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Taiwan

Executive Summary

Taiwan is a democracy governed by a president and a parliament selected in multiparty elections. In 2016 voters elected President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party to a four-year term in an election considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included corruption and exploitation of foreign workers including forced labor.

Authorities enforced laws prohibiting human rights abuses and prosecuted officials who committed them. There were no reports of impunity.

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

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

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

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 stipulates that no violence, threat, inducement, fraud, or other improper means should be used against accused persons.

In a case dating to 2013, in June the High Court found the brigade commander and two other defendants involved in the death of Corporal Hung Chung-chiu following prolonged exercise in extreme heat not guilty; the court suspended, with two years’ probation, the sentences of six other defendants, resulting in no jail time served.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem; prisons operated at 113 percent of designed capacity.

To reduce the prison population, in June the Ministry of Justice implemented an initiative allowing inmates to work outside prison during the day. The first inmates, a group of 19, received monthly salaries of no less than 21,000 New Taiwan dollars (NT$) ($690), and more than 60 percent of their income was used as restitution to crime victims.

The case of former president Chen Shui-bian continued to receive high-profile attention from domestic and international political figures and human rights activists. Since his release on medical parole in 2015, Chen must seek special permission from Taichung Prison authorities to engage in activities unrelated to medical treatment, including political activities. During the year, authorities denied Chen permission to attend various political functions but approved others, including a fundraising event and a concert. Prison authorities monitored Chen’s outside activities and cautioned him about violating the terms of his medical parole when he made pre-recorded comments on politics at a fundraising event, but still allowed him to attend a concert afterwards. Following a second health evaluation, the justice ministry’s Agency of Corrections extended Chen’s medical parole until November 4.

Administration: Prison authorities investigated claims of inhumane conditions and released the results of their investigations to judicial authorities and occasionally to the press. Authorities investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

During the active investigation phase of their cases, authorities deprived a small number of detainees of visitation rights, on court order, although these detainees retained access to legal counsel.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities allowed independent nongovernmental observers to investigate prison conditions.

Improvements: The Ministry of Justice began prison expansion and construction projects aimed at resolving overcrowding problems within four years.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and authorities generally observed these prohibitions. By law defendants may challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, and the government generally observed this requirement.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police Administration (NPA) of the Ministry of the Interior has administrative jurisdiction over all police units, although city mayors and county magistrates appoint city and county police commissioners. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the NPA, and authorities had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

By legislative amendment to the Organic Act of Courts, the Special Investigation Division (SID) of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office was abolished effective January 1. The SID previously drew criticism for being politically motivated in its handling of cases.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires a warrant or summons, except when there is sufficient reason to believe the suspect may flee, or in urgent circumstances, as specified in the code of criminal procedures. Courts have judicial discretion to release indicted persons on bail. Prosecutors must apply to the courts within 24 hours after arrest for permission to continue detaining an arrestee. Authorities generally observed these procedures, and trials usually took place within three months of indictment. Prosecutors may apply to a court for approval of pretrial detention of an unindicted suspect for a maximum of two months, with one possible two-month extension. Courts may request pretrial detention in cases in which the potential sentence is five years or more and when there is a reasonable concern the suspect could flee, collude with other suspects or witnesses, or tamper with or destroy material evidence.

In April the Legislative Yuan (legislative branch of the administration) approved amendments, effective January 1, 2018, to the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allow defendants and their lawyers’ access to case files and evidence while in pretrial detention. Under existing law, the accused and defense lawyers can only examine case files during the trial and are unable to obtain detailed information about the legal grounds of a pretrial detention. The amended law also stipulates that defendants must be assisted by a lawyer while in detention. For those who cannot afford to hire one, a public defender will be appointed. Another amendment specified that suspects may no longer be interrogated late at night.

The judicial branch (Judicial Yuan) and the NPA operated a program to provide legal counsel during initial police questioning to qualifying indigent suspects who have a mental disability or have been charged with a crime punishable by three or more years in prison. Detained persons may request the assistance of the Legal Aid Foundation (LAF), a publicly funded independent statutory organization that provides professional legal assistance through its 22 branch offices to persons who might not otherwise have legal representation. During regular consultations with police and when participating in police conferences, LAF officials remind police of their obligation to notify suspects of the existence of such counseling and the new amendments mentioned above were designed to address such concerns about access to counsel. Authorities can detain a suspect without visitation rights other than by legal counsel or hold a suspect under house arrest based on a prosecutor’s recommendation and court decision. The law affords the right of compensation to those whom police have unlawfully detained.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Taiwan enacted a Habeas Corpus Act in 2014 and authorities have generally implemented the law effectively.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, some political commentators and academics publicly questioned the impartiality of judges and prosecutors involved in high-profile and politically sensitive cases. Judicial reform advocates pressed for greater public accountability, reforms of the personnel system, and other procedural improvements.

President Tsai convened a National Congress on Judicial Reform in August to consider reform recommendations on issues of most concern to the public. These included: protecting the rights of crime victims and disadvantaged and marginalized groups; promoting a credible, fair, and professional judicial system; improving judicial accountability and efficiency; and enhancing judicial transparency and public participation.

A 2016 survey by the Crime Research Center of National Chung Cheng University found 85 percent of respondents distrusted the objectivity and fairness of judges, a 7 percent increase from the same survey conducted in 2015 and a record high. The same survey found that 77 percent of respondents did not trust the objectivity and fairness of prosecutors.

A constitutional interpretation in July granted the right to a second appeal to defendants in misdemeanor cases who are found not guilty at the first trial, but receive guilty verdicts at the second trial. Previously, offenses with a maximum penalty of no more than three years’ imprisonment, detention, or a fine were not appealable to the court of third instance.

The judicial system included options, beyond appeal, for rectifying a miscarriage of justice. Lin Chin-gui was freed in April after serving 10 years in jail. Based on eyewitness testimony, he was sentenced to life in prison for the shooting death of a taxi driver in 2007. The Taiwan Innocence Project petitioned for a retrial and presented crucial new evidence to prove his innocence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

By law when any authority arrests or detains a person without a court order, any person, including the arrestee/detainee, may petition a court of justice having jurisdiction for a writ of habeas corpus, and the case must be brought before a judge within 24 hours. The law also requires agencies to inform detainees of their right to see a judge for a writ of habeas corpus. Detaining authorities who violate the law may face a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of up to NT$100,000 ($3,280).

All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. They also have the right to an attorney and to be present at trial. Trials are public, although court permission may be required to attend trials involving juveniles or potentially sensitive issues that might attract crowds. Judges decide cases; all judges receive appointments from and answer to the Judicial Yuan. A single judge, rather than a defense attorney or prosecutor, typically interrogates parties and witnesses. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges, hire an attorney of their choice or have one provided, prepare a defense, confront witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right to free interpretation service, if needed, from the moment charged through all appeals.

The law states a suspect may not be compelled to testify and that a confession shall not be the sole evidence used to find a defendant guilty. All convicted persons have the right to appeal to the next two higher court levels. The law extends the above rights to all suspects/convicted persons.

In January a judge was fined the equivalent of 10 months’ salary, NT$1.5 million ($49,200), for intimidating defendants in court. The Judicial Yuan’s Court of the Judiciary found that the Taoyuan District Court judge’s poor attitude and verbal abuse of defendants in court had been detrimental to the image of the judicial system.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters. Administrative remedies are available in addition to judicial remedies for alleged wrongdoing, including human rights violations.

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 July the Taiwan High Court confirmed a district court ruling that ordered former prosecutor-general Huang Shih-ming to pay Democratic Progressive Party caucus whip Ker Chien-ming NT$620,000 ($20,300) in compensation as the victim of illegal wiretapping. The High Court reduced the amount of compensation awarded to prosecutor Lin Hsiu-tao in the same case from NT$300,000 ($9,830) to NT$100,000 ($3,280) (see section 4).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential and legislative elections took place in January 2016. Democratic Progressive Party candidate Tsai Ing-wen won the presidency, and her party obtained a majority in the legislature for the first time in Taiwan’s history. Observers regarded the elections as free and fair, although there were allegations of vote buying by candidates and supporters of both major political parties.

In June the Pingtung District Court found Kuomintang legislator Chien Tung-ming guilty of vote buying in connection with the 2016 election and sentenced him to five years and six months in prison and deprivation of civil rights for six years. Chien was also stripped of his legislative authority in accordance with the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act, becoming the first legislator to be suspended after being convicted at the first trial. Chien’s wife, 86 staffers, and supporters (including voters who received bribes), were also indicted in the case, and a total of 158 defendants were convicted.

Amendments to the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act passed in November 2016 lowered the threshold of petitions, signatures, and votes needed to recall officials.

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

With her election in 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen became Taiwan’s first female president. In the new legislature, a record 38 percent of lawmakers were women. A Cambodian-born woman became Taiwan’s first immigrant legislator in 2016. Six seats are also reserved in the legislature for representatives chosen by Taiwan’s indigenous people.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and authorities generally implemented the law effectively. There were reports of official corruption during the year. As of June, 12 ranking officials, 93 mid-level, 96 low-level, and 20 elected people’s deputies had been indicted for corruption.

Corruption: The Ministry of Justice and its subordinate Agency Against Corruption are in charge of combating official corruption. The ministry received sufficient resources and collaborated with civil society within the scope of the law. Some legal scholars and politicians said the justice ministry was insufficiently independent and conducted politically motivated investigations of politicians. The Control Yuan is responsible for impeachment of officials in cases of wrongdoing.

In January, in one prominent case, prosecutors charged former Academia Sinica president Wong Chi-huey with corruption and insider trading related to a biotech company. The Control Yuan in July agreed in a 9-0 vote to impeach Wong and forwarded the case to the Public Functionary Disciplinary Sanction Commission. Approximately 70 academicians issued a joint statement criticizing the impeachment and the judicial authorities’ handling of the case. The Control Yuan and prosecutors dismissed the criticism.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires specific appointed as well as elected officials to disclose their income and assets to the Control Yuan, which makes the disclosures public. Those failing to declare property are subject to a fine ranging from NT$200,000 ($6,560) to NT$4.0 million ($131,000) and may be punished with a maximum prison term of one year for repeatedly failing to comply with the requirement. The law also requires civil servants to account for abnormal increases in their assets and makes failure to do so a punishable offense, and there are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

The amended Money Laundering Control Act, which became effective in June, stipulates 18 categories of politically exposed persons (PEPs) subject to strict oversight for money laundering activities. The PEPs include the president, vice president, heads of the central and local governments, legislators, and leadership of state-owned enterprises, as well as family members and close associates of PEPs.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and domestic violence. Many victims did not report the crime for fear of social stigmatization, and various NGO and academic studies estimated the total number of sexual assaults was seven to 10 times the number reported to police.

The law provides protection for rape survivors. Rape trials are not open to the public unless the victim consents. The law permits a charge of rape even if the victim chooses not to press charges.

In June the legislature approved a pension reform bill for public school teachers, which stipulates that retired teachers and staff must return pension payments received if convicted of sexual assault that occurred while they were employed as teachers.

Amendments to the Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act went into effect stipulating that experts will assist in questioning and appear in court as witnesses when rape victims are minors or mentally disabled, and authorize the use of one-way mirrors, video conferencing, or other practices to protect victims during questioning and at trial.

The law establishes the punishment for rape as a minimum of five years’ imprisonment, and courts usually sentenced individuals convicted of rape to five to 10 years in prison.

Courts typically sentenced individuals convicted in domestic violence cases to less than six months in prison. Some abused women chose not to report incidents to police due to social pressure not to disgrace their families. The law allows prosecutors to investigate complaints of domestic violence even in cases where the victim has not filed a formal complaint.

The law requires all cities and counties to establish violence prevention and control centers to address domestic and sexual violence, child abuse, and elder abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment (see section 7.d.). In most cases, perpetrators were required to attend classes on gender equality and counseling sessions.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women experienced some discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from that of either parent. Births must be registered within 60 days; failure to do so results in the denial of national health care and education benefits. Registration is not denied on a discriminatory basis.

Child Abuse: Central and local authorities coordinated with private organizations to identify and assist high-risk children and families and to increase public awareness of child abuse and domestic violence. The law stipulates that persons learning of cases of child abuse or neglect must notify police or welfare authorities. An official 24-hour hotline accepted complaints of child abuse and offered counseling. Courts are required to appoint guardians for children of parents deemed unfit.

Children’s rights advocates pointed out that juvenile correctional facilities were usually understaffed and their personnel were not adequately trained to counsel and manage teenage inmates. They also called attention to growing numbers of bullying, violence, and sexual assault cases at correctional institutions.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for men and 16 for women.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities effectively enforced the law domestically; however, authorities did not investigate or prosecute any cases of child sexual exploitation committed by citizens while traveling abroad.

NGOs raised concerns about online sexual exploitation of children and reported that sex offenders were increasingly using cellphones, web cameras, live streaming, apps, and other new technologies to deceive and coerce young girls and boys into sexual activity.

The minimum age for consensual sexual relations is 16. Persons who engage in sex with children younger than age 14 face sentences of three to 10 years in prison. Those who engage in sex with minors between 14 and 16 receive a mandatory prison sentence of three to seven years. Solicitors of sex with minors older than 16 but younger than 18 face up to one year in prison or hard labor or a maximum fine of NT$3.0 million ($98,300). There were reports of minors in prostitution.

International Child Abductions: Due to its unique political status, Taiwan is not eligible to become 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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, estimated at 300 individuals who meet regularly, and consisted predominately of foreign residents. 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.

Authorities enacted and made efforts to implement laws and programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. Taiwan has incorporated the terms of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into its laws.

In April the Ministry of Labor issued an administrative rule to specify that persons with minor disabilities who had not applied for proof of disability from the government were nonetheless protected against employment discrimination. The rule imposes fines of between NT$300,000 ($9,830) and NT$1.5 million ($49,200) on employers who discriminate against this category of disabled workers or job seekers; 1.17 million persons in Taiwan have received proof of disability.

Persons with disabilities have the right to vote and participate in civic affairs. NGOs contended the lack of barrier-free spaces and accessible transportation systems continued to limit civic engagement by persons with disabilities, particularly outside Taipei.

The law stipulates that authorities must provide services and programs to persons with disabilities. Most children with disabilities attended mainstream schools, but separate primary, secondary, and vocational schools were also available for students with disabilities. NGOs asserted that services for students with disabilities remained largely inadequate. There were occasional reports of sexual assaults against disabled persons in educational and mental health facilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

As of July spouses born in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and the PRC accounted for approximately 1 percent of the population. Foreign and PRC-born spouses were reportedly targets of social discrimination outside and, at times, inside the home.

In December 2016 the legislature passed amendments to the Nationality Act that eased restrictions on naturalization of foreign spouses married to Taiwan passport holders. Some PRC-born spouses complained it was discriminatory that they must wait six years to apply for Taiwan residency, whereas foreign-born spouses from other countries may apply after three years. Unlike non-PRC spouses, PRC-born spouses have permission to work in Taiwan immediately on arrival. The amended Nationality Act does not apply to PRC-born spouses.

h2>Indigenous People

Authorities officially recognize 16 indigenous tribes, accounting for approximately 2.3 percent of the population. The law provides indigenous people equal civil and political rights and stipulates that authorities should provide resources to help indigenous groups develop a system of self-governance, formulate policies to protect their basic rights, and promote the preservation and development of their languages and cultures.

Following President Tsai’s 2016 formal apology to Taiwan’s indigenous peoples for past injustices, her office set up an Indigenous Historical Justice and Transitional Justice Commission led by the president. The Executive Yuan convened the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law Promotion Committee and released its first annual report on progress in addressing historical injustices.

The Indigenous Languages Development Act took effect in June, designating the languages of Taiwan’s 16 indigenous tribes as national languages. The act follows the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law of 2005 and the Indigenous Traditional Intellectual Creations Protection Act of 2007. The Languages Act entitles indigenous peoples to use their languages in official settings.

In February the Executive Yuan’s Council of Indigenous Peoples announced guidelines on the delineation of government-owned traditional indigenous territories. Indigenous rights advocates argued that a large amount of indigenous land was seized and privatized decades ago and that the exclusion deprived indigenous communities of the rights to participate in the development of these traditional territories.

Existing law stipulates that authorities and the private sector should consult with indigenous people and obtain their consent to and/or participation in, as well as share with them the benefits of, land development, resource utilization, ecology conservation, and academic research in indigenous areas. There are, however, no regulations in place for obtaining this consent with respect to private land.

Indigenous people participated in decisions affecting their land through the political process. The law sets aside six of the 113 seats in the legislature for indigenous tribal representatives elected by indigenous voters. In addition to the six legislators, the current Legislative Yuan has two indigenous legislators elected on proportional representation party lists.

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

The law stipulates that employers cannot discriminate against job seekers based on sexual orientation and also prohibits schools from discriminating against students based on their gender temperament, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Activists for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights said discrimination against LGBTI persons was more widespread than suggested by the number of court cases, due to victims’ reluctance to lodge formal complaints. Reported instances of violence against LGBTI individuals were rare, and the police response was adequate.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits potential employers from requesting health examination reports from job candidates to prove they do not have HIV or other communicable diseases. There was reported discrimination, including employment discrimination, against persons with HIV/AIDS (see section 7.d.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes, and bargain collectively. The Ministry of Labor oversees implementation and enforcement of labor laws, in coordination with local labor affairs bureaus. Teachers may form unions and federations. The law allows foreign workers to form and join unions and to serve as union officers. The law prohibits discrimination, dismissal, or other unfair treatment of workers for union-related activities and requires reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity.

According to the law, there are three types of unions: enterprise unions, industrial unions, and professional unions. A minimum of 30 members is required to form an enterprise union, making it very challenging to unionize the 78.2 percent of employees working in small and medium-sized enterprises. Industrial unions help to link workers in the same industry. Professional unions are geographically constrained within municipal boundaries, limiting their scale; however, they have grown more influential in collective bargaining terms. For example, China Airlines flight attendants successfully used the Taoyuan Flight Attendants professional union to wage a strike in June 2016 instead of China Airlines’ own enterprise union.

The right to strike remained highly regulated. Teachers, civil servants, and defense industry employees do not have the right to strike. Workers in industries such as utilities, hospital services, and telecommunication service providers are allowed to strike only if they maintain basic services during the strike. Authorities may prohibit, limit, or break up a strike during a disaster.

For all workers, the law divides labor disputes into two categories: “rights disputes” and “adjustment disputes.” Workers are allowed to strike only in adjustment disputes, which include issues such as compensation and working schedules. The law forbids strikes in rights disputes.

Some workers are excluded from collective bargaining. Employees in companies with fewer than 30 workers may only join a professional union or an industrial union to exercise their rights. As a result, labor union density (the percentage of labor registered in a union as a proportion of overall labor) in Taiwan is 5.8 percent, significantly below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average of 16 percent. Employees hired through dispatching agencies (i.e., temporary workers) do not have the right to organize and bargain collectively in the enterprises where they work. Registration of a union requires approval from the local authorities or the Ministry of Labor, and authorities have the power to order unions to cease part or all of their operations if they break the law or violate their charter.

The law requires mediation of labor disputes when authorities deem disputes to be sufficiently serious or to involve unfair practices. Most labor disputes involved wage and severance issues. The mediation and arbitration processes were sometimes subject to lengthy delays. The law prohibits labor and management from conducting strikes or other acts of protest during conciliation or arbitration proceedings. Labor organizations say this prohibition impedes workers’ ability to exercise their right to strike.

Authorities effectively enforced laws providing for the freedom of association and collective bargaining. A labor ministry arbitration committee reviewed cases of enterprises using discriminatory or improper action to repress union leaders and their activities, and authorities subjected violators to fines. Such fines, however, generally were not sufficient to deter violations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes penalties for forced labor and the government effectively enforced the law, but courts delivered light sentences or fines in most forced labor convictions. Such penalties are inadequate to serve as an effective deterrent. Authorities continued public awareness campaigns, including disseminating worker education pamphlets, operating foreign worker hotlines, and offering Ministry of Education programs on labor trafficking as part of the broader human rights curriculum. According to the National Immigration Agency, nine individuals were convicted for forced labor in the first six months of 2016.

Labor laws do not cover domestic workers, leaving them vulnerable to labor exploitation. Forced labor occurred in such sectors as domestic services, fishing, farming, manufacturing, and construction. Foreign workers were most susceptible to forced labor, especially when serving as crew members on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels. Some labor brokers charged foreign workers exorbitant recruitment fees and used debts incurred from these fees in the source country as tools of coercion to subject the workers to debt bondage (see section 7.e.). In 2016 authorities fined 87 perpetrators a total of NT$9.11 million ($299,000) in 105 cases of illegal brokerage activities. Authorities ordered nine of these individuals to terminate business operations.

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 stipulates 15 as the minimum age for employment. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from doing heavy or hazardous work. Their working hours are limited to eight hours per day, and they are prohibited from overtime work and night shifts.

County and city labor bureaus effectively enforced minimum age laws by ensuring the implementation of compulsory education. Employers who violate minimum age laws face a prison sentence and/or fines, which was sufficient to deter violations.

There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, “Children”).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, rank, ideology, religion, political opinion, birthplace or national origin, gender, marital status, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, or HIV or other communicable disease status.

Local labor affairs bureaus intervene and investigate complaints of employment discrimination or failure to meet legal hiring quotas. Authorities enforced the law effectively, although human rights advocates noted that an unknown number of employment discrimination cases went unreported due to employees’ fear of retaliation from their employers. Workers who encounter discrimination can file complaints with two independent committees composed of scholars, experts, and officials in city and county departments of labor affairs. Authorities enforced decisions made by those committees. Employers can appeal rulings to the Ministry of Labor and the Administrative Court.

The law prohibits potential employers from requesting medical reports from job candidates to prove they do not have HIV or other communicable diseases. Some reports, nevertheless, suggested that persons with disabilities and HIV-positive persons sometimes remained vulnerable to discrimination in employment and occupation.

The law requires 3 percent of the workforce in the public sector and 1 percent of the workforce in the private sector to be persons with disabilities. According to the labor ministry, the unemployment rate of persons with disabilities was three times higher than that of persons without disabilities. Nonprofit and advocacy groups said many public- and private-sector employers opted to pay fines rather than meet the hiring quotas. There were also reports of indirect discrimination in the hiring process, such as employers failing to provide assistive devices in pre-employment tests.

Women were promoted less frequently, occupied fewer management positions, and worked for lower pay than men, earning on average 83 percent of their male counterparts’ income in 2015, although the law prohibits differential treatment of employees based on sex and mandates equal pay for equal work of equal efficiency. Household caregivers and domestic workers did not enjoy the same legal protections as other workers (see section 7.e.).

The Ministry of Labor published a survey in March 2016, which showed 3.5 percent of women have been sexually harassed at work, yet 80 percent of these cases went unreported.

The law forbids termination of employment because of pregnancy or marriage.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A new minimum wage of NT$21,009 ($690) per month, or NT$133 ($4.36) per hour, will take effect in January 2018. There is no minimum wage for workers in categories not covered by the law, such as management employees, medical doctors, healthcare workers, gardeners, bodyguards, self-employed lawyers, civil servants, contractors for local authorities, and domestic workers.

Authorities defined the poverty level as 60 percent below the average monthly disposable income of the median household in a designated area. By this definition, the poverty level was a disposable monthly income of NT$15,544 ($509) per person in Taipei, NT$13,700 ($449) per person in New Taipei City, NT$12,941 ($424) per person in Kaohsiung, and NT$11,448 ($375) per person in all other areas.

As of January 2016, an amendment to the law stipulated new legal working hours of eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, a reduction from the previous limit of eight hours per day and 84 hours biweekly. Employees in “authorized special categories” approved by the ministry are exempt from regular working hours stipulated in the law. These categories include security guards, flight attendants, insurance salespersons, real estate agents, nursery school teachers, ambulance drivers, and hospital workers.

The law for health and safety standards was amended in 2013 to expand coverage from workers in 15 categories to employees in all industries, better protect female workers and those younger than age 18, prevent overworking, impose higher safety standards on the petroleum and chemical industries, and impose higher fines for violations.

Authorities did not always effectively enforce the wage law. Violations of legal working hours were common in all sectors. In response authorities increased the number of inspections in 2016. The labor ministry’s 2016 labor inspection report found that 18.8 percent of inspected firms violated the law.

The Ministry of Labor increased the number of labor inspectors and also subsidized local authorities’ hiring of contract inspectors. NGOs and academics stated that the number of inspectors and labor inspection rate was still too low to serve as an effective deterrent against labor violations and unsafe working conditions, although the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions said the situation had somewhat improved. Authorities can fine employers and withdraw their hiring privileges for violations of the law, and the law mandates announcing the names of offending companies to the public. Critics complained that violations continued and that the labor ministry did not effectively enforce statutes and regulations intended to protect foreign laborers from unscrupulous brokers and employers.

As of November 2016 the law eliminates the requirement that foreign workers leave Taiwan every three years between re-employment contracts. Advocates for this amendment said it would help alleviate the burden of brokerage and other fees foreign workers have to pay.

Household caregivers and domestic workers are not protected under the law and are not covered by a mandated minimum wage, overtime pay, limits on the workday or workweek, minimum breaks, or vacation regulations. Brokerage agencies often require workers to take out loans for “training” and other fees at local branches of Taiwan banks in their home countries at high interest rates, leaving them vulnerable to debt bondage. NGOs reported that the monthly take home pay of some domestic workers was as low as 6.7 percent of the official poverty level.

Religious leaders continued to raise concerns that the law did not guarantee a day off for domestic workers and caregivers, which limited their ability to attend religious services. This problem was particularly salient among the island’s 231,000 foreign caregivers and household workers, predominantly from Indonesia and the Philippines, who include a number of Muslims and Catholics who want to or believe they must attend religious services on a certain day of the week.

The approximately 600,000 foreign workers, primarily from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand, were vulnerable to exploitation. Locally operated service centers to brief foreign workers on arrival, maintained a hotline for complaints and assistance, and funded and operated shelters to protect abused workers. Regulations require inspection and oversight of foreign labor brokerage companies. The Ministry of Labor may also permit foreign workers’ transfer to new employers in cases of exploitation or abuse. NGOs asserted, however, that foreign workers often were unwilling to report employer abuses for fear the employer would terminate the contract and deport them, leaving them unable to reimburse debt accrued during the recruitment process.

The Ministry of Labor operated a Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center (DHSC) and an online platform to allow employers to hire foreign workers without using a broker. Employers could also renew foreign workers’ employment contracts at the DHSC. NGOs said that complicated hiring procedures and the online service’s incompatibilities with certain recruitment systems in workers’ countries of origin prevented widespread implementation, and they advocated lifting restrictions on foreign workers voluntarily transferring their contracts to different employers. The Taiwan International Workers’ Association complained that after 10 years of DHSC operation, the government was still unable to complete the direct recruitment objective for foreign workers. Red tape in the system continued to enable brokers to exploit profits from foreign workers.

There were numerous reports of exploitation and poor working conditions of foreign fishing crews on Taiwan-flagged long-haul vessels. The Taiwan International Workers’ Association and other civil groups urged authorities and ship owners to better protect foreign fishermen.

Tajikistan

Executive Summary

Tajikistan is an authoritarian state dominated politically by President Emomali Rahmon and his supporters. The constitution provides for a multiparty political system, but the government has historically obstructed political pluralism and continued to do so during the year. Constitutional amendments approved in a 2016 national referendum outlawed nonsecular political parties and removed any limitation on President Rahmon’s terms in office as the “Leader of the Nation,” allowing him to further solidify his rule.

Civilian authorities only partially maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included torture and abuse of detainees by security forces; arbitrary arrest or detention, including of family members; harsh prison conditions; politically motived prosecutions of human rights lawyers; restrictions on freedoms of expression, media, and the free flow of information, including through the repeated blockage of several independent news and social networking websites; freedom of association, including repression, harassment, and incarceration of civil society and political activists; poor religious freedom conditions; restrictions on political participation; nepotism and corruption throughout the government; violence and discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation and gender identity; and forced labor.

There were very few prosecutions of government officials for human rights abuses. Officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government acted with 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

While the law prohibits extrajudicial killings by government security forces, there were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On July 26, Tolibjon Dustov, a 50-year-old resident of Shahrituz District, died following his arrest by police officers. According to official reports, Dustov died of a heart attack. Dustov had been detained on suspicion of drug trafficking by officers of the Interior Ministry in Dusti. A few hours after his arrest, relatives found him dead in a hospital. Despite initial police claims Dustov died of a heart attack, his mother believed that he died after police mistreatment. “We think he was beaten on the way, and when he was taken to the hospital, he was already dead,” she claimed. In late December, the local prosecutors’ office charged a Dusti police officer with excessive force, resulting in Dustov’s death.

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 the use of torture. Although the government amended the criminal code in 2012 to add a separate article to define torture in accordance with international law, there were reports of beatings, torture, and other forms of coercion to extract confessions during interrogations. Officials did not grant sufficient access to information to allow human rights organizations to investigate claims of torture.

In the first three months of the year, 38 new cases of mistreatment were documented by the Coalition against Torture–a group of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)–with a number of victims alleging severe physical abuse. Specifically, 13 of 15 victims reported such abuse as beatings on the face, head, kidneys, and abdomen after the binding of legs and hands, and passing electrical current through nails. On March 28, Jovidon Hakimov stated in court his confession that he tried to recruit fighters for the extremist group ISIS was obtained under duress. Hakimov was accused of recruiting several citizens to fight for ISIS in Iraq and Syria. On March 30, a court sentenced Hakimov to 15 years in prison. According to his lawyers, Hakimov claimed police severely beat him during an interrogation following his January arrest. Hakimov’s lawyers alleged that Hakimov’s nose was broken during the interrogation and that police also subjected him to electric shock. Hakimov’s lawyers also claimed the court rejected their request for a medical examination of Hakimov to verify the physical abuse. Several police officers who testified at the Dushanbe court hearing rejected Hakimov’s claims.

There were conflicting reports on the mistreatment of imprisoned lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, in prison since 2015 (see section 1.e.). As of October the head of the pretrial detention center number 1 (SIZO) reported to Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty that Yorov had been held in solitary confinement since September 29; he denied allegations of torture and other mistreatment against Yorov. Yorov’s wife told journalists that the head of prison administration assured her that her husband was safe and said he was sent to solitary confinement after guards found money in his cell in violation of prison rules. Amnesty International reported that Yorov might have been held in solitary confinement four times. In contrast to the claims of the government, Yorov’s mother reported after a visit to the detention center that guards subjected her son and other cellmates to regular beatings, one of which allegedly resulted in his hospitalization at the detention center facility. She claimed also Yorov told her the beatings were accompanied by insults, humiliation, and threats.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions reportedly were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: The government operated 10 prisons, including one for women, and 12 pretrial detention facilities. Exact conditions in the prisons remained unknown, but detainees and inmates described harsh and life-threatening conditions, including extreme overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

Penal Reform International, an organization conducting prison reform work with regional representation out of Kazakhstan, described the conditions in the women’s prison as frigid in the winter, with only intermittent electricity and heat, and a lack of food provisions for inmates and staff alike. Disease and hunger were serious problems. UN agencies reported that infection rates of tuberculosis and HIV in prisons were significant and the quality of medical treatment was poor. Authorities often held juvenile boys with adult men.

Administration: A government Office of the Ombudsman exists, and its ombudsman visited prisons but resolved fewer than 2 percent of filed complaints. NGOs reported mistrust of the ombudsman due to the office’s loyalty to the president and frequent dismissal of human rights concerns. A special monitoring group with ombudsmen and NGO representatives conducted announced visits of prison conditions. No known complaints were filed regarding specific prison conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Justice continued to restrict access to prisons or detention facilities for representatives of the international community. Throughout the year the Coalition against Torture and the human rights ombudsman conducted visits of closed institutions, although officials denied Coalition against Torture monitors private interviews with detainees or access to internal correctional institution documents. The International Committee of the Red Cross continued to lack access due to the absence of an agreement with the government, a situation existing since 2004.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law does not explicitly prohibit arbitrary arrests, which were common. The law states that police must inform the Prosecutor’s Office of an arrest within 12 hours and file charges within 10 days. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but use of this provision was limited. Few citizens were aware of their right to appeal an arrest, and there were few checks on the power of police and military officers to detain individuals.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, Drug Control Agency, Agency on State Financial Control and the Fight against Corruption (Anticorruption Agency), State Committee for National Security (GKNB), State Tax Committee, and Customs Service share civilian law enforcement responsibilities. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is primarily responsible for public order and manages the police. The Drug Control Agency, Anticorruption Agency, and State Tax Committee have mandates to investigate specific crimes and report to the president. The GKNB is responsible for intelligence gathering, controls the Border Service, and investigates cases linked to alleged extremist political or religious activity, trafficking in persons, and politically sensitive cases. The Customs Service reports directly to the president. The Prosecutor General’s Office oversees the criminal investigations that these agencies conduct.

Agency responsibilities overlap significantly, and law enforcement organizations defer to the GKNB. Law enforcement agencies were not effective in investigating organized criminal gangs, reportedly because the gangs maintained high-level connections with government officials and security agencies. A tacit understanding among law enforcement that certain individuals were untouchable prevented investigations.

Official impunity continued to be a serious problem. While authorities took some limited steps to hold perpetrators accountable, reports of torture and mistreatment of prisoners continued, and the culture of impunity and corruption weakened investigations and prosecutions. In some cases, during pretrial detention hearings or trials judges dismissed defendants’ allegations of abuse and torture during detention. Victims of police abuse may submit a formal complaint in writing to the officer’s superior or the Office of the Ombudsman. Most victims reportedly chose to remain silent rather than risk official retaliation. The Office of the Ombudsman made few efforts to respond to complaints regarding human rights violations and rarely intervened, claiming it did not have the power to make statements or recommendations regarding criminal cases.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law police may detain an individual up to 12 hours before authorities must file criminal charges. If authorities do not file charges after 12 hours, the individual must be released, but police often did not inform detainees of the arrest charges. If police file criminal charges, they may detain an individual 72 hours before they must present their charges to a judge for an indictment hearing. The judge is empowered to order detention, house arrest, or bail pending trial.

By law family members are allowed access to prisoners after indictment, but officials often denied access to attorneys and family members. The law states that a lawyer is entitled to be present at interrogations at the request of the detainee or lawyer, but in many cases authorities did not permit lawyers timely access to their clients, and initial interrogations occurred without them. Detainees suspected of crimes related to national security or extremism were held for extended periods without being formally charged.

Arbitrary Arrest: The government generally provided a rationale for arrests, but detainees and civil society groups frequently reported that authorities falsified charges or inflated minor incidents to make politically motivated arrests. For example, tens of family members of exiled activists were punished for alleged offenses committed by their relatives in an effort to convince them to cease their activities abroad. Human rights organizations alleged the father of a political opposition activist was detained prior to the September Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw. Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee also reported in July that authorities detained, interrogated, and threated the relatives of tens of peaceful opposition activists attending an opposition gathering in Germany to mark the 20th anniversary of the peace agreement that ended Tajikistan’s civil war.

Some police and judicial officials regularly accepted bribes in exchange for lenient sentencing or release. Law enforcement officials must request an extension from a judge to detain an individual in pretrial detention after two, six, and 12 months.

Pretrial Detention: Defense advocates alleged prosecutors often held suspects for lengthy periods and registered the initial arrest only when the suspect was ready to confess. In most cases pretrial detention lasted from one to three months, but it could extend as long as 15 months.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of charge, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Despite such rights to challenge detention, the decrease in the number of lawyers licensed to take on criminal cases and the general apprehension with which lawyers take on sensitive cases limited the use of this entitlement for those arrested on cases suspected to be politically motivated.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the executive branch exerted pressure on prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges. Corruption and inefficiency were significant problems.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants legally are afforded a presumption of innocence, but the presumption did not exist in practice. The courts found nearly all defendants guilty.

Defendants were not always promptly informed of the criminal charges against them or granted a trial without undue delay. Courts generally allowed defendants to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner during trials but often denied defendants the right to an attorney during the pretrial and investigatory periods, particularly in politically sensitive cases. Authorities continued to level politically motivated criminal charges against some defense lawyers to obstruct detained political opposition figures’ access to legal counsel and dissuade other lawyers from taking the cases.

The government provided attorneys at public expense when requested, but defendants and civil society complained the government sometimes appointed attorneys as a means to deny defendants’ access to the legal counsel of their choice. Defendants and private attorneys said government-appointed attorneys often provided a poor and counterproductive defense. In addition, due to changes in the law on advocates and the establishment of a legal bar, all lawyers were required to retake the bar exam by June 2016 in order to renew their licenses. Many lawyers were unable to take the exam in time, in part because there were a limited number of locations offering the exam. Moreover, the government abolished a grandfather clause that would have allowed experienced lawyers to continue to practice. As a result, the number of lawyers accepting criminal defense cases in the country shrank from approximately 2,000 to only 532. International observers of court cases stated there were criminal cases in which defendants did not have legal representation.

Defendants may present witnesses and evidence at trial with the consent of the judge. Defendants and attorneys have the right to confront and question witnesses and to present evidence and testimony. An interpreter is provided for defendants who do not speak Tajik, the official language used for court hearings. No groups are barred from testifying, and in principle all testimony receives equal consideration. Courts, however, generally gave prosecutorial testimony far greater consideration than defense testimony.

Low wages for judges and prosecutors left them vulnerable to bribery, a common practice. Government officials subjected judges to political influence.

Although most trials are public, the law also provides for secret trials when there is a national security concern. Civil society members faced difficulties in gaining access to high-profile public cases, which the government often declared secret. During the year the government conducted politically motivated court cases behind closed doors. Three trials involving human rights attorney Buzurgmehr Yorov, the defense attorney for members of the banned Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), were held in Dushanbe. All the trials were closed to the public because they were classified “secret.” Major international human rights organizations raised concerns over Yorov’s court hearings, which they alleged failed to ensure due process protections. He was convicted in October 2016 of issuing public calls for the overthrow of the government and inciting social unrest and initially sentenced to 23 years in prison. In January the court prolonged the same sentence by three years and in March sentenced him to two additional years in a subsequent closed-door trial for contempt of court and insulting a government official.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While authorities claimed there were no political prisoners or politically motivated arrests, opposition parties and local and international observers reported the government selectively arrested and prosecuted political opponents. Although there was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners, the government reported 239 prisoners who were members of banned political parties or movements.

In January the Khatlon Regional Court sentenced Said Ziyoyev, a resident of Qubodiyon District, to seven years’ imprisonment for participating in a meeting of the banned movement “Group-24.” The court ruled that Ziyoyev participated in a meeting organized by “Group-24” in Ekaterinburg, Russia, in November 2014, relying on a video as evidence. Ziyoyev’s lawyer argued that the video was shot on September 30, 2014, while the movement “Group-24” was a legal group. Ziyoyev was charged with two violations of the criminal code: illegal possession of computer information and organization of extremist community. Ziyoyev appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, but there were no new developments at year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil cases are heard in general civil courts, economic courts, and military courts. Judges may order monetary compensation for victims in criminal cases. No separate juvenile justice system exists, although there were some courts that provide a separate room for children linked to the courtroom by video camera.

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

The constitution states that the home is inviolable. With certain exceptions, it is illegal to enter the home by force or deprive a person of a home. The law states that police may not enter and search a private home without the approval of a judge. Authorities may carry out searches without a prosecutor’s authorization in exceptional cases, “where there is an actual risk that the object searched for and subject to seizure may cause a possible delay in discovering it, be lost, damaged, or used for criminal purposes, or a fugitive may escape.” The law states that courts must be notified of such searches within 24 hours. Police frequently ignored these laws and infringed on citizens’ right to privacy, including personal searches without a warrant.

According to the law, “when sufficient grounds exist to believe that information, documents, or objects that are relevant to the criminal case may be contained in letters, telegrams, radiograms, packages, parcels, or other mail and telegraph correspondence, they may be intercepted” with a warrant issued by a judge. The law states that only a judge may authorize monitoring of telephone or other communication. Security offices often monitored communications, such as social media and telephone calls, without judicial authorization.

In May and June, teams of officials from various security agencies went from house to house in Dushanbe searching for “undesirables” as part of a security campaign labeled “Operation Order” by the government. According to media reports, official government documents defined the “undesirables” as ranging from religious extremists or potential terrorists, to electricity thieves and anyone using the wrong type of light bulb. The searches were conducted without proper authorization from the courts, and authorities issued no public notices about the sweeps. In many instances Dushanbe residents learned of the inspections only when teams arrived at their front doors. These reports did not extend beyond the city of Dushanbe and did not include businesses or other organizations.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The authorities continued to curb freedom of speech through detentions, prosecutions, the threat of heavy fines, the passage of strict and overreaching slander legislation, and the forced closure of media outlets. By law a person may be imprisoned for as long as five years for insulting the president.

In March police in Khujand arrested Hasan Abdurazzoqov, a resident of Sughd Province, allegedly for offending the reputation of President Rahmon. According to media reports, Abdurazzoqov took down a picture of Rahmon from a city wall and threw it to the ground in front of observers. The Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal case against Abdurazzoqov, accusing him of defaming the president, hooliganism, and vandalism. Authorities did not comment on the case, and reportedly no lawyers agreed to represent Abdurazoqov. If found guilty, Abdurazoqov faced up to eight years in prison.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media faced significant and repeated government threats on media outlets. Although some print media published political commentary and investigatory material critical of the government, journalists observed that authorities considered certain topics off limits, including, among other matters, questions regarding financial improprieties of those close to the president, or content regarding the banned IRPT.

Several independent television and radio stations were available in a small portion of the country, but the government controlled most broadcasting transmission facilities. A decree issued by the government, “Guidelines for the Preparation of Television and Radio Programs,” stipulates that the government through a state broadcast committee has the right to “regulate and control the content of all television and radio networks regardless of their type of ownership.”

The government allowed some international media to operate and permitted rebroadcasts of Russian television and radio programs. In November 2016 the independent news media outlet Tojnews closed its doors following government harassment. The outlet’s chief editor left the country due to personal security concerns and the threat of prosecution.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face harassment and intimidation by government officials. Although the government decriminalized libel in 2012, state officials regularly filed defamation complaints against news outlets in retaliation for publishing stories critical of the government.

In late spring the Ismoili Somoni District Court of Dushanbe found journalist Mizhgona Halimova, a reporter for Ozodagon news agency, guilty of “not reporting on and concealing a crime.” The court claimed that Halimova had failed to disclose information concerning a citizen traveling to Syria to join ISIS and fined her 25,000 somoni ($2,850). During the hearing Halimova did not have legal representation, but journalists helped her pay the fine. Halimova did not appeal the decision, reportedly believing the appeal process would be flawed. Some sources speculated that authorities brought charges against Halimova because of her conflict with the chairwoman of the Committee on Women and Family Affairs, arising from a question Halimova asked the chairwoman at a press conference regarding women wearing the hijab. Until 2015 Halimova had worked for Najot, an official weekly newspaper of the IRPT, and the Nahzat.tj news website.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists regularly practiced self-censorship to avoid retribution from officials. Opposition politicians had limited or no access to state-run television. The government gave opposition parties minimal broadcast time to express their political views, while the president’s party had numerous opportunities to broadcast its messages.

Newspaper publishers reported the government exercised restrictions on the distribution of materials, requiring all newspapers and magazines with circulations exceeding 99 recipients to register with the Ministry of Culture. The government continued to control all major printing presses and the supply of newsprint. Independent community radio stations continued to experience registration and licensing delays that prevented them from broadcasting. The government restricted issuance of licenses to new stations, in part through an excessively complex application process. The National Committee on Television and Radio, a government organization that directly manages television and radio stations in the country, must approve and then provide licenses to new stations. The government continued to deny the BBC a renewal of its license to broadcast on FM radio.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2012 the government repealed the law criminalizing libel and defamation and downgraded the offenses to civil violations, although the law retains controversial provisions that make publicly insulting the president an offense punishable by a fine or up to five years in jail. Nevertheless, libel judgments were common, particularly against newspapers critical of the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Individuals and groups faced extensive government surveillance of internet activity, including emails, and often self-censored their views while posting on the internet.

According to a World Bank report issued in June, 17 percent of the population used the internet regularly.

There were new and continuing government restrictions on access to internet websites, such as Facebook, YouTube, Google, Google services, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, although some of the restrictions were lifted during the year. The State Communications Service, the official communications regulator, routinely denied involvement in blocking these sites, but the government admitted to periodically implementing a law that allows interruption of internet content and telecommunications “in the interest of national security.” The government continued to implement a 2015 law enabling the GKNB to shut off internet and telecommunications during security operations.

On July 12, the Majlisi Milli, the upper house of parliament, passed a law giving law enforcement bodies the right to track citizens using the internet. According to the new bill, the security agencies can monitor internet traffic and have access to information regarding which internet sites citizens visit and the type of information they seek.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The Ministry of Education maintained a dress code that bans wearing the hijab in schools and government institutions. Authorities allowed women to wear a traditional version of the head covering–a scarf that covers hair but not the neck–to schools and universities. Some female students wore the hijab to and from school but removed it upon entering the school building. Parents and school officials appeared to accept this arrangement. The ministry also maintained its ban on beards for all teachers. Students with beards reported being removed from class, questioned, and asked to shave. In January the Ministry of Education signed a decree obliging all female teachers, university students, and schoolchildren to wear traditional dress, starting from March 1 until the end of the academic year in June.

In July and August, government authorities increased the urgency of their effort to dissuade citizens from wearing “foreign clothing,” primarily focused on the hijab, which covers the hair, ears, and neck. According to media reports, the government’s Committee on Women and Family Affairs, in cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, conducted informational campaigns, or “raids,” in public areas against women wearing the hijab, threatening those who refused to remove their hijab with a 1,000 somoni ($115) fine and six months’ imprisonment. In addressing these media reports, the ministry denied that such measures existed and claimed the government was conducting a public campaign to promote national culture and clothing.

A Ministry of Education directive requires school administrators to inform students of the Law on Parental Responsibility, which bans all persons under age 18 from participating in public religious activities, with the exception of funerals. The law provides that, with written parental consent, minors between the ages of seven and 18 may obtain a religious education during their free time from school and outside the state education curriculum and may worship as part of educational activities at religious institutions.

The government requires all persons studying religion abroad to register with the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The law provides criminal penalties for violating restrictions on sending citizens abroad for religious education, preaching and teaching religious doctrines, and establishing ties with religious groups abroad without CRA consent.

The Ministry of Education banned students from attending events sponsored by or conducted for foreign organizations during school hours. On April 1, police dispersed participants of a two-day international education fair in Dushanbe. The director of the organizing company reported on Facebook that she had obtained all the necessary permissions for the education fair, but police nevertheless entered the exhibition hall and shut down the event. Police also destroyed a promotional video and photograph materials from the event. The Ministry of Education subsequently released a statement claiming the organizers had lacked the necessary documentation for the event.

There were several reports throughout the year that academics writing on sensitive subjects regarding politics, religion, and history feared publishing or even submitting their articles for review for fear of retribution. There was no official censorship, however, of films, plays, art exhibits, music presentations, or other cultural activities.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association through requirements to obtain permission from local governments and through frequent inspections by various government agencies.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government required that individuals obtain permission from the government to stage public demonstrations. Individuals considering the staging of peaceful protests reportedly chose not to do so for fear of government reprisal.

On August 16, the Vanj District Court in the Gorno-Badakhshon Province sentenced six district residents to 10 to 12 days’ imprisonment for protesting in front of the local police building. On August 8, local police had detained the same six residents for holding a protest the previous day in front of the local Department of Internal Affairs building. The residents were protesting the arrest of four of their relatives for alleged membership in banned Salafi groups. Authorities accused the six of violating public order and encouraging other local residents to gather in front of the Department of Internal Affairs building.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution protects freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. As in the previous year, civil society organizations reported a noticeable increase in the number and intensity of registration and tax inspections by authorities. The government continued to enforce the ban on activities held under the banner of the IRPT. As a result of a 2016 constitutional referendum, nonsecular political parties became illegal.

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 foreign travel, emigration, repatriation, but the government imposed some restrictions.

The government rarely 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, or other persons. There were some cases of refoulement.

In-country Movement: The government prohibits foreigners, except diplomats and international aid workers, from traveling within a 15-mile zone along the borders with Afghanistan and China in the Khatlon Region and the Gorno-Badakhsan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Officials did not always enforce the restrictions along the western border with Afghanistan, although the government continued to require travelers (including international workers and diplomats) to obtain special permits to visit the GBAO. The government also continued to enforce a policy barring Afghan refugees from residing in urban areas.

Foreign Travel: On May 14, border guards with the State Committee on National Security stopped Fayzinisso Vohidova, a prominent human rights attorney, at the Tajik-Kyrgyz border as she was departing for Kyrgyzstan to attend her nephew’s funeral. Border guards detained her for eight hours, claiming there was a “defect” in her passport and that she “had no right to leave Tajikistan.” In the weeks preceding her detention, security services interrogated Vohidova on several occasions after she made critical remarks concerning the government’s imprisonment of Buzurgmehr Yorov, a human rights lawyer. Vohidova alleged the problem with the passport was a pretext to prevent her from leaving the country.

The government abused international law enforcement mechanisms, such as Interpol Red Notices, in an attempt to locate and repatriate into its prison system Tajik dissidents living abroad. Such dissidents are detained on the basis of politically motivated extremism charges. On October 8, Mirzorakhim Kuzov, a senior IRPT leader, was detained by Greek police at Athens International Airport during his transit after attending a human rights conference in Warsaw, Poland. He remained detained at year’s end.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government in some cases forced asylum seekers or refugees to return to countries where they may face persecution or torture. During the first seven months of the year, the government deported 11 asylum seekers and refugees to Afghanistan. The deportees included refugees whose status was revoked based on violation of the law prohibiting such persons from residing in urban areas as well as cumbersome preconditions that preclude a claimant from registering as a refugee. The cases of revoked status were under appeal in court with the support of UNHCR. The deportations took place despite the incomplete appeal processes. In some cases there was risk of refoulement.

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. Nevertheless, the process for making asylum status determinations remained uncertain and lacking transparency, and administrative and judicial procedures did not comply with international standards. Although not required by law, government officials required refugees and asylum seekers to obtain a visa and a valid travel document before entering the country. Government officials without due process detained and deported individuals not in possession of a visa.

The government processed asylum applications through the National Refugee Status Determination Commission and granted applicants documents to regularize their stay and prevent deportation. Formal notifications of administrative and legal decisions provided little insight into the rationale for adjudications. In some instances, when denying claimants refugee status, officials cited, in broad terms, a lack of evidence of persecution in the refugee’s home country or “malpractice” on the part of refugees applying to renew their status, such as violation of the prohibition of living in big cities, including in Dushanbe. Unofficially, some refugees claimed authorities could deny cases if sufficiently high bribes were not paid.

The government continued to place significant restrictions on claimants, and officials continued to enforce a law decreed in 2000 prohibiting asylum seekers and refugees from residing in the capital and all major cities in the country. Security officials regularly monitored refugee populations. Asylum seekers and refugees regularly reported to UNHCR that security officials harassed them, often for allegedly lacking personal identification, and attempted to extort money. Police subjected them to raids if they were believed to be residing in prohibited areas.

During the year increased government scrutiny of persons living in areas annexed to Dushanbe, coupled with the retroactive application of Government Resolution 325, a law that prohibits refugees from living in major urban areas including Dushanbe, led to a significant increase in administrative cases brought against refugees. As a result, up to 40 refugees and their families were at risk of penalty or deportation.

The law stipulates that refugee status be granted for as long as three years. Since 2009 the Department of Citizenship and Works with Refugees, under the Passport Registration Services within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has had responsibility for refugee issues. Refugees must reregister yearly to receive an extension of refugee status. According to government statistics, the country had 2,185 registered refugees, 98 percent of whom were Afghan. An additional 141 asylum seekers, mostly Afghan, were seeking refugee status.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees are not permitted to live in major urban areas, including Dushanbe, according to Government Resolution 325, restricting their ability to find work and go to school.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to education and health services alongside local citizens. The Ministry of Education allowed Afghan parents to send their children to local schools without paying fees. UNHCR partners provided books, school uniforms, and some language classes to these children. The law provides registered refugees with equal access to law enforcement, health care, and the judicial system, although in practice refugees did not always have equal access. Vulnerable refugee families received assistance with medical expenses. Refugees were subjected to harassment and extortion. In such situations UNHCR’s legal assistance partner assisted clients in obtaining judicial redress while providing training and awareness-raising sessions to local authorities to strengthen their understanding of refugee rights.

Durable Solutions: Following the amended Constitutional Law on Nationality adopted in 2015, the government removed provisions for expedited naturalization, leaving refugees on equal standing with nonrefugee foreigners when applying for citizenship.

STATELESS PERSONS

In April the government adopted by-laws to the 2015 Constitutional Law on Nationality that provide practical guidance on its implementation. Since the nationality law outlines only a general framework on citizenship issues, there was a need to clarify procedures for applicants and government officials. The by-laws’ implementing regulations set clear guidance on required documents to be submitted, mandate responsibilities for each government agency accepting and processing those documents, create a decision-making mechanism and authority on nationality-related issues, outline responsibilities of government agencies to provide within a specific time frame information on decisions made, and describe the rights of applicants to appeal to courts decisions and actions of government agencies. The adopted by-laws are designed to provide a more transparent and effective process of nationality-related cases as well as an overall greater effectiveness in reduction of statelessness in the country.

UNHCR jointly with the government and NGO partners continued to implement a project to identify and find solutions for stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality in three pilot provinces of the country (Khatlon, Soghd, and Districts of Republican Subordination). As of July 31, 27,809 stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness had been identified and registered; 13,607 of those registered used the assistance to confirm their citizenship. Some registered individuals, however, struggled to achieve a durable solution because they lived in remote areas and lacked the financial means to pay for transportation and fees associated with confirming their citizenship. In May UNHCR jointly with its NGO partners developed vulnerability criteria and procedures to assist the most vulnerable stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness with meeting the costs associated with confirming citizenship.

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 based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government restricted this right. The president and his supporters continued to dominate the government while taking steps to eliminate genuine pluralism in the interest of consolidating power. The president’s political party, the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT), dominated both houses of parliament. PDPT members held most government positions. The president had broad authority, which he exercised throughout the year, to appoint and dismiss officials.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections were the 2015 parliamentary elections, which lacked pluralism and genuine choice, according to international observers, many of whom called the process deeply flawed. The most recent presidential election, which took place in 2013, also lacked pluralism and genuine choice, and did not meet international standards.

In May 2016 the government held a national referendum on 41 proposed amendments to the constitution. Citizens were required to vote “yes” or “no” on the full package and were unable to cast votes on each of the 41 proposed amendments. While the government reported that voters approved the amendment package with more than 90 percent participation, anecdotal evidence, commentary on social media and media reports indicated that voter turnout was actually quite low. Several prominent news outlets, including OzodagonFaraj, and Tojnews, did not report on the referendum at all. Despite this, one week prior to the referendum, the State Communications Service ordered internet service providers in the country to block access to the websites of independent news agencies Asia PlusOzodagon, and Ozodi.

Out of the 41 amendments, three were significant changes to the constitution: one institutionalized the title of “Leader of the Nation” upon President Rahmon–a title given to Rahmon by law in December 2015 but requiring confirmation through amendment of the constitution. The title removed term limits for President Rahmon and gave him lifelong immunity from judicial and criminal prosecution. A second amendment lowered the eligible age to run for president from 35 to 30 years, and the third amendment banned all nonsecular political parties.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Seven major political parties, including the PDPT, were legally registered. Opposition political parties had moderate popular support and faced high levels of scrutiny from the government. All senior members of President Rahmon’s government were PDPT members. Most members of the country’s 97-seat parliament were members of the PDPT, progovernment parties, or PDPT affiliates.

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 were underrepresented in decision-making processes at all levels of political institutions. Female representation in all branches of government was less than 30 percent. There was one female minister but no ministers from minority groups. Cultural practices discouraged participation by women in politics, although the government and political parties made efforts to promote their involvement, such as the 1999 presidential decree that mandated every ministry or government institution have at least one female deputy. Civil society criticized this decree as a barrier to women holding top government positions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of corruption, nepotism, and regional hiring bias at all levels of government throughout the year.

Corruption: On May 30, the government adopted amendments to the Law for the Fight Against Corruption, which gives the state Anticorruption Agency the authority to inspect the financial activities of political parties, international organizations, and local public associations. Previously, the agency had the authority only to check and audit governmental bodies. According to the new requirements, political parties must submit corruption risk assessment reports to the Anticorruption Agency annually. Political parties and in-country political experts raised concerns that empowering the Anticorruption Agency to investigate the activities and budget of political parties would tighten control over their activities.

Corruption in the Education Ministry was systemic. Prospective students were required to pay thousands of somoni (hundreds of dollars) in bribes to enter the country’s most prestigious universities, and provincial colleges reportedly required several hundred somoni. Students reportedly often paid additional bribes to receive good examination grades.

Many traffic police retained fines they collected for violations. Traffic police posted at regular intervals along roads arbitrarily stopped drivers to ask for bribes. The problem was systemic in part due to the low official wages paid to traffic police. Many traffic police reportedly paid for their jobs, an expense they tried to recoup by extracting bribes from motorists.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, Anticorruption Agency, and Prosecutor General’s Office are responsible for investigating, arresting, and prosecuting suspected corrupt officials. The government acknowledged a problem with corruption and took some steps to combat it, including putting lower-level officials on trial for taking bribes.

Both the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Anticorruption Agency submit cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office at the conclusion of their investigations. In some instances the agency collaborated with the Prosecutor General’s Office throughout the entire process.

In April several officials and investigators from the Anticorruption Agency were arrested for corruption. The head of the agency, Sulaimon Sultonzoda, told media that information related to the arrests was classified. On July 17, the chairman of the Supreme Court stated that 13 individuals, including 10 anticorruption officers, would stand trial for bribery and fraud. Among the defendants were high-ranking anticorruption officials, including Davlatbek Hairzoda, the agency’s former deputy head, and Firdavs Niyozbadalov, who was involved in the investigation of Zaid Saidov, a former government insider-turned-opposition figure and presidential hopeful who was serving a 26-year sentence for fraud, polygamy, extortion, and abuse of office. On August 1, media reported that the Supreme Court sentenced Hairzoda to 10.5 years in prison. On the same day, the court convicted Fariddun Benazirzoda, former deputy head of the Sughd customs service, of taking bribes and sentenced him to 10.5 years in prison. The trials were held behind closed doors, and further information regarding convictions or sentencing was not available.

In December authorities arrested independent journalist Khayrullo Mirsaidov of Sughd Region and charged him with embezzlement, forgery, false reporting, and inciting ethnic and religious hatred. The arrest came not long after he had published an open letter to President Rahmon, the general prosecutor, and the governor of Sughd, asking them to crack down on corrupt local authorities and alleging that a sports and youth department head from the region requested a $1,000 bribe. He faced a sentence of 21 years in prison.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are not subject to financial disclosure laws.

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

Domestic human rights groups encountered increased difficulty monitoring and reporting on the general human rights situation. Domestic NGOs and journalists were careful to avoid public criticism of the president or other high-ranking officials and refrained from discussing issues connected to the banned IRPT. Human rights and civil society NGOs faced increasing pressure from the government. Authorities investigated a number of NGOs for alleged registration problems and administrative irregularities.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government facilitated visits by high-ranking officials from the UN, the OSCE, and other international organizations but continued to deny the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prison facilities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman made little effort to respond to complaints from the public during the year, and its limited staff and budget further constrained its capacity to do so. The ombudsman’s office met with NGOs to discuss specific human rights cases and general human rights problems in the country, but no government action resulted.

The government’s Office for Constitutional Guarantees of Citizens’ Rights continued to investigate and answer citizens’ complaints, but staffing inadequacies and inconsistent cooperation from other governmental institutions hampered the office’s effectiveness.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, which is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment. There was no separate statute for spousal rape. The government did not provide statistics on the number of cases or convictions. Law enforcement officials usually advised women not to file charges but registered cases at the victim’s insistence. Most observers believed the majority of cases were unreported because victims wished to avoid humiliation.

Domestic violence does not have its own statute in the criminal code. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a widespread problem. Women underreported violence against them due to fear of reprisal or inadequate response by police and the judiciary, resulting in virtual impunity for the perpetrators. Authorities wishing to promote traditional gender roles widely dismissed domestic violence as a “family matter.”

The government Committee for Women’s Affairs had limited resources to assist domestic violence victims, but local committee representatives referred women to crisis shelters for assistance.

In April 2016 the government adopted official implementing instructions for the Ministry of Internal Affairs on how to refer and register cases of domestic violence, while not having a particular criminal statute to draw from to do so. Domestic violence incidents were registered under general violence and hooliganism, with a special notation in paperwork indicating a distinction for domestic violence.

Authorities seldom investigated reported cases of domestic violence, and they prosecuted few alleged perpetrators. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is authorized to issue administrative restraining orders, but police often gave only warnings, short-term detentions, or fines for committing “administrative offenses” in cases of domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: No specific statute bans sexual harassment in the workplace. Victims often did not report incidents because of fear of social stigma. Women reporting sexual harassment faced retaliation from their employers as well as scrutiny from their families and communities.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control measures. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Although the law provides for men and women to receive equal pay for equal work, cultural barriers restricted women’s professional opportunities.

The law protects women’s rights in marriage and family matters, but families often pressured female minors to marry against their will. Religious marriages were common substitutes for civil marriages, due to the high marriage registration fees associated with civil marriages and the power afforded men under religious law.

The 2004 Council of Ulema fatwa prohibiting Hanafi Sunni women–constituting the vast majority of the female population–from praying in mosques remained in effect. Religious ceremonies also made polygyny possible, despite the illegality of the practice. NGOs estimated that up to 10 percent of men practiced polygyny. Many of these polygynous marriages involved underage brides. Unofficial second and third marriages were increasingly common, with neither the wives nor their children having legal standing or rights.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or from their parents. The government is required to register all births.

Education: Free and universal public education is compulsory until age 16 or completion of the ninth grade. UNICEF reported that school attendance generally was good through the primary grades, but girls faced disadvantages.

Child Abuse: The Committee on Women and Family Affairs and regional child rights protection departments are responsible for addressing problems of violence against children. In 2016 the government established the Office of the Ombudsman on Children’s Rights. Its limited staff and budget constrained its capacity to address children’s issues.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage of men and women is 18 years. Under exceptional circumstances, which a judge must determine, such as in the case of pregnancy, a couple may also apply to a court to lower the marriageable age to 17. Underage religious marriage was more widespread in rural areas.

The law expressly prohibits forced marriages of girls under age 18 or entering into a marriage contract with a girl under 18. Early marriage carries a fine orprison sentence of up to six months, while forced marriage is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. Because couples may not register a marriage where one of the would-be spouses is under age 18, many simply have a local religious leader perform the wedding ceremony. Without a civil registration certificate, the bride has few legal rights.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16 years. According to an NGO working with victims of domestic violence, sexual exploitation, and sex trafficking, there were several cases in which family members or third parties forced children into prostitution in nightclubs and in private homes.

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 www.travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. The small Jewish community had a place of worship and faced no overt pressure from the government or other societal pressures. Emigration to other countries continued.

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 on social protection of persons with disabilities applies to individuals having physical or mental disabilities, including sensory and developmental disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and provision of other state services, but public and private institutions generally did not commit resources to implement the law. The law requires government buildings, schools, hospitals, and transportation, including air travel, to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government did not enforce these provisions.

Many children with disabilities were not able to attend school because doctors did not deem them “medically fit.” Children deemed medically unfit could attend special state-run schools specifically for persons with physical and mental disabilities. Doctors decided which subjects students were capable of studying, and directors of state-run schools could change the requirements for students to pass to the next grade at their discretion.

The government charges the Commission on Fulfillment of International Human Rights, the Society of Invalids, and local and regional governmental structures with protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Although the government maintained group living and medical facilities for persons with disabilities, funding was limited, and facilities were in poor condition.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were occasional reports that some law enforcement officials harassed ethnic Afghans and Uzbeks.

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

While same-sex sexual conduct is legal in the country, and the age of consent is the same as for heterosexual relationships, the law does not provide legal protection against discrimination. Throughout the country there were reports that LGBTI individuals faced physical and psychological abuse, harassment, extortion, and exploitation for revealing their LGBTI status to their families.

There is no law against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and LGBTI persons were victims of police harassment and faced threats of public beatings by community members. LGBTI representatives claimed law enforcement officials extorted money from LGBTI persons by threatening to tell their employers or families of their activities and in some cases subjected LGBTI persons to sex trafficking. Hate crimes against members of the LGBTI community reportedly went unaddressed. LGBTI representatives claimed health-care providers discriminated against and harassed LGBTI persons. LGBTI advocacy and health groups reported harassment from government officials and clergy, to include violent threats, as well as obstruction of their activities by the Ministry of Health.

Government authorities reportedly compiled a registry of hundreds of persons in the LGBTI community as part of a purported drive to promote moral behavior and protect vulnerable groups in society. The Interior Ministry General Prosecutor’s Office and drew up the list, which comprised 319 men and 48 women.

It was difficult for transgender persons to obtain new official documents from the government. The law allows for changing gender in identity papers if a medical organization provides an authorized document. Because a document of this form does not exist, it was difficult for transgender persons to change their legal identity to match their gender. This created internal problems involving any activity requiring government identification, including the acquisition of a passport for international travel.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was societal discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS, and stigma and discrimination were major barriers for persons with HIV to accessing prevention, treatment, and support.

The government offered HIV testing free of charge at 140 facilities, and partner notification was mandatory and anonymous. The World Health Organization noted officials systematically offered HIV testing to prisoners, military recruits, street children, refugees, and persons seeking visas, residence, or citizenship.

Women remained a minority of those infected with HIV, although their incidence of infection was increasing.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions but requires registration for all NGOs, including trade unions. The law also provides that union activities, such as collective bargaining, be free from interference except “in cases specified by law,” but the law does not define such cases. Workers have the right to strike, but the law requires that meetings and other mass actions have prior official authorization, limiting trade unions’ ability to organize meetings or demonstrations. The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively, but it does not specifically prohibit antiunion discrimination.

Workers joined unions, but the government used informal means to exercise considerable influence over organized labor, including influencing the selection of labor union leaders. The government-controlled umbrella Federation of Trade Unions of Tajikistan did not effectively represent worker interests. There were reports that the government compelled some citizens to join state-endorsed trade unions and impeded formation of independent unions. According to International Labor Organization figures, 1.3 million persons belonged to unions. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination during the year.

Anecdotal reports from multiple in-country sources stated that citizens were reluctant to strike due to fear of government retaliation.

Collective bargaining contracts covered 90 percent of workers in the formal sector. In some cases Chinese workers received preferable treatment to local workers in labor disputes.

The government fully controlled trade unions and other labor unions. There were no reports of threats or violence by government entities toward trade unions; however, unions made only limited demands regarding workers’ rights repeatedly because they feared the government reaction. Most workers’ grievances were resolved with union mediation between employee and employer.

Labor NGOs not designated as labor organizations played a minimal role in worker rights, as they were restricted from operating fully and freely.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including that of children, except in cases defined in law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape, and sufficient to deter violations.

The government continued to make progress in reducing the use of forced labor in the annual cotton harvest, although it continued to occur. The Ministry of Labor, together with NGO representatives, conducted monitoring missions of the cotton harvest from 2010 to 2015, but there were no independent monitoring programs or inspections during the 2016 and 2017 cotton harvests.

Deputy Prime Minister Azim Ibrokhim at a meeting at the Tajik Defense Ministry announced that 51 military commissars throughout the country were dismissed from their positions on the accusation of using force (so called “oblava”) to recruit young men into the army during the autumn 2016 military conscription period.

See also 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 children to work is 16 years, although children may work at age 15 with permission from the local trade union. By law children younger than age 18 may work no more than six hours a day and 36 hours per week. Children as young as age seven may participate in household labor and agricultural work, which is separately classified as family assistance. Many children younger than age 10 worked in bazaars or sold goods on the street. The highest incidences of child labor were in the domestic and agricultural sectors.

Enforcement of child labor laws is the responsibility of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Welfare, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and appropriate local and regional governmental offices. Unions also are responsible for reporting any violations in the employment of minors. Citizens can bring unresolved cases involving child labor before the prosecutor general for investigation. There were few reports of violations because most children worked under the family assistance exception. There were reports that military recruitment authorities kidnapped children under the age of 18 from public places and subjected them to compulsory military service to fulfill local recruitment quotas.

The government enforced labor laws and worked with the International Organization for Migration to prevent the use of forced child labor. Nevertheless, there were isolated reports that some children were exploited in agriculture. The overall instances of forced child labor in the cotton harvest decreased dramatically after 2013; the 2015 International Organization for Migration (IOM) annual assessment showed local or national government authorities responded to most cases. During the 2015 harvest, the government levied two fines against employers using child labor and collected a total of 1,800 somoni ($205) from violators.

The Inter-ministerial Commission to Combat Trafficking in Persons disseminated a directive to local officials reiterating prohibitions and ordered the Labor Inspector’s Office to conduct a monitoring mission of the cotton-picking season. According to the IOM, however, no independent monitoring of the cotton harvest was conducted during the year.

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 and occupation on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, language, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, or social status. The law does not expressly prohibit worker discrimination on the basis of color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, or age.

On June 7, parliament approved amendments to the Law on Police, which bans persons with dual citizenship, foreign nationals, and stateless persons from serving in the police force. In November 2016 lawmakers approved amendments to the law banning individuals with dual citizenship from serving in the country’s security services and requiring knowledge of the Tajik (state) language. In March the Council of Majlisi Namoyandagon, the lower house of parliament, approved amendments to the Law on Public Service prohibiting dual citizenship for any persons in public service.

Employers discriminated against individuals based on sexual orientation and HIV-positive status, and police generally did not enforce the laws. LGBTI persons and HIV-positive individuals opted not to file complaints due to fear of harassment from law enforcement personnel and the belief that police would not take action.

The law provides that women receive equal pay for equal work, but cultural barriers continued to restrict the professional opportunities available to women. Employers often forced women to work overtime without additional pay.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In June 2016 the president signed a decree to increase wages, pensions, and stipends starting July 1.

The government has not declared a formal poverty line.

The State Inspectorate for Supervision of Labor, Migration, and Employment under the Ministry of Labor is responsible for the overall supervision of enforcing labor law in the country. The Ministry of Finance enforces financial aspects of the labor law, and the Agency of Financial Control of the presidential administration oversees other aspects of the law. There is no legal prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime. The law mandates overtime payment, with the first two hours paid at a time-and-a-half rate and the remainder at double the rate. Resources, inspections, and remediation to enforce the law were inadequate. The State Inspectorate conducts inspections once every two years. Penalties for violations, including fines of 800 to 1,200 somoni ($90 to $140) were adequate, but the regulation was not enforced, and the government did not pay its employees for overtime work. Overtime payment was inconsistent in all sectors of the labor force.

The State Inspectorate for Supervision of Labor, Migration, and Employment is also responsible for enforcing occupational health and safety standards. The government did not fully comply with these standards, partly because of corruption and the low salaries paid to inspectors. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions without fear of loss of employment, but workers seldom exercised this right.

Farmers and agricultural workers, accounting for more than 60 percent of employment in the country, continued to work under difficult circumstances. There was no system to monitor or regulate working conditions in the agricultural and informal sectors. Wages in the agricultural sector were the lowest among all sectors, and many workers received payment in kind. The government’s failure to ensure and protect land tenure rights continued to limit its ability to protect agricultural workers’ rights.

Thailand

Executive Summary

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with a king serving as head of state. King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun ascended to the throne in December 2016, following the death of his father King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In a 2014 bloodless coup, military and police leaders, taking the name National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and led by then army chief general Prayut Chan-o-cha, overthrew the civilian government administered by the Puea Thai political party, which had governed since 2011 following National Assembly lower house elections that were generally considered free and fair. The 2017 constitution sets a framework for a return to elected government, but as of year’s end, no elections had been formally scheduled, and the NCPO and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha continued to govern the country.

The military-led NCPO maintained control over the security forces and all government institutions.

An interim constitution, promulgated by the NCPO in 2014, was in place until April, when the king promulgated a new constitution, previously adopted by a popular referendum in August 2016. The 2017 constitution stipulates the NCPO remain in office and hold all powers granted by the interim constitution until establishment of a new council of ministers and its assumption of office following the first general election under the new charter. The 2017 constitution also stipulates that all NCPO orders are “constitutional and lawful” and are to remain in effect until revoked by the NCPO, an order from the military-appointed legislative body, the prime minister, or cabinet resolution. The interim constitution granted immunity to coup leaders and their subordinates for any coup or post-coup actions ordered by the ruling council, regardless of the legality of the action. The immunity remains in effect under the 2017 constitution. Numerous NCPO decrees limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press, remained in effect during the year. NCPO Order No. 3/2015, which replaced martial law in March 2015, grants the military government sweeping power to curb “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability.”

In addition to limitations on civil liberties imposed by the NCPO, the other most significant human rights issues included: excessive use of force by government security forces, including harassing or abusing criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners; arbitrary arrests and detention by government authorities; abuses by government security forces confronting the continuing ethnic Malay-Muslim insurgency in the southernmost provinces of Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani, and parts of Songkhla; corruption; sexual exploitation of children; and trafficking in persons.

Authorities took some steps to investigate and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Official impunity, however, continued to be a problem, especially in the southernmost provinces, where the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in the State of Emergency (2005), hereinafter referred to as “the emergency decree,” and the 2008 Internal Security Act remained in effect.

Insurgents in the southernmost provinces committed human rights abuses and attacks on government security forces and civilian targets.

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

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

Reports continued that security forces at times used excessive and lethal force against criminal suspects and committed or were involved in extrajudicial, arbitrary, and unlawful killings. According to the Ministry of Interior’s Investigation and Legal Affairs Bureau, from October 2016 to September, security forces–including police, military, and other agencies–killed 16 suspects during the arrest process, double the number killed in the previous year.

On March 17, soldiers operating a military checkpoint in Mueng Na Subdistrict of Chiang Mai Province shot and killed Chaiyaphum Pasae, a prominent ethnic Lahu student activist, claiming he possessed drugs and had attempted to attack the soldiers with a hand grenade. Community members and local human rights activists questioned the military’s account of the killing and called for a full, transparent investigation into the incident.

There were reports of killings by both government and insurgent forces in connection with the conflict in the southernmost provinces (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

There were few reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Prominent disappearance cases from prior years remained unsolved. In January the Department of Special Investigation rejected a special application from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to investigate the alleged enforced disappearance of Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, a prominent Karen human rights defender missing since 2014.

In August activists associated with the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) claimed on social media that Thai security forces abducted prominent UDD member Withipong “Koh Tee” Kodthammakul from Laos, where he had reportedly fled following the 2014 coup. Senior government officials called the report an unsubstantiated rumor. According to UDD activists, Koh Tee’s whereabouts remained unknown.

At year’s end the government had not taken action on the 2011 request for a country visit by the UN working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances.

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

The interim constitution enacted following the 2014 coup protects “all human dignity, rights, [and] liberties,” but it does not specifically prohibit torture. The 2017 constitution states, “Torture, acts of brutality, or punishment by cruel or inhumane means shall not be permitted.” Nonetheless, the emergency decree and the interim constitution effectively provide immunity from prosecution to security officers for actions committed during the performance of their duties. As of September the cabinet had renewed the emergency decree in the southernmost provinces for consecutive three-month periods 49 times since 2005.

Representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and legal entities reported police and military officers sometimes tortured and beat suspects to obtain confessions, and newspapers reported numerous cases of citizens accusing police and other security officers of brutality. In July the Nakhon Ratchasima Provincial Court concluded that drug-trafficking suspect Anan Koedkaeo’s 2015 death at Choho police station following his arrest by officers from Muang Nakhon Ratchasima police station was the result of physical injuries inflicted by police officers incident to his arrest, not due to his jumping off a bridge in an attempt to escape arrest as police had claimed. The court subsequently forwarded the case to the public prosecutor for further investigation.

There were numerous reports of hazing and physical abuse by members of military units. In August an autopsy revealed that 22-year-old military conscript Yuttakinun Boonniam, found dead in his room in the 45th Military Circle in Surat Thani Province, died of internal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma and not of natural causes. His family claimed he had been physically assaulted for violating military regulations and filed a complaint at the provincial police station requesting investigation of his death.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and various detention centers–including drug rehabilitation facilities and immigration detention centers (IDCs) where authorities detained undocumented migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers–remained poor, and most were overcrowded. The Ministry of Justice’s Department of Corrections is responsible for monitoring prison conditions, while the Ministry of Interior’s Immigration Department monitors conditions in IDCs.

The military government held some civilian suspects at military detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: As of August 1, authorities held approximately 307,500 persons in prisons and detention facilities with a maximum design capacity of 210,000 to 220,000 persons.

In some prisons and detention centers, sleeping accommodations were insufficient, there were persistent reports of overcrowding and poor facility ventilation, and the lack of medical care was a serious problem. Authorities at times transferred seriously ill prisoners and detainees to provincial or state hospitals. In May a 34-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker, who witnesses reported had complained of chest pains and requested immigration officials take him to a hospital, died at Suan Plu Immigration Detention Center.

Pretrial detainees comprised approximately 21 percent of the prison population. Prison officers did not segregate these detainees from the general prison population. The government often held pretrial detainees under the emergency decree in the southernmost provinces in military camps or police stations rather than in prisons.

NGOs reported that authorities occasionally held men, women, and children together in police station cells, particularly in small or remote police stations, pending indictment. In IDCs authorities placed juveniles older than 14 with adults.

Authorities can hold detainees and their children in IDCs for years unless they pay a fine and the cost of their transportation home, because by law “…the alien will have to pay the expense of deportation…[and] [t]he expense of detention shall be charged to the alien’s account.” NGOs urged the government to enact legislation and policies to end detention of children who are out of visa status and adopt alternatives, such as supervised release and noncustodial, community-based housing while resolving their immigration status. Other NGOs reported complaints, especially by Muslim detainees in IDCs, of inadequate and culturally inappropriate food.

Prison authorities sometimes used solitary confinement of not more than one month, as permitted by law, to punish male prisoners who consistently violated prison regulations or were a danger to others. Authorities also used heavy leg irons on prisoners deemed escape risks or potentially dangerous to other prisoners.

According to the Ministry of Interior’s Investigation and Legal Affairs Bureau, 521 persons died in official custody from October 2016 to September, including 35 deaths while in police custody and 486 in the custody of the Department of Corrections, a significant decrease from the previous year. Authorities attributed most of the deaths to natural causes. Human rights groups reported deficiencies in official investigations into deaths in custody.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees or their representatives to submit complaints without censorship to ombudspersons but not directly to judicial authorities. Ombudspersons in turn can consider and investigate complaints and petitions received from prisoners and provide recommendations to the Department of Corrections, but they are not empowered to act on a prisoner’s behalf, nor may they involve themselves in a case unless a person files an official complaint. According to NGOs, authorities rarely investigated complaints and did not make public the results of such investigations.

IDCs, administered by the Immigration Police Bureau, which reports to the Royal Thai Police, are not subject to many of the regulations that govern the regular prison system.

Independent Monitoring: The government facilitated monitoring of prisons by the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT), including meetings with prisoners without third parties present and repeated visits. According to human rights groups, no external or international inspection of the prison system occurred, including of military facilities such as Bangkok’s 11th Military Circle. International organizations reported cooperating with military and police agencies regarding international policing standards and the exercise of police powers.

Representatives of international organizations generally had access to some detainees in IDCs across the country for service delivery and resettlement processing.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

NCPO Order 2/2015 grants the military authority to detain persons without charge or trial for up to seven days. Military officials frequently invoked this authority. According to the OHCHR, the military government summoned, arrested, and detained approximately 2,000 persons since the 2014 coup. Prior to releasing detainees, military authorities often required them to sign documents affirming they were treated well, would refrain from political activity, and would seek authorization prior to travel outside the local area. According to human rights groups, authorities often denied access to detainees by family members and attorneys.

The emergency decree, which gives the government authority to detain persons without charge for a maximum of 30 days in unofficial places of detention, remained in effect in the southernmost provinces (see section 1.g.).

Emergency decree provisions make it very difficult to challenge a detention before a court. Under the decree detainees have access to legal counsel, but there was no assurance of prompt access to counsel or family members, nor were there transparent safeguards against the mistreatment of detainees. Moreover, the decree effectively provides broadly based immunity from criminal, civil, and disciplinary liability for officials acting under its provisions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The law gives military forces authority over civilian institutions, including police, regarding the maintenance of public order. NCPO Order 13/2016, issued in March 2016, grants military officers with the rank of lieutenant and higher power to summon, arrest, and detain suspects; conduct searches; seize assets; suspend financial transactions; and ban suspects from traveling abroad in cases related to 27 criminal offenses, including extortion, human trafficking, robbery, forgery, fraud, defamation, gambling, prostitution, and firearms violation. The order also grants criminal, administrative, civil, and disciplinary immunity to military officials executing police authority in “good faith.”

The Border Patrol Police have special authority and responsibility in border areas to combat insurgent movements.

There were reports police abused prisoners and detainees, generally with impunity. Complaints of police abuse may be filed directly with the superior of the accused police officer, the Office of the Inspector General, or the police commissioner general. The NHRCT, the Lawyers’ Council of Thailand, the Office of the National Anticorruption Commission (NACC), the Supreme Court of Justice, the Ministry of Justice, and the Office of the Prime Minister also accepted complaints of police abuse and corruption, as did the Office of the Ombudsman. Few complaints alleging police abuse resulted in punishment of alleged offenders, and there were numerous examples of investigations lasting years without resolution of alleged security force abuses. Human rights groups criticized the “superficial nature” of police and judicial investigations into incidents of alleged torture and other mistreatment by security forces.

In August the Bangkok Criminal Court ruled that Thawatchai Anukul, a former provincial land official who died in a Department of Special Investigation detention center in August 2016, did not commit suicide as officials initially claimed, but died as the result of internal bleeding and suffocation. Police officials continued to investigate the matter.

The Ministry of Defense requires service members to receive human rights training. Routine training occurred at various levels, including for officers, noncommissioned officers, enlisted personnel, and recruits. Furthermore, military service members deploying in support of counterinsurgency operations in the southernmost provinces received specific human rights training, including training for detailed, situation-specific contingencies. The Royal Thai Police requires all cadets at its national academy to complete a course in human rights law.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

With few exceptions the law requires police and military officers exercising law enforcement authority to obtain a warrant from a judge prior to making an arrest, although NCPO Order 2/2015 allows the detention of any individual for up to seven days without an arrest warrant. Issuance of arrest warrants was subject to a judicial tendency to approve automatically all requests for warrants. By law authorities must inform persons of likely charges against them immediately after arrest and allow them to inform someone of their arrest.

The law provides for access to counsel for criminal detainees in both civilian and military courts, but lawyers and human rights groups claimed police often conducted interrogations without providing access to an attorney.

Both the Court of Justice and the Justice Fund of the Ministry of Justice assign lawyers for indigent defendants. According to the most recent figures from fiscal year 2016, the Court of Justice assigned attorneys to 25,095 adult and 11,550 juvenile defendants. From October 2016 to September, the Ministry of Justice provided lawyers for 545 defendants.

The law provides defendants the right to request bail, and the government generally respected this right except in cases considered to involve national security, which included violations of the country’s lese majeste (royal insult) law.

Arbitrary Arrest: Under NCPO order 3/2015, the military has authority to detain persons without charge for a maximum of seven days without judicial review. Under the emergency decree, authorities may detain a person for a maximum of 30 days without charge (see section 1.g.). Military officers invoked NCPO Order No. 3/2015 authority to detain numerous politicians, academics, journalists, and other persons without charge, although reportedly fewer than in 2016. The military held most individuals briefly but held some for the maximum seven days.

Pretrial Detention: Under normal conditions the law allows police to detain criminal suspects for 48 hours after arrest for investigation. Lawyers reported police rarely brought cases to court within the 48-hour period. Laws and regulations place offenses for which the maximum penalty for conviction is less than three years under the jurisdiction of district courts, which have different procedures and require police to submit cases to public prosecutors within 72 hours of arrest. According to the Lawyers’ Council of Thailand, pretrial detention of criminal suspects for as long as 60 days was common.

Before charging and trial, authorities may detain individuals for a maximum of 84 days (for the most serious offenses), with a judicial review required for each seven-day period. After formal charges and throughout trial, depending on prosecution and defense readiness, court caseload, and the nature of the evidence, detention may last for one to two years before a verdict and up to six years before a Supreme Court appellate review.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained by police are entitled to judicial review of their detention within 48 hours in most cases. Persons detained by military officials acting under authority granted by NCPO Order 3/2015 are entitled to judicial review of their detention within seven days. Detainees found by the court to have been detained unlawfully (more than 48 hours or seven days) are entitled to compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Both the interim constitution and the 2017 constitution provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality, notwithstanding NCPO orders that prohibited members of the judiciary from making any negative public comments against the NCPO. Moreover, the interim constitution in place through April provided the NCPO power to intervene “regardless of its effects on the legislative, executive, or judiciary” to defend the country against national security threats.

Human rights groups continued to express concern about the NCPO’s influence on independent judicial processes, particularly the practice of prosecuting some civilians in military courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The 2017 constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, except in certain cases involving national security, including lese majeste cases. The interim constitution, in effect until April, also provided this right.

The law provides for the presumption of innocence. A single judge decides trials for misdemeanors; regulations require two or more judges for more serious cases. Most trials are public; however, the court may order a closed trial, particularly in cases involving national security, the royal family, children, or sexual abuse.

In ordinary criminal courts, defendants enjoy a broad range of legal rights, including access to a lawyer of their choosing, prompt and detailed information of the charges against them, free assistance of an interpreter as necessary, the right to be present at trial, and the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the rights not to be compelled to testify or to confess guilt, to confront witnesses, to present witnesses, and to appeal. Authorities did not always automatically provide indigent defendants with counsel at public expense, and there were allegations authorities did not afford defendants all the above rights, especially in small or remote provinces.

In a 2014 order, the NCPO redirected prosecutions for offenses against the monarchy, insurrection, sedition, weapons offenses, and violation of its orders from civilian criminal courts to military courts. In September 2016 the NCPO ordered an end to the practice, directing that offenses committed by civilians after that date would no longer be subject to military court jurisdiction. According to the Judge Advocate General’s Office, military courts initiated 1,886 cases involving at least 2,408 civilian defendants since the May 2014 coup, most commonly for violations of Article 112 (lese majeste); failure to comply with an NCPO order; and violations of the law controlling firearms, ammunition, and explosives. As of October approximately 369 civilian cases involving up to 450 individual defendants remained pending before military courts.

Military courts do not provide the same legal protections for civilian defendants as do civilian criminal courts. Military courts do not afford civilian defendants rights outlined by either the interim constitution or the 2017 constitution to a fair and public hearing by a competent, impartial, and independent tribunal. Civilians facing trial for offenses allegedly committed from May 2014 to March 2015–the period of martial law–have no right of appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The NCPO routinely detained those who expressed political views (see section 1.d.). As of August the Department of Corrections reported there were 135 persons detained or imprisoned in the country under lese majeste laws that outlaw criticism of the monarchy (see section 2.a.). Human rights groups claimed the prosecutions and convictions of several lese majeste offenders were politically motivated. Police arrested student activist Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa in December 2016 for “liking” and sharing on Facebook a link to a Thai-language BBC profile of the new king that allegedly contained defamatory information. Human rights groups reported that approximately 2,000 other Thai social media users shared or liked the same BBC article and were not charged. In August Jatupat pled guilty to one count of violating the lese majeste law and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, reduced to two and one-half years by the court in consideration of his guilty plea. From his arrest until his guilty plea, the court denied Jatupat’s request for bail 12 times.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for access to courts and administrative bodies to sue for damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. The government generally respected this right, but the emergency decree in force in the southernmost provinces expressly excludes administrative court scrutiny or civil or criminal proceedings against government officials. Victims may seek compensation from a government agency instead.

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

NCPO Order No. 3/2015, along with the emergency decree, gives government security forces authority to conduct warrantless searches. Security forces used this authority routinely in the southernmost provinces and other border areas. There were complaints during the year from persons who claimed security forces abused this authority.

There were reports military officers harassed family members of those suspected of opposing the NCPO, including parents of students involved in anti-NCPO protests and the families of human rights defenders. For example, human rights groups reported intimidation of close associates of Chaiyaphum Pasae, the Lahu activist killed by soldiers in Chiang Mai Province (see section 1.a.).

Security services monitored persons, including foreign visitors, who espoused highly controversial views. In May officials from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society made an announcement warning citizens not to “follow” or correspond on social media with three prominent critics of the military government and monarchy living overseas, namely academics Somsak Jeamterrasakul and Pavin Chachavalaphongpun and journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

In contrast to the interim constitution, the 2017 constitution largely 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, although particulars about the electoral process and the composition of members of parliament remained pending, and elections had not been held by year’s end.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There had been no elections since the 2014 coup. NCPO Announcements No. 85/2557 and No. 86/2557, issued in July 2014, and NCPO Chairman Order No. 1/2557, issued in December 2014, ordered the suspension of all types of elections nationwide, at both the national and local levels.

During a popular referendum in August 2016, a majority of voters voted in favor of the 2017 constitution. The Referendum Law, which included restrictions on campaigning for or against the draft charter, governed the period preceding the constitutional referendum. Officials regularly invoked the law to limit free and open debate in advance of the referendum. Human rights groups reported approximately 200 persons were arrested for violating the Referendum Law, all of whom were opponents of the draft charter. As a result numerous national and international observers criticized the referendum as unfair because the electorate was unable to freely receive and impart information and campaign for their choice.

There were no verified reports of irregularities with referendum voting, which was held by secret ballot.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The interim constitution prohibited anyone who was a member of a political party in the past three years from serving in the National Legislative Assembly (NLA). Restrictions on political activity, particularly the prohibition on political gatherings of more than five persons, affected political parties’ operations.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The precoup constitution encouraged political parties to consider a “close proximity of equal numbers” of both genders. Neither the interim constitution nor the 2017 constitution contains such a provision. No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process; however, their participation was limited. There were 13 women in the NCPO-appointed 249-member NLA and four female ministers in the 34-person interim cabinet. The previous elected government had 81 women in the 500-seat lower house.

Few members of ethnic or religious minorities held positions of authority in national politics. The 249-member NLA included four Muslims and one Christian. No Muslims or Christians held cabinet posts. All governors (who are centrally appointed) in the southernmost provinces were Buddhist, but chief executives in those provincial administrative organizations were Muslim.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials. Government implementation of the law increased under the NCPO, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption remained widespread among police. Authorities arrested police officers and convicted them of corruption, drug trafficking, and smuggling; police reportedly also committed intellectual property rights violations.

In 2015 the attorney general filed criminal charges against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and 28 other officials in her administration related to alleged malfeasance in her government’s handling of a rice-pledging program. In August the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions found 20 defendants guilty of crimes related to corruption, sentencing former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom to 42 years in prison for malfeasance in administering government-to-government deals involving Chinese companies as part of the rice-pledging program. In September the same court found Yingluck Shinawatra guilty of dereliction of duty in absentia for failing to address the corruption of Boonsong and other officials in her government and sentenced her to five years in prison. Prior to the verdict, Yingluck reportedly departed the country. Following the conviction, the court issued a warrant for her immediate arrest.

The government continued to enforce the 2009 arrest warrant against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who faced two and one-half years in prison after being convicted of malfeasance by the Supreme Court of Justice for Persons Holding Political Positions for his involvement with a government bank loan to Burma. He continued to reside outside the country.

Financial Disclosure: Financial disclosure laws and regulations require elected and appointed public officials to disclose assets and income according to standardized forms. The law penalizes officials who fail to submit declarations, submit inaccurate declarations, or conceal assets. Penalties include a five-year political activity ban, asset seizure, and discharge from position, as well as a maximum imprisonment of six months, a maximum fine of 10,000 baht ($306), or both.

The NACC financial disclosure rules do not apply to NCPO members, although NCPO members who serve in cabinet positions must comply with the rules. Likewise authorities also exempted members of the NCPO-appointed 200-member National Reform Steering Assembly, which was dissolved in July.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, although the government did not always enforce the law effectively. The law permits authorities to prosecute spousal rape, and prosecutions occurred. The law specifies penalties for conviction of rape or forcible sexual assault ranging from four years’ imprisonment to the death penalty as well as fines.

NGOs asserted that rape was a serious problem, and noted a measure in the law allows offenders younger than 18 to avoid prosecution by choosing to marry their victim. They also maintained that victims underreported rapes and domestic assaults, in part due to a lack of understanding by authorities that impeded effective implementation of the law regarding violence against women.

According to NGOs the government underfunded agencies tasked with addressing the problem, and victims often perceived police as incapable of bringing perpetrators to justice.

Domestic violence against women was a significant problem. The Ministry of Public Health operated one-stop crisis centers that provide information and services to victims of physical and sexual abuse throughout the country. The law establishes measures designed to facilitate both the reporting of domestic violence complaints and reconciliation between the victim and the perpetrator. Moreover, the law restricts media reporting on domestic violence cases in the judicial system. NGOs expressed concern the law’s family unity approach puts undue pressure on a victim to compromise without addressing safety issues and led to a low conviction rate.

Authorities prosecuted some domestic violence crimes under provisions for assault or violence against a person, where they could seek harsher penalties. Women’s rights groups reported domestic violence frequently went unreported, however, and police often were reluctant to pursue reports of domestic violence. The government operated shelters for domestic violence victims, one in each province. The government’s crisis centers, located in all state-run hospitals, cared for abused women and children.

The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security continued to develop a community-based system, operating in all regions of the country, to protect women from domestic violence. The program focused on training representatives from each community on women’s rights and abuse prevention to increase community awareness.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No specific law prohibits this practice. NGOs reported that FGM/C occurred in the Muslim-majority south, although statistics were unavailable. There were no reports of governmental efforts to prevent or address the practice.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal in both the public and private sectors. The law specifies maximum fines of 20,000 baht ($612) for those convicted of sexual harassment, while abuse categorized as an indecent act may result in a maximum 15 years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 30,000 baht ($919). The law governing the civil service also prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates five levels of punishment: probation, docked wages, salary reduction, suspension, and termination. NGOs claimed the legal definition of harassment was vague and prosecution of harassment claims difficult, leading to ineffective enforcement of the law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The interim constitution purported to protect “all human dignity, rights, liberties, and equality of the people.” The 2017 constitution provides that “men and women shall enjoy equal rights and liberties. Unjust discrimination against a person on the grounds of differences in origin, race, language, sex, age, disability, physical or health condition, personal status, economic or social standing, religious belief, education or political view, shall not be permitted.”

Women generally enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, but sometimes experienced discrimination particularly in employment. The law imposes a maximum jail term of six months or a maximum fine of 20,000 baht ($612) or both, for anyone committing gender discrimination. The law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender and sexual identity in policy, rule, regulation, notification, project, or procedures by government, private organizations, and any individual, but it also stipulates two exceptions criticized by civil society groups: religious principles and national security.

Women were unable to confer citizenship to their noncitizen spouses in the same way as male citizens.

Women accounted for approximately 20,700 of the country’s 230,000 military personnel. Ministry of Defense policy limits the percentage of female officers to not more than 25 percent in most units, with specialized hospital/medical, budgetary, and finance units permitted 35 percent. Military academies (except for the nursing academy) refused admission to female students, although a significant number of instructors were women.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is conferred at birth if at least one parent is a citizen. Birth within the country does not automatically confer citizenship, but regulations entitle all children born in the country to birth registration, which qualifies them for certain government benefits regardless of citizenship (see section 2.d.). NGOs reported that hill tribe members and other stateless persons sometimes did not register births with authorities, especially births occurring in remote areas, because administrative complexities, misinformed or unscrupulous local officials, language barriers, and restricted mobility made it difficult to do so.

Education: The 2017 constitution provides that all children receive free “quality education for 12 years, from preschool to the completion of compulsory education,” which is defined as through grade nine. NGOs reported that children of registered migrants, unregistered migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers also had limited access to government schools.

Child Abuse: The law provides for the protection of children from abuse, and laws on rape and abandonment carry harsher penalties if the victim is a child. The law provides for protection of witnesses, victims, and offenders younger than 18 in abuse and pedophilia cases. According to advocacy groups, police showed reluctance to investigate abuse cases, and rules of evidence made prosecution of child abuse difficult.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 17, while anyone younger than 20 requires parental consent. A court may grant permission for children between the ages of 15 and 16 to marry.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides heavy penalties for persons who procure, lure, compel, or threaten children younger than 18 for the purpose of prostitution, with higher penalties for persons who purchase sexual intercourse with a child younger than 15. Authorities may punish parents who allow a child to enter into prostitution and revoke their parental rights. The law prohibits the production, distribution, import, or export of child pornography. The law also imposes heavy penalties on persons convicted of sexually exploiting persons younger than 18, including for pimping, trafficking, and other sexual crimes against children.

Child sex trafficking remained a problem and the country continued to be a destination for child sex tourism, although the government initiated new programs to combat the problem. Children from migrant populations, ethnic minorities, and poor families remained particularly vulnerable, and police arrested parents who forced their children into prostitution. Citizens and foreign sex tourists committed pedophilia crimes, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The government made efforts throughout the year to combat the sexual exploitation of children, including opening two new child advocacy centers in Pattaya and Phuket that allow for developmentally appropriate interviews of child victims and witnesses. The centers allowed both forensic interviewing and early social service intervention in cases of child abuse, trafficking, and exploitation. The multiagency Thailand Internet Crimes against Children Task Force also accelerated its operations, leveraging updated regulations and investigative methods to track internet-facilitated child exploitation.

Displaced Children: Authorities generally referred street children to government shelters located in each province, but foreign undocumented migrants avoided the shelters due to fear of deportation. The government generally sent citizen street children to school, occupational training centers, or back to their families with social worker supervision. The government repatriated some street children who came from other countries.

Institutionalized Children: There were limited reports of abuse in orphanages or other institutions.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The resident Jewish community is very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. Nazi symbols and figures were sometimes displayed on merchandise and used in advertising.

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 2017 constitution prohibits discrimination based on disability and physical or health conditions.

The government modified many public accommodations and buildings to accommodate persons with disabilities, but government enforcement was not consistent. The law mandates persons with disabilities have access to information, communications, and newly constructed buildings, but authorities did not uniformly enforce these provisions. The law entitles persons with disabilities who register with the government to free medical examinations, wheelchairs, and crutches.

The government’s Community-based Rehabilitation Program and the Community Learning Center for People with Disabilities project operated in all provinces. The government provided five-year, interest-free, small-business loans for persons with disabilities.

The government maintained dozens of separate schools and education centers for students and persons with disabilities. The law requires all government schools nationwide to accept students with disabilities, and a majority of schools taught students with disabilities during the year. The government also operated shelters and rehabilitation centers specifically for persons with disabilities, including day-care centers for autistic children.

The tax revenue code provided special income tax deductions to promote employment of persons with disabilities. Some employers subjected persons with disabilities to wage discrimination.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Two groups–former Chinese civil war belligerents and their descendants living in the country for several decades, and children of Vietnamese immigrants residing in 13 northeastern provinces–lived under laws and regulations restricting their movement, residence, education, and access to employment. A law confines the Chinese group to residence in the northern provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Mae Hong Son.

Indigenous People

Noncitizen members of hill tribes faced restrictions on their movement, could not own land, had difficulty accessing bank credit, and faced discrimination in employment. Although labor laws give them the right to equal treatment as employees, employers often violated those rights by paying them less than their citizen coworkers and less than minimum wage. The law also limits noncitizens in their choice of occupations. The law further bars them from government welfare services, such as universal health care.

The law provides citizenship eligibility to certain categories of hill tribes who were not previously eligible (see section 2.d.). The government supported efforts to register citizens and educate eligible hill tribe members about their rights.

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

No laws criminalize expression of sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

The LGBTI community reported that police treated LGBTI victims of crime the same as other persons except in the case of sexual crimes, where there was a tendency to downplay sexual abuse or not to take harassment seriously.

The law does not permit transgender persons to change their gender on identification documents, which, coupled with societal discrimination, limited their employment opportunities. The law prohibits discrimination “due to the fact that the person is male or female or of a different appearance from his/her own sex by birth.” There was some commercial discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Some social stigma remained for persons with HIV/AIDS despite intensive educational efforts by the government and NGOs. There were reports some employers refused to hire persons who tested positive for HIV.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The interim constitution did not contain provisions providing for the right of freedom of association or the right to bargain collectively. The 2017 constitution provides that a person shall enjoy the liberty to unite and form an association, cooperative, union, organization, community, or any other group. The Labor Relations Act (LRA) and State Enterprise Labor Relations Act (SELRA) remained in effect. The LRA allows private-sector workers to form and join trade unions of their choosing without prior authorization, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes with a number of restrictions.

Legal definitions of who may join a union and requirements that the union represent at least one-fifth of the workforce hampered collective bargaining efforts. Under the law only workers who are in the same industry may form a union. For example, despite working in the same factory, contract workers who are classified under the “service industry” may not join the same union as full-time workers who are classified under the “manufacturing industry.” This restriction often diminished the ability to bargain collectively as a larger group. Labor advocates claimed companies exploited this required ratio to avoid unionization by hiring substantial numbers of temporary contract workers. The law also restricts formal affiliations between unions of state-owned enterprises (SOE) and private-sector unions because two separate laws govern them.

The law allows employees in private enterprises with more than 50 workers to establish “employee committees” to represent workers’ collective requests and to negotiate with employers and “welfare committees” to represent workers’ welfare-related collective requests. Employee and welfare committees may give suggestions to employers, but the law bars them from submitting labor demands or conducting legal strikes. The law prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against workers for their participation in these committees and from obstructing the work of the committees. Therefore, union leaders often joined employee or welfare committees.

The SELRA allows one union per SOE. SOEs in the country included state banks, trains, airlines, airports, marine ports, and postal services. Under the law civil servants, including teachers at public and private schools, university professors, soldiers, and police, do not have the right to form or register a union; however, civil servants (including teachers, police, and nurses), and self-employed persons (such as farmers and fishers) may form and register associations to represent member interests. If a SOE union’s membership falls below 25 percent of the eligible workforce, labor relations regulations require dissolution.

The law forbids strikes and lockouts in the public sector and at SOEs. The government has authority to restrict private-sector strikes that would affect national security or cause severe negative repercussions for the population at large, but it did not invoke this provision during the year.

Noncitizen migrant workers, whether registered or undocumented, do not have the right to form unions or serve as union officials. Registered migrants may be members of unions organized and led by citizens. Migrant worker participation in unions was limited due to language barriers, weak understanding of rights under the law, frequent changes in employment, membership fees, restrictive labor union regulations, and segregation of citizen workers from migrant workers by industry and by zones (particularly in border and coastal areas). In practice many migrant workers formed unregistered associations, community-based organizations, or religious groups to represent member interests.

The law does not protect union members against antiunion actions by employers until their union is registered. To register a union, at least 10 workers must submit their names to the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare (DLPW). The verification process of vetting the names and employment status with the employer exposes the workers to potential retaliation before registration is complete. Moreover, the law requires union officials be full-time employees of the company or SOE and prohibits permanent union staff.

The law protects employees and union members from criminal or civil charges for participating in negotiations with employers, initiating a strike, organizing a rally, and explaining labor disputes to the public. The law does not protect employees and union members from criminal offenses for endangering the public or for causing loss of life or bodily injury, property damage, and reputational damage. The law does not prohibit lawsuits intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics through costly legal defense. Some private companies charged union leaders with civil and criminal defamation for public statements made online or in media during collective bargaining in an effort, according to labor rights activists, to intimidate union leaders. Human rights defenders said the use of criminal defamation and other actions to camouflage retaliation had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and association.

The law prohibits termination of employment of legal strikers but permits employers to hire workers or use subcontract workers to replace strikers. The legal requirement to call a general meeting of trade union members and obtain strike approval by at least 50 percent of union members constrained strike action in the private sector. The law provides for penalties, including imprisonment, a fine, or both, for strikers in SOEs. In July the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s guilty verdict against seven union leaders of the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) for leading a strike in contravention of strike-permit rules and ordered them to pay fines totaling 21 million baht ($643,000). The union was protesting the SRT’s failure to fund maintenance and safety equipment and manage appropriate rest time for train conductors, which may have contributed to a 2009 train derailment and seven fatalities.

Labor law enforcement was inconsistent, and in some instances ineffective, in protecting workers who participated in union activities. Employers may dismiss workers for any reason except participation in union activities, provided the employer pays severance. There were reports of workers dismissed for engaging in union activities, both before and after registration, and, in some cases, labor courts ordered workers reinstated. In some cases judges awarded compensation in lieu of reinstatement when employers or employees claimed they could not work together peacefully; however, authorities rarely applied penalties for conviction of labor violations, which include imprisonment, a fine, or both. International organizations reported DLPW leadership increasingly promoted good industrial relations and enforcement during inspector training across the country. Labor inspection increasingly focused on high-risk workplaces and the use of intelligence from civil society partners. Trade union leaders suggested that inspectors should move beyond perfunctory document reviews toward more proactive work site inspections. Rights advocates reported that provincial-level labor inspectors often attempted to mediate cases, even when there was a finding that labor rights violations requiring penalties occurred.

There were reports employers used various techniques to weaken labor union association and collective bargaining efforts. These included replacing striking workers with subcontractors, which the law permits when strikers continue to receive wages; threatening union leaders and striking workers; pressuring union leaders and striking workers to resign; dismissing union leaders, citing business reasons; prohibiting workers from demonstrating in work zones; and inciting violence to get a court warrant to prohibit protests. In some cases employers filed lawsuits against union leaders and strikers for trespassing, defamation, and vandalism. Some employers also transferred union leaders and striking workers to different, less desirable positions or inactive management positions (with no management authority) to prevent them from leading union activities. There were reports some employers supported the registration of competing unions to circumvent established unions that refused to accept the terms of agreement proposed by employers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except in the case of national emergency, war, martial law, or imminent public calamity.

The government updated various laws to strengthen its regulations against human trafficking, including forced labor. In January the third amendment of the antitrafficking law expanded the defined means of exploitation to include retention of identity documents and use of the accumulated debt burden. The amendment strengthened both the imprisonment and monetary penalties for the worst forms of child labor and other forms of human trafficking. The prescribed penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape.

In 2016, 14 migrant workers filed a complaint with the NHRCT alleging forced labor, confiscation of documents, abusive working and living conditions, excessive overtime, unlawful salary deductions, and limited freedom of movement. In September the Supreme Court upheld a labor court’s decision, ordering their employer, Thammakaset Company, to pay 1.7 million baht ($52,000) in unpaid overtime wages. In October the 14 workers were indicted, arrested, and released temporarily on bail on charges of criminal defamation, which carry maximum prison sentences of 18 months, a maximum fine of 30,000 baht ($919), or both. The 14 workers entered not guilty pleas.

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 regulates the employment of children younger than 18 and prohibits employment of children younger than 15. Children younger than 18 are prohibited from work in an activity involving metalwork, hazardous chemicals, poisonous materials, radiation, and harmful temperatures or noise levels; exposure to toxic microorganisms; operation of heavy equipment; and work underground or underwater. The law also prohibits children from work in hazardous workplaces, such as slaughterhouses, gambling establishments, places where alcohol is sold, massage parlors, entertainment venues, sea fishing vessels, and seafood processing establishments. The law provides limited coverage to child workers in some informal sectors, such as agriculture, domestic work, and home-based businesses. Self-employed children and children working in nonemployment relationships are not protected under national labor law, but they are protected under the Child Protection Act and the third amendment of the Antitrafficking in Persons Act of January.

Violations of the law may include imprisonment or fines. Parents the court finds were “driven by unbearable poverty” are exempt from the law. In February the government amended the Labor Protection Act on child labor to strengthen penalties on employing child laborers younger than 15 or child laborers between the ages of 15 and 18 in hazardous work.

Government and private-sector entities, particularly medium and large manufacturers, actively advocated against the use of child labor through public awareness campaigns and bone-density checks to verify their age for identifying potential underage job applicants.

The DLPW is the primary agency charged with enforcing child labor laws and policies. In 2016 nearly one-half (47 percent) of labor inspections were targeted in high-risk sectors for child labor, including seafood processing, garment, manufacturing, agriculture, construction, gas stations, restaurants, and bars. Violations included employing underage child labor in hazardous work, unlawful working hours, and failure to notify the DLPW of employment of child workers. The amended labor protections, which impose high monetary penalties per each child laborer employed, were sufficient to deter violations. Nonetheless, there were reports some employers use inaccurate bone-density records to verify the age of child laborers.

Observers noted several limiting factors in effective enforcement of child labor laws, including: insufficient labor inspectors, insufficient interpreters during labor inspections, ineffective inspection procedures for the informal sector or hard-to-reach workplaces (such as private residences, small family-based business units, farms, and fishing boats), and lack of official identity documents or birth certificates among young migrant workers from neighboring countries. Moreover, a lack of public understanding of child labor laws and standards were also important factors.

Children from Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and ethnic minority communities were engaged in labor in informal sectors in the country, including farming, fishing, restaurants, street vending, auto services, food processing, manufacturing, construction, domestic work, and begging. Some children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, child pornography, as well as production and trafficking of drugs (see section 6, Children). Factors contributing to child labor can include poverty, family commitment, distance from schools, parents’ occupations, and importance placed on education by parents.

Limited reports continued that insurgent groups in the southernmost provinces recruited children to commit arson or act as scouts or informants.

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 did not specifically prohibit discrimination in the workplace regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, political opinion, religion, age, social origin, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. Effective September 2016 the law imposes penalties of imprisonment, fines, or both for anyone committing gender or gender identity discrimination, including in employment decisions. Another law requires workplaces with more than 100 employees to hire at least one worker with disabilities for every 100 workers.

Discrimination with respect to employment occurred against LGBTI persons, migrant workers, and women (see section 7.e.). Government regulations require employers to pay equal wages and benefits for equal work, regardless of gender. Union leaders stated the wage differences for men and women were generally minimal and were mostly due to different skills, duration of employment, types of jobs, as well as legal requirements, which prohibit the employment of women in hazardous work. Nonetheless, a 2016 International Labor Organization (ILO) report on migrant women in the country’s construction sector found female migrant workers consistently received less than their male counterparts, and more than one-half were paid less than the official minimum wage, especially for overtime work. Discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred in employment, access, and training.

Persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities faced frequent discrimination in the workplace, partly due to common prejudices and a lack of protective laws and policies on discrimination. A 2014 ILO report found discrimination at all stages of the employment process, including education and training, access to jobs, advancement opportunities, social security, and partner benefits. Transgender workers reportedly faced even greater constraints, and their participation in the workforce was often limited to a few professions, such as cosmetology and entertainment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Effective January 1, there were four rates of daily minimum wage depending on provincial cost of living, including 300 baht ($9.19) for eight provinces, 305 baht ($9.34) for 49 provinces, 308 baht ($9.43) for 13 provinces, and 310 baht ($9.50) for seven provinces. This daily minimum was three times higher than the government-calculated poverty line of 2,644 baht ($81) per month, last calculated in 2015.

The maximum workweek by law is 48 hours, or eight hours per day over six days, with an overtime limit of 36 hours per week. Employees engaged in “dangerous” work, such as chemical, mining, or other industries involving heavy machinery, may work a maximum of 42 hours per week and may not work overtime. Petrochemical industry employees may not work more than 12 hours per day and may work continuously for a maximum period of 28 days.

The law requires safe and healthy workplaces, including for home-based businesses, and prohibits pregnant women and children younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions. The law also requires the employer to inform employees about hazardous working conditions prior to employment. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Legal protections do not apply equally to all sectors. For example, the daily minimum wage does not apply to employees in the public sector, SOEs, domestic work, nonprofit work, and seasonal agricultural work. Ministerial regulations provide household domestic workers some protections regarding leave, minimum age, and payment of wages, but they do not address minimum wage, regular working hours, social security, or maternity leave.

A large income gap remained between formal and informal employment, with workers in nonagricultural sectors earning an average of three times more than those in the agricultural sector. According to government statistics, 55 percent of the labor force worked in the informal economy, with limited protection under labor laws and the social security system.

There were reports daily minimum wages, overtime, and holiday pay were not well enforced in small enterprises, in some areas (especially rural or border areas), or in some sectors (especially agriculture, construction, and sea fishing). Labor unions estimated 5-10 percent of workers received less than the minimum wage; however, the share of workers who received lower than minimum wage was likely higher among unregistered migrant workers. Unregistered migrant workers rarely sought redress under the law due to their lack of legal status to work and live in the country legally.

The DLPW enforces laws related to labor relations and occupational safety and health. The law subjects employers to fines and imprisonment for minimum wage noncompliance, but enforcement was inconsistent. There were reports many cases of minimum wage noncompliance went to mediation in which workers agreed to settlements for owed wages lower than the daily minimum wage. Convictions for violations of occupational safety and health regulations include imprisonment and fines.

Medium and large factories often applied government health and safety standards, but overall enforcement of safety standards was lax. In the informal sector, such protections were substandard. NGOs and union leaders noted the main factors for ineffective enforcement as an insufficient number of qualified inspectors, overreliance on document-based inspection (instead of workplace inspection), lack of protection for workers’ complaints, lack of interpreters, and failure to impose effective penalties on noncompliant employers. A 2016 policy change allowed the government to address a chronic shortage of interpreters for labor inspections and identification of victims of trafficking. The Ministry of Labor doubled the number of registered interpreters during the year. These served mostly at fishing port inspection centers and in multidisciplinary human-trafficking teams. The Department of Employment took steps to increase awareness of migrant workers’ basic rights through briefings at three Post-Arrival and Reintegration Centers established in heavily trafficked border crossing areas.

The country has universal health care for all citizens, and social security and workers’ compensation programs to insure employed persons in cases of injury or illness and to provide maternity, disability, death, child allowance, unemployment, and retirement benefits. Registered migrant workers in both the formal and informal labor sectors and their dependents are also eligible to buy health insurance from the Ministry of Public Health.

NGOs reported many construction workers, especially subcontract workers and migrant workers, were not in the social security system or covered under the workers’ compensation program, despite requirements of the law. While the social security program is mandatory for employed persons, workers employed in the informal sector, temporary or seasonal employment, or self-employed may also contribute voluntarily to the workers’ compensation program and receive government matching funds.

NGOs reported several cases of the denial of government social security and accident benefits to registered migrant workers due to the failure of employers to fulfill mandatory contribution requirements or because of the failure of migrant workers to pass nationality verification.

Workers in the fishing industry were often deemed seasonal workers and therefore not required by law to have access to social security and accident compensation. The lack of sufficient occupational safety and health training, first aid, and reliable systems to ensure timely delivery of injured workers to hospitals after serious accidents further made fishery workers especially vulnerable. NGOs reported several cases of migrant workers who received only minimal compensation from employers after suffering disability or disfigurement on the job.

NGOs reported poor working conditions and lack of labor protections for migrant workers, including those near border-crossing points. In June the Ministry of Labor announced the Royal Ordinance Concerning the Management of Foreign Workers’ Employment to regulate the employment, recruitment, and protection of migrant workers. The decree imposes heavy civil penalties for employing or sheltering unregistered migrant workers, while strengthening worker protections by prohibiting Thai employment brokers and employers from charging migrant workers additional fees for recruitment. The draft decree also bans employers from withholding migrant worker documents and disallows those convicted of labor and antitrafficking laws from operating employment agencies. Nevertheless, advocates awaited potential changes to the decree after a 180-day stakeholder consultation period expiring in January 2018. Between July and September, 797,685 undocumented migrant workers took steps to register or adjust their documentation or legal status, and 198,332 employers submitted registration documentation to the Department of Employment.

Labor brokerage firms used a “contract labor system” under which workers sign an annual contract. By law businesses must provide contract laborers “fair benefits and welfare without discrimination”; however, employers often paid contract laborers less and provided fewer or no benefits.

NGOs noted local moneylenders, mostly informal, offered loans at exorbitant interest rates so citizen workers looking for work abroad could pay recruitment fees, some as high as 500,000 baht ($15,300). Department of Employment regulations limit the maximum charges for recruitment fees, but effective enforcement of the rules remained difficult and inadequate due to workers’ unwillingness to provide information and the lack of legal documentary evidence regarding underground recruitment and documentation fees as well as migration costs. Exploitative employment service agencies persisted in charging citizens working overseas large, illegal fees that frequently equaled their first- and second-year earnings.

In 2016, the latest year for which data was available, there were 89,488 reported incidents of diseases and injuries from workplace accidents. Observers said workplace accidents in the informal and agricultural sectors and among migrant workers were underreported. Employers rarely diagnosed or compensated occupational diseases, and few doctors or clinics specialized in them.

Timor-Leste

Executive Summary

Timor-Leste is a multiparty, parliamentary republic. Following free, fair, and peaceful parliamentary elections in July, Mari bin Amude Alkatiri became prime minister of a two-party coalition government. In a March presidential election, also judged as free and fair, voters elected Francisco Lu Olo Guterres. The government conducted free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections. In contrast with previous years, elections were conducted without extensive support from the international community. Security forces maintained public order with no reported incidents of excessive use of force.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included: extended pretrial detention, delayed trials and lack of due process; gender-based violence; and child abuse including sexual abuse.

The government took some steps to prosecute members and officials of the security services who used excessive force, but public perceptions of impunity persisted according to security sector-focused NGOs.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices and limits the situations in which police officers may resort to physical force and the use of firearms. During the year there were multiple reports of the use of excessive force by security forces. Most complaints involved maltreatment or use of excessive force during incident response or arrest.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: According to human rights monitoring organizations, police station detention cells generally did not comply with international standards and lacked sanitation facilities and bedding, although police were making efforts to improve them. The prison in Dili (Becora), the country’s largest, was overcrowded. It had an estimated capacity of 290 inmates, but in September held 547 adult and juvenile male convicts and pretrial detainees. According to independent monitoring, juvenile and adult prisoners were in the same block, although separate blocks housed pretrial detainees and convicts. Gleno Prison was not overcrowded and held women as well as adult male convicts and pretrial detainees in separate blocks. Conditions were the same for male and female prisoners, who shared recreation areas. Housing blocks separated nonviolent offenders from violent offenders. There were no specific supports for offenders with mental disabilities.

Authorities provided food three times daily in the prisons; however, there was no budget for food in police station detention centers, and officers and independent monitors reported that police purchased food for prisoners out of their personal funds. While authorities provided water in prisons, it was not always available in detention centers. Due to lack of Ministry of Health staff, the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice (PDHJ) found that there was no regular staffing of medical centers at the hospitals and medical staff might only be available on a weekly or monthly basis at the facility. For urgent cases and those beyond basic needs, authorities took inmates to a local hospital in Gleno or Dili. Access to clean toilets was generally sufficient, although without significant privacy. PDHJ assessed ventilation and lighting as adequate in prisons but not in detention centers. Prisoners were able to exercise for two hours daily.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of problematic conditions. The PDHJ oversees prison conditions and prisoner welfare. It monitored inmates, and reported that the government was generally responsive to recommendations. Nonetheless, some human rights monitoring organizations questioned how widely known the complaint mechanism was and whether prisoners felt free to utilize it.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by NGOs and independent human rights observers.

Improvements: Authorities completed construction of a new prison in Suai, which held 25 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/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The law does not fully clarify the particular authority of the national police (PNTL), the judicially mandated Scientific Police for Criminal Investigations, or the military (F-FDTL). Security sector experts also said that the operational roles and relationship between the PNTL and the F-FDTL were unclear.

The PNTL is legally responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. It has several specialized units, including border, maritime, and immigration units.

The F-FDTL is legally responsible for external security, and may play a role in internal security only in “crisis” or “emergency” situations declared by the government and president. The F-FDTL, however, may support police in joint operations if requested by a “competent entity.” The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but the chief of defense, the F-FDTL’s senior military officer, exercised day-to-day command over the armed forces. F-FDTL military police responded occasionally to incidents involving only civilians.

Civilian oversight of the PNTL and the F-FDTL improved, in comparison with previous years. Various bilateral partners continued efforts to strengthen the development of the police, especially through community policing programs and technical assistance efforts, including work to improve disciplinary and accountability mechanisms within the PNTL.

The PNTL’s internal accountability mechanisms remained somewhat ineffective, but improved. Rates of reported cases closed without investigation decreased, but the office responsible for internal affairs (the PNTL Department of Justice) did not have sufficient resources to investigate and respond to all cases brought to its attention. The office increased its use of disciplinary measures, including demotions, written admonitions, and fines. Nonetheless, especially outside the capital, municipality commanders at times do not fully engage in the disciplinary process, perhaps due partly to lack of familiarity with disciplinary procedures.

The PNTL internal affairs office may recommend that the commander general refer cases to the Office of the Prosecutor General for investigation. The office reported 35 investigations during the year, including some from the previous year, of which 21 were still under investigation, 13 had been closed, and one had been transferred to the Prosecutor General’s Office for criminal investigation.

F-FDTL regulations permit referral of disciplinary incidents amounting to crimes to the prosecutor general (misconduct is processed internally). One security sector NGO assessed the F-FDTL’s disciplinary system as strong but not entirely free of political influence.

Citizens reported obstacles to reporting complaints about police behavior, including repeated requests to return later or to submit their complaints in writing.

There was a widespread belief that members of the security forces enjoyed substantial for illegal or abusive actions.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires judicial warrants prior to arrests or searches, except in exceptional circumstances or in cases of flagrante delicto.

The law requires a hearing within 72 hours of arrest. During these hearings the judge may determine whether the suspect should be released because conditions for pretrial detention had not been met, released conditionally (usually after posting some form of collateralized bail or on condition that the suspect report regularly to police), or whether the case should be dismissed due to lack of evidence. Though the government’s 2014 decision to rescind visas for international legal advisors, who had filled critical roles as judges, prosecutors, and investigators, continued to affect the justice system, backlogs decreased during the year, particularly in courts outside of Dili. Justice sector monitoring organizations reported that the system adhered much more closely to the 72-hour timeline than in past years.

Time in pretrial detention may be deducted from a final sentence, but there is no remedy to make up for pretrial detention in cases that do not result in conviction.

The law provides for access to legal representation at all stages of the proceedings and provisions exist for providing public defenders for all defendants at no cost (see section 1.e.). Due to a lack of human resources and transportation, however, public defenders were not always able to attend to their clients and sometimes met clients for the first time during their first court hearing.

Pretrial Detention: The law specifies that a person may be held in pretrial detention for up to one year without presentation of an indictment, two years without a first-instance conviction, or three years without a final conviction on appeal. If any of these deadlines are not met, the detained person may file a claim for release. Exceptionally complex cases can also provide justification for the extension of each of those limits by up to six months with permission of a judge. Pretrial detainees composed approximately 20 percent of the total prison population. Procedural delays and staff shortages were the most frequent causes of trial delays. In many cases, the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the length of the sentence upon conviction.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: While persons arrested or detained may challenge the legal basis of their detention and obtain prompt release, justice sector monitoring organizations reported that such challenges rarely occur, likely due to limited knowledge of the provision allowing such challenges.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides that judges shall perform their duties “independently and impartially without improper influence” and requires public prosecutors to discharge their duties impartially. Many legal sector observers expressed concern about the independence of some judicial organs in politically sensitive cases, a severe shortage of qualified personnel, and the complex legal regime influenced by legacies of Portuguese, Indonesian, and UN administration, and various other international norms. An additional problem is that all laws and many trial proceedings and court documents are in Portuguese, a language spoken by approximately 10 percent of the population. Nonetheless, observers noted that citizens generally enjoyed a fair, although not always expeditious, trial and that the judiciary was largely independent.

Administrative failings involving the judge, prosecution, and/or defense led to prolonged delays in trials. Moreover, the law requires at least one international judge on a panel in cases involving past human rights abuses. There have been no new such cases since 2014; however, the absence of international judges has meant that pre-2014 cases were pending indefinitely with no clear timeline for coming to trial.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Under the criminal procedure code, defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, access to a lawyer, and rights against self-incrimination and to attend their trial. Trials are held before judges or judicial panels; juries are not used. Defendants can confront hostile witnesses and present other witnesses and evidence. Defendants have a right of appeal to higher courts. The government provides interpretation, as necessary, into local languages. Observers noted that the courts made progress in providing interpretation services during court proceedings; however, interpretation services were still not available for all defendants.

Justice sector NGOs expressed concern that judges did not provide clear information or take the time to explain and read their decisions. Observers also noted that in many cases judges did not follow the Law on Witnesses, which provides important protections for witnesses. Additionally, the country has not passed juvenile justice legislation, leaving many juveniles in the justice system without protections and perhaps subject to vigilante justice by frustrated communities seeking justice.

The constitution contemplates a Supreme Court, but it has not been established due to staffing and resource limits. The Court of Appeals carries out Supreme Court functions in the interim.

Mobile courts based in Dili, Baucau, Covalima, and Oecusse operated in areas that did not have a permanent court. These courts processed only pretrial proceedings.

For crimes considered “semi-public,” some citizens utilized traditional (customary) systems of justice that did not necessarily follow due process standards or provide witness protection, but provided convenient and speedy reconciliation proceedings with which the population felt comfortable.

The public defender’s office, concentrated in Dili, was too small to meet the need, and many defendants relied on lawyers provided by legal aid organizations. A number of defendants who were assigned public defenders reported they never saw their lawyers, and some observers noted that public defenders were confused about their duties to the client versus the state and that few viewed their role as client advocates. Public defenders did not have access to transportation to visit clients in detention, so sometimes met their clients for the first time in court.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

As there is no separate civil judicial system in the country, civil litigation experienced the same problems encountered in the criminal justice system. No regional human rights body has jurisdiction in Timor-Leste.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government promulgated land tenure legislation in June. Supplemental legislation was needed to address issues of eviction and community property, among others. The formation of a new government delayed full implementation of the new law. Community concerns over inadequate compensation for government expropriation of land continued during the year. A community near the new airport and highway in Suai organized a protest in September. According to the village leader, who spoke on behalf of the community to the national media, the new houses the government provided as compensation were too small, and were in an area without sufficient space to grow vegetables. Community members also complained that the new highway blocked access to their gardens and farms.

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

Although the law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, observers noted a general lack of privacy protections throughout the government, particularly in the health sector.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage for those 17 and older.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent presidential and parliamentary elections took place during the year and were the first national elections administered without UN assistance. International observers assessed them as free and fair. Concerns about possible pre- and post-election violence proved unfounded; the process of forming a new government was peaceful and continued as of December.

Following revisions to the local elections and the electoral management bodies laws, local elections were held in 2016. While there were several complaints about voting logistics, including incomplete voter registration lists and improper ballot provision, the elections were generally seen as free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Establishment of new political parties requires new parties to obtain 20,000 signatures, which must also include at least 1,000 signatures from each of the 13 municipalities, to register.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process. Electoral laws require at least one-third of candidates on party lists be women. Women held 24 of the 65 seats in the National Parliament, but only six out of 37 ministerial, vice-ministerial, and secretary of state positions. Civil society and social media users criticized Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri for the relatively small number of women named to cabinet positions. At the local level, at least three women must serve on every village council, which generally include 10 to 20 representatives, depending on village size. In the local elections, the number of female village chiefs increased from 11 to 21. Meaningful participation by women at the national and local levels, even when elected, is sometimes constrained by traditional attitudes and stereotypes.

The country’s few ethnic minority groups were well integrated into the political system. The number of ethnic minority members of parliament and in other government positions was uncertain, since self-identification of ethnicity was not a common practice. Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri was the most visible member of a minority group in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The penal code provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government faced many challenges in implementing the law, and the perception that officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity was widespread. The Anticorruption Commission (CAC) is legally charged with leading national anticorruption activities and has the authority to refer cases for prosecution. Although the CAC is independent, the government controls its budget, making the CAC vulnerable to political pressures. To fight corruption, the government undertook surprise inspections of government-run programs and increased pressure to implement asset management and transparency systems.

Corruption: During the year the CAC addressed several corruption cases. Anecdotally, corruption was widespread among government officials. There were accusations of police, including border police, involvement in corruption–most commonly bribery and abuse of power. Allegations of nepotism in government hiring were common. The customs service was under scrutiny for alleged corruption related to incoming goods, but no cases were filed. The 2016 National Risk Assessment of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing called corruption endemic.

A case against former president of the National Parliament Vicente Guterres for “crimes of economic participation” involving the sale of cars for parliamentarians was stalled because the Dili District Court was still waiting to see if the parliament would grant a waiver of immunity.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires that the highest members of government declare their assets to the Court of Appeals, but the declarations do not have to be made public and there are no criminal penalties for noncompliance. President Lu Olo made a public asset disclosure after taking office in May.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Gender-based violence remained a serious concern. A 2016 Asia Foundation study found that 59 percent of girls and women between 15 and 49 years old had experienced sexual or physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner and that 14 percent of girls and women had been raped by someone other than a partner. Although rape, including marital rape, is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison, failures to investigate or prosecute cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse were common. Nevertheless, the formal justice system addressed an increasing number of reported domestic and sexual abuse cases.

The law broadly covers all forms of domestic violence, including marital rape, and augments the Penal Code. Penalties for “Mistreatment of a Spouse” include two to six years imprisonment; however, prosecutors frequently used a different article in domestic violence cases (“Simple Offenses against Physical Integrity”), which carries a sentence of up to three years in prison. Judicial observers noted judges were lenient in sentencing in domestic violence cases. Local NGOs viewed the law as having a positive effect by encouraging victims of domestic violence to report their cases to police.

According to the Office of the Prosecutor General, domestic violence offenses were the second-most commonly charged crimes in the criminal justice system, after simple assault. Several NGOs criticized the failure to issue protection orders and over-reliance on suspended sentences, even in cases involving significant bodily harm. Prosecutors routinely charged cases involving aggravated injury and use of deadly weapons as low-level simple assaults.

Police, prosecutors, and judges routinely ignored many parts of the law that protect victims. NGOs noted that fines were paid to the court and often came from shared family resources, further hurting the victim.

The PNTL’s Vulnerable Persons Units (VPUs) generally handled cases of domestic violence and sexual crimes, but does not have enough staff to provide a significant presence in all areas of the country.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity is charged with providing assistance to victims of domestic violence. Due to staff shortages, the ministry had difficulty responding to all cases. To deal with this problem, the ministry worked closely with local NGOs and service providers to offer assistance to victims of violence.

Sexual Harassment: The labor code prohibits sexual harassment in the work place, but such harassment reportedly was widespread. Relevant authorities processed no such cases during the year (see section 7.d.).

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The constitution states that “women and men shall have the same rights and duties in all areas of family life and political, economic, social, cultural life,” but it does not specifically address discrimination. The country’s Permanent Representative to the UN acknowledged that “women are often still the primary target of social discrimination” in a September speech. Some customary practices discriminate against women, including traditional inheritance systems that tend to exclude women from land ownership.

Some communities continued to practice the payment of a bride price as part of marriage agreements (barlake); this practice has been linked to domestic violence and to the inability to leave an abusive relationship. Some communities also continued the practice of forcing a widow to either marry one of her husband’s family members or, if she and her husband did not have children together, leave her husband’s home.

The secretary of state for gender equality and social inclusion is responsible for the promotion of gender equality. More than 30 NGOs focused and collaborated on women’s issues. During the parliamentary election campaign, this advocacy network signed pacts with the leaders of seven major political parties to uphold and defend the rights of women and children in the program for the new government.

Children

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship through birth within the country or by having a citizen parent or grandparent. A central civil registry lists a child’s name at birth and issues birth certificates. According to the 2015 census, birth registration rates were high, with no discernible difference in the rates of registration for girls and boys. While access to services such as schooling does not depend on birth registration, birth registration is necessary to acquire a passport. Registration later in life requires only a reference from the village chief.

Education: The constitution stipulates that primary education shall be compulsory and free. The law requires nine years of compulsory education beginning at six years of age; however, there is no system to ensure that the provision of education is free. Public schools were tuition-free, but students paid for supplies and uniforms. According to government statistics, the net access rate for primary education was 88 percent, while the net access rate for secondary education was 32 percent. Non-enrollment was substantially higher in rural than in urban areas. While initial attendance rates for boys and girls were similar, girls often were forced to leave school if they became pregnant and faced difficulty in obtaining school documents or transferring schools. Lack of sanitation facilities at some schools also led some girls to drop out upon reaching puberty.

Child Abuse: The law protects against child abuse; however, abuse in many forms was common. Sexual abuse of children remained a serious concern. Despite widespread reports of child abuse, few cases entered the judicial system. Observers criticized the courts for handing down shorter sentences than prescribed by law in numerous cases of sexual abuse of children during the year.

While the Ministry of Education has a zero tolerance policy for corporal punishment, there is no law on the issue, and reports indicated the practice was common.

Early and Forced Marriage: Although a marriage cannot be registered until the younger spouse is at least age 16, cultural, religious and civil marriages were recognized in the civil code. Cultural pressure to marry, especially if a girl or woman becomes pregnant, was strong. Underage couples cannot officially marry, but are often married de facto once they have children together. Forced marriage rarely occurred, although reports indicated that social pressure sometimes encouraged victims of rape to marry their attacker or persons to enter into an arranged marriage where a bride price was paid. According to the most recent information from UNICEF (2015), an estimated 19 percent of girls married prior to the age of 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual assault against children was a significant problem, but largely unaddressed. The age of consent is 14, according to the Penal Code. Some commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred. The penal code makes sexual conduct by an adult with anyone below the age of 17 a crime, and increases penalties when such conduct involves victims younger than 14. The penal code also makes both child prostitution and child pornography crimes. It defines a “child” for purposes of those provisions as a “minor less than 17 years of age. The penal code also criminalizes abduction of a minor.

There were reports that child victims of sexual abuse were sometimes forced to testify in public fora despite a witness protection law that provides for video link or other secure testimony.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no indigenous Jewish population, 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 constitution grants equal rights to and prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in addition to requiring the state to protect them. No specific legislation addresses the rights and/or support of persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Health is responsible for treating mental disabilities. In many municipalities, children with disabilities were unable to attend school due to accessibility problems. Beginning in 2016, the Ministry of Social Solidarity worked with the Ministries of Health and Education on an inclusive education pilot program to improve access to education for people with disabilities.

Electoral regulations provide accommodations, including personal assistance, to enable persons with disabilities to vote.

Service providers noted that domestic violence and sexual assault against persons with disabilities was a growing concern. They indicated that such cases had been slow to receive support from the justice sector. Persons with mental disabilities accused of crimes are entitled to special protections by law. Prisons did not have specific supports for persons with mental disabilities.

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

The constitution and law are silent on same-sex relations and other matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. The PDHJ worked with civil society organization CODIVA (Coalition on Diversity and Action) to increase awareness in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community regarding processes available for human rights complaints. While physical abuse in public or by public authorities was uncommon, LGBTI persons were often verbally abused and discriminated against in some public services, including medical centers. CODIVA noted that transgender members of the community were particularly vulnerable to harassment and discrimination. A November study conducted for Rede Feto, a national women’s advocacy network, with lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men in Dili and Bobonaro documented the use by family members of corrective rape, physical and psychological abuse, ostracism, discrimination, and marginalization against LGBTI individuals.

Access to education was limited for some LGBTI persons who were removed from the family home or who feared abuse at school. Transgender students were more likely to experience bullying and drop out of school at the secondary level.

In June members of civil society organized Timor-Leste’s first-ever Pride March in Dili. The march included participation from students, activists, and a representative of the Prime Minister’s Office. Then prime minister Araujo met with LGBTI organizations and called for acceptance of LGBTI individuals on his official Facebook and Twitter accounts.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The National AIDS Commission is responsible for providing information, programming, and campaigns on HIV/AIDS; however, no government body was tasked with providing specific services and advocacy. According to civil society organizations, HIV and AIDS patients experienced social stigma and were ostracized by their families and communities.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law protects the right of workers to form and join unions of their choosing, the right to strike, and bargain collectively–all of which the government generally respected. The law prohibits dismissal or discrimination for union activity, and it allows for financial compensation in lieu of reinstatement. The law prohibits foreign migrant workers from participating in the leadership of trade unions, but does not restrict their membership. The law does not apply to workers in family-owned agricultural or industrial businesses used primarily for subsistence, nor does it apply to civil servants.

There are official registration procedures for trade unions and employer organizations. Workers employed by companies or institutions that provide “indispensable social needs” such as pharmacies, hospitals, or telecommunications firms are not barred from striking, but they are “obliged to ensure the provision of minimal services deemed indispensable” to satisfy public needs during a strike. The law allows the Council of Ministers to suspend a strike if it affects public order. The law prohibits employer lockouts.

The secretary of state for youth and labor is charged with implementing the labor code and labor dispute settlement. The government lacked sufficient resources and skilled staff to enforce the right to freedom of association adequately. The trade union confederation registered 187 cases of alleged violations of labor rights between October 2016 and October 2017. According to the trade union confederation, many disputes involved employees who were fired upon returning from sick or maternity leave. Violations of the labor code are punishable by fines and other penalties, but they are not sufficient to deter violations. The confederation alleged that the secretary of state for youth and labor’s mediation procedures favored the employer. Alleged violations included failure to provide maternity benefits, nonpayment of wages, and unfair dismissal.

Workers’ organizations were generally independent and operated without interference from government or employers. Unions may draft their own constitutions and rules and elect their representatives. The majority of workers were employed in the informal sector, resulting in a large nonunionized work force. Attempts to organize workers were slow since workers generally lacked experience negotiating contracts and engaging in collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The penal code prohibits and criminalizes enslavement. The penal code also considers forced labor and deceptive hiring practices to be a form of human trafficking. The secretary of state for youth and labor acknowledged having insufficient human and financial capacity to enforce the laws. The law prescribes imprisonment penalties; however, these were not sufficient to deter violations.

In February the government promulgated the Law on Preventing and Combating Human Trafficking to amend the criminal code, extending criminal liability for trafficking to “legal persons,” such as corporations. The new law prescribes fines, judicial dissolution, and asset forfeiture as penalties, and authorizes compensation of victims. The government coordinated implementation of a new national action plan through the Interagency Working Group to Combat Human Trafficking.

Forced labor and trafficking of adults and children occurred (see section 7.c.), but was not widespread. Timorese women, girls, and occasionally young men and boys from rural areas who came to Dili in pursuit of better educational and employment prospects were in some instances subjected to sex trafficking or domestic servitude. Timorese family members placed children in bonded household and agricultural labor, primarily in domestic rural areas, to pay off family debts.

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 child labor and specifically prohibits children under age 15 from working, except in “light work” and in vocational training programs for children between 13 and 15 years of age. The labor law specifically outlaws all of the worst forms of child labor and prohibits minors (defined as a person younger than age 17) from all forms of hazardous work, a definition that leaves 17-year-olds vulnerable to child labor and exploitation. The government generally did not enforce child labor laws outside the capital. The labor code does not apply to family-owned businesses operated for subsistence, the sector in which most children worked. The government has not adopted a list of prohibited hazardous work.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity, the secretary of state for youth and labor, and the PNTL are responsible for enforcing child labor law. A lack of child labor professionals at the Office of the Secretary of State for Youth and Labor hindered proper enforcement. The number of labor inspectors was inadequate to investigate child labor cases and enforce the law, particularly in rural areas where child labor in the agriculture sector is prevalent. Penalties for child labor and forced labor violations may include fines and imprisonment; however, they were insufficient to deter violations.

Child labor in the informal sector was a problem, particularly in agriculture, street vending, and domestic service. The National Commission against Child Labor conducts national assessments of child and forced labor, to identify and create a list of work regarded as hazardous for children, and create a national action plan.

Children in rural areas continued to engage in dangerous agricultural activities, such as cultivating and processing coffee in family-run businesses, using dangerous machinery and tools, carrying heavy loads, and applying harmful pesticides. In rural areas, heavily indebted parents sometimes put their children to work as indentured servants to settle debts. If the child is a girl, the receiving family could also demand any bride price payment normally owed to the girl’s parents. Children were also employed in fishing, with some working long hours, performing physically demanding tasks, and facing dangerous conditions

There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of 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 labor code prohibits discrimination based on color, race, civil status, gender, nationality, ethnic ancestry or origin, social position or economic status, political or ideological convictions, religion, physical or mental condition, age, or health status. The code also mandates equal pay. There is no specific protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The government did not effectively enforce the code’s provisions.

Employers may only require workers to undergo medical testing, including HIV testing, with the worker’s written consent. Work visa applications require medical clearance.

Discrimination against women reportedly was common throughout the government, but sometimes went unaddressed. NGO workers noted that this was largely due to lack of other employment opportunities and fear of retaliation among victims. Women also were disadvantaged in pursuing job opportunities due to cultural norms, stereotypes, and an overall lower level of qualifications or education. Some reported that pregnant women did not receive maternity leave and other protections guaranteed by the labor code.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legally set minimum monthly wage is $115 (the U.S. dollar is the legal currency). The official national poverty level is $1.00 per day. According to the World Bank’s October East Asia and Pacific Economic Update, 30.3 percent of the population lived at or below the International Poverty Rate of $1.9 per day, while the Basic Needs Poverty Rate was 41.8 percent. The labor code provides for a standard workweek of 44 hours. Overtime cannot exceed 16 hours per week, except in emergencies, which the labor code defined as “force majeure or where such work is indispensable in order to prevent or repair serious damages for the company or for its feasibility.” The law sets minimum standards for worker health and safety. The law provides explicitly for the right of pregnant women and new mothers to discontinue work that might harm their health without a cut in pay. It does not provide other workers the right to leave a hazardous workplace without threat of dismissal. The law requires equal treatment and remuneration for all workers, including legally employed foreign workers.

The law covers all formal sectors except civil servants, defense and police force members, and family-owned businesses operated for subsistence. The secretary of state for youth and labor is responsible for enforcement of the law. The secretary of state for youth and labor acknowledged that it lacked staff and resources to provide effective protection. The law, including legislation pertaining to hazardous work, does not apply to the informal sector; according to data from the Ministry of Finance, the informal sector employed 72 percent of the workforce. Domestic workers, a large percentage of the working population, especially of working women, were inadequately protected and particularly vulnerable to exploitative working conditions, with many receiving less than minimum wage for long hours of work. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law adequately.

The labor code does not assign specific penalties or fines for violations of wage, hour, or occupational health and safety laws. Labor unions criticized inspectors for visiting worksites infrequently and for only discussing labor concerns with managers during inspections.

According to a local union, the government lacked the political will and institutional capacity to implement and enforce the labor code fully, and violations of minimum safety and health standards were common, particularly in the construction industry.

Tonga

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Tonga is a constitutional monarchy. King Tupou VI, popularly elected parliamentary leaders, the nobility and their representatives, prominent commoners, and democratic reform figures dominated political life. The most recent parliamentary election occurred on November 16. Observers characterized the election as generally free and fair. On December 18, parliament re-elected Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva to serve as prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included: government corruption; domestic violence; and the criminalization of same-sex sexual activities, although the law was not enforced.

The government took steps to 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 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 law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: Male and female inmates at Hu’atolitoli Prison were held in separate cells, according to gender. Hu’atolitoli is the only prison facility for female prisoners and for persons with mental disabilities. According to government sources, authorities held prisoners with mental disabilities in facilities not properly equipped to treat them.

For the 2017-18 fiscal year, the Prison Department requested 351,940 pa’anga ($165,230) from the government to construct a new facility for prisoners with mental disabilities and a new maximum-security prison. Funding approval was still in process as of September.

Independent Monitoring: At least once per quarter a group of three to five persons, called “visiting officers,” visits the prisons to hear any prisoner complaints or grievances. The cabinet chooses the “visiting officers” and normally includes a police magistrate, a physician, and a member of the clergy. In addition, media and church leaders visited the prisons to monitor prisoners’ welfare and rehabilitation programs. The government permitted monitoring visits by international human rights observers, but there were no reports of such visits as of August.

Improvements: Following the killing of a prison officer by two other officers in July, the Prison Department installed video cameras to monitor movements of prisoners and personnel.

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/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police force maintains internal security. His Majesty’s Armed Forces (HMAF) is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The police and HMAF report to the Ministry of Police and the Ministry of Defense, respectively. Civilian authorities maintained control over the HMAF and police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police may arrest suspects without a warrant during the commission of a crime; otherwise, authorities apprehend suspects with warrants issued by a local magistrate. In either case, authorities brought those arrested before a local magistrate within 24 hours, including on weekends and holidays, for judicial determination of the legality of the detention. Authorities promptly informed arrested persons of charges against them. The law provides for a functioning bail system. The constitution provides the right to initiate habeas corpus proceedings. Access to arrested persons by counsel, family, and others may be restricted, but authorities generally facilitated access. No legal aid framework existed to provide services for the indigent. Accused persons must generally represent themselves if they cannot afford legal counsel, although in cases that are more serious, the judge may, but is not required to appoint a lawyer pro bono.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Although unavailability of judges, witnesses, or lawyers could delay cases, legal authorities processed most cases without undue delay. Defendants are presumed innocent and cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities inform them promptly and in detail of charges, and free interpretation is available if necessary. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence, confront witnesses against them, and appeal convictions. They have the right to be present at their trials, consult with an attorney of their choice in a timely manner, and have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. There is no provision for public defenders, but local lawyers occasionally accepted pro bono cases.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may seek redress through domestic courts for any violation of a human right provided for in the law.

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:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: After the king dismissed parliament a year before the end of its normal term, the country held elections on November 16. International observers deemed the parliamentary election to be generally free and fair. On December 18, the new parliament elected Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva to continue to serve as prime minister.

Parliament has 26 elected members. Of these, citizens elect 17, and the 33 hereditary nobles elect nine of their peers. Parliament elects the prime minister, who appoints the cabinet. The prime minister may select up to four cabinet members from outside parliament. The law accords these cabinet members parliamentary seats for the duration of their tenure in the cabinet.

The king retains significant powers, such as to withhold his assent to laws (with no possibility of parliamentary override) and to dissolve parliament.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Although no laws limit participation of women and /or members of minorities in the political process, a variety of institutional and cultural factors have kept women’s representation to a minimum. Among these was the reservation of nine seats in parliament for nobles, all of whom are men; continuing male domination of informal local government systems, which deny women “entry-level” positions in politics; and cultural attitudes across the population about women’s proper roles and competence. The rate of registration to vote among women is the same as the rate among men, and women have the same legal rights to run for election. Two women were elected to parliament in the November election and several women were elected to local offices in 2016, suggesting incremental change. A woman may become queen, but the constitution forbids women from inheriting hereditary noble titles or becoming chiefs.

There were no members of minority ethnic groups in the government or parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. Although officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices, the government generally implemented the law effectively.

Corruption: In April the government terminated the contract of Rizvi Jurangpathy, Tonga Communications Corporation’s chief executive officer, for gross misconduct. The government alleged he deliberately and incorrectly declared the company’s net profit for 2014-15 and failed to declare the company’s outstanding debt, which allowed him to receive a bonus. Jurangpathy filed a suit for wrongful dismissal.

There were media reports of bribery of custom employees, police officials, and members of parliament. In response to accusations, the Police Professional Standards Unit initiated 54 investigations (16 criminal and 38 disciplinary) of police officers, and suspended at least nine officers.

The Office of the Auditor General reports directly to parliament. The Office of the Anti-Corruption Commissioner is empowered to investigate official corruption. Both entities actively collaborated with civil society, but they neither operated effectively or independently, nor were they sufficiently resourced.

Financial Disclosure: No law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison. The law recognizes spousal rape. Police investigated reported rape cases, and the government prosecuted these cases under the law. As of July the Women and Children Crisis Center (WCCC) reported four rape cases.

The law makes domestic violence a crime punishable by a maximum of 12 months in prison, a fine of 2,000 pa’anga ($940), or both. Repeat offenders face a maximum of three years in prison or a maximum fine of 10,000 pa’anga ($4,700). The law provides for protection from domestic violence, including protection orders; clarifies the duties of police; and promotes the health, safety, and well-being of domestic violence victims.

The police domestic violence unit has a “no-drop” policy in complaints of domestic assault, and once filed, domestic violence cases cannot be dropped (withdrawn) and must proceed to prosecution in the magistrates’ courts. Police work with the National Center for Women and Children as well as with the WCCC to provide shelter for abused women, and girls and boys younger than 14 years. Both centers operated a safe house for victims. As of June the WCCC reported 505 domestic violence cases.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not a crime under the law, but physical sexual assault can be prosecuted as indecent assault. Sexual harassment within a domestic relationship is an offense. Complaints received by the police domestic violence unit indicated that sexual harassment of women sometimes occurred.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Inheritance laws, especially those concerned with land, discriminate against women. Women can lease land, but inheritance rights pass through male heirs only; a male child born out of wedlock has precedence over the deceased’s widow or daughter. If there are no male relatives, a widow is entitled to remain on her husband’s land as long as she does not remarry and remains celibate. The inheritance and land rights laws also reduced women’s ability to access credit and to own and operate businesses.

Discrimination against women with respect to employment and wages occurred (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Birth in the country does not confer citizenship. Individuals acquire citizenship at birth automatically if at least one parent is a citizen.

Child Abuse: As of September the WCCC reported 19 cases of physical assault on female children (up to 20 years old) and two cases of assault on male children. The WCCC implemented a variety of child abuse awareness programs at schools from primary to tertiary levels.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 15 years. There were 52 reported cases of child marriages in 2016. According to NGOs child marriages were a result of several factors, including parental pressure, teenage pregnancy, or forced marriage to rapists.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography with penalties of a maximum fine of 100,000 pa’anga ($46,950) or a maximum of 10 years in prison for individuals and a maximum fine of 250,000 pa’anga ($117,370) for corporations. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15 years. Violators who sexually abuse children may be charged with “carnal knowledge of a child under age 12,” which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, or “carnal knowledge of a child under 15,” which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. There were anecdotal reports of children being subjected to domestic sex trafficking.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no known resident Jewish community, 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 constitution prohibits discrimination based on disability, but no laws specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and there were no legally mandated provisions for services or government programs for adults with disabilities, including building accessibility or access to communications and information.

A Ministry of Education and Training program to bring children with disabilities into primary schools continued during the year. Many school buildings, however, were not accessible to students with physical disabilities, and attendance rates of children with disabilities at all educational levels were lower than those of students without disabilities.

The government established a National Council on Disability and designated the Ministry of Internal Affairs to work on disability-related problems.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the Ministry of Commerce, Consumer, Trade, Innovation, and Labor, the law restricts to citizens ownership and operation of food retail stores in the country. Nonetheless, many Chinese nationals obtained Tongan citizenship, and these dual citizens dominated the retail sector in many towns. There were reports of crime and societal discrimination targeted at members of the Chinese minority.

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

By law “sodomy with another person” is a crime with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, but there were no reports of prosecutions under this provision for consensual sexual conduct between adults, regardless of the gender of the parties. No law specifically prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or address hate crimes. No criminal justice mechanisms existed to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. Society accepted a subculture of transgender dress and behavior, and a prominent NGO’s annual festival highlighted transgender identities. There was one report of violence against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but social stigma or intimidation may have prevented reporting of other incidents of discrimination or violence.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of discrimination or violence against persons based on HIV/AIDS status, but social stigma or intimidation may have prevented reporting of incidents of discrimination or violence.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions, but the government has not promulgated regulations on the formation of unions, collective bargaining, or the right to strike. No law specifically prohibits antiunion discrimination or provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There was no dispute resolution mechanism in place specifically for labor disputes, although persons could take cases to court or refer cases to the Office of the Ombudsman. There were no reports of collective bargaining.

Government enforcement of freedom of association was not entirely effective. Penalties for violations incur criminal fines, which are not sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association. Trade unions and credit unions exist, as well as a variety of worker associations. For example, the Friendly Islands Teachers Association and the Tonga Nurses Association were legally incorporated as civil society organizations, and the Friendly Island Seafarer’s Union Incorporated was affiliated with the International Transport Workers Federation. The Public Service Association acted as a de facto union representing all government employees.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law. Observers generally considered imprisonment penalties sufficient to deter violations. Although the government made some progress in enforcing relevant legal provisions, no data was available on government efforts specifically to address forced labor. There were anecdotal reports of forced labor among women and children in domestic service (see section 7.c.).

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

No legislation prohibits child labor or specifies a minimum age for employment. There were no reports that child labor existed in the formal wage economy. According to the National Center for Women and Children and other NGOs, some school-age children worked in the informal sector in traditional family activities such as subsistence farming and fishing. There were also reports of commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary domestic servitude of some 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 does not prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, HIV or other communicable disease status, or language. Discrimination against women in employment and wages occurred (see section 6, Women). Women participated in the work force at a lower rate than men, were generally employed in lower-skilled jobs, and earned measurably less than men. Reports of discrimination against foreign domestic workers circulated during the year. Some employers reportedly confiscated foreign domestic workers’ passports and subjected the workers to exploitative practices.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no minimum wage law, although the Ministry of Commerce, Consumer, Trade, Innovation, and Labor set guidelines for wage levels. While there was no recent data available, relatively few people appear to live in destitution, but a significant fraction of the population had difficulty paying for more than basic needs, such as education, transportation, and utility bills. The law stipulates specific occupational health and safety standards for each sector, such as fisheries and agriculture. These standards are current and appropriate for main industries. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

Enforcement of regulations was inconsistent. The Ministry of Commerce, Consumer, Trade, Innovation, and Labor sought to enforce these standards in all sectors, including the informal economy; however, there were an insufficient number of inspectors. Penalties for violations took the form of monetary fines, which were adequate to deter violations.

Few industries exposed workers to significant danger.

Trinidad and Tobago

Executive Summary

The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a parliamentary democracy governed by a prime minister and a bicameral legislature. The island of Tobago’s House of Assembly has some administrative autonomy over local matters. In elections in2015, which observers considered generally free and fair, the opposition People’s National Movement, led by Keith Rowley, defeated the ruling People’s Partnership, led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and the political transition was smooth.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included police and prison officials’ mistreatment of detainees; refoulement of refugees due to poor training of officials; official corruption; laws that criminalize same-sex sexual activity, although such laws were not enforced during the year; and continued criminalization of the status or conduct of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government took some steps to punish security force members and other officials charged with killings or other abuse, but open-ended investigations and the generally slow pace of criminal judicial proceedings created a climate of impunity.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to official figures, police shot and killed 33 persons through September 26, more than double the 16 persons police shot and killed in 2016. Officials from the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) reported receiving more cases of police killings of mentally challenged persons than in previous years; the police killed three mentally challenged persons for the year. Analysts speculated that police shootings had increased in tandem with the rise in violent crime committed by an increasingly well-armed criminal element. Police acknowledged the shooting deaths. There were occasional discrepancies between the official reporting and the claims made by witnesses regarding who fired the first shot and whether the officers fired in self-defense.

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

Although the constitution and the law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports that police officers and prison guards mistreated individuals under arrest or in detention.

Police shot and killed Paul Marchan, an outpatient of St Ann’s mental hospital, after he reportedly attacked two separate groups of police officers. Marchan’s family claimed the circumstances police attributed to causing his death were false. The file was under investigation by the PCA.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in some of the prison system’s nine facilities continued to be harsh.

Physical Conditions: Convicted inmates constituted approximately 37 percent of the country’s prison population, while the others were in pretrial status, according to figures from 2016, the most recent data available. Most prisons suffered from extreme overcrowding, while the maximum-security prison was not at full capacity. Observers often described the Port of Spain Prison, the remand prison, and the immigration detention center as having particularly poor conditions and severe overcrowding, with as many as nine prisoners kept in cells of 80 square feet. The Port of Spain Prison, designed to hold 250 inmates, held 610, and the remand prison, designed to hold 655 inmates, held 1,071, according to figures from 2016, the most recent data available. By contrast, the maximum-security prison held inmates in three-person cells, each with a toilet and shower.

The remand section of the Port of Spain Prison had particularly poor lighting, ventilation, and sanitation facilities.

Although conditions at the women’s prison were better than those in the Port of Spain Prison, the women’s facility occasionally became overcrowded, since it held both women on remand and those serving prison sentences. The daily average female prison population was 130 in facilities with a maximum capacity of 158, according to figures from 2016, the most recent data available. Since there was no female youth facility, authorities placed some underage female prisoners in a segregated wing of the women’s prison and returned others to their families.

Authorities held a daily average of 10 female juveniles at the women’s prison in 2016, the most recent year for which data was available. Observers raised concerns that the prison held young girls who had not committed any offense but who were merely in state custody.

The government also operated the Immigration Detention Center to house irregular immigrants waiting to be deported. The average length of detention was one week to two months, depending on the speed with which the government secured public funding for deportation, as well as transit passports and visas. In some cases detention lasted more than four years. Observers reported that the men’s section continued to be overcrowded.

In August the minister of national security announced that the Cabinet approved 53.6 million Trinidad and Tobago dollars (TT$) ($7.9 million) to upgrade the remand section of the Golden Grove Prison, which would enable prisoners to use toilets and not pails.

Administration: Independent authorities investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions but did not document the results in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted regular and open prison visits by UN officials and independent human rights observers upon approval of the Ministry of Justice. These observers enjoyed a reasonable degree of independence.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Reports of abuses by police remained under investigation at year’s end.

The Anti-Gang Act bans membership in criminal gangs and gang-related activities and permits authorities to hold suspects detained under the law without being charged for up to 120 days, after which the suspect may apply to a judge for bail if the case has not yet reached trial. Authorities continued to arrest many individuals pursuant to the anti-gang law but subsequently released most arrestees.

Three men charged under the Anti-Gang Act during the 2011 state of emergency won their malicious prosecution lawsuits in September and received TT$220,000 ($32,000) in compensation. Many lawsuits filed by some of the approximately 450 other suspects remained pending before the courts.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of National Security oversees the police service, immigration division, and defense force, which includes the coast guard. The police service maintains internal security, while the defense force is responsible for external security but also has certain domestic security responsibilities. The coast guard is the main authority responsible for border security along the coastlines where there are no official ports of entry. The Customs and Excise Division and the Immigration Division are responsible for security at the ports. Members of the defense force often joined police officers in patrolling high-crime neighborhoods. Defense force members do not have arrest authority, apart from the coast guard, which can arrest in territorial waters and the Southern Caribbean.

The independent Police Service Commission, in consultation with the prime minister, appoints a commissioner of police to oversee the police force, although there has not been a permanent commissioner assigned since 2012. The commission also makes hiring and firing decisions in the police service, and the ministry typically has little direct influence over changes in senior positions. The Police Service Commission has the power to dismiss police officers, the commissioner of police can suspend officers, and the police service handles the prosecution of officers. Municipal police under the jurisdiction of 14 regional administrative bodies supplement the national police force. Public confidence in police was very low because of high crime rates and perceived corruption.

The PCA is a civilian oversight body that investigates complaints about the conduct of police officers, including fatal police shootings; however, it received insufficient funding and had limited investigative authority. By law the PCA is free from the direction or control of any other person in the performance of its functions. The PCA had 22 investigators, and from October 1, 2016, through September 30, the unit received 283 complaints, 211 of which were pending as of November. Through investigations by the PCA and other bodies, authorities charged police officers with a number of offenses, including attempted murder and corruption. The Police Professional Standards Unit and the Police Complaints Division, both nonindependent bodies within the police service, also investigate complaints against police.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

A police officer may arrest a person based on a warrant issued or authorized by a magistrate, or without a warrant if the officer witnesses the commission of an offense. Detainees, as well as those summoned to appear before a magistrate, must appear in court within 48 hours. In cases of more serious offenses, the magistrate either commits the accused to prison on remand or allows the accused to post bail, pending a preliminary inquiry. Authorities granted detainees immediate access to a lawyer and to family members.

Ordinarily, bail was available for minor charges. Persons charged with murder, treason, piracy, kidnapping for ransom, and hijacking, as well as persons convicted twice of violent crimes, are ineligible for bail for a period of up to 120 days following the charge, but a judge may grant bail to such persons under exceptional circumstances. When authorities denied bail, magistrates advised the accused of their right to an attorney and, with few exceptions, allowed them access to an attorney once they were in custody and prior to interrogation.

The minister of national security may authorize preventive detention to preclude actions prejudicial to public safety, public order, or national defense, in which case the minister must state the grounds for the detention.

Arbitrary Arrest: False arrest, although infrequent, occurred. Victims may pursue legal redress and the right to a fair trial through an independent judiciary.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention resulting from heavy court backlogs and inefficiencies in the judicial system continued to be a problem. Pretrial detainees or remand prisoners represented approximately 63 percent of the prison population. Most persons under indictment waited seven to 10 years for their trial dates in the High Court, although some waited much longer. Officials cited several reasons for the backlog, including an understaffed and underfunded prosecutorial office, a shortage of defense attorneys for indigent persons, and the burden of the preliminary inquiry process. Additionally, the law requires anyone charged and detained to appear in person for a hearing before a magistrate’s court every 10 days, if only to have the case postponed for an additional 10 days, resulting in further inefficiency.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and the law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Although the judicial process was generally fair, it was slow due to backlogs and inefficiencies. Prosecutors and judges stated that witness and jury intimidation remained a problem.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and the law provide all defendants with the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Magistrates try both minor and more serious offenses, but in the latter cases, the magistrate must conduct a preliminary inquiry. Defendants have the rights to be present, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and to appeal. Authorities inform them promptly and in detail of all charges. All defendants have the right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner and have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Authorities provide an attorney at public expense to defendants facing serious criminal charges, and the law requires provision of an attorney to any person accused of murder. Although the courts may appoint attorneys for indigent persons charged with serious crimes, an indigent person may refuse to accept an assigned attorney for cause and may obtain a replacement. Defendants can confront or question adverse witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The government provides free foreign language as well as sign-language interpreters as necessary in court cases.

Both civil and criminal appeals may be filed with the Court of Appeal and ultimately with the Privy Council in the United Kingdom.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations are free to file lawsuits against civil breaches of human rights in both the High Court and petty civil court. The High Court may review the decisions of lower courts, order parties to cease and desist from particular actions, compel parties to take specific actions, and award damages to aggrieved parties. Court cases may be appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits acts that would offend or insult another person or group on the basis of race, origin, or religion or that would incite racial or religious hatred.

Violence and Harassment: In September a Trinidad Guardian newspaper photojournalist, Kristian De Silva, was assaulted while on the job. The incident took place on the compound of a company accused of defrauding the government. One of the journalist’s attackers was a police officer, Corporal Billy Ramsundar, who was later was charged with assault and damaging a camera. The matter was before the court at year’s end.

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, 69 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and various laws provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and voluntary 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 refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern under its mandate.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Due to a lack of training and awareness of refugee rights by officers at points of entry, reported cases of refoulement continued to occur at airport and ports.

Access to Asylum: The government has not passed legislation to implement its obligations under the 1951 UN Convention and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. In the absence of national refugee legislation, UNHCR registered all asylum seekers, conducted refugee status determinations on behalf of the government, and promoted durable solutions for all refugees recognized under UNHCR’s mandate.

The immigration law neither adequately considers the needs of persons in need of international protection nor provides for the granting of refugee status. The law does not provide for any exemption or nonpenalization of irregular entry or stay of asylum seekers or refugees. Persons who expressed a need for international protection could be subject to detention if they entered via irregular ways or overstayed their permitted time of entry without having presented themselves voluntarily to the authorities. Generally, the government observed the principle of nonrefoulement, but there were reported cases of persons who claimed asylum at the border or while in detention being returned to their country of origin. In principle refugees were granted full protection from refoulement and detention if presented to the Immigration Division upon applying for asylum. They lived throughout the country, worked illegally, and had access to public-health facilities and in limited circumstances, public education.

The Living Water Community (LWC), a local Roman Catholic nongovernmental organization (NGO) and UNHCR’s operational partner, was the first point of contact for persons in need of international protection. It provided orientation and counseling and notified the Ministry of National Security’s Immigration Division of the respective asylum applications. In close coordination with UNHCR, the LWC engaged in case management and provided psychosocial care and humanitarian assistance, including cash, housing assistance, and legal aid, among other services.

Pending parliament’s approval of implementing legislation, the Ministry of National Security’s Immigration Division authorized the stay of asylum seekers and refugees through the issuance of orders of supervision.

Employment: In the absence of legislation, neither refugees nor asylum seekers were permitted to work. They were sometimes subject to exploitation, including sexual exploitation.

Access to Basic Services: Refugee and asylum-seeking children had access to education, but the majority faced difficulty in enrolling in public schools due to insufficient spaces and other administrative obstacles. Refugees and asylum seekers had access to most primary health-care services. They did not have access to identity documents and were obliged to surrender their passports to the Immigration Division.

Durable Solutions: Due to the absence of national legislation that would allow for local integration, resettlement was traditionally the only durable solution for refugees in the country, but this was a difficult, due to lack of available spaces. UNHCR, the LWC, and the International Organization for Migration continued to collaborate on the identification, submission, and transfer of refugees in need of resettlement.

The government also closely collaborated with UNHCR by facilitating the resettlement of a few refugees recognized under its mandate in smaller Caribbean islands by allowing them to stay temporarily in the country to complete the formalities required for resettlement and then directly travel to their new asylum country.

In the first half of the year, seven individuals were resettled to the United States through this mechanism of regional cooperation.

Some refugees and asylum seekers abandoned their claims and left the country due to the lengthy processing time and lack of rights, particularly the right to work.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 elections the opposition People’s National Movement, led by Keith Rowley, defeated the ruling People’s Partnership, led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar, winning 23 parliamentary seats to the Partnership’s 18 seats. Commonwealth observers considered the elections generally free and fair. During the campaign, however, observers noted the “lack of transparency and accountability regarding the financing of political parties.” Many experts raised concerns that the lack of campaign finance rules gives any incumbent party an advantage.

Following the election, former prime minister Persad-Bissessar initiated a court challenge to overturn the election results. The former prime minister challenged the results in six key swing constituencies where the results were close and where the People’s Partnership argued that a last-minute decision by the Elections and Boundaries Commission to extend voting helped the opposition. The courts found that the commission was wrong to extend voting but that this action did not change the results of the election.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/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, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices. There were reports of government corruption during the year, and the 2016-17 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report ranked corruption as the second-most problematic factor for doing business in the country. There were no documented instances of individuals receiving a criminal punishment for corruption.

Corruption: Corruption in the police and immigration services continued to be a problem, with senior officials acknowledging that officers participated in corrupt and illegal activities. There were allegations that some police officers had close relationships with gang leaders and that police, customs, and immigration officers often accepted bribes to facilitate drug, weapons, and human smuggling and trafficking. There is no internal affairs unit responsible for investigating incidents of professional misconduct attributed to law enforcement officials.

In February a Trinidad and Tobago Police Service officer was convicted and fined TT$40,000 ($5,925), for soliciting and accepting money from a driver to forgo charges in an accident. The officer was on suspension from duty.

There were continued allegations that some ministers used their positions for personal gain.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates that public officials disclose their assets, income, and liabilities to the Integrity Commission, which monitors, verifies, and publishes disclosures. Officials and candidates for public office were reluctant to comply with asset disclosure rules, primarily because of the perceived invasiveness of the process. The act stipulates a process when public officials fail to disclose assets and provides criminal penalties for failure to comply. The law clearly states which assets, liabilities, and interests public officials must declare.

While the commission undertook numerous investigations, it seldom referred cases to law enforcement authorities, and prosecution of those officials who refused to comply with asset disclosure rules was very limited.

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 human rights cases and publishing their findings. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman investigates citizens’ complaints concerning the administrative decisions of government agencies. Where there is evidence of a breach of duty, misconduct, or criminal offense, the ombudsman may refer the matter to the appropriate authority. The ombudsman has a quasi-autonomous status within the government and publishes a comprehensive annual report. Both the public and the government had confidence in the integrity and reliability of the Office of the Ombudsman and the ombudsman’s annual report.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to life imprisonment, but the courts often imposed considerably shorter sentences. Police channeled resources to the Victim and Witness Support Unit in an effort to encourage reporting.

The law provides for protection orders separating perpetrators of domestic violence, including abusive spouses and common-law partners, from their victims. Courts may also fine or imprison abusive spouses, but it was rarely done.

The NGO Coalition against Domestic Violence charged that police often hesitated to enforce domestic violence laws and asserted that rape and sexual abuse against women and children remained a serious and pervasive problem.

Sexual Harassment: No laws specifically prohibit sexual harassment. Related statutes could be used to prosecute perpetrators of sexual harassment, and some trade unions incorporated anti-harassment provisions in their contracts.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Women generally enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men. No laws or regulations require equal pay for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration: Every person born in the country is a citizen at birth, unless the parents are foreign envoys accredited to the country. Children born outside the country can become citizens at birth if on that date one or both of the parents is, or was, a citizen. The law requires registration of every child born alive within 42 days of birth.

Child Abuse: Child abuse cases continued to increase; from October 1, 2015, to September 30, 2016, the Children’s Authority received and investigated 5,522 reports of abuse. More than one-half of all cases involved female children. Neglect and sexual abuse accounted for 27 percent and 25 percent of the cases, respectively. The law prohibits both corporal punishment of children and sentencing a child to prison. According to NGOs, however, abuse of children in their own homes or in institutional settings remained a serious problem.

Early and Forced Marriage: Child marriage is illegal. On June 9, parliament passed legislation changing the legal marriage age to 18. The president formally proclaimed the enactment of the Marriage Act on September 28.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law defines a child as less than 18 years of age. The age of sexual consent is 18, and the age of consent for sexual touching is 16. Sexual penetration of a child is punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison. The law creates specific offenses such as sexual grooming of a child (gaining the trust of a child, or of a person who takes care of the child, for the purpose of sexual activity with the child) and child pornography. The law prescribes penalties of 10 years’ to life imprisonment for subjecting a child to prostitution.

International Child Abductions: The government 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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were fewer than 100 Jews in the country. 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

Disability rights advocates were aware of no efforts by the government to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which it ratified in 2015. Prior to the ratification, the law prohibited discrimination based on disability but did not mandate equal access for persons with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities faced discrimination and denial of opportunities. Such discrimination could be traced to architectural barriers, employers’ reluctance to make necessary accommodations that would enable otherwise qualified job candidates to work, an absence of support services to assist students with disabilities to study, lowered expectations of the abilities of persons with disabilities, condescending attitudes, and disrespect.

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

Although the law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, providing penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment, the government generally did not enforce such legislation, except in conjunction with more serious offenses such as rape. Immigration laws also bar the entry of “homosexuals” into the country, but the legislation was not enforced during the year.

The law identifying classes of persons protected from discrimination does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The 2012 Children Act decriminalizes sexual exploration between minors close in age but specifically retains language criminalizing the same activity among same-sex minors. Other laws exclude same-sex partners from their protections.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Stigmatization of those with HIV persisted, especially among high-risk groups, including men who have sex with men. There were reports of discrimination against this group but no clear evidence of violence. The government’s HIV and AIDS Unit coordinates the national response to HIV/AIDS, and the government employed HIV/AIDS coordinators in all ministries as part of its multisector response.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related statutes and regulations, provides for the right of most workers, including those in state-owned enterprises, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, but with some limitations. Neither employers nor employees listed in essential services, such as hospital, fire, and external communications (telephone, telegraph, wireless), have the right to strike, and walkouts can bring punishment of up to 36 months in prison and a fine of TT$40,000 ($5,970). These employees negotiate with the government’s chief personnel officer to resolve labor disputes. The law stipulates that only strikes over unresolved labor interest disputes may take place and that authorities may prohibit strikes at the request of one party if not called by a majority union. The minister of labor may petition the court to curtail any strike he deems harmful to national interests.

The law also provides for mandatory recognition of a trade union when it represents more than 50 percent of the workers in a specified bargaining unit. The law allows unions to participate in collective bargaining, prohibits employers from dismissing or otherwise prejudicing workers due to their union membership, and mandates reinstatement of workers illegally dismissed for union activities. The government’s Registration, Recognition, and Certification Board determines whether a given workers’ organization meets the definition of a bargaining unit and can limit union recognition by this means. The Registrar’s Office requires accounting for union funds and can audit and restrict accounts of a union on demand. The Industrial Relations Act definition of a worker excludes domestic workers (house cleaners, chauffeurs, and gardeners), but domestic workers have an established trade union that advocates for their rights. Separate legislation governs the employment relationship between the government and its employees, including civil servants, teachers, and members of the protective services (fire, police, and prison services). The Industrial Relations Act prohibits employees in essential services from taking industrial action. The government effectively enforced applicable laws.

A union must have the support of an absolute majority of workers to obtain bargaining rights. This requirement limited the right of collective bargaining. Furthermore, collective agreement negotiations are subject to mandatory mediation and must cover a minimum of three years, making it almost impossible for such agreements to include workers on short-term contracts. According to the National Trade Union Center, the requirement that all negotiations go through the Public Sector Negotiation Committee rather than through the individual government agency or government-owned industry, provided an additional onerous restriction that added significant delays. Some unions claimed the government undermined the collective bargaining process by pressuring the committee to offer raises of no more than 5 percent over three years.

The government enforced labor laws with effective remedies and penalties. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate, although some observers called for an increased number of unannounced inspections and additional industrial court judges. A union may request that the Industrial Court enforce the laws, and the court may order employers found guilty of antiunion activities or otherwise in violation of the Industrial Relations Act to reinstate workers and pay compensation or may impose other penalties, including imprisonment. There was no information on specific penalties or on whether they were sufficient to deter violations.

Authorities generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Authorities did not use excessive force to end strikes or protests or otherwise retaliate against workers seeking to exercise their rights.

In January and February, the Industrial Court ordered 11 companies to pay approximately TT$11,000,000 million ($1.6 million) to 26 workers who were wrongfully dismissed. The largest individual judgement was against the natural gas company BG Trinidad and Tobago Limited in which the employee was awarded TT$ three million ($500,000).

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor. Upon conviction, perpetrators of forced labor are subject to a fine of at least TT$500,000 ($74,600) and imprisonment for at least 15 years. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Counter-Trafficking Unit, housed within the Ministry of National Security, is charged with investigating potential forced labor cases and with referring cases for prosecution.

There were no confirmed cases of forced labor, or specific cases reported by NGOs or media. There were no prosecutions or convictions through October. One of the cases brought to the court in 2015 concluded in the magistrate court, with a decision pending as to whether it would progress to the High Court.

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 in public and private industries at 16. Children ages 14 to 16 may work in activities in which only family members are employed or that the minister of education approved as vocational or technical training. The law prohibits children under 18 from working between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. except in a family enterprise or within other limited exceptions. There is no clear minimum age for hazardous activities.

Violation of child labor laws is punishable by six months’ imprisonment or a fine of TT$2,500 ($373). In cases of child trafficking, including forced or exploitive child labor, perpetrators are subject to fines of TT$ one million ($150,000) and 20 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The government was generally effective in enforcing child labor laws, and the penalties were sufficient to deter violations, but there were anecdotal reports of children working in agriculture or as domestic workers. The Ministry of Labor and Small Enterprise Development and the Ministry of the People and Social Development are responsible for enforcing child labor laws. There were 18 labor inspectors in the Labor Inspectorate Unit in 2016, compared with 10 in 2015, trained to investigate and identify cases of child labor and also to identify and report on indicators relating to possible cases of forced labor involving children.

The minister may designate an inspector to gather information from parents and employers regarding the employment of a person under 18. The Industrial Court may issue a finding of contempt against anyone obstructing the inspectors’ investigation.

The government did not have comprehensive mechanisms for receiving, investigating, and resolving child labor complaints. There were anecdotal reports of children engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the small-scale agricultural sector and domestic service.

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 do not prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of political opinion, sexual orientation, gender identity, language, age, disability, or HIV status or other communicable disease. The government effectively enforced those laws and regulations. Discrimination in employment occurred with respect to disability, and women’s pay lagged behind men’s outside the public sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was greater than the official poverty income level of TT$665 ($99) per month.

The law establishes a 40-hour workweek, a daily period for lunch or rest, and premium pay for overtime. The law does not prohibit excessive or compulsory overtime. The law provides for paid leave, with the amount of leave varying according to length of service. Workers in the informal economy reported wages above the national minimum wage but reported other areas of labor laws including the number of hours worked were not enforced. There were an estimated 30, 000 domestic workers not covered by labor laws.

The law sets occupational health and safety standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The Ministry of Labor and Small Enterprise Development was responsible for enforcing labor laws related to minimum wage and acceptable conditions of work, while the Occupational Safety and Health Agency enforced occupational health and safety regulations, which apply to all workers in the formal economy, regardless of citizenship. Local labor laws generally protected foreign laborers brought into the country, a stipulation usually contained in their labor contract. Resources, inspections, and penalties appeared adequate to deter violations. The Occupational Safety and Health Act provides a range of fines and terms of imprisonment for violations of the law, but despite these penalties a number of violations occurred.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act provides workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities generally protected this right.

Turkmenistan

Executive Summary

Although the 2016 constitution declares Turkmenistan to be a secular democracy, the country has an authoritarian government controlled by the president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, and his inner circle. Berdimuhamedov has been president since 2006 and remained president following a February 2017 presidential election. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights determined that the election involved limited choice between competing political alternatives. In May the country conducted interim parliamentary elections that were not subject to international observation, to replace two parliamentary members. The 2016 constitution extended the presidential term in office from five to seven years, cancelled a maximum age limit of 70 years, and failed to reintroduce earlier term limits.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There most significant human rights issues included torture; arbitrary arrest and detention; involuntary confinement; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, religion, and movement; restrictions on access to the internet; and citizens’ inability to choose their government through free and fair elections that include real political alternatives; and endemic corruption. There was also trafficking in persons, including use of government-compelled forced labor during the annual cotton harvest; restrictions on the free association of workers; and forced destruction of domiciles of Ashgabat residents. Same-sex sexual conduct between men remained illegal.

Officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government acted with impunity. There were no reported prosecutions of government officials for human rights abuses.

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

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

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year, nor were there reports of killings by narcotics traffickers or similar criminal groups.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of new politically motivated disappearances during the year. A nongovernmental organization (NGO)-led advocacy campaign called “Prove They Are Alive!” maintained a list of disappeared prisoners; there were 112 on the list as of November, although opposition media reported two of the prisoners died during the year. The list includes political dissident Gulgeldy Annaniyazov, former minister of foreign affairs Boris Shikhmuradov, and many others accused of participation in an alleged 2002 assassination attempt on former president Saparmurat Niyazov. According to the NGO Forum 18, dozens of Muslims from Turkmenabat have been imprisoned since 2013 for participating in a study group about Islam. Relatives of most of the men have not been able to establish whether they are still alive. Forum 18 reported that the body of one of these men, Aziz Gafurov, was returned to his family in June, covered in bruises.

According to the opposition website Gundogar.org, Akmurad Rejepov died in prison on August 10. Akmurad Rejepov served as the head of presidential security from 1985 until 2007 for former president Niyazov. Rejepov was imprisoned for 17 years, and his son Nurmurat was imprisoned for 13 years. Rejepov was charged with corruption and abuse of his official position.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit mistreatment, Amnesty International (AI)’s 2016-2017 annual report indicated security officials tortured or mistreated criminal suspects and prisoners. Prison officers reportedly beat prisoners and forced them to stand outside for long periods of time in high temperatures. AI also reported that prison officers practiced extortion.

The law requires the government to protect the health and lives of members of the armed forces. Members of the military reported, however, that hazing of conscripts continued and involved violations of human dignity, including brutality. During the year there were no reports of hazing deaths among conscripts. Members of the military reported officers responded to cases of abuse, inspected conscripts for signs of mistreatment, and punished abusers in some cases. Hazing of conscripts reportedly was more prevalent outside of Ashgabat.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were reportedly unsanitary, overcrowded, harsh, and in some cases life threatening; however, facilities visited by representatives of the diplomatic corps in Bayram Ali juvenile detention center and Dashoguz women’s prison, appeared more satisfactory. Some facilities, such as minimum security camp LBK-12 in Lebap Province, were in areas where inmates reportedly experienced extremely harsh climate conditions, with excessive heat in summer and frigid temperatures in winter. There were reports of physical abuse of prisoners by prison officials and other prisoners.

Physical Conditions: Official data on the average sentence or numbers of prisoners, including incarcerated juveniles, were not available. Persons in pretrial detention facilities were predominantly those sentenced but not transferred to penal colonies. The six pretrial detention facilities reportedly were designed for 1,120 persons, but likely held many times that number.

According to Turkmenistan’s Independent Lawyers Association and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, there were 22 prisons and 30,452 prisoners in Turkmenistan as of September. The BLD-4 pretrial detention facility in Balkan Province, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, reportedly held adults and juveniles together and included persons in pretrial detention, on remand, and those already convicted but not transferred to penal colonies.

Diseases, particularly tuberculosis (TB), were reportedly widespread in prisons. There were reports that due to overcrowding, officials held inmates diagnosed with TB and skin diseases with healthy detainees, contributing to the spread of disease. Nonetheless, a representative of an international organization reported that at least in and around Ashgabat, authorities held inmates with TB separately from healthy detainees. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported in the past that inmates with TB were held separately from healthy inmates at the Dashoguz women’s prison. There continued to be concerns the government did not adequately test and treat prisoners with TB before they returned to the general population, despite government claims to the contrary. The opposition website, Alternative News of Turkmenistan (ANT) reported prison authorities were ordered to report a 65 percent decrease in TB infection and declared infected prisoners healthy. In the past, the government reported it transferred male prisoners diagnosed with TB to a special Ministry of Internal Affairs hospital in Mary Province for treatment and arranged for continuing treatment for released prisoners at their residences. There were also reports of high rates of cardiovascular disease.

In April ANT reported that the warden of Ovadan Depe prison, Sary Komekov, banned all types of medications in parcels, alleging their relatives were sending opioid drugs. Komekov argued that the medical unit of the prison could provide medications to prisoners; however, ANT reported that the medical unit provided only basic medication such as pain relievers. ANT alleged that political dissidents and those convicted of religious crimes were not allowed to receive parcels. According to ANT, one prisoner died in 2016 in Ovadan Depe prison as a result of prison officials denying access to necessary medical treatment. ANT also claimed that for 100 manat ($28) a prisoner could buy a 10-day supply of vitamins. ANT reported that a prisoner could pay a bribe of 1,750 manat ($500) in order to get a referral to a better prisoner hospital in Mary.

ANT reported that TB and breast and uterine cancers were common in Dashoguz women’s prison. Former inmates of the prison reported one to two women died each month from breast or uterine cancer.

In July Chronicles reported the nutritional value of prison food was generally poor, and some prisoners suffered from malnutrition. Prisoners depended on relatives to supplement inadequate prison food. Some family members and inmates stated prison officials occasionally confiscated food parcels. It was not possible to determine whether potable water was available.

In 2016 the government reported to the UN Committee against Torture that many prisoners worked in factories that produce clothing, wooden items, bedding, badges, uniforms, bricks, and toilet paper.

Administration: According to relatives, prison authorities denied food, medical, and other supplies brought by family members to some prisoners; sometimes denied family members’ access to prisoners; and did not make religious facilities available to all prisoners. The government allowed foreign diplomats to access nationals of their countries in detention facing criminal charges. The government did not provide information on whether prisoners were permitted religious observance, or on systematic monitoring of prison and detention center conditions. The government did not confirm whether it established a prison ombudsman.

Independent Monitoring: During the year government officials allowed members of the diplomatic corps to visit the Bayram Ali juvenile detention center in Mary Province. The government allowed members of the diplomatic corps to visit the women’s prison in Dashoguz in 2015. In both cases, it was not clear whether the conditions of the prison were authentic. Outside of individual consular visits, there were no other prison visits by the diplomatic community. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported minimal prison access in 2012-2013, but stated the access granted did not meet its basic visit access standards. In 2016 the diplomatic community requested, but was not granted access to the adult prison near Ovadan Depe.

Improvements: In June ANT reported that the government enlarged several prison facilities including MR-K/16 in Bairamali and other prisons in Seydi, Tejen, and Turkmenabat. According to prisoners’ relatives who visited Bairamali prison in March-April, prisoners were used in the construction of new buildings, especially during the final stages of construction. Relatives stated that the new facilities could accommodate up to 1,000 prisoners at each facility.

There were reports that treatment of prisoners and food quality improved in correctional facilities in Ahal, Lebap, and Mary provinces.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both remained serious problems. Persons arrested or detained are not entitled to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention while detained or obtain prompt release if unlawfully detained.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs directs the criminal police, which works closely with the Ministry of National Security on matters of national safety and security. The security ministry plays a role in personnel changes in other ministries, often dictating assignments, and enforces presidential decrees. There were continued reports both the security ministry and criminal police operated with impunity in the prosecution of criminal cases and in the harassment of unregistered religious groups and persons perceived to be critical of the regime. No information was available on whether the presidential commission created in 2007 to review citizen complaints of abuse had conducted any inquiries that resulted in accountability of any members of the security forces for abuses. There was no national strategy to reform the police or security apparatus.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

A warrant is not required for arrest when officials catch a suspect in the act of committing an offense. The prosecutor general must issue an authorization for arrest within 72 hours of detention. If investigating authorities do not find evidence of guilt and issue a formal indictment within 10 days of detention, they must release the detainee; however, authorities did not always comply with this requirement. If they find evidence, an investigation may last as long as two months. A provincial- or national-level prosecutor may extend the investigation period to six months. The national prosecutor general or deputy prosecutor general may extend the investigation period to a maximum of one year. Following the investigation, the prosecutor prepares a bill of indictment and transfers the case to the court. Courts generally followed these procedures, and the prosecutor promptly informs detainees of the charges against them.

The criminal procedure code provides for a bail system and surety; however, authorities did not implement these provisions. The law entitles detainees to immediate access to an attorney of their choice after a formal accusation. For a number of reasons, however, detainees may not have had prompt or regular access to legal counsel–they may have been unaware of the law; security forces may have ignored the entitlement to counsel; or the practice of seeking formal legal counsel was not a cultural norm. Authorities denied some detainees visits by family members during the year. Families sometimes did not know the whereabouts of detained relatives. Incommunicado detention was a problem. The extent to which authorities failed to protect due process in the criminal justice system was unclear.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law characterizes any opposition to the government as treason. Persons convicted of treason faced life imprisonment and were ineligible for pardoning. In the past, the government arrested and filed charges on economic or criminal grounds against those expressing critical or differing views instead of charging its critics with treason.

There were reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions. Authorities frequently singled out human rights activists, journalists, members of religious groups, ethnic minorities, and dissidents, as well as members of NGOs who interacted with foreigners.

In October Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported the arrest of an education official in Dashoguz Province. The government charged the official with organizing a rebellion against the government over an increase in kindergarten fees. Prior to his arrest, an unidentified group of women approached the official with their complaints about the kindergarten fee increase. The official directed the women to complain to the provincial governor’s office. Following his arrest, the individual’s wife, who worked in a local kindergarten, was dismissed from her job.

According to Forum 18, Jehovah’s Witness member Bahram Hemdemov has been imprisoned since March 2015 and was serving a four-year sentence in Seydi prison for allegedly inciting religious hatred during a peaceful Jehovah’s Witness meeting. Another Jehovah’s Witness, Mansur Masharipov, was freed as part of a general amnesty in May. Masharipov had been serving a one-year sentence for allegedly assaulting a police officer following his 2014 detention after police raided his home and confiscated religious material.

Mansur Mingelov, an activist for the rights of Baloch minorities, has remained in prison since his arrest in 2012. According to AI reports, he conducted a hunger strike in 2014 in an attempt to have his case reviewed. The authorities reportedly reviewed his case during the year, but did not release him. No updated information was available.

Pretrial Detention: In most cases, the law permits detention of no more than two months, but in exceptional cases, it may be extended to one year with approval of the prosecutor general. For minor crimes, a much shorter investigation period applies. Consistent with recent trends, authorities rarely exceeded legal limits for pretrial detention. In the past chronic corruption and cumbersome bureaucratic processes contributed to lengthy trial delays; however, the government’s anticorruption efforts and the establishment of the Academy of State Service to Improve State Employees’ Qualifications generally eliminated such delays. Forced confessions also played a part in the reduction of time in pretrial detention. Accused persons are entitled to challenge the court, but were unlikely to do so for fear of retribution.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained are not entitled to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention while detained or obtain prompt release if unlawfully detained. There were no reports of prompt release or compensation of unlawfully detained persons. According to Turkmenistan’s Criminal Code, law enforcement authorities may detain a person for 72 hours without charge. Persons arrested or detained unlawfully, however, may seek reimbursement for damages following release. Law enforcement authorities found guilty of unlawful detention or arrest may be punished by demotion or suspension for five years, correctional labor service for up to two years, or imprisonment for up to eight years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was controlled by and subordinate to the executive. There was no legislative review of the president’s judicial appointments and dismissals. The president had sole authority to dismiss any judge. The judiciary was widely reputed to be corrupt and inefficient.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for due process for defendants, including a public trial; the right to attend the trial; access to accusatory material; the right to call witnesses; the right to a defense attorney, including a court-appointed lawyer if the defendant cannot afford one; and the right to represent oneself in court. Authorities, however, often denied these rights. Defendants frequently did not enjoy a presumption of innocence. The government permits the public to attend most trials, but it closed some, especially those considered politically sensitive. There were few independent lawyers available to represent defendants. The criminal procedure code provides that defendants be present at their trials and consult with their attorneys in a timely manner. The law sets no restrictions on a defendant’s access to an attorney. The court at times did not allow defendants to confront or question a witness against them and denied defendants and their attorneys access to government evidence. In some cases courts refused to accept exculpatory evidence provided by defense attorneys, even if that evidence might have changed the outcome of the trial. Courts did not offer interpreters to defendants who did not speak Turkmen.

Even when the courts observed due process, the authority of the government prosecutor far exceeded that of the defense attorney, making it difficult for the defendant to receive a fair trial. Court transcripts frequently were flawed or incomplete, especially when there was a need to translate defendants’ testimony from Russian to Turkmen. Defendants could appeal a lower court’s decision and petition the president for clemency. There were credible reports that judges and prosecutors often predetermined the outcome of the trial and sentence.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Opposition groups and some international organizations stated the government held political prisoners and detainees. The precise number of these persons, which included those charged with involvement in the 2002 alleged attack on then-president Niyazov, remained unknown. According to one international representative, however, the government asserted in 2014 it imprisoned 104 persons in the wake of the coup attempt and released 32. In 2016 external news outlets reported two of these prisoners died. No updated information was available. Those convicted of treason faced life imprisonment and were ineligible for amnesty, although they could receive reductions of sentence from the president. The government continued to assert that none of these persons were political prisoners.

In January ANT reported that former deputy chief of Turkmenistan’s Committee for National Security, Tirkish Tyrmyev, died in prison. Tyrmyev was arrested in April 2002 for abuse of power. He was imprisoned for 10 years and in 2012, 10 days prior to the end of his sentence, he was charged with “a fight with a guard” and was sentenced to an additional seven years and 11 months.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The civil judiciary system was neither independent nor impartial, as the president appointed all judges. According to the law, evidence gathered during a criminal investigation can serve as the basis for a civil action in a process called “civil lawsuit in criminal justice.” In the past, there were reports of bribes in the civil court system to ensure a particular outcome. In cases in which the state had interests regarding an individual citizen, it used the judiciary to impose court orders. In 2016 ANT reported that the most commonly enforced court orders were eviction notices. Persons and organizations may appeal adverse decisions to regional human rights bodies, but local courts were unlikely to reverse decisions in light of successful appeals.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government failed to enforce the law consistently with respect to restitution or compensation for confiscation of private property. The government continued to demolish private homes as part of an urban renewal program without adequately compensating owners. Housing offered as compensation to displaced homeowners was often smaller than housing lost, because gardens and outbuildings surrounding a house were not considered “useful living space.” There were credible reports some residents received no compensation. If housing offered as compensation had more living space than the demolished home, the displaced homeowner could be forced to pay up to 4,200 manat ($1,200) per square meter (10.7 square feet) for the additional space. Although a process existed for displaced homeowners to file complaints and appeals, it was not possible to determine how the process worked in practice.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but authorities frequently did not respect these prohibitions. Authorities reportedly searched private homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.

The law does not regulate surveillance by the state security apparatus, which regularly monitored the activities of officials, citizens, opponents and critics of the government, and foreigners. Security officials used physical surveillance, telephone tapping, electronic eavesdropping, and informers. Authorities frequently queried the parents of students studying overseas and sometimes threatened state employees they would lose their jobs if they maintained friendships with foreigners.

The government reportedly intercepted surface mail before delivery, and letters and parcels taken to the post office had to remain unsealed for government inspection.

Persons harassed, detained, or arrested by authorities, as well as their family members, reported the government caused family members to be fired from their jobs or expelled from school. Authorities sometimes also detained and interrogated family members.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government did not respect these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The law requires political parties to allow representatives of the Central Election Committee and Ministry of Justice to monitor their meetings. The government also warned critics against speaking with visiting journalists or other foreigners about human rights problems.

During the year the government publicized new laws that stipulate civil servants must refrain from public statements on the activities of the government and its leaders if such statements are not part of their official duties. The laws also state that civil servants must refrain from making public statements regarding the value of goods, works, and services, including the government’s budget, borrowing, or debt.

In October 2016 state police services threatened to harm animal rights activist Galina Kucherenko for her online postings protesting a government campaign to destroy stray dogs and cats found on the city streets. Authorities continued their threats during the year, as Kucherenko continued to be harassed by state police services and was threatened with a 25-year prison sentence once the September 17-27 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) concluded. Unidentified men visited Kucherenko November 15, and demanded she sign a police summons allegedly related to a complaint filed against her by a fellow activist. On December 7, unidentified men and police broke Kucherenko’s door, entered her apartment, and detained her and her daughter, Valeria. Valeria was fined and released on the same day; Galina was released after 15 days of arbitrary detention. Kucherenko’s home internet and mobile phone were blocked by authorities.

Press and Media Freedom: The government financed and controlled the publication of books and almost all other print media and online newspapers/journals. Quasi-independent weekly newspaper Rysgal continued to operate, although its stories were largely reprints from state media outlets or reflected the views of the state news agency. The government maintained restrictions on the importation of foreign newspapers except for the private, but government-sanctioned, Turkish newspaper Zaman Turkmenistan, which reflected the views of the official state newspapers, and Atavatan-Turkmenistan, a Turkish journal.

The government controlled radio and domestic television, but satellite dishes providing access to foreign television programming were widespread throughout the country. International organizations and news outlets highlighted the forced removal of some satellite dishes by the government and replacement with telecommunications packages, such as cable, that limited access to certain channels and kinds of information. Citizens also received international radio programs through satellite access.

The government continued its ban on subscriptions to foreign periodicals by nongovernmental entities, although copies of nonpolitical periodicals appeared occasionally in the bazaars. The government maintained a subscription service to Russian-language outlets for government workers, although these publications were not available for public use.

There was no independent oversight of media accreditation, no defined criteria for allocating press cards, no assured provision for receiving accreditation when space was available, and no protection against the withdrawal of accreditation for political reasons. The government required all foreign correspondents to apply for accreditation. It granted visas to journalists from outside the country only to cover specific events, such as international conferences and summit meetings, where it could monitor their activities. The government limited the issuance of visas to journalists covering the AIMAG. Journalists from the BBC and The Guardian scheduled to cover the AIMAG reported that their accreditations were issued and then revoked.

In August the government stated that 22 foreign journalists were accredited in the country. Six of them conducted reporting from foreign countries.

Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists critical of its official policy to surveillance and harassment. There were reports law enforcement officials harassed and monitored citizen journalists who worked for foreign media outlets, including by monitoring their telephone conversations and restricting their travel abroad. RFE/RL stringer Saparmamed Nepeskuliyev was arrested, charged, and convicted for possession of narcotics and sentenced to three years’ incarceration in August 2015. He remained imprisoned at year’s end. Human Rights Watch disputed the legal basis of the charge, stating it was politically motivated. Visiting foreign journalists reported harassment and denial of freedom of movement when they attempted to report from the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits censorship and provides for freedom to gather and disseminate information, but authorities did not implement the law. The government continued to censor newspapers and prohibit reporting of opposition political views or any criticism of the president. Domestic journalists and foreign news correspondents often engaged in self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

To regulate domestic printing and copying activities, the government required all publishing houses, printing, and photocopying establishments to register their equipment. The government did not allow the publication of works on topics that were out of favor with the government, including some works of fiction. The government must approve the importation, publishing, and dissemination of religious literature.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government continued to monitor citizens’ email and internet activity. Reports indicated the Ministry of National Security controlled the main internet access gateway and that several servers belonging to internet protocol addresses registered to the Ministry of Communications operated software that allowed the government to record Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) conversations, turn on computer cameras and microphones, and log keystrokes. The authorities blocked access to websites they considered sensitive, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as virtual private network connections, including those of diplomatic missions and international businesses, and severely restricted internet access to other websites. Skype, an encrypted VOIP service, was blocked throughout the year.

In 2016 the government reported that 12 percent of the population used the internet. The percentage of the population that accessed the internet via cell phones reportedly was much higher, although official estimates were not available. Much of the population received its news from Russian- and Turkish-language cable and satellite television feeds.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government did not tolerate criticism of government policy or the president in academic circles, and curtailed research in areas it considered politically sensitive, such as comparative law, history, ethnic relations, and theology. In 2015 a presidential decree established procedures for the government to certify foreign diplomas. To have foreign diplomas formally recognized, graduates must complete an application, submit information on their family history for three generations, and pass regular Turkmen university graduation exams related to their majors. Due to this extensive process, many graduates of foreign universities reported they were unable to certify their diplomas with authorities at the Ministry of Education, making them ineligible for employment at state agencies. Some graduates reported ministry officials demanded bribes to allow certification of their diplomas. The government strictly controlled the production of plays and performances in state theaters, and these were severely limited. Authorities also strictly controlled film screenings and limited viewings to approved films dubbed or subtitled in Turkmen and Russian, unless sponsored by a foreign embassy.

The Ministry of Culture censored and monitored all public exhibitions, including music, art, and cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. During the year authorities neither granted the required permits for public meetings and demonstrations nor allowed unregistered organizations to hold demonstrations. According to Forum 18, in some instances the police raided homes where members of religious groups were meeting and detained participants.

Unregistered religious groups were not allowed to meet, according to the country’s religion law adopted in April 2016. In October Forum 18 reported that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Protestant groups continued to face harassment, torture, raids, fines, seizure of literature, and house searches.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government restricted this right. The law requires all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice and all foreign assistance to be coordinated through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unregistered NGO activity is punishable by a fine, short-term detention, and confiscation of property. The law requires all religious groups to register with the Ministry of Justice and sets out a schedule of fines for religious activity conducted by unregistered groups.

Of the estimated 119 registered NGOs, international organizations recognized only a few as independent. NGOs reported the government presented a number of administrative obstacles to NGOs that attempted to register. Authorities reportedly rejected some applications repeatedly on technical grounds. Some organizations awaiting registration found alternate ways to carry out activities, such as registering as businesses or subsidiaries of other registered groups, but others temporarily suspended or limited their activities. Although the law states there is a process for registering foreign assistance, NGOs had difficulty registering bilateral foreign assistance in practice due to the 2013 decree requiring such registration.

Sources noted a number of barriers to the formation and functioning of civil society. These included regulations that permitted the Ministry of Justice to send representatives to association events and meetings, and requirements that associations notify the government about their planned activities.

In February the official government newspaper Neytral’nyy Turkmenistan published the changes and new amendments to the Law on Public Associations. Specifically, the law does not exempt religious organizations, nonprofit associations, and political parties; founders of public associations have to be Turkmen citizens; the law denies public associations the right to represent and protect the rights of other citizens, including the right to participate in elections; and public associations can only be sponsored by legal entities, including foreign nonprofit organizations.

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 do not provide for full freedom of movement.

In-Country Movement: The law requires internal passports and residency permits. Persons residing or working without residency permits face forcible removal to their place of registration. A requirement for a border permit remained in effect for all foreigners wishing to travel to border areas.

The law does not permit dual citizenship. In 2015 all dual citizens were obliged to renounce one of their citizenships if they wanted to travel outside the country. The process of renouncing Turkmen citizenship is not transparent and can take up to a year.

RFE/RL posted an article about additional restrictions taken by Ashgabat city authorities, which significantly reduced the number of cars in the capital. According to RFE/RL, all drivers without Ashgabat license plates approaching the city were required to bypass the city if they were traveling further or to park their cars and continue the journey to the city on taxi or public transport.

Foreign Travel: The government continued to bar certain citizens from departing under its Law on Migration. The law states that citizens of Turkmenistan may be denied exit from Turkmenistan “if their exit contravenes the interests of national security of Turkmenistan.” “Prove They Are Alive!” reported that any of the country’s law enforcement bodies can initiate a travel ban on a citizen and that travelers in various categories may be denied departure, including: young men obliged to military service; persons facing criminal and civil charges or under probationary sentence; relatives of persons reportedly convicted and imprisoned for the 2002 alleged assassination attempt; as well as journalists, civil society activists, and their family members. Although the government denied maintaining a “black list” of local persons not permitted to travel abroad, ANT reported that such a list existed and contained approximately 17,000 names. According to various sources, in most cases, travelers who were stopped were not given an explanation for denial of departure and were only informed of the ban upon attempting foreign travel from the airport. Some individuals were able to obtain documentation from the State Migration Service (SMS) later stating they were not allowed to depart the country, but without justification for the ban. In some cases, authorities initially denied travelers departure from the country, but after several days, or in some cases weeks, the travelers were allowed to depart without explanation for the delay.

The government routinely prevented citizens from travelling abroad for programs sponsored by foreign governments, unless the program was specifically approved in advance by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Migration officials often stopped “nonapproved” travelers at the airport and prevented them from leaving. In some cases, however, those traveling for approved programs were also not allowed to depart or were delayed.

The Law on Migration provides for restrictions on travel by citizens who had access to state secrets, presented falsified personal information, committed a serious crime, were under surveillance, might become victims of trafficking, previously violated the law of the destination country, or whose travel contradicts the interests of national security. In some cases, the law provides for time limits on the travel ban as well as fines for its infraction. Former public-sector employees who had access to state secrets were prevented from traveling abroad for five years after terminating their employment with the government. The law allows authorities to forbid recipients of presidential amnesties from traveling abroad for a period of up to two years. The law also allows the government to impose limitations on obtaining education in specific professions and specialties.

RFE/RL reported that in March, authorities questioned citizens returning from Turkey and Ukraine. Citizens returning from these countries were forced to sign a written statement abstaining from visiting “dangerous countries.” RFE/RL claimed that authorities considered Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Ukraine as dangerous countries. In March the SMS reduced the validity of passports from 10 years to five years. According to local observers, the move forced citizens abroad to “check-in” with the SMS every five years, and enabled the SMS to monitor and control the movement of citizens who stayed abroad.

In its 2016-2017 annual report, AI stated that arbitrary restrictions on the right to travel abroad remained in practice. According to AI, the government targeted, among others, relatives of those accused of involvement in the alleged attempt to assassinate President Niyazov in 2002, relatives of opposition figures residing abroad, civil society activists, students, journalists, and former migrant workers.

Exile: The law provides for internal exile, requiring persons to reside in a certain area for a fixed term of two to five years.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

While formally there is a system for granting refugee status, it was inactive. In 2009 the government assumed responsibility from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for making refugee status determinations but has not granted refugee status since. UNHCR had observer status at government-run refugee-status determination hearings. Persons determined by the government not to be refugees obtained mandate refugee status from UNHCR. Mandate refugees were required to renew UNHCR certificates with the government annually. In 2015 UNHCR reported that 27 UNHCR mandate refugees resided in the country, but it provided no updates for 2016 or 2017. The country did not grant citizenship to any UNHCR mandate refugees during the year.

In 2014 the government amended the Law on Migration to permit refugees to receive, at no charge, biometric identification and travel documents compliant with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

In June the government published an updated law on refugees. The law includes the creation of temporary accommodation facilities located along the border of mass refugee inflow. The law also provides for the temporary protection of refugees arriving in an emergency. The previous law stated that the SMS review refugee status applications within three months. The new law states that the SMS can extend its review up to a year.

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. The country has not granted asylum since 2005.

STATELESS PERSONS

The country had a significant population of former Soviet Union citizens who became stateless due to the breakup of the Soviet Union. In 2015 UNHCR estimated there were 7,111 stateless persons or persons of underdetermined nationality in the country. The number of stateless persons who were also refugees was not available. Citizenship is derived primarily from one’s parents. The requirement that applicants for citizenship prove they are not citizens of another country impeded efforts to establish the nationality of undocumented persons. According to UNHCR, however, in the past 10 years, the government granted citizenship to an estimated 18,000 stateless persons. In 2016 the government granted citizenship to 1,381 stateless persons residing in the country. During the year the government did not grant any stateless person citizenship. The Law on Migration allows stateless persons to reside in the country legally and travel internationally with government-issued identification and travel documents.

Undocumented stateless persons did not have access to public benefits, education, or employment opportunities.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Despite a constitutional provision giving citizens the ability to choose their government in periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage, there have not been free and fair elections in the country. There was no bona fide political opposition to the president, and alternative candidates came from derivative party structures, such as the state-controlled Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, or are members of individual initiative groups. Elections were conducted by secret ballot. The constitution declares the country to be a secular democracy in the form of a presidential republic. It calls for separation of powers among the branches of government but vests a disproportionate share of power in the presidency. The president’s power over the state continued to be nearly absolute. According to the OSCE, the election law does not meet OSCE standards.

Elections and Political Participation

In September 2016 parliament ratified a new constitution that extended the presidential term in office from five to seven years, repealed a maximum age limit of 70 years, and failed to reinstitute term limits for the presidency.

Recent Elections: As a result of the February presidential election, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov won 97.69 percent of the vote.

The government invited an OSCE/ODIHR Election Assessment Mission (EAM) team, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Executive Committee, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to observe the election. According to the OSCE/ODIHR Election Assessment Mission, “The presidential election took place in a strictly controlled political environment. The predominant position of the incumbent and the lack of genuine opposition and meaningful pluralism limited voters’ choice. The lack of clear regulations for key aspects of the process had a negative impact on the administration of the election, especially at lower levels. Besides the events organized by Central Election Commission for Election and Referenda the campaign was absent and the rigidly restrained media gave the incumbent a clear advantage.”

During the year the government conducted elections to fill two parliamentary vacancies in conjunction with local government elections. The government did not invite observers, and all newly elected members of parliament represented progovernment parties. The government’s Central Election Committee reported the elections were conducted consistent with international standards.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law makes it extremely difficult for genuinely independent political parties to organize, nominate candidates, and campaign, since it grants the Ministry of Justice broad powers over the registration process and the authority to monitor party meetings. The law prohibits political parties based on religion, region, or profession as well as parties that “offend moral norms.” The law does not explain how a party can appeal its closure by the government. The law permits public associations and organizations to put forth candidates for elected office. State media covered the activities of President Berdimuhamedov, the Democratic Party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the Agrarian Party, and trade and professional unions.

There were neither organized opposition nor independent political groups operating in the country. The three registered political parties were the ruling Democratic Party (the former Communist Party), the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and the Agrarian Party. Each of these parties, which were progovernment in orientation, nominated a candidate for the February presidential election. Initiative groups put forward six additional candidates who were running in their individual capacities. The government did not officially prohibit membership in other political organizations, but there were no reports of persons who claimed membership in political organizations other than these three parties and a smattering of representatives of individual initiative groups. Authorities did not allow opposition movements based abroad–including the National Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan, the Republican Party of Turkmenistan, and the Fatherland (Watan) Party–to operate within the country.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women served in prominent government positions, including as speaker of parliament. During the year only one woman served in the 12-member Cabinet of Ministers. The government gave preference for appointed government positions to ethnic Turkmen, but ethnic minorities occupied some senior government positions. Members of the president’s Ahal-Teke tribe, the largest in the country, held the most prominent roles in cultural and political life.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption existed in the security forces and in all social and economic sectors. Factors encouraging corruption included the existence of patronage networks, low government salaries that in the latter half of the year were paid as much as three months behind schedule, a lack of fiscal transparency and accountability, the absence of published macroeconomic data, and the fear of government retaliation against citizens who choose to highlight corrupt acts. According to Freedom House and the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators, the country had a severe corruption problem.

Corruption: One regional governor, one deputy minister, and two deputy chairpersons of the Cabinet of Ministers were dismissed from their positions during the year over allegations of corruption.

In May during a Security Council meeting, President Berdimuhamedov criticized Prosecutor General Amanmyrat Hallyyev for his failure to prevent bribery and corruption among his subordinates. Parliament dismissed the prosecutor general shortly thereafter. The official daily newspaper Neytral’nyy Turkmenistan published a list of 15 names of convicted prosecutors charged with bribery and corruption. It was also reported that several high-level employees of the TurkmenGas State Concern were imprisoned along with a former deputy minister of industry, heads of the Baharly Turkmen Cement plant, and the Bayramaly Cotton Seed plant.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require elected or appointed officials to disclose their incomes or assets. Financial disclosure requirements are neither transparent nor consistent with international norms. Government enterprises are not required to publicize financial statements, even to foreign partners. Local auditors, not internationally recognized firms, often conducted financial audit

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

There were no domestic human rights NGOs due to the government’s refusal to register such organizations and restrictions that made activity by unregistered organizations illegal. The government continued to monitor the activities of nonpolitical social and cultural organizations.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: There were no international human rights NGOs with a permanent presence in the country, although the government permitted international organizations, such as the OSCE, to have a resident mission. The government permitted the OSCE to conduct workshops and study tours on prisoners’ rights, women’s rights, religious freedom, and media freedom. The government collaborated with the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR, which no longer had a resident mission, on migration and statelessness issues. Government restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, and association severely restricted international organizations’ ability to investigate, understand, and fully evaluate the government’s human rights policies and practices.

The government allowed unfettered access to the OSCE Center. There were no reports that the government discouraged citizens from contacting other international organizations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government-run National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights is not an independent body, and its ability to obtain redress for citizens was limited. The institute, established in 1996 with a mandate to support democratization and monitor the protection of human rights, played an unofficial ombudsman’s role in resolving some petitions citizens submitted through the institute’s complaints committee. The Interagency Commission on Enforcing Turkmenistan’s International Obligations on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law meets biannually to coordinate the implementation of a limited number of recommendations from international human rights bodies. The parliamentary Committee on the Protection of Human Rights and Liberties oversees human rights-related legislation, and during the year it worked with the UN Development Program to draft the country’s National Action Plan for Human Rights.

The country’s new constitution, approved in September 2016, established a Human Rights Ombudsman position. Secondary legislation adopted in November 2016 stated the ombudsman must be nominated by the president and confirmed by parliament. The law empowers the ombudsman to receive and review human rights violations reported by citizens and confirm or deny the violation and advise the complainant regarding legal redress. The ombudsman is obliged to submit an annual human rights report to the president and parliament, which shall be published and distributed via local media. The ombudsman enjoys legal immunity and cannot be prosecuted, arrested, or detained for official acts while in office. On March 20, the parliament elected Yazdursun Gurbannazarova as the first Human Rights Ombudsman.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and penalties range from three to 10 years in prison. Rape of a victim under 14 years of age is punishable by 10 to 25 years in prison. A cultural bias against reporting or acknowledging rape made it difficult to determine the extent of the problem.

The law prohibits domestic violence, including spousal abuse, through provisions in the criminal code that address intentional infliction of injury. Penalties range from fines to 15 years in prison, based on the extent of the injury, although enforcement of the law varied. Anecdotal reports indicated domestic violence against women was common; most victims of domestic violence kept silent because they were unaware of their rights or afraid of increased violence from husbands and relatives.

Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, and reports suggested sexual harassment existed in the workplace.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: By law, women have full legal equality with men, including equal pay, access to loans, the ability to start and own a business, and access to government jobs. Nevertheless, women continued to experience discrimination due to cultural biases, and some of these laws were not consistently enforced. The government restricted women from working in some dangerous and environmentally unsafe jobs. The government did not acknowledge, address, or report on discrimination against women.

Children

Birth Registration: By law, a child derives citizenship from his/her parents. A child born to stateless persons possessing permanent resident status in the country is also a citizen.

According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2017 report, 100 percent of children had their births registered.

Education: Education was free, compulsory, and universal through grades 10 or 11, depending on what year a child started school. There were reports that, in some rural communities, parents removed girls from school as young as age nine to work at home.

Child Abuse: In 2015 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the government to improve its collection of data on children’s rights, remove restrictions on civil society organizations working on children’s rights, provide for children’s access to internet and international media, create a mechanism to which children deprived of liberty in all areas can address complaints, consider creation of a centralized system for registration of adoptions, and ratify the Optional Protocol of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2017 report, 6 percent of women aged 20-24 years old were first married before they were 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age of consent is 16. The law forbids the production of pornographic materials or objects for distribution, as well as the advertisement or trade in text, movies or videos, graphics, or other objects of a pornographic nature, including those involving children.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is no organized Jewish community in the country. It was estimated that 200 to 250 Jews resided in Ashgabat. There were no reports of anti-Semitic activity.

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 in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of state services in other areas. Despite the law, persons with disabilities encountered discrimination and denial of work, education, and access to health care and other state services because of strong cultural biases.

The government provided subsidies and pensions for persons with disabilities, but the assistance was inadequate to meet basic needs. The government considered persons with disabilities who received subsidies as being employed and therefore ineligible to compete for jobs in the government, the country’s largest employer.

According to Chronicles, state doctors were unofficially instructed not to extend people’s disability status. Reportedly, the main reason was to decrease government expenditures on social welfare benefits. Chronicles reported that those with disabilities were asked to wait until 2018 for their disability status to be extended. The disabled had to pass through a special commission on an annual basis for their disability status to be extended, unless they were disabled from birth or had passed the commission review 10 years in a row.

Some students with disabilities were unable to obtain education because there were no qualified teachers, and facilities were not accessible for persons with disabilities.

Although the law requires new construction projects to include facilities that allow access by persons with disabilities, compliance was inconsistent and older buildings remained inaccessible. The law provides for the right to vote for all, including for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law provides for equal rights and freedoms for all citizens.

The law designates Turkmen as the official language, although it also provides for the rights of speakers of minority languages. Russian remained prevalent in commerce and everyday life in the capital, even as the government continued its campaign to conduct official business solely in Turkmen. The government required ministry employees to pass tests demonstrating knowledge of professional subjects in Turkmen, and the government dismissed those employees who failed the examination. The government dedicated resources to provide Turkmen instruction for non-Turkmen speakers only in primary and secondary schools.

Non-Turkmen speakers in government noted that some avenues for promotion and job advancement were not available to them, and only a handful of non-Turkmen occupied high-level jobs in government. In some cases, applicants for government jobs had to provide information about their ethnicity going back three generations.

Minority groups tried to register as NGOs to have legal status to conduct cultural events, but no minority group succeeded in registering during the year.

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

Sexual contact between men is illegal under a section of the criminal code on pederasty, with punishment of up to two years in prison and the possible imposition of an additional two- to five-year term in a labor camp. The law also stipulates sentences of up to 20 years for repeated acts of pederasty, homosexual acts with juveniles, or the spread of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections through same-sex contact. The law does not mention same-sex sexual contact between women. Enforcement of the law was selective. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Society does not accept transgender individuals, and the government provided no legal protection or recognition of their gender identity.

There were reports of detention, threats, and other abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Social stigma prevented reporting of incidents affecting members of the LGBTI community.

In May ANT posted a video allegedly made by Ashgabat police recording the interrogation of a transgender individual. The video purported to show a transgender individual dressed in female clothing enduring an abusive and humiliating interrogation for alleged involvement in prostitution.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were reports of discrimination and violence against some religious minority groups, many of which the government officially referred to as “sects,” including Jehovah’s Witnesses. The government generally perpetrated or condoned these actions.

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 and to bargain collectively with their employers. The law prohibits workers from striking. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination against union members and organizers. There are no mechanisms for resolving complaints of discrimination, nor does the law provide for reinstatement of workers fired for antiunion activity.

The government did not respect freedom of association or collective bargaining and did not effectively enforce the law. No penalties exist to deter violations. All trade and professional unions were government controlled, and none had an independent voice in its activities. The government did not permit private citizens to form independent unions. There were no labor NGOs in the country.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law allows for compulsory labor as a punishment for criminal offenses, requiring that convicted persons work in the place and job specified by the administration of the penal institution, potentially including private enterprises. Compulsory labor may also be applied as a punishment for libel and for violation of the established procedure for the organization of assemblies, meetings, or demonstrations.

The law provides for the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of suspected forced labor and other trafficking offenses. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties for violations, including fines of up to 2,000 manat ($570) or suspension of an employer’s operations for up to three months, were inconsistently enforced and insufficient to deter violations. The government reported it conducted investigations and convicted traffickers. Construction workers in the informal sector were vulnerable to forced labor, and there was widespread use of government-compelled forced labor in the cotton industry. To meet government-imposed quotas for the cotton harvest, local authorities required university students, private-sector institution employees, soldiers, and public-sector workers to pick cotton without compensation and under threat of penalty.

In August ANT reported that according to its sources state employees in Mary and Lebap Provinces were summoned for the cotton harvest beginning in August. ANT also reported that secondary school support staff (janitors and guards) were sent to the cotton fields. In general, cotton pickers received .40 tenge ($0.11) per kilogram of cotton collected.

In April the UN Human Rights Committee stated in its concluding observations on the country’s compliance with its International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights obligations that “the committee is concerned about the reported widespread use of forced labor of farmers, students, public and private sector workers during the cotton harvest under threat of penalties such as loss of land, expulsion from university, loss of wages or salary cuts, termination of employment, and other sanctions.”

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

During the year the government amended the labor code to increase the minimum age at which a person can enter into a labor agreement/contract from 16 years of age to 18. A 15-year-old, however, may work four to six hours per day, up to 24 hours per week, with parental and trade union permission. The law prohibits children between the ages of 16 and 18 from working more than six hours per day, or 36 hours per week. The law also prohibits children from working overtime or between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and protects children from exploitation in the workplace. A presidential decree bans child labor in all sectors and states specifically that children may not participate in the cotton harvest.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were reportedly adequate to enforce the prohibitions on child labor. Penalties for violations, including fines of up to 2,000 manat ($572) or suspension of an employer’s operations for up to three months, were enforced and sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General’s Office effectively enforced the 2005 presidential decree prohibiting child labor.

ANT reported that some children picked cotton to earn extra money, and there were limited reports of children working in other industries, but there were no confirmed reports of forced child labor in the cotton industry.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, race, gender, origin, language, religion, disability, HIV status or other communicable diseases, political beliefs, and social status. The government did not always effectively enforce the law, which does not specify penalties for discrimination on these grounds, with the exception of disability; discrimination against disabled persons is punishable by fines ranging from 203 manat to 2,000 manat ($58 to $572) and suspension for up to three months. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Discrimination in employment and occupation based on gender, language, and disability (see section 6) was widespread across all sectors of the economy and government. Certain government positions required language exams and all government positions required a family background check going back three generations. Civil society members reported that the country retained a strong cultural bias against women in positions of power and leadership, making it difficult for some women to secure managerial positions based on their gender. Although the 2013 Code on the Social Protection of the Population defined social protection policies for persons with disabilities and established quotas and work places for persons with disabilities, it was not broadly enforced. Members of the disability rights community reported that persons with disabilities were generally unable to find satisfactory employment due to unofficial discrimination. There was no information on discrimination against internal migrant workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum monthly wage in all sectors was approximately 650 manat ($186). A presidential decree raised wages by 10 percent in January.

An official estimate of the poverty-level income was not available. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours with weekends off. The law states overtime or holiday pay should be double the regular wage. Maximum overtime in a year is 120 hours and may not exceed four hours in two consecutive days. The law prohibits pregnant women, women with children up to age three, women with disabled children under age 16, and single parents with two or more children from working overtime.

The law grants prenatal and postnatal maternity leave. A mother is entitled up to three years of unpaid maternity leave.

The government did not publish annual statistical or financial data. In 2016 Chronicles reported that the government estimated the unemployment rate to be 59 percent.

The law provides a minimum of 30 days of paid annual leave for state employees, 45 days for teachers at all types of educational institutions, and 55 days for professors. The law permits newlyweds and their parents 10 days of paid leave for the preparation of weddings. Workers also receive 10 days of paid leave to carry out funeral rites and commemoration ceremonies in the event of a death of a close relative. Upon reaching age 62, citizens are entitled to an additional three days of paid leave.

The government did not set comprehensive standards for occupational health and safety. In 2013 the government reformed the labor code to provide additional benefits, including bonus pay, reduced work hours, additional leave time, and eligibility for early retirement, for work deemed hazardous. There is no state labor inspectorate. State trade unions, however, employed 14 labor inspectors, who have the right to issue improvement notices to government industries. According to the law, trade union inspectors cannot levy fines, and there are no mechanisms for enforcement of improvement notices.

The government required its workers and many private-sector employees to work 10 hours a day or a sixth day without compensation. Reports indicated many public-sector employees worked at least a half-day on Saturdays. Laws governing overtime and holiday pay were not effectively enforced. There were no defined penalties for violation of wage and hour provisions, and no state agency was designated for enforcement.

Employers did not provide construction workers and industrial workers in older factories proper protective equipment and often made these workers labor in unsafe environments. Some agricultural workers faced environmental health hazards related to the application of defoliants in preparing cotton fields for mechanical harvesting. Workers did not have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment, and authorities did not protect employees in this situation. Statistics regarding work-related injuries and fatalities were not available.

Tuvalu

Executive Summary

Tuvalu is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. The parliamentary election held in 2015 was generally free and fair, with three new members elected into the 15-member parliament. There were no formal political parties. Parliament selected Enele Sopoaga for a second term as prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included the criminalization of sexual activities between men, although the law was not enforced.

Government officials took steps to investigate abuses, and impunity was not a problem.

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

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

There were no reports 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, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Traditional assemblies of local hereditary elders exercise discretionary punishment and disciplinary authority on each island, as defined in the Island Courts Act. This includes the right to inflict corporal punishment for infringement of customary rules, but there were no reports of such corporal punishment during the year.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions. There were no reported deaths of inmates during the year.

Administration: The country does not have a formal ombudsperson who can act on behalf of prisoners and detainees, but the “people’s lawyer” (public defender) was available to respond to prisoner complaints. The government did not investigate or monitor prison conditions and did not receive any complaints or allegations of inhuman conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permits visits by independent human rights observers, but there were no reported visits during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police service, under the Office of the Prime Minister, maintains internal security. In addition to law enforcement, it maintains separate units for customs, immigration, maritime surveillance, and prisons. The country has no military force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police service, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish police abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law permits arrests without a warrant if a police officer witnesses the commission of an unlawful act or has “reasonable suspicion” an offense is about to be committed. Police estimated the majority of arrests were without warrant. Police may hold a person arrested without a warrant for a maximum of 24 hours without a hearing before a magistrate. When a court issues an arrest warrant, the warrant states the maximum permissible detention time before the court must hold a hearing, which is normally one to two weeks. Authorities did not hold suspects incommunicado or under house arrest.

Authorities generally informed arrested persons promptly of the charges against them, although bureaucratic delays sometimes occurred because persons charged with serious offenses must await trial at a semiannual session of the High Court. There was a functioning system of bail. A people’s lawyer was available free of charge to arrested persons and for other legal advice. Persons living on outer islands did not have rapid access to legal services because the people’s lawyer, based on the main island of Funafuti, traveled infrequently to the outer islands. The country had only one attorney in private practice.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution protects persons from unlawful detainment and detainees may apply to the High Court for redress if they believe they were unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Defendants have the right to be promptly informed in detail of the charges against them, including free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; consult with an attorney in a timely manner; and have access to the people’s lawyer and adequate time and resources to prepare a defense. They also have the right to be present at their trial, confront witnesses, present witnesses and evidence, and appeal any convictions. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have a right to appeal a judge’s decision. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The parliamentary election held in 2015 was generally considered free and fair, with three new members elected into the 15-member parliament. Parliament selected Enele Sopoaga for a second term as prime minister.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no formal political parties. Parliament tended to divide itself between an ad hoc faction with at least the minimum eight votes to form a government and an informal opposition faction.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Participation by women in government and politics was limited. Women held a subordinate societal position, largely due to traditional perceptions of women’s role in society. No laws limit participation of women in the political process, and they did participate. The 15-member parliament included one woman, who was also a cabinet minister. There were no members of minorities in parliament or the cabinet.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for some forms of corruption by officials, such as theft, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports that officials engaged in corrupt practices this year.

The Office of the Attorney General, police force, ombudsperson, auditor-general, Public Service Commission, and the Central Procurement Unit were responsible for the government’s anticorruption efforts.

Financial Disclosure: The Leadership Code Act requires income and asset disclosure by “leaders,” a term covering public servants and politicians. Enforcement of the code was weak.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime punishable by a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, but spousal rape is not included in the legal definition of this offense. The law recognizes domestic violence as a criminal offense. Under the law, domestic violence offenses are punishable by a maximum of five years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of Australian dollars (AUD) 1,000 ($794), or both. Under the assault provisions of the penal code, the maximum penalty for common assault is six months’ imprisonment, and for assault with actual bodily harm, five years’ imprisonment.

Police have a Domestic Violence Unit, a “no-drop” evidence-based prosecution policy in cases of violence against women, and operate a 24-hour emergency telephone line for victims of domestic violence. The law recognizes the existence of domestic violence and gives express powers for police involvement and intervention, including the power to enter private property. Police may also issue orders for a person who has committed an act of domestic violence to vacate property, whether or not that individual has rights to that property, if a person at risk of further violence occupies it. The Women’s Crisis Center provided counseling services, but there were no shelters for abused women. Cases of rape and domestic violence often went unreported due to lack of awareness of women’s rights and traditional and cultural pressures on victims.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment but prohibits indecent behavior, including lewd touching. Reports of sexual harassment are uncommon, and there were no cases reported during the year.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Aspects of the law contribute to an unequal status for women, for example in land inheritance and child custody rights. No laws prevent employment discrimination based on gender or require equal pay for equal work, and such discrimination occurred (see section 7.d.). Women held a subordinate societal position, constrained in some instances by both law and traditional cultural practices. Nonetheless, women increasingly held positions in the health and education sectors, headed a number of NGOs, and were more active politically.

Children

Birth Registration: A child derives citizenship at birth, whether born in the country or abroad, if either parent is a citizen. The law requires registration of births within 10 days, a practice generally observed.

Child Abuse: The government did not compile child abuse statistics, and there were no reports of child abuse during the year. Anecdotal evidence, however, indicated child abuse occurred. The law confirms the right of parents, teachers, and others having lawful control of a child to use corporal punishment, and reports indicated this occurred in schools and homes.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both girls and boys is 18 years.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent for sexual relations is 15 years. Sexual relations with a girl younger than 13 years carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. Sexual relations with a girl older than 12 but younger than 15 years carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. The victim’s consent is irrelevant under both these provisions; however, in the latter case, reasonable belief the victim was 15 years or older is a permissible defense. No provision of law pertains specifically to child pornography, although the penal code prohibits obscene publications in general.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that Tuvalu was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Government services to address the specific needs of persons with disabilities were very limited. There were no mandated building accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities had limited access to information and communications.

Children with disabilities reportedly had lower school attendance rates at all levels than other children. Some students with disabilities attended government-run public primary schools both in Funafuti and in several outer islands. Parents decide which school a child with disabilities attends after consultation with an FAA Tuvalu adviser.

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

Sexual conduct between men is illegal, with penalties of seven to 15 years’ imprisonment, but there were no reports of prosecutions of consenting adults under these provisions. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There are no hate crime laws, nor are there criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community. There were no reports of violence against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but social stigma or intimidation may prevent reporting of incidents of discrimination or violence.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS faced some societal and employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). The government and NGOs cooperated to inform the public regarding HIV/AIDS and to counter discrimination.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law does not permit public-sector employees such as civil servants, teachers, and nurses to form and join unions. They may join professional associations that have the right to bargain collectively but not the right to strike. No laws prohibit antiunion discrimination or require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

In general the government effectively enforced these laws. By law employers who violate laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are liable to a maximum fine of AUD 100 ($79), depending on the violation, and in some cases imprisonment for a maximum of six months. These penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides for voluntary conciliation, arbitration, and settlement procedures in cases of labor disputes. In general these procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

Although there are provisions for collective bargaining and the right to strike, the few individual private-sector employers set their own wage scales. Both the private and public sectors generally used non-confrontational deliberations to resolve labor disputes. There was only one registered trade union, the Tuvalu Overseas Seamen’s Union. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. Anyone who exacts, procures, or employs forced or compulsory labor is liable to a fine of AUD 100 ($79), which was not sufficient to deter violations. There were no reports of forced labor during the year.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits children younger than 14 years from working in the formal labor market. The law also prohibits children younger than 15 years from industrial employment and prohibits children younger than 18 years from entering into formal contracts, including work contracts. A separate provision of law, however, allows children 15 years or older to enter into apprenticeships for a maximum of five years, subject to approval by the commissioner of labor. There are restrictions on the type of work a child apprentice may perform, and he or she must receive a medical examination and be determined physically and mentally fit for employment in the specified occupation. Apprentices may lawfully live away from their families; in such cases, the contract must adequately provide for the supply of food, clothing, accommodation, and medical attention for the apprentice. No legal restrictions prohibit girls or boys older than 15 years from working aboard ships or during the night.

The government did not have sufficient resources to monitor or enforce child labor laws and depended instead on communities to report offenses. By law anyone found violating provisions on the employment of children is liable for an AUD 50 ($40) fine, which was not sufficient to deter violations. Children rarely engaged in formal employment but did work in subsistence fishing. The government does not collect or publish data on child labor.

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 do not prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, age, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status, and these persons sometimes experienced discriminatory practices. There were no formal reports this year of discrimination in employment and wages. In the wage economy, men held most higher-paying positions. Nonetheless, women increasingly held senior positions in government, particularly in the health and education sectors. Additionally, few women could access credit to start businesses. Local agents of foreign companies that hired local seafarers to work abroad also barred persons with HIV/AIDS from employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for the government to set a minimum wage, but the Department of Labor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Environment, Trade, Labor, and Tourism had not done so. The minimum annual salary in the public sector was AUD 5,266 ($4,018). No recent poverty-level income figure was available. Private-sector wages were reportedly somewhat lower than the minimum public-sector wage rate.

The law sets the workday at eight hours, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Environment, Trade, Labor, and Tourism may specify the days and hours of work for workers in various industries. Government employees were entitled to paid annual holidays. Although there is provision in the law for premium pay and overtime work, there are no established premium overtime rates or maximum hours of work. The law provides for rudimentary health and safety standards and requires employers to provide adequate potable water, basic sanitary facilities, and medical care. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

Enforcement of standards in all sectors, including the informal economy, was inconsistent. By law penalties for violations of laws related to acceptable conditions of work could be liable to a maximum fine of AUD 100 ($79) depending on the violation, or imprisonment for a maximum of six months if the person failed to pay an imposed fine. These penalties were adequate to deter violations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Environment, Trade, Labor, and Tourism is responsible for the enforcement of wage, hour, health, and safety regulations, but the ministry did not have sufficient resources to formally and regularly conduct inspections of the laws’ application. The Department of Labor had two officers, which was not sufficient to enforce compliance. The labor officers relied on information from the community and conducted inspections when the office received complaints.

Approximately 75 percent of the working-age population lacked permanent employment and worked in the informal and subsistence economy. There was no system for reporting and publishing workplace injuries or deaths.

Ukraine

Executive Summary

Ukraine is a republic with a semipresidential political system composed of three branches of government: a unicameral legislature (Verkhovna Rada), an executive led by a directly elected president and a prime minister chosen through a legislative majority, and a judiciary. The country held presidential and legislative elections in 2014; international and domestic observers considered both elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces in the territory controlled by the government.

The most significant human rights issues included unlawful killings and politically motivated disappearances in the context of the conflict in the Donbas region; torture; and harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest and detention; and lack of judicial independence. Other abuses included widespread government corruption; censorship; blocking of websites; government failure to hold accountable perpetrators of violence against journalists and anti-corruption activists; and violence against ethnic minorities, and LGBTI persons.

Russia-led forces in the Donbas region engaged in politically motivated disappearances, torture, and unlawful detention; restricted freedom of speech, assembly, and association; restricted movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; and restricted humanitarian aid. The most significant human rights issues in Russian-occupied Crimea included politically motivated disappearances; torture; and restrictions on expression and association.

The government generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. Human rights groups and the United Nations noted significant deficiencies in investigations into human rights abuses committed by government security forces, in particular into allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other abuses reportedly perpetrated by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The perpetrators of the 2014 Euromaidan shootings in Kyiv have not been held to account.

Investigations into alleged human rights abuses related to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the continuing aggression in the Donbas region remained incomplete due to lack of government control in those territories and the refusal of Russia and Russia-led forces to investigate abuse allegations.

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 was at least one report that the government or its agents committed possible arbitrary or unlawful killings. For instance, on December 6, human rights groups reported that beating(s) by police might have caused the death of 25-year-old Dmytro Lystovnychy in a Lutsk pretrial detention center. Lystovnychy had been arrested four days prior for allegedly stealing a bottle of whiskey. While the State Penitentiary Service initially alleged Lystovnychy had died of “acute hepatitis” and then asserted that he had committed suicide, Lystovnychy’s family publicized photos of his body that showed significant injuries consistent with beatings. After the family filed a complaint, the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) opened a murder investigation, which continued at year’s end.

There were reports of killings by government and Russia-led forces in connection with the conflict in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).

There were reports of apparent politically motivated killings by nongovernment actors. On March 23, former member of the Russian parliament Denis Voronenkov, who had been granted Ukrainian citizenship after fleeing the Russian Federation in 2016, was shot and killed in downtown Kyiv. According to the PGO, Voronenkov had given testimony and “was one of the main witnesses of the Russian aggression against Ukraine and, in particular, the role of [former Ukrainian president] Yanukovych regarding the deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine.” As of year’s end, the investigation remained open, and authorities had made no arrests.

On June 27, Maksym Shapoval, a high-ranking military intelligence official, was killed by a car bomb in Kyiv. He was reportedly investigating Russia’s military aggression in the conflict in Donbas to support the country’s case against Russia in the International Court of Justice. The office of the military prosecutor was investigating the case at year’s end.

On October 30, Amina Okuyeva was shot and killed in Kyiv Oblast. Her husband, Adam Osmayev, was injured in the shooting but survived. Okuyeva and Osmayev were well-known pro-Ukraine volunteer fighters in 2014 to 2015, as well as former Chechen dissidents who had relocated to Ukraine. On June 1, Okuyeva thwarted an attempt against Osmayev’s life in downtown Kyiv when she returned fire, injuring the shooter. Osmayev’s assailant had reportedly presented himself as a French reporter and asked Osmayev for an interview hours before the attack. The Kyiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office designated Okuyeva’s killing and the attempt on her husband as contract killings.

In March 2016 Yuriy Hrabovsky, a lawyer representing a detained Russian special forces soldier, Aleksandr Aleksandrov, disappeared in Odesa. His body was later found in a shallow roadside grave. The Military Prosecutor’s Office arrested two suspects, and their trial began in December 2016. In January the judge ruled that subsequent hearings would be closed. The trial continued at year’s end.

Authorities made no arrests during the year in connection with the 2016 killing of prominent journalist Pavel Sheremet. Human rights and press freedom watchdog groups expressed concern about the lack of progress in the government’s investigation, suggesting high-level obstruction or investigatory incompetence as potential reasons. Independent journalistic investigations of the killing released in May uncovered significant evidence that investigators had apparently overlooked. On May 15, President Poroshenko expressed dissatisfaction with the investigation.

Human rights organizations and media reported deaths in prisons or detention centers due to torture or negligence by police or prison officers (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).

Law enforcement agencies continued to investigate killings and other crimes committed during the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv in 2013-14. Human rights groups criticized the low number of convictions despite considerable evidence. Human rights groups also criticized prosecutors for focusing on low-ranking officials while taking little action to investigate government leaders believed to have been involved. According to the PGO, as of late July, five individuals had stood trial while 21 had absconded and were on the wanted list, including 15 suspects who had received Russian citizenship and were in Russia and three who had received political asylum in the Russian Federation.

On September 18, the Chornomorsk court in Odesa Oblast acquitted 19 defendants in the 2014 trade union building fire case due to lack of evidence. Two defendants were then rearrested in the courtroom and subsequently charged with attempting to violate the territorial integrity of the state. The case stemmed from violent clashes between Euromaidan and anti-Ukrainian unity demonstrators in downtown Odesa in 2014, during which 48 persons died, including six prounity and 42 pro-Russia individuals. Those who supported autonomy died in a fire at the trade union building; authorities largely failed to investigate their deaths, focusing on alleged crimes committed by individuals seeking more autonomy.

b. Disappearance

There were multiple reports of politically motivated disappearances in connection with the conflict between the government and Russia-led forces in the Donbas region and by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see section 1.g. and the Crimea subsection).

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel and unusual punishment, there were reports that law enforcement authorities engaged in such abuse. While courts cannot legally use as evidence in court proceedings confessions and statements made under duress to police by persons in custody, there were reports that police and other law enforcement officials abused and, at times, tortured persons in custody to obtain confessions.

In the Donbas region, there were reports that government and progovernment forces engaging in military operations at times committed abuses, including torture. There were reports that Russian-led forces in the self-proclaimed “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk systematically committed numerous abuses, including torture, to maintain control or for personal financial gain. According to international organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), abuses included beatings, forced labor, psychological and physical torture, public humiliation, and sexual violence (see section 1.g.).

Abuse of prisoners and detainees by police and prison authorities remained a widespread problem. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) expressed concern about the frequency of allegations of mistreatment by police officers. In most cases police allegedly inflicted the mistreatment while attempting to obtain a confession. For example, police detained 24-year-old Ihor Kozoriz in Terebovlya, Ternopil Oblast, on suspicion of robbery and hooliganism; they then brought him to a police station where they beat, electrocuted, and raped him. At year’s end the local prosecutor’s office had an open investigation into the case.

There were continued reports that authorities had used torture against individuals detained on national security grounds. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Human Rights Monitoring Mission (HRMMU) and human rights groups, most of these abuses were associated with the SBU. The HRMMU noted most related cases occurred during prior years but were only documented during the year. According to a UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) report released in May and based on two 2016 visits to Ukraine, the SPT “received numerous and serious allegations of acts that, if proven, would amount to torture and mistreatment. Persons interviewed by the Subcommittee in various parts of the country have recounted beatings, electrocutions, mock executions, asphyxiations, acts of intimidation and threats of sexual violence against themselves and their family members. In the light of all the work done and experience gained during the visit, the Subcommittee has no difficulty in concluding that these allegations are likely to be true. Many of the above-mentioned acts are alleged to have occurred while the persons concerned were under the control of the State Security Service or during periods of unofficial detention.”

According to Human Rights Watch, on August 15, SBU officers in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast forced 29-year-old Daria Mastikasheva out of her car, pushed her to the ground, beat her, blindfolded her, and took her to a basement facility, where she was interrogated and tortured overnight, including by suffocation, to force her to confess on video to collaborating with Russian security services. She agreed to a video confession only after the officers threatened to harm her family. At year’s end Mastikasheva was awaiting trial on treason and weapons possession charges.

There were reports of sexual violence being committed in the context of the conflict in eastern Ukraine (see section 1.g.).

Reports of hazing in the military continued. The PGO stated it initiated 117 criminal proceedings to investigate alleged hazing in the military that resulted in convictions of 54 service members.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained poor, did not meet international standards, and at times posed a serious threat to the life and health of prisoners. Physical abuse, lack of proper medical care and nutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate light were persistent problems.

Physical Conditions: While authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, there were reports that juveniles and adults were not separated in some pretrial detention facilities.

As of September 1, the Ministry of Internal Affairs registered eight deaths in pretrial facilities, six due to detainees’ preexisting medical conditions, and two suicides. As of October 1, the Ministry of Justice reported 476 inmate deaths, 42 of which were suicides. On September 28, an inmate of the Chernihiv pretrial center was killed in custody by another inmate, a killing reportedly involving negligence and lack of supervision by the facility personnel. The local prosecutor’s office launched a criminal case and charged several law enforcement officers with neglect of official duties. The case continued at year’s end.

Conditions in police temporary detention facilities and pretrial detention facilities were harsher than in low- and medium-security prisons. Despite a reduction in the number of inmates, overcrowding remained a problem in pretrial detention facilities. Temporary detention facilities often lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities.

Physical abuse by guards was a problem. For example, after inmates killed a remand facility guard at an Odesa pretrial facility on August 17, staff members beat inmates. The PGO opened five criminal cases to investigate the incident.

There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. For example, on August 28, staff failure to intervene during a fight between detainees at the Chernihiv pretrial facility resulted in an inmate’s death. The local prosecutor’s office’s investigation into the incident remained open at year’s end.

During visits to detention facilities under the control of Ukrainian authorities, the HRMMU identified systemic problems with the provision of medical care. Bureaucratic and financial impediments prevented the prompt transfer of inmates to city hospitals, resulting in their prolonged suffering, and delayed diagnoses and treatment. In one case, on March 27, two prisoners died in the interregional hospital for convicts at the Lviv remand facility due to inadequate medical care.

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union maintained that life sentences amounted to slow executions of prisoners because of poor prison conditions. In the report on its November 2016 visit to Ukraine, the CPT expressed concerns regarding practices applied to prisoners with life sentences, including routine handcuffing, other excessive and degrading security measures, the lack of organized purposeful activities, segregation from the rest of the prisoner population, and constant surveillance inside the cells.

According to monitors of the National Preventive Mechanism, prisons are often old and in poor condition with inadequate facilities and services. Cells had limited access to daylight and were not properly heated or ventilated. For example, one random reading the temperature in the quarantine station at the Kazankivska correction colony 93 was 57 degrees Fahrenheit. The facility did not have a designated dining area; the inmates had to eat in their cells sitting on chairs. Electricity and water supplies were periodically discontinued, and inmates complained about poor hygienic conditions. Cells in both pretrial facilities and prisons were overrun with insects and rats.

According to the Association of Independent Monitors and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, authorities failed adequately to protect the lives and human rights of prisoners in areas close to the zone of operation against Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine and failed to evacuate staff and inmates in a timely fashion.

As of February approximately 9,500 detainees were in non-government-controlled territory. On September 14, under the auspices of the Ombudsman’s Office, 19 prisoners incarcerated in territories seized by Russia-led forces were transferred to penal facilities on government-controlled territory. Since 2015 a total or 178 inmates were transferred to the penitentiary facilities in government-controlled areas.

The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in areas held by Russia-led forces remained poor. According to the Justice for Peace coalition, there was an extensive network of unofficial places of detention in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts located in basements, sewage wells, garages, and industrial enterprises. In most cases, these places were not suitable for even short-term detention. There were reports of shortages of food, water, heat, sanitation, and proper medical care.

Prior to the conflict, more than 5,000 prisoners were held in the part of Luhansk Oblast under the control of Russia-led forces. According to press reports citing information from the Eastern Human Rights Group, prison conditions in the area have deteriorated severely. The group reported systemic abuses, such as torture, starvation, denial of medical care, and solitary confinement, as well as the extensive use of prisoners as slave labor to produce goods that, when sold, provided personal income to the leaders of the Russia-led forces.

Administration: According to the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office, authorities generally respected prisoners’ right to religious observance. Prisoners were permitted to receive visitors.

Although prisoners and detainees may file complaints about conditions in custody with the human rights ombudsman, human rights organizations noted prison officials continued to censor or discourage complaints and penalized and abused inmates who filed them. Rights groups reported that legal norms did not always provide for confidentiality of complaints. According to representatives of the National Preventive Mechanism, an organization that conducted monitoring visits of places of detention, authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of complaints.

Officials generally allowed prisoners, except those in disciplinary cells, to receive visitors. Prisoner rights groups noted some families had to pay bribes to obtain permission for prison visits to which they are entitled by law.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups. On June 19, the SPT published its report on its visit to the country in November 2016. During a 10-month period of the year, the Ombudsperson’s Office together with representatives of civil society conducted 16 monitoring visits to penitentiary facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always observe these requirements.

The HRMMU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other international groups reported numerous arbitrary detentions in areas controlled by Russia-led forces (see section 1.g.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for maintaining internal security and order. The ministry oversees police and other law enforcement personnel. The SBU is responsible for state security, nonmilitary intelligence, and counterintelligence matters. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reports to the Cabinet of Ministers, and the SBU reports directly to the president. The State Fiscal Service exercises law enforcement powers through the tax police and reports to the Cabinet of Ministers. The State Migration Service under the Ministry of Internal Affairs implements state policy regarding border security, migration, citizenship, and registration of refugees and other migrants.

Civilian authorities generally had control over law enforcement agencies but rarely took action to punish abuses committed by security forces.

Impunity for abuses by law enforcement agencies remained a significant problem frequently highlighted by the HRMMU in its reports and by other human rights groups. The HRMMU noted authorities were unwilling to investigate allegations of torture, particularly when victims were detained on grounds related to national security or were seen as proseparatist.

While authorities sometimes brought charges against members of the security services, cases often remained under investigation without being brought to trial while authorities allowed alleged perpetrators to continue their work. In addition, human rights groups criticized the lack of progress in investigations of alleged crimes in areas retaken by the government from Russia-led forces, resulting in continuing impunity for these crimes. In particular, investigations of alleged crimes committed by Russia-led forces in Slovyansk and Kramatorsk in 2014 appeared stalled. Human rights groups believed that many local law enforcement personnel collaborated with Russia-led forces when they controlled these cities.

Under the law members of the parliament have authority to conduct investigations and public hearings into law enforcement problems. The human rights ombudsman may also initiate investigations into abuses by security forces.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated it provides 80 hours of compulsory human rights training to security forces, focusing on the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Law enforcement training institutions also include courses on human rights, rule of law, constitutional rights, tolerance and nondiscrimination, prevention of domestic violence, and freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment.

Security forces generally prevented or responded to societal violence. At times, however, they used excessive force to disperse protests or, in some cases, failed to protect victims from harassment or violence. For example, during the May 9 march to mark Victory Day, activists and representatives of the Socialist Party and Opposition Bloc argued over the use of Soviet-era political symbols (flags) in Dnipro. As a result of these clashes, eight participants in the event and six police officers were injured. The head of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast police department and his deputies were dismissed for failing to ensure a peaceful march. The minister of internal affairs opened an official probe into the clashes.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law authorities may detain a suspect for three days without a warrant, after which a judge must issue a warrant authorizing continued detention. Authorities in some cases detained persons for longer than three days without a warrant.

Prosecutors must bring detainees before a judge within 72 hours, and pretrial detention should not exceed six months for minor crimes and 12 months for serious ones. Persons have the right to consult a lawyer upon their detention. According to the law, prosecutors may detain suspects accused of terrorist activities for up to 30 days without charges or a bench warrant. Under the law citizens have the right to be informed of the charges brought against them. Authorities must promptly inform detainees of their rights and immediately notify family members of an arrest. Police often did not follow these procedures. Police at times failed to keep records or register detained suspects, and courts often extended detention to allow police more time to obtain confessions. Authorities kept suspects under house arrest and occasionally held them incommunicado, in some instances for several weeks.

Under the law the government must provide attorneys for indigent defendants. Compliance was inconsistent because of a shortage of defense attorneys or because attorneys, citing low government compensation, refused to defend indigent clients. According to the Ministry of Justice, more than 400,000 persons received free legal aid since its introduction in 2014. As of September 1, there were 550 points of access to free legal aid throughout the government-controlled areas of the country.

The law provides for bail, but many defendants could not pay the required amounts. Courts sometimes imposed travel restrictions as an alternative to pretrial confinement. Under the law prosecutors need a court order to impose travel restrictions on persons awaiting trial. Prosecutors must prove the restrictions are the minimum needed to ensure that suspects will appear at hearings and not interfere with criminal proceedings.

Arbitrary Arrest: The HRMMU reported a continued pattern of arbitrary detention by authorities, particularly in government-controlled portions of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. For example, in its September report, the HRMMU documented arrests and detentions of individuals for allegedly running businesses and paying taxes in the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic.” The report cited the SBU arrest of four entrepreneurs charged with terrorism for business activities in territory controlled by armed groups. As of August 15, all four individuals remained in pretrial detention in Mariupol.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Under the law citizens have the right to challenge an arrest in court or by appeal to a prosecutor to obtain prompt release in cases of unlawful detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, courts were inefficient and remained vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low.

Despite efforts to reform the judiciary and the PGO, corruption among judges and prosecutors remained endemic. Civil society groups continued to complain about weak separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. Some judges claimed that high-ranking politicians pressured them to decide cases in their favor, regardless of the merits. Some judges and prosecutors reportedly took bribes in exchange for legal determinations. Other factors impeded the right to a fair trial, such as lengthy court proceedings, particularly in administrative courts, inadequate funding, and the inability of courts to enforce rulings.

There were reports of intimidation and attacks against lawyers representing defendants considered “pro-Russian” or “proseparatist.” For example, the PGO initiated a criminal case against Oleg Veremiyenko, an attorney representing Ukrainian Army Colonel Ivan Bezyazkov, who had been charged with treason and creating a terrorist organization. The local prosecutor charged Veremiyenko in February with resisting and influencing a law enforcement officer. As part of the investigation, law enforcement officials searched Veremiyenko’s office without an appropriate court warrant and seized two computers.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

A single judge decides most cases, although two judges and three public assessors who have some legal training hear trials on charges carrying the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The law provides for cross-examination of witnesses by both prosecutors and defense attorneys and for plea bargaining.

The law presumes defendants are innocent, and they cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess, although high conviction rates called into question the legal presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with interpretation as needed; to a public trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial, to communicate privately with an attorney of their choice (or one provided at public expense); and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also allows defendants to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence, and the right to appeal.

Trials are open to the public, but some judges prohibited media from observing proceedings. While trials must start no later than three weeks after charges are filed, prosecutors seldom met this requirement. Human rights groups reported officials occasionally monitored meetings between defense attorneys and their clients.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of a small number of individuals that some human rights groups considered to be political prisoners.

On August 1, the SBU detained Vasyl Muravytsky, a reporter and columnist from Zhytomyr. Muravytsky was charged with state treason, infringement of territorial integrity, incitement of hatred, and support for terrorist organizations based on statements some deemed pro-Russian. According to the SBU, he could face up to 15 years of imprisonment. Some domestic and international journalist unions called for Muravytsky’s release, claiming the charges were politically motivated.

On June 1, a higher court overturned a July 2016 appeals court decision reversing the May 2016 conviction of Ivano-Frankivsk blogger Ruslan Kotsaba. Kotsaba had been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison on charges that he had impeded the work of the armed forces with his calls to ignore the military draft. Authorities arrested Kotsaba in 2015, and human rights groups deemed him a political prisoner. At year’s end Kotsaba was not in detention. According to Kotsaba’s defense lawyer, the July 2016 decision was overturned to postpone their planned appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for the right to seek redress for any decisions, actions, or omissions of national and local government officials that violate citizens’ human rights. An inefficient and corrupt judicial system limited the right of redress. Individuals may also file a collective legal challenge to legislation they believe may violate basic rights and freedoms. Individuals may appeal to the human rights ombudsman at any time and to the ECHR after exhausting domestic legal remedies.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports authorities generally did not respect the prohibitions.

By law the SBU may not conduct surveillance or searches without a court-issued warrant. In practice, however, law enforcement agencies sometimes conducted searches without a proper warrant. In an emergency authorities may initiate a search without prior court approval, but they must seek court approval immediately after the investigation begins. Citizens have the right to examine any dossier in the possession of the SBU that concerns them; they have the right to recover losses resulting from an investigation. Because there was no implementing legislation, authorities generally did not respect these rights, and many citizens were not aware of their rights or that authorities had violated their privacy.

There were some reports that the government had accessed private communications and monitored private movements without appropriate legal authority. For example, on October 20, journalist Oleksandr Chernovalov filed a complaint with the police alleging the government had conducted illegal surveillance on him. The Darnytsia district police in Kyiv launched an investigation, which remained underway.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press. Authorities did not always respect these rights, however. The government introduced measures that banned or blocked information, media outlets, or individual journalists deemed a threat to national security or who expressed positions that authorities believed undermined the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Other problematic practices continued to affect media freedom, including self-censorship, so-called jeansa payments (publishing unsubstantiated news articles for a fee), and slanted news coverage by media whose owners had close ties to the government or opposition political parties.

In the Donbas region, Russia-led forces suppressed freedom of speech and the press through harassment, intimidation, abductions, and assaults on journalists and media outlets. They also prevented the transmission of Ukrainian and independent television and radio programming in areas under their control.

Freedom of Expression: With some exceptions, individuals in areas under government control could generally criticize the government publicly and privately and discuss matters of public interest without fear of official reprisal. The law criminalizes the display of communist and Nazi symbols. According to Amnesty International, during a public demonstration on May 9 in Dnipro, several marchers were arrested for carrying Soviet symbols. On May 16, the legislature passed a law banning the manufacture or promotion of the “St. George’s ribbon,” a symbol associated with Russian-led forces in the Donbas region. Several media reports indicated authorities subsequently fined individuals carrying these symbols.

The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression against the country, and the government prosecuted individuals under these laws.

Press and Media Freedom: The NGO Freedom House rated the country’s press as “partly free.”

Independent media and internet news sites were active and expressed a wide range of views. Privately owned media, the most successful of which were generally owned by wealthy and influential “oligarchs,” often presented readers and viewers a “biased pluralism,” representing the views of their owners, favorable coverage of their allies, and criticism of political and business rivals. The 10 most popular television stations were owned by businessmen whose primary business was not in media. Independent media had difficulty competing with major outlets that operated with oligarchic subsidies. According to a September 28 report by the Institute for Mass Information (IMI) and Reporters without Borders, the influence of political actors on the country’s media increased during the year, with media holdings remaining nontransparent and used to support political allies of their owners.

As of December 1, IMI recorded 183 cases of alleged violations of freedom of press compared with 133 cases for the same period of 2016.

The practice of jeansa continued to be widespread. IMI’s monitoring of national print and online media for jeansa indicated that a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. According to IMI press monitoring, as of September, the highest proportion of jeansa in regional media occurred in print outlets in Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv Oblasts, where 16 percent and 15 percent of articles, respectively, were political or commercial jeansa.

Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem. Human rights groups and journalists criticized government inaction in solving these crimes, giving rise to a culture of impunity.

According to IMI, as of December 1, there were 27 reports of attacks on journalists, compared with 29 cases during the same period in 2016. As in 2016, private, rather than state, actors perpetrated the majority of the attacks. As of November 1, there were 37 incidents involving threats against journalists, down from 38 during the same period in 2016. IMI and editors of major independent news outlets also noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they asserted had the tacit support of the government.

On July 14, law enforcement officials searched the Kyiv office of Vesti media, which observers alleged to have a pro-Russian bias and beneficial owners. According to the company, the search lasted 16 hours, during which time operations of its website and radio station were blocked. According to the chief military prosecutor, the search related to an embezzlement case involving former revenues and taxes minister Oleksandr Klymenko. Authorities asserted that money Klymenko allegedly stole under tax-evasion schemes was used to finance the Vesti media holding company. Journalists wrote an open letter to the president, the prime minister, and other government authorities, stating they considered the search a violation of civil liberties and press freedom, and an attempt to harass and intimidate journalists.

On June 22, Ihor Huzhva, the editor in chief of the media outlet strana.ua, widely considered to have a pro-Russian editorial slant, was arrested in Kyiv on suspicion of large-scale extortion of 270,000 hryvnia ($10,000) in exchange for refraining from publishing compromising material on a politician. A member of the parliament, Dmytro Linko, alleged that Huzhva had demanded money from him. On June 27, Huzhva was released on bail. Huzhva’s lawyers claimed the journalist was arrested because of his professional activities, because his media outlet systematically criticized high-profile state officials. An investigation continued at year’s end.

There were no developments during the year in the July 2016 killing of well-known journalist Pavel Sheremet, who hosted a morning show on Vesti radio and worked for the Ukrainska Pravda online news outlet (see section 1.a.).

On June 27, the investigation of the killing of Oles Busyna, who was killed in 2015 allegedly by members of a right-wing political group, was completed and referred to a court for trial. Court hearings against two suspects were underway as of September.

There were multiple reports of attacks on journalists investigating government corruption. For example, on February 12, a car belonging to Serhiy Guz, editor in chief of the news website 5692.com and the newspaper Gorod 5692, was set on fire in Kamyanske, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. The journalist linked the attack to his professional activity and critical reporting on local authorities. Police opened an investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: IMI recorded six incidents of censorship of individual publications. The government at times banned or restricted media content on vague grounds. For example, on April 28, the National State Films Agency prohibited showings of a documentary film about killed journalist Oles Buzina on the grounds the film’s content had “violated the law.”

Both independent and state-owned media periodically engaged in self-censorship when reporting stories that might expose political allies to criticism or that might be perceived by the public as insufficiently patriotic or provide information that could be used for Russian propaganda.

A law adopted by the parliament on May 23 obligates television channels to broadcast at least 75 percent of their content in the Ukrainian language as of October 13.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government entities, and public figures in particular, used the threat of civil suits, sometimes based on alleged damage to a person’s “honor and integrity,” to influence or intimidate the press and investigative journalists. In early September, the head of the pro-Russian civic movement Ukrainian Choice, Viktor Medvedchuk, filed a lawsuit against member of the parliament and journalist Serhiy Leshchenko for slander over a series of articles allegedly uncovering Medvedchuk’s participation in corrupt schemes in the gas market.

National Security: Authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat.

The government continued the practice of banning specific works by pro-Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russian journalists. According to the head of the State Film Agency, Phylyp Ilienko, as of mid-September, more than 500 films and television shows had been banned on national security grounds since August 2014. In May the president signed a decree restricting operations of 468 companies and 1,228 persons that allegedly posed a “threat to information and the cyber security of the state.” Among them were the country’s two most widely used social networks, which were based in Russia, and major Russian television channels. Human rights NGOs criticized the move, and the secretary general of the Council of Europe condemned the decision, stating, “blocking social networks, search engines, postal services, and information websites is contrary to our common understanding of freedom of expression and media [freedom].”

The government continued to block Russian television channels from broadcasting in the country, based on a 2014 decision by the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council taken to counter the perceived dangerous influence of Russian propaganda. On January 12, the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council did not renew the independent Russian television channel Dozhd because it recognized Crimea as part of Russia rather than Ukraine, in violation of Ukrainian law. Dozhd remained available by satellite and internet. As of year’s end, only four Russian channels were permitted to broadcast in the country, compared with 83 Russian channels at the start of 2014. According to the head of the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council, as of November 2, the council had issued 23 warnings to Ukrainian cable providers for violating the ban on certain Russian channels.

Media professionals continued to experience pressure from the SBU and the armed forces when reporting on sensitive issues, such as military losses. For example, on September 14, an SBU agent appeared at the office of the Ukrainska Pravda website demanding that it remove an article highlighting the need for more modern armament for the Ukrainian army and the government’s failure to prioritize upgrading the country’s military capabilities. In the letter the SBU stated it had opened an investigation into the article’s publication, claiming that it referenced state secrets. The editorial staff then presented SBU with an official letter of complaint. The SBU thereafter called the media outlet to apologize and, on September 20, initiated an internal probe into alleged pressure on journalists.

Authorities continued to deport and bar entry to foreign journalists in retaliation for their coverage of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. On August 25, the SBU barred two Spanish journalists from entering the country over their coverage of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Media groups called the move “an attack on free speech.” Human Rights Watch stated, “the Ukrainian government’s practice of accusing journalists of anti-Ukraine bias, then expelling them or denying them entry, is a serious violation of its international human rights commitments.”

On August 30, the SBU in Kyiv detained Anna Kurbatova, a journalist with Russian television Channel One. Kurbatova was expelled and banned from the country for three years for allegedly engaging in anti-Ukrainian propaganda. The expulsion occurred after Kurbatova described events marking the country’s independence day as a “sad celebration” because of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and economic hardship in the country.

Nongovernmental Impact: Russia-led forces in eastern areas of the country harassed, arbitrarily detained, and mistreated journalists (see section 1.g.). According to the HRMMU, “persons living in the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ know that expressing their opinion freely and publicly was not acceptable in armed group-controlled territory.” The HRMMU also noted, “armed groups are directly influencing and shaping the content in local media” and that they require favorable coverage as the cost of retaining registration to operate.

The HRMMU reported that journalists entering territory controlled by armed groups of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” had to inform the “press center” of the “ministry of defense” about their activities on a daily basis, were arbitrarily required to show video footage at checkpoints, and were accompanied by members of armed groups when travelling close to the contact line.

On June 3, Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseyev (pen name Vasin) went missing in Donetsk. Unofficial sources reported the “ministry of state security” had arrested him. Aseyev had written about life in the “people’s republic” for popular Ukrainian media outlets. On July 17, civil society groups announced that local “authorities” confirmed they had arrested Aseyev and charged him with espionage.

On July 28, a court in the “Luhansk People’s Republic” sentenced blogger Eduard Nedelyaev to 14 years in prison on treason and espionage charges. Nedelyaev was known for his critical reports about life in the territory controlled by Russian-led forces; when he was arrested in November 2016, authorities cited his “extremist” views.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps during the year to ban major Russian-sourced news and social media sites.

On May 17, the president signed Decree 133, requiring internet providers to block access for three years to the Russian social networks VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, the email service Mail.ru, the search engine company Yandex, and several major Russian television channels. Some observers questioned the legality of the measure, noting that the law does not allow blocking access to sites without a court decision.

Human rights groups and journalists who were critical of Russian involvement in the Donbas region and the occupation of Crimea reported their websites were subjected to cyberattacks, such as coordinated denial of service incidents and unauthorized attempts to obtain information from computers, as well as coordinated campaigns of “trolling” and harassment on social media.

In its annual Freedom on the Net report published in November, Freedom House concluded that internet freedom had deteriorated for the second year in a row. It noted in particular that “authorities have become less tolerant of online expression perceived as critical of Ukraine’s position in the conflict, and the government has been especially active this year in sanctioning social media users for ‘separatist’ and ‘extremist’ activities, with many users detained, fined and even imprisoned for such activities. Meanwhile, separatist forces in the east have stepped up efforts to block content online perceived to be in support of Ukrainian government or cultural identity.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were several reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. On April 13, representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office of Crimea, now displaced to Kyiv, searched the premises of the International Center for Policy Studies (ICPS), a research and scientific institution in Kyiv. The search was allegedly to investigate the so-called Artemenko peace plan, which lawyer Andriy Artemenko had presented publicly. The plan suggested formally surrendering Crimea to the Russian Federation for a long-term lease. According to the search warrant, Ideas for Resolving the Conflict in Donbas, authored by ICPS Chairman Vasyl Filipchuk, served as the basis for the “peace plan” and search. The Coalition of Human Rights issued a public statement calling the search “a disproportionate interference of the state in the activities of the think tank and an attempt to monopolize the field of ideas and to impose state doctrine as the only one possible under the threat of prosecution of those offering other approaches.”

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.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There are no laws, however, regulating the process of organizing and conducting events to provide for the right, and authorities have wide discretion under a Soviet-era directive to grant or refuse permission for assemblies on grounds of protecting public order and safety. Organizers are required to inform authorities in advance of plans for protests or demonstrations.

During the year citizens generally exercised the right to assemble peacefully without restriction in areas of the country under government control. Most assemblies were peaceful and at times accompanied by a very large police presence to maintain order. The HRMMU continued to observe improvement with regard to respect for freedom of peaceful assembly “as illustrated by a decrease in judicial prohibitions of public assemblies and better policing of large public gatherings” throughout the country.

Smaller demonstrations suffered from insufficient security and protection by police, especially those organized by persons belonging to minority groups or opposition political movements. There were some reports of violence at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) events during the year, although police protection for such events was more consistent than in previous years. Police failed to prevent a violent attack against individuals participating in a 200-person Equality March in Zaporizhzhia on September 30 which resulted in several injuries requiring hospitalization. Police arrived later and detained several individuals.

Victory Day commemoration events on May 9 were generally peaceful, although skirmishes marred some, including in Dnipro, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odesa, and Zaporizhzhia. The skirmishes resulted in bodily injuries to 32 persons and the detention of 89. Police opened 19 criminal proceedings as a result.

In the territory controlled by Russia-led forces, the HRMMU noted an absence of demonstrations because “people are concerned that they may be ‘arrested’ if they organize protests or assemblies against the policies of the armed groups.” The HRMMU also noted the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local “authorities,” often apparently organized by the armed groups, with forced public participation.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

Human rights groups and international organizations sharply criticized a law signed by the president on March 28 that introduces vague and burdensome asset-reporting requirements for civil society organizations and journalists working on anticorruption matters. The law was widely seen as an intimidation and revenge measure against the country’s anticorruption watchdogs, which have successfully pushed for increased financial transparency for government officials.

According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces, domestic and international civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, could not operate freely. Residents informed the HRMMU they were being prosecuted (or feared being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation. The HRMMU also noted an increase in civil society organizations run by the armed groups, which appeared to require certain persons, such as public-sector employees, to join.

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 citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government, however, restricted these rights, particularly in the eastern part of the country near the zone of conflict.

There were claims that officials engaged in politically motivated deportations without adherence to due process. For example, on October 21, officials deported four Georgian citizens whose residence permits had been cancelled, according to the State Migration Service. Human Rights Ombudsman Valeriya Lutkovska stated the deportations occurred without the required court warrants. Some human rights groups claimed the men were hooded and beaten during the deportation process and alleged they were targeted because of their ties to opposition figure Mikhail Saakashvili.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. International and domestic organizations reported the system for protecting asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern did not operate effectively.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods without court approval.

In-country Movement: The government and Russia-led forces strictly controlled movement between government-controlled areas and territories in the Donbas region controlled by Russia-led forces. Crossing the contact line remained arduous. Public passenger transportation remained prohibited.

While five crossing points existed, only four were in operation for much of the year. According to the HRMMU, between May and August, an average of 36,000 individuals crossed the line daily. People formed long lines at all operating transit corridors and had to wait for up to 36 hours with no or limited access to water, medical aid, toilets, and shelter in case of shelling or extreme weather. Individuals who frequently crossed the line complained of corruption on both sides of the line of contact.

In 2015 the SBU introduced a pass system involving an online application process to control movement into government-controlled territory. Human rights groups were concerned that many persons in non-government-controlled territory did not have access to the internet to obtain such passes. The order imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, in particular those who sought to receive pensions and government benefits, which were not distributed in the territory controlled by Russia-led forces. On April 14, the government amended the temporary order regulating movement of individuals across the line of contact so that crossing permits no longer expire and residents of territory adjacent to the line of contact on the government-controlled side do not need a permit to cross.

The HRMMU repeatedly voiced concern over reports of corruption by checkpoint personnel on both sides, including demands for bribes or goods in exchange for easing passage across the line of contact. Russia-led forces continued to hinder freedom of movement in the eastern part of the country.

The government and Russian occupation authorities subjected individuals crossing between Russian-occupied Crimea and the mainland to strict passport controls at the administrative boundary between the Kherson Oblast and Crimea. Authorities prohibited rail and commercial bus service across the administrative boundary, requiring persons either to cross on foot or by private vehicle. Long lines and insufficient access to toilets, shelter, and potable water remained prevalent. Civil society, journalists, and independent defense lawyers continued to maintain that the government placed significant barriers to their entry to Crimea, including months-long processes to obtain required permissions, thereby complicating their ability to document and address abuses taking place there.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of September 15, more than 1.5 million persons were registered IDPs due to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and occupation of Crimea. Some NGOs and international organizations estimated the number to be lower, since some persons returned to their homes after registering as IDPs, while others registered while still living in the conflict zone. The largest number of IDPs resided in areas immediately adjoining the conflict zones, in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, as well as in the Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in hope they would be able to return home.

The government granted social entitlements only to those individuals who had registered as IDPs. By law IDPs are eligible to receive payments of 880 hryvnias ($33) per month for children and persons with disabilities and 440 hryvnias ($16) per month for those able to work. Families may receive no more than 2,400 hryvnias ($89) per month. According to the law, the government should provide IDPs with housing, but authorities did not take effective steps to do so. Humanitarian aid groups had good access to areas under government control.

In its June report, the HRMMU stated that in March it received information that local departments of the Ministry of Social Policy had received lists of persons registered as IDPs who allegedly had stayed outside government-controlled territory for more than 60 days. The departments were instructed to suspend payment of pensions and benefits pending verification of their recipients’ physical presence in government-controlled territories, ostensibly to combat fraud. A similar verification process initiated in February 2016 created economic problems for IDPs, reportedly forcing some to return to territories controlled by Russia-led forces.

According to the HRMMU, the government applied the IDP verification procedure broadly. The suspensions affected the majority of IDP residents in government-controlled territory, as well as most residents of areas under the control of Russia-led forces; effects were especially acute for the elderly and disabled, whose limited mobility hindered their ability to verify whether they were included in the lists or to prove their residency. The government often suspended payments without notification, and IDPs reported problems having them reinstated.

According to research conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 59 percent of surveyed IDP households relied on government support as one of their main sources of income. More than 20 percent of IDP respondents indicated their social payments had been suspended.

According to the HRMMU, IDP integration remained impeded by the lack of a government strategy and the consequent absence of allocation of financial resources, leading to IDPs’ economic and social marginalization. Local civil society organizations and international humanitarian organizations provided the bulk of assistance for IDPs on a temporary basis. NGOs reported their ability to support IDPs was limited and nearing exhaustion. UN agencies reported the influx of IDPs led to tensions arising from competition for scarce resources. Critics accused internally displaced men who moved to western areas of the country of evading military service, while competition rose for housing, employment, and educational opportunities in Kyiv and Lviv.

A shortage of employment opportunities and the generally weak economy particularly affected IDPs, forcing many to live in inadequate housing, such as collective centers and other temporary accommodations. Other IDPs stayed with host families, volunteers, and in private accommodations, although affordable private accommodations were often in poor condition.

NGOs reported employment discrimination against IDPs. Some IDPs, particularly those in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, lacked sufficient sanitation, shelter, and access to potable water. IDPs continued to have difficulty obtaining education, medical care, and necessary documents. Romani activists expressed concern that some Roma in eastern areas could not afford to flee conflict areas, while others had no choice but to leave their homes.

In 2015 the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal overturned a National Bank decision that Crimean IDPs were nonresidents, which had restricted access to banking and financial services for those fleeing the Russian occupation. Nonetheless, media reports indicated that banks continued to restrict banking services for Crimean IDPs even after the court decision.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not provide for protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers to a country where there was reason to believe their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. UNHCR described refoulement at the border as a “largely hidden phenomenon,” because persons seeking asylum might not receive legal aid or interpretation at border crossing points or temporary holding facilities and were, therefore, unable to apply for asylum before being deported. Human rights groups noted the law offers legal protection against forcible return.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a legal system to protect refugees. Protection for refugees and asylum seekers was insufficient due to gaps in the law and the system of implementation. The country is a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of a refugee. The law permits authorities to reject many asylum applications without a thorough case assessment. In other instances government officials declined to accept initial asylum applications without a legal basis, leaving asylum seekers without documentation and vulnerable to frequent police stops, fines, detention, and exploitation. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within the prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance. Asylum seekers have five days to appeal an order of detention or deportation.

A lack of access to qualified interpreters also hampered the full range of asylum procedures. International observers noted the government did not provide resources for interpreters, which created opportunities for corruption and undermined the fairness of asylum application procedures.

Employment: Authorities did not provide employment assistance, and most asylum seekers were unable to obtain a work permit as required by law. Authorities provided language instruction for asylum seekers only in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa, although some local NGOs reported that the instruction was provided by NGOs. Some asylum seekers worked illegally, increasing their risk of exploitation.

Access to Basic Services: The national plan on the integration of refugees adopted by the government did not allocate resources for its implementation. Human rights groups reported that authorities did not provide social and economic support or language classes to asylum seekers or assist them. A UNHCR report indicated all newly recognized refugees received a one-time grant of approximately 30 hryvnias ($1.10). However, some reports indicated the government did not always provide payment.

Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 421. Asylum seekers living outside a center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly fined them more than 500 hryvnias ($19) because they lacked this registration. According to the State Migration Service, refugees and those seeking complementary protection could receive residence registration at homeless shelters for up to six months.

UNHCR noted a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods. According to UNHCR, gaps in housing and social support for unaccompanied children left many without access to state-run accommodation centers or children’s shelters. Many children had to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; as of July 1 authorities provided it to approximately 674 persons.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to law, a person may acquire citizenship by birth, territorial origin, naturalization, restored citizenship, and adoption.

According to UNHCR, approximately 36,000 persons in the country were either stateless or at risk of statelessness in 2016. These included Roma, homeless persons, current and former prisoners, and persons over 50 who never obtained a Ukrainian personal identification document after the fall of the Soviet Union and are no longer able to obtain one. According to the State Migration Service, as of September 1, there were 4,904 stateless persons residing in the country.

On July 26, the government issued a decree revoking the citizenship of opposition politician Mikhail Saakashvili, who had been granted citizenship in 2015 and who was not in Ukraine when the decree was issued. While some politicians and human rights organizations questioned the move, calling it politically motivated, the government asserted a legal basis for the decision, stating Saakashvili had knowingly made false statements in his citizenship application.

The law requires establishing identity through a court procedure, which demanded more time and money than some applicants had. UNHCR reported Roma were at particular risk for statelessness, since many did not have birth certificates or any other types of documentation to verify their identity. Homeless persons have difficulty obtaining citizenship because of a requirement to produce a document testifying to one’s residence.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 citizens elected Petro Poroshenko president in an election considered free and fair by international and domestic observers. The country held early legislative elections in 2014 that observers also considered free and fair.

In July 2016 citizens in seven constituencies voted in legislative by-elections. According to the OSCE election observer mission, the elections were organized and democratic but influenced by economic interests. According to OPORA, a human rights NGO that monitored elections in the country, some candidates campaigned prematurely, providing unfair advantages for certain candidates and parties. OPORA considered the elections to be free and fair with electoral irregularities that were not systemic.

IDPs were unable to vote in local elections unless they changed their registration to their new place of residence.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Communist Party remains banned.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and/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. Authorities did not effectively implement the law, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the number of reports of government corruption was low, corruption remained pervasive at all levels in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Independent anticorruption institutions faced political pressure that undermined public trust. For example, the disruption of a high-level corruption investigation, the arrest of officials from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), and the seizure of sensitive NABU files raised concerns about the government’s commitment to fighting corruption.

Corruption: While the government publicized several attempts to combat corruption, it remained a serious problem for citizens and businesses alike.

On March 7, the Solomyansky district court in Kyiv ordered the head of the State Fiscal Service, Roman Nasirov, arrested on embezzlement charges. Nasirov was accused of causing damage to the state in the amount of two billion hryvnias ($73.7 million). The charges against Nasirov stemmed from his involvement in an embezzlement scheme during the extraction and sale of natural gas under cooperation agreements with the state-owned company Ukrgazvydobuvannia. The case remained under investigation at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates the filing of income and expenditure declarations by public officials, and a special review process allows for public access to declarations and sets penalties for either not filing or filing a false declaration. In July the NABU served a notice of suspicion to a former judge from Luhansk Oblast for filing a false declaration. According to the investigation, the judge failed to disclose vehicles and real estate assets worth approximately 350,000 dollars. As of mid-August, NABU was actively investigating 66 criminal cases based on e‑declaration reviews, including suspicion of illicit enrichment and filing false declarations.

By law the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption is responsible for reviewing financial declarations and monitoring the income and expenditures of high-level officials. Some observers questioned, however, whether the agency had the capacity and independence to fulfill this function.

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 cooperative and responsive to their views. During the year the government placed burdensome new reporting requirements on NGOs working on anticorruption in apparent retaliation for their activities (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Authorities in areas controlled by Russian-led forces in eastern Ukraine routinely denied access to domestic and international civil society organizations. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with international organizations, such as the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the HRMMU.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for a human rights ombudsman, officially designated as legislative commissioner on human rights. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office frequently collaborated with NGOs through civic advisory councils on various projects for monitoring human rights practices in prisons and other government institutions.

Valeriya Lutkovska served as the ombudsman for human rights during the year, and observers considered her office an effective promoter of human rights. The office collaborated with leading domestic human rights groups and acted as an advocate on behalf of Crimean Tatars, IDPs, Roma, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and prison inmates.

Lutkovska’s term of office expired in March, although as of mid-September she remained in the role on an acting basis. Human rights organizations criticized the process to choose her successor, asserting that the candidates nominated were not politically impartial and lacked necessary qualifications and that the government failed to consult with civil society or conduct the process in a transparent manner.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men or women but does not explicitly address spousal rape or domestic violence. The courts may use a law against “forced sex with a materially dependent person” as grounds to prosecute spousal rape. Under the law, authorities may detain a person for up to five days for offenses related to domestic violence and spousal abuse. The penalty for rape is three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual assault and rape continued to be significant problems.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. Spousal abuse was common. According to the PGO, 874 cases of domestic violence were registered during the first nine months of the year. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, police issued approximately 41,097 domestic violence warnings and protection orders during the first nine months of the year. Punishment included fines, administrative arrest, and community service. Human rights groups noted the ability of agencies to detect and report cases of domestic violence was limited, and preventive services remained underdeveloped. Human rights groups asserted that law enforcement authorities did not consider domestic violence to be a serious crime but rather a private matter to be settled between spouses.Research showed that most authorities believed that, in domestic violence cases, familial reconciliation was more important than punishing the perpetrator or protecting the victim.

La Strada operated a national hotline for victims of violence and sexual harassment. As of June, more than 15,512 individuals had called the hotline for assistance; 95 percent of the calls concerned domestic or sexual violence while more than one-half the calls involved psychological violence. The NGO reported that expanded public awareness campaigns increased the number of requests for assistance it received each year.

According to the NGO La Strada, the conflict in the Donbas region led to a surge in violence against women across the country. Human rights groups attributed the increase in violence to posttraumatic stress experienced by IDPs fleeing the conflict and by soldiers returning from combat. According to monitoring of conflict-related gender-based violence conducted by the Justice for Peace in Donbas coalition, the situation in eastern Ukraine combined with the general discriminatory policies and lack of access to judicial services in the self-styled “republics” to create an environment conducive to gross violation of women’s rights. IDPs reported instances of rape and sexual abuse; many claimed to have fled areas controlled by Russia-led forces because they feared sexual abuse.

Although the law requires the government to operate a shelter in every major city, it did not do so. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of July 1, government centers provided domestic violence-related services, in the form of sociopsychological assistance, to 8,483 families with 8,529 children. Social services centers monitored families in matters related to domestic violence and child abuse. NGOs operated additional centers for victims of domestic violence in several regions, but women’s rights groups noted that many nongovernment shelters closed due to lack of funding.

Sexual Harassment: The law puts sexual harassment in the same category as discrimination and sets penalties from a fine up to three years in prison, but women’s rights groups asserted there was no effective mechanism to protect against sexual harassment. They reported continuing and widespread sexual harassment, including coerced sex, in the workplace. Women rarely sought legal recourse because courts declined to hear their cases and rarely convicted perpetrators.

While the law prohibits coercing a “materially dependent person” to have sexual intercourse, legal experts stated that safeguards against harassment were inadequate.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides that women enjoy the same rights as men and are entitled to receive equal pay for equal work. In practice, women received lower salaries than men and were prohibited from working in nearly 500 occupations (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Either birth in the country or to Ukrainian parents conveys citizenship. A child born to stateless parents residing permanently in the country is a citizen. The law requires that parents register a child within a month of birth, and failure to register sometimes resulted in denial of public services.

Registration of children born in Crimea or areas in Donbas controlled by Russia-led forces remained difficult. Authorities required hospital paperwork to register births. Russia-backed “authorities” routinely kept such paperwork if parents registered children in territories under their control, making it difficult for the child to obtain a Ukrainian birth certificate. In addition, authorities did not recognize documents issued by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea or “authorities” in territories controlled by Russia-led forces and sometimes refused to issue birth certificates to children born in those areas.

Child Abuse: Human rights groups noted authorities lacked the capability to detect violence against children and refer victims for assistance. Preventive services remained underdeveloped. There were also instances of forced labor involving children (see section 7.c.).

Authorities did not take effective measures at the national level to protect children from abuse and violence and to prevent such problems. The ombudsman for human rights noted the imperfection of mechanisms to protect children who survived or witnessed violence, in particular violence committed by their parents. According to the law, parents were the legal representatives of their children, even if they perpetrated violence against them. There is no procedure for appointing a temporary legal representative of a child during the investigation of alleged parental violence.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. If it finds marriage to be in the child’s interest, a court may grant a child as young as 16 permission to marry. Romani rights groups reported that early marriages involving girls under the age of 18 were common in the Romani community.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The minimum prison sentence for child rape is 10 years. Molesting a child under the age of 16 is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. The same offense committed against a child under the age of 14 is punishable by imprisonment for five to eight years. The age of consent is 16.

Sexual exploitation of children, however, remained significantly underreported. Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem.

Domestic and foreign law enforcement officials reported that a significant amount of child pornography on the internet continued to originate in the country. The International Organization for Migration reported that children from socially disadvantaged families and those in state custody continued to be at high risk of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation and the production of pornography.

Displaced Children: The majority of IDP children were from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, authorities registered more than 232,000 children as IDPs. Human rights groups believed this number was low. UNICEF estimated the conflict has affected 1.7 million children including non-IDPs who remained in conflict areas.

Children living in areas controlled by Russia-led forces did not receive nutritional and shelter assistance. Human rights groups reported that children who experienced the conflict or fled from territory controlled by Russia-led forces suffered psychological trauma.

Institutionalized Children: The child welfare system continued to rely on long-term residential care for children at social risk or without parental care, although the number of residential-care institutions continued to drop. Government policies to address the abandonment of children reduced the number of children deprived of parental care. In August the government approved a national strategy for 2017-18 that was intended to transform the institutionalized childcare system into one that provides a family-based or family-like environment for children.

Human rights groups and media reported unsafe, inhuman, and sometimes life-threatening conditions in some institutions. Officials of several state-run institutions and orphanages were allegedly complicit or willfully negligent in the sex and labor trafficking of girls and boys under their care.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to census data and international Jewish groups, an estimated 103,600 Jews lived in the country, constituting approximately 0.2 percent of the population. According to the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD), there were approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country, although the number might be higher. Before the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, according to VAAD, approximately 30,000 Jewish persons lived in the Donbas region. Jewish groups estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.

According to the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG) supported by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and VAAD, one case of suspected anti-Semitic violence was recorded in 2016, compared with one case of anti-Semitic violence in 2015 and four cases in 2014. The NMRMG identified 18 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2016, as compared with 22 in 2015 and 23 in 2014. Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv, Lviv, and other cities. On January 13, arsonists damaged a Jewish cemetery in Kolomiya, where there were similar attacks in 2015. Jewish organizations expressed concern about the continued existence of Krakivsky Market and new construction atop a historic Jewish cemetery in Lviv. There were reportedly several anti-Semitic incidents targeting the Babyn Yar memorial during the year.

In other manifestations of anti-Semitism during the year, nationalists in Kyiv chanted “Jews out” in German at a New Year’s Day march celebrating the birthday of Stepan Bandera. In a televised interview in March, Nadiya Savchenko, a member of the parliament, used a derogatory word to describe Jews and stated that Jews possess “80 percent of the power when they only account for 2 percent of the population.”

In line with the country’s 2015 decommunization and denazification law, authorities continued to rename Communist-era streets, bridges, and monuments in honor of 20th century Ukrainian nationalists, some of whom were associated with anti-Semitism. A new monument in Uman honors Ivan Gonta, an 18th century Cossack involved in a massacre of Jews, Poles, and Greek Catholics.

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 government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The law requires the government to provide access to public venues and opportunities for involvement in public, educational, cultural, and sporting activities for persons with disabilities. The law also requires employers to take into account the individual needs of employees with disabilities. The government generally did not enforce these laws.

Advocacy groups maintained that, despite the legal requirements, most public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Access to employment, education, health care, transportation, and financial services remained difficult (see section 7.d.).

Authorities often did not integrate students with disabilities into the general student population. Only secondary schools offered classes for students with disabilities.

Government policy favored the institutionalization of children with disabilities over placement with their families. Persons with disabilities in areas controlled by Russia-led forces in the east of the country suffered from a lack of appropriate care. Patients in mental health facilities remained at risk of abuse, and many psychiatric hospitals continued to use outdated methods and medicines.

By law employers must set aside 4 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. NGOs noted that many of those employed to satisfy the requirement received nominal salaries but did not actually perform work at their companies.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Mistreatment of members of minority groups and harassment of foreigners of non-Slavic appearance remained problems. NGOs dedicated to combating racism and hate crimes observed that overall xenophobic incidents declined slightly during the year.

Human rights organizations stated that the requirement to prove actual intent, including proof of premeditation, to secure a conviction made it difficult to apply the laws against offenses motivated by racial, national, or religious hatred. Authorities did not open any criminal proceedings under the laws on racial, national, or religious offenses during the year. Police and prosecutors continued to prosecute racially motivated crimes under laws against hooliganism or related offenses.

Roma continued to face governmental and societal discrimination. Roma experienced significant barriers accessing education, health care, social services, and employment.

There were reports of societal violence against Roma during the year, including instances in which police declined to intervene to stop violence. For example, on May 18, an argument in the village of Olshany, Kharkiv Oblast, between village residents and visiting Romani individuals turned violent. Three Romani men received injuries, and one died. Regional police opened an investigation, which continued at year’s end.

There were several reports during the year that police arbitrarily detained Romani individuals, at times beating or mistreating them.

According to the Romani women’s foundation, Chirikli, local authorities erected a number of barriers to prevent issuing national identification documents to Roma. Authorities hampered access to education for persons who lacked documents and segregated Romani children into special schools or lower-quality classrooms.

During the year many Roma fled settlements in areas controlled by Russia-led forces and moved elsewhere in the country. According to Chirikli, approximately 10,000 Roma were among the most vulnerable members of the country’s IDP population. Because many Roma lacked documents, obtaining IDP assistance, medical care, and education was especially difficult.

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

The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. No law, however, prohibits such discrimination in other areas, and discrimination was reportedly widespread in employment, housing, education, and other sectors.

There was sporadic violence against LGBTI persons, and authorities often did not adequately investigate these cases or hold perpetrators to account. For example, there was no investigation following events on July 9, when the speaker, organizers, and attendees of a Kyiv lecture on transgender problems were attacked by 10 masked individuals. Several lecture attendees pushed the attackers from the room, and one organizer pursued them and caught three individuals at the Khreshchatyk metro station. Police then intervened and detained the perpetrators. Lawyers and two members of parliament came to the police station where the attackers were detained, and they were soon released.

Crimes and discrimination against LGBTI persons remained underreported, and law enforcement authorities opened only 17 cases related to such acts.

The LGBTI rights group Nash Mir stated that extortion remained a problem and that anti-LGBTI groups employed social media to entrap LGBTI persons.

Although leading politicians and ministers condemned attacks on LGBTI gatherings and individuals, local officials sometimes voiced opposition to LGBTI rights and failed to protect LGBTI persons.

Transgender persons continued to face discrimination and stereotyping. In one case a municipal transportation company in Kharkiv fired a transgender woman because of her appearance.

While individuals no longer had to undergo sex reassignment surgery to change their names and genders officially and could do so with counseling and hormone therapy, regulations still prevent reassignment for married individuals and those with minor children. Transgender persons claimed to have difficulty obtaining official documents reflecting their gender.

According to Nash Mir, the situation of LGBTI persons in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of Russia-led forces was very poor. Most LGBTI persons either fled or hid their gender identity.

Overall, LGBTI groups enjoyed greater freedom to assemble than in past years. In most cases, security forces and local officials deployed adequate security forces to prevent violence and protect conferences and marches. On June 18, for example, security forces provided protection to an equality march in Kyiv. Authorities deployed more than 6,000 security personnel to protect up to 3,500 marchers, including members of parliament and the diplomatic community. Police adequately protected the equality festivals in Kyiv in May, in Dnipro in July, and a flash mob of tolerance in Zaporizhzhia in May.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Stigma and discrimination in health-care centers were a barrier to HIV-positive individuals’ receiving counseling, testing, and treatment services. UNICEF reported that children with HIV/AIDS were at high risk of abandonment, social stigma, and discrimination. Authorities prevented many children infected with HIV/AIDS from attending kindergartens or schools. Persons with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination in housing and employment. Injection drug users and their sexual partners were also particularly at risk of discrimination.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association as a fundamental right and establishes the right to participate in independent trade unions. The law provides the right for most workers to form and join independent unions, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes. No laws or legal mechanisms prevent antiunion discrimination; union activity is not an acceptable justification for employment termination. While legal recourse is available for reinstatement, back wages, and punitive damages, observers described courts as unpredictable, with damage awards often too low to create incentives for employer compliance.

The law contains several limits to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. A number of laws that apply to worker organizations are complex and occasionally contradictory. Unions reported bureaucratic hurdles in the registration process, entailing the payment of multiple fees and requiring visits to as many as 10 different offices. Efforts to reform registration of legal entities complicated registration specifically for trade unions. Independent unions reported multiple incidents of harassment by local law enforcement officials while navigating the registration process, including nonstandard requests for documentation and membership information.

The legal procedure to initiate a strike was overly complex and effectively prohibited strike action in practice, artificially lowering the numbers of informal industrial actions. The legal process for industrial disputes requires consideration, conciliation, and labor arbitration that parties could draw out for months. Only after completion of this process can workers vote to strike, a decision that courts may still block. The right to strike is further restricted by the requirement that a large percentage of the workforce (two-thirds of general workers’ meeting delegates or 50 percent of workers in an enterprise) must vote in favor of a strike before it may be called. In addition, the government is allowed to deny the right to strike due to national security or to protect the health or “rights and liberties” of citizens. The law prohibits strikes by broad categories of workers, including personnel in the PGO, the judiciary, the armed forces, the security services, law enforcement agencies, the transportation sector, and the public service sector.

Legal hurdles made it difficult for independent unions that were not affiliated with the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU) to take part in tripartite negotiations, participate in social insurance programs, or represent labor at the national and international levels. The legal hurdles resulting from an obsolete labor code hindered the ability of smaller independent unions to represent their members effectively. Authorities did not enforce labor laws effectively or consistently. Inspectors were limited in number and funding (also see section 7.e.). Throughout the year the labor inspection service continued to be functionally suspended due to an incomplete reorganization. Union leaders continued to assert that inspectorate services in general suffered from high levels of corruption and capture by large economic and oligarchic interests.

Independent trade unions alleged that the country’s largest trade union confederation, the FPU, enjoyed a close relationship with employers and members of some political parties. In particular, they alleged that local authorities and employers often operated in collusion with management-controlled trade unions to obstruct the functioning of other independent unions. Authorities denied unions not affiliated with the FPU a share of disputed trade union assets inherited by the FPU from Soviet-era unions, a dispute dating back more than a decade.

Several laws adopted in 2016 weakened protection for freedom of association, including a new requirement that made trade union registration more difficult and a law complicating the tax status of trade unions.

Independent union representatives continued to be subjected to violence and intimidation. Local union representatives reported that in August the local union leader in Pirohovo (Kyiv region), Tamara Taranuschenko, was severely beaten because of her union activities related to reporting corruption.

In addition to local authorities’ interference, top-level government officials in Kyiv continued to make public statements against unions and the freedom of association, including unsupported accusations that particular unions and union leaders supported separatists and that peaceful, legal, union protests sought to destabilize the country. A pattern of officials alleging that peaceful trade union protests were unpatriotic continued.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations ranged were sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to provide for enforcement. In the first six months of the year, the Countertrafficking Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs registered 144 violations under the law.

There are some inconsistencies between labor law in Ukraine and international standards on forced labor. Ukraine is a party to International Labor Organization Convention 105 on the use of compulsory labor for holding or expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social or economic system.

In the first six months of the year, the IOM assisted 626 victims of trafficking in the country, of whom 244 were women and 382 men. It assisted 20 students upon completion of reintegration plan. Approximately 89 percent of the victims were subjected to labor exploitation, while 8 percent were sexually exploited, 2 percent forced to beg, and 1.4 percent subjected to other forms of exploitation.

There were reports of trafficking of women, men, and children for labor. Traffickers subjected some foreign nationals to forced labor in construction (46 percent), agriculture (24 percent), manufacturing (18 percent), services (9 percent), the lumber industry (0.7 per cent), nursing, and street begging. Traffickers subjected some children to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

According to trade union activists, child labor in illegal mining operations in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces grew over the year.

According to the IOM, identified victims of trafficking received comprehensive reintegration assistance, including legal aid, medical care, psychological counseling, financial support, vocational training, and other types of assistance based on individual needs.

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 most employment is 16, but children who are 15 years old may perform undefined “light work” with a parent’s consent.

As of September 1, the State Service on Labor conducted 2,537 inspections to investigate compliance with child labor laws. The inspections found 64 instances of the use of child labor and 82 violations of the law. The inspections uncovered 136 working minors, two of whom were 14 or 15 years of age while 134 were between 16 and 18 years of age. The inspections indicated that minors were engaged in diverse types of work, with children found to be working in the construction, restaurant, and agricultural sectors.

The law provides for a complex system based on three different minimum ages (16, 15, and 14) for admission to employment or work. The law does not define the light work activities that may be performed by children from the age of 14.

Due to a lack of resources, the government did not always effectively enforce the law. Labor inspections resumed during the year, after being temporarily suspended because of concerns over improper use of the inspection process. Penalties for violations ranged from small fines for illegitimate employment to prison sentences for sexual exploitation of a child; some observers believed these punishments were insufficient to deter violations.

The most frequent violations of child labor laws concerned work under hazardous conditions, long workdays, failure to maintain accurate work records, and delayed salary payments.

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 labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic, social, and foreign origin, age, health, disability, HIV/AIDS condition, family and property status, or linguistic or other grounds.

The government did not always enforce the law, and employment discrimination reportedly occurred with respect to gender, disability, nationality, race, minority status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and HIV-positive status. The agriculture, construction, mining, heavy industry, and services sectors had the most work-related discrimination. The law provides for civil, administrative, and criminal liability for discrimination in the workplace. Penalties include a fine of up to 50 tax-free minimum incomes, correctional labor for a term of up to two years, restraint of liberty for up to five years, and restriction on engaging in certain activities for a period of up to three years. When accompanied by violence, employment discrimination violations are punishable by correctional labor for a term of up to two years or imprisonment for a term of up to five years if such actions were committed by an organized group of persons or if they caused death or other grave consequences.

Women received lower salaries due to limited opportunities for advancement and the types of industries that employed them. According to the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, men earned on average 29.5 percent more than women. Women held few elected or appointed offices at the national and regional levels. In addition, the law limits women’s employment opportunities although a ban on women for approximately 500 occupations, including bulldozer operator and bus driver.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage meets the poverty level. Some workers in the informal sector received wages below the established minimum. Authorities checked more than 4,400 employers for minimum wage compliance over the past year.

Wage arrears continued to be a major problem during the year. A lack of legal remedies, bureaucratic wrangling, and corruption in public and private enterprises, blocked efforts to recover overdue wages, leading to significant wage theft. Total wage arrears in the country rose during the year through September 1 to 2.4 billion hryvnias ($88 million). More than half of the debt was in the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. In September, the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine reported that arrears in the coal sector reached almost 300 million hryvnias ($11.5 million). Arrears and corruption problems exacerbated industrial relations and led to numerous protests.

The labor law provides for a maximum 40-hour workweek, with a minimum 42-hour period of rest per week and at least 24 days of paid vacation per year. It provides for double pay for overtime work and regulates the number of overtime hours allowed. The law requires agreement between employers and local trade union organization on overtime work and limits overtime to four hours during two consecutive days and 120 hours per year.

The law requires employers to provide workplace safety standards. Employers must meet occupational safety and health standards but at times ignored these regulations due to the lack of enforcement or strict imposition of penalties. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardizing their continued employment. According to one NGO, employers in the metal and mining industries often violated the rule and retaliated against workers by pressuring them to quit.

Penalties for violations workplace safety standards ranged from 510 to 1,700 hryvnias ($19 to $63), which were insufficient to deter violations. The State Labor Inspectorate was responsible for enforcing labor laws. Inspectors were limited in number and funding. By 2014, the latest date for which such data were available, the number of inspectors dropped to 457 from 616, in large part due to a 70 percent funding cut that year.

The government did not always enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards. Penalties for these violations included fines of 50 to 100 tax-free minimum incomes, limitations on the right to occupy positions of responsibility or to engage in some activities for three to five years, correctional labor for up to two years, or arrest for up to six months if the actions committed affected a minor or a pregnant woman.

Labor inspections occurred at a company’s request or upon the formal request of the investigator in the framework of criminal proceedings against a company.

Lax safety standards and aging equipment caused many injuries on the job. In addition to wage arrears, the nonpayment of overtime, operational safety problems, and health complaints were common in the mining industry.

Mineworkers, particularly in the illegal mining sector, faced serious safety and health problems. Authorities reported 415 individual injuries to coal miners over the first half of the year, including 17 fatalities; 224 individual injuries in the agro-industrial sector, including 31 fatalities; 105 injuries in construction, including 24 fatalities. Workers were more likely to face unsafe situations in the eastern regions of the country, including the Oblasts of Dnipropetrovsk (349 injuries; 15 fatalities), Donetsk (304 injuries; 15 fatalities) and Zaporizhzhia (148; 10 fatalities) as well as in areas outside government control in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.

Despite Russian aggression close to industrial areas in the Donbas region, enterprises involved in mining, energy, media, retail, clay production, and transportation continued to operate. Fighting resulted in damage to mines and plants through loss of electricity, destroyed transformers, physical damage from shelling, and alleged intentional flooding of mines by combined Russia-led forces. Miners were especially vulnerable, as loss of electrical power could strand them underground. The loss of electrical power also threatened the operability of mine safety equipment that prevented the buildup of explosive gases.

United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven semiautonomous emirates with a resident population of approximately 9.3 million, of whom an estimated 11 percent are citizens. The rulers of the seven emirates, respectively, constitute the Federal Supreme Council, the country’s highest legislative and executive body. The council selects a president and a vice president from its membership, and the president appoints the prime minister and cabinet. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi emirate, is president, although Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi exercises most executive authority. The emirates are under patriarchal rule with political allegiance defined by loyalty to tribal leaders, leaders of the individual emirates, and leaders of the federation. A limited, appointed electorate participates in periodic elections for the partially elected Federal National Council (FNC), a consultative body that examines, reviews, and recommends changes to legislation and may discuss topics for legislation. The FNC consists of 40 representatives allocated proportionally to each emirate based on population; half are elected members while the remainder are appointed by the leaders of their respective emirates. There are no political parties. The last election was in 2015, when an appointed electorate of approximately 224,000 citizens, making up one-fifth of the total citizen population, elected 20 FNC members. Citizens may express their concerns directly to their leaders through traditional consultative mechanisms such as the open majlis (forum).

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included allegations of torture in detention; arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention; government interference with privacy rights; limitations on the freedoms of speech and press, including criminalization of libel and arrests and detentions for internet postings or commentary; restrictions on assembly and association; the inability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; and criminalization of same sex sexual activity, although no cases were publicly reported during the year. The government did not permit workers to join independent unions and did not effectively prevent physical and sexual abuse of foreign domestic servants and other migrant workers.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and brought to conviction cases of official corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year. There was, however, no publicly available information on whether the government investigated allegations of abuses committed by authorities.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

According to Human Rights Watch, on November 7, Egyptian citizen Mosaab Ahmed Abd el Aziz disappeared after finishing a three-year sentence in the UAE. Charged with involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood and the al-Islah party, an organization with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and designated by the government as a terrorist organization, he was ordered deported upon his release. His family was told he was deported to Egypt November 6. They have not heard from him, have no information on his whereabouts, and have not received any response from Egyptian and UAE authorities to the family’s inquires. Abd el Aziz said in a taped message before his trial that he was tortured while in UAE custody.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, but there were some reports of occurrences during the year. Nonetheless, from reports of released prisoners and their family members, diplomatic observers, and human rights organizations, UN human rights experts believed that some individuals imprisoned for suspected state security violations were subjected to severe abuse or mistreatment. Human rights groups alleged mistreatment took place during interrogations and as inducement for signed confessions. UN human rights experts and those released from detention in recent years alleged that authorities used techniques including beatings, forced standing, and threats to rape or kill, including by electrocution. In some cases, judges ordered investigations, including medical examinations by state-appointed doctors, into allegations of torture or mistreatment.

Sharia courts, which adjudicate criminal and family law cases, may impose flogging as punishment for adultery, prostitution, consensual premarital sex, pregnancy outside marriage, defamation of character, and drug or alcohol charges, although reports of flogging were rare and tended to be confined to only a few jurisdictions. Multiple Western consulates reported that courts imposed flogging as a punishment in some of the northern emirates.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied widely among the individual emirates and between regular prisons, which house those accused of non-political crimes such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and killings, and state security detention facilities, which hold political activists or those the government defines to be terrorists. There were instances of overcrowding, long waits for health care access, and poor sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: The government did not release statistics on prison demographics and capacity. Diplomatic observers reported that some prisoners complained of overcrowding, poor temperature control, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

There were reports that individuals within state security detention facilities were mistreated.

There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence that led to injury and death. There were also allegations of inmate drug overdoses and suicide attempts.

Overcrowding was a major problem in Abu Dhabi, especially in drug units. In one example, prisoners complained that most detainees had to share beds or sleep on the concrete floor due to lack of mattresses. There were reports that in some circumstances, cells built to hold 15 inmates held over 50, and cellblocks built for 84 inmates held 190.

According to Western diplomatic missions, overcrowding was not a routine problem in prisons in Dubai and the northern Emirates. On occasion, however, Dubai police stations experienced overcrowding in holding cells, and authorities moved prisoners to other facilities when necessary.

In Abu Dhabi, some prisoners were not permitted exercise or reading materials. There were reports some prisoners in Abu Dhabi did not have access to outside areas and exposure to sunlight. There were also reports of dangerously hot conditions when air conditioners broke during extreme temperatures.

In drug units, there were reports of insects in food, poor food handling, and inadequate general hygiene.

Medical care was generally adequate in regular prisons, although some prisoners reported extended delays in receiving medical treatment and difficulty obtaining necessary medication. Media reports stated some detainees in State Security Department custody did not receive adequate access to medical care.

Prisons attempted to accommodate persons with disabilities based on their specific needs, such as placing wheelchair users on a lower floor. Some reports alleged inconsistencies in providing support for prisoners with mental disabilities. In Dubai and to some extent in Abu Dhabi, prison officials worked with mental health professionals to provide support and administer needed medication. Training and capabilities to accommodate prisoners with mental health disabilities were allegedly less well developed in the other emirates. It was reportedly common for authorities to grant a humanitarian pardon in cases where a person with a disability had been convicted of a minor offense.

Within prisons, the authorities required Muslims to attend weekly Islamic services, and non-Muslims reported some pressure to attend ostensibly non-mandatory lectures and classes about Islam. In some of the emirates, Christian clergy were not able to visit Christian prisoners.

Administration: Some state security detainees did not have access to visitors or had more limited access than other prisoners. Although prisoners had a right to submit complaints to judicial authorities, details about investigations into complaints were not publicly available, and there were no independent authorities to investigate allegations of poor conditions. There was also no publicly available information on whether or not authorities investigated complaints about prison conditions. Dubai Emirate maintained a website where individuals could obtain basic information about pending legal cases, including formal charges and upcoming court dates. Western embassies reported a similar website in Abu Dhabi, but said in many instances cases it could not be located in the system. There were standard weekly visiting hours in regular prisons, but unmarried and unrelated visitors of the opposite sex had to receive permission from a prosecutor.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted charitable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to visit prisons and provide material support on a limited basis. Members of the government-sanctioned Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA) met with prisoners during regular visits to detention facilities and reported their findings to federal Ministry of Interior officials. Their reports were not publicly available. Authorities did not grant regular consular access for State Security Department detainees.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The government, however, reportedly often held persons in custody for extended periods without charge or a preliminary judicial hearing. The law permits indefinite detention, including incommunicado detention, without appeal. In some cases, authorities did not allow detainees contact with attorneys, family members, or others for indefinite or unspecified periods.

In cases of foreign nationals detained by police, which in view of the country’s demographic breakdown were the vast majority of cases, the government often did not notify the appropriate diplomatic missions. For state security detainees, notification was exceptionally rare and information about the status of these detainees was very limited.

Authorities treated prisoners arrested for political or security reasons differently from other prisoners, including placing them in separate sections of a prison. A specific government entity, the State Security Department, handled these cases, and in some cases held prisoners and detainees in separate undisclosed locations for extended periods prior to their transfer to a regular prison.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Each emirate maintained a local police force called a general directorate, which was officially a branch of the federal Ministry of Interior. All emirate-level general directorates of police enforced their respective emirate’s laws autonomously. They also enforced federal laws within their emirate in coordination with each other under the federal ministry. The federal government maintained federal armed forces for external security.

There were no public reports of impunity involving security forces, but there was also no publicly available information on whether authorities investigated complaints of police corruption or other abuses including prison conditions and mistreatment (see section 1.c., Administration).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police stations received complaints from the public, made arrests, and forwarded cases to the public prosecutor. The public prosecutor then transferred cases to the courts. The law prohibits arrest or search of citizens without probable cause. Within 48 hours, police must report an arrest to the public prosecutor, and police usually adhered to the deadline.

Police investigations can regularly take up to three months, during which time detainees are often publicly unaccounted for. The law requires prosecutors to submit charges to a court within 14 days of the police report and to inform detainees of the charges against them. Judges may grant extensions to prosecutors, sometimes resulting in extended periods of detention without formal charges. Multiple detainees complained that authorities did not inform them of the charges or other details of their case for months at a time. Noncitizen detainees reported that when the prosecutor presented the charges, they were written in Arabic with no translation, and no translator was provided. There were also reports of authorities pressuring or forcing detainees to sign documents before they were allowed to see attorneys.

Public prosecutors may order detainees held as long as 21 days without charge and this can be extended by court order. Judges may not grant an extension of more than 30 days of detention without charge; however, with charge, they may renew 30-day extensions indefinitely. As a result, pretrial detention sometimes exceeded the maximum sentence for the crime charged. Public prosecutors may hold suspects in terrorism-related cases without charge for six months. Once authorities charge a suspect with terrorism, the Federal Supreme Court may extend the detention indefinitely.

There is no formal system of bail. Authorities may temporarily release detainees who deposit money, a passport, or an unsecured personal promissory statement signed by a third party. Law enforcement officials often held detainees’ passports. Authorities may deny pretrial release to defendants in cases involving loss of life, including involuntary manslaughter. Authorities released some prisoners detained on charges related to a person’s death after the prisoners completed diya (blood money) payments. Once an accused is found guilty of death under criminal procedure, judges may grant diya payments as compensation to the victim’s family in an amount determined to be in accordance with sharia. In October a Sharjah court commuted death sentences of five Indian nationals convicted of murder to three years’ imprisonments after a diya payment was made to the victim’s family in exchange for the family’s consent to pardon the accused.

A defendant is entitled to an attorney after authorities complete their investigation. Authorities sometimes questioned the accused for weeks without permitting access to an attorney. The government may provide counsel at its discretion to indigent defendants charged with felonies punishable by imprisonment of three to 15 years. The law requires the government to provide counsel in cases in which indigent defendants face punishments of life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Authorities held some persons incommunicado, particularly in cases involving state security. Jordanian citizen and UAE resident Tayseer al-Najjar was arrested in December 2015 and was held incommunicado and without charge until January 2017. He was accused of creating social media accounts that defamed the UAE and publishing false information about the country in connection with a comment posted on his Facebook account in 2014. In March a court sentenced al-Najjar to three years in prison and fined him 500,000 Dirham (AED) ($136,000).

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports the government committed arrests without informing the individual of the charge, notably in cases of alleged violations of state security regulations. In these cases, authorities did not give notice to the individual or to family members regarding the subject of the inquiry or arrest.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention occurred, especially in cases involving state security. The speed at which these cases were brought to trial increased during the year with a higher number of State Security Court acquittals and convictions in comparison with the previous year. There was no estimate available of the percentage of the prison population in pretrial status. According to numerous human rights organizations, citizen and human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor was arrested at his family home in Abu Dhabi on March 20, charged with violating cybercrimes laws by “promoting false information” and “spreading hatred and sectarianism.” As of October, Mansoor was still believed to be detained and his whereabouts unconfirmed. According to human rights organizations, Mansoor was being held in solitary confinement without access to lawyers.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There were reports authorities sometimes delayed or limited an individual’s access to an attorney, and did not give prompt court appearances or afford consular notification, both for the average prisoner and in state security cases. The law permits indefinite detention without appeal in state security-related cases. There were no reports of courts finding individuals to have been unlawfully detained and eligible for compensation.

Osama al-Najjar, convicted in 2014 of making unlawful postings on social media and having links to al-Islah, an organization with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and designated by the government as a terrorist organization, was scheduled to be released on March 17 after completing a three-year prison sentence and paying a 500,000 AED ($136,000) fine. The Federal Supreme Court, however, issued an order to keep him in detention on grounds that he still represented a danger to society and required additional guidance.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, court decisions remained subject to review by the political leadership. Authorities often treated noncitizens differently from citizens. The judiciary consisted largely of contracted foreign nationals subject to potential deportation, further compromising its independence from the government.

According to human rights groups, the location and status of activist Nassir bin Ghaith remained unknown from the time of his arrest in August 2015 until April 2016, when prosecutors formally announced charges of defaming a foreign country (Egypt), criticizing the UAE’s decision to grant land for a Hindu temple, and having ties to Islamist group al-Islah. In December 2016 bin Ghaith’s case was transferred from the State Security chamber of the Federal Supreme Court to the Federal Court of Appeal. In March authorities sentenced bin Ghaith to 10 years in prison for promoting “false information in order to harm the reputation and stature of the state and one of its institutions.” Bin Ghaith called into question the fairness of his trial, noting an Egyptian judge was assigned to adjudicate a case that involved charges of bin Ghaith defaming Egyptian figures.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

The law presumes all defendants innocent until proven guilty. By law a defendant enjoys the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. The law requires all court proceedings be conducted in Arabic. Despite the defendant’s procedural right to an interpreter, there were reports authorities did not always provide an interpreter or that quality was sometimes poor.

Defendants’ rights were circumscribed in national security cases or cases the judge deems harmful to public morality. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and have a right to legal counsel in court. While awaiting a decision on official charges at the police station or the prosecutor’s office, a defendant is not entitled to legal counsel. In cases involving a capital crime or possible life imprisonment, the defendant has a right to government-provided counsel after charges have been filed. The government may also provide counsel, at its discretion, to indigent defendants charged with felonies punishable by imprisonment of three to 15 years. The law provides prosecutors discretion to bar defense counsel from any investigation. Defendants and their attorneys may present witnesses and question witnesses against them. Defendants may not to be compelled to testify or confess. Some defendants said they did not have adequate time to prepare a defense, sometimes due to limited phone access, and requested additional time, which judges typically granted.

Both local and federal courts have an appeals process; cases under local jurisdiction are appealed to the Court of Cassation and federal cases to the Federal Supreme Court. Dubai has its own Court of Cassation. With the additional exception of Ras al-Khaimah, appeals in all other emirates are heard before the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi. Convicted defendants may also appeal death sentences to the ruler of the emirate in which the offense was committed or to the president of the federation. In murder cases, the victim’s family must consent to commute a death sentence. The government normally negotiated with victims’ families for the defendant to offer diya payment, compensation in accordance with sharia, in exchange for forgiveness and a commuted death sentence. The prosecutor may appeal acquittals and provide new or additional evidence to a higher court. An appellate court must reach unanimous agreement to overturn an acquittal.

State security cases are heard at the Federal Court of Appeal and may be appealed to the higher Federal Supreme Court.

When authorities suspected a foreigner of crimes of “moral turpitude,” authorities sometimes deported the individual without recourse to the criminal justice system. At the judge’s discretion, foreigners charged with crimes may be permitted to defend themselves while on bail.

The penal code also requires all individuals to pay “diya” to victims’ families in cases where accidents or crimes caused the death of another person, and media reported multiple cases of courts imposing this punishment. In some cases, sharia courts imposed more severe penalties during the month of Ramadan. There were also reports courts applied these punishments more strictly to Muslims.

Women faced legal discrimination because of the government’s interpretation of sharia (see section 6).

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year there were reports of persons held incommunicado and without charge because of their political views or affiliations, which often involved alleged links to Islamist organizations.

According to news reports, prosecutors brought more than 200 state security cases to court since 2013. Most convictions were for terrorism-related crimes or membership in banned organizations. Human rights organizations alleged that some of these cases involved individuals advocating nonviolent change, and the organizations criticized the government for using overly broad antiterrorism laws to arrest and detain those with suspected ties to nonviolent, political Islamist movements.

Since 2011 the government has restricted the activities of organizations and individuals allegedly associated with al-Islah, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate and government-designated terrorist organization, and others critical of the government. The media reported in May that a Gulf Cooperation Council national was sentenced to five years in jail for participation in al-Islah, including administration, fundraising, and recruiting membership. Similar restrictions were placed on Osama al-Najjar and Nassir bin Ghaith (see sections 1.d. and 1.e., respectively).

As part of its security and counterterrorism efforts, the government issued or updated restrictive laws–such as the 2014 antiterrorism law–and monitored and blocked activities, including the use of the internet and social media. Numerous observers criticized these laws as extending beyond security concerns by also outlawing activities and speech of a political nature.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and noncitizens had access to the courts to seek damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The civil courts, like all courts, lacked full independence. In some cases, courts delayed proceedings.

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

The constitution prohibits entry into a home without the owner’s permission, except when police present a lawful warrant. Officers’ actions in searching premises were subject to review by the Ministry of Interior, and officers were subject to disciplinary action if authorities judged their actions irresponsible.

The constitution provides for free and confidential correspondence by mail, telegram, and all other means of communication. There were reports, however, that the government monitored and in some cases censored incoming international mail, wiretapped telephones, and monitored outgoing mail and electronic forms of communication without following appropriate legal procedures. A 2016 study by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab reported that since 2012, local journalists, activists, and dissidents were targeted by sophisticated spyware attacks, which the researchers found may be linked to the government (see also section 2.a., Internet Freedom).

Local interpretation of sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims and Muslim men from marrying women “not of the book,” generally meaning adherents of religions other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

The country employs judicial supervision for individuals considered at risk from relatives committing honor crimes against or otherwise harming them. Judicial supervision typically included housing individuals to provide for their well-being and for family mediation and reconciliation.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

In March 2015 in response to a request from Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi for Arab League/Gulf Cooperation Council military intervention, Saudi officials announced the formation of a coalition to counter the 2014 overthrow of the legitimate government in Yemen by militias of the Ansar Allah movement (also known colloquially as “Houthis”) and forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Saudi-led coalition, which also includes the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, and Senegal, conducted air and ground operations that continued throughout the year. UAE forces continued an active military role in Yemen, including conducting ground operations against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State (ISIS-Y) in southern Yemen.

The UN, NGOs such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI), and some Yemeni sources voiced human rights concerns about coalition activities in Yemen, claiming some Saudi-led coalition air strikes have been disproportionate or indiscriminate, and appeared not to sufficiently minimize collateral impact on civilians. HRW called for the UAE to clarify its role in an alleged coalition attack in March on a boat off the western coast of Yemen that was carrying 145 Somalian civilians; government sources denied carrying out the attack.

Some press reports and human rights organizations alleged that UAE and UAE-supported local Yemeni forces abducted, arbitrarily detained, and tortured individuals as part of counterterrorism efforts in southern Yemen. HRW claimed the UAE maintained secret prisons in Yemen, estimated at 18 by the Associated Press, including at the Riyan airport in the south, allegedly detaining hundreds in counter AQAP and ISIS-Y operations. Former detainees and family members of prisoners reported cramped and unhygienic living conditions, beatings, electrical shocks and other abuses, including sexual assault. The UAE government denied that it maintained any secret prisons in Yemen or that it tortured prisoners there.

For additional details, see the Department of State’s Country Report on Human Rights for Yemen.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the law prohibits criticism of national rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest; the government restricted freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Expression: After the onset of widespread regional turmoil in 2011, authorities severely restricted public criticism of the government and individual ministers. The government continued to make arrests or impose other restrictions for speech related to and in support of Islamist political activities, calls for democratic reforms, criticism of or perceived insults against the government and government institutions, and in rarer cases, criticism of individuals. In February a court sentenced poet Saqr al-Shehhi to three months in jail and a 250,000 AED ($68,000) fine for violating the cybercrime law, public order, and morality by posting a socially controversial poem on social media. An appeals court additionally banned him from social media for two years.

In other cases, authorities brought individuals to trial for posting material on social media platforms that was considered personally insulting to acquaintances, colleagues, employers, or religions.

On June 7, after the government severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, the General Prosecutor declared that showing any sympathy with Qatar or objecting to the government’s position against Qatar in written, visual, or verbal form, was punishable by three to 15 years in prison or a minimum fine of 500,000 AED ($136,000). Activists alleged authorities detained citizen Ghanem Abdullah Matar after he posted a series of videos on social media in June that expressed sympathy with Qatar.

Press and Media Freedom: International NGOs categorized the press, both in print and online, as not free. Except for media outlets located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s free trade zones, the government owned most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations. All media conformed to unpublished government reporting guidelines. The government also influenced privately owned media, through the National Media Council (NMC), which directly oversaw all media content. Satellite-receiving dishes were widespread and provided access to uncensored international broadcasts.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the NMC, whose members the president appoints, licenses and censors all publications, including private association publications. The law authorizes censorship of domestic and foreign publications to remove criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments. Statements that “threaten social stability;” and materials considered pornographic, excessively violent, derogatory to Islam, or supportive of certain Israeli government positions were criminalized. The law also criminalizes as blasphemy acts that provoke religious hatred or insult religious convictions through any form of expression, including broadcasting, printed media, or the internet. In August the government issued new regulations that require government and private institutions to obtain a license before publishing or broadcasting media or advertising content or face penalties. The order applied to any media or advertising activity and to any person or entity, including clubs, associations, diplomatic missions, foreign centers, and movie theaters, that issues any type of publication.

After severing diplomatic ties with Qatar, the government blocked Qatari-funded al-Jazeera’s website and broadcasting channels. Authorities also blocked Qatari-financed broadcaster beIN Sports for six weeks. Media sources reported authorities harassed beIN production crews in and around stadiums, including forcing them to remove company logos from microphones and subjecting them to police questioning.

Government officials reportedly warned journalists when they published or broadcast material deemed politically or culturally sensitive. Journalists commonly practiced self-censorship due to fear of government retribution, particularly as most journalists were foreign nationals and could be deported. Authorities did not allow some books they viewed as critical of the government, Islam, and local culture, as well as books that supported the Muslim Brotherhood or its ideology.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of its leaders and institutions. The law criminalizes acts that defame others online or through information technology. In March an Indian national was convicted for defaming a prominent jewelry company on social media. He was fined 250,000 AED ($68,000), deported, and ordered to delete the related photos and close his Facebook profile for a year.

Those who commit libel face up to two years in prison. The maximum penalty for libel against the family of a public official is three years in prison.

National Security: Authorities often cited the need to protect national security as the basis for laws that curb criticism of the government or expression of dissenting political views. For example, the country’s cybercrimes laws include broad limitations on using electronic means to promote disorder or “damage national unity.” Human rights groups criticized these laws for excessively restricting freedom of speech. In February, Abu Dhabi police arrested 25 social media users under the cybercrime law for circulating misleading and fabricated information on crimes and alleged perpetrators before police investigations had been completed.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted access to some websites and monitored social media, instant messaging services, and blogs. Authorities stated they could imprison individuals for misusing the internet. Self-censorship was apparent on social media, and there were reports the Ministry of Interior monitored internet use. The International Telecommunication Union estimated more than 90 percent of the population had access to the internet.

The country’s two internet service providers, both linked to the government, used a proxy server to block materials deemed inconsistent with the country’s values, as defined by the Ministry of Interior. Blocked material included pornographic websites and a wide variety of other sites deemed indecent, such as those dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues; Judaism and atheism; negative critiques of Islam; testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity; gambling; promotion of illegal drug use; and postings that explained how to circumvent the proxy servers. International media sites, accessed using the country’s internet providers, contained filtered content. The government also blocked some sites containing content critical of ruling families in the UAE and other states in the region. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority was responsible for creating lists of blocked sites. Service providers did not have the authority to remove sites from blocked lists without government approval. The government also blocked most voice-over-internet-protocol applications.

In March the government established the Federal Public Prosecution for Information Technology Crimes in Abu Dhabi to investigate criminal cases involving use of information technology, including the use of the internet with the intent to damage public morals, the promotion of sinful behavior, insults to Islam and God, illegal collections of donations, trafficking in persons, calling for or abetting the breach of laws, and the organization of demonstrations.

The law explicitly criminalizes use of the internet to commit a wide variety of offenses and provides fines and prison terms for internet users who violate political, social, and religious norms. The law provides penalties for using the internet to oppose Islam; to proselytize Muslims; to abuse a holy shrine or ritual of any religion; to insult any religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic group; to incite someone to commit sin; or to contravene family values by publishing news or photographs pertaining to a person’s private life or family. In July an Arab man was prosecuted under the cybercrime law after his wife reported him for insulting her on WhatsApp. He was fined 5,000 AED ($1,360) and deported.

The 2012 cybercrimes decree and the 2015 Antidiscrimination Law provide for more severe penalties for violations and include jail terms that reach life sentences and fines between 50,000 AED ($13,600) and three million AED ($81,600) depending on severity and seriousness of the crime. These laws added to existing online communication limitations on freedom of speech to include prohibitions on criticism or defamation of the government or its officials; insults based on religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic origin; insults directed at neighboring countries; and calls for protests and demonstrations.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, including speech both inside and outside the classroom by educators, and censored academic materials for schools. The government required official permission for conferences and submission of detailed information on proposed speakers and topics of discussion. This was also required at private schools for events on campus. Some organizations found it difficult to secure meeting space for public events that dealt with contentious issues.

Cultural institutions avoided displaying artwork or programming that criticized the government or religion. Self-censorship among cultural and other institutions, especially for content presented to the public, was pervasive and generally directed at preventing the appearance of illegal works, including those deemed as promoting blasphemy or addressing controversial political issues.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides limited freedom of assembly and the government imposed restrictions.

The law requires a government-issued permit for organized public gatherings. Authorities dispersed impromptu protests such as labor strikes and at times arrested participants. While there was no uniform standard for the number of persons who could gather without a permit, civil society representatives in the past have reported authorities could ask groups of four or more to disperse if they did not have a permit. The government did not interfere routinely with informal, nonpolitical gatherings held without a government permit in public places unless there were complaints. The government generally permitted political gatherings that supported its policies. Hotels, citing government regulations, sometimes denied permission for groups such as unregistered religious organizations to rent space for meetings or religious services.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides limited freedom of association. The government imposed some restrictions.

Political organizations, political parties, and trade unions are illegal. All associations and NGOs are required to register with the Ministry of Community Development (formerly Social Affairs), and many that did received government subsidies. Domestic NGOs registered with the ministry were mostly citizens’ associations for economic, religious, social, cultural, athletic, and other purposes. Registration rules require that all voting organizational members, as well as boards of directors, must be local citizens. This requirement excluded almost 90 percent of the population from fully participating in such organizations.

Associations must follow the government’s censorship guidelines and receive prior government approval before publishing any material. In Abu Dhabi, exhibitions, conferences, and meetings require a permit from the Tourism and Culture Authority. To obtain a permit, the event organizer must submit identification documents for speakers along with speaker topics. The government denied permits if it did not approve of the topic or speaker. If the event or speaker continued without an approved permit, the government imposed fines.

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 generally provided for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation. While the government generally respected these rights, the government imposed certain legal restrictions on foreign travel. The lack of passports or other identity documents restricted the movement of stateless persons, both within the country and internationally. The government allowed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Foreign Travel: Authorities generally did not permit citizens and residents involved in legal disputes under adjudication, and noncitizens under investigation to travel abroad. In addition, authorities sometimes arrested individuals with outstanding debts or legal cases while in transit through an airport.

At the sole discretion of emirate-level prosecutors, foreign nationals had their passports taken or travel restricted during criminal and civil investigations. Some individuals were also banned from foreign travel. These measures posed particular problems for noncitizen debtors, who in addition to being unable to leave the country, were usually unable to find work without a passport and valid residence permit, making it impossible to repay their debts or maintain legal residency. In some cases, family, friends, local religious organizations, or other concerned individuals helped pay off the debt and enabled the indebted foreign national to depart the country. According to media reports, rulers of various emirates pardoned 1,907 prisoners during Eid al-Adha and the president pledged to settle financial obligations of released prisoners.

Travel bans were placed on citizens. For example, citizens of interest for reasons of state security, including former political prisoners, encountered difficulties renewing official documents, resulting in de facto travel bans.

Authorities did not lift travel bans until the completion of a case in the judicial system. In complex cases, particularly in the investigation of financial crimes, travel bans remained in place for three years or more.

On June 5, the government and several other regional countries severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and enacted a blockade on air, sea, and land traffic to and from Qatar. Qatari citizens were given until June 19 to leave the UAE and were banned from traveling to and transiting the UAE. Emirati citizens were banned from visiting or transiting through Qatar. The UAE Ministry of Interior established a hotline to assist blended Qatari-Emirati families, allowing them to remain in the UAE on a case-by-case basis.

Custom dictates that a husband may prevent his wife, minor children, and adult unmarried daughters from leaving the country by taking custody of their passports.

Citizenship: The government may revoke naturalized citizens’ passports and citizenship status for criminal or politically provocative actions.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

UNHCR lacked formal legal status in the country separate from the UN Development Program. The government nevertheless worked with UNHCR on a case-by-case basis to address refugee issues. The government did not formally grant refugee status or asylum to aliens seeking protection, but it allowed some refugees to remain in the country temporarily on an individual basis. This nonpermanent status often presented administrative, financial, and social hardships, including the need frequently to renew visas and the inability to access basic services such as health care and education for children. There were no reports the government sent individuals who expressed a fear of return, back to their country of origin against their will.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government had not established a transparent, codified system for providing protection to refugees. While the government extended informal protection from return to refugees in some cases, any persons lacking legal residency status were technically subject to local laws on illegal immigrants, and authorities could detain them. In some cases, authorities confined individuals seeking protection at an airport to a specific section of the airport while they awaited resettlement in another country.

Employment: Access to employment was based on an individual’s status as a legal resident, and persons with a claim to refugee status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for employment.

Access to Basic Services: Access to education and other public services, including health care, is based on an individual’s status as a legal resident. As a result, some families, particularly from Iraq and Syria, reportedly did not have access to healthcare or schools. The government provided or allowed access to some services on a case-by-case basis, often after the intervention of UNHCR representatives. Some hospitals were willing to see patients without the mandatory insurance, but required full payment up front.

STATELESS PERSONS

Estimates suggested 20,000 to 100,000 Bidoon, or persons without citizenship, resided in the country. Most Bidoon lacked citizenship because they did not have the preferred tribal affiliation used to determine citizenship when the country was established. Others entered the country legally or illegally in search of employment. Because children derive citizenship generally from the father, Bidoon children born within the country’s territory remained stateless. Without passports or other forms of identification, the movement of Bidoon was restricted, both within the country and internationally. In recent years, the government purchased a number of passports from Comoros and issued them to Bidoon. The documents conferred economic Comoran citizenship on the recipients and legalized their status in the UAE.

The government has a naturalization process, and individuals may apply for citizenship. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens do not acquire citizenship automatically at birth, but their mothers may obtain citizenship for the children after submitting an application, which a government committee reviews and generally accepts, once the child is 18 years old. A foreign woman may receive citizenship after 10 years of marriage to a citizen. Anyone may receive a passport by presidential fiat.

The committee that reviews mothers’ citizenship applications for their children also reviews citizenship applications from Bidoon who could satisfy certain legal conditions to be eligible for naturalization and subsequently could gain access to education, health care, and other public services. There were no reports, however, of stateless persons receiving Emirati citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. Federal executive and legislative power is in the hands of the Federal Supreme Council, a body composed of the hereditary rulers of the seven emirates. It selects from its members the country’s president and vice president. Decisions at the federal level generally are by consensus among the rulers, their families, and other leading families. The ruling families, in consultation with other prominent tribal figures, also choose rulers of the emirates.

Citizens could express their concerns directly to their leaders through an open majlis, a traditional consultative mechanism. On occasion, women attended a majlis. If a majlis was closed to women, men sometimes voiced concerns as proxies on behalf of women. In addition, authorities sometimes held a women-only majlis or a majlis focused specifically on women’s issues.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were no democratic general elections. In 2015 an appointed electorate of more than 224,000 members, representing approximately one-fifth of the total citizen population, elected 20 members of the FNC, a 40-member consultative body with some legislative authority. Each emirate receives seats in the FNC based on population. Each emirate’s ruler appoints that emirate’s portion of the other 20 FNC members. The electorate appointment process lacked transparency. Approximately 35 percent of eligible voters participated, electing one woman among the 20 FNC members, with another eight women appointed by their respective rulers. The speaker of the FNC is the first woman to lead the FNC.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Citizens did not have the right to form political parties. In March, Hasan al-Dikki, a national, was sentenced in absentia to 10 years’ imprisonment and a 10 million AED ($2.7 million) fine for trying to establish a political party, al-Islah, and opening a branch in the country. Al-Islah was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the government designated it a terrorist organization in 2014. Al-Dikki was also accused of trying to overthrow the government.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Although some traditional practices discouraged women from engaging in political life, no laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process. The government prioritized women’s participation in government. There were nine female ministers in the 31-member cabinet, an increase of two women from the previous cabinet, and nine women in the FNC (one elected, who was appointed speaker). In March, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, wife of the late founding father Sheikh Nahyan and “Mother of the Nation,” stated that 66 per cent of public sector employees in the UAE were women.

Except in the judiciary and military, religious and racial minorities (including Shia) did not serve in senior federal positions. Many judges were contracted foreign nationals.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Nepotism and conflict of interest in government appointments and contract allocations existed. The Ministries of the Interior and Justice and the state audit institutions are responsible for combating government corruption.

Corruption: In May, two former senior officials from the Ras al-Khaimah Investment Authority were sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison for embezzlement of public funds.

Authorities also prosecuted cases of police corruption. In May a Sharjah police officer was sentenced to three years in prison and a 3,000 AED ($816) fine for charges of bribery and aiding the escape of a prisoner.

Financial Disclosure: There are no financial disclosure laws, regulations, or codes of conduct requiring officials to disclose their income and assets. The operating instructions for the Federal National Council elections did require all candidates to disclose sources of funding for their campaigns.

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

The government generally did not permit organizations to focus on domestic political issues.

The government directed, regulated, and subsidized participation by all NGO members in events outside the country. All participants had to obtain government permission before attending such events. The government also restricted entry to the country by members of international NGOs. The 2015 Antidiscrimination Law, which prohibits multiple forms of discrimination and criminalizes acts the government interprets as provoking religious hatred or insulting religion through any form of expression, provides a legal basis for restricting events such as conferences and seminars. The law also criminalizes the broadcasting, publication, and transmission of such material by any means, including audio/visual or print media, or via the internet, and prohibits conferences or meetings the government deems promote discrimination, discord, or hatred.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not allow international human rights NGOs to be based in the country but, on a limited basis, allowed representatives to visit. There were no transparent standards governing visits from international NGO representatives.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Two recognized local human rights organizations existed: the government-supported EHRA, which focused on human rights problems and complaints on matters such as labor conditions, stateless persons’ rights, and prisoners’ well-being and treatment; and the government-subsidized Emirates Association for Lawyers and Legal Council (formerly the Jurists’ Association Human Rights Administration), which focused on human rights education and conducted seminars and symposia subject to government approval. Several EHRA members worked in the government and the organization received government funding. The EHRA claimed it operated independently without government interference, apart from requirements that apply to all associations in the country. In March the EHRA refuted reports from Amnesty International and the Justice Center for Human Rights about the state of human rights in the country, and suggested the reports were intended to benefit groups the government has designated as terrorist organizations.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is punishable by death under the penal code. The penal code does not address spousal rape. In October the Dubai Court of First Instance sentenced a policeman to six months in jail for raping his fiancee. The defendant argued that he considered the two married at the time of the offense.

The penal code allows men to use physical means, including violence, at their discretion against female and minor family members. Punishments issued by courts in domestic abuse cases were often minimal. In some cases, police shared a victim’s contact information with her/his family, which sometimes reached the assailant.

In general, the government did not enforce domestic abuse laws effectively, and domestic abuse against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. There were reports employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers. These cases rarely went to court, and those that did led to few convictions. In sharia courts, which are primarily responsible for civil matters between Muslims, the extremely high burden of proof for a rape case contributed to a low conviction rate. Additionally, female victims of rape or other sexual crimes faced the possibility of prosecution for consensual sex outside marriage instead of receiving assistance from authorities.

Victims of domestic abuse may file complaints with police units stationed in major public hospitals. Social workers and counselors, usually female, also maintained offices in public hospitals and police stations. There were domestic abuse centers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah, and Sharjah.

The government, in coordination with social organizations, sought to increase awareness of domestic violence, conducting seminars, educational programs, symposiums, and conferences. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children increased awareness of domestic violence through social media, television and radio programming and advertising, by hosting workshops and sponsoring a hotline.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not address FGM/C, although the Ministry of Health prohibits hospitals and clinics from performing the procedure. The practice was rare and confined to foreign residents.

Sexual Harassment: The government prosecutes harassment via the penal code. Conviction of “disgracing or dishonoring” a person in public is punishable by a minimum of one year and up to 15 years in prison if the victim is under age 14. Conviction for “infamous” acts against the rules of decency is punishable by a penalty of six months in prison, and “dishonoring a woman by word or deed on a public roadway” is also a punishable offense.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Women in general faced legal and economic discrimination, with noncitizen women at a particular disadvantage.

The government’s interpretation of sharia applies in personal status cases and family law. As noted above, local interpretation of sharia forbids Muslim women to marry non-Muslims.

In addition the law permits a man to have as many as four wives, women normally inherit less than men, and a son’s inheritance may be double that of a daughter.

For a woman to obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, she must prove her husband inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, abandoned her for at least three months, or had not provided for her or their children’s upkeep. Physical abuse claims require medical reports and two male witnesses. It is up to the judge’s discretion to consider women as full witnesses or half witnesses. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands. Strict interpretation of sharia does not apply to child custody cases, as courts have applied the “the best interests of the child” standard since 2010.

The law provides for corporal punishment for sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage. The government may imprison and deport noncitizen women if they bear children out of wedlock. In previous years, authorities arrested some victims of sexual assault for sexual relations outside of marriage.

Women who worked in the private sector regularly did not receive equal benefits and reportedly faced discrimination in promotions and pay (see section 7.d.). Labor law prohibits women from working in hazardous, strenuous, or physically or morally harmful jobs.

While foreign men working in the country and earning a salary above a certain level could obtain residency permits for their families for three years, a foreign woman could obtain a one-year, renewable permit for her family only if she was working in a job deemed rare or with a specialty such as health care, engineering, or teaching.

While education is equally accessible, federal law prohibits coeducation in public schools and universities, except in the United Arab Emirates University’s Executive MBA program and in certain graduate programs at Zayed University. A large number of private schools, private universities, and institutions, however, were coeducational.

The government excluded women from certain social benefits, including land grants for building houses because tribal family law often designates men as the heads of families.

The government has a Gender Balance Council to promote a greater role for female citizens, but not noncitizens, who were working outside the home.

Children

Birth Registration: Children generally derive citizenship from their parents. As noted above, the children of Emirati mothers married to foreigners did not receive citizenship automatically. The government registered noncitizen births, including of Bidoon.

Education: Education is compulsory through the ninth grade; however, the law was not enforced, and some children did not attend school, especially children of noncitizens. Noncitizen children could enroll in public schools only if they scored more than 90 percent on entrance examinations, which authorities administered only in Arabic. The government provided free primary education only to citizens. Public schools are not coeducational after kindergarten. Islamic studies are mandatory in all public schools and in private schools serving Muslim students.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and the government has taken steps to increase awareness of the issue. The government provided shelter and help for child victims of abuse or sexual exploitation.

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

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children, with a minimum penalty for conviction of 10 years in prison. Consensual sex is illegal outside of marriage, carrying a minimum penalty of one year in prison. The penalty for conviction of sex with children under age 14 is life imprisonment. Distribution and consumption of child pornography is illegal.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is no indigenous Jewish community. There were no synagogues and no formal recognition of the very small foreign Jewish population (which constituted less than one percent of the population); the foreign Jewish community could conduct regular prayer services in rented space. Occasionally, social media contained anti-Semitic remarks, and there was anti-Semitic material available at some book fairs, including a few that operated with government oversight.

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 disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services; however, some discrimination occurred.

Public and private facilities provided education, health services, sports, and vocational rehabilitation for persons with disabilities; however, capacity was insufficient. Many of the facilities were reserved for citizens. There were reports that in some cases authorities detained individuals for behavior linked to a mental disability, rather than send them to a medical facility. These individuals were later acquitted because of their disabilities.

The Ministry of Community Development (formerly Social Affairs) is the central body dealing with the rights of persons with disabilities and raising awareness at the federal and local level. In accordance with the law, most public buildings provided some form of access for persons with disabilities.

Government entities, including the Ministry of Community Development, the Services for Educational Development Foundation for Inclusion, and the Sports Organizations for Persons with Disabilities, sponsored conferences and workshops emphasizing the inclusion and integration of persons with disabilities into schools and workplaces.

Various departments within the Ministries of Human Resources and Emiratization (formerly Labor), Education, and Community Development are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and the government enforced these rights in employment, housing, and entitlement programs. While enforcement was effective for jobs in the public sector, the government did not sufficiently encourage hiring in the private sector. The emirate of Abu Dhabi reserved two percent of government jobs for citizens with disabilities, and other emirates and the federal government included statements in their human resources regulations emphasizing priority for hiring citizens with disabilities in the public sector. Public sector employers provided reasonable accommodations, defined broadly, for employees with disabilities. The employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector remained a challenge due to a lack of training and opportunities, and societal discrimination.

The government sponsored several initiatives to host international conferences for persons with disabilities emphasizing rights, opportunities, and the importance of social inclusion. The government also improved accessibility of public facilities. The government announced its National Strategy for Empowerment of People with Disabilities in April, which included designation of a dedicated person in every service-related organization to be in charge of facilitating services for persons with disabilities and launched a campaign to change the language that formerly referred to persons with disabilities to “people of determination.”

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Approximately 90 percent of the country’s residents were noncitizens, more than half of whom originated from the Indian subcontinent. Societal discrimination against noncitizens was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment, education, housing, social interaction, and health care.

The law allows for criminalizing commercial disputes and bankruptcy, which led to discrimination against foreigners. Authorities enforced these laws selectively and allowed citizens to threaten noncitizen businesspersons and foreign workers with harsh prison sentences to assure a favorable outcome in commercial disputes.

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

Both civil law and sharia criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Under sharia, individuals who engage in consensual same-sex sexual conduct could be subject to the death penalty. Dubai’s penal code allows for up to a 10-year prison sentence for conviction of such activity. There were no reports of arrests or prosecutions for consensual same-sex activity. The law permits doctors to conduct sexual reassignment surgery so long as there are “psychological” and “physiological” signs of gender and sex disparity. The penalty for performing an unwarranted “sex correction” surgery is three to 10 years in prison.

There were reports of LGBTI persons being questioned in Dubai airport. Due to social conventions and potential repression, LGBTI organizations did not operate openly, nor were gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events held. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.

By law wearing clothing deemed inappropriate for one’s sex is a punishable offense. The government deported foreign residents and referred the cases of individuals who wore clothing deemed inappropriate to the public prosecutor.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Noncitizens and, to a lesser extent, citizens, with HIV/AIDS and other diseases faced discrimination. Legal protections regarding employment and education discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS, as well as free access to HIV treatment and care programs, existed for citizens; however, noncitizens did not have these rights. The government does not grant residency or work visas to persons with certain communicable diseases including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, or leprosy. Noncitizens who test positive for these diseases may be detained and deported. Doctors are required to inform authorities of HIV/AIDS cases, reportedly discouraging individuals from seeking testing or treatment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not protect the right to organize, strike, or bargain collectively. The law does not permit workers to form or join unions. The labor law forbids strikes by public sector employees, security guards, and migrant workers. The law does not entirely prohibit strikes in the private sector, but allows an employer to suspend an employee for striking. In the private sector, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, formerly the Labor Ministry, must approve and register individual employment contracts. The labor law does not apply to domestic and agricultural workers or to most workers in export processing zones.

Private sector employees may file collective employment dispute complaints with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, which by law acts as mediator between the parties. Employees may then file unresolved disputes within the labor court system, which forwards disputes to a conciliation council. Public sector employees may file an administrative grievance or a case in a civil court to address a labor-related dispute or complaint. Administrative remedies are available for labor complaints, and authorities commonly applied them to resolve issues such as delayed wage payments, unpaid overtime, or substandard housing.

All foreign workers have the right to file labor-related grievances with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. The ministry sometimes intervened in foreign workers’ disputes with employers and helped negotiate private settlements. The law allows employers to request the government to cancel the work permit of, and deport for up to one year any foreign worker for unexcused absences of more than seven days or for participating in a strike.

The government generally enforced labor law. In May 2016 the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization issued its first Worker Welfare Report, which outlined and provided statistics on the ministry’s enforcement and dispute settlement activities regarding recruitment, contract integrity, payment of wages and overtime, housing accommodation, and health and safety.

Professional associations were not independent, and authorities had broad powers to interfere in their activities. For example, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization had to license and approve professional associations, which were required to receive government approval for international affiliations and travel by members. The government granted some professional associations with majority citizen membership a limited ability to raise work-related issues, petition the government for redress, and file grievances with the government.

Foreign workers may belong to local professional associations; however, they do not have voting rights and may not serve on association boards. Apart from these professional associations, in a few instances some foreign workers came together to negotiate with their employers on issues such as housing conditions, nonpayment of wages, and working conditions.

The threat of deportation discouraged noncitizens from voicing work-related grievances. Nonetheless, occasional protests and strikes took place. The government did not always punish workers for nonviolent protests or strikes, but it dispersed such protests, and sometimes deported noncitizen participants. In May, Dubai authorities reported that worker protests over delayed salaries and poor accommodation had fallen more than 70 percent in the first quarter compared to 2016.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the domestic labor sector.

The government took steps to prevent forced labor through continued implementation of the Wages Protection System (WPS) (see section 7.e.). The government enforced fines for employers who entered incorrect information into the WPS, did not pay workers for more than 60 days, or made workers sign documents falsely attesting to receipt of benefits.

In 2016 the government implemented three new decrees that aim to ensure work is performed on a voluntary basis throughout the employment relationship. The first decree addresses contract substitution after arrival in the country by requiring a migrant worker to sign an offer letter in his or her home country, which is turned into a contract when the individual arrives in the UAE. The second decree addresses ending the employment relationship, allowing either party to do so subject to certain requirements of notice and/or indemnification. The third decree addresses an employee’s ability to switch employers without the consent of the current employer.

In September the president approved a domestic worker law, Federal Law No. 10 of 2017, that regulates protections of domestic workers regarding contracts, rights and privileges, prohibitions, and recruitment agencies.

It was relatively common for employers to subject migrant domestic workers, and to a lesser degree, construction and other manual labor workers, to conditions indicative of forced labor. Workers experienced nonpayment of wages, unpaid overtime, failure to grant legally required time off, withholding of passports, threats and in some cases psychological, physical, or sexual abuse. Contract substitution remained a problem. In a few cases, physical abuses led to death. Local newspapers reported on court cases involving violence committed against maids and other domestic workers. In February the Dubai Criminal Court sentenced a Jordanian national to one year in jail followed by deportation for inhuman treatment after beating her maid and causing a permanent disability by shoving a pair of scissors into her ear. In December the Dubai Court of Appeal reduced the sentence to three months in jail and canceled the deportation order.

In violation of the law, employers routinely held employees’ passports, thus restricting their freedom of movement and ability to leave the country or change jobs. In labor camps, it was common practice for passports to be kept in a central secure location, accessible with 24 or 48 hours’ notice. In most cases, individuals reported they were able to obtain documents without difficulty when needed, but this was not always the case. There were media reports that employees were coerced to surrender their passports for “safekeeping” and sign documentation that the surrender was voluntary. With domestic employees, passport withholding frequently occurred, and enforcement against this practice was weak.

Some employers forced foreign workers in the domestic and agricultural sectors to compensate them for hiring expenses such as visa fees, health exams, and insurance, which the law requires employers to pay, by withholding wages or having these costs deducted from their contracted salary. Some employers did not pay their employees contracted wages even after they satisfied these “debts.”

Though illegal, workers in both the corporate and domestic sectors often borrowed money to pay recruiting fees in their home countries, and as a result spent most of their salaries trying to repay home-country labor recruiters or lenders. These debts limited workers options to leave a job, and sometimes trapped them in exploitive work conditions. In December 2016 the government transferred oversight of recruitment of domestic workers from the Interior Ministry to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization.

Also see the Department of State’s annual 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 employment of persons under age 15 and includes special provisions regarding children ages 15 to 18. The law, however, excludes domestic and agricultural work, leaving underage workers in these sectors unprotected. The law allows issuance of work permits for 12- to 18-year olds, specifically for gaining work experience and under specific rules. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization is responsible for enforcing the regulations and generally did so effectively.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The 2015 Antidiscrimination Law prohibits all forms of discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, or race, although without specific reference to employment. Penalties are adequate and include fines and jail terms of six months to 10 years. To date, the law has been applied in cases of religious discrimination, including one incident that occurred in a work environment.

No specific law prohibits or regulates discrimination regarding sex, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or communicable disease status in employment or occupation; however, the country is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. It also ratified the International Labor Organization’s discrimination convention and thus submits regular reports on its implementation of that convention. Women who worked in the private sector, however, regularly did not receive equal benefits and reportedly faced discrimination in promotions and equality of wages. In free zones, individualized laws govern employment requirements. For example, in the Dubai International Financial Center, employers may not discriminate against any person based on sex, marital status, race, national identity, religion, or disability. Nevertheless, job advertisements requesting applications only from certain nationalities were common and not regulated.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. There was very limited information on average domestic, agricultural, or construction worker salaries or on public sector salaries.

The law prescribes a 48-hour workweek and paid annual holidays. The law states daily working hours must not exceed eight hours in day or night shifts and provides for overtime pay to employees working more than eight hours in a 24-hour period, with the exception of those employed in trade, hotels, cafeterias, security, and other jobs as decided by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization.

Government occupational health and safety standards require that employers provide employees with a safe work and living environment, including minimum rest periods and limits on the number of hours worked, depending on the nature of the work. For example, the law mandates a two-and-one-half-hour midday work break, from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., between June 15 and September 15, for laborers who work in exposed open areas such as construction sites. In August government authorities informed companies they must make water, vitamins, supplements, and shelter available to all outdoor workers during the summer months to meet health and safety requirements. The government may exempt companies from the midday work break if the company cannot postpone the project for emergency or technical reasons. Such projects include laying asphalt or concrete and repairing damaged water pipes, gas lines, or electrical lines.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization was responsible for enforcing laws governing acceptable conditions of work for workers in professional, semiskilled, and, soon under Federal Law No. 10, domestic labor job categories, but did not do so in all sectors, including the informal sector. To monitor the private sector, the ministry had active departments for inspection, occupational safety, combating human trafficking, and wage protection. The ministry published statistics on its inspection and enforcement activities.

Workers in domestic services, agriculture, and other categories overseen by the Ministry of Interior come under a different regulatory regime. These workers are not covered by private and public sector labor law, but have some legal protections regarding working hours, overtime, timeliness of wage payments, paid leave, health care, and the provision of adequate housing; however, enforcement of these rules was often weak. As a result, these workers were more vulnerable to unacceptable work conditions.

There was no information available on the informal economy, legal enforcement within this sector, or an estimate of its size; however, anecdotal reports indicate it was common for individuals to enter the country on a nonwork visa and join the informal job sector. Sailors faced particular difficulty remedying grievances against employers. One consulate in Dubai reported that during the summer months it received distress calls from 97 sailors aboard 22 ships that had been abandoned by their respective companies in UAE waters. Complaints included unpaid salaries, harsh living conditions, no-sign offs or relief of duty after contract period ended, and lack of fuel, food, fresh water, and access to medical treatment. The media reported that by August, approximately 70 of the 97 stranded seafarers had been repatriated with cooperation between the consulate and the Federal Transport Authority.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization conducted inspections of labor camps and workplaces such as construction sites. The government also routinely fined employers for violating the midday break rule and published compliance statistics.

The government took action to address wage payment issues. Its implementation of the WPS and fines for noncompliance discouraged employers from withholding salaries to foreign workers under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. The WPS, an electronic salary transfer system, requires institutions to pay workers via approved banks, exchange bureaus, and other financial institutions, to assure timely and full payment of agreed wages. The ministry monitored these payments electronically. The WPS, however, did not apply to foreign workers under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, such as domestic and agricultural workers.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization conducted site visits to monitor the payment of overtime. Violations resulted in fines and in many cases a suspension of permits to hire new workers.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization continued efforts to ensure adequate health standards and safe food and facilities in labor camps. It conducted regular inspections of health and living conditions at labor camps, stated that it issued written documentation on problems needing correction and reviewed them in subsequent inspections. Nevertheless, some low-wage foreign workers faced substandard living conditions, including overcrowded apartments or unsafe and unhygienic lodging in labor camps. In some cases, the ministry cancelled hiring permits for companies that failed to provide adequate housing. During some inspections of labor camps, the ministry employed interpreters to assist foreign workers in understanding employment guidelines. The ministry operated a toll-free hotline in Arabic, English, Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog, and other languages spoken by foreign residents through which workers were able to report delayed wage payments or other violations. The ministry’s mobile van units also visited some labor camps to inform workers of their rights. The General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs Dubai Office created the Taqdeer Award program, which rewards companies based on labor practices and grants them priority for government contracts.

The government-instituted revised standard contract for domestic workers aimed to protect domestic workers through a binding agreement between employers and domestic workers. The contract provides for transparency and legal protections concerning issues such as working hours, time-off, overtime, health care, and housing. Officials from some originating countries criticized the process, saying it prevented foreign embassies from reviewing and approving the labor contracts of their citizens. As a result some countries attempted to halt their citizens’ travel to the UAE to assume domestic labor positions. Many still enter on visit visas, however, and then adjust status.

The government allowed foreign workers to switch jobs without a letter of permission from their employer. Labor regulations provide foreign employees the option to work without an employment contract or, in cases in which a contract was in force, to change employer sponsors after two years as well as within the first two years within the terms of the contract. The government designed this regulation to improve job mobility and reduce the vulnerability of foreign workers to abuse. The regulation, however, did not apply to agricultural or domestic workers.

Government-supported NGO EHRA promoted worker rights. It conducted unannounced visits to labor camps and work sites to monitor conditions and reported violations to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization.

There were cases in which workers were injured or killed on job sites; however, authorities typically did not disclose details of workplace injuries and deaths, including the adequacy of safety measures. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization routinely conducted health and safety site visits. In January the ministry mandated that companies with over 15 employees submit labor injuries reports. Dubai emirate required construction companies and industrial firms to appoint safety officers accredited by authorized entities to promote greater site safety. In April, 42 foreign nationals required assistance from their consulate after a labor agency withheld over two months of back pay. The workers had been suspended from their jobs because of a dispute over an injured worker’s medical treatment.

Reports of migrant worker suicides or attempted suicides continued. In some cases, observers linked the suicides to poor working and living conditions, low wages, and/or financial strain caused by heavy debts owed to originating-country labor recruitment agencies. According to the Ugandan Embassy, as of October, 31 of 45 registered Ugandan deaths in the UAE were attributed to suicide. Among those who committed suicide were 13 security guards and 12 housemaids. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, a quasi-governmental organization, conducted vocational training programs with some elements aimed at decreasing suicidal behavior.

United Kingdom

Executive Summary

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the UK) is a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty, parliamentary form of government. Citizens elect representatives to the House of Commons, the lower chamber of the bicameral Parliament. They last did so in free and fair elections in June 2017. Members of the upper chamber, the House of Lords, occupy appointed or hereditary seats. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Bermuda each have elected legislative bodies and devolved administrations, with varying degrees of legislative and executive powers. The UK has 14 overseas territories, including Bermuda. Each of the overseas territories has its own constitution, while the UK government is responsible for external affairs, security, and defense.

Civilian authorities throughout the UK and its territories maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included violence motivated by anti-Semitism and against members of minorities on racial or ethnic grounds. Authorities generally investigated, and where appropriate prosecuted, such cases.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished allegations of official abuse, including by police, with no reported cases of impunity.

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

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

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

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, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

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/her arrest or detention in court, and the government routinely observed these requirements.

Stop-and-search in the country has declined from 1.2 million to 380,000 during the last five years. Three-in-four black, Asian, or minority ethnic Britons, however, feel that their communities are targeted by stop-and-search policies.

In January the Scottish government published new guidelines regarding the appropriate use of stop-and-search actions. Under the new guidelines, which came into force in May, police are able to stop and search persons only when they have “reasonable grounds.”

In Bermuda there were approximately 1,123 stop-and-search actions in the first half of the year, a significant decrease from a high of approximately 5,500 at the end of 2012, when gang violence was at its height. Civil rights groups stated the stop-and-search law unfairly targeted blacks.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

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.

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 came into effect in 2017 granting intelligence and police forces greater investigatory powers, including new powers for interception and collection of communications.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: All members of Parliament (MPs) are required to disclose their financial interests. The Register of Members Interests was available online and updated regularly. These public disclosures include paid employment, property ownership, shareholdings in public or private companies, and other interests that “might reasonably be thought to influence” the member in any way. The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Bermudian Parliament have similar codes of conduct for members. Under the ministerial code issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, ministers must follow standards of conduct, including the disclosure of gifts and travel. The national government publishes the names, grades, job titles, and annual pay rates for most civil servants with salaries greater than 150,000 pounds ($196,500). Government departments publish the business expenses of and hospitality received by their most senior officials.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government routinely respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects employees from unfair dismissal while striking, provided the union has complied with the legal requirements governing such industrial action.

The new Trade Union Act allows strikes to proceed only when there has been a ballot turnout of at least 50 percent. For “important public services,” defined as health services, education for those age under 17, fire services, transport services, nuclear decommissioning and the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, and border security, an additional threshold of 40 percent of support from all eligible union members must be met for strike action to be legal.

The law does not cover workers in the armed forces, public-sector security services, police forces, and freelance or temporary work. The law excludes workers serving in the police, the prison service, and the armed forces from the right to strike. According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the right to strike in the UK is “limited” due to prohibitions against political and solidarity strikes, lengthy procedures for calling strikes, and the ability of employers to seek injunctions against unions before a strike has begun if the union does not observe all proper steps in organizing the strike.

The government enforced applicable laws. Remedies were limited in situations where workers faced reprisal for union activity, and the ITUC stated that the law does not provide “adequate means of protection against antiunion discrimination,” and noted that legal protections against unfair labor practices only exist within the framework of organizing a recognition ballot. Penalties range from employers paying compensation to reinstatement and were sufficient to deter violations.

The government and employers routinely respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Unions and management typically negotiated collective “agreements,” which were less formal and not legally enforceable. The terms of the agreement could, however, be incorporated into an individual work contract with legal standing.

The law does not allow independent trade unions to apply for de-recognition of in-house company unions or to protect individual workers seeking to do so. Labor-market surveys suggested that employers expanded the practice of “zero-hour contracts” in which workers are required to be available but are not guaranteed any minimum work hours, which potentially eroded independent trade union membership and further limited worker rights. In the final three months of 2016, there were 905,000 individuals on zero-hours contracts, which represented a rise of more than 100,000, or 13 percent, compared with the same period in 2015. Approximately 68 percent of the individuals on zero-hour contracts reportedly were satisfied with the arrangement, while 32 percent said they would prefer more hours or a different job.

Various labor NGOs advocated for worker’s rights freely within the UK and acted independently from trade unions, although often advocacy problems overlapped. NGOs advocated for improvements in paid family leave, a minimum/living wage, and worker safety among other problems.

According to the ONS, approximately 6.2 million employees were trade union members in 2016. The level of overall union members decreased by 275,000 (4.2 percent) from 2015, the largest annual fall recorded since the series began in 1995. Current membership levels were below the peak of more than 13 million in 1979.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor, but such practices occurred. The government routinely enforced these laws effectively. Resources and inspections were generally adequate and penalties were sufficiently stringent compared with other sentences for serious crimes.

The Modern Slavery Law, enacted in 2015, requires more than 12,000 firms with a global turnover of 36 million pounds ($47.2 million) that supply goods or services in the UK to publish an annual statement setting out what steps they are taking to ensure that slave labor is not being used in their operations and supply chain. Foreign companies and subsidiaries that “carry on a business” in the UK also have to comply with this law. The law includes the ability for courts to make reparation orders following the conviction of exploiters and prevention orders to ensure that those who pose a risk of committing modern slavery offenses cannot work in relevant fields, such as with children.

Forced labor in the UK involved both foreign and domestic workers, mainly in sectors characterized by low-skilled, low-paid manual labor and heavy use of flexible, temporary workers. Those who experienced forced labor practices tended to be poor, living on insecure and subsistence incomes and often in substandard accommodations. Victims of forced labor included men, women, and children. Forced labor was normally more prevalent among the most vulnerable, minorities or socially excluded groups. Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania, and Poland were the most likely countries of origin, but some victims were from the UK itself. Most migrants entered the UK legally. Many migrants used informal brokers to plan their journey and find work and accommodation in the UK, enabling the brokers to exploit the migrants through high fees and to channel them into forced labor situations. Many with limited English were trapped in poverty through a combination of debts, flexible employment, and constrained opportunities. Migrants were forced to share rooms with strangers in overcrowded houses, and often the work was just sufficient to cover rent and other charges. Sexual exploitation was the most common form of modern slavery reported in the UK, followed by labor exploitation, forced criminal exploitation, and domestic servitude. Migrant workers were subject to forced labor in agriculture, construction, food processing, service industries (especially nail salons), and on fishing boats. Women employed as domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to forced labor.

In Bermuda the Department of Immigration and the Director of Public Prosecutions confirmed there were no cases of forced labor during the year, although historically there were some cases of forced labor, mostly involving migrants, among men in the construction sector and women in domestic service. Media did not report any cases of forced labor or worker exploitation in 2016. The law requires employers to repatriate work-permit holders. Failure to do so had been a migrant complaint. The cases of worker exploitation largely consisted of employers requiring workers to work longer hours or to perform work outside the scope of their work permit. The Department of Immigration imposed civil penalties in approximately eight such cases. The penalties for ‎employing someone outside the scope of their work permit are 5,000 Bermudian dollars ($5,000) for the first offense and $10,000 Bermudian dollars ($10,000) for the second or subsequent offenses.

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

UK law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 13 with exceptions for sports, modeling, and paid performances, which may require a child performance license. The law prohibits those under 16 from working in an industrial enterprise, including transportation or street trading. Children’s work hours are strictly limited and may not interfere with school attendance. Different legislation governs the employment of persons under 16, and, while some laws are common across the UK, local bylaws vary. If local bylaws so require, children between the ages of 13 and 16 must apply for a work permit from a local authority. The local authority’s education and welfare services have primary responsibility for oversight and enforcement of the permits.

The Department for Education has primary regulatory responsibility related to child labor, although local authorities generally handled enforcement. Penalties for noncompliance consist of relatively low fines. The Department of Education did not keep records of the number of local prosecutions, but officials insisted the department effectively enforced applicable laws.

In Bermuda children under the age of 13 may perform light work of an agricultural, horticultural, or domestic character if the parent or guardian is the employer. Schoolchildren may not work during school hours or more than two hours on school days. No child under 15 may work in any industrial undertaking, other than light work, or on any vessel, other than a vessel where only family members work. Children under 18 may not work at night, except that those ages 16 to 18 may work until midnight; employers must arrange for safe transport home for girls between ages 16 and 18 working until midnight. Penalties for violations of the law begin at 350 Bermudian dollars ($350) for the first offense and 720 Bermudian dollars ($720) for the second and subsequent offenses. The penalty for willfully abusing, mistreating, neglecting, deserting, or abandoning a child is a fine not exceeding 3,000 Bermudian dollars ($3,000) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months. The BPS reported no cases of child labor or exploitation of children during the year.

Labor laws do not set a minimum age for work in the territories of Anguilla, St. Helena-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha, and the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas). The governments of Anguilla, the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), and St. Helen-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha have not developed a list of hazardous occupations prohibited for children.

There are legislative gaps in the prohibition of trafficking in children for labor exploitation and the use of children for commercial sexual exploitation on the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and St. Helena-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha. While criminal laws prohibit trafficking in children for sexual exploitation, they do not address trafficking in children for labor exploitation. It is unclear whether laws exist in Monserrat regarding the use of children in drug trafficking and other illicit activities. Traffickers subjected children to commercial sexual exploitation in Turks and Caicos.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation regarding race, color, sex, religion or belief, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, being pregnant or on maternity leave, age, language or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. Legal protection extends to others who are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic or who have complained about discrimination or supported someone else’s claim. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, and sexual orientation and gender identity. Complainants faced higher fees in discrimination cases than in other types of claims made to employment tribunals or the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government enacted mandatory gender pay reporting, aimed at closing the “gender pay gap,” a separate concept from the equal pay principle. From April, businesses with more than 250 employees are required to measure, and then report, on how they pay men and women. This affected 8,000 businesses employing approximately 11 million persons. The gap has narrowed over the long term for low earners but has remained largely consistent over time for high earners.

In July the government required the BBC to publish information on the earnings and salaries of employees making 150,000 pounds ($196,500) or more. The information revealed two-thirds of the 96 top earners were men and that the highest-paid woman earned less than a quarter of the salary of the highest-paid man. While the list showed a gender pay gap in the BCC at 10 percent, the gap across the UK was 18 percent.

A report survey in August by public body Creative Scotland found that one-half of women working in the arts in Scotland believed their gender was a barrier in career development. The report, which surveyed 1,500 individuals working in the arts, found that men were more likely to work in senior roles and more likely to earn more than women.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The new National Living Wage became law on April 1. All workers age 25 and over are legally entitled to at least 7.50 pounds ($9.82) per hour. Workers between 21 and 24 are legally entitled to the National Minimum Wage, which was 7.05 pounds ($9.23) for individuals.

The government measures the poverty level as income less than 60 percent of the median household income; thus, the poverty line moves with the median income year to year.

Although criminal enforcement is available, most minimum wage noncompliance is pursued via civil enforcement. Civil penalties for noncompliant employers include fines of up to 200 percent of arrears capped at 20,000 pounds ($26,200) per worker) and public naming and shaming.

During the year catalogue retailer Argos was forced to pay 2.4 million pounds ($3.14 million) in wages to more than 37,000 current and former workers and was fined nearly 1.5 million pounds ($1.96 million) after HM Revenue and Customs investigation.

In February the Court of Appeal upheld a ruling that a London plumber who worked as a contractor for a company full time for six years was entitled to employment benefits such as sick pay.

The law limits the workweek to an average of 48 hours, normally averaged over a 17-week period. The law provides for one day of rest per week, 11 hours of daily rest, and a 20-minute rest break when the working day exceeds six hours. The law also mandates a minimum of four weeks of paid annual leave, including eight national holidays. As part of collective agreements, however, almost all workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year, while an employer can choose to include bank holidays as part of a worker’s statutory annual leave. An individual employee may agree by contract to work overtime for premium pay. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime, but it limits overtime to the 48-hour workweek restriction. The 48-hour workweek regulations do not apply to senior managers and others who can exercise control over their own hours of work. There are also exceptions for the armed forces, emergency services, police, domestic workers, sea and air transportation workers, and fishermen. The law allows workers to opt out of the 48-hour limit, although there are exceptions for airline staff, delivery drivers, security guards, and workers on ships or boats.

The government set appropriate and current occupational safety and health standards. The law stipulates that employers may not place the health and safety of employees at risk. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an arm of the Department for Work and Pensions, effectively enforced occupational health and safety laws in all sectors including the informal economy. The fines for penalties are 400 pounds ($524), which was sufficient to deter violations. The HSE conducted workplace inspections and may initiate criminal proceedings. HSE inspectors enforced health and safety standards by giving advice on how to comply with the law. Employers may also be ordered to make improvements, either through an improvement notice, which allows time for the recipient to comply, or a prohibition notice, which prohibits an activity until remedial action has been taken. The HSE issued notices to companies and individuals for breaches of health and safety law. The notice may involve one or more instances when the recipient has failed to comply with health and safety law, each of which was called a “breach.” The HSE prosecuted recipients for noncompliance with a notice while the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) prosecuted similar cases in Scotland.

Figures for 2015-16 show the HSE and COPFS prosecuted 696 cases with at least one conviction secured in 660 of these cases, a conviction rate of 95 percent. Across all enforcing bodies there were 11,403 notices issued. HSE and COPFS prosecutions led to fines totaling 38.3 million pounds ($50.2 million) compared with the 18.1 million pounds ($23.7 million) in fines from 2014-15.

Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

According to the HSE annual report, 137 workers were killed at work in 2016-17. An estimated 621,000 workers sustained a nonfatal injury at work according to self-reports.

Bermuda’s law does not provide for a minimum wage, but the Department of Labor and Training enforces any contractually agreed wage. The law requires that work in excess of 40 hours per week be paid at the overtime rate or with compensatory time off; employees may waive rights to overtime pay. The law also requires that employees have a rest period of at least 24 consecutive hours per week. It provides for paid public holidays and two weeks’ paid annual leave. Regulations enforced by the Department of Labor and Training extensively cover the safety of the work environment; occupational safety and health standards are current and appropriate for the main industries. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. No industrial injuries were reported in 2016.

Uruguay

Executive Summary

The Oriental Republic of Uruguay is a constitutional republic with an elected president and a bicameral legislature. In 2014 in a free and fair runoff election, Tabare Vazquez won a five-year presidential term, and his Frente Amplio coalition won a majority in parliament.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included poor and potentially life-threatening conditions in some prisons, widespread use of extended pretrial detention, and violence against women and children.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, and there were no reports of impunity during the year.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

As of October 18, the UN had received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse committed during the year by the country’s military personnel serving in UN peacekeeping operations. In March an allegation of transactional sex was made against eight Uruguayan troops serving in the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As of October the investigation was pending. In the interim the UN suspended its payments to Uruguay.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions continued to be poor and potentially life threatening in some facilities. A 2016 report to parliament classified 26 percent of prisons as having conditions of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and 33 percent with insufficient conditions for rehabilitation.

Physical Conditions: Parliament’s special rapporteur on the prison system reported that severe overcrowding affected sections of prisons in the departments of Canelones, Maldonado, Tacuarembo, Salto, Artigas, Treinta y Tres, and Cerro Largo as well as the capital city of Montevideo. A report to parliament by the National Mechanism against Torture (MNP) entity, under the country’s National Institution of Human Rights (INDDHH), reported that in 2016 the major deficiencies of the prison system were endemic and that prison authorities had not made significant advancements. The report described overcrowding, a high proportion of prisoners without sentences, severe garbage disposal problems affecting hygiene and environment conditions, management problems affecting facilities and services, a lack of socioeducational programs for prisoner reinsertion into society, and inadequate classification of prisoners due to a lack of uniform and coherent criteria (particularly for women).

The situation for female inmates varied around the country. The MNP reported 60 percent of women were located in two facilities in Montevideo, including one for mothers with children. Children accompanying their mothers lived in facilities with problems such as poor planning and design, security concerns due to a lack of prisoner classification, health and environmental concerns for young children, a lack of specialized services and facilities, and undefined and unclear policies for special-needs inmates. The remaining 40 percent of women prisoners were held in separate facilities within male prisons throughout the country. According to the INDDHH, women were located in the worst parts of the units. This led to difficulties in access to food, intimate spaces, and visits with family members as well as difficulties obtaining information and technical and human resources.

The MNP reported that in December 2016 (latest information available) the National Institute for Adolescent Social Inclusion held 470 juvenile offenders in its facilities, of whom 98 were awaiting sentencing. Some were imprisoned at age 17 and remained in prison for up to five years. In July Carolina Barbara, coordinator for the rights of children of the World Organization Against Torture, visited facilities and reported continued mistreatment of inmates, unresolved understaffing problems, and excessive use of preventive detention.

The special rapporteur reported that 29 of 47 prisoner deaths in 2016 were due to prisoner-on-prisoner violence and 12 prisoner deaths were a result of suicide. In 2016 there were more homicides and suicides in prisons than in any of the previous 11 years. Most deaths (71 percent) took place in Units 3 and 4, the largest prison facilities in Montevideo. The lack of educational and occupational activities for inmates was a major source of fighting and death among inmates. Shortages in personnel and basic elements of control, such as security cameras, made prevention, control, and clarification of facts in security incidents difficult. The rapporteur added that shortages of prison staff to securely transport and accompany inmates affected prisoners’ ability to participate in workshops, classes, sports, and labor-related activities. Some lawyers held video conferences with their clients due to the unsafe conditions that prevented them from visiting certain modules in Montevideo.

The special rapporteur noted many inmates had mental health problems that were not treated in prison. He added it was difficult for inmates to access psychological or psychiatric help or to participate in social programs or support groups to prevent suicidal acts. Annual clinics had been discontinued, and often operational difficulties (lack of officials, overwhelming workload, lack of coordination) prevented inmates from being taken to medical appointments. The public mental health hospitals that received prisoners suffered overcrowding and infrastructure problems.

In June a court ruled against the government on a writ of protection case on behalf of seven prisoners suffering from serious malnutrition due to bullying from other prisoners. The court decision established a 72-hour period for the government to relocate the prisoners, provide them proper access to food and hygiene products, and prepare individualized recovery plans, and prison officials complied.

Administration: Independent authorities investigated allegations of inhuman conditions. The Office of Probation Measures continued to lack sufficient human and financial resources to work in most of the country’s 19 departments.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, local human rights groups, media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and international bodies. Parliament’s special rapporteur on the prison system, the INDDHH, and the MNP were also allowed to monitor prisons.

Improvements: The MNP reported that the National Institute for Rehabilitation (INR) closed a maximum-security area in a Montevideo unit because of its poor conditions, following recommendations from the special rapporteur. The INR launched a program to assist migrant and foreign prisoners with legal and psychological counseling, translation and communication services, and socioeducational support. The Gender and Diversity Unit of the INR organized programs for inmates on gender discrimination; gender-based violence; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights; and the role of men in society and the culture of machismo. The diversity unit also implemented a protocol to better address the situation of children of prisoners. In addition, the unit trained INR employees to manage security issues with a gender perspective in mind.

The INR and a local bank signed an agreement to provide banking services to prisoners engaged in small businesses inside Punta de Rieles prison. In August the INR and the National Weather Service signed an agreement for prisoners to do building and maintenance work at weather forecasting stations throughout the country. The INR and the Montevideo municipality agreed to allow prisoners to perform maintenance and repair work in the city.

Punta de Rieles prisoners toured Montevideo neighborhoods to educate youth about the negative personal impact of being in prison and the challenges of facing life after release. Four female inmates in Montevideo opened a delicatessen for prison guards, prisoners, and family members.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law and constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of 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 National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, maintain internal security. The National Directorate for Migration, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for migration and border enforcement. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and have some domestic responsibilities as guardians of the outside perimeter of six prisons. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the National Police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

The judiciary continued to investigate human rights violations committed during the 1973-85 military dictatorship, which the law classifies as crimes against humanity. In April retired army colonel Rodolfo Gregorio Alvarez Nieto, nephew of the late dictator Gregorio Alvarez Armelino, was indicted for torture and abuse of authority during the dictatorship. Alvarez’s victim was Gerardo Riet Bustamante, a member of the Partido por la Victoria del Pueblo (Party for the Victory of the People) and a union leader. Alvarez was a captain and military tribunal judge at the time of Riet’s arrest in 1980. Alvarez took Riet’s statement at the same location where Riet was physically and psychologically tortured. Riet was forced to sign his deposition, and after he experienced a simulation of his sister’s death, he suffered a nervous breakdown. According to press reports, the court decision was the first indictment in the country for a crime against humanity. Alvarez’s lawyers appealed the decision. The Court of Appeals subsequently dismissed the torture charge but confirmed the prosecution for physical coercion against detainees.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police apprehended suspects with warrants issued by a duly authorized official and brought them before an independent judiciary. Arrests may be made without a judge’s order when persons are caught in the commission of a crime. The law provides detainees with the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention and requires that the detaining authority explain the legal grounds for the detention. For a detainee who cannot afford a defense attorney, the court appoints a public defender at no cost to the detainee. The apprehended suspect must be brought before a judge within 24 hours so the judge can determine whether a formal investigation must be conducted and whether precautionary measures, including preventive detention, are warranted. If no charges are brought, the case is filed, but the investigation may continue and the case reopened if new evidence emerges.

The possibility of bail exists but was not used. Most persons facing lesser charges were not jailed. Officials allowed detainees prompt access to family members. Confessions obtained by police prior to a detainee’s appearance before a judge and without an attorney present are not valid. A prosecutor leads the investigation of a detainee’s claim of mistreatment.

Pretrial Detention: The new criminal procedure code, which the government began implementing in November, aims to lessen the problem of pretrial detention, since cases were processed with greater speed. Observers believed the new system was effective in reducing the rates of pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Judicial officials received threats from organized crime groups, and the government assigned police protection to them.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges brought against them, to have a trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if they are unable to afford one), to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to receive free assistance of an interpreter, to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence, and to appeal.

Juries are not used; under the previous criminal procedural code, trial proceedings usually consisted of written arguments to the judge and were not normally made public. Only the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney had access to the written record. Individual judges could elect to hear oral arguments, but most judges chose to rule on a case solely based on an examination of written documents, a major factor slowing down the judicial process.

During the year the government prepared a transition from an inquisitorial system to an accusatory system of criminal justice to address inefficiency, opacity, and the overuse of pretrial detentions, as well as to establish a more fair and transparent judicial system that provides greater advocacy to victims. Parliament approved the reform of the criminal procedure code in 2014 and passed two laws to begin to put the new code into practice. The government trained police, prosecutors, and judicial personnel throughout the year. The government also carried out numerous interagency training sessions, with support from civil society and international organizations, to train legal and judicial officials on the new code.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There are transparent administrative procedures to handle complaints of abuse by government agents. An independent and impartial judiciary handles civil disputes, but its decisions were sometimes ineffectively enforced. Local police lacked the training and staff to enforce restraining orders, which often were generated during civil disputes related to domestic violence. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions filed by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, 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 law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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, 66 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

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 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. Through its refugee commission, the government has a system for adjudicating asylum claims, providing protection to refugees, and finding durable solutions, including resettlement.

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 2014 Tabare Vazquez of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) coalition won a five-year presidential term in a free and fair runoff election. The runoff followed a series of party primaries and a free and fair first-round election involving seven political parties. In parliamentary elections in 2015, the Frente Amplio won 15 of 30 seats in the Chamber of Senators and 50 of 99 seats in the Chamber of Representatives.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/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 generally implemented the law effectively. While officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices, authorities addressed them with appropriate legal action, and the country was considered to have a low level of corruption.

Corruption: In September, Vice President Raul Sendic resigned from office amid investigations into acts of corruption and complaints of mismanagement surrounding him. Sendic was under investigation for allegedly making personal expenditures on an official credit card and mismanaging state-owned oil company ANCAP.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials. Each year the presidentially appointed Transparency and Ethics Board lists the names of government officials expected to file a declaration on its website and informs the individuals’ organizations of those expected to comply. The government official, the judiciary, a special parliamentary committee, or the board may access the information in the declarations (by majority vote of the board). The board may direct an official’s office to withhold 50 percent of the employee’s salary until the declaration is presented, and it may publish the names of those who fail to comply in the federal register. There is a requirement for filing, but there is no review of the filings absent an allegation of wrongdoing.

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 INDDHH, an autonomous agency that reports to parliament, is composed of five board members proposed by civil society organizations and approved by a two-thirds vote in parliament for a period of five years (renewable one time). It is tasked with the defense, promotion, and protection of the gamut of human rights guaranteed by the constitution and international law.

Parliament’s special rapporteur on the prison system advises lawmakers on monitoring compliance with domestic legislation and international conventions. The special rapporteur oversees the work of the institutions that run the country’s prisons and the social reintegration of former prisoners.

The Secretariat for Human Rights of the Office of the President is the lead agency for the human rights components of public policy within the executive. It is led by a governing board composed of the secretary of the Office of the President of the Republic, who acts as chair, and the ministers for foreign affairs, education and culture, interior, and social development. The Secretariat for Human Rights for the Recent Past of the Office of the President has the responsibility to examine and ascertain the truth about human rights violations that occurred between June 1968 and March 1985 under the responsibility or with the acquiescence of the state.

The Honorary Committee Against Racism, Xenophobia, and All Other Forms of Discrimination is tasked with analyzing the situation with regard to racism and discrimination. The committee plans educational campaigns intended to preserve social, cultural, and religious pluralism; to eliminate discriminatory, xenophobic, and racist attitudes; and to promote respect for diversity. It also receives and centralizes information on racist, xenophobic, and discriminatory behavior and provides free and comprehensive advice to persons or groups who consider themselves to be victims of discrimination or racist attitudes. The committee includes government, religious, and civil society representatives. The committee had not been allocated a budget since 2010 but received economic support from the government for some activities.

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 allows for sentences of two to 12 years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of rape, and authorities effectively enforced the law. The law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence.

The Ministry of Interior reported 117 cases of rape and 19 cases of attempted rape in 2016. The number of rape cases and attempted rape cases increased 29 percent in the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2016. There were 31,854 reports of domestic violence in the first 10 months of the year. In the first half of the year, reports of domestic violence increased by 12 percent, compared with the same period in 2016. In the first 10 months of the year, 23 women died because of domestic violence perpetrated by their partners or family members. During the year the government applied the electronic bracelet program in 526 cases to address domestic violence.

The law allows sentences of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of committing an act of violence or making continued threats of violence. Civil courts decided most domestic cases, and judges in these cases often issued restraining orders, which were difficult to enforce. The judiciary and the Ministry of Interior continued the use of double ankle-bracelet sets (one bracelet for the victim and one for the aggressor) to track the distance between the two. The ministry reported having trained 15,000 police officers on domestic violence issues since 2012.

The Ministry of Social Development, some police stations in the interior, the National Institute for Children and Adolescent Affairs (INAU), and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operated shelters where abused women and children could seek temporary refuge. NGOs and government actors reported the shelters were often overcrowded. The Montevideo municipal government and the state-owned telephone company, Antel, funded a free nationwide hotline operated by trained NGO employees for victims of domestic violence.

The government’s 2016-19 Action Plan For a Life Free of Gender-Based Violence provides for interagency coordination on violence prevention, access to justice, victim protection and attention, and punishment of perpetrators. It also promoted social and cultural awareness and provided training for public servants. The Prosecutor General’s Office established a specialized gender unit in September 2016 to incorporate a gender perspective in the agency’s work, promote greater respect for women’s rights, combat gender-based violence, and enhance interagency coordination.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and punishes it by fines or dismissal. The law establishes guidelines for the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as in student-professor relations, and provides damages for victims. In September the government passed a decree regulating the 2009 law against sexual harassment in the workplace.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women, however, faced discrimination in employment, pay, credit, education, housing, and business ownership. The law does not require equal pay for equal work. In April the National Institute of Statistics reported the salary of women in the labor market ranged from 10 to 30 percent below that of men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory and/or from one’s parents. The government immediately registered all births.

Child Abuse: A total of 2,198 cases of violence against children and adolescents were entered into the INAU information system as of October. INAU reported an increase in its nationwide hotline hours of operation by 45 percent in 2016. The System for the Protection of Childhood and Adolescence Against Violence (SIPIAV) and the NGO Claves implemented awareness campaigns. SIPIAV coordinated interagency efforts regarding the protection of children’s rights. In June Jorge Cardona of the UN Committee for the Rights of Children raised concern over high poverty affecting children in the country.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but with parental consent it is 12 for girls and 14 for boys.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography; some children were victims, and authorities made efforts to enforce the law. The law does not specifically criminalize prostitution of children as child sex trafficking. The law establishes the minimum age for consensual sex as 12. When a sexual union takes place between an adult and a minor under age 15, violence is presumed and statutory rape law, which carries a penalty of two to 12 years in prison, may be applied. Minors between 12 and 15 may legally engage in consensual sex with each other. Penalties for trafficking children range from four to 16 years in prison. The penalty for child pornography ranges from one to six years in prison, and the law was effectively enforced

In 2016 the National Committee for the Eradication of the Commercial and Noncommercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents approved a national plan of action for 2016-21.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Central Jewish Committee reported that the Jewish community had an estimated population of 15,000.

In January the government allocated media network time to broadcast a commemorative message for International Holocaust Day issued by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Parliament also commemorated International Holocaust Day at a widely attended ceremony.

In March the municipality of Paysandu inaugurated a plaque on the corner where Jewish businessman and community leader David Fremd was stabbed to death in March 2016 by a schoolteacher allegedly aligned with anti-Jewish movements. Parliament paid homage to Fremd during a special session. Representatives from Fremd’s family, the Red Cross, the Catholic Church, the Jewish community, and social organizations, as well as the Israeli ambassador, attended the ceremonies. The Central Jewish Committee organized a workshop on antidiscrimination legislation attended by government officials, Supreme Court of Justice representatives, and Argentine religious officials.

The Ministry of Defense met with the Central Jewish Committee and political leaders to discuss how to dispose of an 800-pound bronze eagle remnant of the Nazi German World War II-era cruiser Admiral Graf Spee that sank off the coast in 1939. While some suggested displaying the piece along with other remnants of the ship in a museum, the Central Jewish Committee and politicians feared that exhibiting the piece could attract and embolden foreign and domestic neo-Nazi supporters.

The Holocaust Memorial in Montevideo was vandalized twice in the span of a week with anti-Semitic graffiti. The memorial was defaced with messages denying the Jewish genocide during World War II. On both occasions local authorities immediately removed the graffiti, condemned the act of vandalism, announced the monument would be monitored, and asked citizens to practice good sense, tolerance, and peace. There were also reports of anti-Semitic graffiti around bus stops.

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 prohibits abuse of persons with disabilities in educational and mental facilities. The law also grants persons with disabilities the right to vote and participate in civic affairs without restriction. The government in general did not monitor compliance and did not effectively enforce provisions or promote programs to provide for access to buildings, information, public transportation, and communications.

PRONADIS is the governmental entity responsible for developing actions, programs, and regulations to provide building and facilities access; cultural, sports and recreational opportunities; education; and employment to persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Development continued to train government employees on dealing with persons with disabilities.

The law reserves no less than 4 percent of public-sector jobs for persons with physical and mental disabilities. In July a report of the National Office of Civil Service of the Presidency of the Republic stated that only 0.66 percent of government job vacancies in 2016 were filled by persons with disabilities. Representative Camila Ramirez (an alternate in the National Party), the country’s first deaf member of parliament, stated in August she was not allowed to enter the Chamber of Representatives with an interpreter.

Government decrees certify and regulate the use of canes and establish provisions for extending adequate training in their use. Guide dogs legally have full access to public and private premises and transportation. Most public buses did not have provisions for passengers with disabilities other than one reserved seat, although airports and ports offered accessibility accommodations. The law also provides tax benefits to private-sector companies and grants priority benefits to small and medium-sized companies owned by persons with disabilities.

The law grants children with disabilities the right to attend school (primary, secondary, and higher education). Ramps built at public elementary and high schools facilitated access. The state-funded University of the Republic offered sign-language interpreters for deaf students. Some government buildings, commercial sites, movie theaters, and other cultural venues lacked access ramps. Plan Ceibal continued to offer specially adapted laptops to children with disabilities.

In March the government enacted a protocol for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in public education centers. In May a civil court ruling obligated the state to ensure that local television channels have sign language interpretation or subtitles for all local programs.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country’s Afro-Uruguayan minority continued to face societal discrimination and high levels of poverty. The interagency antidiscrimination committee and the National Institution of Human Rights continued to receive complaints of racism. In June, as head of the government’s ethnic and racial equality efforts, the Ministry of Social Development and NGOs jointly commemorated the second annual month of Afro-descendant heritage with cultural and awareness activities. The ministry trained 295 persons on Afro-descendent issues in 2016. The National Police Academy, National School for Peacekeeping Operations of Uruguay, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ School of Diplomacy included discrimination awareness training as part of their curricula.

NGOs reported “structural racism” in society and noted that the percentage of Afro-Uruguayans working as unskilled laborers was much higher than for other groups. Afro-Uruguayans were underrepresented in government (two representatives in parliament and the president of the National Postal Service were Afro-Uruguayan), academia, and in the middle and upper echelons of private-sector firms. The law grants 8 percent of state jobs to Afro-Uruguayan minority candidates who comply with constitutional and legal requirements. Unemployment of Afro-Uruguayan women remained high. The National Employment Agency is required to include Afro-Uruguayans in its training courses. The law also requires that all scholarship and student support programs include a quota for Afro-Uruguayans, and it grants financial benefits to companies that hire them.

In November the domestic NGO Jovenes Afro-Uruguayos filed a formal complaint regarding a case of racial discrimination involving BSE, a state-owned bank. According to petitioners, the bank kept a list with the names of Afro-Uruguayan customers marked in red, required them to wear a red ribbon on their clothes, and seated them together in one area. Bank officials later publicly apologized for the incident and committed to improving its processes.

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. Authorities generally protected the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, although civil society representatives asserted that generally government mechanisms for protection were weak and ineffective. Leaders of civil society organizations reported that despite the legal advancement of LGBTI issues, societal discrimination remained high. In 2016 the Ministry of Social Development launched a Consultative Council on Sexual Diversity represented by members of various NGOs, which provides recommendations to the government on sexual diversity policies. The ministry reported that 30 percent of transgender persons were unemployed, 65 percent worked in prostitution, and the majority had low levels of education. Members of the transgender community claimed to suffer social discrimination in society and within their families. Michelle Suarez, who in October joined parliament as the country’s first transgender senator, vowed to use her position to expand and protect the rights of transgender persons.

In May the Ministry of Tourism launched an international tourism campaign based on the country’s respect for diversity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were isolated reports of societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, protects the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The government respected and effectively enforced these rights in practice. The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in practice. Civil servants, employees of state-run enterprises, private-enterprise workers, and legal foreign workers may join unions. The law regulates collective bargaining and grants the government a significant role in adjudicating labor disputes. The law also designates trade unions to negotiate on behalf of workers whose companies are not unionized. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities and pay them an indemnity. In addition, if an employer contracts employees from a third-party firm, the law holds the employer responsible for possible labor infringements committed by the third-party firm. Workers in the informal sector were excluded from these protections.

The Collective Bargaining Division of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security investigates antiunion discrimination claims filed by union members. Information on government remedies and penalties for violations was not available. There were generally effective, albeit lengthy, mechanisms for resolving workers’ complaints against employers. The law establishes a conciliatory process before a trial begins and requires that the employer be informed of the reason for a claim and the alleged amount owed to the worker.

Worker organizations operated free of government and political intervention. The governing Frente Amplio coalition provided strong political support to labor unions in general, and unions were very active in the political and economic life of the country and in advocating for public policies.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. The law establishes penalties of two to 12 years of prison for forced labor crimes. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The labor ministry investigated three cases of forced labor during the year. Information on the effectiveness of inspections and governmental remedies was not available. Foreign workers were vulnerable to forced labor in agriculture, construction, and domestic service.

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, but INAU may issue work permits for children ages 13 to 15 under circumstances specified by law. Minors ages 15 to 18 must have government permission to work, undergo physical exams prior to beginning work, and renew the exams yearly to confirm that the work does not exceed the physical capacity of the minor. The government maintains a list of hazardous or fatiguing work that minors should not perform and for which it does not grant permits. Children ages 15 to 18 may not work more than six hours per day within a 36-hour workweek and may not work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for overall compliance with labor regulations, but INAU is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Violations of child labor laws by companies and individuals are punishable by fines determined by an adjustable government index. Parents of minors involved in illegal child labor may receive a sentence of three months to four years in prison, according to the penal code. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Due to a lack of dedicated resources, enforcement was mixed and particularly poor in the informal economy, where most child labor occurred. The main child labor activities reported in the interior of the country were on small farms, maintenance work, animal feeding, cleaning milking yards, cattle roundup, beauty shops, and as kitchen aids. In Montevideo the main labor activities were in the food industry (supermarkets, fast food restaurants, and bakeries) and in services, gas stations, customer service, delivery services, cleaning, and kitchen aid activities. In 2016, the latest year for which data was available, INAU worked with the Ministry of Labor and the National Insurance Bank to investigate 55 percent more child labor complaints than in 2015 and worked with the Ministry of Interior to enhance the judiciary’s ability to prosecute cases. INAU had seven trained child-labor inspectors (four in Montevideo and three in the interior), who completed 2,649 inspections in 2016. INAU continued its efforts to prevent and regulate child labor and provided training on child labor matters.

Child labor continued to be reported in activities such as domestic service, street vending, garbage collection and recycling, construction in the informal sector, and in agriculture and forestry sectors, which were generally less strictly regulated and where children often worked with their families.

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 on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV status, or other communicable diseases. The government in general effectively enforced applicable law and regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to sex and race. The government took steps to prevent and eliminate discrimination (see sections 5 and 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage for all workers was 11,150 pesos ($380). The official per capita poverty income level was approximately 10,740 pesos ($370) per month, according to the National Institute of Statistics.

The law stipulates that the standard workweek for those in the industrial and retail sectors may not exceed 44 or 48 hours with daily breaks of 30 minutes to two and one-half hours, depending on the sector. The law requires that workers receive premium pay for work in excess of regular work schedule hours. The law entitles all workers to 20 days of paid vacation after one year of employment and to paid annual holidays, and it prohibits compulsory overtime beyond a maximum 50-hour workweek. Employers in the industrial sector are required to give workers either Sunday off or one day off every six days of work (variable workweek). Workers in the retail sector are entitled to a 36-hour block of free time each week.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational safety and health standards, and the standards were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The law and regulations protect the rights of foreign and national workers in the formal sector but does not extend protection to the informal economy or to female foster caregivers for abandoned children who provide services on behalf of INAU.

Formal-sector workers, including domestic and migrant workers and workers in the agricultural sector, are covered by laws on minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards. Agricultural workers had a slightly higher minimum wage. These laws do not cover workers in the informal sector.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum monthly wage for both public- and private-sector employees and for enforcing legislation regulating health and safety conditions. The ministry had 120 labor inspectors. The number of penalties imposed for labor violations was unavailable, and penalties appeared to be insufficient to deter violations of labor laws in all cases.

The government monitored wages and other benefits, such as social security and health insurance, through the Social Security Fund and the Internal Revenue Service. The Ministry of Public Health’s Bureau of Environment and Occupational Work is responsible for developing policies to detect, analyze, prevent, and control risk factors that may affect workers’ health. In general authorities effectively enforced these standards in the formal sector but less so in the informal sector.

The labor ministry’s Social Security Fund monitored domestic work and may obtain judicial authorization to conduct home inspections to investigate potential labor law violations.

By law workers may not be exposed to situations that endanger their health or safety and may remove themselves from such situations without jeopardy to their employment. Government authorities and unions protected employees who removed themselves from such activities. The Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for carrying out safety and health inspections in the agricultural sector.

The Ministry of Labor reported 33,000 labor accidents and 14 labor-related deaths in 2016, compared with 41,000 accidents and six deaths in 2014. The ministry also reported a reduction of accidents in the construction sector from 6,000 accidents to 3,700. The National Employment and Professional Development Institute and the Construction Training Center trained workers from high-risk areas.

Uzbekistan

Executive Summary

Uzbekistan is a constitutional republic with a political system dominated by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his supporters. On December 4, 2016, former prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev won the presidential elections with 88 percent of the vote. The Organization for Security and Cooperation’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODHIR), in its final election observation report, noted, “the campaign lacked competitiveness and voters were not presented with a genuine choice of political alternatives,” with OSCE/ODIHR observers “citing serious irregularities inconsistent with national legislation and OSCE commitments, including proxy voting and indications of ballot box stuffing.” At the same time, the report also identified positive changes, such as the election’s increased transparency, service to voters with disabilities, and unfettered access for more than 500 international observers. Parliamentary elections took place in December 2014. According to the OSCE’s observer mission, those elections did not meet international commitments or standards.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, but security services permeated civilian structures, and their interaction was opaque, making it difficult to define the scope and limits of civilian authority.

The most significant human rights issues included torture and abuse of detainees by security forces, arbitrary arrest, and incommunicado and prolonged detention. Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life-threatening. Authorities subjected human rights activists, journalists, and others who criticized the government, as well as their family members, to physical abuse and politically motivated prosecution and detention. There were restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, including through the enforcement of repressive criminal libel laws; restrictions on assembly, association; and restrictions on civil society; widespread restrictions on religious freedom, including imprisonment of believers of all faiths; and restrictions on freedom of movement. Citizens were unable to choose their government in free, fair, and periodic elections, and corruption was endemic. Human rights problems also included human trafficking, including government-compelled forced labor, and incarceration of LGBTI individuals based on laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct.

Government prosecutions of officials were rare, selective, but often public, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with 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 several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including by torture.

In July Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the government to investigate the enforced disappearance and death in prison of human rights activist and opposition party member Nuraddin Jumaniyazov, initially arrested in 2014 on alleged political motivations. His trial and arrest had numerous procedural shortcomings, according to HRW and his lawyer, Polina Braunerg. In speaking with HRW, Braunerg stated Jumaniyazov had been tortured and that she was barred from communicating with him after October 2014. Jumaniyazov and his lawyer had made an appeal to the courts to seek medication for his aliments. In 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee called on the government to produce information regarding Jumaniyazov, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported no reply from the government. In February officials informed Braunerg she could meet with Jumaniyazov in a prison hospital, but she was not informed of his death. Jumaniyazov allegedly died in prison in December 31, 2016, from tuberculosis and diabetes-related issues.

In January Asiaterra.info, an independent website, reported that Muradilla Omonov, a businessman, died in Jarkurgan District of Surkhandarya Region after he was detained with no legal explanation and brought to the police department in Jarkurgan. Omonov’s family demanded exhumation of his body, and medical examiners found the body bore signs of physical abuse inconsistent with the official cause of death, heart attack. Police later revised the cause of death to suicide. On October 20, family members received a letter from the Prosecutor General’s Office that stated a special task force of investigators reviewed the case and concluded that there was no evidence that contradicted the official version of suicide.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

In its 2017 annual report, the Geneva-based UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances noted it had seven outstanding cases from previous years. According to the working group, the government did not respond to the group’s requests to visit the country.

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, law enforcement and security officers routinely beat and otherwise mistreated detainees to obtain confessions, incriminating information, or for corrupt financial gain. Sources reported that torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment was common in prisons, pretrial facilities, and local police and security service precincts for those arrested or detained on religious or extremism charges. Reported methods of abuse included harsh beatings, denial of food and use of toilet, and tying of hands. There were also continued reports that authorities exerted psychological pressure on detainees, including threats against family members and blackmail. Torture and impunity for torturers continued regarding members of faith communities organized outside of the state religion, including Muslims, Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to members of the religious communities.

In 2010 the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern that the definition of torture in the criminal code did not conform to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the country is a party. In March a new law on torture went into force. Article 8 of the Law on Police states, “employees of the internal affairs cannot employ torture, violence, or other cruel or degrading treatments. The employee of the internal affairs is obliged to prevent intentional acts causing pain, physical or moral suffering to the citizen.” During the year the government began allowing international inspections of the prison system. In September UNICEF visited a prison for juvenile offenders and in October, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief visited the maximum-security prison Jaslyk during his 11-day country visit.

On May 26, the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan reported that the Tashkent City Criminal Court charged 11 Muslims–Ravshan Mirzaev, Dilshod Kamilov, Abdurashid Rashidov, Khusnuddin Inagamov, Sobirjon Khasanov, Bakhodir Sadikov, Afzaljon Urunov, Ravshan Sadikov, Davron Fayziev, Latip Yusupov, and Khusnuddin Rizaev–with attempts to overthrow the state. During court proceedings, Rizaev and others reported that National Security Service (NSS) officers used torture to extract false confessions, including threats to rape Rizaev’s wife in front of him. Judge Iroda Mukhamedova and government prosecutors reportedly did not address the torture claims.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were in some circumstances harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: There were reports that, in some facilities, authorities held separately those inmates convicted of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, according to human rights monitors.

Reports of overcrowding, severe abuse, and shortages of medicine were common. Inmates generally had access to potable water and food, but both reportedly were of poor quality. There were reports of political prisoners held in cells without proper ventilation and subjected to temperatures below freezing in winter and over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in summer; detention facilities commonly lacked heat or air conditioning. Family members also reported occasions when officials withheld or delayed delivery of food and medicine intended for prisoners. Unlike in past years, family members of inmates did not report any incidents of sexual abuse. As political prisoners were released, they reported to HRW and others being beaten and otherwise tortured, including the use of stress positions, while in prison.

Prison administration officials reported an active World Health Organization tuberculosis (TB) program in the prisons and an HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention program. Visiting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials noted continued high rates of TB infection in the prison system. Government efforts to lower infection rates were largely unsuccessful due to poor compliance with treatment plans. Officials reported hepatitis was not present in high numbers and that hepatitis patients received treatment in existing medical facilities and programs. Reports of such treatment could not be verified independently because access to such facilities was frequently denied.

Administration: There was no information available whether recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate. Authorities in limited cases used administrative measures such as bail, house arrest, and correctional work as alternatives to criminal sentences for nonviolent offenders. In addition, the criminal code mandates that courts cannot sentence individuals to prison if he or she has paid a fine in full. The government usually respected these injunctions unless a case was considered politically sensitive.

The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office may investigate complaints from detainees. The Ombudsman’s Office may make recommendations on behalf of specific prisoners, including changes to the sentences of nonviolent offenders to make them more appropriate to the offense. Family members of detained or released prisoners said their complaints to the ombudsman went unanswered or were referred to the original sentencing court for redress without investigation by the ombudsman.

Prison officials generally allowed family members to visit prisoners for up to four hours two to four times per year. Relatives of prisoners held on religious or extremism charges reported occasional denial of visitation rights. Officials also permitted longer visits of one to three days two to four times per year, depending on the type of prison facility, as well as overnight stays. Family members of political prisoners reported that officials frequently delayed or severely shortened visits arbitrarily. Family members of other prisoners mentioned that visits were often conditional on payment of a bribe to officials.

The government stated prisoners have the right to practice any religion or no religion, but prisoners frequently complained to family members that they were not able to observe religious rituals conflicting with the prison’s schedule. Such rituals included traditional Islamic morning prayers. Authorities forbid prisoners to observe religious holidays such as Ramadan, with no fasting allowed. Although some prison libraries had copies of the Quran and the Bible, family members continued to complain that authorities did not allow prisoners access to religious materials.

According to official government procedures, prisoners have the right to “participate in religious worship and family relations, such as marriage.” “Close relatives” also have the right to receive oral and written information from prison officials about the health and disciplinary records of their family members. Families continued to report that the government provided limited to no information or withheld information contained in health and prison records.

Family members and NGOs stated that authorities at times failed to release prisoners, especially those convicted of “religious extremism,” at the end of their terms. Prison authorities often extended inmates’ terms by accusing them of additional crimes, or of violating vague or internal prison rules, or claiming the prisoners represented a continuing danger to society.

Independent Monitoring: Independent observers had limited access to some parts of the penitentiary system, including pretrial detention facilities, juvenile and women’s prisons, and prison settlements. Between September 15 and 19, UNICEF visited the prison for juvenile offenders (juvenile colony) and two correctional-educational facilities jointly with the prosecutor’s general office. The International Committee for the Red Cross has not visited detainees since 2013. In October the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Ahmed Shaheed, visited Jaslyk, a maximum-security prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but authorities continued to engage in such practices. During the year several prominent political prisoners were released from prison. Nonetheless, arbitrary arrest on political grounds continued amidst such releases.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The government authorizes three different entities to investigate criminal activity. The Ministry of Interior controls the police, who are responsible for law enforcement, maintenance of order, and the investigation of general crimes. The Prosecutor General’s Office investigates violent crimes such as homicide as well as corruption by officials and abuse of power. The NSS, headed by a chairman who reports directly to the president, deals with national security and intelligence problems, including terrorism, corruption, organized crime, border control, and narcotics. When jurisdictions overlap, the agencies determine among themselves which takes the lead.

Impunity was a pervasive problem. The Ministry of Interior is officially charged with investigating and disciplining officers accused of human rights violations. There were no cases resulting in discipline in practice. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, affiliated with parliament, also has the power to investigate cases, although its decisions on such investigations have no binding authority.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law a judge must review any decision to arrest accused individuals or suspects. Judges granted arrest warrants in most cases. Defendants have the right to legal counsel from the time of arrest. State-appointed attorneys are available for those who do not hire private counsel. Officials did not always respect the right to counsel and occasionally forced defendants to sign written statements declining the right. Authorities’ selective intimidation and disbarment of defense lawyers produced a chilling effect that also compromised political detainees’ access to legal counsel. The law authorizes the use of house arrest as a form of pretrial detention.

The law allows detainees to request hearings before a judge to determine whether the detainees remain incarcerated or may be released before trial. In practice authorities rarely granted these hearings. The arresting authority is required to notify a relative of a detainee about the detention and to question the detainee within 24 hours of arrest. There were complaints authorities tortured suspects before notifying either family members or attorneys of their arrest to gain confessions.

Suspects have the right to remain silent and must be informed of the right to counsel. Detention without formal charges is limited to 48 hours, although a prosecutor can request an additional 48 hours, after which the person must be charged or released. Authorities typically held suspects after the allowable period of detention, according to human rights advocates. After formal charges are filed, the prosecutor decides whether a suspect is released on bail (or on the guarantee of an individual or public organization acting as surety), stays in pretrial detention, or is kept under house arrest. The judge conducting the arrest hearing is allowed to sit on the panel of judges during the individual’s trial.

The law requires authorities at pretrial detention facilities to arrange a meeting between a detainee and a representative from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office upon the detainee’s request. Officials allowed detainees in prison facilities to submit confidential complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Once authorities file charges, suspects may be held in pretrial detention for up to three months while investigations proceed. The law permits an extension of the investigation period for as much as one year at the discretion of the appropriate court upon a motion by the relevant prosecutor, who may also release a prisoner on bond pending trial. According to human rights advocates, authorities frequently ignored these legal protections. Those arrested and charged with a crime may be released without bail until trial on the condition they provide assurance of “proper behavior” and that they will appear at trial.

A decree requires that all defense attorneys pass a comprehensive relicensing examination. As in past years, several experienced and knowledgeable defense lawyers who had represented human rights activists and independent journalists lost their licenses after taking the relicensing examination or because of letters from the bar association under the control of the Ministry of Justice claiming that they violated professional ethical norms. As a result several activists and defendants faced difficulties in finding legal representation. Journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev was arrested on September 27 and held in detention for four days before his family was contacted and notified about his imprisonment; Abdullayev was denied access to legal representation until November 13, six weeks after his arrest. The delay was in part due to official pressure on attorneys not to take up the case, as reported by human rights activists following the case. The delay was also in part due to investigators’ warning the family not to hire legal counsel or provide press interviews.

Although unlicensed advocates cannot represent individuals in criminal and civil hearings, courts have the discretion to allow such an advocate if he or she belongs to a registered organization whose members are on trial.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities continued to arrest or detain persons arbitrarily on charges of extremist sentiments or activities and association with banned but previously legally registered religious groups. Local human rights activists reported that police and security service officers frequently detained and mistreated family members and close associates of registered religious and banned religious groups. Allegations of coerced confessions and testimony in such cases were commonplace.

In June the government began to phase out the use of blacklists, which contained the names of those convicted for religious crimes or crimes against the regime. Inclusion on such lists required regular visits to police for interrogation, denied issuance of passports and travel visas, and, in some cases, prohibited the purchase and use of smartphones. NGOs reported that the government was removing individuals from the blacklist after a government panel examined them for suitability to reintegrate into society. There were reports that other high-profile former prisoners and journalists, such as Muhammad Bekjanov and Khayirula Khamidov, had been removed from these blacklists.

Pretrial Detention: Prosecutors generally exercised discretion over most aspects of criminal procedures, including pretrial detention. In practice detainees had no access to a court to challenge the length or validity of pretrial detention, despite the right to do so granted by law. Even when authorities did not file charges, police and prosecutors frequently sought to evade restrictions on the length of time persons could be held without charges by holding them as witnesses rather than as suspects. Human rights defenders noted incidents where security personnel used pretrial detention from one to three months without formal charges or a court hearing. The government did not provide information regarding the number of persons held in pretrial detention centers.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law detainees or former detainees are able to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court. Appeals are sometimes open to the public by request of the applicant. New evidence is rarely heard. Appeal courts generally review previous trial records and ask applicants to declare for the record their innocence or guilt. Appeals rarely result in the courts overturning their original decisions.

Amnesty: Authorities annually grant amnesty and release individuals imprisoned for religious extremism or political grounds.

For example, in February Mukhammad Bekjanov, a former editor of the opposition newspaper Erk, was released after 18 years in prison. Additionally in February Rustam Usmanov, a political activist and government critic, was released after 19 years in prison. In March independent journalist (and cousin of the late president Karimov), Jamshid Karimov, was released from custody after 10 years of confinement without charges. In August Erkin Musaev, former director of international cooperation at the Ministry of Defense, was released after 10 years behind bars.

In October the government released five political prisoners. On October 3 and 4, the government released activist Agzam Farmonov, who served 11 years in prison, and journalist Solijon Abdurahmonov, who spent nine years in prison. On October 7, opposition and human rights activist Agzam Turgunov was released after serving nine years in prison. Later, on October 16 and October 18, respectively, human rights activists Ganihon Mamathonov and Muhammadali Qoraboev were released after spending eight and 11 years in prison.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, there were some instances in which the judiciary did not operate with complete independence and impartiality. Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, members of the judiciary reportedly rendered verdicts desired by the Prosecutor General’s Office or other law enforcement bodies.

The president appoints all judges for renewable five-year terms. Removal of Supreme Court judges must be confirmed by parliament, which generally complied with the president’s wishes.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The criminal code specifies a presumption of innocence. Most trials were officially open to the public, although access was sometimes restricted. Judges may close trials in exceptional cases, such as those involving state secrets or to protect victims and witnesses. Judges generally permitted international observers at proceedings without requiring written permission from the Supreme Court or court chairmen, but judges or other officials arbitrarily closed some proceedings to observers, even in civil cases. Authorities generally announced trials only one or two days before they began, and hearings were frequently postponed.

A panel of one professional judge and two lay assessors, selected by committees of worker collectives or neighborhood committees, generally presided over trials. Lay judges rarely speak, and the professional judge usually accepts the prosecutors’ recommendations on procedural rulings and sentencing.

Defendants have the right to attend court proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence, but judges declined defense motions to summon additional witnesses or to enter evidence supporting the defendant into the record. In the overwhelming majority of criminal cases brought to trial, the verdict was guilty. Defendants have the right to hire an attorney although some human rights activists encountered difficulties finding legal representation. The government provided legal counsel and interpreters without charge when necessary. According to credible reports, state-appointed defense attorneys routinely acted in the interest of the government rather than of their clients because of their reliance on the state for a livelihood and fear of possible recriminations.

By law a prosecutor must request an arrest order from a court, and courts rarely denied such requests. Prosecutors have considerable power after obtaining an arrest order: They direct investigations, prepare criminal cases, recommend sentences to judges, and may appeal court decisions, including the sentence. After formal charges are filed, the prosecutor decides whether a suspect is released on bail, stays in pretrial detention, or is kept under house arrest. Although the criminal code specifies a presumption of innocence, a prosecutor’s recommendations generally prevailed. If a judge’s sentence does not correspond with the prosecutor’s recommendation, the prosecutor may appeal the sentence to a higher court. Judges often based their verdicts solely on confessions and witness testimony, which authorities allegedly were thought to extract through abuse, threats to family members, or other means of coercion. This was especially common in religious extremism cases. Lawyers may, and occasionally did, call on judges to reject confessions and investigate claims of torture. Judges often did not respond to such claims or dismissed them as groundless. Courts failed to investigate properly allegations of torture. Judicial verdicts frequently alleged that defendants claimed torture to avoid criminal responsibility.

Legal protections against double jeopardy were not applied.

The law provides a right of appeal to defendants, but appeals rarely resulted in reversals of convictions. In some cases, however, appeals resulted in reduced or suspended sentences.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

International and domestic human rights organizations estimated that authorities held hundreds of prisoners on political grounds, and some groups asserted the number was in the thousands. These claims were not statistically and independently verifiable. The government denied it held political prisoners and maintained that these individuals are criminals who broke the law. The government does not permit access to such persons by human rights or humanitarian organizations such as the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

On October 15, Malohat Eshonqulova and Elena Urlaeva were detained for up to five hours in Samarkand for their monitoring of labor in the cotton harvest. On November 12, police raided Eshonqulova’s home and confiscated some of her belongings, fined her, and threatened her with internal deportation.

On September 27, Fergana News and others reported journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev had been secretly arrested. Several NGOs reported he was held incommunicado from family members and that his lawyer was not permitted to speak to him. Fergana reported that, on September 29, the NSS searched Abdullayev’s house and that several media and data items were taken by officials. Abdullayev reappeared in court on October 2; Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch called for his release. Abdullayev, under the pseudonym Usman Khaknazarov, was charged with disseminating propaganda “aimed at overthrowing the constitutional order.” The case continued at year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may file suit in civil courts for alleged human rights violations by officials, excluding investigators, prosecutors, and judges. There were reports that bribes to judges influenced civil court decisions.

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

Although the constitution and law forbid arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, authorities did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires that prosecutors approve requests for search warrants for electronic surveillance, but there is no provision for judicial review of such warrants.

There were reports that police and other security forces entered the homes of human rights activists and members of religious groups without a warrant. According to Forum 18, a Norwegian NGO that reports on religious freedom, members of Baptist, Protestant, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other minority churches holding worship services in private homes reported that armed security officers raided services and detained and fined church members for religious activity deemed illegal. Among such incidents were raids in Almalyk in February, in Tashkent in March and April, and in Nukus in April. Baptist congregants reported home intrusions by authorities even when they gathered to celebrate important occasions such as birthdays. They also reported harassment and interference by authorities when publicly reading the Bible.

Human rights activists and political opposition figures generally assumed that security agencies covertly monitored their telephone calls and activities.

The government continued to use an estimated 12,000 neighborhood (mahalla) committees as a source of information on potential “extremists.” The committees provided various social support functions, but they also functioned as an informational link from local society to government and law enforcement. Mahallas in rural areas tended to be more influential than those in cities.

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, but the government restricted these rights for both online and offline media.

Freedom of Expression: The government exercises official and unofficial restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or to discuss matters of general public interest. The law restricts criticism of the president, and publicly insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. The law specifically prohibits publication of articles that incite religious confrontation and ethnic discord or that advocate subverting or overthrowing the constitutional order.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media does not operate freely because the state exercises broad control over media coverage. All media entities, foreign and domestic, must register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Print media must also provide hard copies of publications to the government. The law holds all foreign and domestic media organizations accountable for the accuracy of their reporting, prohibits foreign journalists from working in the country without official accreditation, and subjects foreign media outlets to domestic mass media laws. The government used accreditation rules to deny foreign journalists and media outlets the opportunity to work in the country.

Amendments to the Law on Information Technologies hold bloggers legally accountable for the accuracy of what they post and prohibit posts potentially perceived as defaming an individual’s “honor and dignity.” Limitations also preclude perceived calls for public disorder, encroachment on constitutional order, posting pornography or state secrets, issuing “threats to the state,” and “other activities that are subject to criminal and other types of responsibilities according to legislation.”

The government prohibited the promotion of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism as well as the instigation of ethnic and religious hatred.

Articles in state-controlled newspapers reflected the government’s viewpoint. The main government newspapers published selected international wire stories. The government prohibited legal entities with more than 30 percent foreign ownership from establishing media outlets. The government allowed publication of a few private newspapers with limited circulation containing advertising, horoscopes, and some substantive local news, including infrequent stories critical of government socioeconomic policies.

The government used large-circulation tabloids, such as Darakchi and Bekajon, as platforms to publish articles that criticized lower-level government officials. A few purportedly independent websites consistently reported the government’s viewpoint. During the year, however, press and news organizations began broadcasting and publishing a wider variety of views and news, to include criticisms and policies enacted under former president Karimov. In July the government launched Ozbekiston, a 24-hour news channel that broadcast current affairs and news in Uzbek, Russian, and English. Most of the programming was prerecorded for later broadcast, especially programming with political content or government officials.

Violence and Harassment: Police and security services subjected print and broadcast journalists to arrest, harassment, and intimidation as well as to bureaucratic restrictions on their activity. In August police detained Samarkand-based journalist Toshpulat Rahmatullayev for taking photos at the Samarkand Extension Center of the Tashkent University for a story on university enrollment and admissions testing. Police interrogated Rahmatullayev and deleted the journalist’s photos from his camera before releasing him without charges. Uzbek Security Services arrested journalist Hayot Nasreddinov on October 20. Nasreddinov was a journalist and contributed as a blogger to RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, according to Shukhrat Babadjanov, a reporter with the broadcaster. In 2012-13, he worked as a freelancer for Moscow-based ferghana.ru, which published dozens of his articles. Nasreddinov was charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists and senior editorial staff in state media organizations reported that some officials’ responsibilities included censorship. In many cases the government placed individuals as editors in chief with the expressed intent that they serve as the main censor for a particular media outlet. Continuing the past trend of moderate criticism of the government, online publications like Kommersant.uz and Nuz.uz have published critical stories on issues such as electricity outages, currency, trade, and the black market.

Government security services and other offices regularly directed publishers and broadcasters to propagate stories that discredited individuals and human rights activists. In April online news site UzMetronom, known as a placement site for deliberate government leaks, including from the security ministries, distributed reports intended to discredit human rights activist Elena Urlaeva.

There was often little distinction between the editorial content of a government and a privately owned newspaper. Journalists engaged in little investigative reporting. Widely read tabloids occasionally published articles that presented mild criticism of government policies or discussed some problems that the government considered sensitive, such as trafficking in persons.

In April a presidential decree established an “International Press Club” and directed ministers to begin engaging with the press. Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulaziz Kamilov held a press conference July 5, during which he took questions and spoke on a range of issues for nearly two hours. Access to the press club is severely limited to predominantly state media representatives.

Libel/Slander Laws: The criminal and administrative codes impose significant fines for libel and defamation. The government used charges of libel, slander, and defamation to punish journalists, human rights activists, and others who criticized the president or the government. In February businessman Olim Sulaymanov created a Facebook video that accused a Prosecutor General’s Office official of freezing his business assets after he refused to pay what he said was a protection racket fee. Sulaymanov later appeared on a talk show to discuss the case. Following the talk show appearance, the Prosecutor’s Office filed a court motion against Sulaymanov, accusing him of libel. In April a Tashkent court sentenced Sulaymanov to three years in jail.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally allowed access to the internet, including social media sites. Internet service providers, allegedly at the government’s request, routinely blocked access to websites or certain pages of websites that the government considered objectionable, such as Fergananews.comOzodlik.org, and Asiaterra.info. The government blocked several domestic and international news websites and those operated by opposition political parties.

The media law defines websites as media outlets, requiring them to register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Websites were not required to submit hard copies of publications to the government.

According to government statistics, approximately 39 percent of individuals in the country used the internet. Unofficial estimates, especially of internet access through mobile communications devices, were higher. Several active online forums allowed registered users to post comments and read discussions on a range of social problems. To become a registered user in these forums, individuals must provide personally identifiable information. It was not clear whether the government attempted to collect this information, although provisions of the Law on Information Technologies require internet cafe proprietors to log customers’ browser history.

A decree requires all websites seeking the “.uz” domain to register with the government’s Agency for Press and Information. The decree generally affected only government-owned or government-controlled websites. Opposition websites and those operated by international NGOs or media outlets tended to have domain names registered outside the country.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government continued to limit academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities occasionally required department head approval for university lectures, and university professors generally practiced self-censorship.

Although a decree prohibits cooperation between higher educational institutions and foreign entities without the explicit approval of the government, foreign institutions often were able to obtain such approval through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially for foreign-language projects. Some school and university administrations, however, continued to pressure teachers and students to refrain from participating in conferences sponsored by diplomatic missions.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government often restricted this right. Authorities have the right to suspend or prohibit rallies, meetings, and demonstrations for security reasons. The government often did not grant the permits required for demonstrations. Authorities subjected citizens to large fines, threats, arbitrary detention, and abuse for violating procedures for organizing meetings, rallies, and demonstrations or for facilitating unsanctioned events by providing space, other facilities, or materials. Organizers of “mass events” with the potential for more than 100 participants must sign agreements with the Ministry of Interior for the provision of security prior to advertising or holding such an event. This regulation was broadly applied, even to private corporate functions.

In February police in Bukhara initially detained 20 Shia men on charges of disorderly conduct but released 18 of the men either immediately or within 15 days. Authorities charged two individuals, Zhahangir Kulizhanov and Shavkat Azimov, with illegal public association related to establishment of a religious organization. Kulizhanov and Azimov were both sentenced to pay a fine of eight million soms ($1,000), but Kulizhanov was further investigated by the NSS. On October 24, Bukhara Regional Criminal Court sentenced Kulizhanov to five years in prison term for dissemination of materials that threaten the public order.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the law provides for freedom of association, the government continued to restrict this right. The government sought to control NGO activity and expressed concerns regarding internationally funded NGOs and unregulated Islamic and minority religious groups. The operating environment for independent civil society, in particular human right defenders, remained restrictive. Activists reported continuing government control and harassment.

In August police in Karakalpakstan raided a private home where 25 members of an unregistered Protestant church gathered for dinner. All members of the church were taken into custody. One Uzbek-language bible was confiscated. According to a local NGO, diners claimed to have gathered for a private affair, while police claimed the group belonged to the same underground, unregistered church and were discussing religious matters. Karakalpakstan has only one registered non-Muslim faith church. The government reportedly has not registered a new Christian church location in eight years; the last time was the registering of an Armenian Apostolic Church in Tashkent.

The Ministry of Justice, which oversees the registration of NGOs, requires NGOs to obtain the ministry’s approval to hold large meetings with nonmembers, including foreigners; to seek the ministry’s clearance on any event materials to be distributed; and to notify the ministry in writing of the content and scope of the events in question.

There are legal restrictions on the types of groups that may be formed, and the law requires that all organizations be registered formally with the government. Authorities used registration requirements to bar foreign NGOs from the country. The law allows for a six-month grace period for new organizations to operate while awaiting registration from the Ministry of Justice, during which time the government officially classifies them as “initiative groups.” Several NGOs continued to function as initiative groups for periods longer than six months.

NGOs intending to address sensitive issues, such as HIV/AIDS or refugee problems, often faced increased difficulties in obtaining registration. The government allowed nonpolitical associations and social organizations to register, but complex rules and a cumbersome bureaucracy further complicated the process and created opportunities for government obstruction.

The government compelled most local NGOs to join a government-controlled NGO association that allowed the government considerable oversight over their funding and activities. The government required NGOs to coordinate their training sessions or seminars with government authorities. NGO managers believed this stipulation created a way for the government to require prior official permission for all NGO program activities. The government claimed these regulations were intended to simplify registration requirements and lower registration fees, but independent civil society groups reported these requirements had not simplified registration procedures.

The degree to which NGOs were able to operate varied by region because some local officials were more tolerant of NGO activities, particularly when coordinated with government agencies. Civil society groups reported that authorities imposed restrictions after groups had registered, such as requiring advance permission from the Justice Ministry for many public activities.

The administrative liability code imposes large fines for violations of procedures governing NGO activity as well as for “involving others” in “illegal NGOs”; the law does not specify whether the term refers to NGOs suspended or closed by the government or merely NGOs not officially registered. The administrative code also imposes penalties against international NGOs for engaging in political activities, activities inconsistent with their charters, or activities the government did not approve in advance.

The government continued to enforce the 2004 banking decree, ostensibly designed to combat money laundering, which complicated efforts by registered and unregistered NGOs to receive outside funding. The Finance Ministry required humanitarian aid and technical assistance recipients to submit information about their bank transactions. The Ministry of Justice required NGOs to submit detailed reports every six months on any grant funding received, events conducted, and events planned for the next six months. NGO leaders may be fined for conducting events without explicit permission from the ministry, and the fine was several times higher than for some criminal offenses.

Parliament’s Public Fund for the Support of Nongovernmental, Noncommercial Organizations, and Other Civil Society Institutions continued to conduct grant competitions to implement primarily socioeconomic projects. Some civil society organizations criticized the fund for primarily supporting government-organized NGOs. The law criminalizes membership in organizations the government broadly deemed “extremist.”

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 laws provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights, in particular through the continued requirement for citizens to receive an exit visa for travel outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In-country Movement: Citizens were required to have a domicile registration stamp in their passport before traveling domestically or leaving the country, and the government at times delayed domestic and foreign travel and emigration during the visa application process. Permission from local authorities was required to move to Tashkent City or the Tashkent Region from other parts of the country. During the year authorities eased requirements for securing Tashkent residency permits by allowing any Uzbek citizen to obtain residency with the purchase of real estate in excess of 720 million soms ($90,000). Those living and working without Tashkent City or Tashkent Region registration were unable to receive city services and could not legally work, send their children to school, or receive routine medical care.

The government required hotels to register foreign visitors with the government on a daily basis. Foreigners staying in private homes were required to register their location within three days of arrival. Government officials closely monitored foreigners in border areas, but foreigners generally could move within the country without restriction.

Foreign Travel: The government occasionally closed borders around national holidays due to security concerns. The government generally granted the requisite exit visas for citizens and foreign permanent residents to travel or emigrate outside the CIS. Exit visa procedures, however, allow authorities to deny travel based on “information demonstrating the inexpedience of the travel.” According to civil society activists, these provisions were poorly defined and denials could not be appealed. Authorities sometimes interfered in foreign travel if the purpose of the trip was expressly religious in nature.

The government requires male relatives of women between the ages of 18 and 35 to submit a statement pledging that the women would not engage in illegal behavior, including prostitution, while abroad, a regulation the government stated is aimed at combating trafficking in persons. Observers noted, however, that the majority of Uzbek trafficking victims abroad were male victims of labor trafficking.

Although the law requires authorities to reach a decision on issuing exit visas within 15 days, the government reportedly delayed exit visas for human rights activists and former political prisoners, such as Murod Juraev and Mukhammad Bekjanov. Murad Juraev applied for an exit visa in April and was approved to travel abroad at the end of October. Violating rules for exiting or entering the country is punishable by imprisonment of five to 10 years.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Access to Asylum: The laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

In the absence of a resident Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Program (UNDP) continued to assist with monitoring and resettlement processing of 18 pending (predominantly Afghan) refugee cases involving 27 individuals; such cases predated the closure of the local UNHCR office in 2006. During the year UNDP and temporary duty UNHCR staff processed five cases involving seven persons. Because the UNDP does not process new claims or make refugee status determinations, it referred potential applicants to UNHCR offices in neighboring countries.

The government did not accept UNHCR mandate certificates as a basis for extended legal residence; persons carrying such certificates must apply for either tourist visas or residence permits or face possible deportation. Residence permits were difficult to obtain. The government considered UNHCR mandate refugees from Afghanistan and Tajikistan to be economic migrants, and officials occasionally subjected them to harassment and demands for bribes. Most refugees from Tajikistan were ethnic Uzbeks. Unlike refugees from Afghanistan, those from Tajikistan were able to integrate into the local communities, and the local population supported them.

STATELESS PERSONS

Some refugees from Tajikistan were officially stateless or faced the possibility of becoming officially stateless, as many carried only old Soviet passports rather than Tajik or Uzbek passports. Children born to two stateless parents could receive Uzbek citizenship only if both parents had a residence permit.

Although official data on the number of stateless persons was not available, authoritative human rights activists estimated there were 3,000 stateless persons in Khorezm Province, Bukhara Province, and the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. Most of these individuals reportedly were women who had married and lived in neighboring Turkmenistan prior to the country’s independence in 1991. There also were reports of stateless populations in Sirdaryo and Qashkadaryo Provinces. There were reports of authorities revoking citizenship for ethnic Tajiks on allegations of fraud, even in cases where Uzbek passports had been issued more than a decade ago, rendering such persons stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The government in practice did not conduct free and fair elections, severely restricted freedom of expression, and suppressed political opposition.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Former president Karimov died in September 2016, and a special presidential election took place on December 4, 2016. Acting Interim President and Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev won the election with 88 percent of the vote. Mirziyoyev was one of four candidates who ran for election. For the 2016 special presidential elections, the government for the first time invited OSCE/ODIHR to conduct a full-scope observation mission with both short- and long-term observers. According to OSCE/ODIHRR, the 2016 presidential election demonstrated that systemic shortcomings in the election system persisted and that the dominant position of state actors and limits on fundamental freedoms continued to undermine political pluralism. These conditions resulted in a campaign that lacked genuine competition. Due to a highly restrictive and controlled media environment, voters did not have access to alternate viewpoints beyond a state-defined narrative. The OSCE/ODIHR report indicated significant irregularities were noted on election day, including indications of ballot box stuffing and widespread proxy voting.

The most recent parliamentary elections took place in December 2014. The OSCE considered those elections not in accordance with international standards. During their observations, OSCE observers uncovered registration restrictions of potential voters, restrictions on a candidate’s ability to be listed on a ballot, lack of candidate’ access to media, ballot stuffing, lack of ballot secrecy, and intimidation.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law allows independent political parties. The Ministry of Justice has broad powers to oversee parties and may withhold financial and legal support to those they judge to be opposed to government policy. There are four registered political parties. The law makes it difficult for genuinely independent political parties to organize, nominate candidates, and campaign. The law allows the Ministry of Justice to suspend parties for as long as six months without a court order. The government also exercises control over established parties by controlling their financing and media exposure.

In the 2016 special presidential elections, the OSCE/ODIHR observation mission identified shortcomings in the electoral process. Voters lacked a genuine choice of political alternatives. Only registered political parties could nominate candidates. The government did lower the number of signatures needed to gather on a nominating petition from 5 percent to 1 percent of voters nationwide. There were no debates among the candidates themselves.

The law prohibits judges, public prosecutors, NSS officials, members of the armed forces, foreign citizens, and stateless persons from joining political parties. The law prohibits parties that are based on religion or ethnicity; oppose the sovereignty, integrity, or security of the country, or the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens; promote war or social, national, or religious hostility; or seek to overthrow the government. The law also prohibits the Islamist political organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir, stating it promotes hate and condones acts of terrorism.

The government banned or denied registration to several political parties following the 2005 violence in Andijon. Former party leaders remained in exile, and their parties struggled to remain relevant without a strong domestic base.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. National minorities have full political rights under the constitution, and campaign materials were available in minority languages. The Central Election Commission passed a regulation in 2016 ensuring persons with disabilities could independently participate in the election. In addition, as a first time initiative, the Central Elections Commission printed some ballots in braille.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

In December 2016 parliament approved a new law to fight corruption. The law strengthens criminal penalties for official corruption. Despite some high-level corruption-related arrests, corruption remained endemic, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: On June 13, President Mirziyoyev announced that in the first six months of the year seven judges were “brought to justice,” including the chairperson of the Andijon Regional Economic Court, and arrested for receiving a bribe of 1.2 billion soms ($150,000).

In July the Office for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the General Prosecutor’s Office published details on criminal cases being brought against Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the first president of the country, Islam Karimov. According to published reports, a Tashkent court sentenced her to five years in prison in August 2015. The investigation of additional criminal charges continued. The total amount of damage to the interest of the state and its citizens in the two specified criminal cases reportedly was more than 3.7 trillion soms ($457 million). The government initiated measures to seek the return of assets from other countries.

Financial Disclosure: Government officials are required to disclose only income from outside employment, and such disclosures were not publicly available.

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

A number of domestic human rights groups operated in the country, although the government often hampered their ability to operate, investigate, and publish their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. At times, the government harassed and intimidated human rights and civil society activists.

The government officially acknowledged two domestic human rights NGOs: Ezgulik and the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan. Ezgulik representatives reported that authorities’ harassment, intimidation, and threats of judicial proceedings against members continued to hamper their activities. Other groups were unable to register but continued to function at the national and local levels.

Organizations that attempted to register in previous years and remained unregistered included the Human Rights Alliance, Najot, the Humanitarian Legal Center, the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, the Expert Working Group, and Mazlum (Oppressed). These organizations did not exist as legal entities but continued to function.

Government officials spoke informally with domestic human rights defenders, some of whom were able to resolve cases of human rights abuses through direct engagement with authorities if they did not publicize these cases.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with and permitted visits by UN representatives, as well as those from UN specialized agencies such as the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other international organizations that monitor human rights. In May UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein visited the country. In June UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the country. In September the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief came for two weeks of monitoring and investigations. In September HRW visited the country after being expelled in 2011. In October the OSCE Office for Freedom of the Media held its 19th regional Central Asia media conference, “Open Journalism,” for the first time in more than a decade in Tashkent.

The government approved several proposed OSCE projects during the year, including in the “human dimension,” the human rights component of the OSCE’s work.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The goals of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office included promoting observance and public awareness of fundamental human rights, assisting in shaping legislation to bring it into accordance with international human rights norms, and resolving cases of alleged abuse. The Ombudsman’s Office mediated disputes between citizens who contacted it and made recommendations to modify or uphold decisions of government agencies, but its recommendations were not binding. In July the president strengthened the powers of the Ombudsman’s Office by permitting it to make unannounced inspections of prisons and established a separate division to investigate government abuse of businesses.

The National Human Rights Center (NHRC) is a government agency responsible for educating the public and officials on the principles of human rights and democracy and for ensuring that the government complied with its international obligations to provide human rights information. The NHRC cooperated with the OSCE in the development of a National Action Plan on Human Rights, and in November the office organized an international conference on the government’s conduct of human rights.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including rape of a “close relative,” but the criminal code does not specifically prohibit spousal rape, and the courts did not try any rape cases, according to human rights activists. Cultural norms discouraged women and their families from speaking openly about rape, and the press rarely reported it.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, which remained common. While the law punishes physical assault, police often discouraged women in particular from making complaints against abusive partners, and officials rarely removed abusers from their homes or took them into custody. Local authorities emphasized reconciling the husband and wife, rather than addressing the abuse.

There are government-run shelters for victims of domestic abuse.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Polygamy is practiced in some parts of the country. The law punishes polygamy with up to three years of imprisonment and fines, and does not penalize the women in such cases.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment, but it is illegal for a male supervisor to coerce a woman who has a business or financial dependency into a sexual relationship. Social norms, lack of reporting, and lack of legal recourse made it difficult to assess the scope of the problem.

Coercion in Population Control: There were reports government doctors pressured women to accept birth control or employ medical measures, such as sterilization purportedly to control the birth rate and reduce infant and maternal mortality. Contacts in the human rights and health-care communities confirmed there was anecdotal evidence suggesting that sterilizations without informed consent occurred, although it was unclear whether the practice was widespread and whether senior government officials directed it.

Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Legal status and rights are the same for men and women, except the labor code prohibits women from working in many industries open to men. The government provided little data that could be used to determine whether women experienced discrimination in access to employment or were paid less for substantially similar work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or from one’s parents. The government generally registered all births immediately.

Medical Care: While the government provided equal subsidized health care for boys and girls, those without an officially registered address, such as street children and children of migrant workers, did not have regular access to government health facilities.

Child Abuse: Society generally considered child abuse to be an internal family matter; little official information was available on the subject.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 17 for women and 18 for men, although a district may lower the age by one year in exceptional cases. In some rural areas, girls as young as 15 were married in religious ceremonies not officially recognized by the state.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law seeks to protect children from “all forms of exploitation.” Involving a child in prostitution is punishable by a fine of 25 to 50 times the minimum monthly salary and imprisonment for up to five years.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The punishment for statutory rape is 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The production, exhibition, and/or distribution of child pornography (involving persons younger than age 21) is punishable by fine or by imprisonment for up to three years.

Institutionalized Children: According to UNICEF, almost 20,000 children with disabilities are currently in institutions for the disabled. The rest of these children, an estimated 60 percent, receive no form of education. UNICEF reported that many of these children could be with their families if support were given to the families and inclusive education facilities provided.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts or patterns of discrimination against Jews. The Jewish community was unable to meet the registration requirements necessary to have a centrally registered organization, but there were eight registered Jewish congregations. Observers estimated the Jewish population at 10,000, concentrated mostly in Tashkent, Samarkand, the Fergana Valley, and Bukhara. Their numbers continued to decline due to emigration, largely for economic reasons.

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 disabilities, but societal discrimination based on disability occurred.

The government continued efforts to confirm the disability levels of citizens who received government disability benefits, claiming it did so to ensure the legitimacy of disability payments. Unconfirmed reports suggested, however, that in the process authorities unfairly reduced benefits to some individuals.

The law allows for fines if buildings, including private shops and restaurants, are not accessible, and activists reported authorities fined individuals or organizations in approximately 2,500 cases during the year. Disability activists reported accessibility remained inadequate, noting, for example, that many of the high schools constructed in recent years had exterior ramps but no interior modifications to facilitate access by wheelchair users.

The Ministry of Health controlled access to health care for persons with disabilities, and the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations facilitated employment of persons with disabilities. No information was available regarding patterns of abuse in educational and mental health facilities.

Disability rights activists reported that discrimination occurred and estimated that 90 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed. The government indicated 17,000 jobs were set aside for persons with disabilities and during 2016, and the authorities provided employment for more than 4,000 citizens with disabilities. The government mandates that social infrastructure sites, urban and residential areas, airports, railway stations, and other facilities must allow for disabled access, although there were no specific government programs implemented and activists reported particular difficulties with access.

Students with disabilities studied braille books published during Soviet times, but there were some computers adapted for persons with vision disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law does not require Uzbek language ability to obtain citizenship, but language often was a sensitive issue. Uzbek is the state language, and the constitution requires that the president speak it. The law also provides that Russian is “the language of interethnic communication.”

Officials reportedly reserved senior positions in the government bureaucracy and business for ethnic Uzbeks, although there were numerous exceptions.

Complaints of societal violence or discrimination against members of ethnic minority groups were rare.

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

Sexual relations between men are punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law does not criminalize same-sex sexual activity between women. On December 3, Eurasianet.org reported that two men had been arrested in Tashkent under the charges of engaging in illegal sexual relations. According to the report, the police told media they had conducted intrusive medical examinations to confirm that the men had engaged in sexual intercourse. According to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community, police and other law enforcement personnel used the threat of arrest or prosecution to extract heavy bribes from gay men.

Same-sex sexual activity was generally a taboo subject in society, and there were no known LGBTI organizations. Observers attributed the absence of reports of discrimination against the LGBTI community to the social taboo against discussing same-sex relationships.

On September 29, Ozodlik reported that several months previously a group of Fergana men stripped, beat, and abused a person who they claimed was gay. The beating and humiliation was video-taped and distributed via social media. According to the radio’s sources, five men were detained and the investigation was in process as of the end of year.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law protects those infected with HIV from discrimination and provides for free health care. As of 2015, UNAIDS estimated 33,000 individuals were living with HIV. Persons known to be HIV positive reported social isolation and discrimination by public agency workers, health personnel, law enforcement officers, landlords, and employers after their HIV status became known. The military summarily expelled recruits in the armed services found to be HIV positive. Some LGBTI community activists reported that hospital wards reviewed the personal history of HIV-infected patients and categorized them as being drug addicts, homosexuals, or engaged in prostitution. Those whose files were marked as “homosexual” were referred to the police for investigation, because homosexuality between men is a criminal act.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law generally provides the right of workers to form and join independent unions and bargain collectively. The law neither provides for nor prohibits the right to strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. The law on trade unions states that workers cannot be fired due to trade union membership, but it does not clearly state whether workers fired for union activity must be reinstated. Volunteers in public works and workers employed by individuals without documented contracts do not have legal protection.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and there were no independent unions. Article 200 of the Administrative Responsibility Code and article 217 of the criminal code provide penalties for violating freedom of association laws equal to five to 10 times the minimum salary. In October 2016 the country ratified ILO Convention 87 (Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize), which entered into force during the year, and amended the law on “professional unions, rights, and guarantees of their activities,” which improved the role of the trade unions in the protection of labor and employees’ social rights. Workers generally did not exercise their right to form and join unions due to fear that attempts to create independent alternative unions would be quickly repressed. Unions remained centralized and wholly dependent on the government.

The state-run Federation of Trade Unions of Uzbekistan incorporated more than 35,800 primary organizations and 14 regional trade unions; according to official reports, 60 percent of employees in the country participated in the federation in 2016. Leaders of the federation were appointed by the President’s Office rather than elected by the union members or board. All regional and industrial trade unions at the local level were state managed.

Unions and their leaders were not free to conduct activities without interference from their employer or from government-controlled institutions. Unions were government-organized institutions with little bargaining power aside from some influence on health and work safety issues, and workers did not exercise collective bargaining rights. For example, the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations and the Ministry of Finance, in consultation with the Federation of Trade Unions, set wages for government employees. In the emerging private sector, management established wages or negotiated them individually with persons who contracted for employment. There was no state institution responsible for labor arbitration.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except as legal punishment for such offenses as robbery, fraud, or tax evasion, or as specified by law. Certain sections of the criminal code allow for compulsory labor as a punishment for offenses including defamation; incitement of national, racial, ethnic, or religious enmity. In multiple instances. the government pursued complaints of forced labor, even those from independent observers, which resulted in administrative penalties, and fines of at least four local officials accused of forcing people to work. During the year the government made concerted efforts to inform the public about the prohibition against forced labor, including in the annual cotton harvest. In June the ILO published results of a survey showing an increase from 2014 to 2015 in the proportion of cotton pickers who worked voluntarily (from 60 to 66 percent) and an increase in cotton pickers who did so involuntarily (from 11 to 14 percent). The proportion of workers who were not forced to participate in the cotton harvest, but reported doing so in response to perceived social pressure, decreased over this period.

In September the prime minister issued an order prohibiting the use of students, teachers and medical workers in the cotton harvest. Observers reported the order was inconsistently implemented. Cases of government-compelled forced labor of adults remained. The central government continued to demand farmers and local officials fulfill state-assigned cotton production quotas, and pressure to meet these quotas was apparent in reports of the mobilization of military personnel, prison labor, bazaar merchants, and factory workers, as well as urban professionals pressured to pay for a replacement picker. At the same time, the government increased by 200 percent the cotton prices, also offering additional monetary and material incentives for cotton picking. The government also freely and publicly disclosed cases of labor violations in cotton fields, including child labor, and embarked on a campaign of engagement and dialogue with human rights activists monitoring the cotton harvest. Some independent observers were briefly detained during the cotton harvest, although they experienced no physical retributions and the arrests were brief. The government allowed international cotton observers unimpeded access to the cotton fields and allowed the ILO to conduct private interviews with cotton pickers. Working conditions varied greatly by region and farm. The scope of adult mobilizations differed significantly from region to region.

The government prohibition against the use of educational and medical employees in the cotton harvest allowed the majority of schools, colleges, and lyceums to remain open.

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 working age at 16 and provides that work must not interfere with the studies of those younger than 18. The law does not allow children under age 15 to be involved with “light work,” even if it does not interfere with education or hinder the health or development of the child, but this provision was not always observed. The law allows for part-time light work beginning at age 15, and children, with permission from their parents, may work a maximum of 24 hours per week when school is not in session and 12 hours per week when school is in session. Children between ages 16 and 18 may work 36 hours per week while school is out of session and 18 hours per week while school is in session. Decrees stipulate a list of hazardous activities forbidden for children younger than age 18 and prohibit employers from using children to work under specified hazardous conditions, including underground, underwater, at dangerous heights, and in the manual harvesting of cotton, including cotton harvesting with dangerous equipment.

Children were employed in agriculture, in family businesses such as bakeries and convenience stores, and as street vendors.

The law does not explicitly provide authority for inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations to enforce the child labor laws, which is a shared responsibility of the Ministry Employment and Labor Relations and the prosecutor general, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Interior’s general criminal investigators. The Office of the Prime Minister took the lead role in coordinating enforcement of labor decrees to keep children out of cotton fields. The government created a parliamentary commission on ensuring labor rights to citizens. A variety of national and local organizations representing women, youth, labor, farmers, and employers’ interests participated in national child labor monitoring under the guidance of the ILO and applying its methodology. It was unclear whether the Ministry of Interior conducted inspections in the agricultural sector. The law allows for a fine of one to three minimal monthly salaries for those using child labor that could “harm the child’s health, safety or morals.” Authorities imposed fines of five minimal monthly salaries for school principals, hospital directors and restaurant owners found guilty of child and forced labor. There were four cases of prosecutions for child labor during the year.

During the year the government conducted its own monitoring for child labor in the cotton sector using ILO methodology. The ILO monitoring teams concluded there was no systemic use of child labor in the harvest.

There were isolated reports of students as young as age 10 picking cotton; however, unlike in previous years, their presence was the result of localized or individual occurrence rather than government-compelled, nationwide mobilization. The government prohibition against the use of students was immediately and widely implemented, although some students continued working voluntarily without apparent concern to earn extra cash after the order came into effect. Authorities reported low attendance rates in 23 high schools.

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

Laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, gender, religion, and language. The labor code states that differences in the treatment of individuals deserving of the state’s protection or requiring special accommodation, including women, children, and persons with disabilities, are not to be considered discriminatory. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, or social origin. HIV-positive individuals are legally prohibited from being employed in certain occupations, including those in the medical field that require direct contact with patients or with blood or blood products, as well as in cosmetology or haircutting. The government generally did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. There were no recent reliable data on employment discrimination.

Foreign migrant workers enjoy the same legal protections as Uzbek workers as long as their employers follow all legal procedures for their employment. The law provides for a number of punishments or Uzbek employers who do not follow all legal procedures. Enforcement of employment law was lax, primarily due to insufficient staffing of relevant entities and endemic corruption.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum monthly wage, used primarily to calculate salaries in the public sector as well as various taxes and duties, was 149,775 soms ($19) per month between October 2016 and 2017.

According to official sources, approximately 360,000 full-time employees (out of 12 million) received the minimum salary in 2016. In 2013 the president signed an amendment to the labor code that raised the minimum monthly salary for full-time employees in the public sector to 230,000 soms ($29). There were no official statistics concerning the average monthly wage, but most experts estimated a figure of 780,000 soms ($98) before taxes. This level did not include wages in the agricultural sector. Reliable data or estimates on actual average household income were not available.

Officials defined the poverty level as consumption of fewer than 2,100 calories per day, but the government did not publish any income indicators of poverty. According to the government, 17 percent of the population lived below the poverty level based on a model that reviews average calorie consumption per person per day. International estimates using a daily dollar average of $2.50 per person–a level four times higher amount than the minimum daily wage of $0.60–put the figure as high as 77 percent.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours and requires a 24-hour rest period. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The law provides overtime compensation as specified in employment contracts or as agreed with an employee’s trade union. Such compensation can be provided in the form of additional pay or leave. The law states that overtime compensation should not be less than 200 percent of the employee’s average monthly salary rate. Additional leave time should not be less than the length of actual overtime work. An employee may not work more than 120 hours of overtime per year, but this limitation was not generally observed, particularly in the public sector. The law prohibits compulsory overtime.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations establishes and enforces occupational health and safety standards in consultation with unions. According to the law, health and safety standards should be applied in all sectors. Employers are responsible for ensuring compliance of standards, rules, and regulations on labor protection, as well as obligations under collective agreements. The law provides that workers may legally remove themselves from hazardous work if an employer fails to provide adequate safety measures for the job, and the employer must pay the employee during the time of the work stoppage or provide severance pay if the employee choses to terminate employment. Workers generally did not exercise this right because it was not effectively enforced and employees feared retribution by employers. The law requires employers to insure against civil liability for damage caused to the life or health of an employee in connection with a work injury, occupational disease, or other injury to health caused by the employee’s performance on the job. In addition, the company’s employees have the right to demand and the administration is obliged to provide them with information on the state of working conditions and safety at work, available personal protection means, benefits and compensations.

Approximately five to eight labor inspectors staffed offices in each of the country’s 14 administrative units, and there were specialized offices for major industries, such as construction, mining, and manufacturing. Labor inspectors usually focused on the private sector, while inspections of state-owned enterprises were considered pro forma. Labor inspectors conducted routine inspections of small and medium-sized businesses once every four years and inspected larger enterprises once every three years. Additionally, the ministry or a local governor’s office could initiate a selective inspection of a business, and special inspections were conducted in response to accidents or complaints. A presidential decree prohibits unannounced inspections of private businesses, including labor inspections.

Reports suggested that enforcement was not effective. Penalties reportedly were often selective, and in many cases, employers reportedly were able to mitigate penalties through informal agreements with inspectors. The law remained unenforced in the informal economy, where employment was usually undocumented. During the year the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations, in cooperation with the tax authorities, inspected all private health clinics to target the widespread practice of employing specialists without employment contracts.

The government agreed on an extension of the ILO’s Decent Work Country Program until 2020, which would lead to further efforts towards improving working conditions. The most common labor violations were working without contracts, receiving lower than publicly announced payments, delayed payments, and substandard sanitary or hygienic working conditions. During the year, acting on citizen complaints, authorities took corrective action by mandating that 74 farms must improve the working conditions by providing proper contracts, transportation, better sanitary facilities, meals and drinking water, and timely salary payments.

The government and official media did not publish data on the number of employees in the informal economy. Many such employees had official part-time or low-income jobs. There were no effective government programs to provide social protections to workers in the informal economy.

No occupational health and safety violations were reported under the law. Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were most common in the private sector. Although regulations provide for safeguards, workers in hazardous jobs often lacked protective clothing and equipment. More specific information on sectors in which violations were common and on specific groups of workers who faced hazardous or exploitative working conditions was not available.

Vanuatu

Executive Summary

Vanuatu is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a freely elected government. The president is head of state. Parliament elected Tallis Obed Moses president in July after the former president died in June. Following a snap election in 2016, which observers considered generally free and fair, parliament elected Charlot Salwai as prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included: police abuses; violence against women; and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government made efforts to prosecute and punish abuses by officials, although a degree of police impunity persisted.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. Representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross, judges from the supreme court, university students and contractors of the New Zealand Correctional Services visited the prisons.

Improvements: With support from New Zealand, the government finished construction of a new prison in Luganville with a capacity of 83 prisoners; it held 30 inmates as of October.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, authorities did not always observe these prohibitions. The Vanuatu Police Force (VPF) did not respond to multiple requests for numbers of complaints filed against police for arbitrary arrest or detention and/or the disposition of such complaints.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The VPF maintains internal security, and the Vanuatu Mobile Force (VMF), a paramilitary police unit, makes up the country’s defense force. The commissioner of police heads the police force, including the Police Maritime Wing, Immigration Department, National Disaster Management Office, and National Fire Service.

Civilian authorities did not have effective mechanisms to punish police abuse or corruption but exercised overall control of the force. Allegations of police impunity, particularly in the VMF, continued. Political instability and a series of legal cases in previous years exacerbated divisions within the police force and undermined policing capacity. These political and legal battles have settled, and a permanent commissioner was appointed in May.

The law mandates the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate complaints of security force abuses. Additionally, the police Professional Standards Unit (PSU) investigates allegations of ethics violations and misuse of force. In 2016 the PSU received 108 complaints against 80 officers, leading to 61 criminal charges and 47 internal disciplinary actions. The VPF had 574 officers in total.

Foreign assistance designed to address some of the problems confronting the security forces continued. Assistance projects included recruitment of new officers, establishment of additional police posts on outer islands and in rural areas, and repair and maintenance of police buildings. Under the Vanuatu-Australia Police Project, three Australian Federal Police advisers worked full-time with the VPF.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

A warrant issued by a court is required for an arrest, although police made a small number of arrests without warrants. Authorities generally observed the constitutional provision to inform suspects of the charges against them.

The criminal procedure code outlines the process for remanding alleged offenders in custody. To remand a person in custody requires a valid written warrant from a magistrate or a Supreme Court justice. Warrants typically are valid for 14 days in the first instance, and the court may extend them in writing. In general the Correctional Services Department’s practice was not to accept any detainee into custody without a valid warrant. A system of bail operated effectively, although some persons not granted bail spent lengthy periods in pretrial detention due to judicial inefficiency. Authorities allow detainees prompt access to counsel and family members. The Public Defender’s Office provides free legal counsel to indigent defendants, defined as those who earn less than 50,000 vatu ($464) per year.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees constituted approximately 24 percent of the prison population. Judges, prosecutors, and police complained about large case backlogs due to a lack of resources and limited numbers of qualified judges and prosecutors. The average length of time spent in remand before a case went to trial was approximately 12 weeks, although it could be longer in the outer islands.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There were no reports of persons arrested or detained who were not allowed to challenge the legality of their detention and obtain prompt release if a court found them detained unlawfully.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The judicial system derives from British common law. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. The courts uphold constitutional provisions for a presumption of innocence, a prohibition against double jeopardy, a right to counsel, a right to free assistance of an interpreter, a right to question witnesses, a right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, a right to be present, and a right of appeal. The constitution also states that if the accused does not understand the language used in court proceedings, an interpreter must be provided. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters, including for human rights violations. The government, including police, generally complied with court decisions on human rights violations. There continue to be some reports that police did not pr