively, issued public statements and an annual report, and proposed changes to government agencies or policies to promote and protect human rights. During the year the INDH examined the inner workings of 101 of 119 National Service for Minors (SENAME) centers around the country, focusing on mental-health services available, violence in the centers, and alleged sexual abuse of vulnerable minors.

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. Penalties for rape range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment, and the government generally enforced the law when violations were reported.

The law criminalizes both physical and psychological domestic violence and protects the privacy and safety of the victim making the charge of rape or domestic violence.

Family courts handle cases of domestic violence and penalize offenders with fines up to 720,000 pesos ($1,065). Additional sanctions include eviction of the offender from the residence shared with the survivor, restraining orders, confiscation of firearms, and court-ordered counseling. Cases of habitual psychological abuse and physical abuse cases in which there are physical injuries are prosecuted in the criminal justice system. Penalties are based on the gravity of injuries and range from 61 days’ to 15 years’ imprisonment. Murder in the context of domestic violence is defined as femicide in the criminal code, and penalties range from 15 years to life in prison. The government generally enforced the laws against domestic violence effectively.

As part of its 2014-18 national action plan against violence against women, the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality ran a victims’ assistance and protection program that operated psychological, legal, and social assistance centers and shelters throughout the country and maintained an emergency hotline.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not a criminal offense, but it is classified as a misdemeanor, with penalties outlined exclusively in the labor code. By law sexual harassment in the workplace is cause for immediate dismissal from employment. The law requires employers to define internal procedures, or a company policy, for investigating sexual harassment, and employers may face fines and additional financial compensation to victims if it is shown the company policy on sexual harassment was not followed. The law provides protection to those affected by sexual harassment by employers and coworkers. The law provides severance pay to individuals who resign due to sexual harassment if they have completed at least one year with the employer.

At the local government level, the Municipality of Las Condes passed a municipal resolution allowing the placement of warning signs in 63 strategic locations, including bus stops and construction sites, aimed at reducing verbal harassment of women in public places. The municipal resolution also prescribes fines for this type of harassment, reaching up to 233,000 pesos ($345).

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although women possess most of the same legal rights as men, the government did not enforce the law effectively, since discrimination in employment, pay, ownership and management of businesses, and education persisted. Certain laws defining the marital relationship enable discrimination. The default and most common marital arrangement is “conjugal society,” which provides that a husband has the right to administer joint property, including his wife’s property, without consultation or written permission from his spouse, but a wife must demonstrate that her husband has granted his permission before she is permitted to make financial arrangements. Legislation remained pending years after a 2007 agreement with the IACHR to modify the conjugal society law to give women and men equal rights and responsibilities in marriage. The commercial code provides that, unless a woman is married under the separate-estate regime or a joint-estate regime, she may not enter into a commercial partnership agreement without permission from her husband, while a man may enter into such an agreement without permission from his wife.

Despite a law providing for equal pay for equal work, the average woman’s annual income was 32 percent less than that of men, according to the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality. The ministry is in charge of protecting women’s legal rights and is specifically tasked with combatting discrimination against women.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents or grandparents. There were no reports that birth registration was denied on a discriminatory basis.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, but it remained a persistent problem. The law renders persons convicted of child sexual abuse permanently ineligible for any position, job, career, or profession in educational settings requiring direct and habitual contact with children under age 18. The law also includes a public registry of these sex offenders.

In June President Pinera convened a bipartisan National Agreement on Childhood Parliamentarians, ministers, and experts from civil society developed measures to promote child development, safeguard children’s rights, and ensure the physical protection and rehabilitation of child abuse victims. The measures also include mechanisms to put an end to the abuses that occurred in some SENAME centers and foster-care facilities.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 (16 with parental consent).

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents was a problem, and children were victims of sex trafficking with and without third-party involvement. The law prohibits all forms of human trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from five years and one day to 15 years in prison, plus fines, for trafficking offenses. Nevertheless, internal child sex trafficking cases were often prosecuted under a different law, Article 367 of the penal code, which provides lesser penalties. Due to sentencing guidelines for first-time offenders or those sentenced to less than five years’ confinement, many convicted traffickers were given weak and inadequate sentences for the crime, which hampered efforts to deter and hold traffickers accountable.

Heterosexual sexual relations with minors between the ages of 14 and 18 may be considered statutory rape depending on the circumstances; sex with a child under age 14 is considered rape, regardless of consent or the victim’s gender. Penalties for statutory rape range from five to 20 years in prison. Child pornography is a crime. Penalties for producing child pornography range from 541 days to five years in prison.

Institutionalized Children: In June 2017 the second special congressional committee in five years investigated allegations of abuse at SENAME centers and issued a report that claimed widespread lack of oversight of its child protective programs at centers for orphans and children who had been removed from the care of their parents by the family courts. The report also found the service had long waiting lists for its programs, lack of training for its personnel, and “an [organizational] culture lacking in the protection of [children’s] rights.”

In July 2017 the INDH released the results of a yearlong study of 171 SENAME child-service centers. Among the 405 children interviewed, 195 reported negligent treatment by child-services workers; physical, mental, or psychological abuse; and sexual abuse or exploitation.

In July the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released the final report containing the analysis by two experts following a January visit to SENAME centers. The visit was scheduled in response to a congressional inquiry filed before the Committee on the Rights of the Child following the 2016 death of Lisette Villa in a SENAME center.

According to local media, the report points out “serious negligence on the part of personnel responsible for the care of minors” as well as cases of “sexual abuse, torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment” in SENAME centers.

The new administration has implemented procedural changes to the SENAME, including the creation of an early warning system, working groups across a range of ministries with the Judiciary, and stricter requirements for foster families that would like to house children. As of July the government began the closure and replacement of the SENAME centers where deaths and abuse were reported, closing a center at Playa Ancha in late July and scheduling the closures of the Pudahuel and Galvarino centers.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbers approximately 18,000 persons. Jewish community leaders reported concern over the tone of social media postings they perceived as threatening. The commentary leaders found offensive primarily referenced frustration with Israeli government policies and did not specifically mention either Jewish individuals or Chilean Jews.

Several Jewish organizations expressed concern when in June the mayor of Valdivia announced the town would join the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement. The measure prohibits the city from working with any business that benefits or is linked to Israel’s “occupation of Palestine” or “Israel’s apartheid policy that targets Palestinians.” The vote to adopt the boycott at the city level was taken unanimously by the local government after the initiative was personally introduced by the city’s mayor; central government authorities were exploring the constitutionality of the move.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government mostly enforced these provisions. Persons with disabilities suffered forms of de facto discrimination. The law provides for universal and equal access to buildings, information, and communications. Most public buildings did not comply with legal accessibility mandates. The public transportation system, particularly outside Santiago, did not adequately provide accessibility for persons with disabilities. In recent years, however, TranSantiago, the main system of public transportation within Santiago, instituted changes to improve compliance with the law, including new ramp systems and elevators at certain metro stations as well as improved access to some buses. Nevertheless, many metro stations and most buses remained inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities.

The Ministry of Social Development’s National Service for the Disabled (SENADIS) reported that children with disabilities attended primary and secondary school but noted difficulties in ensuring equal access to schooling at private institutions. SENADIS also reported that persons with disabilities had fewer opportunities to continue their education beyond secondary school.

The government, along with SENADIS, worked to expand access to legal justice for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Equal treatment and nondiscrimination are explicitly protected in the constitution, and the labor code specifically prohibits discrimination. In its annual report, the INDH published survey results regarding racial discrimination, where 76 percent of those surveyed reported having witnessed discriminatory actions against immigrants, most of whom were from other Latin American countries or from the Caribbean, including Afro-descendants. There were reports of discrimination against racial minorities and immigrants in the public-health and education systems. The government implemented training programs for public officials on assisting immigrants and incorporated interpreters into offices, and provided information in languages other than Spanish, specifically Haitian Creole. The government implemented a plan for assistance to migrants in public services, Chile Receives You, with a special focus on improving access to public immigration services outside of the Santiago metropolitan region through increased infrastructure and staffing and training for public servants.

Indigenous People

Although the constitution does not specifically protect indigenous groups, indigenous people have the right to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions, including the exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, or other natural resources on indigenous lands. In its annual report on human rights, the University of Diego Portales reported indigenous people encountered serious obstacles to exercising these civil and political rights, including regarding natural resource use in their territories and the right to nondiscrimination and equal access to justice. Indigenous persons experienced societal discrimination, including in employment; there were reports of incidents in which they were attacked and harassed. In its annual report, the INDH published racial discrimination survey results, where between 65 and 83 percent of citizens reported agreeing with a series of discriminatory statements regarding indigenous groups.

There were numerous reports of police abuse against Mapuche individuals and communities, including against children. The INDH brought petitions to protect the constitutional rights of Mapuche individuals, including children and adolescents, in cases of excessive use of force by security forces. Amnesty International’s annual report reiterated there were continuing reports of excessive use of force and arbitrary detention during police operations in Mapuche communities. In November 2017 the Supreme Court reopened the case of Alex Lemun, who was killed by a police officer in Ercilla in 2002. The case had been tried in the military justice system and closed without prosecution. As of November there were no further updates on the case.

Indigenous lands are demarcated, but some indigenous Mapuche communities demanded restitution of privately and publicly owned traditional lands.

The law recognizes nine indigenous groups in the country and creates an administrative structure to provide specialized programs and services to promote economic, social, and cultural development of these peoples.

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

The law sets the age of consent at 18 for consensual same-sex sexual activity; heterosexual activity is permitted, under some circumstances, at age 14. Antidiscrimination laws exist and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, and access to government services. In March the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (MOVILH), a leading gay rights NGO, reported it tracked 484 cases of discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity during 2017, a 69 percent increase over 2016, including an increase of 245 percent in hate speech incidents. The most common discriminatory acts reported to MOVILH were verbal abuse and discrimination in the workplace, such as difficulty obtaining promotions.

Violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals continued. On June 23, the night of Santiago’s Pride Parade, MOVILH reported that its founder, LGBTI activist Rolando Jimenez, was subjected to verbal and physical abuse and arbitrary arrest and detention for defending a same-sex couple being subjected to verbal discrimination, harassment, and physical abuse by Carabineros at a restaurant. One of the victims filmed the incident with a cell phone, but police confiscated the phone and did not return it. The couple and Jimenez were held for eight hours in Santiago Police Precinct Number One before being informed of the accusations against them and read their rights. The couple was released, while Jimenez was formally charged with attacking a police officer and making death threats, as well as with theft of the officer’s watch. MOVILH alleged the police accusations were false and that Jimenez was attacked because he had been a constant critic of alleged homophobic actions by Police Precinct Number One. On August 7, the INDH sued the police for arbitrary detention and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. The case was pending at year’s end.

Law enforcement authorities appeared reluctant to use the full recourse of a 2012 antidiscrimination law, including charging assailants of LGBTI victims with a hate crime, which would elevate criminal penalties as permitted under the law.

In September, Congress passed the Gender Identity Law, which grants transgender Chileans starting at age 14 the ability to change gender markers on government-issued identity documents, including national identity cards and university diplomas, to reflect their gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons based on their HIV status and provides that neither public nor private health institutions may deny access to health-care services based on a person’s serological status.

The majority of citizens with HIV and AIDS were men, and NGOs reported government-sponsored outreach campaigns were oriented to a male audience, particularly men who have sex with men.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Revised labor standards came into effect in April 2017. The legislation was designed to modernize labor relations, strengthen unions, and facilitate labor agreements. The law provides for the rights of workers, with some limitations, to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The law also prohibits antiunion practices and requires either back pay or reinstatement for workers fired for union activity.

Police, military personnel, and civil servants working for the judiciary are prohibited from joining unions. Union leaders are restricted from being candidates or members of congress. The Directorate of Labor has broad powers to monitor unions’ financial accounts and financial transactions. The law prohibits public employees from striking, although they nevertheless frequently did. While employees in the private sector have the right to strike, the law places some restrictions on this right. For example, an absolute majority of workers must approve strikes. The law also prohibits employees of 101 private-sector companies, largely providers of services such as water and electricity, from striking, and it stipulates compulsory arbitration to resolve disputes in these companies. In addition workers employed by companies or corporations whose stoppage would cause serious damage to the health, economy, or security of the country do not have the right to strike. In a change from the previous labor code, employers may not dismiss or replace employees involved in a strike. Unions must provide emergency personnel to fulfill the company’s “minimum services.” Those include the protection of tangible assets and of the company’s facilities, accident prevention, service of the population’s basic needs, ensuring the supply of essential public services, and ensuring the prevention of environmental and sanitary damages.

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

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

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

Freedom of association was generally respected. Employers sometimes did not respect the right to collective bargaining. Despite being prohibited by law, public-sector strikes occurred throughout the year. According to Freedom House, IndustriALL Global Union, and the International Trade Union Confederation, antiunion practices, including a threat of violence, continued to occur. NGOs and unions reported companies sought to inhibit the formation of unions and avoid triggering collective bargaining rights, especially among seasonal agricultural workers, by using subcontracts and temporary contracts as well as obtaining several fiscal registration or tax identification numbers when increasing the size of the workforce.

The revised labor code provides that the labor court can require workers to resume work upon a determination that a strike, by its nature, timing, or duration, causes serious risk to health, national security, and the supply of goods or services to the population, or to the national economy. Generally, a back-to-work order should apply only where a prolonged strike in a vital sector of the economy might cause a situation endangering the public’s safety or health, and where applied to a specific category of workers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. In general the government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties of five to 15 years’ imprisonment for violations were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. NGOs reported many government officials responsible for identifying and assisting victims had limited resources and expertise to identify victims of labor trafficking. In addition, judges often suspended or commuted sentences. The government worked to prevent and combat forced labor through its antitrafficking interagency taskforce of government agencies, which included international organizations and local NGOs. The task force developed and adopted a 2015-18 national action plan.

Labor trafficking continued to occur. Some foreign citizens were subjected to forced labor in the mining, agriculture, domestic service, and hospitality sectors. Some children were forcibly employed in the drug trade (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The country conforms to international standards, which dictate the minimum age for employment or work should be no less than 15 years. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 18, although it provides that children between 15 and 18 may work with the express permission of their parents or guardians as long as they attend school. They may perform only light work that does not require hard physical labor or constitute a threat to health or the child’s development.

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

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

Multisector government agencies continued to participate in the National Advisory Committee to Eradicate Child Labor. The committee met regularly throughout the year and brought together civil society organizations and government agencies in a coordinated effort to raise awareness, provide services to victims, and protect victims’ rights. The Worst Forms of Child Labor Task Force, a separate entity, maintained a registry of cases and developed a multisector protocol for the identification, registration, and care of children and adolescents who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The government also created a technical secretariat to design and implement the Third Action Plan against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents for the 2017-19 period. The government also published a guide to coordinate interagency efforts to address trafficking in persons. In 2015 SENAME worked with the National Tourism Service (SERNATUR) to include strict norms in hotel certification procedures for preventing the commercial sexual exploitation of children. This included special training for SERNATUR staff charged with assessing and certifying hotels.

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

In urban areas it was common to find boys carrying loads in agricultural loading docks and assisting in construction activities, while girls sold goods on the streets and worked as domestic servants. Children worked in the production of ceramics and books and in the repair of shoes and garments. In rural areas children were involved in caring for farm animals as well as harvesting, collecting, and selling crops, such as wheat. The use of children in illicit activities, which included the production and trafficking of narcotics, continued to be a problem. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also continued to be a problem (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination based on race, sex, age, civil status, union affiliation, religion, political opinion, nationality, national extraction, social origin, disability, language, sexual orientation, or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, refugee or stateless status, ethnicity or social status. The government and employers do not discriminate on the basis of refugee, stateless status or ethnicity, but workers must have a work permit or be citizens to hold contracted jobs. The law also provides civil legal remedies to victims of employment discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic situation, language, ideology or political opinion, religion or belief, association or participation in union organizations or lack thereof, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification, marriage status, age, affiliation, personal appearance, and sickness or physical disability. In June 2017 Congress passed a law to address matters related to persons with disabilities. For all public agencies and for private employers with 100 or more employees, the law requires a 1 percent quota of jobs reserved for persons with disabilities.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws and regulations prohibiting employment discrimination. Authorities generally enforced the law in cases of sexual harassment, and there was no evidence of police or judicial reluctance to act. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions such as denying maternity leave. Such penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Nevertheless, discrimination in employment and occupation continued to occur. Persons with disabilities often faced discrimination in hiring; they constituted approximately 7.6 percent of the working-age population but only 0.5 percent of the workforce. Indigenous persons continued to experience societal discrimination in employment. Statistics regarding rates of discrimination faced by different groups were not available.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

The Labor Directorate under the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing minimum wage and other labor laws and regulations, and it did so effectively in the formal economy. The Ministries of Health and Labor administered and effectively enforced occupational safety and health standards. The law establishes fines for noncompliance with labor regulations, including for employers who compel workers to work in excess of 10 hours a day or do not provide adequate rest days. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions such as causing irreversible injuries to an employee. An estimated 25 percent of the labor force worked in the informal sector, according to a 2015 Rand report. Workers in the informal economy were not effectively protected in regard to wages or safety.

The Labor Directorate employed labor inspectors during the year. Both the Labor Directorate and NGOs reported the number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce labor laws throughout the country, particularly in remote areas. NGOs commented inspectors and labor tribunal judges needed more training and that a lack of information and economic means generated an inequality between parties in cases before the tribunals. Fines were not considered to have a deterrent effect with larger employers. The Labor Directorate worked preventively with small and medium-sized businesses to assist in their compliance with labor laws.

Minimum wage violations were most common in the real estate and retail sectors. The sectors with the most infractions in safety and health standards were construction, retail, industrial manufacturing, and commerce. The service sector suffered the most accidents during the year. Immigrant workers in the agricultural sector were the group most likely to be subject to exploitative working conditions.

Colombia

Executive Summary

Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. In June voters elected Ivan Duque Marquez president in elections that observers considered free and fair and the most peaceful in decades.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

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

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, although some cases experienced long delays that raised concerns about accountability. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP, or JEP in Spanish)–the justice component of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition–started operations during the year.

As part of the 2016 peace accord, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), formerly the country’s largest guerrilla insurgency group, disarmed and reincorporated as a political party that participated in the March congressional elections and initially nominated a presidential candidate, who withdrew from the race in May. On July 20, FARC representatives took up eight of their guaranteed 10 seats in congress.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) perpetrated armed attacks across the country for much of the year, particularly following the conclusion of a brief bilateral cease-fire, which lasted from October 1, 2017, through January 9. Peace talks between the ELN and Santos government concluded without resolution in August, and the Duque administration suspended talks until the ELN agrees to new preconditions for negotiations. Other illegal armed groups and drug-trafficking gangs continued to operate. Illegal armed groups, as well as narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of human rights abuses and violent crimes and committed acts of extrajudicial and unlawful killings, extortion, and other abuses such as kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, bombings and use of landmines, restriction on freedom of movement, sexual violence, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and intimidation of journalists, women, and human rights defenders.

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 reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Colombia Europe United States Coordination (Coordinacion Colombia Europa Estados Unidos, CCEEU), from January 1 through August, there were 27 cases of “intentional deaths of civilians committed by state agents” that included 34 victims.

For example, the Attorney General’s Office reported October 23 that eight members of the 29th Army Land Battalion attached to the Army’s Third Buffalo Company had been arrested and were under investigation for alleged crimes of aggravated homicide and attempted aggravated homicide in relation to the March killing of a peasant named Ciro Alfonso Manzano Ariza and attempted killing of Andres Fabian Salcedo Rincon in Arauca. An investigation by the Attorney General’s Office Special Investigations Unit, in conjunction with the army, revealed the killing was unrelated to a supposed confrontation. In a press release, the Attorney General’s Office stated its commitment to investigate and prosecute crimes of this type “so that these forms of violence do not continue to present themselves.”

Illegal armed groups including the ELN committed numerous unlawful or politically motivated killings, often in areas without a strong government presence (see section 1.g.).

Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly. From January 1 through July, the Attorney General’s Office registered one new case of alleged aggravated homicide by state agents. During the same period, authorities formally accused 123 members of the security forces of aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian, almost all for crimes that occurred prior to 2017, and made one arrest. The Attorney General’s Office reported that through August, it obtained six new convictions of security force members in cases involving homicide of a “protected person” (i.e., civilians and others accorded such status under international humanitarian law), four new convictions in cases involving aggravated homicide, and 14 new convictions in cases involving “simple homicide” committed by security force members. Of these sentences, 23 corresponded to cases that took place before 2018.

For instance, on August 14, Jose Miguel Narvaez, deputy director of the disbanded Administrative Department of Security, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the 1999 killing of journalist Jaime Garzon.

There were developments in efforts to hold officials accountable in false positive extrajudicial killings, in which thousands of civilians were killed and falsely presented as guerrilla combatants in the late 1990s to late 2000s. During 2017 and through May 20, the Attorney General’s Office reported 246 members of the security forces were convicted in cases related to “false positives,” 716 cases were in the prosecution phase, and 10 new investigations were opened. In total, the government had convicted 1,176 members of the security forces in cases related to false positives as of May, including at least eight colonels, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

The Attorney General’s Office reported there were open investigations of 19 retired and active-duty generals related to false positive killings as of May. The Attorney General’s Office also reported there were 2,504 open investigations related to false positive killings or other extrajudicial killings as of May 20.

Additionally, the JEP reviewed some investigations related to false positive or extrajudicial killings. For example, on July 10, the JEP began to review the case against retired general William Henry Torres Escalante. Retired general Mario Montoya Uribe also chose to bring his pending case to the JEP. On August 10, after the JEP received his case, Colonel Gabriel Rincon publicly apologized for his involvement in false positive killings in 2008 in Soacha. More than 1,900 members of the armed forces signed a commitment to participate in the JEP’s processes.

In January media reports indicated the Attorney General’s Office intended to file charges of aggravated homicide against two members of the security forces in relation to the October 2017 events in the southwestern municipality of Tumaco, Narino Department, that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported resulted in the killing of at least seven persons, including two members of the Awa indigenous people and the wounding of 20 others.

Illegal armed groups, including the ELN and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed unlawful killings (see section 1.g.).

Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized-crime gangs, which included some former paramilitary members. According to the Attorney General’s Office, between January and August 10, 83 members of government security forces were arrested for ties with illegal armed groups.

According to a December 26 UN report, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported 163 verified killings of social leaders and human rights defenders since the signing of the peace accord in November 2016 and a total of 454 cases reported. According to the Attorney General’s Office, 28 persons in 19 cases have been convicted in the killings of human rights defenders and social leaders. According to the Centro Nacional de Consultoria and the NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, 70 percent of the killings occurred in eight of the country’s 32 departments: Antioquia, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Narino, Norte de Santander, Choco, Cordoba, and Putumayo. The motives of the killings varied, and it was often difficult to determine the primary or precise motive in individual cases.

For example, on January 27, Temistocles Machado, a prominent human rights activist and Afro-Colombian community leader, was killed in Buenaventura in Valle Del Cauca. Former president Juan Manuel Santos requested the Elite Corps of the National Police to prioritize the investigation of the case, and authorities instituted proceedings against five persons as of year’s end.

On November 19, President Duque created the Commission of the Timely Action Plan for Prevention and Protection for Human Rights Defenders, Social and Communal Leaders, and Journalists (Comision del Plan de Accion Oportuna para Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Lideres Sociales, Comunales y Periodistas, PAO) to strengthen coordination including efforts to investigate and prevent attacks against social leaders and human rights defenders. Additionally, the minister of interior reported to the UN Human Rights Council in May that the government established an elite corps of the National Police, a specialized subdirectorate of the National Protection Unit, a special investigation unit of the Attorney General’s Office responsible for dismantling criminal organizations and enterprises, and a unified command post, which the minister stated shared responsibility for protecting human rights defenders from attack and investigating and prosecuting these cases.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year. According to the National Institute of Forensic and Legal Medicine, from January 1 through August 30, 3,643 cases of disappearances were registered. During 2017 the National Institute of Forensic and Legal Medicine reported 6,670 cases of disappearances. The government did not provide information on the number of victims of disappearances who were located or a disaggregation of the number found alive or dead.

For example, on October 3, unknown organized criminal groups abducted Cristo Jose Contreras, a five-year-old boy, in the municipality of El Carmen. After a large search and rescue operation, the boy was released one week later. In the context of the peace process, the government took steps to establish a new search commission to investigate disappearances (see section 1.g.).

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that government officials employed them. The NGO Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP) reported that through October, security forces were allegedly involved in six cases of torture. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts.

For example, media reported Colombian National Police officers in Bogota allegedly forced several youth to strip to their underwear and beat them with a blunt object, while verbally abusing them in an incident caught on video that later became public. Authorities stated the incident occurred on September 28 after an escape attempt at the El Redentor Detention Center in which a scuffle led to the injuries of two police officers. Media reported that authorities had initiated criminal and disciplinary investigations into the case, which a prosecutor said met the legal definition of torture.

Between January 1 and August 10, the Attorney General’s Office charged 64 members of the military and police force with torture; in each case the alleged torture occurred prior to 2018.

CINEP reported organized-crime gangs and illegal armed groups were responsible for six documented cases of torture through June 30. Three of those cases were allegedly committed by FARC dissidents not participating in the peace process.

According to NGOs monitoring prison conditions, there were numerous allegations of sexual and physical violence committed by guards and other inmates.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

With the exception of some new facilities, prisons and detention centers were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitation, poor health care, and lack of other basic services. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.

Physical Conditions: The National Prison Institute (INPEC), which operated the national prisons and oversaw the jails, estimated in 2017 there were 119,126 persons incarcerated in 135 prisons. A total of 69,276 persons were in pretrial detention. Overcrowding existed in men’s and in women’s prisons. INPEC cited several prisons in Cali, Santa Marta, Valledupar, Itagui, and Apartado that were more than 200 percent overcrowded. According to the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF), from 2006 until November, more than 234,000 minors had entered the criminal justice system through the Criminal Responsibility System for Adolescents. Between January and July, 64 children younger than age three were reported to be in prison with their incarcerated mothers.

The law prohibits holding pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although this sometimes occurred. Juvenile detainees are held in a separate juvenile detention center. The Superior Judiciary Council stated the maximum time that a person may remain in judicial detention facilities is three days. The same rules apply to jails located inside police stations. These regulations were often violated.

The practice of preventive detention, in combination with inefficiencies in the judicial system, continued to exacerbate overcrowding. The government continued to implement procedures introduced in 2017 that provide for the immediate release of some pretrial detainees, including many accused of serious crimes such as aggravated robbery and sexual assault.

Physical abuse by prison guards, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and authorities’ failure to maintain control were problems. The Inspector General’s Office continued to investigate allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally. The Inspector General’s Office reported 139 disciplinary investigations against prison guards, including 126 for physical abuse and 13 for sexual crimes.

During the year there were 501 deaths in prisons, jails, pretrial detention, or other detention centers, including 476 attributed to natural causes, 10 attributed to suicide, 10 in which the cause was unknown, and five attributed to accidental causes.

Many prisoners continued to face difficulties receiving adequate medical care. Nutrition and water quality were deficient and contributed to the overall poor health of many inmates. Inmates stated authorities routinely rationed water in many facilities, which officials attributed to city water shortages.

INPEC’s physical structures were generally in poor repair. The Inspector General’s Office noted some facilities had poor ventilation and overtaxed sanitary systems. Prisoners in some high-altitude facilities complained of inadequate blankets and clothing, while prisoners in tropical facilities complained that overcrowding and insufficient ventilation contributed to high temperatures in prison cells. Some prisoners slept on floors without mattresses, while others shared cots in overcrowded cells.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible prisoner complaints of mistreatment and inhuman conditions, including complaints of prison guards soliciting bribes from inmates, but some prisoners asserted the investigations were slow.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups. INPEC required a three-day notice before granting consular access. Some NGOs complained that authorities, without adequate explanation, denied them access to visit prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention; however, there were allegations that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. CINEP reported 13 cases of arbitrary detention committed by state security forces through June 30.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Colombian National Police (CNP) is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The Migration Directorate, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the immigration authority. The CNP shares law enforcement investigatory duties with the Technical Investigation Body. In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. The government continued to expand education and training of the armed forces in human rights and international humanitarian law.

Some NGOs complained that military investigators, not members of the Attorney General’s Office, were sometimes the first responders in cases of deaths resulting from actions of security forces and might make decisions about possible foul play. By law the Attorney General’s Office is the main entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by security forces. The government made improvements in investigating and trying abuses, but claims of impunity for security force members continued. This was due in some cases to obstruction of justice and opacity in the process by which cases are investigated and prosecuted in the military justice system. Inadequate protection of witnesses and investigators, delay tactics by defense attorneys, the judiciary’s failure to exert appropriate controls over dockets and case progress, and inadequate coordination among government entities that sometimes allowed statutes of limitations to expire–resulting in a defendant’s release from jail before trial–were also significant obstacles.

The military functions under both the old inquisitorial and a newer accusatory system. The military had not trained its criminal justice actors to operate under the accusatory system, which they were to begin to implement in 2017. The military also had not developed an interinstitutional strategy for recruiting, hiring, or training investigators, crime scene technicians, or forensic specialists, which is required under the accusatory system. As such, the military justice system did not exercise criminal investigative authority; all new criminal investigations duties were conducted by judicial police investigators from the CNP and Corps of Technical Investigators.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities must bring detained persons before a judge within 36 hours to determine the validity of the detention, bring formal charges within 30 days, and start a trial within 90 days of the initial detention. Public defenders contracted by the Office of the Ombudsman assisted indigent defendants. Detainees received prompt access to legal counsel and family members as provided for by law. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, this requirement was not always respected. NGOs characterized some arrests as arbitrary detention: arrests allegedly based on tips from informants about persons linked to guerrilla activities, detentions by members of the security forces without a judicial order, detentions based on administrative authority, detentions during military operations or at roadblocks, large-scale detentions, and detentions of persons while they were “exercising their fundamental rights.”

Pretrial Detention: The judicial process moved slowly, and the civilian judicial system suffered from a significant backlog of cases, which led to large numbers of pretrial detainees. The failure of many local military commanders and jail supervisors to keep mandatory detention records or follow notification procedures made accounting for all detainees difficult. INPEC estimated that 33 percent of the country’s prison inmates were held in pretrial detention. In some cases detainees were released without a trial because they had already served more than one-third of the maximum sentence for their charges.

Civil society groups complained that authorities subjected some community leaders to extended pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Much of the judicial system was overburdened and inefficient, however, and subornation, corruption, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered judicial functioning.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. While the government began implementing an accusatory system of justice in 2008, the use of delay tactics by defense lawyers to slow or impede proceedings, prosecutors’ heavy caseloads, and other factors diminished the anticipated increased efficiencies and other benefits of adopting the adversarial model. Under the criminal procedure code, the prosecutor presents an accusation and evidence before an impartial judge at an oral, public trial. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and have the right to confront the trial evidence and witnesses against them, present their own evidence, and communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense). Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal their proceedings. Although defendants have the right to an interpreter, the court system lacked interpreters for less commonly encountered languages. Crimes committed before 2008 are processed under the prior written inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor is a magistrate who investigates, determines evidence, and makes a finding of guilt or innocence. In those cases the trial consists of the presentation of evidence and finding of guilt or innocence to a judge for ratification or rejection.

In the military justice system, military judges preside over courts-martial. Counsel may represent the accused and call witnesses, but most fact finding takes place during the investigative stage. Military trial judges issue rulings within eight days of a court-martial hearing. Representatives of the civilian Inspector General’s Office are required to be present at courts-martial.

Criminal procedure within the military justice system includes elements of the inquisitorial and accusatory systems. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to timely consultation with counsel.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government declared that it did not hold political prisoners; nevertheless, authorities held some members of human rights advocacy groups on charges of conspiracy, rebellion, or terrorism, which the groups described as government harassment against human rights advocates. According to INPEC, the government held 776 persons on charges of rebellion or of aiding and promoting insurgency. The government provided the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regular access to these prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may sue a government agent or entity in the Administrative Court of Litigation for damages resulting from a human rights violation. Although critics complained of delays in the process, the court generally was considered impartial and effective. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the IACHR, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law) continued to provide a legal basis for assistance and reparations to persons, including victims of government abuses, but the government admitted that the pace of restitution was slow. The government did not provide information on the number of those registered who received some form of assistance. The Land Restitution Unit, a semiautonomous entity in the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for returning land to displaced victims of conflict.

The Land Restitution Unit reported it had reviewed 276 requests for collective restitution of ethnic territories, covering an area of 17.1 million acres, including 99,754 families, and 114,768 individual restitution claims, of which 15,899 were awaiting final judicial decision. The claims encompassed more than 12 million acres benefitting 52,017 families.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but there were allegations the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Government authorities generally need a judicial order to intercept mail or email or to monitor telephone conversations, including in prisons. Government intelligence agencies investigating terrorist organizations sometimes monitored telephone conversations without judicial authorization; the law bars evidence obtained this way from being used in court.

NGOs continued to accuse domestic intelligence or security entities of spying on lawyers and human rights defenders, threatening them, and breaking into their homes or offices to steal information.

On August 4, the Attorney General’s Office arrested government agents, including three retired army officers, for illegal monitoring activities. Semana magazine alleged the agents illegally wiretapped government and private individuals. According to the Attorney General’s Office, six criminal investigations against state agents had been initiated for surveillance and illegal monitoring of private individuals.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Violence and Harassment: According to the domestic NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), through August 30, there were 153 threats against journalists, doubling the 61 threats registered throughout 2014 and exceeding the 129 documented in 2017. FLIP also reported that between January and August, one journalist was illegally detained, 13 were physically assaulted, and 26 were victims of judicial harassment based on defamation and slander. As of July the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 51 active cases of crimes against journalists and had obtained eight sentences.

As of June 30, the National Protection Unit (NPU) provided protection services to 168 journalists. Some NGOs raised concerns about perceived shortcomings in the NPU, such as delays in granting protection and the appropriateness of measures addressing specific threats.

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

Libel/Slander Laws: By law slander and libel are crimes. There is no specific law against slandering public officials, and the government did not use prosecution to prevent media from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, publicly threatened to sue journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported 66 cases were filed against journalists for libel or slander as of August 30, including two new cases filed during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Members of illegal armed groups sought to inhibit freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Due to the general climate of violence and impunity, self-censorship occurred both online and offline, particularly within rural communities.

The 2016 investigation continued into past abuses by the Army Intelligence Unit (see section 1.f.).

The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 62 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Some NGOs alleged that riot police (Esmad) used excessive force to break up demonstrations. For example, on December 14, media reported eight students were injured as a result of confrontations between student protesters and the Esmad in Popayan. An unknown number of police officers were also injured.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Freedom of association was limited by threats and acts of violence committed by illegal armed groups against NGOs, indigenous groups, and labor unions.

Although the government does not prohibit membership in most political organizations, membership in organizations that engaged in rebellion against the government, espoused violence, or carried out acts of violence, such as FARC dissidents, the ELN, and other illegal armed groups, was against the law.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although there were exceptions. Military operations and armed conflict in certain rural areas restricted freedom of movement.

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

According to media reports, on August 31, the navy intercepted a vessel with 22 migrants from Bangladesh, Cameroon, Cuba, Gambia, India, and Pakistan, in the Gulf of Uraba, adjacent to the country. The migrants, who allegedly were bound for Central America, were turned over to the Migration Directorate, the government’s migration monitoring and control authority. The Migration Directorate reported that during 2017, 2,254 Indian citizens, 567 Nepalese, and 510 Bangladeshis were identified as being illegally in Colombia; 554 came from Africa.

In-country Movement: There were no government restrictions on movement within the country. Organized-crime gangs, ELN guerrillas, and other illegal armed groups continued to establish illegal checkpoints on rural roads.

International organizations also reported that illegal armed groups confined rural communities through roadblocks, curfews, car bombs at egress routes, and IEDs in areas where narcotics cultivation and trafficking persisted. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), between January and October, more than 1,037,491 persons faced mobility restrictions that limited their access to essential goods and services due to armed incidents and geographical factors. This reflected a 750 percent increase compared with the same period in 2017. Additionally, OCHA identified 56 events in which humanitarian actors and international organizations faced restrictions in access to communities by armed groups.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

There were approximately 7.6 million IDPs in the country, largely a result of the armed conflict. Threats posed by illegal armed groups drove internal displacement in remote areas as well as urban settings. In some areas the FARC withdrawal resulted in a struggle for control by other illegal armed groups causing violence and internal displacement. The government, international organizations, and civil society groups identified various factors driving displacement, including threats, extortion, and physical, psychological, and sexual violence by illegal armed groups against civilian populations, particularly women and girls. Competition and armed confrontation among and within illegal armed groups for resources and territorial control and confrontations between security forces, guerrillas, and organized-crime gangs, in addition to forced recruitment of children or threats of forced recruitment, were also drivers of displacement. Drug trafficking, illegal mining, and large-scale commercial ventures in rural areas also contributed to displacement. Local institutions lacked the capacity in many areas to protect the rights of, and provide public services to, displaced persons and communities at risk of displacement, and as such the government struggled to provide adequate protection or humanitarian assistance to IDPs.

OCHA reported that 30,068 persons had been affected in 103 displacement events between January and October. Approximately 45 percent of the individuals affected were of Afro-Colombian and indigenous origin. Departments with the highest rate of mass displacements included Antioquia, Cordoba, Choco, Narino, and Norte de Santander.

As of July the NPU was providing protection services to 330 land-restitution leaders.

The Victims’ Unit maintained the Single Victims Registry as mandated by law. Despite improvements in the government registration system, IDPs experienced delays in receiving responses to their displacement claims because of a large backlog of claims built up during several months, lack of the unit’s presence in territory, and other constraints. Government policy provides for an appeals process in the case of refusals.

The ELN and organized-crime gangs continued to use force, intimidation, and disinformation to discourage IDPs from registering with the government. International organizations and civil society expressed concern over urban displacement caused by violence stemming from territorial disputes between criminal gangs, some of which had links to larger criminal and narcotics-trafficking groups.

The Victims’ Unit cited extortion, recruitment by illegal armed groups, homicides, and physical and sexual violence as the primary causes of intraurban displacement. UNHCR reported that in some departments displacement disproportionately affected indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups.

According to OCHA, 15 percent of the 30,068 persons affected by displacements were indigenous.

The NGO National Association of Displaced Afrodescendants (AFRODES) stated that threats and violence against Afro-Colombian leaders and communities continued to cause high levels of forced displacement, especially in the Pacific Coast region. OCHA reported that approximately 29 percent of the individuals affected by displacement events were Afro-Colombian. AFRODES and other local NGOs expressed concern that large-scale economic projects, such as agriculture and mining, contributed to displacement in their communities.

By law 52 government agencies are responsible for assisting registered IDPs.

Dozens of international organizations, international NGOs, and domestic nonprofit groups, including the International Organization for Migration, World Food Program, ICRC, UNHCR, and Colombian Red Cross, coordinated with the government to provide emergency relief and long-term assistance to displaced populations.

International organizations and NGOs remained concerned about the slow and insufficient institutional response to displacement. As a result, NGOs took responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to recently displaced individuals. International organizations and civil society reported that a continuing lack of local capacity to accept registrations in high-displacement areas often delayed assistance to persons displaced individually or in smaller groups. Humanitarian organizations attributed the delays to a variety of factors, including the lack of personnel, funding, declaration forms, and training. Insecurity in communities affected by the conflict, including areas in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Choco, Narino, and Norte de Santander, sometimes delayed national and international aid organizations from reaching newly displaced populations.

Despite several government initiatives to enhance IDP access to services and awareness of their rights, in many parts of the country municipalities did not have the resources or capacity to respond to new displacements and provide humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Many IDPs continued to live in poverty in unhygienic conditions and with limited access to health care, education, shelter, and employment.

Displaced persons also sought protection across international borders. UNHCR previously stated that Colombia was the country of origin for 360,000 refugees and persons in a refugee-like situation, the majority in Ecuador, with additional populations in Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Panama. UNHCR estimated that between 400 and 500 Colombians crossed into Ecuador every month. The governments of Colombia and Ecuador continued to meet throughout the year regarding the situation of Colombian refugees and asylum seekers in Ecuador, and the Colombian government offered a program to assist Colombians abroad who returned to Colombia. Additionally, the government estimated that 300,000 Colombians, many of whom were displaced by the conflict in Colombia and registered as refugees in Venezuela, returned to Colombia from Venezuela during the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to the government, it had approved 47 applications for refugee status since 2009. Between January 1 and October 2, the government reported it received 1,258 new asylum-seeker cases for refugee status, of which three cases were approved. Venezuelans represented approximately 95 percent of applications during the year. Authorities stated that the asylum process took at least one year, during which solicitants were given a permit to stay in the country but were not allowed to work.

During the year there was a large increase in migration flows from Venezuela. According to the Migration Directorate, as of October the country hosted more than one million Venezuelans. While the government generally provided access to the asylum process for persons who requested international protection, many opted for alternative migration status, due to the slow processing time of asylum applications.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary residence permits (PEP) to Venezuelans who met certain eligibility requirements. Approximately 180,000 Venezuelans who entered with passports legally were granted PEPs prior to February, when the program was discontinued. In June the government announced that 442,462 irregular Venezuelans who participated in the government’s census exercise would be eligible for PEPs until December 2. As of November approximately 255,000 of the 442,462 Venezuelans eligible for PEPs had requested the residence permit, and other Venezuelans were in the registration process. A new registration period for the PEP was announced December 27. PEPs provide access to work permits, access to the social insurance system, and the ability to open bank accounts. The temporary residency permit is valid for up to two years.

 

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

As part of the peace accord, the FARC registered a political party composed of former FARC members in 2017 under the name People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Comun), maintaining the same acronym. The FARC political party participated in the March congressional elections and initially nominated a presidential candidate, who withdrew from the race in May. On July 20, FARC political party representatives took up eight of their guaranteed 10 seats in congress.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were no reports of election-related violence during the June 17 presidential runoff, in which the candidate of the Centro Democratico (Democratic Center) party, Ivan Duque, beat the candidate of Colombia Humana (Humane Colombia) Gustavo Petro. The then minister of defense Carlos Luis Villegas described it as the most peaceful election in decades. The leading domestic elections NGO, Electoral Observation Mission, deployed 3,524 nonpartisan volunteers to monitor the elections. International observers included an Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Organized-crime gangs and the ELN threatened and killed government officials (see section 1.g.). As of July 31, the NPU, under the Ministry of Interior, was providing protection to 353 mayors, 17 governors, and 181 other persons, including members of departmental assemblies, council members, judges, municipal human rights officers, and other officials related to national human rights policies. By decree the CNP’s protection program and the NPU assume shared responsibility for protecting municipal and district mayors.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The share of female officials in President Duque’s cabinet was more than 50 percent.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices without punishment. The World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators reflected that government corruption was a serious problem. Revenues from transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking, exacerbated corruption.

Corruption: On March 7, the Supreme Court sentenced former top anticorruption official Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivera to four years and 10 months in prison on corruption charges. Related reporting led the Attorney General’s Office to more than 25 criminal investigations and unveiled a corruption network throughout the justice system, other government bodies, and Congress. From August 1, 2016, to year’s end, the Attorney General’s Office had undertaken approximately 2,330 corruption investigations.

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

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were typically cooperative and willing to listen to local human rights groups’ concerns.

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

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

Through August the Attorney General’s Office reported 37 active investigations, with eight persons charged, and no convictions in cases of threats against human rights defenders.

As of July 31, the NPU’s protection program provided protection to a total of 6,752 individuals. Among the NPU’s protected persons were 780 human rights activists.

To help monitor and verify that human rights were respected throughout implementation of the peace accord, the government formally renewed the mandate of the OHCHR in 2016 for a period of three years. The accord requests that the OHCHR include a “special chapter on implementation of the agreements from the standpoint of human rights” in its annual reports.

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

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

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape of men or women, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. The law provides for sentences ranging from eight to 30 years’ imprisonment for violent sexual assault. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates prison sentences of six months to two years. By law femicide is punishable with penalties of 21 to 50 years in prison, longer than the minimum sentence of 13 years for homicide.

Violence against women, and impunity for perpetrators, continued to be a problem. Members of illegal armed groups, including former paramilitary members, and guerrillas also continued to rape and abuse women and children sexually. For example, an August 1 report by the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia of the Organization of American States detailed its “concern about the continuation and, in some cases, exacerbation of violence against women and girls.”

The government continued to employ the Elite Sexual Assault Investigative Unit interagency unit in Bogota, which was dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases. From January to August, the Attorney General’s Office opened 28,942 new investigations for sexual crimes.

The law requires the government to provide victims of domestic violence immediate protection from further physical or psychological abuse. During 2017 more than 70,000 cases of intrafamily violence were reported.

The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its protocol for managing cases of sexual violence and harassment involving members of the military. The District Secretary of Women, in Bogota, and the Ombudsman’s Office offered free legal aid for victims of gender violence and organized courses to teach officials how to treat survivors of gender violence respectfully.

The law augments both jail time and fines if a crime causes “transitory or permanent physical disfigurement,” such as acid attacks, which have a penalty of up to 50 years in prison. Acid attacks remained a problem and predominately targeted women. In August a woman in Cauca attacked her sister-in-law with acid, burning the victim’s eye, face, and neck. There were no updates on advances in this case at year’s end.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but isolated incidents were reported in several indigenous communities in different parts of the country. Two-thirds of women from the Embera community had undergone FGM/C, according to the UN Population Fund.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides measures to deter and punish harassment in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse or derision, aggression, and discrimination, which carries a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual harassment remained a pervasive and underreported problem in workplaces and in public.

Coercion in Population Control: Coerced abortion is not permitted under the law. The law allows the involuntary surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases.

Through August 18, the Attorney General’s Office reported it opened 15 investigations related to cases of forced abortion.

Discrimination: Although women have the same legal rights as men, serious discrimination against women persisted. The Office of the Advisor for the Equality of Women has primary responsibility for combating discrimination against women, but advocacy groups reported that the office remained seriously underfunded. The government continued its national public policy for gender equity.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory in most cases. Most births were registered immediately. If a birth is not registered within one month, parents may be fined and denied public services.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem. The ICBF reported between January and July 31, there were 8,039 cases of sexual abuse against children. According to the National Council of Economic and Social Policy (CONPES), the government reported in October that the ICBF had undertaken 740 instances to address violations against Venezuelan children.

Early and Forced Marriage: Marriage is legal at age 18. Boys older than age 14 and girls older than age 12 may marry with the consent of their parents. According to UNICEF, 5 percent of girls were married before age 15 and 23 percent before the age of 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children remained a problem. The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor or facilitating the sexual exploitation of a minor and stipulates a penalty of 14 to 25 years in prison, with aggravated penalties for perpetrators who are family members of the victim and for cases of sexual tourism, forced marriage, or sexual exploitation by illegal armed groups. The law prohibits pornography using children younger than age 18 and stipulates a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for sexual activity with a child younger than age 14 ranges from nine to 13 years in prison. The government generally enforced the law.

According to the ICBF, between January and July 31, there were 151 reported cases of sexual exploitation of children. The Attorney General’s Office reported opening 837 investigations related to cases of child pornography and 334 cases of sexual exploitation of minors, with one conviction reported during the year. In July authorities in Cartagena conducted a three-day operation, arrested 18 persons, and charged them with the sexual exploitation of more than 250 women and girls. According to press reports, the trafficking ring was led by Liliana Campos Puello and retired marine infantry captain Raul Danilo Romero Pabon. Prosecutors alleged that some of the women and girls were tattooed and trafficked for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. Media reported authorities conducted several raids to dismantle networks of sexual exploitation of minors in Cartagena and other cities as of December 12. In total, 42 persons were captured and goods valued at Colombian pesos (COP) 154 billion ($49 million) were seized.

Displaced Children: The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement estimated in 2016 that 31 percent of persons registered as displaced since 1985 were minors at the time they were displaced (see also section 2.d.). According to CONPES, the government reported in October that approximately 27 percent of Venezuelans registered in the government’s yet-to-be-released 2018 census were minors, of whom approximately half had received government services.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community, which had an estimated 5,000 members, continued to report instances of anti-Israeli rhetoric connected to events in the Middle East, accompanied by anti-Semitic graffiti near synagogues, as well as demonstrations in front of the Israeli embassy that were sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic comments on social media. In particular the Colombian Confederation of Jewish Communities expressed concern over the presence of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Colombia, which aggressively promotes the boycott of Israeli products, culture, and travel and does not actively counter the conflation of anti-Israeli policies with anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law punishes those who arbitrarily restrict the full exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities or harass persons with disabilities, but enforcement was rare. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities but does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities. No law mandates access to information and telecommunications for persons with disabilities.

The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights under the High Counselor for Post-Conflict, Public Security, and Human Rights, along with the Human Rights Directorate at the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to Somos Defensores and other NGOs, the law was seldom enforced.

Although children with disabilities attended school at all levels, advocates noted the vast majority of teachers and schools were neither trained nor equipped to educate children with disabilities successfully. Advocacy groups also stated children with disabilities entered the education system later than children without disabilities and dropped out at higher rates. Persons with disabilities were unemployed at a much higher rate than the general population.

In 2013 the State Council ordered all public offices to make facilities accessible to persons with disabilities and asked public officials to include requirements for accessibility when granting licenses for construction and occupancy. The State Council also asked every municipality to enforce rules that would make all public offices accessible to persons with disabilities “in a short amount of time.” It was not clear if much progress had been made.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the 2005 national census, the most recent census available at the time of drafting, approximately 4.5 million persons, or 10 percent of the country’s population, described themselves as being of African descent. A 2011 UN report estimated Afro-Colombians made up 15 to 20 percent of the population, while human rights groups and Afro-Colombian organizations estimated the proportion to be 20 to 25 percent.

Afro-Colombians are entitled to all constitutional rights and protections, but they faced significant economic and social discrimination. According to a 2016 UN report, 32 percent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, but in Choco, the department with the highest percentage of Afro-Colombian residents, 79 percent of residents lived below the poverty line.

In 2010 the government approved a policy to promote equal opportunity for black, Afro-Colombian, Palenquera, and Raizal populations. (Palenquera populations inhabit some parts of the Caribbean coast, Raizal populations live in the San Andres archipelago, and Blacks and Afro-Colombians are Colombians of African descent who self-identify slightly differently based on their unique linguistic and cultural heritages.) The Ministry of Interior provided technical advice and funding for social projects presented by Afro-Colombian communities.

The National Autonomous Congress of Afro-Colombian Community Councils and Ethnic Organizations for Blacks, Afro-Colombians, Raizales, and Palenqueras, consisting of 108 representatives, met with government representatives on problems that affected their communities.

Indigenous People

The constitution and law give special recognition to the fundamental rights of indigenous persons, who make up approximately 3.4 percent of the population, and require the government to consult beforehand with indigenous groups regarding governmental actions that could affect them.

The law accords indigenous groups perpetual rights to their ancestral lands, but indigenous groups, neighboring landowners, and the government often disputed the demarcation of those lands. Traditional indigenous groups operated 710 reservations, accounting for approximately 28 percent of the country’s territory. Illegal armed groups often violently contested indigenous land ownership and recruited indigenous children to join their ranks.

The law provides for special criminal and civil jurisdictions within indigenous territories based on traditional community laws. Legal proceedings in these jurisdictions were subject to manipulation and often rendered punishments more lenient than those imposed by regular civilian courts.

Some indigenous groups continued to assert they were not able to participate adequately in decisions affecting their lands. The constitution provides for this “prior consultation” mechanism for indigenous communities, but it does not require the government to obtain the consent of those communities in all cases.

The government stated that for security reasons it could not provide advance notice of most military operations, especially when in pursuit of enemy combatants, and added that it consulted with indigenous leaders when possible before entering land held by the communities.

Despite special legal protections and government assistance programs, indigenous persons continued to suffer discrimination and often lived on the margins of society. They belonged to the country’s poorest population and had the highest age-specific mortality rates.

Killings of members and leaders of indigenous groups remained a problem. According to the NGO National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, since the signing of the peace accord, 46 indigenous persons have been killed.

Despite precautionary measures ordered by the IACHR, ethnic Wayuu children continued to die of malnutrition. The United Nations and the government reported an increase in binational Wayuu families, including children, arriving in Colombia as a result of deteriorating conditions in Venezuela. Several hundred members of the Venezuelan Yukpa tribe crossed into Colombia in April due to deteriorating conditions in Venezuela. The government worked with the United Nations to provide the population basic services.

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

There were no reports of official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. A 2015 Constitutional Court decision required that the Ministry of Education modify its educational materials to address discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Transgender individuals cited barriers to public services when health-care providers or police officers refused to accept their government-issued identification. Some transgender individuals stated it was difficult to change the gender designation on national identity documents and that transgender individuals whose identity cards listed them as male were still required to show proof they had performed mandatory military service or obtained the necessary waivers from that service. NGOs claimed discrimination and violence in prisons against persons due to their sexual orientation and gender identity remained a problem.

Despite government measures to increase the rights and protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, there were reports of societal abuse and discrimination, as well as sexual assault. NGOs claimed transgender individuals, particularly transgender men, were often sexually assaulted in so-called corrective rape. The Constitutional Court pronounced in 2016 that transgender persons faced discrimination and social rejection within the LGBTI community and recommended measures to increase respect for transgender identities in the classrooms.

As of September 18, the Attorney General’s Office was investigating at least two alleged homicides of LGBTI individuals. Investigations into crimes committed by members of the security forces did not appear in the Attorney General’s Office system. NGO Colombia Diversa reported six cases, involving eight victims, of police abuse of persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, with the majority of complaints coming from transgender individuals.

NGOs reported several cases of threats against LGBTI human rights defenders, as well as a high level of impunity for crimes against LGBTI persons. Such organizations partially attributed impunity levels to the failure of the Attorney General’s Office to distinguish and effectively pursue crimes against LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In its most recent demographic and health survey (2010), the government reported the responses of 85 percent of those surveyed indicated discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS, reflecting low levels of social acceptance throughout the country.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

The government has the authority to fine labor-rights violators. The government sought to enforce most applicable labor laws, but a lack of an inspection strategy, as well as an overburdened judicial system, inhibited speedy and consistent application. The maximum penalty for violations of law, including those that prohibit the misuse of CTAs, is 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage, or COP 3.4 billion ($1.07 million), which is sufficient to deter violations if levied consistently. The law also stipulates that offenders repeatedly misusing CTAs or other labor relationships shall receive the maximum penalty and may be subject to losing their legal status to operate. Employers who engage in antiunion practices may also be imprisoned for up to five years, although government officials admitted a fine was more likely than imprisonment. Prohibited practices include impeding workers’ right to strike, meet, or otherwise associate, and extending better conditions to members of collective pacts than to union members. Through the first nine months of the year, the government reported finalizing 55 fines on certain subcontracting entities for abusive forms of subcontracting at a value of COP 8.24 billion ($2.6 million).

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

The Ministry of Labor leads a tripartite Inter-Institutional Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Workers, with participation by the government, organized labor groups, and business community. The commission met three times during the year, in the departments of Valle del Cauca and Cauca.

As part of its commitments under the 2011 Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights (Labor Action Plan), the government continued to take steps to protect internationally recognized labor rights. Labor inspections by the Ministry of Labor for abusive subcontracting in the five priority sectors of palm oil, sugar, ports, mines, and cut flowers remained infrequent, however. Critics claimed inspections lacked necessary rigor, assessed fines were not collected, and abusive subcontracting continued. In the first nine months of the year, there appeared to be no fines collected for illegal labor intermediation in any of the five priority sectors, and only one new fine was imposed for this violation in each of the cut flower and mining sectors. The government continued to engage in regular meetings with unions and civil society groups.

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

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

The government continued to include in its protection program for labor activists persons engaged in efforts to form a union, as well as former unionists under threat because of their past activities. Through July the NPU provided protection to 377 trade union leaders or members (others protected included 168 journalists, 780 human rights advocates, and 330 land restitution claimants). Approximately 8.6 percent of the NPU’s budget was dedicated to unionist protection. Between January 1 and July, the NPU processed 306 risk assessments of union leaders or members; 100 of those cases were assessed as posing an “extraordinary threat,” and the NPU provided them protection measures. The NPU reported that during the year the average time needed to implement protection measures upon completion of a risk analysis was 65 days in regular cases or five days for emergency cases. NGOs, however, complained about slow processing times.

The protection and relocation of teachers falls under the Ministry of National Education and the departmental education secretaries, but the NPU retains some responsibilities for the risk analysis and protection of family members. Through July 31, the NPU evaluated 341 threat cases against teachers and found 74 to be of extraordinary risk.

In cases of unionist killings from previous years, the pace of investigations and convictions remained slow, and high rates of impunity continued. Labor groups stated more needed to be done to address impunity for perpetrators of violence against trade unionists and the large number of threat cases. The Attorney General’s Office indicated it prioritized cases in order of severity and had a backlog of lower-priority cases. As of July 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported 765 sentences against 626 persons in cases of violence against unionists since 2006 that were filed in the Human Rights Directorate.

Violence, threats, harassment, and other practices against trade unionists continued to affect the exercise of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. According to the Attorney General’s Office, through September 19, 10 teachers were registered as victims in cases of homicide.

The Attorney General’s Office reported the killing of 18 trade unionists during the year. There was progress in the investigation of several of these cases, with one case already receiving a sentence and four cases in the prosecution phase. The National Union School (ENS), a labor rights NGO and think tank, reported 28 trade unionists were killed. ENS and other labor groups stated that focusing on killings alone masked the true nature and scope of the violence against labor activists. Labor groups noted that in some regions nonlethal violations continued to increase. ENS reported 136 death threats, six nonlethal attacks, two cases of forced displacement, four cases of harassment, and one illegal raid.

Unions cited multiple instances in which companies fired employees who formed or sought to form new unions. Some employers continued to use temporary contracts, service agencies, and other forms of subcontracting, including cooperatives, to limit worker rights and protections. Fines assessed by the government did little to dissuade violators because fines were often not collected. Formalization agreements in firms with illegal subcontracting increased during the year. In the first nine months of the year, the government reported 2,606 workers benefited from 29 formalization agreements that the Ministry of Labor reached with employers in key sectors, including agriculture, mining, manufacturing, education, and transport. Labor rights groups expressed concern that previously signed formalization agreements were not sufficiently monitored by the ministry.

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

According to ENS, Indupalma, a large employer in the palm sector located in the municipality of San Alberto, Cesar Department, previously fined for employing more than 1,200 workers through illegal cooperatives, formalized 592 workers in October through a formalization agreement reached with the Ministry of Labor.

Metal and mineworkers’ union SINTRAIME reported that inspections for abusive subcontracting carried out by the Ministry of Labor at the Drummond coalmines were ineffective in safeguarding the freedom of workers to organize.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases, and there continued to be reports that such practices occurred. The law prescribes punishments of 13 to 23 years’ imprisonment plus fines for forced labor violations.

There were reports ELN guerrillas and organized-crime gangs used forced labor, including forced child labor, in coca cultivation and illegal mining in areas outside government control as well as forced criminality, such as extortion, in urban areas. The ICBF indicated that between November 16, 1999, and July 31, the number of children and adolescents who had demobilized was 6,512, of whom 709 were indigenous and 482 Afro-Colombian. As part of a temporary bilateral cease-fire between the government and the ELN from October 1, 2017, to January 9, the ELN committed to stop the recruitment of minors. High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos, however, indicated the ELN continued to recruit minors during the year.

Forced labor in other sectors, including organized begging, mining, agriculture, forced recruitment by illegal armed actors, and domestic service, also remained a serious problem. Afro-Colombians, indigenous Colombians, and inhabitants of marginalized urban areas were at the highest risk of forced labor, domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced recruitment. In September authorities in Bogota sentenced Claudia Maritza Castiblanco Parra to 12 years in prison on conviction for the forced labor of an indigenous woman hired as a domestic servant. This was the first conviction for labor trafficking of an individual in domestic servitude.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 and for hazardous work at 18. Children 15 and 16 years of age may work no more than 30 hours per week, and children age 17 may work no more than 40 hours per week. Children younger than age 15 may work in arts, sports, or recreational or cultural activities for a maximum of 14 hours per week. In all these cases, working children and adolescents must have signed documentation filed by their parents and approved by a labor inspector or other local authority.

The law prohibits child workers from working at night or where there is a risk of bodily harm or exposure to excessive heat, cold, or noise. During the year the government updated its hazardous work regulations in consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations to include an extensive list of 36 kinds of activities that are prohibited to children, including in agriculture, hunting and forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying, manufacturing, construction, transport and storage, health services, and defense.

The law authorizes inspectors to issue fines of up to 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage for labor law violations, including child-labor violations, which would be sufficient to deter violations, but the government did not enforce the law effectively in all cases. A violation deemed to endanger a child’s life or threaten moral values may be punished by temporary or permanent closure of the establishment. Nationwide, labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing child labor laws and supervising the formal sector through periodic inspections. An estimated 80 percent of all child labor, however, occurred in the informal sector of the economy.

Government agencies carried out several activities to eradicate and prevent exploitative child labor. With ILO assistance the government continued to improve cooperation among national, regional, and municipal governments on child labor issues. It also continued to employ a monitoring system to register working children, although the system was not always regularly updated. The government also sought to reduce demand for child labor through public awareness and training efforts, often working with international and civil society organizations.

The government, through the Ministry of Labor, followed the National Policy to Prevent and Eliminate Child Labor and Protect the Young Worker, adopted in 2017. It also continued its roundtable discussion group, which included government representatives, members of the three largest labor confederations, and civil society. The group concentrated its efforts on formalizing an integrated registration system for information on child labor that would permit public and private entities to register information about child workers.

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

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

Child labor remained a problem in the informal and illicit sectors. Although the government does not publish data on child labor, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) collects and publishes information on the economic activities of children ages five to 17 through a module in its Comprehensive Household Economic Survey during the fourth quarter of each calendar year. According to DANE’s 2017 survey, 7 percent of children were working, with 44 percent engaged in agriculture, livestock raising, fishing, and hunting, and 30 percent in commerce, hotels, and restaurant work. To a lesser extent, children engaged in the manufacturing and transport sectors. Children also routinely performed domestic work, where they cared for children, prepared meals, tended gardens, and carried out shopping duties.

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

Prohibitions against children working in mining and construction were reportedly largely ignored. Some educational institutions modify schedules during harvest seasons so that children may help on the family farm. Children worked in artisanal mining of coal, clay, emeralds, and gold under dangerous conditions and in many instances with the approval or insistence of their parents. The government’s efforts to assist children working in illegal mining focused on the departments of Antioquia and Boyaca.

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

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

The Ministry of Labor is required to enforce labor laws in the formal sector, including occupational safety and health regulations, through periodic inspections by labor inspectors. The government reported that as of April, the ministry employed 868 inspectors countrywide, although not all conducted worksite inspections; 778 of them were in provisional appointments. In April the Civil Service Commission held a national exam that produced a list of eligible candidates for permanent appointment as labor inspectors and other civil servant positions. The exam was challenged, potentially delaying appointments. Individual labor violations can bring fines of up to 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage, but infractions for occupational safety and health can trigger fines of only up to 1,000 times the minimum monthly wage. Unionists stated that more fines needed to be collected to impact occupational safety and health issues.

While the government’s labor inspectors undertook administrative actions to enforce the minimum wage in the formal sector, the government did not conduct any action to do so in the informal sector.

The Ministry of Labor continued to promote formal employment generation. As of the third quarter of the year, DANE reported that 8.6 million, or 39 percent, of the 22 million workers employed nationwide pay into the pension system. The proportion of informal workers in cities and metropolitan areas was 48 percent, according to DANE. The government continued to support complementary social security programs to increase the employability of extremely poor individuals, displaced persons, and the elderly.

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

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

According to the National Mining Agency, through August 23, a total of 61 workers died as a result of accidents in the mines, the majority due to cave-ins.

Costa Rica

Executive Summary

Costa Rica is a constitutional republic governed by a president and a unicameral legislative assembly directly elected in multiparty elections every four years. On April 1, voters elected Carlos Alvarado of the Citizen’s Action Party (PAC) as president during a second round of elections. In legislative elections on February 4, the governing PAC formed a coalition to gain control of the presidency of the legislature for one year. All elections were considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government investigated and prosecuted officials who committed abuses.

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

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

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

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 prohibits such practices. Abuse by prison police was a recurring complaint, according to the Ombudsman’s Office, but very few of the accusers followed through and registered their complaints with the authorities. The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished police responsible for confirmed cases of abuse.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, difficulties obtaining medical care, and violence among prisoners.

Physical Conditions: As of July the prison population exceeded the designed capacity of prisons by 32 percent, according to official statistics. Prison overcrowding made security and control difficult and contributed to health problems. Poor conditions included inadequate space for resting, deteriorated mattresses on the floor, and inadequate access to health services. Illegal narcotics were readily available in the prisons, and drug abuse was common. The Ministry of Justice was responsible for the prison system, while the Immigration Office ran the facility holding illegal migrants until they were deported or regularized their immigration status.

The San Sebastian, Gerardo Rodriguez, La Reforma, San Rafael, San Carlos, Limon, Pococi, Puntarenas, Liberia, Perez Zeledon, and Centro Adulto Joven (at La Reforma) prisons remained overcrowded, with the population in pretrial detention experiencing the most overcrowding. Authorities held male pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners on occasion. In San Sebastian, where most of these prisoners in pretrial detention were held, 770 prisoners lived in unsanitary conditions in a facility with a planned capacity of 556.

In February the Judicial Investigative Organization (OIJ), the principal investigative law enforcement agency, recognized prison overcrowding as a problem. Overcrowding at the San Sebastian pretrial detention center resulted in some pretrial detainees being held in OIJ facilities.

On July 26, a new detention center for undocumented migrants in Los Lagos, Heredia, opened to replace a facility that had problems with overcrowding and poor ventilation.

Security and administrative staffing were insufficient to care for the needs of prisoners, including ensuring their personal safety. The Ministry of Justice’s Social Adaptation Division reported 13 deaths in closed regime centers as of August 21. Four of these deaths were homicides resulting from prisoner-on-prisoner violence.

Administration: Prisoners could submit credible allegations of mistreatment to the Ombudsman’s Office, which investigated all complaints at an administrative level.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by international and local human rights observers. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government ombudsman monitored detention conditions, with UNHCR visiting monthly and the ombudsman preparing annual reports.

Improvements: In June the Ministry of Justice agreed to expedite urgent requests for prisoners to obtain an electronic bracelet monitor, which normally could take several months. The Ministry of Justice’s Social Adaptation Division constructed a health unit at the Vilma Curling women’s correctional center and opened health units at the correctional facilities in San Rafael de Alajuela, Perez Zeledon, and Pococi. The Social Adaptation Division strengthened telemedicine services at La Reforma, Gerardo Rodriguez, and Cartago prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country has no military forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the 13 agencies that have law enforcement components, including the judicial branch’s Judicial Investigative Organization. The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for the uniformed police force, drug control police, border police, air wing, and coast guard. The Immigration Office is responsible for the immigration police. The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation supervises the traffic police, the Ministry of Environment supervises park police, and the Ministry of Justice manages the penitentiary police. Several municipalities manage municipal police forces. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires issuance of judicial warrants before making arrests, except where probable cause is evident to the arresting officer. The law entitles a detainee to a judicial determination of the legality of detention during arraignment before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. The law provides for the right to post bail and prompt access to an attorney and family members. Authorities generally observed these rights. Indigent persons have access to a public attorney at government expense. Those without sufficient personal funds are also able to use the services of a public defender. With judicial authorization, authorities may hold a suspect incommunicado for 48 hours after arrest or, under special circumstances, for up to 10 days. Special circumstances include cases in which pretrial detention previously was ordered and there is reason to believe a suspect may reach an agreement with accomplices or may obstruct the investigation. Suspects were allowed access to attorneys immediately before submitting statements before a judge. Authorities promptly informed suspects of any offenses under investigation. Habeas corpus provides legal protection for citizens against threats from police; it also requires judges to give a clear explanation of the legal basis for detention of and evidence against a suspect.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of July 31, persons in pretrial detention constituted approximately 23 percent of the prison population, compared with 16 percent in 2017. In some cases delays were due to pending criminal investigations and lengthy legal procedures. In other cases the delays were a result of court backlogs.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The legal system experienced significant delays in the adjudication of criminal cases and civil disputes and a growing workload.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

All defendants have the right to the presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, and to trial without undue delay. All trials, except those that include juvenile defendants, are public. Trials that involve victims or witnesses who are minors are closed during the portion of the trial in which the minor is called to testify. Defendants have the right to be present during trial and communicate with an attorney of choice in a timely manner or to have one provided at public expense. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants, if convicted, have the right to appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

An independent and impartial judiciary presides over lawsuits in civil matters, including human rights violations. Administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs are available to the public. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private communications without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union reported that 72 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The law requires authorities to process the claims within three months of receipt, but decisions took an average of 14 months and an additional 12 months for the appeals process.

The number of persons seeking asylum increased significantly. The Immigration Office handled a growing number of migrants requesting refugee status, the majority from Nicaragua. According to immigration authorities, from April to September, Nicaraguans filed 8,000 claims and authorities gave migrants more than 15,000 more appointments to file their requests, up from fewer than 100 applications from Nicaraguans in all of 2017. The government leased additional office space and opened a call center to process appointments and disseminate information better.

As of August the Appeals Tribunal, which adjudicates all migration appeals, had a backlog of 476 asylum cases. UNHCR provided support to the Refugee Unit and the Appeals Tribunal to hire additional legal and administrative personnel to assist with reduction of the backlog.

Employment: Refugee regulations provide asylum seekers an opportunity to obtain work permits if they have to wait beyond the three months the law allows for a decision on their asylum claim (which occurs in virtually all cases). On August 10, the Labor Ministry, the Chamber of Commerce, and UNHCR launched a program to assist asylum seekers and refugees to find jobs.

Access to Basic Services: By law asylum seekers and refugees have access to public services and social welfare programs, but access was often hampered by lack of knowledge about their status in the country and feelings of xenophobia among some service providers. For example, asylum seekers without employers (who constituted the majority of asylum seekers) faced restrictions when enrolling voluntarily as independent workers in the public health system.

Asylum seekers received provisional refugee status documents legalizing their status after appearing for an interview with the General Directorate of Immigration, for which the estimated wait time was eight months. Provisional refugee ID cards do not resemble other national identity documents, so while government authorities generally accepted them, many private citizens did not. Upon receiving refugee status, which typically took another nine months, refugees could obtain an identity document similar to those used by nationals at a cost of 39,000 colones ($68), renewable every two years.

Durable Solutions: The government continued to implement a “Protection Transfer Arrangement” in coordination with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration for refugee resettlement in third countries. The government was committed to local integration of refugees both legally and socially and to facilitating their naturalization process. In partnership with UNHCR, on April 23, the government awarded “Living Integration” certifications to 20 public and private organizations to help refugees and asylum seekers earn a livelihood.

Temporary Protection: There were no programs for temporary protection beyond refugee status. Due to low recognition rates (approximately 8 percent of applicants received asylum during the first six months of the year), UNHCR had to consider a number of rejected asylum seekers as persons in need of international protection. UNHCR provided support and access to integration programs to individuals still pursuing adjudication and appeals. The individuals requesting refugee status were mainly from Nicaragua, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Colombia; the majority were male adults and extended families.

STATELESS PERSONS

There continued to be problems of statelessness of indigenous children and children of seasonal workers in the border areas with Panama and Nicaragua derived from the difficulties linked to birth registrations. Members of the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous group from Panama often worked on Costa Rican farms and occasionally gave birth there. In these cases parents did not register Ngobe-Bugle children as Costa Rican citizens at birth because they did not think it necessary, although the children lacked registration in Panama as well. Approximately 1,200 children were affected. Government authorities worked together with UNHCR on a program of birth registration and provision of identification documents to stateless persons known as “Chiriticos.” Mobile teams went to remote coffee-growing areas for case identification and registration. The National Civil Registry appointed a permanent officer in the regional offices of Coto Brus, Talamanca, and Tarrazu to provide follow-up services. From May 27 to June 3, authorities from Costa Rica and Panama collaborated to register citizens from the southern area of Punta Burica as part of the Chiriticos project. UNHCR and the National Civil Registry continued a project along the northern border for individuals of Nicaraguan origin to facilitate procedures for late birth registration.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On April 1, voters elected PAC’s Carlos Alvarado president during a second round of elections, after no candidate achieved 40 percent of the first-round vote. Presidential and legislative elections are simultaneous. In legislative elections, the National Liberation Party (PLN) gained the most seats, but it did not achieve majority in the National Assembly. On May 1, the governing PAC formed a coalition with four other parties–the PLN, Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), Broad Front, and Republican Social Christian Party–to gain control of the presidency of the legislature for one year. In 2016 municipal elections, PLN and PUSC gained control of 62 of 81 municipalities. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women and persons of African descent were represented in government but indigenous persons were not. On May 8, Epsy Campbell Barr became the country’s first woman of African descent to be elected as vice president, and she served concurrently as minister of foreign affairs. In 2016 the Supreme Elections Tribunal imposed strict gender quotas for political parties, reaffirming existing regulations that all political parties must guarantee gender parity across their electoral slates and confirming that gender parity must extend vertically. The electoral code requires that a minimum of 50 percent of candidates for elective office be women, with their names placed alternately with men on the ballots by party slate. As a result, female legislators held 26 of the 57 seats in the National Assembly.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: In 2017 authorities began investigating allegations of corruption and influence peddling in a case (known locally as “Cementazo”) related to loans and policies benefiting cement importer Juan Carlos Bolanos. The case prompted the dismissal and resignation of several justices and prosecutors. On July 16, Chief Justice Carlos Chinchilla requested his early retirement after the full Supreme Court suspended him, together with two associate justices and a substitute justice of the Criminal Appeals High Court, for inappropriate dismissal of the “Cementazo” case. On July 10, the Supreme Court also suspended former deputy attorney general Berenice Smith for inappropriate conduct. On April 10, the National Assembly removed Associate Justice Celso Gamboa from the bench by a majority vote for interfering with judicial cases related to the cement importer. In 2017 former attorney general Jorge Chavarria retired, following his suspension for requesting the Criminal Appeals High Court to dismiss the “Cementazo” case.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws that require senior officials to submit sworn declarations of income, assets, and liabilities. The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials. The content of the declarations is not available to the public. The law stipulates administrative sanctions for noncompliance and identifies which assets, liabilities, and interests public officials must declare. Officials are required to file a declaration annually and upon entering and leaving office.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office reviews government action or inaction that affects citizens’ rights and interests. The ombudsman is accountable to the National Assembly, which appoints the person to a four-year term and funds office operations. The ombudsman participates in the drafting and approval of legislation, promotes good administration and transparency, and reports annually to the National Assembly with nonbinding recommendations. International institutions and nongovernmental organization observers recognized the Ombudsman’s Office as an independent and effective instrument for promoting human rights.

A special committee of the National Assembly studies and reports on problems relating to the violation of human rights, and it also reviews bills relating to human rights and international humanitarian law.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence, and provides penalties from 10 to 18 years in prison for rape. The judicial branch generally enforced the law.

The law prohibits domestic violence and provides measures for the protection of domestic violence victims. Criminal penalties range from 10 to 100 days in prison for aggravated threats and up to 35 years in prison for aggravated homicide, including a sentence of 20 to 35 years for persons who kill their partners.

According to the Ombudsman’s Office, during the first months of the year, the number of femicides increased in spite of the efforts of the government and civil society to fight this problem. The killing of two female tourists on August 4 caused authorities on August 7 to declare the reduction of violence against women as a “national priority” not only to raise awareness, but also to implement coordinated actions among public institutions in areas with a higher incidence of violence.

On July 2, President Alvarado enacted a restorative justice law but simultaneously asked the National Assembly to reform some of its provisions to prevent victims of sex crimes and domestic violence from negotiating with perpetrators and aggressors, after the attorney general and the minister of women’s issues expressed their concern.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and educational institutions, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security generally enforced this prohibition. The law imposes penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand to dismissal, with more serious incidents subject to criminal prosecution.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The law prohibits discrimination against women and obligates the government to promote political, economic, social, and cultural equality. The law requires women and men receive equal pay for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is obtained from birth within the country’s territory or can be derived if either parent is Costa Rican. Birth registration was not always automatic, and migrant children were especially at risk of statelessness since they did not have access to legal documents to establish their identity if their parents did not seek birth registration for them.

Child Abuse: The autonomous National Institute for Children reported violence against children and adolescents continued to be a concern, but there was no increase in the number of cases of child violence or abuse. The institute implemented a prevention strategy against child abuse during the year.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is 18. The law establishes penalties for sex with minors and prohibits child marriage. The crime carries a penalty of up to three years in prison for an adult having sex with a person under age 15, or under 18 if the age difference is more than five years. The law bans marriage for anyone under 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 years. The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and provides sentences of up to 16 years in prison for violations. The law provides for sentences of two to 10 years in prison for statutory rape and three to eight years in prison for child pornography. The government identified child sex tourism as a serious problem.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish Zionist Center estimated there were between 3,000 and 3,500 Jews in the country. There were isolated reports of anti-Semitic comments on social media.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The law also establishes a right to employment for persons with disabilities and sets a hiring quota of 5 percent of vacant positions in the public sector. The government did not effectively enforce the law, however.

Although the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, the government did not enforce this provision, and many buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. The government policy on education and the national plan for higher education aim to increase educational opportunities for students with disabilities.

The Supreme Elections Tribunal took measures (voting procedures, facilities, materials, and trained personnel) to provide for fully accessible elections for all persons with disabilities. During the February national elections, the Organization of American States Observation Mission lauded the country for facilitating voting for seniors and persons with disabilities, including accessible voting booths and technological tools to promote participation in the electoral process.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution establishes that the country is a multiethnic and multicultural nation. According to the Ombudsman’s Office, however, the country lacked an adequate legal framework to ensure adequate mechanisms to combat discrimination, facilitate the adoption of affirmative action for individuals who suffer discrimination, and establish sanctions for those who commit discriminatory acts. On August 1, Vice President and Foreign Affairs Minister Campbell Barr appointed a presidential commissioner for Afro-Descendant Affairs.

Indigenous People

Land ownership continued to be a problem in most indigenous territories. The law protects reserve land as the collective, nontransferable property in 24 indigenous territories; however, 38 percent of that land was in nonindigenous hands.

On March 6, the government finalized a consultative process in response to a mandate from International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169, requiring governments to engage with indigenous peoples on measures that directly affect them. The consultative mechanism consists of an eight-step process for gathering input from indigenous communities, from project inception through final monitoring. The mechanism recognizes the duty of the government to obtain prior and informed consent for large-scale development projects affecting indigenous communities but does not give them veto power. The executive order authorizing the consultative mechanism was issued in March, but as of October it had not yet been carried out.

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

The constitution establishes that all persons are equal before the law and no discrimination contrary to human dignity shall be practiced. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by a series of executive orders and workplace policies but not by national laws. On May 17, President Alvarado appointed a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) commissioner in charge of coordinating efforts between civil society and the presidency to promote LGBTI issues.

Transgender individuals faced barriers to legal gender recognition until, on June 28, President Alvarado signed an executive order that instructed all public entities to modify records of transgender individuals who requested the change.

There were cases of discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation, ranging from employment, police abuse, and education to access to health-care services. LGBTI individuals experienced discrimination within their own families due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics. LGBTI organizations operated freely and lobbied for legal reforms. Reports of discrimination and violence against the LGBTI community increased after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights publication of its advisory opinion on same-sex marriage, which was issued one month before the first round of national elections. By February the LGBTI community reported 32 cases of physical and verbal abuse, and several legislators and political leaders expressed their opposition to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights opinion and its implementation.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on HIV/AIDS in health care, housing, employment, and education, some discrimination was reported.

Labor discrimination towards HIV patients continued; some persons reported losing their jobs due to discrimination, their deteriorating health, or both.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Unions must register, and the law provides a deadline of 15 days for authorities to reply to a registration request. Restrictions on the minimum number of employees (12) needed to form a union may have hampered freedom of association in small enterprises. The law permits foreign workers to join unions but prohibits them from holding positions of authority within the unions, except for foreign workers who are married to citizens of the country and have legally resided in the country for at least five years.

The labor code stipulates that at least 50 percent of the workers in an enterprise must vote to support a strike. The law, however, adds that, if there is no union at the enterprise or if the union lacks the support of 50 percent of the workforce, a strike can still be initiated if 35 percent of the workers call for a vote, under a secret ballot. The law restricts the right to strike for workers in services designated as essential by the government, including in sectors such as oil refineries and ports that are not recognized as essential services under international standards.

The law also permits two other types of worker organizations unique to the country: “solidarity associations,” legal entities recognized by the constitution that have both management and employee membership and serve primarily to administer funds for severance payments; and “permanent committees,” enterprise-level bodies made up of three workers elected to negotiate “direct agreements” with employers. Both entities may coexist and share membership with labor unions. The law also requires that permanent committee members be elected freely by secret ballot without intervention of the employer.

The law requires employers to initiate the bargaining process with a trade union if more than one-third of the total workforce, including union and nonunion members, requests collective bargaining, but the law also permits direct bargaining agreements with nonunionized workers. The law prohibits solidarity associations from representing workers in collective bargaining negotiations or in any other way that assumes the functions or inhibits the formation of trade unions. Although public-sector employees are permitted to bargain collectively, the Supreme Court held that some fringe benefits received by certain public employees were disproportionate and unreasonable, and it repealed sections of collective bargaining agreements between public-sector unions and government agencies, thus restricting this right in practice.

The government generally enforced applicable laws, although procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. While the law does establish sanctions (fines and fees) for infractions, only the judiciary has the authority to apply such sanctions. The amount of fines and fees is determined by the severity of the infraction and is based on the minimum wage. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, in light of the lengthy process to resolve cases. To reduce delays, a 2017 reform to the labor code replaces written procedures with oral hearings, requires labor claims to be processed within two years, and sets up a special summary procedure for discrimination claims. The reformed labor code also strengthens protections for labor union members, including protections against discrimination based on labor affiliation and special protections via special expedited proceedings. In 2017 the government also approved three regulations related to the labor code on labor dispute resolution, union workers voting to authorize strikes, and determining union membership to bargain collectively. The Labor Inspection Office implemented related actions to the labor code during the first six months of the year, including a new organizational structure, training for staff, and systematization of processes.

Labor unions reported that improved protections for union organizing during the first year of the reformed labor code facilitated recruitment of members in the private sector. The new expedited labor courts forced private-sector employers to reinstate workers who had been dismissed for joining unions.

Freedom of association and collective bargaining were generally respected. Labor unions asserted that solidarity associations set up and controlled permanent committees at many workplaces, which in turn conducted negotiations and established direct agreements. Labor unions also asserted that employers sometimes required membership in a solidarity association as a condition for employment. To the extent that solidarity associations and permanent committees displaced trade unions, they affected the independence of workers’ organizations from employers’ influence and infringed on the right to organize and bargain collectively. In recent years the ILO reported an expansion of direct agreements between employers and nonunionized workers and noted its concern that the number of collective bargaining agreements in the private sector continued to be low when compared with a high number of direct agreements with nonunionized workers.

In some instances, employers fired employees who attempted to unionize. The Ministry of Labor reported one case of firing a labor leader and three complaints of antiunion discrimination from January to July. There were reports some employers also preferred to use “flexible,” or short-term, contracts, making it difficult for workers to organize and collectively bargain. Migrant workers in agriculture frequently were hired on short-term contracts (five months) through intermediaries, faced antiunion discrimination and challenges in organizing, and were often more vulnerable to labor exploitation.

The ILO noted no trade unions operated in the country’s export-processing zones and identified the zones as a hostile environment for organizing. Labor unions asserted that efforts by workers in export-processing zones to organize were met with illegal employment termination, threats, and intimidation and that some employers maintained blacklists of workers identified as activists.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. The law establishes criminal penalties for trafficking in persons crimes, including forced or compulsory labor with sentences of between six and 10 years in prison. The penalty increases to between eight and 16 years if the crime involves aggravating circumstances. These penalties are proportional to the severity of the crimes and were sufficient to deter violations. On May 8, the government adopted amendments to Articles 172 and 189 (bis) of the criminal code to align the law’s definition of trafficking more closely with international law by removing the requirement of movement. In 2017 the Attorney General’s Office made two accusations of trafficking for forced labor exploitation and reported two convictions for labor exploitation.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The child and adolescence code prohibits labor of all children under the age of 15 without exceptions, including the worst forms of child labor; it supersedes the minimum working age of 12 established in the labor code. Adolescents between the ages of 15 and 18 may work a maximum of six hours daily and 36 hours weekly. The law prohibits night work and overtime for minors. The law prohibits children under the age of 18 from engaging in hazardous or unhealthy activities and specifies a list of hazardous occupations. The government generally enforced child labor laws effectively in the formal sector but not in the informal sector.

Child labor occurred primarily in the informal economy, especially in the agricultural, commercial, and industrial sectors. The worst forms of child labor occurred in agriculture on small third-party farms in the formal sector and on family farms in the informal sector. Forced child labor reportedly occurred in some service sectors, such as construction, fishing, street vending, and domestic service, and some children were subject to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

While the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing and taking administrative actions against possible violations of, or lack of compliance with, child labor laws, the Prosecutor’s Office intervenes in cases regarding the worst forms of child labor. As with other labor laws, the authority to sanction employers for infractions lies solely with the judiciary, and the law requires labor inspectors to initiate legal cases with the judiciary after exhausting the administrative process. The amount of fines and fees is determined by the severity of the infraction and is based on an equation derived from the minimum wage. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

The government continued to implement programming to eliminate illegal child labor and the worst forms of child labor by providing individual assistance through visits, interviews, and inspections to schools and workplaces. In 2017 the Labor Ministry provided protection to 434 working minors referred by different departments within the Labor Ministry and other government agencies. Of these 434 cases, 313 received a scholarship through an agreement between the Labor Ministry and the Welfare Institute, intended to help students stay or return to school. During the first six months of the year, the Labor Ministry reported 25 minors working in dangerous activities–17 in agriculture and eight working more than six hours a day. The ministry removed the minors from their jobs and gave them a study allowance to return to school.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases status. The labor code prohibits discrimination based on age, ethnicity, gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, civil status, political opinion, nationality, social status, affiliation, disability, labor union membership, or economic situation. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Ministry reported 13 cases of discrimination from January to June. The ministry implemented a gender-equality perspective into labor inspections to identify areas of vulnerability. The Labor Ministry detected 23 infractions during the first six months of the year.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with disabilities and the LGBTI population. Discrimination against migrant workers occurred, and there were reports of instances of employers using threats of deportation to withhold their wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The wage council of the Ministry of Labor sets the minimum wage scale for the public and private sectors twice a year. Monthly minimum wages for the private sector ranged from 183,939 colones ($322) for domestic workers to 644,689 colones ($1,130) for university graduates since January 1. According to INEC, in 2016 the poverty line was 107,769 colones ($189) in urban areas and 82,950 colones ($145) in rural areas. The national minimum wage applied to both Costa Rican and migrant workers. The law sets workday hours, overtime remuneration, days of rest, and annual vacation rights. Workers generally may work a maximum of eight hours a day or 48 hours weekly. Workers are entitled to one day of rest after six consecutive days of work, except in the agricultural sector, and annual paid vacations. The law provides that workers be paid for overtime work at a rate 50 percent above their stipulated wage or salary. Although there is no statutory prohibition against compulsory overtime, the labor code stipulates the workday may not exceed 12 hours, except in the agricultural sector when there is “imminent risk of harm…to the harvest” when work cannot be suspended and workers cannot be substituted.

The government maintains a dedicated authority to enforce occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. The OSH standards are appropriate for the main industries in the country, per the National Council of Occupational Safety and Health. The Labor Ministry’s National Council of Occupational Health and Safety is a tripartite OSH regulatory authority with government, employer, and employee representation. According to labor organizations, the government did not enforce these standards effectively in either the formal or the informal sectors.

Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. According to the Labor Ministry, this is a responsibility shared by the employer and employee. The law assigns responsibility to the employer, including granting OSH officers access to workplaces, but it also authorizes workers to seek assistance from appropriate authorities (OSH or labor inspectors) for noncompliance with OSH workplace standards, including risks at work.

The Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Directorate (DNI) is responsible for labor inspection, in collaboration with the Social Security Agency and the National Insurance Institute. The DNI employed labor inspectors who investigated all types of labor violations. The number of labor inspectors, 87, was likely insufficient for the size of the workforce, which included more than two million workers. According to the ILO’s technical advice of a ratio approaching one inspector for every 15,000 workers in industrializing economies, the country should employ approximately 150 inspectors. According to the Ministry of Labor, inspections occurred both in response to complaints and at the initiative of inspectors. The DNI stated it could visit any employer, formal or informal, and inspections were always unannounced.

The Labor Ministry generally addressed complaints by sending inspection teams to investigate and coordinate with each other on follow-up actions. As with other labor laws, inspectors cannot fine or sanction employers who do not comply with laws on acceptable conditions of work; rather, they investigate and refer noncompliance results to labor courts. The process of fining companies or compelling employers to pay back wages or overtime has traditionally been subject to lengthy delays.

The Ministry of Labor generally enforced minimum wages effectively in the San Jose area but less effectively in rural areas, particularly where large numbers of migrants were employed, and in the large informal sector, which comprised 44 percent of employment as of August. The ministry publicly recognized that many workers, including in the formal sector, received less than the minimum wage.

According to INEC, 44 percent of the economically active population in the nonagricultural sector was in the informal economy. The Ministry of Labor, through the National Program in Support of the Microenterprise, provided technical assistance and access to credit for informal microentrepreneurs to improve productive and labor conditions in the informal economy.

Observers expressed concern about exploitative working conditions in fisheries, small businesses, and agricultural activities. Unions also reported systematic violations of labor rights and provisions concerning working conditions, overtime, and wages in the export-processing zones. Labor unions reported overtime pay violations, such as nonpayment of wages and mandatory overtime, were common in the private sector and particularly in export-processing zones and agriculture. There were reports that agricultural workers, particularly migrant laborers in the pineapple industry, worked in unsafe conditions, including exposure to hazardous chemicals without proper training. Early in the year, workers from a private pineapple-producing company organized a labor strike urging their employer to comply with basic labor laws, including paying minimum wage and recognizing their right to unionize.

Ecuador

Executive Summary

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

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of torture and abuse by police officers and prison guards; harsh prison conditions; official corruption at high levels of government; criminalization of libel, although there were no reported cases during the year; violence against women; and the use of child labor.

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

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

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

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

On July 3, the National Assembly announced the creation of a temporary committee to investigate the conclusions reached by a 2012 government panel convened by former president Correa to investigate the 2010 killing of air force general Jorge Gabela. The panel had concluded the act was perpetrated by “common criminals” and was not part of a larger plot. General Gabela was an outspoken critic of the Correa administration’s plan to purchase Indian-made Dhruv helicopters in 2007 and 2008. Multiple Dhruv helicopters crashed due to mechanical failure, killing several persons.

b. Disappearance

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

On July 3, the National Court of Justice ordered former president Rafael Correa’s pretrial detention and extradition after he failed to appear before the court in Quito, as required under the terms of the court’s June 18 decision to include him in the investigation of the 2012 kidnapping of former opposition legislator Fernando Balda. On November 7, the court ordered Correa, his top intelligence chief, and two former police agents to stand trial. Since the crime of kidnapping cannot be tried in absentia, proceedings against Correa were suspended until his return to the country, either voluntarily or by extradition. Correa continued to live in Belgium at year’s end and contested the court’s decision.

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

While the law prohibits torture and similar forms of intimidation and punishment, there were a few reports police officers and prison guards tortured and abused suspects and prisoners.

On November 14, the Criminal Court of Azuay Province found 37 police officers guilty of the excessive use of force against inmates during a 2016 raid on Turi prison and sentenced them to 106 days in prison. The court also fined the officers $500 each (the official currency is the U.S. dollar) and ordered the state to provide medical and psychological services to the affected prisoners. The court found four police officers not guilty and allowed one to complete her sentence later due to health concerns.

In August nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported they continued to receive new allegations of torture involving inmates at Turi prison, separate from the 2016 case. Prisoners claimed they were tortured and subjected to other forms of degrading treatment, including arbitrary beatings, exposure to extreme temperatures, and electric shocks. The daily newspaper La Hora reported in August 2017 that a doctor confirmed a prisoner’s claims of torture and other forms of degrading treatment during an examination. The government continued to investigate these claims at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to food shortages, overcrowding, harassment by security guards against prisoners and visitors, physical and sexual abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: The 2016 earthquake, which damaged the penitentiary facility in the town of Portoviejo, exacerbated overcrowding in some prisons, causing relocation of prisoners to other facilities that were already over capacity. In an August 23 article in the daily newspaper El Comercio, Rosana Alvarado, then minister of justice, human rights, and worship, reported the prison population was 37 percent above designated capacity.

Prisoners and human rights activists complained of lack of resources for inmates. Relatives of the inmates reported public officials expected prisoners to buy provisions from the prison centers on a monthly basis and that prison officials did not allow families of inmates to provide basic supplies purchased outside the prison, including clothing and toiletries.

In some facilities health measures were sufficient only for emergency care. Prisoners complained of a lack of medicine and access to dental care; harsh living conditions, including sanitary problems; insufficient food and the poor nutritional quality of the food; and lack of heating and hot water.

Protecting the health and safety of prisoners remained a problem. NGOs expressed concern about mixing prisoners from various criminal gangs in prison units. On March 9, then justice minister Alvarado opened an investigation into the shooting of an inmate in Turi prison two days earlier during an arms control operation carried out by the police intelligence unit. The Ecumenical Commission for Human Rights, a local NGO, reported that as of August 22, it had received information concerning deaths due to prisoner-on-prisoner violence.

On February 15, a preliminary trial hearing was held on the 2017 allegations regarding a criminal extortion network at the Turi prison. Public Prosecutor Maria Belen Corredores accused the former director of Turi prison and two inmates of running a network that extorted at least 67 individuals inside the prison. Former minister of interior Diego Fuentes reported in 2017 that a criminal network in Turi prison had extorted relatives of inmates by demanding payments between $200 and $800 in exchange for the inmates’ physical safety. According to local NGOs, prison authorities threatened family members of prisoners who died or suffered serious injuries to prevent them from making public complaints.

On August 6, human rights activist Anunziatta Valdez reported female visitors to prisons continued to be subject to degrading treatment, including being forced to remove their clothing and have their genitalia illuminated by flashlights, despite 2016 guidelines that prohibit bodily searches of visitors and allow the use of body scanners. While law enforcement officials denied the accusations by Valdez, they noted body scanners might not be working in all prisons.

As part of a government reorganization and downsizing plan to reduce public spending, in August the government announced the elimination of the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Worship, whose responsibilities in prison administration were to be transferred to another entity. In October Minister of Interior Maria Paula Romo announced a technical secretariat would assume responsibility for managing the prison system within 90 days of the signing of a new decree in November.

Administration: Authorities sometimes conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. Public defenders assisted inmates in filing complaints and other motions. Some prisoners remained incarcerated after completing their sentences due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and corruption.

Independent Monitoring: NGOs continued to report restrictions to monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. According to the human rights NGO Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, authorities failed to respond to many requests by independent observers to visit prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but there were reports that provincial and local authorities did not always observe these provisions. According to NGOs, illegal detentions continued to occur during the year.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police maintains internal security and law enforcement and is under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior. The military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security. The military also had some domestic security responsibilities until August 1, when the Constitutional Court repealed a 2015 constitutional amendment authorizing the armed forces to provide comprehensive support to the domestic security of the state. Police and military share responsibility for border enforcement. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Interior. The Internal Affairs Unit of the National Police investigates killings by police and can refer cases to the courts. An intelligence branch within the military has a role similar to the police internal affairs unit. The law states that the State Prosecutor’s Office must be involved in all investigations concerning human rights abuses, including unlawful killings and forced disappearance.

Insufficient training and poor supervision continued to impair the effectiveness of the National Police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and the armed forces. The government has mechanisms as outlined in the constitution to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

Police received required human rights instruction in basic training, after promotions, and in training academies for specialized units. The police academy integrated human rights training throughout a four-year training program for cadets.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires authorities to issue specific written arrest orders prior to detention, and a judge must charge a suspect with a specific criminal offense within 24 hours of arrest. Authorities generally observed this time limit, although in some provinces initial detention was often considerably longer. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them. By law, if the initial investigation report is incriminating, the judge, upon the prosecutor’s request, may order pretrial detention. Judges at times ordered a detainee’s release pending trial with the use of ankle bracelets.

Detainees have a constitutional right to an attorney. Those without financial means to pay for an attorney have the right to request a court-appointed attorney from the Public Defenders’ Office. Although there were many available court-appointed defenders, the number of cases and limited time to prepare for the defense continued to represent a disadvantage during trials.

The law entitles detainees prompt access to lawyers and family members, but NGOs continued to report delays depending on the circumstances and the willingness of local courts and prison guards to enforce the law.

Pretrial Detention: Corruption and general judicial inefficiency caused trial delays. Police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges did not receive adequate training. In September 2017 then justice minister Alvarado reported that 36 percent of inmates awaited sentencing. The length of pretrial detention did not usually exceed the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, outside pressure and corruption impaired the judicial process. Legal experts, bar associations, and NGOs reported on the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and faster resolution of legal cases. In April the independent Transition Council on Citizen Participation and Social Control (T-CPCCS) began its evaluation of judicial entities, as mandated by a February 4 national referendum. On June 4 and August 31, respectively, the T-CPCCS announced a unanimous decision to remove the leading members of the Judicial Council and Constitutional Court from their positions for failing to carry out their duties and responsibilities. The T-CPCCS cited examples of the arbitrary appointment and removal of judges based on political criteria.

On September 30, media reported 222 individuals had been found guilty of charges stemming from their involvement in the 2010 protest, known as 30-S, against austerity measures imposed by former president Correa’s government. Seventy-four investigations of law enforcement and military officers continued. On February 20, law enforcement and military officers previously indicted for participating in 30-S demanded an investigation into former government and intelligence officials whom they accused of manipulating and altering evidence during their trial preparation. This request followed public statements made by the former comptroller, General Carlos Polit, that officials had contracted “services” to alter evidence in the 30-S investigations. The families of the five persons killed during 30-S (two police officers, two military members, and a university student) continued to demand the government provide them full access to information and conduct a transparent investigation.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, although delays occurred frequently. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges in detail. The accused have the right to consult with an attorney or to have one provided and to appeal. Defendants have the right to free assistance from an interpreter, but some defendants complained about the lack of an interpreter at court hearings. Defendants have the right to adequate time and resources to prepare their defense, although in practice this was not always the case, and delays in providing translation services made this difficult for some foreign defendants. Foreigners also often faced a language barrier with their public defenders, which impaired their ability to present a defense. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. The accused may also present evidence and call witnesses, invoke the right against self-incrimination, and confront and cross-examine witnesses.

Judges reportedly rendered decisions more quickly or more slowly due to political pressure or fear in some cases. There were reported delays of up to one year in scheduling some trials.

Criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing congested dockets in criminal cases produced “simplified” proceedings in pretrial stages, resulting in faster resolution of cases. Prisoners reported that after cases reached a higher court, they had lengthy delays in receiving dates for preliminary hearings.

The regular court system tried most defendants, although some indigenous groups judged members independently under their own community rules for violations that occurred in indigenous territory.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil courts and the Administrative Conflicts Tribunal, generally considered independent and impartial, handle lawsuits seeking damages for, or immediate ending of, human rights violations. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically and to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

On March 19, President Moreno announced the National Secretariat of Intelligence would be restructured and renamed in response to criticism that it had engaged in physical surveillance of human rights, environmental and labor activists, and opposition politicians during the Correa administration. On September 21, President Moreno issued a decree establishing the Center for Strategic Intelligence to oversee and coordinate the production of intelligence information that contributes to the public security of the state.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but other laws restrict this right. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported the 2013 communication law “institutionalized repressive mechanisms, established state regulation of editorial content, and gave authorities the power to impose arbitrary sanctions and censor the press.” During a visit in August, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) rapporteur for freedom of expression, Edison Lanza, highlighted improvements in freedom of expression but said the 2013 law would remain a “freedom of expression guillotine” unless adequately reformed. The rapporteur also noted the need for reforms to the criminal code’s treatment of “slander” and “insult,” which do not meet international standards. A Constitutional Court ruling in August to repeal 2015 constitutional amendments re-established communication as a right and not a public service.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could usually discuss matters of general public interest publicly or privately without reprisal, although various civil society groups, journalists, and academics argued the law limited their freedom of expression and restricted independent media. Under the 2013 law, media outlets are legally responsible for the opinions of their contributors. The 2014 criminal code prohibits citizens from threatening or insulting the president or executive branch, and penalties for violators range from six months’ to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of $16 to $77. There were no reports the government invoked these laws to restrict freedom of expression during the year.

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

On January 16, independent watchdog organization Freedom House classified the country as partially free. Although the 2013 law remains in place, journalists reported attacks on the media decreased and that government-aligned public media outlets were more objective and balanced in both their news reporting and editorial pages. The domestic freedom of expression watchdog group Fundamedios registered 156 attacks on freedom of expression from May 2017 to May 2018. This was down from 499 and 491 attacks on freedom of expression reported in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

The law limits the ability of media to provide election coverage during the official campaign period. A constitutional court ruling in 2012 affirmed the right of the press to conduct interviews and file special reports on candidates and issues during the campaign period, but it left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.

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

The law mandates the broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet free of charge. President Moreno reduced the amount of time required for presidential broadcasts to one 15-minute weekly program from the three- to four-hour weekly program by his predecessor. In July 2017 President Moreno replaced the general editor of the state-owned newspaper El Telegrafo, which traditionally strongly advocated for the Correa administration and its policies.

The law calls for the redistribution of broadcast frequencies to divide media ownership between private media (33 percent), public media (33 percent), and community media (34 percent). In August 2017 the redistribution of frequencies was suspended following protests by opposition groups about the lack of transparency in the government-run tendering process for airwaves. On May 28, the Office of the Comptroller General annulled the awarding of broadcast frequencies from 2016 to August 2017, citing multiple irregularities. During a visit in August, the IACHR freedom of expression rapporteur noted that under former president Correa there were obvious irregularities in the awarding of broadcast frequencies and emphasized that the state did not need one-third of the available frequencies to inform the public.

Violence and Harassment: On July 20, two reporters from online political news blog La Posta began to receive threatening telephone calls and online attacks against their website following their announcement of a crowdfunding campaign for a trip to Belgium to investigate former president Correa. The harassment included the posting of pictures of their residences and personal telephone numbers in addition to threats of harm against them and their family members. On July 24, the reporters filed a complaint with the Office of the Public Prosecutor.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In contrast with 2017, the government did not penalize those who published items counter to government guidelines described by the law. There also were no reports of direct or indirect government censorship of media. On May 14, President Moreno announced the elimination of the Superintendence of Information and Communication (SUPERCOM). This control entity issued 429 monetary fines against media outlets and reporters between 2014 and 2017. On March 7, the T-CPCCS unanimously dismissed the former head of SUPERCOM, Carlos Ochoa, based on a December 2017 ruling by the Comptroller General’s Office that found Ochoa guilty of improper use of public resources and fined him $115,810 for his purchase of a private vehicle with funds from a state television station.

The law requires the media to “cover and broadcast facts of public interest” and defines the failure to do so as a form of prior censorship. The law also imposes local content quotas on the media, including a requirement that a minimum of 60 percent of content on television and 50 percent of radio content be produced domestically. Additionally, the law requires that advertising be produced domestically and prohibits any advertising deemed to be sexist, racist, or discriminatory in nature. Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Health must approve all advertising for food or health products.

Libel/Slander Laws: In contrast with 2017, there were no reports the government used libel laws against media companies, journalists, and private individuals. Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. The law includes a prohibition of “media lynching,” described as the “coordinated and repetitive dissemination of information, directly or by third parties through the media, intended to discredit a person or company or reduce its public credibility.” The exact terms of this rule remained vaguely defined but threatened to limit the media’s ability to conduct investigative reporting.

Nongovernmental Impact: On April 13, President Moreno confirmed the deaths of three members of a local news team who were kidnapped on March 26 by a narcoguerrilla group called the Oliver Sinisterra Front, led by Walter Arizala, alias “Guacho.” The team was kidnapped while reporting on drug-related violence in Esmeraldas Province along the northern border with Colombia. President Moreno requested the IACHR’s technical support for investigation of the incident. In July the IACHR established a special mechanism, with the support of the government, that provided access to information and facilitated discussions with security personnel and the families of the victims. Some journalists expressed concern actions by organized-crime groups on the northern border could lead to self-censorship.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: President Moreno publicly highlighted the important role the press plays in fighting corruption. He promoted a national dialogue between civil society representatives and government agencies to address differences in opinion regarding the 2013 communications law. On July 12, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a press release underscoring the government’s efforts “in working to improve relations with the press, encouraging investigative journalists, and vowing to reform the repressive communication law.”

President Moreno invited IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Edison Lanza to visit the country to verify the country’s compliance with its international obligations on promoting and protecting the right to freedom of expression. This was the first visit by the IACHR special rapporteur in more than a decade. The IACHR’s 2014 request to visit the country had been denied by the previous government. Following an August 23 meeting between President Moreno and Lanza, the government announced the creation of a Committee for the Protection of Journalists, charged with drafting security protocols, providing training, and ensuring that threats against journalists are investigated. Lanza noted the IACHR put in place a special mechanism with the support of the government to investigate the kidnapping and killing of the El Comercio team.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

A government regulation requires that internet service providers comply with all information requests from the superintendent of telecommunications, allowing access to client addresses and information without a judicial order. The law holds a media outlet responsible for online comments from readers if the outlet has not established mechanisms for commenters to register their personal data (including national identification number) or created a system to delete offensive comments. The law also prohibits media from using information obtained from social media unless they can verify the author of the information.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 57 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

Early in the year, the Pichincha Provincial Prosecutor’s Office recommended the closure of the Ministry of Interior’s investigation into Luis Vivanco, former editor in chief of La Hora, for his tweets that “attempt[ed] to disparage the actions carried out by the government in its permanent fight against corruption.” As of October 31, authorities had not informed Vivanco if they would close the case.

Following his October visit, UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression David Kaye noted the Moreno administration appeared to have turned away from the previous administration’s efforts to restrict and punish online activity.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. In August the National Assembly passed a set of reforms effectively repealing a 2016 law that had eliminated public funding for research at universities operating under international agreements.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Public rallies require prior government permits, which authorities usually granted.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association. In October 2017 President Moreno issued Decree 193 to replace executive Decrees 16 and 739 that regulated freedom of association. NGOs claimed former president Correa used the latter two decrees–which required all social organizations, including NGOs, to reregister in a new online registration system within one year of the decree or face dissolution–to stymie opposition and limit foreign influence. Following implementation of the new decree, the government allowed the reincorporation of two organizations Correa had dissolved.

Decree 193 simplifies the application process to obtain and maintain legal status for NGOs and social groups by relaxing and eliminating some bureaucratic hurdles. The decree closes loopholes exploited by the former government to infiltrate and fracture NGOs, including the elimination of a clause forcing groups to provide membership to any person, even against the will of the other members. International NGOs faced fewer restrictions on working in the country under the new decree. It ends the policy requiring government entities to collect information through the country’s diplomatic missions abroad on the “legality, solvency, and seriousness” of foreign NGOs before they are allowed to work in the country. Civil society representatives said the new decree was a step in the right direction but lamented that it leaves in place some Correa-era policies, including the right of the government to dissolve organizations for poorly defined reasons.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The 2017 Human Mobility Law codifies protections guaranteed to migrants in the constitution, advances the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and establishes provisions such as equal treatment before the law for migrants, nonrefoulement, and noncriminalization of irregular migration. As of September the government was developing regulations to implement the law. During the year large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers, and the country’s economic slowdown, strained the government’s immigration and social services, which worked closely with local, international, and civil society organizations to cover assistance gaps. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

From January to April, a series of attacks by a narcoguerrilla group against military and police personnel and installations in Esmeraldas Province, including the bombing of a police station, led persons to leave the area for security concerns. The Catholic Church provided shelter to the internally displaced families, with local government assistance. On April 17, Economic and Social Inclusion Minister Berenice Cordero reported that 158 families displaced by the attacks received government assistance.

On July 8, government officials reported the closure of the last shelter for families affected by the 2016 earthquake in the province of Manabi. The government noted all families had a place to live due to reconstruction efforts and the housing assistance provided by the Ministry of Urban Development.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

The country’s population of recognized refugees and asylum seekers, mostly Colombians, numbered more than 64,300. During the first 10 months of the year, the Ministry of Interior registered more than 700,000 Venezuelans entering the country, more than double the number (288,000) who entered in all of 2017. As of September authorities estimated that 250,000 Venezuelans were residing in Ecuador and had issued more than 100,000 Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) temporary residency visas to Venezuelans, with 50,000 more being processed.

UNHCR reported an increase in Colombians seeking asylum during the year. Venezuelans were the second-highest nationality of asylum seekers, with approximately 9,000 Venezuelan asylum cases recorded during the first nine months of the year, according to UNHCR. An international organization reported many Venezuelans did not apply for asylum because they were unfamiliar with the process or did not know how long they would stay.

Access to Basic Services: Of refugees and asylum seekers, 40 percent resided in isolated regions with limited basic services, primarily along the northern border, or in poor urban areas of major cities such as Quito and Guayaquil. According to UNHCR and NGOs, refugees encountered discrimination in employment and housing. A 2016 agreement between UNHCR and the Directorate General of Civil Registry enables recognized refugees to receive national identification cards that facilitate access to education, employment, banking, and other public services. A nonprofit organization reported the Civil Registry began issuing national identification cards for refugees in November 2017 but offered this service in only three cities, which resulted in refugees incurring additional expenses for travel. The Civil Registry also requires authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, and often refugees were required to return to the ministry if the information on their records contained errors.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and offered naturalization to refugees, although few refugees were able to naturalize as citizens or gain permanent resident status due to an expensive and lengthy legal process. Discrimination, difficulty in obtaining adequate documentation, and limited access to formal employment and housing affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population.

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

As a member of UNASUR and an associate member of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), Ecuador issues temporary visas to citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and the government waived the visa application fee for Colombian and Paraguayan citizens. Foreigners in an irregular migratory status in the country were eligible to apply for the visa. While the UNASUR and MERCOSUR visas do not provide a safeguard against forced repatriation, UNHCR noted that many persons opted for these visas, since the procedure was faster than the refugee process and carried less social stigma. Visa recipients are able to work and study for two years. The visas are renewable based upon the same guidelines as the initial application, with only the additional requirement that the applicant provide an Ecuadorian Criminal Records Certificate.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. On February 4, a national referendum restored term limits for all elected positions, including the presidency, which had been eliminated through a 2015 constitutional amendment.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On February 4, 82 percent of citizens voted in a national referendum that consisted of seven questions related to corruption, environmental rights, child abuse, real estate capital gains, elimination of indefinite reelection, and institutional reforms of oversight bodies. The “yes” vote won an average of 68 percent on all seven questions. International observers from the Organization of American States, UNASUR, Association of World Election Bodies, Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisms, and Council of Electoral Specialists of Latin America concluded the electoral process was orderly and peaceful, and they did not note any significant incidents.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The government launched or continued multiple investigations, judicial proceedings, and legislative audits of officials accused of corruption related to state contracts and commercial endeavors that reached the highest levels of government, including former vice president Jorge Glas, sentenced in December 2017 to six years in prison for committing illicit association in relation to the Odebrecht case.

In September local media outlets reported on accusations by former National Assembly staffers that legislators exchanged staff positions for personal financial benefits, including contributions to political movements, free meals, and loans. Accusations were leveled against members of various political parties, including Alianza PAIS, Creating Opportunities, Pachakutik, and Partido Social Cristiano. In response National Assembly president Elizabeth Cabezas signed agreements with the Financial Analysis Unit, Comptroller General’s Office, and Attorney General’s Office to conduct a full investigation of the accusations. On November 13, the National Assembly voted to remove National Assembly member Norma Vallejo from her position.

On May 9, the National Court of Justice sentenced former minister of hydrocarbons Carlos Pareja Yannuzzelli to 10 years in prison for the crime of illicit enrichment in relation to state oil company Petroecuador. This sentence was in addition to the sentence of five years’ imprisonment that Pareja and Alex Bravo, the former manager of Petroecuador, received in February 2017 for bribery, and the six-year sentence Pareja, former general manager of Petroecuador Marco Calvopina, and Petroecuador’s operations submanager Diego Tapia received in October 2017 for illicit association. The Second Criminal Court of Pichincha sentenced 14 other individuals to prison for bribery in relation to the Petroecuador corruption case and noted an additional 23 cases of corruption related to Petroecuador were under investigation. Trials related to the Petroecuador case continued.

As part of the February 4 national referendum called by President Moreno, citizens approved a constitutional amendment ending the statute of limitations on corruption charges and prohibiting those sentenced for crimes related to the mismanagement of public resources from running for public office or contracting with the state. In April the T-CPCCS began its evaluation of independent state bodies, as mandated by the referendum, ordering the dismissal of the leading members of the Judicial Council and National Electoral Council, among others, citing failures to perform their duties according to the law and irregularities in their decision making. As of October the T-CPCCS had dismissed 28 of the 29 individuals who were evaluated.

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

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

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

In October 2017 President Moreno issued decree 193 to replace executive decrees 16 and 739 that regulated freedom of association. Domestic and international human rights organizations are subject to the NGO regulations in the decree. Civil society representatives said the new decree was a step in the right direction but noted it leaves in place some Correa-era policies, including the right of the government to dissolve organizations for imprecise reasons (see section 2.b.).

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

On May 2, the T-CPCCS voted unanimously to dismiss Ombudsman Ramiro Rivadeneira after he refused to submit to an official evaluation by the control body. In 2016 several NGOs issued a joint press release stating that the Ombudsman’s Office “had failed in fulfilling its role of defending the rights of the people, and focused more on protecting its image and the [Correa] government.”

A special unit within the Prosecutor’s Office has responsibility for investigating crimes revealed in the 2010 Truth Commission report on alleged human rights abuses that occurred between 1984 and 2008. On June 11, then justice minister Alvarado participated in a signing ceremony of 25 reparation agreements for victims of human rights abuses reported by the 2010 Truth Commission, bringing the total number signed under President Moreno to 101, in contrast with one signed during Correa’s decade in power.

On September 13, the National Anticorruption Commission requested the creation of a joint working group with the Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether former president Correa, military officers, and other public officials were criminally liable for the abuses reported in the 2010 protest, known as 30-S. Anticorruption Commission Chairman Jorge Rodriguez stated that a thorough investigation was required to determine who was behind the “persecution of more than 300 citizens who lost their jobs and in some cases even their lives.”

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. Rape is punishable with penalties of up to 22 years in prison. The criminal code includes spousal rape under crimes against sexual and reproductive integrity. The penalty for rape where death occurred is 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence is punishable with penalties ranging from four days to seven years in prison and a fine for “damages, pain, and suffering” ranging from $350 to $5,300, depending on the severity of the crime. The law stipulates penalties for physical, psychological, and sexual violence.

On February 5, the Comprehensive Law to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women went into effect. The law seeks to prevent and provide reparation to victims of gender-based violence. It also advocates for the re-education of aggressors. The law defines rape, including spousal rape or incest, forced prostitution, sex trafficking, sexual harassment and other analogous practices, as forms of sexual violence. It also entitles victims to immediate protective measures designed to prevent or cease violence, such as police surveillance, placement in shelters, and awareness programs for the victim and family.

The Office of the Public Prosecutor reported 202 killings of women between January 2017 and July 2018. A report by four civil society organizations indicated there were 64 cases of femicide between January 1 and October 2. According to local experts, reporting rapes and other forms of violence continued to be a traumatic process, particularly for female minors. For example, a rape victim must file a complaint at the Public Prosecutor’s Office and submit to gynecological evaluations akin to rape kits administered by medical experts. Many individuals did not report cases of rape and sexual assault because of fear of retribution from the perpetrator or social stigma.

During the year the government offered installation of emergency buttons in the homes of potential gender-based violence victims and established toll-free telephone lines with personnel trained to support victims of gender-based violence. The Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion, together with some local and provincial governments and NGOs, also provided psychosocial services to victims of sexual and domestic violence. The ministry subsidized shelters and other initiatives, including medical services at care centers and private clinics. Based on 2016 statistics, there were 50 judicial units and 78 courts specializing in gender-based violence. The judicial units have responsibility for collecting complaints and assisting victims in ordering arrest warrants for up to 30 days of detention against the aggressor. Victims and NGOs expressed concern the court system was insufficiently staffed to deal with the caseload and that judges lacked specialized training for dealing with gender-based violence.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of one to five years in prison. The Comprehensive Law to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women defines sexual harassment and other analogous practices as forms of sexual violence and mandates that judges prohibit contact between the aggressor and the victim to prevent revictimization and intimidation. Despite the legal prohibition of sexual harassment, women’s rights organizations described harassment in public spaces as common. The Office of the Public Prosecutor received 739 complaints of sexual harassment during the first trimester of the year. Of the 2,067 complaints received in 2017, as of July officials were investigating 48 cases and the courts had convicted and sentenced 12 perpetrators.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution affords women the same legal status and rights as men. Nevertheless, discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. On March 8, El Universo cited figures by the National Institute of Statistics and Census that in 2017 the average monthly income of an employed man was 20 percent more than a woman working under the same conditions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through birth in the country, birth to an Ecuadorian mother or father abroad, or by naturalization. According to media reports, ethnic minority families and those with limited economic resources continued to show registration rates significantly lower than those of other groups. Government brigades occasionally traveled to remote rural areas to register families and persons with disabilities. While the law prohibits schools from requesting civil registration documents for children to enroll, some schools, mostly public schools, continued to require them. NGOs reported the problem particularly affected refugee children. Other government services, including welfare payments and free primary health care, require some form of identification.

Education: According to the constitution, education is obligatory through ninth grade and free through 12th grade. Nonetheless, costs for school-related items, such as uniforms and books, as well as a lack of space in public schools, continued to be an impediment to adolescents attending school.

Child Abuse: The penal code criminalizes child abuse and provides penalties of 30 days to 90 years in prison depending on the severity of the abuse.

The Office of the Public Prosecutor received 4,800 complaints of rape, sexual harassment, and abuse against minors between 2015 and September 2018. At least 714 of these alleged crimes took place in elementary and secondary schools. NGOs reported that children living in the streets or in rural parts of the country, many of whom came from poor indigenous families, suffered from exploitative conditions. Throughout the year the Ministry of Education sent officials to investigate reported cases of child abuse in educational establishments. In October the National Assembly’s special legislative committee to investigate the judicial handling of child abuse complaints met to review its final draft report. Since its creation in 2017, the committee had issued several reports on the efficiency of government institutions in processing child abuse cases.

Bullying remained a problem in schools and increasingly occurred on social media. On June 22, officials from the Ministry of Education launched a campaign to combat the problem. Antiviolence teams visited 251 public schools in the coastal region to identify bullying and reviewed cases of students with repetitive violent conduct. In the city of Guayaquil, officials reported 175 cases of bullying in the 12 months preceding October.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriage in indigenous communities, particularly in instances in which girls became pregnant following an instance of rape. A Plan International study cited the testimony of public officials who reported that in many cases sexual aggressors compensated violence with payment or exchange of animals, but in some cases victims were forced to marry their aggressors.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, with penalties of 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. The age of consent is 14. The penalty for commercial sexual exploitation of children under the age of 18 is 13 to 16 years in prison. Child sex trafficking remained a problem, despite government enforcement efforts.

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

Anti-Semitism

There is a small Jewish community, including an estimated 250 families in Quito and 82 families in Guayaquil, according to local synagogues. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The National Council on Disability Equality oversees government policies regarding persons with disabilities.

President Moreno promoted social initiatives to raise awareness about disability rights. In October 2017 the president replaced procedural regulations that went into effect in 2013 with executive decree 194, which broadens the defined legal recognition of a disability and increases tax benefits for persons with disabilities; however, human rights activists noted that much work remained. Although the law mandates access to buildings and promotes equal access to health, education, social security, employment, transport, and communications for persons with disabilities, the government did not fully enforce it. According to a December 2017 article in El Telegrafo, the National Council on Disability Equality reported there were not enough ramps for persons with disabilities that used public transport in Quito and that architectural barriers used in constructions in public spaces were obstacles.

The law stipulates rights to health facilities and insurance coverage, increases access and inclusion in education, and creates a new program for scholarships and student loans for persons with disabilities. The law provides for special job security for those with disabilities and requires that 4 percent of employees in all public and private enterprises with more than 25 employees be persons with disabilities. The law also gives the Ombudsman’s Office responsibility for following up on alleged violations of the rights of persons with disabilities and stipulates a series of fines and punishments for lack of compliance with the law.

The law directs the electoral authorities to provide access to voting and to facilitate voting for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution declares the state to be plurinational and affirms the principle of nondiscrimination by recognizing the rights of indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Montubio (an independent ethnic group of persons with a mixture of Afro-Ecuadorian, indigenous, and Spanish ancestry) communities. It also mandates affirmative action policies to provide for the representation of minorities. In 2009 the government began implementing a national plan to eradicate racial discrimination and exclusion based on ethnic and cultural differences. From 2013 to 2017, the government implemented a national agenda to promote the equality of indigenous peoples and nationalities.

Afro-Ecuadorian citizens, who accounted for approximately 7 percent of the population according to the 2010 census, suffered pervasive discrimination, particularly with regard to educational and economic opportunity. Afro-Ecuadorian organizations noted that, despite the absence of official discrimination, societal discrimination and stereotyping in media continued to result in barriers to employment, education, and housing. Afro-Ecuadorian activist Antonio Ayovi reported in September 2017 that “racism, discrimination, and intolerance affect almost all sectors of the Ecuadorian population ….”

Indigenous People

The constitution strengthens the rights of indigenous persons and recognizes Kichwa and Shuar as “official languages of intercultural relations.” The law provides indigenous persons the same civil and political rights as other citizens. The constitution grants indigenous persons and communities the right to prior consultation before the execution of projects that affect their rights. It also provides for their right to participate in decisions about the exploitation of nonrenewable resources located on their lands and that could affect their culture or environment. The constitution also allows indigenous persons to participate in the economic benefits natural resource extraction projects may bring and to receive compensation for any damages that result.

In the case of environmental damage, the law mandates immediate corrective government action and full restitution from the responsible company, although some indigenous organizations asserted a lack of consultation and remedial action. The law recognizes the rights of indigenous communities to hold property communally, although the titling process remained incomplete in parts of the country.

Throughout the year indigenous groups engaged in a national dialogue with the government in which they raised issues related to community development, intercultural education, respect for the application of indigenous law, and environmental rights and extractive industries. The National Council on the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities reported on January 22 that almost 23 percent of indigenous women were underemployed, 36 percent were illiterate, and political participation of indigenous woman continued to lag behind the rest of the population. During the February 4 national referendum, voters approved two constitutional amendments relevant to indigenous communities, prohibiting mining in urban and protected areas and limiting oil drilling in Yasuni National Park.

On July 17, legislator Encarnacion Duchi reported that in 2017 the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador filed 180 petitions for amnesty related to convictions of indigenous protesters during the Correa administration. Human rights activists claimed that under Correa the government forcibly evicted indigenous communities from their ancestral territory, without respecting their constitutional rights, to facilitate the establishment of Chinese mining projects, leading to clashes between the Shuar community and local security forces. Duchi said the National Assembly’s Administrative Council had deemed only 33 cases merit-worthy and approved only one case.

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

The constitution includes the principle of nondiscrimination and the right to decide one’s sexual orientation as a right. The law also prohibits hate crimes. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons continued to suffer discrimination from both public and private entities, particularly in education, employment, and access to health care. LGBTI organizations reported that transgender persons suffered more discrimination because they were more visible.

On May 31, the Constitutional Court ordered the Civil Registry Office to register a seven-year-old girl parented by a female same-sex couple with their last names. Human rights activists said the decision set a precedent favoring LGBTI rights by officially recognizing same-sex couples and their children as a family unit.

The government, led by the Ombudsman’s Office, was generally responsive to concerns raised by the LGBTI community. Nevertheless, LGBTI groups claimed police and prosecutors did not thoroughly investigate deaths of LGBTI individuals, including when there was suspicion that the killing was motivated by anti-LGBTI bias.

LGBTI persons continued to report that the government sometimes denied their right of equal access to formal education. LGBTI students, particularly transgender students, sometimes were discouraged from attending classes (particularly in higher education). LGBTI students, particularly transgender individuals, were more susceptible to bullying in schools, and human rights activists argued the Ministry of Education and school administrators were slow to respond to complaints. LGBTI persons involved in the commercial sex trade reported abusive situations, extortion, and mistreatment by security forces.

LGBTI organizations and the government continued to report that private treatment centers confined LGBTI persons against their will to “cure” or “dehomosexualize” them, although such treatment is illegal. The clinics reportedly used cruel treatments, including rape, in an attempt to change LGBTI persons’ sexual orientation. According to a local LGBTI organization, law enforcement officials closed at least two such clinics in Guayaquil in 2017.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, with some exceptions, provides for the rights of workers to form and join trade unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits the dismissal of union members from the moment a union notifies the labor inspector of its general assembly until the formation of its first executive board, the first legal steps in forming a union. Employers are not required to reinstate workers fired for union activity but are required to pay compensation and fines to such workers. According to a May 1 article in El Universo, the country’s 2,569 labor unions represented 4 to 8 percent of all public and private workers.

The Ministry of Labor reported the registration of 52 new labor organizations as of May 1. Companies that dismiss employees attempting to form a union or that dismiss union members exercising their rights face a fine of one year’s annual salary for each individual wrongfully let go. Individual workers still employed may take complaints against employers to the Labor Inspection Office. Individuals no longer employed may take their complaints to courts charged with protecting labor rights. Unions may also take complaints to a tripartite arbitration board established to hear these complaints. These procedures often were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

All private employers with a union are required to negotiate collectively when the union so requests. The law requires a minimum of 30 workers for the creation of an association, work committee, or labor union, and it does not allow foreign citizens to serve as trade union officers. On April 12, the Ministry of Labor authorized, through ministerial resolutions, eight new types of labor contracts, with specific provisions for the flower, palm, fishing, livestock, and construction sectors.

The law provides for the right of private-sector employees to strike on their own behalf and conduct three-day solidarity strikes or boycotts on the behalf of other industries. The law also establishes, however, that all collective labor disputes be referred to courts of conciliation and arbitration. In 2014 the International Labor Organization (ILO) called on the government to amend this provision by limiting such compulsory arbitration to cases where both parties agree to arbitration and the strike involves the public servants who exercise authority in the name of the state or who perform essential services. As of July 30, the government had not taken any action.

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

The law prohibits formation of unions and restricts the right to collective bargaining and striking of public-sector workers in “strategic sectors.” Such sectors include workers in the health, environmental sanitation, education, justice, firefighting, social security, electrical energy, drinking water and sewage, hydrocarbon production, fuel processing, transport and distribution, public transportation, and post and telecommunications sectors. Some of the sectors defined as strategic exceed the ILO standard for essential services. Workers in these sectors attempting to strike may face charges with penalties of between two and five years’ imprisonment. The government effectively enforced the law. There were no reports of strikes by workers from strategic sectors during the year. All unions in the public sector fall under the Confederation of Public Servants. Although the vast majority of public-sector workers also maintained membership in labor-sector associations, the law does not allow such associations to bargain collectively or strike. In 2015 the National Assembly amended the constitution to specify that only the private sector could engage in collective bargaining.

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including all forms of labor exploitation; child labor; illegal adoption; servile marriage; and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. Penalties under this article range from 13 to 16 years’ imprisonment. The law penalizes forced labor and other forms of exploitative labor, including all labor of children younger than age 15. Penalties for forced or exploitative labor are 10 to 13 years’ imprisonment.

Limited resources, limited presence in parts of the country, and inadequate victim services hampered the effectiveness of police and prosecutors. NGOs and media outlets continued to report that children were being subjected to forced criminality, particularly drug trafficking. On June 1, the Ministry of Justice confirmed there were 1,100 underage offenders in the country, many of whom were recruited by organized-crime groups to participate in drug trafficking and gang activity.

Reports of forced labor of children (see section 7.c.) and women persisted. Observers most frequently reported women as victims of sex trafficking or of working in private homes under conditions that may amount to human trafficking. On July 30, Ministry of Interior officials reported law enforcement agents rescued 40 victims of sex trafficking in the first seven months of the year.

Indigenous Afro-Ecuadorians, as well as Colombian refugees and migrants (see section 7.d.), were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Traffickers often recruited children from impoverished families under false promises of employment; these children were then forced to beg or to work as domestic servants, in sweatshops, or as street and commercial vendors within the country or in other South American countries. Women and children were exploited in forced labor and sex trafficking abroad, including in other South American countries, the United States, and Europe. The country is a destination for Colombian, Peruvian, Paraguayan, and Cuban women and girls exploited in sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced begging.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. It sets the minimum working age for minors at 15 for all types of labor and the maximum hours a minor may work at six hours per day, five days per week. The law requires employers of minors who have not completed elementary school to give them two additional hours off from work to complete studies. The law requires employers to pay minors the same wages received by adults for the same type of employment and prohibits minors under the age of 18 from working in “dangerous and unhealthy” conditions. A 2015 ministerial accord lists 27 economic activities that qualify as dangerous and unhealthy. Other illegal activities, including slavery, prostitution, pornography, and drug trafficking, are punishable. The law identifies work that is “likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of a child,” which includes work in mines, garbage dumps, slaughterhouses, livestock, fishing, textiles, logging, and domestic service, as well as any work environment requiring exposure to toxic or dangerous substances, dust, dangerous machinery, or loud noises.

The law establishes penalties for violations of child labor laws, including fines and closure of the business. Fines range from $50 to $300 for parents or guardians and $200 to $1,000 for employers hiring children younger than age 15. Although penalties were enforced, they were not sufficient to deter violations. If an employer commits a second child labor violation, inspectors may close the business temporarily. The law authorizes labor inspectors to conduct inspections at factories, workshops, and any other location when they consider it appropriate or when an employer or worker requests an inspection.

The Ministries of Labor and of Economic and Social Inclusion and the Minors’ Tribunal are responsible for enforcing child labor laws.

Statistics from the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC) and the National Survey of Employment, Unemployment, and Underemployment reported in March 2017 a total of 522,656 children and adolescents between the ages of five and 17 working in the country. According to the newspaper El Tiempo, the provinces of Azuay, Cotopaxi, and Chimborazo had the highest child labor rates. In a 2015 INEC study, more than 73 percent of child laborers up to age 14 worked in agriculture, while trade and manufacturing represented 12.2 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively, of the overall child labor rate.

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

Child labor remained a problem in the informal sector. In rural areas children were most likely found working in family-owned farms or businesses, including banana and rose farms. Labor organizations reported children were largely removed from the most heavy and dangerous work. Additionally, there were reports of rural children working in small-scale, family-run brick-making and gold-mining operations. In urban areas many children under age 15 worked informally to support themselves or to augment family income by peddling on the street, shining shoes, or begging.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

Employment discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. On October 4, El Telegrafo reported the Ministry of Labor received 347 complaints from employees about workplace harassment between 2015 and 2017. On August 24, the National Assembly approved a series of labor reforms for employees in the public and private sectors to prevent workplace harassment.

Afro-Ecuadorians continued to demand more opportunities in the workforce and complained that employers often profiled them based on their job application photographs. Indigenous and LGBTI individuals also experienced employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a minimum monthly wage, which was set at $394 as of December. Additional benefits mandated by law correspond to 40 percent of this salary. The official poverty level was $85.58 per month, and the official extreme poverty level was $48.23 per month.

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

The law provides for the health and safety of workers and outlines health and safety standards, which were current and appropriate for the country’s main industries. These regulations and standards were not applied in the informal sector, which employed more than 45 percent of the working population.

The Ministry of Labor reported there were 150 labor inspectors responsible for enforcing all labor laws. According to the ministry, the inspectors completed six general and comprehensive inspections each month. The government, the ILO, and civil society organizations all agreed that the number of inspectors was insufficient to ensure adequate coverage of the entire country. According to the ILO’s technical advice of a ratio of approximately one inspector for every 15,000 workers in developing economies, the country should employ approximately 535 inspectors.

Authorities may conduct labor inspections by appointment or after a worker complaint. If a worker requests an inspection and a Ministry of Labor inspector confirms a workplace hazard, the inspector then may close the workplace. Labor inspections generally occurred because of complaints, not as a preventive measure, and inspectors could not make unannounced visits. In some cases violations were remedied, but other cases were subjected to legal challenges that delayed changes for months. Penalties were limited to monetary fines between $950 and $6,360; they were not sufficient to deter violations and were often not enforced.

The Ministry of Labor continued its enforcement reforms by increasing labor inspections and increasing the number of workers protected by contracts, minimum wage standards, and registration for social security benefits.

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

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

El Salvador

Executive Summary

El Salvador is a constitutional multiparty republic. Municipal and legislative elections held in March were generally free and fair, according to international observers, although slow tabulation contributed to reporting delays. Free and fair presidential elections took place in 2014.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of unlawful killings of suspected gang members and others by security forces; forced disappearances by military personnel; torture by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of government respect for judicial independence; widespread government corruption; violence against women and girls that was infrequently addressed by the authorities, as well as security force violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; and children engaged in the worst forms of child labor.

Impunity persisted despite government steps to dismiss and prosecute some in the security forces, executive branch, and justice system who committed abuses.

Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of murder, extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking, intimidation, and other threats and violence directed against police, judicial authorities, the business community, journalists, women, and members of vulnerable populations.

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 politically motivated killings. There were reports, however, of security force involvement in extrajudicial killings of suspected gang members. As of July 31, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH) announced it was investigating 22 complaints against police officers, prison guards, and personnel of the Attorney General’s Office for such killings.

The case continued against nine police officers charged in September 2017 with aggravated homicide and concealment stemming from the killing of five persons. Three of the accused were members of the now decommissioned Police Reaction Group (GRP), and police claimed at the time of the events that the deaths were justified homicides.

On March 2, the Attorney General’s Office appealed the September 2017 acquittal of five police officers for aggravated homicide charges in the 2015 killing of a man at a farm in San Blas, San Jose Villanueva. The judge had ruled that the prosecutors failed to prove which of the five officers was specifically responsible for firing the fatal shot and likewise failed to prove conspiracy. On May 4, the Fourth Appellate Court of Appeals confirmed it would retry the case.

On February 23, police authorities in coordination with INTERPOL arrested Jaime Ernesto Bonilla Martinez, who lived in Texas, for participating in at least eight homicides as part of an alleged extermination group operating in San Miguel. The group, composed of civilians, some of whom were alleged rival gang members, and retired and active members of the military and police, was purportedly responsible for murder-for-hire and targeted killings of alleged gang members in San Miguel. Funding for the extermination group reportedly came from Salvadoran citizens living abroad.

As of October 25, alleged gang members had killed 21 police officers. On August 21, the Organized Crime Court convicted 61 MS-13 members of homicide, extortion, illicit trafficking, and conspiracy to kill police officers, among other crimes.

b. Disappearance

There were reports alleging that members of security and law enforcement were involved in unlawful disappearances. Since March 2017 law enforcement agencies had not released data on disappearances, citing a discrepancy between data collected by police and the Attorney General’s Office.

On March 7, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the armed forces were responsible for investigating the disappearance of two 17-year-old boys in Ilopango in 2014. According to the court, seven soldiers detained and searched them, tied their hands with their shoelaces, and took them to Colonia Santa Maria, which was controlled by a rival gang. The two youths missed school that afternoon and were not seen thereafter. The case was ongoing.

In May 2017 a Sonsonate court convicted five soldiers of forced disappearance committed in 2014 and sentenced them to eight years’ imprisonment. Their defense attorneys filed an appeal, and the case remained ongoing. In January the Constitutional Chamber found the military in contempt of their August 2017 order that the Ministry of Defense investigate and report on civilian deaths caused by the military.

On September 1 and in December 2017, the Constitutional Chamber issued two sentences in forced disappearance cases from 1982. The Constitutional Chamber determined that investigations should be carried out on the whereabouts of the victims and underlined the state’s responsibility in ensuring an unobstructed investigation. The chamber noted that the Ministry of Defense and the chief of the joint chiefs of staff of the armed forces were uncooperative in the investigation.

As of October the attorney general had opened investigations into 12 instances of forced disappearance during the 1980-92 civil war.

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports of violations. As of July 31, the PDDH received 18 complaints of torture or cruel or inhuman treatment by the National Civil Police (PNC), the armed forces, and other public officials.

On May 29, a court recommended that colonels Hector Solano Caceres and David Iglesias Montalvo, along with Lieutenant Colonel Ascencio Sermeno face charges for homicide, bribery, and conspiracy for ordering the torture of two men in 2016 in Apaneca. In 2017 six soldiers were convicted in the same case.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and gang activities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a serious threat to prisoners’ health and welfare. As of June 30, the PDDH reported that think tank Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development reported 38,849 inmates were being held in facilities designed for 18,051 inmates.

Convicted inmates and pretrial detainees were sometimes held in the same prison cells.

In June the Salvadoran Institute for Child Development (ISNA) reported 945 juveniles in detention, with 274 of those awaiting trial. Of those, 356 were held on homicide charges, 465 for extortion, 313 for drug-related crimes, and 143 for gang membership. As of July ISNA reported that three minors were killed by gang members while in detention, compared with nine in 2017. ISNA also reported that as of June, seven minors were victims of trafficking in persons, compared with 18 in 2017.

Gangs remained prevalent in prisons. As of September 2017, detention centers held 17,614 current or former gang members, or 46 percent of the prison population. So-called extraordinary measures were designed to interrupt gang communications and coordination between imprisoned leaders and gang members outside the prisons. Smuggling of weapons, drugs, and other contraband such as cell phones and cell phone SIM cards was reduced but remained a problem in the prisons, at times with complicity from prison officials.

Law enforcmement officials credited the extraordinary measures with a 45 percent reduction in homicides. The PDDH and human rights groups faulted the measures for lacking judicial oversight. On August 16, the Legislative Assembly formalized some elements of the extraordinary measures as part of a reformed penitentiary code, which now allows supervised family visits.

In many facilities provisions for sanitation, potable water, ventilation, temperature control, medical care, and lighting were inadequate, according to the PDDH. From August 2017 to May, the General Prison Directorate reported 2,440 cases of inmate malnutrition and the PDDH reported more than 500 cases of severe malnutrition in Izalco and Ciudad Barrios prisons. The PDDH noted that in 2017 a total of 64 inmates died, some of them due to unspecified causes.

In October the PNC reported overcrowding in police holding cells, with 5,500 detainees in cells designed for 1,500 persons. Those in pretrial detention were held alongside sick inmates.

Administration: The PDDH has authority to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court has authority over the protection of constitutional rights. The extraordinary measures granted broad authorities to wardens to order disciplinary actions, to include isolation and withholding family or religious visitations, without judicial oversight. Extraordinary measures ended in August when the Legislative Assembly reformed the penitentiary code.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media to low- and medium-security prisons. Inspections of high-security prisons were limited to government officials, the PDDH, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Early in the year, the government reinstated the ICRC’s access to all prisons. Church groups; the Institute for Human Rights at the University of Central America; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex activists; the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions; and other groups visited prisons during the year. The PDDH reported that from May 2017 to April, it conducted 1,644 unannounced prison inspections.

Improvements: Due to the construction of new prisons completed during the year and redistribution of prisoners, overcrowding declined from 334 percent to 215 percent as of August.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, there were numerous complaints that the PNC and military forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. As of July 31, the PDDH received 31 complaints of arbitrary detention, a decrease from 86 complaints received in the same period in 2017. NGOs reported that the PNC arbitrarily arrested and detained groups of persons on suspicion of gang affiliation. According to these NGOs, the accused were ostracized by their communities upon their return.

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

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

The military’s “Zeus Command” comprised 3,100 soldiers in 10 task forces to support police in providing security. These soldiers were to operate only in support of the PNC and were not authorized to arrest or detain. Three hundred and twenty soldiers in the Volcano Task Force, launched in September 2017 as a temporary expansion of the military’s presence in San Salvador, continued to support the city’s police and installed checkpoints throughout the city and conducted random searches of public buses.

There were reports of impunity for security force involvement in crime and human rights abuses during the year. The PDDH is authorized to investigate (but not prosecute) human rights abuses and refers all cases involving human rights abuses to the Attorney General’s Office. Reports of abuse and police misconduct were most often from residents of the metropolitan area of San Salvador and mostly from men and young persons.

The Police Inspector General reported it received 831 complaints against police and dismissed 155 police officers due to misconduct and took disciplinary action against 555 police officers as of October 23.

On August 2, Deputy Police Director of Specialized Operative Areas Mauricio Arriaza stated that 10 police officers of the Specialized Police Tactical Unit (UTEP) were dismissed due to human rights abuses. UTEP was created on February 14 to replace the Specialized Reaction Force of El Salvador, the Special Operation Group, and the GRP. The GRP was disbanded in February following the disappearance of female GRP member Carla Ayala. As of November 5, the Ministry of Defense had not responded to requests to report the number of soldiers removed from its ranks due to alleged ties to gangs.

As of October 26, authorities reported alleged gang members had killed 22 police officers, three soldiers, and three prison guards.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires a written warrant of arrest except in cases where an individual is caught in the act of committing a crime. Authorities apprehended persons with warrants based on evidence and issued by a judge. Police generally informed detainees promptly of charges against them.

The law permits release on bail for detainees who are unlikely to flee or whose release would not impede the investigation of the case. The bail system functioned adequately in most cases. The courts generally enforced a ruling that interrogation without the presence of counsel is coercive and that evidence obtained in such a manner is inadmissible. As a result, PNC authorities typically delayed questioning until a public defender or an attorney arrived. The constitution permits the PNC to hold suspects for 72 hours before presenting them to court. The law allows up to six months for investigation of serious crimes before requiring either a trial or dismissal of the case which may be extended by an appeals court. Many cases continued beyond the legally prescribed period.

Arbitrary Arrest: As of October 23, the PDDH reported 31 complaints of arbitrary detention or illegal detention, compared with 86 from January to August 2017.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a significant problem. As of October, 30 percent of the general prison population was in pretrial detention. Some persons remained in pretrial detention longer than the maximum legal sentences for their alleged crimes. In such circumstances detainees may request a Supreme Court review of their continued detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the government did not always respect judicial independence, and the judiciary was burdened by inefficiency and corruption.

While the government generally respected court orders, some agencies ignored or minimally complied with orders, or sought to influence ongoing investigations. When ordered by the Constitutional Court on June 19 to release military records related to the El Mozote killings and serious civil war crimes, the Ministry of Defense responded it had already done so while denying investigators access to archival facilities at military bases, citing national security concerns. As of July 31, the Legislative Assembly had not complied with a 2015 ruling that it issue regulations to clarify certain sections of the political parties law regarding campaign contributions.

In a February 26 press conference, Minister of Defense David Munguia Payes criticized the attorney general’s charges against three military officers after they were acquitted of obstruction of justice in a torture case. On February 27, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard released a statement calling on Payes to respect the independence of the judiciary and reiterating her support for the attorney general. Media experts called Munguia’s stagecraft menacing and reminiscent of civil war-era propaganda employed by the military junta.

While implemented to expedite fair trials, virtual trials still involved delays of up to eight months, according to a July 22 newspaper report. Virtual trials often involved group hearings before a judge, with defendants unable to consult with their defense lawyers in real time. The penitentiary code reforms passed in August allow defense lawyers to attend a hearing without the defendant’s presence. Human rights groups questioned the constitutionality of the reform.

As of July 31, the PDDH received 31 complaints of lack of a fair, public trial.

Corruption in the judicial system contributed to a high level of impunity, undermining the rule of law and the public’s respect for the judiciary. As of August 31, the Supreme Court heard 57 cases against judges due to irregularities, 52 of which remained under review; removed two judges; suspended nine others; and brought formal charges against eight judges. Accusations against judges included collusion with criminal elements and sexual harassment.

In 2016, in response to a petition by victims, a judge issued an order to reopen the investigation into the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which an estimated 800 persons were killed. The PDDH concluded that the Attorney General’s Office lacked initiative in investigating civil war crimes, The PDDH also cited the Attorney General Office’s lack of cooperation from the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the President (CAPRES). On August 16, a group of Argentine forensics specialists testified they recovered 282 pieces of evidence determined to be human remains, including 143 skulls, 136 of them belonging to children younger than 12 years old. They also recovered 245 bullet casings corresponding to the type used in automatic weapons used by the armed forces.

Women who were accused of intentionally terminating their pregnancies were charged with aggravated homicide, but a number asserted they had suffered miscarriages, stillbirths and other medical emergencies during childbirth. Legal experts pointed to serious flaws in the forensics collection and interpretation.

In December 2017 Teodora del Carmen Vasquez’ conviction on aggravated homicide charges was upheld by the same appeals judges who had earlier sentenced her to 30 years. The Supreme Court commuted her sentence on February 15, opining that the evidence and motive presented by the prosecution in the case was insufficient to support the charges.

During the first nine months of the year, the justice system released five women accused of aggravated homicide of their unborn or newborn children due to lack of evidence. Twenty-five other women remained in custody for infanticide.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although some trial court judges were subject to political and economic influence. By law juries hear only a narrow group of cases, such as environmental complaints. After the jury determines innocence or guilt, a panel of judges decides the sentence.

Defendants have the right to be present in court, question witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence. The constitution further provides for the presumption of innocence, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges, the right to a trial without undue delay, protection from self-incrimination, the right to communicate with an attorney of choice, the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, freedom from coercion, the right to appeal, and government-provided legal counsel for the indigent.

According to press reports, plea deals occurred in approximately 20 percent of cases, with the accused turning state’s witness in order to prosecute others. Legal experts pointed to an overreliance on witness testimony in nearly all cases, as opposed to the use of forensics or other scientific evidence. The justice system lacked DNA analysis and other forensics capability. In criminal cases a judge may allow a private plaintiff to participate in trial proceedings (calling and cross-examining witnesses, providing evidence, etc.), assisting the prosecuting attorney in the trial procedure. Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter. Authorities did not always respect these legal rights and protections. Although a jury’s verdict is final, a judge’s verdict is subject to appeal. Trials are public unless a judge seals a case.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for access to the courts, enabling litigants to bring civil lawsuits seeking damages for, as well as cessation of, human rights violations. Domestic court orders generally were enforced. Most attorneys pursued criminal prosecution and later requested civil compensation.

On May 25, the Constitutional Chamber declared unconstitutional Article 49 of the Civil Service Law, ruling that it violated the double jeopardy prohibition because previously established facts were taken as an essential element for a more serious administrative sanction.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions; however, a January news report claimed the state intelligence service tracked several journalists and collected compromising information about their private lives. The newspaper submitted photographic and whistleblower evidence to support its claim.

In many neighborhoods armed groups and gangs targeted certain persons; and interfered with privacy, family, and home life. Efforts by authorities to remedy these situations were generally ineffective.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. The law permits the executive branch to use the emergency broadcasting service to take over all broadcast and cable networks temporarily to televise political programming.

Press and Media Freedom: There continued to be allegations that the government retaliated against members of the press for criticizing its policies. There were reports the Ministry of Labor conducted arbitrary labor inspections and financial audits of news organizations.

Both the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) parties steered funding, including public funds, to journalists in exchange for positive coverage. The online news outlet El Faro reported during the year that former president Antonio Saca funneled $665,000 (currency is the U.S. dollar) to media contacts in exchange for positive coverage from 2004 until 2009, while former president Mauricio Funes continued the practice of using a secret fund to corrupt journalists from 2009 through 2014.

Violence and Harassment: On May 22, the Salvadoran Journalist Association (APES) reported that former youth secretary Carlos Aleman threatened El Faro journalist Gabriel Labrador after he published a report that accused Aleman of benefiting from illegal salary increases during the Saca administration. APES also reported that journalist Milagro Vallecillos received a call asking him where he would like a body disposed after he criticized the police investigation into the killing of journalist Karla Turcios.

In relation to reporting on the March 4 municipal and legislative assembly elections, APES recorded 15 complaints against civil servants, mayors, unions, and gang members. The incidents included three verbal threats, two physical assaults, one property damage claim, and three suspicious incidents. On March 19, online news outlet Diario 1 journalist Miguel Lemus was physically attacked by members of the San Salvador city employees’ union.

Minister of Defense Munguia reportedly visited media offices unannounced and accompanied by armed soldiers.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government advertising accounted for a significant portion of press advertising income. According to APES, media practiced self-censorship, especially in reporting on gangs and narcotics trafficking.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The International Telecommunication Union reported 31 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although in many areas the government could not guarantee freedom of movement due to criminal gang activity. As of July 31, the PDDH received two complaints of restrictions from freedom of movement, one against the PNC and the other against a court in Jiquilisco. Both cases involved subjects being detained without charge. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and some assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, although this was often difficult in gang-controlled neighborhoods.

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

On July 13, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the government violated the constitution by not recognizing forced displacement or providing sufficient aid to IDPs. The ruling followed several lawsuits brought by victims, including members of the PNC. The court ordered the Legislative Assembly to pass legislation addressing internal displacement and officially recognize internal displacement. The court also called on the government to retake control of gang territories, develop protection protocols for victims, and uphold international standards for protecting victims.

As of July the PDDH reported 69 complaints of forced displacement from January to May. Nearly all of the complaints were from gang-controlled territories, with 51 cases from San Salvador. As of October the government acknowledged that 1.1 percent of the general population was internally displaced. UNHCR estimated there were 280,000 IDPs. UNHCR reported the causes of internal displacement included abuse, extortion, discrimination, and threats.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, including an established system for providing protection to refugees. As of July 31, four petitions had been submitted, with three resulting in denial and one still under consideration.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent municipal and legislative elections occurred on March 4, with the final election results released by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal on March 20 and April 4, respectively. The election reports published by the Organization of American States and the EU electoral mission noted that the elections generally met international standards.

While the law prohibits public officials from campaigning in elections, this provision lacked consistent enforcement.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. While the Supreme Court investigated corruption in the executive and judicial branches, referring cases to the Attorney General’s Office for possible criminal indictment, impunity remained endemic, with courts issuing inconsistent rulings and failing to address secret discretionary accounts within the government, for example in CAPRES.

Corruption: On September 12, a judge sentenced former president Antonio Saca to 10 years in prison. He originally faced up to 30 years in prison before seeking a plea deal. As part of his plea agreement, Saca detailed how he used a network of public officials and advisers to launder money into his ARENA political party, banks, media outlets, publicity companies, fronts, and other activities. Saca testified that weak institutions such as the Court of Accounts were ineffectual in conducting audits, with transparency mechanisms failing to detect fraud. While Saca’s defense offered to return $15 million, the court found him fully liable and ordered him to repay $260 million and surrender his bank accounts and six companies managing 86 radio stations to the asset forfeiture program.

The attorney general investigated corruption pertaining to a discretionary fund within CAPRES in existence for more than 25 years and used by six presidents since 1989. It was originally created to provide resources for the national intelligence budget and CAPRES. The funds, totaling more than one billion dollars since its inception, had never been audited by the Court of Accounts. Both former presidents Saca and Funes were accused of embezzling more than $650 million from public funds. President Sanchez Ceren’s discretionary account was reportedly $147 million, while former presidents Saca and Funes controlled $301 million and $351, million respectively.

On June 19, the Attorney General’s Office initiated an asset forfeiture claim against 24 properties owned by Funes, cabinet members, public officers, and his relatives. Properties included sugarcane plantations, beach houses, and homes.

As of July 31, the Ethics Tribunal reported it had received 190 complaints against 273 public officials. The tribunal sanctioned 20 public officials and forwarded six cases to the attorney general. The attorney general issued 28 arrest warrants on June 6, targeting individuals linked to more than $300 million allegedly embezzled by former president Funes from 2009 through 2014. Despite Constitutional Chamber restrictions on transferring funds without legislative approval, Funes allegedly had misdirected funding for personal gain since 2010. In July the attorney general accused Funes of using $215,000 in public funds to acquire 91 military-grade weapons through the Ministry of Defense for his personal use.

Financial Disclosure: The illicit enrichment law requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets to the Probity Section of the Supreme Court. The law establishes fines for noncompliance that range from $11 to $571. The declarations were not available to the public unless requested by petition. In 2016 the Supreme Court established three criteria for selecting investigable cases: the age of the case (i.e., proximity to the statute of limitations), relevance of the position, and seriousness and notoriety of the alleged illicit enrichment.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Although government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to these groups, officials expressed reluctance to discuss certain issues, such as extrajudicial killings and IDPs, with the PDDH.

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

The PDDH maintained a constructive dialogue with CAPRES. The government publicly acknowledged receipt of reports, although in some cases it did not take action on recommendations, which are nonbinding. The PDDH faced threats, such as two robberies at its headquarters specifically targeting computers containing personally identifiable information.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, and the criminal code’s definition of rape may apply to spousal rape, at the judge’s discretion. The law requires the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute rape cases whether or not the victim presses charges, and the law does not permit the victim to withdraw the criminal charge. The penalty for rape is generally imprisonment for six to 10 years. Laws against rape were not effectively enforced.

The law prohibits domestic violence and generally provides for sentences ranging from one to three years in prison, although some forms of domestic violence carry higher penalties. The law also permits restraining orders against offenders. Laws against domestic violence remained poorly enforced, and violence against women, including domestic violence, remained a widespread and serious problem. On July 31, the Salvadoran Organization of Women for Peace (ORMUSA) reported that in 2016 and 2017, only 5 percent of the 6,326 reported crimes against women went to trial. On July 4, police arrested a police commissioner for violating the terms of a restraining order protecting his spouse.

According to the World Health Organization, the rate of cases involving violence against women was 5,999 per 100,000 inhabitants and that 574 women were killed in 2015, 524 in 2016, and 469 in 2017.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides imprisonment for five to eight years. Courts may impose fines in addition where the perpetrator maintains a position of trust or authority over the victim. The law mandates that employers take measures against sexual harassment and create and implement preventive programs. The government, however, did not enforce sexual harassment laws effectively.

On September 24, media reported the sole female member of an elite police unit was reassigned to a high threat precinct in retaliation for taking gender-discrimination claims to internal affairs inspectors. She said her uniforms were discarded, her sleeping quarters moved, and a colleague threatened to kill her.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. (For more information on maternal mortality and availability of contraception, see Appendix C.)

Discrimination: The constitution grants women and men the same legal rights, but women did not enjoy equal pay or employment opportunities. The law establishes sentences of one to three years in prison for public officials who deny a person’s civil rights based on gender and six months to two years for employers who discriminate against women in the workplace, but employees generally did not report such violations due to fear of employer reprisals.

On September 16, a labor union reported that a justice of the peace in Las Vueltas Chalatenango refused to promote a female clerk because she preferred a man have the position.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country and from their parents. The law requires parents to register a child within 15 days of birth or pay a $2.85 fine. Failure to register resulted in denial of school enrollment.

Education: Education is free, universal, compulsory through the ninth grade, and nominally free through high school. Rural areas, however, frequently did not provide required education to all eligible students due to a lack of resources and because rural parents often withdrew their children from school by the sixth grade, requiring them to work.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious and widespread problem. The law gives children the right to petition the government without parental consent. Penalties for breaking the law include the child being taken into protective custody and three to 26 years’ imprisonment, depending on the nature of the abuse.

On November 15, police arrested a woman in Juayua, Sonsonate, after she beat an 11-year-old child with a stick for losing a cell phone accessory. According to a 2016 National Health Survey, more than half of households punished their children physically and psychologically.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. The law bans child marriage to prevent child abusers from using legal technicalities to avoid imprisonment by marrying their victims.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child sex trafficking is prohibited by law. Prison sentences for convicted traffickers stipulate imprisonment from six to 10 years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The law classifies statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone younger than age 18 and includes penalties of four to 13 years’ imprisonment for violations.

The law prohibits paying anyone younger than age 18 for sexual services. The law prohibits participating in, facilitating, or purchasing materials containing child pornography and provides for prison sentences of up to 16 years for violations. Despite these provisions, sexual exploitation of children remained a problem.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community totaled approximately 150 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The National Council for Comprehensive Attention to Persons with Disability (CONAIPD), composed of representatives from multiple government entities, is the governmental agency responsible for protecting disability rights, but lacks enforcement power. According to CONAIPD, the government did not effectively enforce legal requirements for access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Few access ramps or provisions for the mobility of persons with disabilities existed.

According to CONAIPD, there is no mechanism to verify compliance with the law requiring businesses and nongovernment agencies to hire one person with disabilities for every 25 hires. CONAIPD reported employers frequently fired persons who acquired disabilities and would not consider persons with disabilities for work for which they qualified. Further, some academic institutions would not accept children with disabilities.

No formal system existed for filing a discrimination complaint involving a disability with the government.

Indigenous People

Indigenous communities reported they faced racial discrimination and economic disadvantage. According to community leaders, gangs pushed out of urban centers by police mounted incursions and appropriated indigenous land. They also reported gang members threatened their children for crossing gang territorial lines artificially drawn across ancestral indigenous land, forcing some children to drop out of school or leave home.

According to the 2007 census, the most recent for which this data was available, there were 60 indigenous groups, and 0.4 percent of citizens identified as indigenous, mainly from the Nahua-Pipl, Lencas, Cacaopera (Kakwira) and Maya Chorti groups. A 2014 constitutional amendment recognizes the rights of indigenous people to maintain their cultural and ethnic identitiy, but no laws provide indigenous people rights to share in revenue from exploitation of natural resources on historically indigenous lands. The government did not demarcate any lands as belonging to indigenous communities. Because few possessed title to land, opportunities for bank loans and other forms of credit remained limited.

While the law provides for the preservation of languages and archeological sites, it does not include the right to be consulted regarding development and other projects envisioned on their land.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which also applies to discrimination in housing, employment, nationality, and access to government services. Gender identity and sexual orientation are included in the criminal code provisions covering hate crimes, along with race and political affiliation. NGOs reported that public officials, including police, engaged in violence and discrimination against sexual minorities. Persons from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community stated that the PNC, and the Attorney General’s Office harassed transgender and gay individuals when they reported cases of violence against LGBTI persons, including by conducting strip searches.

As of July 31, the PDDH reported eight accusations made by the LGBTI community of five homicides, one unauthorized search, and one harassment complaint. The PDDH was unable to determine whether the incidents were bias-motivated. Activists also reported receiving death threats via social media; police generally failed to take action on these reports.

On April 16, the Ministry of Security and Justice led a formal signing ceremony for the Institutional Policy for the Protection of the LGBTI Community. A product of two years of roundtable dialogues, the policy instructs the security and migration sectors of government to consult with the Office of Secretariat for Social Inclusion to ensure LGBTI persons are treated in accordance with international standards in their interactions with the state. In November 2017 the Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced guidelines stating individuals cannot be denied the right to vote because the photograph on their identification card does not match their physical appearance.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS status, Entre Amigos, an LGBTI NGO, reported discrimination due to HIV was widespread. As of July 31, the PDDH reported four cases of discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. This included use of pejorative language against an inmate by a prosecutor, denial of university access, lack of medical confidentiality in the prison system of an HIV-positive diagnosis and discriminatory treatment from other inmates, and discrimination by public-health caregivers to a child and her mother.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

Unions must meet complex requirements to register, including having a minimum membership of 35. If the Ministry of Labor denies registration, the law prohibits any attempt to organize for up to six months following the denial. Collective bargaining is obligatory only if the union represents the majority of workers. Labor unions accused the ministry of trying to block the registration of unions not aligned with the government’s party. Consequently, unions were unable to vote for membership in tripartite bodies, consisting of members of government, labor, and business.

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

In lieu of requiring employers to reinstate illegally dismissed workers, the law requires employers to pay the workers the equivalent of 30 days of their basic salary for each year of service. The law specifies 30 reasons for which an employer can terminate a worker’s contract without triggering any additional responsibilities, including consistent negligence, leaking private company information, or committing immoral acts while on duty. An employer may also legally suspend workers, including for reasons of economic downturn or market conditions. As of July the Ministry of Labor had received 1,778 complaints of violations of the labor code, including 565 instances of failure to pay the minimum wage.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Resources to conduct inspections remained inadequate, and remedies remained ineffective. Penalties for employers who fire workers with the goal or effect of ensuring the union no longer met the minimum number of members ranged from 10 to 50 times the monthly minimum salary. These were paid to the government’s general fund, not to the fired employee. The penalty for employers who interfere with the right to strike was between $3,000 and $15,000. Such penalties remained insufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor acknowledged it lacked sufficient resources, such as vehicles, fuel, and computers, to enforce the law fully. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. According to union representatives, the government inconsistently enforced labor rights for public workers, maquila/textile workers, food manufacturing workers, subcontracted workers in the construction industry, security guards, informal-sector workers, and migrant workers. As of July the ministry had received 15 claims of violations for labor discrimination.

On November 10, a court ordered a mayor in Conchagua to cease age discrimination of a group female employees. The employees filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labor that they were subjected to harassment by the mayor and his subordinates because of their age and his desire to replace them.

Unions functioned independently from the government and political parties, although many generally were aligned with the ARENA, FMLN, or other political parties. According to union leaders, the administration blacklisted public-sector employees who they believed were close with the opposition. Workers at times engaged in strikes regardless of whether the strikes met legal requirements. The International Labor Organization (ILO) Conference Committee on the Application of Standards discussed the country for the fourth year in a row over the nonfunctioning of the tripartite Higher Labor Council.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally did not effectively enforce such laws. The labor code’s default fine of $57 per violation applied. This penalty was generally not sufficient to deter violations. The lack of sufficient resources for inspectors reduced their ability to enforce the law fully. The Ministry of Labor did not report on incidents of forced labor. Gangs subjected children to forced labor in illicit activities, including selling or transporting drugs (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 14. The law allows children between the ages of 14 and 18 to engage in light work if the work does not damage the child’s health or development or interfere with compulsory education. The law prohibits children younger than age 16 from working more than six hours per day and 34 hours per week; those younger than age 18 are prohibited from working at night or in occupations considered hazardous. The Ministry of Labor maintained a list of the types of work considered hazardous and prohibited for children, to include repairing heavy machinery, mining, handling weapons, fishing and harvesting mollusks, and working at heights above five feet while doing construction, erecting antennas, or working on billboards. Children age 16 and older may engage in light work on coffee and sugar plantations and in the fishing industry so long as it does not harm their health or interfere with their education.

The Ministry of Labor maintains responsibility for enforcing child labor laws but did so with limited effectiveness. Child labor remained a serious and widespread problem. The law specifies a default fine of no more than $60 for each violation of most labor laws, including child labor laws; such penalties were insufficient to act as a deterrent. Labor inspectors focused almost exclusively on the formal sector. According to the ministry, from January 2017 through May, officials conducted 1,440 child labor inspections that discovered 18 minors, five of whom were unauthorized to work. By comparison, as of September 2017, according to the ministry, there were 140,700 children and adolescents working, of whom 91,257 were employed in “dangerous work” in the informal sector. No information on any investigations or prosecutions by the government was available. The ministry did not effectively enforce child labor laws in the informal sector.

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

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

On January 30, the Legislative Assembly reformed the labor code, prohibiting discriminatory practices and violence against women in the workplace. Further, on June 26, the Legislative Assembly reformed the labor code, civil service law, and the Vacations and Permits Law for Public Employees, prohibiting the dismissal of women returning from maternity leave for up to six months.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage; the minimum wage is determined by sector. In January a major minimum wage increase went into effect that included increases of nearly 40 percent for apparel assembly workers and more than 100 percent for workers in coffee and sugar harvesting. After the increase the minimum daily wage was $10 for retail, service, and industrial employees; $9.84 for apparel assembly workers; and $3.94 for agricultural workers. The government reported the poverty income level was $179.67 per month in urban areas and $126.97 per month in rural areas.

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

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for setting workplace safety standards, and the law establishes a tripartite committee to review the standards. The law requires employers to take steps to meet health and safety requirements in the workplace, including providing proper equipment and training and a violence-free environment. Employers who violate most labor laws could receive a default fine of no more than $57 for each violation. While the laws were appropriate for the main industries, a lack of compliance inspectors led to poor enforcement. These penalties were also insufficient to deter violations, and some companies reportedly found it more cost effective to pay the fines than to comply with the law. The law promotes occupational safety awareness, training, and worker participation in occupational health and safety matters.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the law. The government proved more effective in enforcing the minimum wage law in the formal sector than in the informal sector. Unions reported the ministry failed to enforce the law for subcontracted workers hired for public reconstruction contracts. The government provided its inspectors updated training in both occupational safety and labor standards. As of June the ministry conducted 13,315 inspections, in addition to 3,857 inspections to follow up with prior investigations, and had levied $777,000 in fines against businesses.

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

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

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

As of July the Ministry of Labor reported 5,199 workplace accidents. These included 2,609 accidents in the services sector, 1,859 in the industrial sector, 620 in the commercial sector, and 111 in the agricultural sector. The ministry did not report any deaths from workplace-related accidents.

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

Guatemala

Executive Summary

Guatemala is a multiparty constitutional republic. In January 2016 James Ernesto Morales Cabrera of the National Convergence Front party was sworn into office for a four-year term as president. International observers considered the presidential election held in 2015 as generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; widespread corruption; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats thereof targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, persons with disabilities, and members of other minority groups; and use of forced or compulsory or child labor.

Corruption and inadequate investigations made prosecution difficult, and impunity continued to be widespread. Parts of the government collaborated with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) (an entity created by agreement between the government and the UN) to prosecute the worst forms of corruption. On August 31, however, President Morales announced he would not renew the CICIG mandate, which expires in September 2019. On September 4, authorities barred CICIG commissioner Ivan Velasquez from re-entry for reasons of “national security.” The government asked CICIG to transfer capacity to the Public Ministry by the end of its mandate.

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. As of August 31, the Public Ministry as well as the National Civil Police (PNC) and its Office of Professional Responsibility (ORP), the mechanism for investigating security force abuses, reported no complaints of homicide by police.

At least nine rural, indigenous activists and human rights defenders were killed or died under disputed circumstances between May and September. Some of the killings appeared to be politically motivated, and all of the cases remained under investigation at year’s end.

In 2017 two separate trials began against former head of state Efrain Rios Montt and former intelligence chief Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez in the case of genocide involving the Maya Ixil community. In 2013 Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during his presidency (1982-83) and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The Constitutional Court overturned the conviction on procedural grounds and returned the case for retrial. On April 1, Rios Montt died before the trial concluded. On September 26, a high-risk court–created in 2009 to hear cases that posed a serious risk to the security of judges, the prosecutor, the defense, or any other individuals involved in the case–ruled that genocide and crimes against humanity were perpetrated against the indigenous Ixil community between 1982 and 1983, but a majority of the three-judge panel found Rodriguez not guilty and attributed responsibility for genocide to the military high command, including the then president, minister of defense, and defense chief of staff.

The 1982 Dos Erres massacre case against Rios Montt did not conclude due to Rios Montt’s death in April. The Dos Erres trial against former special forces officer Santos Lopez Alonzo opened on October 1. On November 21, a high-risk court sentenced Lopez to 5,160 years in prison for the massacre of 171 persons.

As of November the government had paid approximately 95 percent of the 200 million quetzals ($26.7 million) in individual reparations to families affected by the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. During the dam’s construction from 1975 to 1985, more than 400 individuals died and thousands were displaced.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government took actions to investigate and prosecute cases of forced disappearances from the internal armed conflict period. On May 23, a high-risk court sentenced four high-ranking former military officers to 58 years in prison each for rape, forced disappearance, and crimes against humanity in the Molina Theissen case. Prosecutors had charged the group in 2016 for the 1981 forced disappearance of 14-year-old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen in retaliation for his sister’s escape from their captivity. The conviction of high-ranking former military officers for crimes committed during the internal armed conflict was unprecedented.

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment but there were reports alleging government workers employed them at the Federico Mora National Hospital for Mental Health (see section 6). The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that documentation and reporting mechanisms for torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment remain weak, thereby hindering a full understanding of the prevalence of the issue.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening, with multiple instances of inmates killing other inmates. Sexual assault, inadequate sanitation and medical care, and gross overcrowding placed prisoners at significant risk.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding was a problem. As of September 24, according to prison authorities, there were 24,314 inmates, including 2,645 women, held in facilities designed to hold 6,800 persons. Physical conditions including sanitation and bathing facilities, dental and medical care, ventilation, temperature control, and lighting were wholly inadequate. Prisoners had difficulty obtaining potable water, complained of inadequate food, and often had to pay for additional sustenance. Illegal drug sales and use was widespread. Prison officials reported safety and control problems, including escape attempts, gang fights, inability to control the flow of contraband goods into prisons, inmate possession of firearms and grenades, and the fabrication of weapons. Prisoners conducted criminal activity both inside and outside of prisons. According to prison authorities, from January through August 31, at least 14 inmates died of unnatural causes while in prison. On April 27, a riot at Granja Penal Canada Prison left eight inmates dead and 25 injured. On August 20, a separate riot at Granja de Rehabilitacion Cantel Prison left four inmates dead and four injured. Both riots started with a fight between two gangs inside the prison. On September 30, a riot at Pavoncito Prison left seven inmates dead and four wounded.

Media reported that transnational criminal gangs and drug trafficking groups controlled major prison centers. In November 2017 a judge indicted 17 individuals in connection with the 2016 killing of 14 inmates in Pavon Prison; the case remained pending at year’s end.

Conditions for male and female prisoners were generally comparable throughout the country. Media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported female and juvenile inmates faced continuing physical and sexual abuse. Female inmates reported unnecessary body searches and verbal abuse by prison guards. Children younger than age four could live in prison with their mothers, although the penitentiary system provided inadequate food for young children and many suffered from illness. LGBTI rights groups stated other prisoners often sexually assaulted LGBTI individuals and that there were insufficient facilities to protect LGBTI individuals in custody. NGOs claimed admittance procedures for LGBTI prisoners were not implemented, noting particular concern regarding procedures for transgender individuals. Occasionally authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and male with female detainees.

In March 2017 authorities opened the first corrections center based on a new model to address corruption and overcrowding. In January the new minister of government, Enrique Degenhart, implemented significant changes, including a complete overhaul of the previously vetted and trained leadership of the new correctional model, which undermined the model’s effectiveness and hindered adult penitentiary system reforms.

Media reported similar conditions of abuse and overcrowding at the four juvenile detention centers administered separately by the Secretariat of Social Welfare. Crowding led to holding nonviolent juvenile offenders with violent adult offenders. As of September 25, there were 753 inmates in the Las Gaviotas juvenile detention facility designed for 525 individuals. More than 30 percent of the inmates had not been sentenced and were awaiting trials.

Administration: The government’s Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) and the National Office for the Prevention of Torture (NOPT), both independent entities, are responsible for prisoner rights, receiving complaints, and conducting oversight of the prison system. The PDH and NOPT may submit recommendations to the prison system based on complaints. No independent agency or unit, however, has a mandate to change or implement policy or to act on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Congress delayed the election of three NOPT rapporteurs by more than 16 months, finally appointing them on August 1, while the PDH and civil society reported former rapporteurs were inactive and ineffective in their oversight mandate. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted deficiencies in the NOPT mechanism and the selection process for the three NOPT rapporteurs.

While the law requires authorities to permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities failed to investigate most allegations of inhuman conditions and treatment or to document the results of such investigations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by local and international human rights groups, the Organization of American States, public defenders, and religious groups. The PDH and the NOPT also periodically visited prison facilities. The PDH reported it was sometimes difficult to gain access to the juvenile detention centers administered by the Secretariat of Social Welfare.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but there were credible reports of extrajudicial arrests, illegal detentions, and denial of timely access to a magistrate and hearing as required by law. Suspects are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. If successful, their release usually took several days. There was no compensation for those ruled unlawfully detained.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNC, which is overseen by the Ministry of Government and headed by a director general appointed by the ministry, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country. The Ministry of National Defense oversees the military, which focuses primarily on operations in defense of the country, but the government also used the army in internal security and policing as permitted by the constitution. On March 31, the defense ministry withdrew 4,500 personnel from street patrols to concentrate its forces on the borders. The drawdown process began in 2016.

Civilian authorities in some instances failed to maintain effective control over the PNC, and the government lacked effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. On August 31, the Ministry of Government, with the support of the Ministry of Defense, deployed a convoy of armed jeeps at various points in the capital, including in front of an embassy, CICIG headquarters, and a prominent local human rights organization. The jeeps were mobilized from Interagency Task Forces and were donated for the purpose of counternarcotics operations. Local NGOs pointed out the jeep deployment coincided with President Morales’ announcement he would not extend the CICIG mandate and was intended as a show of force, intimidation, and an attempt to repress civil society.

There were reports of impunity involving security forces. In cases involving police forces, the ORP is responsible for internal investigations and the Public Ministry is responsible for external investigations. A police reform commission, established by a previous administration, has a legal mandate to make necessary changes to reform police forces. On May 20, Police Reform Commissioner Adela Torrebiarte resigned, alleging that the Ministry of Government purposefully blocked police reform initiatives.

The ORP reported that from January through August, there were six complaints of police extortion and 135 for abuse of authority, compared with 17 and 290, respectively, during the same period in 2017. The PNC routinely transferred officers suspected of wrongdoing rather than investigating them.

Critics accused police of indiscriminate and illegal detentions when conducting antigang operations in some high-crime neighborhoods.

The ORP conducted internal investigations of misconduct by police officers. During the first eight months of the year, the ORP reported receiving 362 complaints of misconduct by police.

All new PNC and soldiers receive training in human rights and professional ethics. The Ministry of Defense Human Rights Directorate collaborated with other government human rights offices to provide internal and interagency human rights trainings to soldiers.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires presentation of a court-issued warrant to a suspect prior to arrest unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. Police may not detain a suspect for more than six hours without bringing the case before a judge. Authorities did not regularly respect this right and did not promptly inform some detainees of the charges against them. After arraigning suspects, the prosecutor generally has three months to complete the investigation if the defendant is in pretrial detention, and six months to complete the investigation if the defendant is granted house arrest. The law prohibits the execution of search warrants between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless the government has declared a state of siege. Judges may order house arrest for some suspects. The law provides for access to lawyers and bail for most crimes. The government provides legal representation for indigent detainees, and detainees have access to family members. A judge has the discretion to determine whether bail is permissible for pretrial detainees.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were no reliable data on the number of arbitrary detentions. Most accounts, however, indicated that police ignored writs of habeas corpus in cases of illegal detention, particularly during neighborhood antigang operations.

Pretrial Detention: As of August 31, prison system records indicated 52 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention. The law establishes a one-year maximum for pretrial detention, regardless of the stage of the criminal proceeding, but the court has the legal authority to extend pretrial detention without limits as necessary. Authorities regularly held detainees past their legal trial or release dates. Lengthy investigations and frequent procedural motions by both defense and prosecution often led to lengthy pretrial detentions, delaying trials for months or years. Observers noted the slow pace of investigations, lack of judicial resources, and a culture of indifference to detainee rights hampered efforts to reduce pretrial detention and illegal incarceration. Authorities did not release some prisoners after they completed their full sentences due to the failure of judges to issue the necessary court order or other bureaucratic delays. Former medical school dean Jesus Oliva committed suicide on June 11 after having been in trial detention since May 2015, most of that in pretrial detention before his trial opened in August 2017. A few days before his death, Oliva’s attorney requested house arrest for him because he suffered depression, but a judge rejected the request. Oliva was charged in a corruption case involving the government health system that concluded on September 26. Other defendants in the case were sentenced to six years in prison and immediately released on bail after having already served more than three years in prison.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and the law provide for an independent judiciary. The judicial system generally failed to provide fair or timely trials due to inefficiency, corruption, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses.

Judges, prosecutors, plaintiffs, and witnesses continued to report threats, intimidation, and surveillance, most often from drug trafficking organizations. By the end of August, the special prosecutor for crimes against judicial workers received 157 complaints of threats or aggression against workers in the judicial branch, compared with 129 through August 2017.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, the presumption of innocence, the defendant’s right to be present at trial, and the right to legal counsel in a timely manner. The law requires the government to provide attorneys for defendants facing criminal charges if the defendant cannot find or afford an attorney. Defendants and their attorneys may confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The law provides for plea bargaining for minor offenses with short-term prison sentences and the right of appeal. Three-judge panels render verdicts. The law provides for oral trials and mandates free language interpretation for those needing it; however, interpreters were not always available. Officials conduct trials in Spanish, the official language, although many citizens only speak one of the 23 officially recognized indigenous languages.

The Public Ministry, acting semi-independently of the executive branch, may initiate criminal proceedings on its own or in response to a complaint. Private parties may participate in the prosecution of criminal cases as plaintiffs.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations have access to administrative and judicial remedies to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation or other alleged wrongs. While the judiciary was generally impartial and independent in civil matters, it suffered from inefficiencies and a legal system that often permits spurious complaints. The judiciary estimated the country had a ratio of 2.46 judges for every 100,000 inhabitants, which international and domestic observers considered insufficient.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In 2016 President Morales dismissed Jorge Lopez, the secretary of administrative and security matters of the president, and his deputy, Cesar Sagastume, for alleged illegal surveillance. At year’s end the case remained under investigation by the Public Ministry. In August a local newspaper published an investigative series alleging that former president Otto Perez Molina created an illegal surveillance network in 2012 to listen to calls, mirror mobile phones, and access social media accounts. According to the article, the Ministry of Government dismantled the network in 2015.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: Following President Morales’ August 31 press conference announcing he would not renew CICIG’s mandate, several prominent human rights defenders and activists reported the PNC visited them ostensibly to inquire about their protection measures. Several journalists also reported suspected surveillance of their homes and offices in the days following the August 31 press conference. The activists and journalists interpreted these actions as an effort to intimidate them from criticizing the administration’s measures with respect to CICIG.

Press and Media Freedom: There were no legal restrictions on the editorial independence of the media. Reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship, recognizing the danger investigative journalism posed to them and their families. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Since August 31, public security forces have imposed more stringent identification checks on journalists covering government events and activities.

Violence and Harassment: Online attacks against independent journalists and media outlets increased throughout the year. These included hacking of journalists’ private accounts, publishing stolen or falsified personal information, and apparent coordinated attempts to undermine specific journalists and the press. Members of the press continued to report threats and violence from public officials and criminal organizations, which impaired the practice of free and open journalism. The government failed to establish a journalist protection program, a voluntary commitment the country accepted in 2012 during the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council.

According to the Public Ministry, 54 complaints were filed for attacks or threats against journalists, and two journalists were killed from January through the end of August, compared with 116 complaints and three killings in all of 2017.

In November 2017 the Supreme Court lifted the parliamentary immunity of Congressman Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez based on allegations from the Public Ministry and CICIG that he ordered the killing of journalist Danilo Efrain Zapon Lopez in 2015 in Mazatenango, Suchitepequez. Journalist Federico Benjamin Salazar Geronimo was also killed in the attack and reporter Marvin Tunches was injured. At year’s end the case was at the intermediary public trial phase.

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from public officials regarding the content of their reporting. Some owners and members of media accused the government of following a discriminatory advertising policy that penalized or rewarded print and broadcast media based on whether the government perceived the news or commentary as supportive or critical. Significant self-censorship occurred as a result.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The daily newspaper elPeriodico experienced a two-day denial of service attack and another three-day attack starting on September 1. The source of the attacks remained unknown.

A local newspaper reported former president Otto Perez Molina’s administration created a surveillance network in 2012 to access social media accounts of diplomats, government officials, politicians, journalists, students, and academics.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 41 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, with a few exceptions.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

On September 12, the congressional spokesperson reported that more than 2,100 police were present at Congress during a commemoration of the country’s independence, led by President Morales. A protest scheduled to converge at Congress on the same day was not able to approach the perimeters of Congress. The heavy police presence ostensibly serving as presidential security and crowd control received widespread criticism and media as a form of intimidation against the protesters. Civil society groups expressed concern over the presence of Kaibiles, military special forces who were implicated in war crimes during the country’s internal armed conflict from 1960-96.

On September 14, when President Morales and his cabinet attended a ceremony at the cathedral on the central plaza, NGOs and journalists accused the government of using excessive security measures to intimidate citizens and restrict their right to assemble. Observers stated security measures included the deployment of antiriot military police; the registration of all pedestrians entering the plaza, including children; and excessive security checks. On September 14, a Public Ministry prosecutor stated publicly he would investigate for possible violations of freedom of movement.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were reports, however, of significant barriers to organizing in the labor sector (see section 7.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

An immigration law in effect since 2017 overhauled the country’s migration system and defined the term “refugee” as well as listing refugees’ rights in accordance with international instruments. The preparation of regulations to implement the law, including on the refugee application process and refugee rights, was underway at year’s end. Government agencies made limited progress in implementing the Protection Council mandated by the new migration code, which would support the protection, reception, and reintegration of returned children.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, including during the mid-October surge of Central American migrants that passed through the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The country does not have laws in place to protect IDPs in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR expressed concern regarding violence against IDPs and strengthened its efforts to monitor the problem and provide assistance to the displaced. The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change and natural disasters. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights characterized as IDPs 400 farmers the government evicted from the Maya Biosphere Reserve in 2017. Media and civil society groups reported the evictees did not receive government assistance in a timely manner.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR, however, reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Both migration and police authorities lacked adequate training concerning the rules for establishing refugee status.

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 James Ernesto Morales Cabrera of the National Convergence Front party defeated National Unity of Hope candidate Sandra Torres in a second round of voting and was sworn in as president in January 2016. An Organization of American States international election observation mission characterized the elections as generally free and fair. The Attorney General’s Office continued to investigate allegations of illicit campaign financing in the 2015 elections and petitioned for immunity reviews against two parties’ secretaries general, including President Morales. An additional immunity review from 2017 against Morales for illicit campaign financing remained pending.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Traditional and cultural practices, in addition to discrimination and institutional bias, however, limited the political participation of women and members of indigenous groups.

While the indigenous population constituted 44 percent of the population, according to the latest 2002 government census, indigenous representation in national government was minimal. There was one indigenous female member on the Constitutional Court and one on the Supreme Court. In September the first and only female indigenous cabinet member, former labor minister Leticia Teleguario, resigned, citing personal reasons and not being able to continue supporting originally prioritized policies. There were approximately 20 indigenous members of Congress. Indigenous individuals comprised a larger share of elected local government officials, filling one-third (113 of 333) of the mayoral seats elected in 2015.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: On February 13, the Public Ministry brought charges against former president Alvaro Colom and nine former members of his cabinet after a long-running investigation into fraud involving a bus system in Guatemala City known as Transurbano. Prosecutors claimed that in local currency equaling approximately $35 million, government funds were paid to a consortium of private bus companies in charge of the Transurbano system in a deal approved by Colom’s cabinet without proper legal oversight. According to prosecutors, almost one-third of the money was spent on equipment that was never used. On March 1, a judge found sufficient evidence to charge the defendants, and Colom and the former members of his cabinet were placed under house arrest.

On January 20, the Public Ministry, accompanied by CICIG personnel, conducted raids as part of an investigation of the Brazilian company Odebrecht, which allegedly paid local currency worth $17.9 million in bribes to local officials. The investigation led to charges against former presidential candidate Manuel Baldizon, who was detained in Florida on an international arrest warrant on September 18 on separate money laundering and conspiracy charges. Baldizon was accused of accepting inn local currency at least $1.3 million in bribes from Odebrecht to help it win public works contracts. Authorities also sought the arrest of former communications minister Alejandro Sinibaldi, who allegedly distributed the bribes and embezzled at least nine million dollars. Sinibaldi remained a fugitive and was implicated in another case of bribery and influence peddling linked to former president Otto Perez Molina’s administration.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials who earn more than 8,000 quetzals ($1,070) per month or who manage public funds are subject to financial disclosure laws overseen and enforced by the Comptroller General’s Office. The financial disclosures were available to the public upon request. Administrative and criminal sanctions apply for inadequate or falsified disclosures of assets.

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

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

A number of NGOs, human rights workers, and trade unionists, however, reported threats, violence, and intimidation. The local human rights NGO Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA) reported 24 killings of human rights defenders from January through October. The NGO also reported 303 attacks against human rights defenders from January through September, compared with 493 attacks in all of 2017. According to human rights NGOs, many of the attacks related to land disputes and exploitation of natural resources. NGOs asserted the government did little to investigate the reports or prevent further incidents.

NGOs also reported the government, fringe groups, and private entities used threats of legal action as a form of intimidation. UDEFEGUA reported 158 cases of criminalization of human rights defenders from January through August.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The PDH monitors the human rights set forth in the constitution and reports to Congress. The government cooperated generally with the ombudsman. The office operated independently and issued public reports and recommendations, including an annual report to Congress on the fulfillment of its mandate. NGOs generally considered the PDH to be an effective institution with limitations in rural areas due to lack of resources.

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

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and sets penalties between five and 50 years in prison. Police had minimal training or capacity to investigate sexual crimes or assist survivors of such crimes, and the government did not enforce the law effectively.

Rape and other sexual offenses remained serious problems. The government took steps to combat femicide and violence against women. The judiciary maintained a 24-hour court in Guatemala City to offer services related to violence directed toward women, including sexual assault, exploitation, and trafficking of women and children. The judiciary also operated specialized courts for violence against women throughout the country, but not in every department. In March the Public Ministry established a 24-hour victim service center to provide medical, psychosocial, and legal support to victims, including restraining orders for their immediate protection. On August 6, in compliance with a finding from the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, the Public Ministry launched the Isabel-Claudina Alert, a national alert system for finding disappeared women. According to the Public Ministry, 428 women were reported missing via the alert through November 26, with 294 women found and 134 alerts remaining active.

The law establishes penalties for femicide of 25 to 50 years in prison without the possibility of reducing the sentence; however, femicide remained a significant problem. Unknown assailants murdered indigenous Maya women’s rights leader Juana Ramirez in Nebaj on September 21. The PDH reported Ramirez and her organization, the Ixil Women’s Network, had received multiple death threats for supporting female victims of violence.

Violence against women, including sexual and domestic violence, remained serious problems. The law establishes penalties of five to eight years for physical, economic, and psychological violence committed against women because of their gender. There were numerous examples of the PNC’s failure to respond to requests for assistance related to domestic violence. As of September 8, the PNC reported 48 open investigations against PNC officials for violence or discrimination against women or children.

Sexual Harassment: No single law, including laws against sexual violence, deals directly with sexual harassment, although several laws refer to it. Human rights organizations reported sexual harassment was widespread. On June 18, former minister of foreign affairs Edgar Gutierrez alleged that President Morales had abused at least one young women. Civil society expressed concern about the allegations, but no formal abuse charges were filed against President Morales. Gutierrez did not make public the evidence he claimed to have.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although the law establishes the principle of gender equality and criminalizes discrimination, women faced discrimination and were less likely to hold management positions. Two women in high-level government positions claimed critics often used gender to undermine their credibility publicly or privately block their ability to do their jobs.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or from their parents. UNICEF described low birth registration as a “serious problem,” and UNHCR reported problems in registering births were especially acute in indigenous communities due to inadequate government registration and documentation systems. Lack of registration restricted children’s access to some public services and created conditions that could lead to statelessness.

Education: While primary education is compulsory through age 14, access was limited in many rural areas; education through the secondary level is not obligatory.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. A unit under the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Children and Adolescents handled child abuse cases. The Public Ministry reported 8,930 reports of minor abuse of all types, more than triple the number from the same period last year. The ministry reported 82 convictions for child abuse from January through August.

The NGO Mutual Support Group (GAM) reported 417 minors suffered violent deaths nationwide from January through June. While deaths of minors decreased overall, GAM reported an increase in the number of girls killed compared with the same period in the previous year. NGOs dealing with gangs and other youths reported young persons detained by police were subject to abusive treatment, including physical assaults.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriages in some rural indigenous communities and in the Lev Tahor religious community. UNICEF reported 30 percent of women ages 20 to 24 years were first married or in union by age 18 (7 percent of them by age 15) between 2008 and 2014.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides sentences ranging from 13 to 24 years in prison, depending on the victim’s age, for engaging in sex with a minor. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18.

The law prohibits child pornography and establishes penalties of six to 10 years in prison for producing, promoting, and selling child pornography and two to four years’ imprisonment for possessing it. The Public Ministry and the PNC conducted several raids against alleged online child pornography networks. A new Regional Unit against Trafficking in Persons responsible for eight departments in the Western Highlands was launched in April, expanding the government’s investigative capacity against child pornography actors. The commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child sex tourism, remained a problem, including in privately run orphanages.

Displaced Children: Criminals and gangs often recruited street children, many of them victims of domestic abuse, for purposes of stealing, extortion, transporting contraband, prostitution, and conducting illegal drug activities.

Institutionalized Children: As of September more than 500 children and adolescents lived in shelters run by the Secretariat for Social Welfare (SBS). The Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET) continued temporarily to manage three shelters for children and adolescents, each with a capacity for 30 children. A government-mandated transfer of the three SVET shelters to SBS had not taken place by late November.

Overcrowding was common in shelters, and federal funding for orphanages remained limited. Local and international human rights organizations, including Disability Rights International, raised concerns that child abuse was rampant. A July investigative report claimed children with disabilities were consistently mistreated and neglected, including by being locked in cages. The Public Ministry received 22 formal reports of abuse or mistreatment of institutionalized minors during the year. In April adolescents rioted in a shelter, denouncing abuse by SBS employees and improper living conditions.

A March 2017 fire at the Hogar Seguro orphanage resulted in the deaths of 41 girls and severe injuries for 14 others. Authorities charged seven individuals with murder, abuse of authority, breach of duty, and abuse against minors in relation to the deaths of the 41 girls. Among those facing charges were former SBS secretary Carlos Rodas, former deputy secretary for protection and shelter Anahi Keller, and former shelter director Santos Torres. Trials continued, but there had been no convictions. On August 22, Congress approved a monthly government pension for the 15 survivors of the fire. The government did not make significant structural changes to the national shelter system, however.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population numbered approximately 1,500 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution contains no specific prohibitions against discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law, however, mandates equal access to public facilities and provides some other legal protections. In many cases, however, the law was not enforced. The law does not mandate that persons with disabilities have access to information or communications.

The National Council for Persons with Disabilities reported few persons with disabilities attended educational institutions or held jobs. The council, composed of representatives of relevant government ministries and agencies, is the principal government entity responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Most schools and universities did not have facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. In July, Congress published the Law against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons in braille, the first time a law was translated into braille and published.

The Federico Mora National Hospital for Mental Health, the only public health-care provider for persons with mental illness, lacked basic supplies, equipment, hygienic living conditions, and adequate professional staff. Media and human rights organizations reported mistreatment of residents, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence by other residents, guards, and hospital staff, especially with respect to women and children with disabilities. Multiple legal actions were pending against the hospital.

Indigenous People

The government’s National Institute of Statistics estimated indigenous persons from 22 ethnic groups comprised 44 percent of the population. The law provides for equal rights for indigenous persons and obliges the government to recognize, respect, and promote the lifestyles, customs, traditions, social organizations, and manner of dress of indigenous persons. The government does not recognize particular indigenous groups as having a special legal status provided by national law.

Multiple local NGOs raised concerns over the killings of at least nine indigenous leaders from May through September. According to Public Ministry investigations and NGO assessments, at least three of the leaders killed may have been targeted because of their political involvement and advocacy for indigenous rights. The ministry was in the process of forming a technical working group charged with investigating the killings.

Indigenous representatives claimed actors in a number of regional development projects failed to consult meaningfully with local communities. In some cases indigenous communities were not able to participate in decisions affecting the exploitation of resources in their communities, including energy, minerals, timber, rivers, or other natural resources. They also lacked effective mechanisms for dialogue with the state to resolve conflicts. On September 3, the Constitutional Court ordered the Ministry of Energy and Mines to hold International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169-compliant consultations with Xinka populations, upholding the suspension of the operating license of Tahoe Resources’ San Rafael Mine until after conclusion of the consultations. Previously, businesses carried out consultations independently without government oversight. A 2017 ruling allowed a hydroelectric project to continue operations concurrently during consultations led by the energy and mines ministry.

Indigenous communities were underrepresented in national politics and remained largely outside the political, economic, social, and cultural mainstream. This was mainly due to limited educational opportunities (contrary to law), limited communication regarding their rights, and pervasive discrimination. Government agencies dedicated to supporting indigenous rights lacked political support. These factors contributed to disproportionate poverty and malnutrition among most indigenous populations.

Indigenous lands lacked effective demarcation, making the legal recognition of titles to the land problematic. Indigenous rights advocates asserted that security authorities lacked familiarity with indigenous norms and practices and this engendered misunderstandings. PNC and indigenous leaders in the Western Highlands worked together to establish 37 model police precincts to better serve indigenous-majority communities, reduce violence, expand government services, and establish rule of law. The PNC established substations in three indigenous villages, Salacuim, Teleman, and Tierra Blanca, at the request of communities.

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

The law does not extend specific antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Efforts to pass laws against such discrimination, including a gender identity law, encountered severe opposition among legislators. LGBTI human rights groups stated police officers regularly engaged in extortion and harassed male and transgender individuals whom they alleged to be sex workers. There was general societal discrimination against LGBTI persons in access to education, health care, employment, and housing. The government made minimal efforts to address this discrimination. Sandra Moran, the first openly lesbian member of Congress, was harassed and intimidated based on her sexual orientation. Several attacks targeted journalists for supposed membership in the LGBTI community. LGBTI activists groups reported increased social media attacks against them following President Morales’ August 31 decision to end CICIG’s mandate. PNC officials visited one local LGBTI NGO’s office on September 8, which the group claimed was an intimidation attempt.

According to LGBTI activists, gay and transgender individuals often experienced police abuse. The local NGO National Network for Sexual Diversity and HIV and the Lambda Association reported that from April 20 through November 11, 19 LGBTI persons were killed, including several transgender individuals the NGOs believed were targeted due to their sexual orientation. In May major media outlets reported that an unknown assailant shot and killed two LGBTI persons inside a home in Guatemala City. The case remained under investigation. The NGO Somos reported 35 violent attacks against LGBTI individuals during the year. LGBTI groups claimed women experienced specific forms of discrimination, such as forced marriages and forced pregnancies through “corrective rape,” although these incidents were rarely, if ever, reported to authorities. In addition transgender individuals faced severe discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law includes HIV/AIDS status among the categories prohibited from discrimination. Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem, however, despite efforts by the Ministry of Health to address it. Forms of discrimination included being required by some government authorities to reveal HIV/AIDS test results to receive certain public benefits or from employers in order to be hired. In addition HIV/AIDS patients experienced discrimination from medical personnel when receiving services at some public hospitals and clinics and had their right to confidentiality violated by disclosure of their status. Discrimination against LGBTI persons with HIV/AIDS was particularly common and affected access to HIV-prevention programs, especially for transgender individuals.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Several times vigilante mobs attacked and killed those suspected of crimes such as rape, kidnapping, theft, or extortion. The NGO Mutual Support Group reported three persons were killed and 41 injured in public assaults by vigilante groups from January through June.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

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

In June 2017 passage of Decree 07-2017 restored sanction authority to the Ministry of Labor. Business groups complained the shortened time frame to investigate and verify compliance with Ministry of Labor remediation orders resulted in more cases being referred to the labor courts, without an opportunity to conciliate. The ministry indicated it had collected 1.06 million quetzals in fines ($141,000), but the lack of information about the law’s implementation made it difficult to assess its impact on improving labor law enforcement.

The Special Prosecutor’s Unit for Crimes against Unionists within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights in the Public Ministry was responsible for investigating attacks and threats against union members as well as for noncompliance with judicial orders in labor cases. Staffing for the unit has increased, but successful prosecutions remained a challenge. The government reported some 2,000 cases involving noncompliance with labor court orders were under investigation.

An ILO special representative continued to monitor the 2013 roadmap, which includes indicators on increased compliance with reinstatement orders, increased prosecution of perpetrators of violence against trade unionists, reforms to national legislation to conform to Convention 87, and unimpeded registration of trade unions. In November 2017 a tripartite agreement was reached at the ILO, which calls for the formation of a National Tripartite Commission on Labor Relations and Freedom of Association, which would monitor and facilitate implementation of the 2013 ILO roadmap and its 2015 indicators. The commission would report, annually to the governing board and publicly, on progress implementing the ILO roadmap until 2020. In addition to establishing the commission, the parties also committed to submitting to Congress a consensus legislative proposal that would address the long-standing ILO recommendations on freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the right to strike.

The tripartite commission was established in February, but a lack of consensus remained between employers and workers on legislation seeking to address long-standing ILO recommendations related to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the right to strike, particularly in industry-wide unions. The Ministry of Government convened the Interagency Committee to Analyze Attacks Against Human Rights Defenders, including trade unionists, on a regular basis. NGO participants complained the ministry imposed restrictions on civil society participation in the committee and reduced working-level officials’ authorities to respond to attacks.

Despite these efforts, the country did not demonstrate measurable progress in the effective enforcement of its labor laws, particularly those related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The ILO noted the need for additional urgent action in several areas related to the roadmap, including investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of trade union violence; the adoption of protection measures for union officials; passage of legislative reforms to remove obstacles to freedom of association and the right to strike; and raising awareness of the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, particularly in the apparel and textile industries. The ILO also called for greater compliance with reinstatement orders in cases of antiunion dismissals. Based in large part on the 2017 tripartite agreement, the ILO Governing Body closed the case in November.

Violence and threats against trade unionists and labor activists remained serious problems, with four killings of trade unionists, 20 documented threats, and two violent attacks reported during the year. Authorities did not thoroughly investigate most acts of violence and threats, and by often discarding trade union activity as a motive from the outset of the investigation, allowed these acts to go unprosecuted. Several labor leaders reported death threats and other acts of intimidation. The Public Ministry reported one conviction during the year related to a trade unionist killed in 2012.

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government failed to enforce the law effectively in some cases. Reports persisted of men and women subjected to forced labor in agriculture and domestic service. Penalties were inadequate and rarely enforced. Criminal penalties for forced labor range from eight to 18 years’ imprisonment. The government had specialized police and prosecutors handle cases of human trafficking, including forced labor, although local experts reported some prosecutors lacked adequate training. In July 2017 the Public Ministry arrested two sisters who forced six children to beg in the streets for money. The case remained pending at year’s end. There were also other reports of forced child labor (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law bars employment of minors younger than age 14, although it allows the Ministry of Labor to authorize children younger than age 14 to work in exceptional cases. The ministry’s inspectorate reported it did not authorize any exceptions during the year. The law prohibits persons younger than age 18 from working in places that serve alcoholic beverages, in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, at night, or beyond the number of hours permitted. The legal workday for persons younger than age 14 is six hours; for persons ages 14 to 17, the legal workday is seven hours.

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

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

An estimated 39,000 children, primarily indigenous girls, worked as domestic servants and were often vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. In the Mexican border area, there were reports of forced child labor in municipal dumps and in street begging.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets national minimum wages for agricultural and nonagricultural work and for work in garment factories. The minimum wage for agricultural and nonagricultural work and for work in export-sector-regime factories did not meet the minimum food budget for a family of five. Minimum wage earners are due a mandatory monthly bonus of 250 quetzals ($33), and salaried workers receive two mandatory yearly bonuses (a Christmas bonus and a “14th month” bonus), each equivalent to one month’s salary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guyana

Executive Summary

The Cooperative Republic of Guyana is a multiparty democracy. National and regional elections took place in 2015, and the APNU+AFC coalition parties won both the presidency and a majority of representational seats. The largest APNU+AFC components were A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)–itself a coalition of the major People’s National Congress/Reform party and other minor parties–and the Alliance for Change (AFC) party. Former opposition leader David Granger led the election coalition and became president. International and local observers considered the 2015 elections free, fair, and credible.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful killings; harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity between men, although the law was not enforced during the year; and child labor.

Government officials did not enjoy impunity for human rights abuses. There were independent and transparent procedures for handling allegations of abuses by security forces.

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 reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

In January police shot and killed Marlon Fredericks, a mentally ill man. Police alleged Fredericks was killed as he attempted to escape custody. The officer was charged, and the prosecution was in progress as of November.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices. There were allegations, nonetheless, that prison officials mistreated inmates as well as claims that police tortured suspects and detainees.

In July, Jameek Hakim alleged police tortured him during an interrogation. The government’s investigation of Hakim’s allegations continued as of October.

In January the government charged a police officer for raping a minor in August 2017. The minor was in police custody at the time of the incident. The case against the police officer was in progress as of November.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and jail conditions, particularly in police holding cells, were reportedly harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: In October the Guyana Prison Service reported there were 2,216 prisoners in eight facilities with a combined design capacity of 1,505. Overcrowding was in large part due to a backlog of pretrial detainees, who constituted approximately 30 percent of the total prison population.

In May the government released the findings of a 2017 independent study funded by the Inter-American Development Bank that found prison officers physically abused prisoners. The government reported the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent found that prison conditions at the Lusignan Prison were appalling and cells were unfit for human habitation. Prisoners reported unsanitary conditions and a lack of potable water, and they also complained of lengthy confinement in their cells with limited opportunities for sunlight.

The adult prison population contained individuals 16 years of age and older. In most cases, however, offenders under the age of 16 were held in a juvenile correctional center that offered primary education, vocational training, and basic medical care.

Administration: Authorities stated they investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions monthly, and committees prepared reports after each visit. Prisoners often circumvented procedures for submitting complaints of inhuman conditions or mistreatment by passing letters addressed to government officials through family members.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted outside groups to monitor prison conditions independently. During the year the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent visited the Lusignan Prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police commissioner heads the Guyana Police Force, which reports to the Ministry of Public Security and is responsible for maintaining internal security. The Guyana Defense Force is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The defense force, headed by a chief of staff, falls under the purview of the Defense Board, which the president of the country chairs.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police and military, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

An arrest requires a warrant issued by a court official unless an officer who witnesses a crime believes there is good cause to suspect a crime or a breach of the peace has been or will be committed. The law stipulates that a person arrested cannot be held for more than 72 hours unless brought before a court to be charged. Authorities generally observed this requirement. Bail was generally available except in cases of capital offenses and narcotics trafficking.

Although the law provides criminal detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and to family members, authorities occasionally did not fully respect these rights. The state provides legal counsel for indigent persons only when such persons are charged with a capital offense. The Legal Aid Clinic, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), provides legal counsel at a reduced fee in certain circumstances, as determined by the clinic. Police routinely required permission from the senior investigating officer, who was seldom on the premises, before permitting counsel access to a client.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, due primarily to judicial inefficiency, staff shortages, and cumbersome legal procedures. The average length of pretrial detention was three years for those awaiting trial at a magistrates’ court or in the High Court. This was often beyond the maximum possible sentence for the crime for which they were charged.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Delays and inefficiencies undermined judicial due process. Shortages of trained court personnel, postponements at the request of the defense or prosecution, occasional allegations of bribery, poor tracking of cases, and police slowness in preparing cases for trial caused delays.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. Cases in magistrates’ courts are tried without jury, while cases involving more serious crimes are tried by jury in the High Court. The constitution provides that a person shall be informed in detail of the nature of the offense charged as soon as reasonably practicable. Defendants have the right to a timely trial and free assistance of an interpreter. The constitution also provides for persons charged with a criminal offense to be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of a defense. Authorities routinely granted trial postponements to both the defense and prosecution. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and confront adverse witnesses, and they may present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal.

While the law recognizes the right to legal counsel, it was limited to those who could afford to pay, except in cases involving capital crimes. Although there is no formal public defender system, a defendant in a murder case that reaches the High Court may receive a court-appointed attorney. The Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic, with government and private support, provided advice to persons who could not afford a lawyer, particularly victims of domestic violence and violence against women.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and the government generally respected this provision. Individuals can access the court system to initiate lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The magistrates’ courts deal with both criminal and civil matters. Delays, inefficiencies, and alleged corruption in the magistrates’ court system affected citizens’ ability to seek timely remedies in civil matters, and there was a large backlog of civil cases. Citizens have the right to appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Caribbean Court of Justice.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and at times expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: A 2015 directive from the prime minister determines that all headlines in state-owned print media be approved by the Office of the Prime Minister before publication.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 37 percent of citizens used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported some displaced Venezuelan women experienced rights violations, including sexual exploitation, by government officials. NGOs also reported displaced Venezuelans received a lower standard of health and social care, but the government denied these reports.

In-country Movement: The law requires that local village councils grant permission in advance for travel to indigenous areas, but most individuals traveled in these areas without a permit.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for protection of asylum seekers. Although the government is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees, the government reported that it did not prosecute or deport Venezuelans seeking refuge. In the absence of national legislation and requisite government capacity, UNHCR assumed the main responsibility for determination of refugee status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Elections also take place within indigenous communities, where members elect indigenous leaders every 33 to 36 months.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: National and regional elections were held in 2015. The APNU+AFC, a coalition of parties formed by the APNU and the AFC, won by a slim margin against the People’s Progressive Party/Civic. The coalition leader and former opposition leader, David Granger, was elected president. The general elections resulted in the first change of the ruling party in 23 years. International observers concluded the elections were free, fair, and credible. Local government elections were held in 2016 in all eligible communities throughout the country and were considered free, fair, and credible by international observers. New local government elections were scheduled to take place in November.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year, and administration officials responded to the reports. There remained a widespread public perception of corruption involving officials at all levels, including the police and the judiciary.

Corruption: Corruption by police officers was frequent. There were no reports the government prosecuted any members of the police force during the year.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to declare their assets to an integrity commission and sets out both criminal and administrative sanctions for nondisclosure. If a person fails to file a declaration, the daily newspapers and the official gazette can publish that fact. Failure to comply with the law can lead to a summary conviction, fines, and imprisonment for six to 12 months. If property is not disclosed as required, the magistrate convicting the defendant must order the defendant to make a full disclosure within a set time. Although the integrity commission was reconstituted in February after a 12-year hiatus, it did not appear to be fully functional. No publications or convictions occurred during the first nine months of the year.

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

A number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. These groups at times complained government officials were uncooperative and unresponsive to their requests and stated that when officials responded, it was generally to criticize the groups rather than to investigate allegations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The law provides for an ombudsperson to investigate official government actions or actions taken by government officials in exercise of their official duties. Observers reported the ombudsperson operated independently of government interference.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. The law provides stringent penalties for rape, with life imprisonment as the maximum penalty. Successful prosecution of cases of rape and domestic violence was infrequent.

Domestic violence and violence against women, including spousal abuse, was widespread. The law prohibits domestic violence and allows victims to seek prompt protection, occupation, or tenancy orders from a magistrate. Penalties for violation of protection orders include fines up to 10,000 Guyanese dollars (GYD) ($47) and 12 months’ imprisonment. There were reports of police accepting bribes from perpetrators and of magistrates applying inadequate sentences after conviction.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and provides for monetary penalties and award of damages to victims. The law does not cover harassment in schools. Acts of sexual harassment involving physical assault are prosecuted under relevant criminal statutes. While reports of sexual harassment were common, no cases had been filed as of October.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, gender-related discrimination was widespread and deeply ingrained. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, but there was no meaningful enforcement against such discrimination in the workplace. Job vacancy notices routinely specified that the employer sought only male or only female applicants, and women earned approximately 61 percent less than men for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or by birth to a Guyanese citizen abroad. The law requires that births be registered within 14 days but also provides for registration of births after the 14-day period. Births at hospitals and health facilities were registered within a day of delivery.

Child Abuse: There were frequent reports of physical and sexual abuse of children, which was a widespread and serious problem. As with cases of domestic abuse, NGOs alleged some police officers could be bribed to make cases of child abuse “go away.”

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 years, but boys and girls may marry at age 16 with parental consent or judicial authority. UNICEF reported that 23 percent of women were married before the age of 18, and 6 percent of girls were married before age 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of sexual consent is 16 years. By law a person who has sexual relations with a child under 16 may be found guilty of a felony and imprisoned for life. There were continued reports of children being exploited in prostitution. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children 18 and younger. Laws related to pornography and pornographic performances do not prohibit the use, procuring, and offering of a child for each of these purposes. The law also regulates selling, publishing, or exhibiting obscene material, defined as anything that could deprave or corrupt those open to immoral influences.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, perhaps fewer than 20 members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution mandates that the state “take legislative and other measures” to protect disadvantaged persons and persons with disabilities. The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but civil society groups stated the law was not regularly enforced. The law provides for a National Commission on Disabilities to advise the government, coordinate actions on problems affecting persons with disabilities, and implement and monitor the law. The commission focused its attention on sensitizing the public about the law and on compliance, as well as performing sensitization workshops with the Ministries of Social Protection, Education, and Health.

There were segregated schools for the blind and for persons with other disabilities in the most populous regions of the country. As a result, children with disabilities rarely attended mainstream schools, since these lacked the curriculum and infrastructure necessary to accommodate children with disabilities. Lack of appropriate transportation and infrastructure to provide access to both public and private facilities made it difficult for persons with disabilities to be employed outside their homes.

Indigenous People

Various laws protect the rights of the indigenous community, and members have some ability to participate in decisions affecting them, their land, and resources. Rules enacted by village councils require approval from the minister of indigenous peoples’ affairs before entering into force. Indigenous lands were not effectively demarcated.

According to the 2012 census, the indigenous population constituted 10.5 percent of the total population. There were nine recognized tribal groups. Ninety percent of indigenous communities were in the remote interior. The standard of living in indigenous communities was lower than that of most citizens, and they had limited access to education and health care. A UN study found that pregnant women in indigenous communities were not receiving mandatory HIV tests.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity among adult men is illegal under the law and is punishable by up to two years in prison. Anal intercourse is punishable with a maximum sentence of life in prison, regardless of whether the intercourse is between persons of the same sex. These laws were not enforced during the year; however, activists reported it was more common for police to use the law to intimidate men who were gay or perceived to be gay than to make arrests. The law also criminalizes cross-dressing. Despite this, the government permitted the first gay pride parade in June.

No antidiscrimination legislation exists to protect persons from discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, and NGOs reported widespread discrimination of persons in this regard. Reports noted official and societal discrimination in employment, access to education and medical care, and in public space. According to a 2014 survey, approximately 12 percent of men who had sex with men experienced stigma daily, while approximately 30 percent of transgender youth and adults encountered stigma every day or regularly.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

A 2014 UNICEF survey reported only 23 percent of persons ages 15 to 49 expressed accepting attitudes towards individuals with HIV.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of association and allows workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law bars military and paramilitary members from forming a union or associating with any established union. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers but does not specifically require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The Ministry of Social Protection is required to certify all collective bargaining agreements. Individual unions directly negotiate collective bargaining status.

Unions must have 40 percent support of workers under the law. The government may declare strikes illegal if the union leadership does not approve them or if the union does not meet the requirements specified in collective bargaining agreements. Public employees providing essential services may strike if they provide a one-month notice to the Department of Public Service and leave a skeleton staff in place. The International Labor Organization noted that not all sectors deemed essential by the government adhered to international definitions, including the services provided by the Transport and Harbors Department and the National Drainage and Irrigation Board. Arbitration is compulsory for public employees, and such employees engaging in illegal strikes are subject to sanctions or imprisonment.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties for violation of labor laws are small fines the government frequently did not impose. These penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial proceedings regarding violations often were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Some public-sector employee unions continued to allege antiunion discrimination by the government, asserting the government violated worker rights and did not effectively enforce the law. The unions were concerned that employers used hiring practices, such as contract labor and temporary labor, to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government in general did not effectively enforce the law despite an increase in awareness and inspection programs. Penalties for forced labor under trafficking-in-persons laws include forfeiture of property gained as a result of the forced labor, restitution to the victim, and imprisonment. Administrative labor law penalties are small monetary fines, deemed insufficient to deter violations and rarely enforced.

Country experts reported that forced and compulsory labor occurred in the gold-mining, agriculture, and forestry sectors, as well as domestic servitude. Children were particularly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 15 years old, with some exceptions, but it does not sufficiently prohibit the worst forms of child labor. Technical schools may employ children as young as age 14, provided a competent authority approves and supervises such work. No person under 18 may be employed in industrial work at night. Exceptions are for those ages 16 and 17 whose work requires continuity through day and night, including certain gold-mining processes and the production of iron, steel, glass, paper, and raw sugar. The law permits children under 15 to be employed only in enterprises in which members of the same family are also employed. The law prohibits children under 15 from working in factories and stipulates that those under 18 may be removed from factory work if authorities determine they are engaged in activities hazardous to their health or safety.

The government did not always enforce laws effectively. The Ministry of Social Protection collaborated with the Ministry of Education, Geology and Mines Commission, Guyana Forestry Commission, National Insurance Scheme, and Guyana Police Force to enforce child labor laws. Fines for child labor offenses are low and were not sufficient to deter violations. The government did not prosecute any employers for violations relating to child labor.

Child labor occurred and was most prevalent in farming, bars and restaurants, domestic work, and street vending. Small numbers of children also performed hazardous work in the construction, logging, farming, and mining industries. NGOs reported that incidences of the worst forms of child labor occurred, mainly in gold mining, prostitution (see section 6), and forced labor activities, including domestic servitude. According to local NGOs, children who worked in gold mines operated dangerous mining equipment and were exposed to hazardous chemicals, including mercury.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, social status, and national origin or citizenship. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations, and the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women and to persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and workplace access was limited for persons with disabilities (see section 6). Newspapers frequently carried advertisements asking gender-specific or age-specific applicants to fill positions in the retail, cosmetology, or security sectors.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage for private-sector employees. Minimum wages for regular working hours of all full-time, private-sector employees are set nationally for hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly workers. The national minimum wage for regular working hours of full-time, public-sector employees was 55,000 GYD ($260) per month. A normal workweek is 40 hours, distributed over no more than five days per week. The law prohibits compulsory overtime, and overtime work must be paid according to rates set in the law or according to any collective bargaining agreement in force where workers are unionized. The law establishes workplace safety and health standards. These standards were current and appropriate for the country’s main industries and were effectively enforced.

The law provides that some categories of workers have the right to remove themselves from unsafe work environments without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in these situations.

The Ministry of Social Protection is charged with enforcement of the labor law, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. Labor inspections carried out during the year targeted all sectors, including agriculture, mining, and construction. Ministry follow-up of labor inspection findings varied, and compliance among employers was also inconsistent.

According to local trade unions and NGOs, enforcement of minimum wage legislation was not effective. Although specific data were unavailable, a significant number of workers were employed in the informal economy. Unorganized workers, particularly women in the informal sector, were often paid less than the minimum wage. Local trade unions and NGOs also reported the Ministry of Social Protection lacked sufficient resources to enforce occupational safety and health laws adequately. In 2017, 207 workplace accidents were reported, of which 153 were investigated.

Honduras

Executive Summary

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

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

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

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses. Impunity existed in many cases, however, as evidenced by lengthy judicial processes, few convictions of perpetrators, and failures to prosecute intellectual authors of crimes.

Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of homicide, extortion, kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, intimidation, and other threats and violence directed against human rights defenders, judicial authorities, lawyers, the business community, journalists, bloggers, women, and members of vulnerable populations.

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. In general the killings took place during law enforcement operations or were linked to other criminal activity by government agents. Civilian authorities investigated and arrested members of the security forces accused of human rights abuses. Impunity, however, remained a serious problem, with significant delays in some prosecutions and sources alleging corruption in judicial proceedings. The Violence Observatory of the Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) reported 16 deaths involving security forces during the first six months of the year. These included eight deaths involving the Honduran National Police (HNP) and eight involving the military.

On September 6, 2nd Lieutenant Chemis Xavier Paz Cruz, assigned to the 5th Battalion of the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP), was convicted of the 2016 murder of Elias Jireh Elver during a patrol in Tegucigalpa. Paz’s sentencing was pending at year’s end.

Following months of investigations into postelection violence, the HNP and the Public Ministry’s Technical Agency for Criminal Investigations (ATIC) concluded 22 investigations into alleged human rights violations by members of both the HNP and PMOP and passed the cases to the Public Ministry for possible prosecution. The Public Ministry launched 17 cases related to abuse of authority in August, noting that more cases would be forthcoming. On September 18, the Public Ministry announced the first case against an HNP officer for the death of a protester.

The government continued to investigate the 2016 killing of environmental and indigenous activist Berta Caceres. On March 2, the Public Ministry’s ATIC arrested a ninth suspect, Roberto David Castillo Mejia, the former president of the company building the Agua Zarca dam, which Caceres had long opposed. Throughout the year both the Caceres family private attorneys and the defense team complained the Public Ministry restricted access to evidence. Both legal parties asserted their right to review additional evidence that investigators had collected but not analyzed, including electronics such as laptops, cell phones, memory sticks, and tablets. On August 24, the three-judge tribunal ordered the Public Ministry to grant the prosecution and defense access to the requested evidence. The oral hearings for the first eight individuals accused of planning and executing the murder of Berta Caceres, scheduled to begin on September 17, were delayed due to legal motions filed by the Caceres family’s attorneys that called for removal of the three presiding judges. An appellate court denied the motion to dismiss the judges, and oral hearings began on October 20. On November 29, the court convicted seven of the eight defendants of murder and fully acquitted the eighth. The defendants were expected to appeal the verdict.

There continued to be reports of violence related to land conflicts and criminal activity in the Bajo Aguan region, but the overall level of violence in the area was far below its 2012 peak. On September 7, collaboration among the government’s Bajo Aguan Task Force, INTERPOL, and Mexican law enforcement authorities resulted in the arrest and extradition from Mexico to Honduras of Osvin Naun Caballero Santamaria. Caballero was a suspect in several crimes, including the 2016 killings of Jose Angel Flores and Silmer Dionisio George, two leaders of the Unified Peasant Movement of the Bajo Aguan (known as MUCA).

Organized criminal elements, including drug traffickers and local and transnational gangs such as MS-13 and the 18th Street gang, committed killings, extortion, kidnappings, human trafficking, and intimidation of police, prosecutors, journalists, women, and human rights defenders. Major urban centers and drug trafficking routes experienced disproportionate rates of violence. The UNAH Violence Observatory reported that as of June, 82 individuals working in the transportation sector had been killed, including 49 taxi, bus, and motorcycle taxi drivers and 33 private company drivers.

On September 5, the HNP reported a national homicide rate of 39.6 per 100,000 inhabitants for the months of January to August. The UNAH Violence Observatory projected a final homicide rate of approximately 40 per 100,000 inhabitants through year’s end. Reports linked many of these homicides to organized crime and gangs.

b. Disappearance

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

The government continued to make significant advances in combatting kidnappings by criminals. In July the HNP rescued a nine-year-old child within 72 hours of his abduction in El Negrito, Yoro Department. The HNP reported 15 kidnappings through August, a 35 percent decrease from the same period in 2017. The HNP reported it rescued 11 of the 15 kidnap victims. The HNP recovered an additional person through negotiations, one victim remained captive, and two victims were killed while in captivity. The HNP estimated that it prevented more than 58.6 million lempiras ($2.44 million) in ransom payments to kidnappers between January and August.

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, government officials received complaints and investigated alleged abuse by members of the security forces on the streets and in detention centers. The quasi-governmental National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (CONAPREV) reported two complaints of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to pervasive gang-related violence and the government’s failure to control criminal activity within the prisons. Prisoners suffered from overcrowding, insufficient access to food and water, violence, and alleged abuse by prison officials.

Physical Conditions: Prisoners suffered from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of adequate sanitation and medical care, and, in some prisons, lack of adequate ventilation and lighting. The Ministry of Human Rights reported that, as of September 20, the total prison population was 20,506 in 27 prisons. According to the ministry, the system had designed capacity for approximately 10,600 inmates.

The National Prison Institute (INP) reported that as of September, 23 inmates had died in prison (16 from natural causes, four from violence, two from accidents, and one from suicide). The INP reported no deaths involving prison officials. CONAPREV registered 25 deaths through September and confirmed four inmates died from violence within the prison.

As of September the Ministry of Human Rights reported that the country’s three pretrial detention centers held 62 individuals. These three centers were on military installations and received some support services from the military, but the INP administered them. The government used pretrial detention centers to hold high-profile suspects and those in need of additional security. Pretrial detainees were often held with convicted prisoners.

There was pervasive gang-related violence, and the government failed to control criminal activity effectively within the prisons. Some prisons lacked sufficient security personnel. Many prisoners had access to weapons and other contraband, inmates attacked other inmates with impunity, escapes were frequent, and inmates and their associates outside prison threatened prison officials and their families. These conditions contributed to an unstable, dangerous environment in the penitentiary system. Media reported prison riots and violent confrontations between gang members in prisons throughout the year.

Through October 2018 the national prisons had approximately 1,160 female prisoners, 810 of whom the government detained at the National Women’s Social Adjustment penitentiary. Others were held in separate areas of men’s prisons. Children younger than age three could stay with their mothers in prison.

Authorities did not segregate those with tuberculosis or other infectious diseases from the general prison population; there was only limited support for persons with mental illnesses or disabilities. As of September officials reported that 151 prisoners were being treated for tuberculosis. Officials also stated that all penitentiary centers had an antiretroviral treatment program. CONAPREV reported that every prison had a functioning health clinic with at least one medical professional. Basic medical supplies and medicines, particularly antibiotics, were in short supply throughout the prison system. In most prisons only inmates who purchased bottled water or had water filters in their cells had access to potable water.

Administration: As of September the INP reported no formal complaints for mistreatment of detainees, although CONAPREV alleged 39 possible cases of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Authorities conducted no official investigations of mistreatment because they received no formal complaints. Media reports noted that family members often face long delays or are unable to visit detainees.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent local and international human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. CONAPREV conducted seven visits to juvenile detention facilities as of the end of August. The judicial system was legally responsible for monitoring prison conditions and providing for the rights of prisoners.

Improvements: Through September the INP trained 435 technical, administrative, and security personnel working in 13 prisons on topics such as first aid and appropriate use of force.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported that authorities at times failed to enforce these requirements effectively.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The HNP maintains internal security and reports to the Secretariat of Security. ATIC has legal authority to investigate 21 types of crimes and make arrests. The armed forces, which report to the Secretariat of Defense, are responsible for external security but also exercise some domestic security responsibilities. Some larger cities have independent police forces that supplement the HNP and report to municipal authorities. The PMOP reports to military authorities but conducts operations sanctioned by civilian security officials as well as by military leaders. As of September the PMOP had approximately 4,500 personnel organized into eight of 10 planned battalions and was present in all 18 departments. The National Interinstitutional Security Force (FUSINA) coordinates the overlapping responsibilities of the HNP, PMOP, National Intelligence Directorate, Public Ministry, and national court system. FUSINA reports to the National Security and Defense Council. The president chairs the council, which includes representatives of the Supreme Court, National Congress, Public Ministry, and Secretariats of Security and Defense.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. The government took steps to investigate and punish abuses, but corruption and inefficiency resulted in impunity in many cases. The armed forces surrendered members accused of human rights violations to civilian authorities. The armed forces sometimes dishonorably discharged such individuals, even before a criminal trial. The Public Ministry, primarily through the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life, is responsible for investigating cases in which a government agent is allegedly responsible for killing a civilian. Prosecutors try such cases in civilian courts. Prosecutors and judges attached to FUSINA prosecute and hear cases related to FUSINA operations. A unit within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life manages some cases of homicides committed by members of the security forces and government officials. The human rights office of the joint staff of the armed forces investigates allegations of human rights abuses by members of the armed forces.

The human rights office of the joint staff of the armed forces reported that in 2017 more than 6,200 members of the armed forces, including the army, navy, air force, PMOP, and others, received training on human rights. Through June more than 5,800 members of the armed forces received human rights training from military and nongovernmental organization (NGO) instructors.

Corruption and impunity remained serious problems within the security forces. Some members of security forces allegedly committed crimes, including crimes linked to local and international criminal organizations. The Public Ministry’s ATIC investigated some criminal cases involving HNP officers.

As of November the Police Purge Commission reported that, since its creation in 2016, it had referred for removal or provisional suspension more than 5,600 police officers on various grounds including corruption, criminal activity, and poor performance.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law provides that police may make arrests only with a warrant, unless they make the arrest during the commission of a crime, there is strong suspicion that a person has committed a crime and might otherwise evade criminal prosecution, they catch a person in possession of evidence related to a crime, or a prosecutor has ordered the arrest. The law requires police to inform persons of the grounds for their arrest and bring detainees before a competent judicial authority within 24 hours. It stipulates that a prosecutor has 24 additional hours to decide if there is probable cause for indictment, whereupon a judge has 24 more hours to decide whether to issue a temporary detention order. Such an order may be effective for up to six days, after which the judge must hold a pretrial hearing to examine whether there is probable cause to continue pretrial detention. The law allows persons charged with some felonies to avail themselves of bail and gives prisoners a right of prompt access to family members. The law allows the release of other suspects pending formal charges, on the condition that they periodically report to authorities. The government generally respected these provisions. Persons suspected of any of 22 specific felonies must remain in custody, pending the conclusion of judicial proceedings against them. Some judges, however, ruled that such suspects may be released on the condition that they continue to report periodically to authorities. The law grants prisoners the right to prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to government-provided counsel, although authorities did not always abide by these requirements.

Arbitrary Arrest: The Public Ministry reported 49 cases of illegal detention or arbitrary arrest as of October. As of September the National Human Rights Commission of Honduras (CONADEH) reported 16 cases of arbitrary arrest by the HNP, two by the DPI, and six by the armed forces.

Pretrial Detention: Judicial inefficiency, corruption, and insufficient resources delayed proceedings in the criminal justice system, and lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem. For crimes with minimum sentences of six years’ imprisonment, the law authorizes pretrial detention of up to two years. The prosecution may request an additional six-month extension, but many detainees remained in pretrial detention much longer, including for more time than the maximum period of incarceration for their alleged crime. The law does not authorize pretrial detention for crimes with a maximum sentence of five years or less. The law mandates that authorities release detainees whose cases have not yet come to trial and whose time in pretrial detention already exceeds the maximum prison sentence for their alleged crime. Even so, many prisoners remained in custody after completing their full sentences, and sometimes even after an acquittal, because officials failed to process their releases expeditiously.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the justice system was poorly funded and staffed, inadequately equipped, often ineffective, and subject to intimidation, corruption, politicization, and patronage. Low salaries and a lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery. Powerful special interests, including organized criminal groups, exercised influence on the outcomes of some court proceedings.

On September 13, the Supreme Court accepted an appeal by the defense attorneys of six former members of the court, including its former president Jorge Rivera Aviles, to grant the accused freedom from pretrial detention after one month in jail. Charges against the six former court officials included several counts of misappropriation of funds and abuse of authority. The legal proceedings against the six were ongoing as of October.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary did not always enforce this right.

The law presumes an accused person is innocent. The accused has the right to an initial hearing before a judge, to ask for bail, consult with legal counsel in a timely manner, have a lawyer provided by the state if necessary, and request an appeal. Defendants may receive free assistance of an interpreter. The law permits defendants to confront witnesses against them and offer witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Credible observers noted problems in trial procedures such as a lack of admissible evidence, judicial corruption, widespread public distrust of the legal system, witness intimidation, and an ineffective witness protection program.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law establishes an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court to seek damages for human rights violations. Litigants may sue a criminal defendant for damages if authorized by a criminal court. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Inter-American Human Rights System.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

 

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

Although the law generally prohibits such actions, a legal exception allows government authorities to enter a private residence to prevent a crime or in case of another emergency. There were credible complaints that police occasionally failed to obtain the required authorization before entering private homes. As of September CONAPREV registered two alleged cases of illegal entry by government officials.

Ethnic minority rights leaders, international NGOs, and farmworker organizations continued to claim that the government failed to redress actions taken by security forces, government agencies, and private individuals and businesses to dislodge farmers and indigenous persons from lands over which they claimed ownership based on land reform law or ancestral land titles (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

In September congress repealed Article 335-B of the law, which criminalized hate speech and language inciting terrorism, due to concern that this article could be used to target journalists and members of civil society for expressing views critical of the government. Media associations and NGOs praised the congressional action.

Violence and Harassment: There were continued reports of harassment and threats against journalists, media figures, and bloggers. NGO Peace Brigades International registered a significant increase in reports of harassment against journalists and social communicators since 2017. They registered 41 security incidents involving journalists and social commentators between January and August, nearly twice the number of complaints registered during the same period in 2017. Reports linked most of these instances of harassment and threats to organized criminal elements and gangs.

Government officials at all levels publicly denounced violence and threats of violence against media members and social communicators. UNAH’s Violence Observatory reported no killings of journalists and social communicators during the first six months of the year, as compared with two such killings in 2017. There were many reports of intimidation and threats against media members and their families, including from members of the security forces and organized crime. It was usually unclear whether violence and threats against journalists were linked to their work or were products of generalized violence.

Human rights defenders, including indigenous and environmental rights activists, political activists, labor activists, and representatives of civil society working to combat corruption, reported threats and acts of violence. Civil society organizations, including students, agricultural workers groups, and indigenous rights groups, criticized the government and its officials for allegedly criminalizing and stigmatizing social protest. Members of the Police Purge Commission, National Anticorruption Council (CNA), and Public Ministry’s anticorruption unit (UFECIC) all reported receiving threats. The Agroindustrial Worker’s Federation, a labor syndicate, reported two cases of threats against union leaders (see section 7.a.).

The government allocated a budget of nearly 25 million lempiras ($1.04 million) for the operation of its protection mechanism. By August it had 34 permanent and contract staff. The mechanism approved 219 protection cases, including 131 human rights defenders, 39 journalists, 30 social commentators, and 19 justice-sector workers. As of August 31, the mechanism had received 122 new requests for protection, of which 104 met legal requirements and were accepted. Of the 104 accepted cases, eight were closed during the year. The remaining 96 cases included 52 human rights defenders, 14 journalists, 21 social commentators, and 9 justice-sector workers. Some NGOs continued to express concern about weak implementation of the law and limited resources available to operate the government’s protection mechanism for human rights defenders. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the government’s failure to investigate threats against activists and journalists adequately.

The HNP’s Violent Crimes Task Force investigated crimes against high-profile and particularly vulnerable victims, including judges, journalists, human rights activists, and members of the LGBTI community. As of November the task force had submitted 19 cases to the Public Ministry, arrested 42 persons, and obtained six convictions.

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

Libel/Slander Laws: Citizens, including public officials, may initiate criminal proceedings for libel and slander.

National Security: The Organization of American States (OAS) Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) continued to raise concerns regarding the law for the classification of public documents related to defense and national security (the Secrets Law). MACCIH called on the government either to amend the law or pass a new one. According to MACCIH representatives, the law prohibits authorities from fully investigating government contracts and funds, enabling government institutions to misuse an overly broad classification system under the guise of “national security” to hide potential illicit activity in such areas as the security tax fund, water authority, and social security administration. Civil society organizations supported MACCIH’s calls to reform the law.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2017 approximately 32 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The law requires a judge to issue an eviction order for individuals occupying public and private property if security forces had not evicted the individuals within a specified period of the occupation. Some local and international civil society organizations, including students, agricultural workers groups, political parties, and indigenous rights groups, alleged that members of the security forces used excessive force to break up demonstrations. The IACHR reported that the government at times used a policy of arbitrary detentions or arrests to inhibit protest.

Law enforcement evictions of protesters, land rights activists, and others were generally conducted peacefully, although injuries to both protesters and law enforcement officers were occasionally reported. The NGO Peace Brigades International reported several instances of threats and intimidation by security forces, including a heavy military presence in disputed areas. Conversely, media sources reported in October that two soldiers were ambushed and killed near Tocoa, Colon, as they sought peacefully to remove protesters from blocking a road. No suspects were arrested, and it is unclear if the shooters were related to the protesters or linked with illicit groups.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits illicit association, defined as gatherings by persons bearing arms, explosive devices, or dangerous objects with the purpose of committing a crime, and prescribes prison terms of two to four years and a fine of 30,000 to 60,000 lempiras ($1,250 to $2,500) for anyone who convokes or directs an illicit meeting or demonstration. There were no reports of such cases during the year, although authorities charged some protesters with sedition. Public-sector unions expressed concern over some officials refusing to honor bargaining agreements and firing union leaders. The law prohibits police from unionizing (see section 7.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Transiting migrants were vulnerable to abuse by criminal organizations.

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

In 2017 the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated there were approximately 190,000 IDPs in the country. In 2017 the National Human Rights Commission identified 339 cases of forced displacement and 349 cases of individuals at risk of forced displacement. Internal displacement was generally caused by violence, national and transnational gang activity, and human trafficking. Official data on forced internal displacement was limited in part because gangs controlled many of the neighborhoods that were sources of internal displacement (see section 6, Displaced Children).

The government maintained the Interinstitutional Commission for the Protection of People Displaced by Violence, and within the newly created Ministry of Human Rights, the government created the Directorate for the Protection of Persons Internally Displaced by Violence. Both the ministry and the commission focused on developing policies to address IDPs. Following up on the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework conference that the government hosted in October 2017, the participants, including governments from across the region, agreed to the Regional Integral Framework for Protection and Solutions. Under the framework the government pledged to strengthen its capacity to provide services to key population groups, including refugees and returned migrants, through 14 commitments and 28 specific actions between 2018 and 2020.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law allows for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system to provide protection to refugees, but at times there were significant delays in processing provisional permits for asylum applicants.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In December 2017 Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party was declared the winner in the November 26 elections. International observers generally agreed the elections were free but disputed the fairness and transparency of the results. The OAS and EU both fielded observer teams for the elections and agreed that the margin of victory separating incumbent President Hernandez from challenger Salvador Nasralla was extremely close. The OAS mission found that this small margin, combined with numerous irregularities in vote processing, left it unable to state with certainty who won the presidential election. The EU mission agreed that there were serious irregularities in the process but concluded that safeguards built into the system, including posting of voting results forms on a public website, helped promote transparency. NGOs reported irregularities, including problems with voter rolls, buying and selling of electoral workers’ credentials, and lack of transparency in campaign financing.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Civil society and opposition parties accused officials of using government resources to attract voters.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women, however, suffered political violence, which ranged from harassment for voting against party lines to receiving death threats for their political participation.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: The Public Ministry’s anticorruption unit (UFECIC) made several announcements of case investigations, including against former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo, spouse of former president Porfirio Lobo; the “fe de erratas” case against two members of congress accused of altering legislation; and the “Network of Congresspersons” case, in which five officials were accused of diverting public funds. UFECIC announced a fourth case in June, named “Pandora,” in which 38 individuals, including a former secretary of agriculture and several members of congress, were accused of fraud, abuse of authority, misuse of public funds, and other corruption-related crimes.

On February 22, the CNA presented five of its highest-profile cases to the public, citing several public administration and elected officials, including a Supreme Court judge, a congressman, and former first lady Bonilla de Lobo. Following the announcement the CNA reported harassment campaigns and threats.

MACCIH, the CNA, and civil society organizations continued to press for the passage of legislation to combat corruption, but most legislative efforts stalled in congress.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure law but did not always comply. The law mandates that the Supreme Auditing Tribunal monitor and verify disclosures. The tribunal published its reports on its website and cited the names of public officials who did not comply with disclosure law. The Public Ministry’s Campaign Financing Unit, created in June 2017, conducted audits of 397 candidates, focusing on those who won their bids for election. The unit reported that 76 percent of candidates for public office reported on all campaign expenditures and that four cases were referred to the Public Ministry for investigation.

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

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: A semiautonomous commissioner for human rights served as an ombudsman and investigated complaints of human rights abuses. With offices throughout the country, the ombudsman received cases that otherwise may not have risen to national attention. An independent Ministry of Human Rights was established in January and, despite operational challenges from its recent inception, has served as an effective advocate for human rights within the government. The Public Ministry’s Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights handled cases involving charges of human rights abuses by government officials. In March the Public Ministry also created the Special Prosecutor’s Office for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators, and Justice Officials. The Human Rights Committee is in the congress. The Ministries of Security and Defense both have human rights offices that investigated alleged human rights abuses and coordinated human rights-related activities with the Ministry of Human Rights.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of rape of men or women, including spousal rape. The government considers rape a crime of public concern, and the state prosecutes rapists even if victims do not press charges. The penalties for rape range from three to nine years’ imprisonment, and the courts enforced these penalties.

The law provides penalties of up to four years in prison for domestic violence; however, if a victim’s physical injuries do not reach the severity required to categorize the violence as a criminal act, the only legal penalty for a first offense is a sentence of one to three months of community service. Female victims of domestic violence are entitled to certain protective measures. Abusers caught in the act may be detained for up to 24 hours as a preventive measure. The law provides a maximum sentence of three years in prison for disobeying a restraining order connected with the crime of intrafamilial violence.

In cooperation with the UN Development Program, the government operated consolidated reporting centers in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula where women could report crimes, seek medical and psychological attention, and receive other services. These reporting centers were in addition to the 298 government-operated women’s offices–one in each municipality–that provided a wide array of services to women, focusing on education, personal finance, health, social and political participation, environmental stewardship, and prevention of gender-based violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes various forms of sexual harassment. Violators face penalties of one to three years in prison and possible suspension of their professional licenses, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although the law accords women and men the same legal rights and status, including property rights in divorce cases, many women did not fully enjoy such rights. Most women in the workforce engaged in lower-status and lower-paying informal occupations, such as domestic service, without the benefit of legal protections. By law women have equal access to educational opportunities.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the country, from the citizenship of their parents, or by naturalization.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. The law establishes prison sentences of up to three years for child abuse. The Violence Observatory reported the homicides of 119 children as of July 1.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18 with parental consent. According to UNICEF, 8 percent of children were married before age 15 and 34 percent before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children, especially in sex trafficking, continued to be a problem. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The legal age of consent is 18. There is no statutory rape law, but the penalty for rape of a minor younger than age 12 is 15 to 20 years in prison, or nine to 13 years in prison if the victim is age 13 or older. Penalties for facilitating child sex trafficking are 10 to 15 years in prison, with fines ranging from one million to 2.5 million lempiras ($41,700 to $104,000). The law prohibits the use of children younger than age 18 for exhibitions or performances of a sexual nature or in the production of pornography.

Displaced Children: Many children lived on the streets. Casa Alianza estimated 15,000 children were homeless and living on the streets, primarily in major cities. Civil society organizations reported that common causes of forced displacement for youth included death threats for failure to pay extortion, attempted recruitment by gangs, witnessing criminal activity by gangs or organized crime, domestic violence, attempted kidnappings, family members’ involvement in drug dealing, victimization by traffickers, discrimination based on sexual orientation, sexual harassment, and discrimination for having a chronic illness.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered more than 250 members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The Public Ministry is responsible for prosecuting violations. The law requires that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, but few buildings were accessible, and the national government did not effectively implement laws or programs to provide such access.

The government has an Office for People with Disabilities located within the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion, but its ability to provide services to persons with disabilities was limited.

Indigenous People

In the 2013 census, approximately 8.5 percent of the population identified themselves as members of indigenous communities, but other estimates were higher. Indigenous groups included the Miskito, Tawahkas, Pech, Tolupans, Lencas, Maya-Chortis, Nahual, Bay Islanders, and Garifunas. They had limited representation in the national government and consequently little direct input into decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources.

Indigenous communities continued to report threats and acts of violence against them and against community and environmental activists. Violence was often rooted in a broader context of conflict over land and natural resources, extensive corruption, lack of transparency and community consultation, other criminal activity, and limited state ability to protect the rights of vulnerable communities.

Persons from indigenous and Afro-descendent communities continued to exp