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Afghanistan

Executive Summary

Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch; however, armed insurgents control some portions of the country. On September 28, Afghanistan held presidential elections after technical issues and security requirements compelled the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to reschedule the election multiple times. To accommodate the postponements, the Supreme Court extended President Ghani’s tenure. The IEC delayed the announcement of preliminary election results, originally scheduled for October 19, until December 22, due to technical challenges in vote tabulations; final results scheduled for November 7 had yet to be released by year’s end.

Three ministries share responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the National Directorate of Security (NDS). The Afghan National Police (ANP), under the Ministry of Interior, has primary responsibility for internal order and for the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a community-based self-defense force. The Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF), also under the Ministry of Interior, investigates major crimes including government corruption, human trafficking, and criminal organizations. The Afghan National Army, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security, but its primary activity is fighting the insurgency internally. The NDS functions as an intelligence agency and has responsibility for investigating criminal cases concerning national security. The investigative branch of the NDS operated a facility in Kabul, where it held national security prisoners awaiting trial until their cases went to prosecution. Some areas were outside of government control, and antigovernment forces, including the Taliban, instituted their own justice and security systems. Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces, although security forces occasionally acted independently.

Armed insurgent groups conducted major attacks on civilians and targeted killings of persons affiliated with the government.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful killings by insurgents; extrajudicial killings by security forces; forced disappearances by security forces and antigovernment personnel; reports of torture by security forces and antigovernment entities; arbitrary detention by government security forces and insurgents; government corruption; lack of accountability and investigation in cases of violence against women, including those accused of so-called moral crimes; recruitment and use of child soldiers and sexual abuse of children, including by security force members and educational personnel; trafficking in persons; violence by security forces against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct.

Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses were serious, continuing problems. The government did not prosecute consistently or effectively abuses by officials, including security forces.

Antigovernment elements continued to attack religious leaders who spoke against the Taliban. During the year many progovernment Islamic scholars were killed in attacks for which no group claimed responsibility. The Taliban and ISIS-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) used child soldiers as suicide bombers and to carry weapons. Other antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked government workers, foreigners, medical and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers, and other civilians. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported 8,239 civilian casualties in the first nine months of the year, with 62 percent of these casualties attributed to antigovernment actors. Taliban propaganda did not acknowledge responsibility for civilian casualties, separating numbers into “invaders” and “hirelings.” The group also referred to its attacks that indiscriminately killed civilians as “martyrdom operations.”

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for freedom of speech, and the country has a free press. There were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the central government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial governments was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists. Discussion of a political nature is also more dangerous for those living in contested or Taliban-controlled areas. Government security agencies increased their ability to monitor the internet, including social media platforms. This monitoring did not have a perceptible impact on social media use.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Implementation of the Access to Information Law remained inconsistent and media reported consistent failure by the government to meet the requirements of the law. Government officials often restricted media access to government information or simply ignored requests. UNAMA, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres, RSF) reported the government did not fully implement the Access to Information Law and that therefore journalists often did not receive access to information they seek.

Journalists faced the threat of harassment and attack by ISIS-K, the Taliban, and government-related figures attempting to influence how they are covered in the news. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 13 journalists were killed in connection to their work in 2018, including nine journalists killed in an ISIS-K suicide bombing. Local NGO Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan released findings that violence against journalists declined by 50 percent in the first six months of the year compared with the first six months of 2018. In February, two journalists, Shafiq Arya and Rahimullah Rahmani, were shot and killed by unknown assailants at local radio station Radio Hamsada in Takhar Province.

A rapid expansion in the availability of mobile phones, the internet, and social media provided many citizens greater access to diverse views and information. The government publicly supported media freedom and cooperated with initiatives to counter security threats to media.

Journalists reported facing threats of violence from the internal conflict. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power at times threatened or harassed journalists because of their coverage. According to RSF, female journalists were especially vulnerable.

Freedom of speech and an independent media were more constrained at the provincial level than in the capital, Kabul. Political and ethnic groups, including those led by former mujahedin leaders, financed many provincial media outlets and used their financial support to control the content. Provincial media is also more susceptible to antigovernment attacks. According to news reports, a Samaa radio station was forced to shut down its operations for the third time since 2015 because of threats from a local Taliban commander.

Print and online media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, newspapers, and websites. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. Still, there were concerns that violence and instability threatened journalists’ safety. Due to high levels of illiteracy, most citizens preferred broadcast to print or online media. A greater percentage of the population, including those in distant provinces, had access to radio over other forms of media.

Violence and Harassment: Government officials and private citizens used threats of violence to intimidate independent and opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out against impunity, crimes, and corruption by powerful local figures. On May 2, Presidential Protective Service guards at the palace physically assaulted a broadcast journalist from 1TV television. In June an NDS employee beat the Ariana News reporter and cameraperson who was covering the controversial closing of an Afghan-Turk school in Kabul.

The Afghan Journalist Safety Committee (AJSC) reported three journalists killed in the first six months of the year. It recorded 45 cases of violence against journalists, which included killing, beating, inflicting injury and humiliation, intimidation, and detention of journalists–a 50 percent decrease from the first six months of 2018. Government-affiliated individuals or security forces were responsible for 18 instances of violence, half as many as in 2018 when 36 cases were attributed to them. Instances of violence attributed to the Taliban and ISIS-K also declined sharply from 2018–from 37 cases to seven cases. The organization insisted the reduction was not due to better protection from the government but rather due to a lower number of suicide attacks by antigovernment forces, as well as media companies’ adaptation to the reality of violence by not sending journalists for live coverage of suicide attacks and other self-imposed safety measures.

The Taliban continued to attack media organizations and warned media would be targeted unless they stopped broadcasting what it called “anti-Taliban statements.” In June the Taliban commission threatened media to stop transmitting “anti-Taliban advertisements” within one week or “reporters and staff members will not remain safe.”

Increased levels of insecurity created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not the specific targets of violence. During the year several journalists reported attacks by unknown gunmen connected, they claimed, to their coverage of powerful individuals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.

In 2016 the Office of the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists, but these guidelines were not fully implemented. The initiative created a joint national committee in Kabul and separate committees in provincial capitals, a coordination center to investigate and identify perpetrators of violence against journalists, and a support committee run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. Press freedom organizations reported that, although the committee met and referred cases to the AGO, it did not increase protection for journalists.

Media advocacy groups reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms in both print and social media to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation. According to the AJSC, there were no female journalists in nine provinces: Farah, Laghman, Logar, Nuristan, Paktika, Paktiya, Sar-e Pul, Uruzgan, and Zabul.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Journalists and NGOs reported that, although the amended 2018 Access to Information Law provided an excellent regulatory framework, enforcement remained inconsistent and that noncompliant officials rarely were held accountable. A survey by an NGO supporting media freedom showed more than one-half of journalists were dissatisfied with the level of access to government information and found that one-third of government offices did not have dedicated offices for providing information to the public. Most requests for information from journalists who lack influential connections inside the government or international media credentials are disregarded and government officials often refuse to release information, claiming it is classified.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometimes used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the Access to Information law to avoid disclosing information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. Insurgent groups coerced media agencies in insecure areas to prevent them from broadcasting or publishing advertisements and announcements of the security forces, entertainment programming, music, and women’s voices.

Women in some areas of the country say their freedom of expression in choice of attire was limited by conservative social mores and sometimes enforced by Taliban in insurgent-controlled areas as well as religious leaders.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights; however, the government limited these freedoms in some instances.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the right to freedom of movement within the borders of the country. Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without male consent or a male chaperone. The greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country remained the lack of security. Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces and insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers. The Taliban regularly blocked highways completely or imposed illegal taxes on those who attempted to travel. In August the Taliban captured Dasht-e-Archi District, Kunduz Province and Pul-i-Khumri District, Baghlan Province, blocking roads leading to the Kabul highway for more than two weeks.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. The government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance.

Access to Asylum: The government had yet to adopt a draft national refugee law or asylum framework. Nonetheless, UNHCR registers, and mitigates protection risks of approximately 500 refugees in urban areas throughout the country. The country also hosts some 76,000 Pakistani refugees who fled Pakistan in 2014; UNHCR registered some 41,000 refugees in Khost Province and verified more than 35,000 refugees in Paktika Province.

Durable Solutions: The government did not officially accept refugees for resettlement, offer naturalization to refugees residing on its territory, or assist in their voluntary return to their homes. The IOM reported undocumented returns from Iran and Pakistan totaled 504,977 from January 1 to December 29, with 485,096 from Iran and 19,881 from Pakistan. Registered refugee returns from Pakistan slowed to historically low levels during the year, with just 2,000 returns as of June 22. In addition to these numbers, there were 23,789 undocumented Afghan returnees from Turkey.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The right to vote may be stripped for certain criminal offenses. For instance, in September the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) reportedly fined Border and Tribes minister Gul Agh Shirzai and removed his right to vote for improper campaign activities. Violence from the Taliban and other antigovernment groups and widespread allegations of fraud and corruption interfered with, but did not derail, the presidential election.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Reports indicated corruption was endemic throughout society, and flows of money from the military, international donors, and the drug trade continued to exacerbate the problem. Local businessmen complained government contracts were routinely steered to companies that pay a bribe or have family or other connections to a contracting official.

According to prisoners and local NGOs, corruption was widespread across the justice system, particularly in connection with the prosecution of criminal cases and in arranging release from prison. For example, as in previous years, there were multiple reports that judges would not release prisoners who had served their sentences without receiving payment from family members. There were also reports that officials received unauthorized payments in exchange for reducing prison sentences, halting investigations, or outright dismissing charges.

During the year Freedom House reported inadequately trained judges and extensive corruption in the judiciary, with judges and lawyers often subject to threats and bribes from local leaders or armed groups.

During the year there were reports of “land grabbing” by both private and public actors. Most commonly, businesses illegally obtained property deeds from corrupt officials and sold the deeds to unsuspecting prospective homeowners who were later prosecuted. Other reports indicated government officials confiscated land without compensation with the intent to exchange it for contracts or political favors. There were reports provincial governments illegally confiscated land without due process or compensation in order to build public facilities.

Corruption: UNAMA found that from the Anti-Corruption Justice Center’s (ACJC) inception in 2016 to mid-May, the ACJC tried 223 defendants in 57 cases before its trial chamber and 173 defendants in 52 cases before its appellate chamber. Of its cases against 117 accused, 36 were decided after appeal to the Supreme Court, the report stated. It also issued 127 warrants and summonses of which only 13 warrants and 39 summonses could be executed to date, with only a single defendant tried as a result. According to UNAMA, the number of defendants tried in their absence before the ACJC remained high at 20 percent. The number of cases has declined since 2017, and the rank of the accused generally dropped, although the amounts ordered by the court in compensation, restitution, and confiscation marginally increased.

A series of violent attacks by insurgents against Afghan judges, prosecutors, and prison officials during the year made members of the judicial sector increasingly fearful in carrying out their duties. According to Afghan government and media reports, since 2015 an estimated 300 judges, prosecutors, prison personnel, and other justice workers were killed, injured, or abducted. During the year at least 29 were targeted: three judges, one court clerk, three prosecutors, and 14 prison officials were killed; three prosecutors and two prison officials were injured; and three prisons officials were taken hostage. Justice professionals came under threat or attack for pursuing certain cases–particularly corruption or abuse-of-power cases–against politically or economically powerful individuals.

According to various reports, many government positions, including district or provincial governorships, ambassadors, and deputy ministers could be suborned. Government officials with reported involvement in corruption, the drug trade, or records of human rights abuses reportedly continued to receive executive appointments and served with relative impunity. Former minister of communication and information technology, Abdul Razaaq Wahidi, was accused of corruption in the form of embezzling revenue from a mobile phone tax. Although convicted by a lower court, in July an appeals court acquitted Wahidi.

There were allegations of widespread corruption, and abuse of power by officers at the Ministry of Interior. Provincial police reportedly extorted civilians at checkpoints and received kickbacks from the drug trade. Police reportedly demanded bribes from civilians to gain release from prison or avoid arrest. Senior Ministry of Interior officials also refused to sign the execution of arrest warrants. In one case Ministry of Interior officers served as the protective detail of warrant-target Major General Zamari Paikan and drove him in a Ministry of Interior armored vehicle. The Ministry of Defense also provided protection to Paikan. The ACJC convicted General Paikan in absentia for corruption in 2017 and sentenced him to 8.5 years’ imprisonment, but the Ministry of Interior had yet to arrest him by year’s end.

On August 15, former Kabul Bank chief executive Khalilullah Ferozi was released to house arrest reportedly for health reasons. Presidential candidate and former NDS head Rahmatullah Nabil alleged that the release came after a $30 million donation to President Ghani’s re-election campaign. Following the bank’s collapse in 2010, Ferozi was convicted in 2013 and ordered, along with bank founder Sherkhan Farnood, to repay more than $800 million in embezzled funds. Ferozi’s release came with less than a year left in his sentence. Farnood died in prison in 2018.

Financial Disclosure: A 2017 legislative decree established the Administration on Registration and Assets of Government Officials and Employees (Registration Administration) under the administrative office of the president. All government officials, employees, and elected officials are required to declare their assets. The Registration Administration was responsible for collecting, verifying, and publishing information from high-ranking government officials. Under the law all government officials and employees must submit financial disclosures on all sources and levels of personal income for themselves and their immediate family annually and when they assume or leave office. Individuals who do not submit forms or are late in submission are subject to suspension of employment, salary, and travel bans. The AGO imposed travel bans on individuals who did not submit their forms; however, the bans were not regularly enforced, especially for high-level officials. For instance, although the website of the Administrative Office of the Palace showed several high-ranking government officials failed to register their assets, it was public knowledge they frequently travelled internationally. Employment and salary bans were not imposed.

As of April the Registration Administration successfully registered assets of nearly 17,000 government employees. Verification of assets continued to be slow and problematic for the administration due to lack of organized systems in some government offices. Public outreach by the Registration Administration allowed civil society and private citizen the opportunity to comment on individual declarations. As of April, 141 members of the lower house of parliament declared their assets and 68 members of the upper house of parliament registered their assets.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Human rights activists continued to express concern that human rights abusers remained in positions of power within the government.

The penal code incorporates crimes against humanity provisions from the Rome Statute.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitutionally mandated AIHRC continued to address human rights problems, but it received minimal government funding and relied almost exclusively on international donor funds. The independence of the institution was called into question following the abrupt replacement of all nine commissioners on July 17, immediately prior to the July 28 start of the presidential campaign and after the presidential palace rejected a list of 27 candidates submitted by the AIHRC Appointment Committee nine months prior. UNAMA released a statement calling for a “truly independent national human rights institution.” Three Wolesi Jirga committees deal with human rights: the Gender, Civil Society, and Human Rights Committee; the Counternarcotic, Intoxicating Items, and Ethical Abuse Committee; and the Judicial, Administrative Reform, and Anticorruption Committee. In the Meshrano Jirga, the Committee for Gender and Civil Society addresses human rights concerns.

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 join and form independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and the government generally respected these rights, although it lacked enforcement tools. The law, however, provides no definition of a union or its relationship with employers and members, nor does it establish a legal method for union registration or penalties for violations. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Other than protecting the right to participate in a union, the law provides no other legal protection for union workers or workers seeking to unionize.

Although the law identifies the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs Labor High Council as the highest decision-making body on labor-related issues, the lack of implementing regulations prevented the council from performing its function. There was an inspection office within the ministry, but inspectors could only advise and make suggestions. As a result the application of labor law remained limited because of a lack of central enforcement authority, implementing regulations that describe procedures and penalties for violations, funding, personnel, and political will.

The government allowed several unions to operate, but it interfered with the National Union of Afghanistan Workers and Employees. The government issued a decree in 2016 mandating the nationalization of property belonging to several trade unions. Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were sometimes respected, but most workers were not aware of these rights. This was particularly true of workers in rural areas or the agricultural sector, who had not formed unions. In urban areas the majority of workers participated in the informal sector as day laborers in construction, where there were neither unions nor collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not sufficiently criminalize forced labor and debt bondage. Men, women, and children are exploited in bonded labor, where an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment is exploited, ultimately entrapping other family members, sometimes for multiple generations. This type of debt bondage is common in the brickworks industry. Some families knowingly sold their children into sex trafficking, including for bacha bazi (see section 7.c.).

Government enforcement of the law was ineffective; resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate; and the government made minimal efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 years but permits 14-year-olds to work as apprentices, allows children 15 years old and older to do light nonhazardous work, and permits 15- through 17-year-old children to work up to 35 hours per week. The law prohibits children younger than 14 years from working under any circumstances; that law was openly flouted, with poverty driving many children into the workforce. The law also bans the employment of children in hazardous work that is likely to threaten their health or cause disability, including mining and garbage collection; work in blast furnaces, waste-processing plants, and large slaughterhouses; work with hospital waste; drug-related work; security-guard services; and work related to war.

Poor institutional capacity was a serious impediment to effective enforcement of the labor law. Labor inspectors do not have legal authority to inspect worksites for compliance with child labor laws or impose penalties for non-compliance. Other deficiencies included the lack of penalty assessment authorization for labor inspectors, inadequate resources, labor inspector staffing, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations.

Child labor remained a pervasive problem. Child laborers worked as domestic servants, street vendors, peddlers, and shopkeepers. There was child labor in the carpet industry, brick kilns, coalmines, and poppy fields. Children were also heavily engaged in the worst forms of child labor in mining, including mining salt; commercial sexual exploitation including bacha bazi (see section 6, Children); transnational drug smuggling; and organized begging rings. Some forms of child labor exposed children to land mines. Children faced numerous health and safety risks at work. There were reports of recruitment of children by the ANDSF during the year. Taliban forces pressed children to take part in hostile acts (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination and notes that citizens, both “man and woman,” have equal rights and duties before the law. It expressly prohibits discrimination based on language. The constitution contains no specific provisions addressing discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, or age. The penal code prescribes a term of imprisonment of not more than two years for anyone convicted of spreading discrimination or factionalism.

Women continued to face discrimination and hardship in the workplace. Women made up only 7 percent of the workforce. Many women faced pressure from relatives to stay at home and encountered hiring practices that favored men. Older and married women reported it was more difficult for them than for younger, single women to find jobs. Women who worked reported they encountered insults, sexual harassment, lack of transportation, and an absence of day care facilities. Salary discrimination existed in the private sector. Female journalists, social workers, and police officers reported they were often threatened or abused. Persons with disabilities also suffered from discrimination in hiring.

Ethnic Hazaras, Sikhs, and Hindus faced discrimination in hiring and work assignments, in addition to broader social discrimination (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage rates for workers in the nonpermanent private sector and for government workers were below the poverty line.

The law defines the standard workweek for both public- and private-sector employees as 40 hours: eight hours per day with one hour for lunch and noon prayers. The labor law makes no mention of day workers in the informal sector, leaving them completely unprotected. There are no occupational health and safety regulations or officially adopted standards. The law, however, provides for reduced standard workweeks for children ages 15 to 17, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and miners and workers in other occupations that present health risks. The law provides workers with the right to receive wages, annual vacation time in addition to national holidays, compensation for on-the-job injuries, overtime pay, health insurance for the employee and immediate family members, and other incidental allowances. The law prohibits compulsory work without establishing penalties and stipulates that overtime work be subject to the agreement of the employee. The law also requires employers to provide day care and nurseries for children.

The government did not effectively enforce these laws. Inspectors had no legal authority to enter premises or impose penalties for violations. Resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations were inadequate and insufficient to deter violations.

Employers often chose not to comply with the law or preferred to hire workers informally. Most employees worked longer than 40 hours per week, were frequently underpaid, and worked in poor conditions, particularly in the informal sector. Workers were generally unaware of the full extent of their labor rights under the law. Although comprehensive data on workplace accidents were unavailable, there were several reports of poor and dangerous working conditions. Some industries, such as brick kiln facilities, continued to use debt bondage, making it difficult for workers to remove themselves from situations of forced labor that endangered their health or safety.

Albania

Executive Summary

The Republic of Albania is a parliamentary democracy. The constitution vests legislative authority in the unicameral parliament (Assembly), which elects both the prime minister and the president. The prime minister heads the government, while the president has limited executive power. In 2017 the country held parliamentary elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that the elections respected fundamental freedoms but were marred by allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters. Local elections took place June 30 but several opposition parties boycotted, accusing the government of electoral fraud. The OSCE observation mission to the local elections reported that although voting “was conducted in a generally peaceful and orderly manner,” voters did not have a meaningful choice between political options, and that there were credible allegations of vote buying as well as pressure on voters from both the ruling party and opposition parties.

The Ministry of Interior oversees the Guard of the Republic and the State Police, which includes the Border and Migration Police. The State Police is primarily responsible for internal security. The Guard of the Republic protects senior state officials, foreign dignitaries, and certain state properties. The Ministry of Defense oversees the armed forces. The State Intelligence Service is responsible to the prime minister, and gathers information, carries out foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included restrictions on free expression and the press, including the existence of criminal libel laws, and pervasive corruption in all branches of government and municipal institutions.

Impunity remained a serious problem, although the government made greater efforts to address it. Prosecution, and especially conviction, of officials who committed abuses was sporadic and inconsistent. Officials, politicians, judges, and persons with powerful business interests often were able to avoid prosecution.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government usually respected these rights, although defamation is a criminal offense. There were reports that the government, business, and criminal groups sought to influence the media in inappropriate ways.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although there were efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including by threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption.

Business owners freely used media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. There were credible reports of senior media representatives using media outlets to blackmail businesses. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Economic insecurity due to a lack of enforceable labor contracts reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. The Albanian Journalists Union (AJU) continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at many media outlets, in some instances of up to 10 months. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income, leading to questions of integrity.

NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for some of the estimated 900-plus news portals in the country, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial, political, and criminal interests. The dramatic growth in online media outlets provided a diversity of views.

In its annual Media Sustainability Index, the International Research and Exchanges Board indicated that free speech, plurality of news sources, and supporting institutions experienced a slight increase, but professionalism and business management decreased.

Violence and Harassment: The AJU reported 14 cases of violence and intimidation against members of the media, and political and business interests subjected journalists to pressure. The union also denounced violent acts toward reporters by opposition protesters in May.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment and as a response to pressure from publishers and editors seeking to advance their political and economic interests. The AJU cited censorship and self-censorship as leading problems for journalists. A survey of 800 media professionals published in May found that 62 percent of respondents thought there was interference from individuals or politics, 60 percent thought there was interference from media owners, 39 percent thought there was self-censorship, and 31 percent thought there was corruption in the media. About 78 percent of media professionals thought that there were journalists who engaged in corrupt practices to misreport stories.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines, which could be as much as three million leks ($27,800), were excessive and, combined with the entry of a conviction into the defendant’s criminal record, undermined freedom of expression. The AJU expressed concern that during the first four months of the year, judges and politicians had initiated more than 16 lawsuits against journalists, mainly for defamation.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: To receive government services, individuals changing place of residence within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many individuals could not provide proof and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means to register, and many lacked the motivation to go through the process.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported a few cases of police intimidation and reluctance to accept requests for asylum.

Authorities often detained irregular migrants who entered the country, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; most of those who did not request asylum were deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation. UNHCR reported that conditions at the Karrec center were unsuitable, particularly for families and children. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, placing them instead in the open migrant facility in Babrru. Karrec and Babrru centers faced funding constraints.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Police allowed UNHCR, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the NGO Caritas to monitor the processing, detention, and deportation of some migrants.

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

There were credible reports from NGOs, migrants, and asylum seekers that authorities did not follow due process procedures for some asylum seekers and that in other cases those seeking asylum did not have access to the social care and other services due to limited issuance of identification cards. UNHCR, Caritas, and the Office of the Ombudsman were critical of the government’s migrant screening and detention procedures. There were reports of border police pushing migrants back into Greece.

The law on asylum requires authorities to grant or deny asylum within 51 days of an applicant’s initial request. Under the law, asylum seekers cannot face criminal charges of illegal entry if they contact authorities within 10 days of their arrival in the country. UNHCR reported that the asylum system lacked effective monitoring.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law prohibits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or refugee status. UNHCR reported, however, that no asylum requests had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which included Greece.

Employment: While the law permits refugees to work, the limited issuance of refugee identification cards and work permits meant that few refugees had employment opportunities.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, and the law also prohibits individuals with criminal convictions from serving as mayors, parliamentarians, or in government or state positions, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption was pervasive in all branches of government.

The constitution requires judges and prosecutors to undergo vetting for unexplained wealth, ties to organized crime, and professional proficiency. The Independent Qualification Commission conducted vetting, and appeals were heard by an appeals chamber. The International Monitoring Operation, composed of international judicial experts, oversaw the process. As of November the commission had dismissed 81 judges and prosecutors and confirmed 67, while 23 others had resigned rather than undergo vetting.

Several government agencies investigated corruption cases, but limited resources, investigative leaks, real and perceived political pressure, and a haphazard reassignment system hampered investigations. In selective instances involving international actors, anticorruption agencies cooperated with civil society.

Corruption: Between January and June, the prosecutor general’s office registered 63 new corruption investigations. During the same period, 34 individuals were convicted on corruption charges, and trials began against an additional 51 individuals. The Department of Administration, Transparency, and Anticorruption had investigated 29 cases, resulting in 115 administrative and 153 disciplinary measures.

While prosecutors made significant progress in pursuing low-level public corruption cases, including corrupt prosecutors and judges, prosecution of higher-level crimes remained rare due to investigators’ fear of retribution, a general lack of resources, and corruption within the judiciary itself. In September a former interior minister was convicted of abuse of public office and received a five-year prison sentence that was reduced to three years’ probation because he accepted an expedited trial.

Police corruption remained a problem. The Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints (SIAC) received 1,211 written complaints through August, compared with 1,978 in all of 2018. Most of the complaints alleged a failure to act, arbitrary action, abuse of office, or a violation of standard operating procedures. Through August, SIAC filed 70 administrative violations, recommending 116 police officers for disciplinary proceedings. SIAC referred two cases for prosecution in relation to three officers accused of arbitrary actions and forgery of official documents. The Office of the Ombudsman also processed complaints against police officers, mainly concerning problems with arrests and detentions.

Police did not always enforce the law equitably. Personal associations, political or criminal connections, deficient infrastructure, lack of equipment, and inadequate supervision often influenced law enforcement. Poor leadership contributed to continued corruption and unprofessional behavior. Authorities continued to address these problems by renovating police facilities, upgrading vehicles, and publicly highlighting anticorruption measures. The Ministry of Interior has established a system of vetting security officials and was vetting the first tranche of 30 high-level police leaders.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to disclose their assets to the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest (HIDAACI), which monitored and verified such disclosures and made them available to the public. The law authorizes HIDAACI to fine officials who fail to comply with disclosure requirements or refer them to the prosecutor.

HIDAACI reported that through August it had referred 60 new cases for prosecution, involving 12 Assembly members, four ministers and deputy ministers, six mayors, one CEC member, 17 general directors and deputy general directors of public agencies, four advisors to ministers and Assembly members, one judge, and 15 other government officials on charges including refusing to declare, hiding, or falsifying asset declarations, money laundering, tax evasion, falsification of documents, and corruption. Through August, HIDAACI fined 39 individuals for not disclosing their assets or conflicts of interest or for violating the law on whistleblower protection. Courts generally upheld the fines imposed by HIDAACI.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is the main independent institution for promoting and enforcing human rights. It is authorized by law to monitor and report on prisons and detention centers. The office may initiate an investigation based on complaints or on its own authority. Although the Office of the Ombudsman lacked the power to enforce decisions, it acted as a monitor of human rights violations. The Office of the Ombudsman was underfunded and understaffed.

The Assembly has committees on legal issues, public administration, and human rights, which review the annual report of the Office of the Ombudsman. The committee was engaged and effective in legislative matters.

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 and related regulations and statutes provide the right for most workers to form independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law prohibits members of the military and senior government officials from joining unions and requires that a trade union have at least 20 members to be registered. The law provides the right to strike for all workers except indispensable medical and hospital personnel, persons providing air traffic control or prison services, and fire brigades. Strike action is prohibited in “special cases,” such as a natural catastrophe, a state of war, extraordinary situations, and cases where the freedom of elections is at risk. Workers not excluded by their positions exercised their right to strike.

The law provides limited protection to domestic and migrant workers. Labor unions were generally weak and politicized. Workers who engage in illegal strikes may be compelled to pay for any damages due to the strike action.

Government enforcement of the law remained largely ineffective, in part due to the extent of informal employment. Resources for conducting inspections and remedying violations were not adequate. Penalties were rarely enforced and therefore insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Arbitration procedures allowed for significant delays that limited worker protections against antiunion activity.

Civilian workers in all fields have the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively, and the law establishes procedures for the protection of workers’ rights through collective bargaining agreements. Unions representing public sector employees negotiated directly with the government. Effective collective bargaining remained difficult because employers often resisted union organizing and activities. In this environment, collective bargaining agreements, once reached, were difficult to enforce.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not always effectively enforce the law. Lack of coordination among ministries and the sporadic implementation of standard operating procedures hampered enforcement. Penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but they were seldom enforced. Some law enforcement organizations trained their officers to adopt a victim-centered approach to victims of human trafficking. The government continued to identify victims of forced labor, and prosecuted and convicted a small number of traffickers.

The Labor Inspectorate reported no cases of forced labor in the formal sector during the year. See section 7.c. for cases involving children in forced labor in the informal sector.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age of employment at 16 but allows children at the age of 15 to be employed in “light” work that does not interfere with school. Children younger than 18 may generally only work in jobs categorized as “light.” A 2017 decree issued by the Council of Ministers sets working hours for children younger than 18. Children may work up to two hours per day and up to 10 hours per week when school is in session, and up to six hours per day and up to 30 hours per week when school is not in session. Children from 16 to 17 may work up to six hours per day and up to 30 hours per week if the labor is part of their vocational education. By law, the State Inspectorate for Labor and Social Services (SILSS), under the Ministry of Finance and Economy, is responsible for enforcing minimum age requirements through the courts, but it did not adequately enforce the law.

Labor inspectors investigated the formal labor sector, whereas most child labor occurred in the informal sector. Children engaged in gathering recyclable metals and plastic, small-scale agricultural harvesting, selling small goods in the informal sector, serving drinks and food in bars and restaurants, the clothing industry, and mining. There were reports that children worked as shop vendors, vehicle washers, textile factory workers, or shoeshine boys. The NGO World Vision also reported that children sewed shoes. The number of children engaged in street-related activities (such as begging or selling items) increased during the summer, particularly around tourist areas. The NGO ARSIS reported that children went to Kosovo to beg and gather recyclable metals. When authorities in Kosovo detained them, the children returned to Albania without any investigation or risk assessment, especially in cases when the family was the exploiter. There is no government reintegration program for these children.

Children were subjected to forced begging and criminal activity. Some of the children begging on the street were second- or third-generation beggars. Research suggested that begging started as early as the age of four or five. While the law prohibits the exploitation of children for begging, police generally did not enforce it, although they made greater efforts to do so during the year. The State Agency on Children’s Rights continued to identify and manage cases of street children identified by the CPUs. As of July the agency reported four cases of parents exploiting street children. As of June, the CPUs and outreach mobile teams had identified 214 street children in total. CPUs reported 55 cases to the police during the same period.

In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the government’s statistical agency and the International Labor Organization estimated that 54,000 children were engaged in forced labor domestically. An estimated 43,000 children worked in farms and fishing, 4,400 in the services sector, and 2,200 in hotels and restaurants. Nearly 5 percent of children were child laborers.

The SILSS did not carry out inspections for child labor unless there was a specific complaint. Most labor inspections occurred in shoe and textile factories, call centers, and retail enterprises; officials found some instances of child labor during their inspections. Penalties were rarely assessed and were not sufficient to deter violations.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws prohibit employment discrimination because of race, skin color, gender, age, physical or mental disability, political beliefs, language, nationality, religion, family, HIV/AIDS status, or social origin. The government did not enforce the law and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, nationality, and ethnicity. The CPD reported that most allegations of discrimination involved race, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was higher than the national poverty threshold. The SILSS and tax authorities are responsible for enforcing the minimum wage but had an insufficient number of staff to enforce compliance.

While the law establishes a 40-hour workweek, individual or collective agreements typically set the actual workweek. The law provides for paid annual holidays, but only employees in the formal labor market had rights to paid holidays. Many persons in the private sector worked six days a week. The law requires rest periods and premium pay for overtime, but employers did not always observe these provisions. The government rarely enforced laws related to maximum work hours, limits on overtime, or premium pay for overtime, especially in the private sector. These laws did not apply to migrant workers or workers in the informal sector, which made up 36 percent of the economy, according to the Western Balkans Labor Market Trends 2019 report.

The SILSS is responsible for occupational health and safety standards and regulations, and while these were appropriate for the main industries, enforcement was lacking overall. Working conditions in the manufacturing, construction, and mining sectors frequently were poor and, in some cases, dangerous. For example, police detained the owner of the construction firm Skela Syla in September after two of his employees died on the job. Unions claimed unsafe working conditions were the cause of death. Violations of wage and occupational safety standards occurred most frequently in the textile, footwear, construction, and mining industries. Resources and inspections were not adequate, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations, because law enforcement agencies lacked the tools to enforce collection and consequently rarely charged violators.

Workers often could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Employers did not effectively protect employees in this situation.

Algeria

Executive Summary

Algeria is a multiparty republic whose president, the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members and the prime minister, who is the head of government. A 2016 constitutional revision requires the president to consult with the parliamentary majority before appointing the prime minister. Presidential elections took place in 2014, and voters re-elected President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a fourth term. Following Bouteflika’s April 2 resignation, the country twice postponed elections during the year. Elections on December 12 resulted in Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s election. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in the 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two five-year terms. Elections for the lower chamber of parliament were held in 2017 and did not result in significant changes in the composition of the government. Foreign observers characterized the 2017 legislative elections as largely well organized and conducted without significant problems on election day but noted a lack of transparency in vote-counting procedures.

The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside of urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the approximately 200,000-member DGSN or national police, organized under the Ministry of Interior, share responsibility for maintaining law and order. The army is responsible for external security, guarding the country’s borders, and has some domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Since February 22, citizens have held weekly nationwide protests, demanding political change. The scale and geographic spread of protests were the largest since the end of the country’s civil war in 2002. Despite sporadic clashes with protestors and occasional use of tear gas and rubber bullets, government forces exhibited restraint with only one death reported.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of one unlawful or arbitrary killing; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; lack of judicial independence and impartiality; unlawful interference with privacy; laws prohibiting certain forms of expression, as well as criminal defamation laws; limits on freedom of the press; site blocking; restrictions on the freedom of assembly and association including of religious groups; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; corruption; trafficking in persons; the criminalization of consensual same sex sexual conduct and security force sexual abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish public officials who committed violations, especially corruption. Impunity for police and security officials remained a problem, but the government provided information on actions taken against officials accused of wrongdoing.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and independent media outlets regularly criticized and satirized government officials and policies, but the government on some occasions restricted these rights. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics; arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws; informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists; and control of an estimated 77 percent of the country’s advertising money in newspapers and magazines and 15 percent of billboard revenue and printing capabilities. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts of public sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

Freedom of Expression: While public debate and criticism of the government were widespread, journalists and activists believed they were limited in their ability to criticize the government publicly on topics crossing unwritten “red lines.” Authorities arrested and detained citizens for expressing views deemed damaging to state officials and institutions, including the use of the Berber flag during protests, and citizens practiced self-restraint in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about security force conduct during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in place, although the government said there had never been an arrest or prosecution under the law. A separate law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for publications that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings.

NGOs reported during the year that following suppression of public activities in years past, they no longer hold events outside of private locations. They also report that owners of public gathering spaces have been told not to rent their locations to certain NGOs.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. The ANEP stated in September that it represented 77 percent of the total advertising market. Nongovernmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. ANEP added it wished to preserve a pluralistic press and freedom of information and noted that it funded opposition newspapers. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising, however, permitted it to exert undue influence over print media.

Police arrested blogger Merzoug Touati in 2017 on charges stemming from his online publication of an interview with a former Israeli diplomat. In May 2018 a court sentenced him to 10 years in prison. In June 2018 an appeal trial reduced his sentence to seven years. On March 4, the second judgement was annulled, and he was retried in a court in Skikda, resulting in a two-year prison sentence and a three-year suspended sentence, allowing for his release.

Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the difficulty of receiving information from public officials. With the exception of several daily newspapers, the majority of print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.

Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources.

In September the Ministry of Communication stated there were 265 accredited written publications. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state-operated.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the vast majority of foreign media were not accredited. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be citizens and prohibit them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

The ministry also issues and renews accreditation of foreign correspondents reporting in the country. According to the ministry, there were 13 accredited foreign press agencies reported during the year. In addition, seven private domestic television channels, 13 foreign broadcasting channels, and one foreign radio station–the BBC–operated throughout the year.

The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government. Press outlets report taking extra caution before publishing articles critical of the government or government officials for fear of losing revenue from ANEP.

On June 12, authorities blocked access to the IP address for Tout sur lAlgerie (TSA), a news site, which had also been blocked in 2017. Authorities also blocked news websites Algerie Part and Inter-Lignes on June 15 and July 31, respectively. The day following the block on Inter-Lignes, former minister of communication, Hassan Rabehi, and former president of the National People’s Congress, Karim Younes, denounced the blocking of TSA and Inter-Lignes websites and the pressure the government had placed on the media.

During a media interview, Omar Belhouchet, the editor of El Watan, an independent daily newspaper, said that media companies self-censor regarding certain topics. According to Belhouchet, the government has a monopoly on advertising that it uses to punish those who criticize the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and said the definitions in the law failed to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine ranging from 100,000 to 500,000 Algerian dinars ($850 to $4,252). The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials. Defamation laws specify that former members of the military who make statements deemed to have damaged the image of the military or to have “harmed the honor and respect due to state institutions” may face prosecution.

Printed editions of the monthly news magazine Jeune Afrique have not been available in the country since April 23. At the end of March, the distributor received a notification from the Ministry of Communication to stop importing Jeune Afrique and other titles published by Jeune Afrique Media Group (The Africa Report and La Revue). The ministry authorized the import of only 350 copies of Jeune Afrique for delivery to various institutions. Jeune Afrique online remained available.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.”

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly: The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government continued to curtail this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the national government-appointed local governor before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding publicity and outreach efforts by organizers.

The ongoing hirak protest movement, which began on February 22, consists of mass, peaceful protest marches taking place every Tuesday and Friday in many locations throughout the country. Hundreds of thousands of individuals have marched peacefully demanding political reforms. The marches occurred mostly without incident, although police at times used tear gas and water cannons as methods of crowd control.

Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering. NGOs reported instances of not receiving the written authorization in time to hold planned meetings. NGOs reported that the government threatened hotel and restaurant owners with penalties if they rented rooms to NGOs without official authorization. In most cases, the NGOs continued to hold their meetings and police came to the hotels to end the gatherings.

In July, the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) and 15 representatives from other NGOs gathered at a hotel in Oran to discuss migration. Security services prevented the meeting from taking place “in the absence of an official authorization.” The attendees moved their meetings elsewhere and were followed by police who ordered them to disperse.

Throughout the year police dispersed unauthorized gatherings or prevented marching groups of protesters from demonstrating. Police typically dispersed protesters shortly after a protest began and arrested and detained organizers for a few hours. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other NGOs criticized the government’s use of the law to restrict peaceful assembly.

In September a group of military veterans organized a protest in Algiers, prompting a crackdown by authorities. Press reported 107 protestors were injured along with 51 police and gendarmes.

Freedom of Association: The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government restricted this right.

The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered, organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines between DZD 2,000 and DZD 5,000 ($17 and $43) and up to six months’ imprisonment.

According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation are entitled to receive a response within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for province-level associations, and 30 days for communal organizations. While the Ministry of Interior oversees the accreditation process for most associations, the president of a local assembly approves applications for communal associations.

The Ministry of Interior may deny a license to or dissolve any group regarded as a threat to the government’s authority or to public order, and on several occasions failed to grant, in an expeditious fashion, official recognition to NGOs, associations, religious groups, and political parties. According to the ministry, organizations receive a receipt after submitting their application for accreditation, and after the time periods listed above, this slip is legally sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space. The law does not explicitly include this provision. If the application is approved, the ministry issues a final accreditation document.

Many organizations reported that they never received a deposit slip and that even with the receipt; it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without formal accreditation. Other organizations reported they never received any written response to their application request even after calling the ministry and trying to register at local police stations. The ministry maintained that organizations that were refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified time period could appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.

The ministry did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparus (SOS Disappeared), Djazairouna, the LADDH, the National Association for the Fight against Corruption, and the Youth Action Movement, all of which submitted their renewal applications in prior years.

The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 109,000 local and 1,532 national associations registered as of September, including 628 registered since January unlicensed NGOs remained active, but rarely received government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted the exercise of these rights.

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

In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” The government requires that foreign diplomats and private sector personnel have armed security escorts from the government should members of these groups travel outside of Algiers wilaya (province), El-Oued, and Illizi, near hydrocarbon industry installations and the Libyan border, respectively. Citing the threat of terrorism, the government also prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi. Newspapers reported that the government restricted foreign tourists from traveling through trails in Tassili and Hoggar, as well as certain areas in and around Tamanrasset, due to security concerns.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states that the right to enter and exit the country is provided to citizens. The law does not permit those under age 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women under 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women older than 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft who had not completed their military service to leave the country without special authorization. The government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In June the Associated Press (AP) reported that the government had forced an estimated 13,000 migrants over the previous 14 months to walk from Guezzam, Algeria, to Assamakka, Niger, as part of the repatriation process. According to AP reports, some migrants died during the 20-kilometer desert march.

According to UNHCR’s March report on Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, the government protected a significant number of refugees in five large refugee camps in Tindouf and ran two other smaller camps near Tindouf, one surrounding a women’s boarding school and another used for administrative purposes. The government also protected a smaller urban refugee population, primarily in Algiers. The report noted the refugee population included predominantly Syrians, (an estimated 85 percent), as well as Yemenis, Congolese, Ivoirians, Palestinians, Malians, Central Africans, and other nationalities. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported in July that officials were deporting an estimated average of 1,000 migrants to Niger per month. International organizations reported that authorities continued to leave deportees at the Algerian/Niger border near Guezzam, Algeria or Assamakka, Niger, where migrants were forced to walk 250 km (155 miles) to the nearest town of Agadez.

There were reports that during government roundup operations of suspected migrants, some of those detained were raped, suffered sexual harassment, or both and that unaccompanied minors were sometimes rounded up and taken to the border for expulsion. Similarly, a diplomat from Burkina Faso was reported to have been rounded up and sent to the Nigerien border.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into the country across the Malian border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements. During the year the government deported migrants to Mali. Unlike in previous years, the government expelled some Syrians who the government claimed had been combatants in Syria’s civil war and were involved in networks assisting other Syrians to relocate to Algeria. These Syrians, as well as Yemeni and other nationals, were deported to Niger according to press reports.

According to the IOM, the government repatriated 5,348 migrants to Niger and deported 6,090 migrants to Niger, for a total of 11,438 from January to July, pursuant to a bilateral agreement at the request of the Nigerien government. Various international humanitarian organizations and observers criticized the operations, citing unacceptable conditions of transport, primarily on the Niger side of the border, and what they described as a lack of coordination among the Algerian Red Crescent, the government of Niger, and the Red Cross of Niger. The National Human Rights Committee (CNDH) stated the government had dedicated $12 million to ensure the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations (to include accommodation, food, clothing, health care, medicines, and transportation). The repatriations were conducted in coordination with consular officials from the countries of origin of the migrants, but the migrants were not permitted to challenge their removal. The government stated that it maintained a policy of not removing migrants registered with UNHCR, and that in a few cases it worked with UNHCR to return registered refugees who were mistakenly removed. Air Algerie signed an agreement with the IOM agreeing to provide charter flights for humanitarian supplies and migrants returning voluntarily.

The Ministry of Interior reported in March to a Senate session that approximately 500 illegal migrants try to enter the country daily along the country’s southern borders.

Access to Asylum: While the law provides generally for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. UNHCR offices in Algiers reported an estimated 200 to 300 asylum requests per month, mostly from Syrian, Palestinian, and sub-Saharan African individuals coming from Mali, Guinea, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Those determined by UNHCR to have valid refugee claims were primarily from the DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, and the Central African Republic. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.

UNHCR registered more than 10,000 Syrians, but fewer than 7,000 remained registered with UNHCR as of September. The Algerian Red Crescent, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Solidarity, maintained “welcome facilities” that provided food and shelter for those Syrians without means to support themselves. The facilities were located in Sidi Fredj. The government did not grant UNHCR access to these reception centers but reported that by 2016 most Syrians no longer used the centers.

Employment: The government does not formally allow refugee employment; however, many worked in the informal market and were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status in the country. Other migrants, asylum seekers, and Malians and Syrians who had a “special status” with the government, relied largely on remittances from family, the support of local family and acquaintances, and assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five camps near the city of Tindouf, administered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario). The Polisario (through the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society), UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, and partner NGOs provided basic services including food aid, primary health care, and primary and secondary education, while the government invested heavily in developing the camps’ infrastructure and also provided free secondary and university educations, as well as advanced hospital care, to Sahrawi refugees. The remote location of the camps and lack of government presence resulted in a lack of access by police and courts. Other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had access to free public hospitals, but independent NGOs reported instances of migrants turned away.

School administrators must allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported some children had trouble in their attempts to integrate into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools due to language barriers or cultural differences. NGOs also indicated that some migrants were denied treatment at healthcare facilities.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees had not sought local integration or naturalization during their 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and the Polisario Front continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara. The IOM leads an “Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration” program to help migrants return to their homes willingly with economic and social support, including personalized professional training and other socioeconomic assistance. Although the government is not a financial donor to the initiative, they do cooperate.

Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians, 7,000 registered as of September, and Malians.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as restrictions on political party activities inhibited the activity of opposition groups.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties of two to 10 years in prison for official corruption, but the government did not fully implement the law. Corruption remained a problem, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: The criminal code stipulates that only the board of directors of the institution concerned may initiate charges related to theft, embezzlement, or loss of public and private funds against senior, public sector “economic managers.” Critics of the law asserted that by permitting only senior officials of state businesses to initiate investigations, the law protects high-level government corruption and promotes impunity.

Corruption throughout the government stemmed largely from a lack of transparent oversight. The National Association for the Fight against Corruption noted the existence of an effective anticorruption law but stated that the government lacked the “political will” to apply the law.

Between April and June, authorities arrested at least 34 former government officials and wealthy businessmen on charges of corruption. In April authorities arrested then president Bouteflika’s brother, Said Bouteflika for “undermining authority and conspiring against the state.” In June authorities arrested former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, the highest-level officials to be arrested since Bouteflika’s resignation. Ouyahia faced charges of “abuse of official position and illegal authorizations of public funds.” Sellal was charged with “abuse of public funds,” “abuse of power,” and “illegal favoritism.” In August authorities arrested former minister of justice, Tayeb Louh, for various tactics used to protect high-level officials and powerful businessmen, often in the president’s circle, from corruption charges. Corruption cases in the private sector began with the arrest of Ali Haddad, chief executive officer (CEO) of the ETRHB Group, who was detained in March while attempting to cross the Tunisian border with undeclared currency and two passports. In June a court in Algiers sentenced Haddad to six months in prison and a fine of 50,000 dinars ($418). In April the CEO of the Cevital Group, Issad Rebrab, as well as Kouninef brothers Reda, Abdelkader Karim, Noah, and Tarek faced charges such as using “insider influence to obtain undue advantages and misappropriation of real estate” and receiving unwarranted tax and custom breaks.

Financial Disclosure: The law stipulates that all elected government officials and those appointed by presidential decree must declare their assets the month they commence their jobs, if there is substantial change in their wealth while they are in office, and at the end of their term. Few government officials made their personal wealth public, and there was no known enforcement of the law.

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

A variety of domestic human rights groups operated with varying degrees of government restriction and cooperation. The law requires all civil associations to apply for operating permission, and at year’s end several major civil associations remained unrecognized but tolerated.

Amnesty International maintained an office and actively reported on human rights issues, but it did not receive official authorization to operate from the Ministry of Interior. Amnesty International has received authorization to open a bank account, although the organization awaits final documentation from the government to open the account.

Although the government did not renew the accreditation of LADDH, the organization had members countrywide, received independent funding, and was one of the most active independent human rights groups. The Algerian League for Human Rights, a separate but licensed organization based in Constantine, had members throughout the country monitoring individual cases.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government extended an invitation to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2014 and again in 2015, but no visit occurred. The country joined the Human Rights Council in 2014 but continued to deny requests for visits from the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions (pending since 1998) and counterterrorism and human rights (pending since 2006), the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (pending since 2009), and the UN Security Council Mali Panel of Experts on Sanctions (since 2016).

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2016 the government replaced the National Consultative Commission for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights with the National Human Rights Council (CNDH). The CNDH has budget autonomy and the constitutional responsibility to investigate alleged human rights abuses, officially comment on laws proposed by the government, and publish an annual report. The CNDH completed its first annual report in November and presented it to then Interim President Abdelkader Bensalah but has not published the report to the public yet. The previous entity had presented its first draft report to President Bouteflika, but the report had not been made public by year’s end. During the year, the CNDH organized seminars and workshops on topics such as penitentiary reform and trafficking in persons. The CNDH reports receiving 687 complaints of human rights abuses during the year, of which it has investigated 638 as of September. A CNDH representative said the organization viewed the most serious human rights concerns as limits on socioeconomic rights, as well as limits on free speech.

The government also maintained cooperation with the Algerian Red Crescent Society, a local humanitarian volunteer organization officially recognized by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The local group collaborates with the Ministry of Health, providing medical assistance and analyses to vulnerable groups, including refugees and migrants. The Algerian Red Crescent also promotes tolerance via cultural events supporting migrants, such as Christmas-related events, work to protect vulnerable children, and distribution of food and supplies for education and sanitation.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides workers with the right to join and form unions of their choice, provided they are citizens. The country has ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these conventions fully.

The law requires that workers obtain government approval to form a union, and the Ministry of Labor must approve or disapprove a union application within 30 days. To found a union, an applicant must be Algerian by birth or have held Algerian nationality for 10 years. The law also provides for the creation of independent unions, although the union’s membership must account for at least 20 percent of an enterprise’s workforce. Unions have the right to form and join federations or confederations, and the government recognized four confederations. Unions may recruit members at the workplace. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of antiunion practices by employers.

The law permits unions to affiliate with international labor bodies and develop relations with foreign labor groups. For example, the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), which represented a majority of public-sector workers, is an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation. Nevertheless, the law prohibits unions from associating with political parties and receiving funds from foreign sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage in illegal activities. The government may invalidate a union’s legal status if authorities perceive its objectives to be contrary to the established institutional system, public order, good morals, law, or regulations in force.

The law provides for collective bargaining by all unions, and the government permitted the exercise of this right for authorized unions. Nevertheless, the UGTA remained the only union authorized to negotiate collective bargaining agreements.

The law provides for the right to strike, and workers exercised this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce. The decision to strike must be approved by majority vote of workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on a number of grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore, all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offered to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions reached in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an agreement, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained during public-sector service strikes, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services included banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days to two months’ imprisonment. The law protects union members from discrimination or dismissal based on their union activities. Penalties for violations of the rights of union members are not sufficient to deter violations. The law says any firing or other employment action based on discrimination against union members is invalid. The government did not effectively enforce these laws.

The government affirmed there were 81 registered trade unions and employers’ organizations, down from 101 in 2018. The government registered 21 new trade unions between January and September, for a net loss of 20 trade unions, likely due to mergers and smaller unions losing members. The government did not approve an application from the Confederation of Autonomous Unions, a group of 13 autonomous unions, to operate as one union. The National Council of Algerian Journalists received accreditation from the Ministry of Labor in July. Many trade unions remained unrecognized by the government; they identified delayed processing and administrative hurdles imposed by the government as the primary obstacles to establishing legal status. In May the government hosted a visit from an ILO High-Level Mission to explore adherence to Convention 87, the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize. The ILO mission met with the Ministry of Labor and some unions. In 2017 the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations reiterated that the lengthy registration process seriously impedes the establishment of new unions.

Attempts by new unions to form federations or confederations suffered similar challenges. Representatives of the National Autonomous Union for Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP) stated that the union continued to function without official status.

The government continued to deny recognition to the General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA), an independent trade union confederation that includes public and economic sector unions and committees. CGATA membership included workers from unions representing government administrators, diplomatic personnel, state electricity and gas employees, university professors, public transport and postal workers, and lawyers. The confederation also included migrants working in the country.

SNAPAP and other independent unions faced government interference throughout the year, including official obstruction of general assembly meetings and police harassment during sit-in protests. Furthermore, the government restricted union activities and the formation of independent unions in certain critical public services sectors, such as oil and gas and telecommunications. The International Trade Union Confederation reported that judicial persecution of trade union leaders had intensified.

The Committee on the Application of Standards at the International Labor Conference again reviewed the country’s adherence to Convention 87 in June. The committee issued a number of recommendations to encourage the country to continue to promote freedom of association and organizing rights. In June the committee requested the government to reinstate employees that the committee determined were fired based on antiunion discrimination and to process expeditiously pending trade union registration applications.

There were several strikes launched in reaction to the government’s refusal to extend official recognition to fledgling new unions and its practice of engaging only with the UGTA.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. NGOs reported that irregular migrants sometimes worked in forced labor and that their lack of work permits made them more vulnerable to exploitation. For example, female migrants were subjected to debt bondage as they worked to repay smuggling debts through domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced prostitution. Designated penalties under this statute were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. Construction workers and domestic workers were reportedly vulnerable. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations, yet the country has not determined by national law or regulation the types of work that are hazardous for children. The country does not bar all of the worst forms of child labor. Under the law there is no legislative provision prohibiting the use, procuring, or offering of a child under 18 years of age for the production and trafficking of drugs. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers under age 19 from working at night. The ILO noted, however, that the country’s standard of “night” for children is only eight hours, less than the 11 hours recommended by the ILO.

Although specific data was unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sales market, often in family businesses. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. From January 1 to July 13, the national Body for the Protection and Promotion of Childhood received 760 reports of violations of the rights of children, which focused on economic exploitation and begging, along with abuse, violence, and abandonment.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and refers violators to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections and, in some cases, investigated companies suspected of hiring underage workers. From March 18 until April 8, the ministry’s Labor Inspector Service conducted inspections into child labor of 9,748 business–down from 11,575 businesses the previous year. It reported the discovery of four minors–down from 12 the year before. The law for the protection of the child criminalizes anyone who economically exploits a child with; the penalties are neither sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes. Monitoring and enforcement practices for child labor were ineffective and hampered by an insufficient number of inspectors to examine the formal and informal economy.

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and Women leads a national committee composed of 12 ministries and NGOs that meets yearly to discuss child labor issues. The committee was empowered to propose measures and laws to address child labor as well as conduct awareness campaigns.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment, salary, and work environment based on age, gender, social and marital status, family links, political conviction, disability, national origin, and affiliation with a union.

Women reported facing employment discrimination with job offers being extended to less qualified male applicants. Leaders of women’s organizations reported that discrimination was common, and women were less likely to receive equal pay for equal work or promotions.

Few businesses abided by the law requiring that they reserve 1 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported that the government did not enforce payment of fines for failing to abide by the law. As of September the Ministry of Labor audited 160,218 organizations and found that 2,389 companies did not respect the 1-percent quota. The government gave 89 organizations formal notices to abide by the law. The ministry has not confirmed receipt of fine payment.

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment based on sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, or religion. The government did not adequately enforce the law, since discrimination reportedly existed, specifically against migrant workers in the informal economy who lacked a legal means to address unfair working conditions.

Men held a large percentage of positions of authority in government and the private sector. NGOs reported instances in which unaccompanied migrant female youth were exploited as domestic workers and were known to be loaned out to families for extended periods to work in homes or exploited as prostitutes.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A tripartite social pact among business, government, and the official union established a national, monthly minimum wage which is above the poverty income level.

The standard workweek was 40 hours, including one hour for lunch per day. Half of the lunch hour is considered compensated working time. Employees who worked longer than the standard workweek received premium pay on a sliding scale from time-and-a-half to double time, depending on whether the overtime occurred on a normal workday, a weekend, or a holiday.

The law contains occupational health and safety standards that were not fully enforced. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face such conditions, they may renegotiate their contract or, failing that, resort to the courts. While this legal mechanism exists, the high demand for employment in the country gave an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees. Labor standards do not formally allow refugee employment or adequately cover migrant laborers; therefore, many economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere who worked in the informal sector, primarily in construction and as domestic workers, were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status.

The government requires employers to declare their employees to the Ministry of Labor and to pay social security benefits. Penalties for noncompliance are insufficient to deter violations. The government allowed undeclared workers to gain credit for social security and retirement benefits for time spent in the informal economy if they repay any taxes owed after registering. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

The Labor Ministry did not employ sufficient inspectors to deter violations.

Andorra

Executive Summary

The Principality of Andorra is a constitutional, parliamentary democracy. Two co-princes–the president of France and the Spanish bishop of Urgell–serve with joint authority as heads of state. On April 7, the country held free and fair multiparty elections for the 28 seats in parliament (the General Council of the Valleys), which selects the head of government. Having won a majority in parliament, the Democrats for Andorra (DA) formed a coalition with Liberals of Andorra (L’A) and Committed Citizens (CCs), and elected Xavier Espot Zamora from DA head of government.

The country’s only security forces are the police, prison officers, traffic police, and forestry officials. The national police maintained internal and external security. The Ministry of Justice and Interior maintained effective civilian control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees, preferring to deal with them on an ad hoc basis. There is a lack of domestic legislation on asylum seekers and refugees and, in particular, on measures to protect unaccompanied and refugee children. The law provides for the entry, stay, and right to work for asylum seekers for a two-year period, renewable for six additional months. The law also provides for housing, as well as access to social services, health care, and education. In May 2018 the government signed an agreement with the Community of Sant’Egidio to establish a humanitarian corridor from French and Spanish airports for refugees to enter the country.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. Officials infrequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution and the law do not require disclosure of income or assets by elected or appointed officials, except for the declaration of earned income to the Andorran Social Security Fund required of all employees. The government did not publish the declarations.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman’s main function is to defend and oversee the fulfillment and application of the rights and liberties included in the constitution and to ensure the public sector adheres to constitutional principles. The Ombudsman’s Office also covers all cases of discrimination in the private sector as well as in the protection of the rights of minors and persons with disabilities. The ombudsman is independent from other institutions and provides its functions free of charge to interested persons. He enjoyed the government’s cooperation and operated without government interference. The ombudsman had adequate resources, published an annual report to parliament with recommendations, and was considered effective.

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

On February 15, parliament approved the first-ever Equality and Nondiscrimination Law, which provides for the right to equal treatment and nondiscrimination, and strengthens effective protection through the establishment of judicial, administrative, and institutional guarantees, which provide protection and reparation for victims of discrimination. The law also provides for a sanctioning regime. The Department of Equality Policies designed programs and activities to start implementing the law.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

On February 1, a labor law providing for a new legal framework came into effect. The constitution and law provide for workers to form and join independent trade unions. Parliament also approved laws regulating the relations between trade unions and employer associations as well as mechanisms of collective conflict. The law provides for the rights to bargain collectively and to strike. Alternate dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation and arbitration exist. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

While the government effectively enforced the law, the county’s main union Unio Sindical d’Andorra (USDA) criticized the new law for allegedly not effectively protecting workers.

The government and employers respected freedom of association. Collective bargaining did not occur during the year. There were no official reports of or investigations into any antiunion discrimination. Workers continued to be reluctant to admit to union membership due to fear of retaliation by their employers and arbitrary dismissal.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits children younger than age 14 from working and all of the worst forms of child labor. Children ages 14 or 15 may work up to two months per year during school holidays following strict regulations contained in the law. The law limits work by children who are ages 14 or 15 to no more than six hours per day, limits work by children ages 16 or 17 to eight hours per day, provides for safety restrictions, restricts the types of work children may perform, and outlines other conditions. According to the law, children may not work overtime, work overnight, or work in dangerous occupations, especially in the construction sector. The law provides for protection of children from exploitation in the workplace. Penalties are sufficient to deter violations. The government effectively enforced the law.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation and the government effectively enforced the law. Some cases of discrimination against persons with disabilities, persons based on sexual orientation, and women occurred with respect to employment or occupation. Discrimination against persons with disabilities existed in the form of social and cultural barriers, as well as disadvantages in the labor market. The Department for Social Affairs and Labor’s four-year strategic plan (2016-19) favors the hiring of persons with disabilities. The plan established the Network of Inclusive Businesses that hired 25 persons with disabilities. Companies received fiscal and social incentives for participating.

Women represented 49 percent of the workforce. The law does not require equal pay for equal work. Although no cases were filed during the year, the ADA and trade union representatives from the USDA reported cases of gender discrimination, especially relating to unequal salaries for the same work and workplace bullying. Victims were reluctant to file a complaint due to fear of reprisal from employers. The Andorran Social Security Fund and the Department of Statistics estimated that women earned on average 21-percent less than men for comparable work. In the financial sector, this percentage increased to 38 percent. The government made an effort to combat pay discrimination in general, and it applied pay equality within the government.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The national ombudsman reported that the minimum wage was not enough to make housing affordable. The government generally enforced minimum wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Workers may work up to two overtime hours per day or 15 hours per week, 50 hours per month, and 426 hours per year.

The responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and not the worker.

The law covers agricultural, domestic, and migrant workers. The Labor Inspection Office has the authority to levy sanctions and fines against companies violating standards and enforced compliance. The Office had sufficient resources to enforce compliance. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. As of the end of August, the Labor Inspection Office had received 55 complaints.

Angola

Executive Summary

Angola is a constitutional republic. In August 2017 the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party won presidential and legislative elections with 61 percent of the vote. MPLA presidential candidate Joao Lourenco took the oath of office for a five-year term in September 2017, and the MPLA retained a supermajority in the National Assembly. Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. The Constitutional Court rejected opposition parties’ legal petitions alleging irregularities during the provincial-level vote count and a lack of transparent decision-making by the National Electoral Commission.

The national police, controlled by the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for internal security and law enforcement. The Criminal Investigation Services (SIC), also under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for preventing and investigating domestic crimes. The Expatriate and Migration Services and the Border Guard Police, in the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for migration law enforcement. The state intelligence and security service reports to the presidency and investigates sensitive state security matters. The Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) are responsible for external security but also have domestic security responsibilities, including border security, expulsion of irregular migrants, and small-scale actions against Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda separatists in Cabinda. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the FAA and the national police, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The security forces generally were effective, although sometimes brutal, at maintaining stability.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government security forces; arbitrary detention by security forces; political prisoners; refoulement of refugees; corruption, although the government took significant steps to end impunity for senior officials; crimes of violence against women and girls, which the government took little action to prevent or prosecute; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving societal violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, although parliament passed landmark legislation prohibiting discrimination against LGBTI persons.

The government took significant steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses. It also dismissed and prosecuted cabinet ministers, provincial governors, senior military officers, and other officials for corruption and financial crimes. Nevertheless, accountability for human rights abuses was limited due to a lack of checks and balances, lack of institutional capacity, a culture of impunity, and government corruption.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. State media continued to be the country’s primary source for news and generally reflected a progovernment view. Nevertheless, individuals were increasingly able to use private media and social media platforms to openly criticize government policies and practices.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals reported practicing self-censorship but generally were able to criticize government policies without fear of direct reprisal. Social media was widely used in the larger cities and provided an open forum for discussion.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Private radio and print media criticized the government openly and access to private media was expanding to outside the capital. For example, the private Catholic radio station Radio Ecclesia expanded its coverage from one to 15 provinces, and private media were on the internet. Journalists routinely complained of lack of transparency and communication from government press offices and other government officials.

The president appoints the leadership of all major state-owned media outlets and state control of these outlets often led to one-sided reporting. State news outlets, including Angolan Public Television (TPA), Radio Nacional, and the Jornal de Angola newspaper, favored the ruling party but increased their coverage of opposition political parties’ perspectives and social problems reflecting poor governance during the year. The TPA continued to broadcast plenary sessions of the National Assembly live, including interventions by opposition parties. The channel also continued to invite opposition politicians and civil society members to comment live on stories featured on the nightly news, but private stations were prohibited from filming parliament. Opposition parties also received far less overall coverage on state media than did the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported fewer incidents of violence or harassment compared with the previous year.

On June 20, relatives of the defendants in the court case of former minister of transportation Augusto Tomas and four others charged with corruption threatened the journalists covering the event while they were in the lobby awaiting the beginning of the court session. In response the head of the Angolan Journalists Union urged his colleagues to press charges against those who try to intimidate journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Regulatory Entity for Social Communication (ERCA), a body mandated to license and delicense journalists and determine what constitutes appropriate media content, remained largely inactive.

Journalists reported practicing self-censorship for political and financial reasons.

The minister of social communication, the spokesperson of the presidency, and the national director of information maintained significant decision-making authority over media. It was commonly understood these individuals actively vetted news stories in the state-controlled print, television, and radio media and exercised considerable authority over some privately owned outlets. State-controlled media rarely published or broadcast stories critical of the ruling party, government officials, or government policies. Coverage critical of the previous government of Jose Eduardo dos Santos and of senior-level officials who had been dismissed on allegations of corruption increased significantly during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a crime for which conviction is punishable by imprisonment or a fine, and unlike in most cases in which defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, defendants in defamation cases have the burden of proving their innocence by providing evidence of the validity of the allegedly damaging material.

Several journalists in print media, radio, and political blogs faced libel and defamation lawsuits. Journalists complained the government used libel laws to limit their ability to report on corruption and nepotistic practices, while the government assessed that some journalists abused their positions and published inaccurate stories regarding government officials without verifying the facts or providing the accused the right of reply.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government at times restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: Document checkpoints in domestic airports and on roads throughout the country were common. Reports by local NGOs suggested that, in spite of an incremental drop in cases, some police officers continued to extort money from civilians at checkpoints and during regular traffic stops. Reports from the diamond-mining provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul indicated some government agents restricted the movements of local communities.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

There were reports throughout the year that Lunda Norte provincial authorities exerted pressure on irregular migrants and refugees to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The government failed to provide adequate protection for asylum seekers and urban refugees.

In November 2018 security forces launched Operation Rescue, a nationwide law enforcement campaign to address violent crime, illegal migration, unlicensed commercial and religious activity, and road accidents. The campaign continued throughout the year. It acutely affected both legal and undocumented migrants, refugees, and stateless persons who rely on the informal markets to make a living, as job opportunities were limited and the law prohibits refugees from operating businesses. Political opposition parties and civil society organizations also criticized the operation for restricting religious freedom, including the closure of an estimated 2,500 places of worship.

The government did not implement key elements of the 2015 asylum law, which impeded refugee and asylum seekers’ access to basic services and documents, such as birth certificates for children of foreign-born parents. NGOs working with refugee and asylum-seeker populations continued to cite security force harassment of and government discrimination against those communities.

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR, the World Food Program, and NGOs to protect and assist refugees. In August and September, the government supported a voluntary spontaneous repatriation of more than 15,000 refugees from Lunda Norte to the DRC. The government cooperated with UNHCR and the government of the DRC to respond to the humanitarian crisis and provided transportation for the spontaneous returnees. UNHCR estimated more than 8,000 refugees remained at its Lovua, Lunda Norte, resettlement camp.

Access to Asylum: The 2015 asylum law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the law had not been implemented. The law provides specific procedures for the submission of an asylum application and guidance on the determination of asylum and refugee cases. UNHCR and several NGOs reported that asylum seekers and urban refugees did not have a mechanism to apply for or resolve their status. The 2015 law changed the role of the Committee for the Recognition of the Right to Asylum, the prior implementing mechanism to identify, verify, and legalize asylum seekers, to that of an advisory board; however, at year’s end the government had not put into practice an alternative mechanism to adjudicate asylum and refugee cases in the committee’s place. The law also established the creation of reception centers for refugees and asylum seekers where they are to receive assistance until the government makes a decision on their cases.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees reported restrictions on freedom of movement in Lunda Norte Province. Police arbitrarily arrested or detained refugees and confiscated or ripped up their registration documents during periodic roundups, particularly in Dundo, the provincial capital. Refugees also reported periodic restrictions on freedom of movement from their resettlement site in Lovua, Lunda Norte Province and cited such restrictions a factor motivating them to return to the DRC.

Employment: Formal restrictions on a refugee’s ability to seek employment existed. Regulation 273/13 restricted refugees from obtaining the business license required to own and operate a business. Refugees often faced difficulty obtaining employment due to their inability to obtain legal documents required to work in the formal sector. A general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge concerning the rights it was intended to safeguard compounded the difficulties.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with recognized refugee status could at times obtain public services. UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees, however, reported that urban refugees in particular were unable to obtain legal documents following passage of the asylum law and at times faced difficulty accessing public services such as health care and education. Corruption by officials compounded these difficulties.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

On January 23, the government approved a new penal code on corruption that directly regulates modern financial crimes and increases penalties for corrupt officials. At year’s end the new penal code had not entered into force. During the year President Lourenco dismissed cabinet ministers, provincial governors, senior military officers, and other high-level government officials due to alleged corrupt practices. The PGR launched significantly more corruption investigations and brought criminal charges against several officials. Official impunity and the uniform application of anticorruption legislation, however, remained a serious problem. President Lourenco continued to stress that ending impunity for corruption was among his administration’s top priorities.

Corruption: Government corruption at all levels was widespread, but accountability improved incrementally due to increased focus on developing better checks and balances and institutional capacity. On February 23, the PGR reported 604 cases involving public officials and political leaders suspected of corruption. Several high-profile cases including that of the son of the former president, Jose Filomeno dos Santos, the director of security and counterintelligence general Antonio Jose Maria, and former Luanda governor and current member of parliament (MP) Higino Carneiro were all under investigation or awaiting trial.

On August 16, former minister of transport Augusto da Silva Tomas was sentenced to 14 years in prison for embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds, abuse of power, and violating budgeting standards at the National Council of Shippers, a state international shipping regulator. Tomas was tried along with four former shipping officials, three of whom also received sentences ranging from 10 to 12 years.

On December 30, the Luanda Provincial Court preemptively froze all Angolan accounts and assets owned by former first daughter Isabel dos Santos, her husband Sindika Dokolo, and businessman Mario Leite da Silva on suspicion that the assets originated from state funds obtained unlawfully. At year’s end the government had yet to file any criminal charges.

Government ministers and other high-level officials commonly and openly owned interests in public and private companies regulated by, or doing business with, their respective ministries. Laws and regulations regarding conflict of interest exist, but they were not enforced. Petty corruption among police, teachers, and other government employees was widespread. Police extorted money from citizens and refugees, and prison officials extorted money from family members of inmates.

Financial Disclosure: The law on public probity requires senior government officials, magistrates and public prosecutors as well as managers of public companies to declare their assets held domestically and abroad to the attorney general. The president and vice president were the first to submit their declarations in January 2018. Asset declarations are only disclosed for criminal, disciplinary, and administrative purposes and require a judicial warrant.

According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the financial information of government officials was provided to the appropriate government office. The law treats these reports as confidential. Government officials are to make a declaration within 30 days of assuming a post and every two years thereafter. The law does not stipulate a declaration be made upon leaving office but states that officials must return all government property within 60 days.

Penalties for noncompliance with the law on public probity vary depending on which section of the law was violated, but they include removal from office, a bar from government employment for three to five years, a ban on contracting with the government for three years, repayment of the illicitly gained assets, and a fine of up to 100 times the value of the accepted bribe. The National Office of Economic Police is responsible for investigating violations of this law, as well as other financial and economic crimes, and then referring them to the Financial Court for prosecution. There were no known cases related to this law during the year.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country. Some of those investigating government corruption and human rights abuses alleged government interference in their activities particularly in provinces outside of Luanda. Civil society organizations faced fewer difficulties in contacting detainees than in previous years, and prison authorities permitted civil society work in the prisons.

The Law of Associations requires NGOs to specify their mandate and areas of activity. The government used this provision to prevent or discourage established NGOs from engaging in certain activities, especially those that the government deemed politically sensitive.

The government allowed local NGOs to carry out human rights-related work, but many NGOs reported they were forced to limit the scope of their work because they faced problems registering, were subject to subtle forms of intimidation, and risked more serious forms of harassment and closure.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state-funded Interministerial Commission for the Writing of Human Rights Reports includes only representatives from various government ministries. Leading civil society members decided not to participate on the commission because they did not believe it was independent or effective.

The 10th Commission on Human Rights of the National Assembly is charged with investigating citizen complaints of alleged human rights violations and makes recommendations to the National Assembly.

An Office of the Ombudsman existed to mediate between an aggrieved public, including prisoners, and an offending public office or institution. The office did not cover the entire country and had neither decision-making nor adjudicative powers, but it helped citizens obtain access to justice, advised government entities on citizen rights, and published reports.

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, except members of the armed forces, police, firefighters, members of sovereign bodies, and public prosecutors to form and join independent unions. To establish a trade union, at least 30 percent of workers in an economic sector in a province must follow a registration process and obtain authorization from government officials. The law provides for the right to collective bargaining except in the civil service. The law prohibits strikes by members of the armed forces, police, prosecutors and magistrates of the PGR, prison staff, fire fighters, public-sector employees providing “essential services,” and oil workers. Essential services are broadly defined, including the transport sector, communications, waste management and treatment, and fuel distribution. In exceptional circumstances involving national interests, authorities have the power to requisition workers in the essential services sector.

While the law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference, it also places some restrictions on their ability to strike. Before engaging in a strike, workers must negotiate with their employer for at least 20 days prior to a work stoppage. Should they fail to negotiate, the government may deny the right to strike. The government may intervene in labor disputes that affect national security and energy sectors. Collective labor disputes are to be settled through compulsory arbitration by the Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security. The law prohibits employer retribution against strikers, but it permits the government to force workers back to work for “breaches of worker discipline” or participation in unauthorized strikes. Nonetheless, the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and stipulates that worker complaints should be adjudicated in the labor court. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security had a hotline and two service centers in Luanda for workers who believed their rights had been violated. By law employers are required to reinstate workers who have been dismissed for union activities.

During the year there were several strikes in the public and private sector over disputes between employers and workers. There were also allegations of retribution against strikers during the year.

In January, April, and May, workers of the state-owned Luanda Railways staged several strikes demanding better working conditions and salaries. On May 13, police wounded at least 12 strikers who blocked a train that was operating as part of the legally required minimum train service. Three strikers were detained and fined. Strikers also alleged police coerced several strikers to return to work. Some, but not all, of the union’s demands were met following the strike.

The government generally did not effectively enforce applicable labor laws. Labor courts functioned but were overburdened by a backlog of cases and inadequate resources. The law provides for penalties for violations of the labor code and labor contracts, but the penalties were not an effective deterrent due to the inefficient functioning of the courts.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not generally respected. Government approval is required to form and join unions, which were hampered by membership and legalization issues. Labor unions, independent of those run by the government, worked to increase their influence, but the ruling MPLA continued to dominate the labor movement due to historical connections between the party and labor, and also the superior financial base of the country’s largest labor union (which also constitutes the labor wing of the MPLA). The government is the country’s largest employer, and the Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security mandated government worker wages with no negotiation with the unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and sets sufficiently stringent penalties.

The government did not effectively enforce the law due in part to an insufficient number of inspectors and to systemic corruption.

Forced labor of men and women occurred in fisheries, agriculture, construction, domestic service, and artisanal diamond-mining sectors, particularly in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul Provinces. Migrant workers were subject to seizure of passports, threats, denial of food, and confinement. The government continued to make use of a training video for law enforcement and immigration officials that included a short segment on how to identify victims of trafficking, although this was not the sole objective of the film. INAC continued working to reduce the number of children traveling to agricultural areas in the country’s southern regions to work on farms, mostly through community outreach concerning the importance of an education.

Forced child labor increased in the southern provinces that suffered a severe drought during the year. In certain villages in Cunene, children were forced to leave school and to work as herders or to dig wells and fetch water.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits children younger than 14 from working. To obtain an employment contract, the law requires youth to submit evidence they are 14 years of age or older. Children can work from age 14 to age 16 with parental permission, or without parental consent if they are married, and the work does not interfere with schooling or harm the physical, mental, and moral development of the minor. The law also allows orphan children who want to work to get official permission in the form of a letter from “an appropriate institution,” but it does not specify the type of institution. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security; the Ministry of Social Assistance, Families, and Women’s Promotion; the Ministry of Interior; the Ministry of Labor; INAC; and the national police are the entities responsible for enforcement of child labor laws. The Ministry of Labor continued to implement its National Action Plan for the Eradication of Child Labor for 2018-22, which aims to map the most prevalent zones and types of child labor in the country to strengthen coordination of child labor investigations, prosecutions, and the imposition of criminal penalties. An interministerial commission to combat trafficking in persons and child labor was created in 2014 to coordinate enforcement actions. The government had difficulty monitoring the large informal sector, where most child labor occurred.

Inspectors are authorized to conduct surprise inspections whenever they see fit. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. The government did not consistently enforce the law, however; child labor, especially in the informal sector, remained a problem. In the first trimester of the year, INAC registered 700 cases of hazardous child labor involving the handling of chemicals, stones, and bricks and reported the cases to law enforcement. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security had oversight of formal work sites in all 18 provinces, but it was unknown whether inspectors checked on the age of workers or conditions of work sites. If the ministry determined a business was using child labor, it transferred the case to the Ministry of Interior to investigate and possibly press charges. It was not known whether the government fined any businesses for using child labor.

Children engaged in economic activities such as agricultural labor on family farms and commercial plantations–particularly in orchards–as well as in fishing, brick making, artisanal diamond mining, charcoal production, domestic labor, and street vending. Exploitive labor practices included involvement in the sale, transport, and offloading of goods in ports and across border posts. Children were forced to act as couriers in the illegal cross-border trade with Namibia. Adult criminals sometimes used children for forced criminal activity, since the justice system prohibits youths younger than 12 from being tried in court.

Street work by children was common, especially in the provinces of Luanda, Benguela, Huambo, Huila, and Kwanza Sul. Investigators found children working in the streets of Luanda, but many returned during the weekends to some form of dwelling in Luanda or outlying cities. Most of these children shined shoes, washed cars, carried water and other goods, or engaged in other informal labor, but some resorted to petty crime and begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred as well (see section 6).

The government, through INAC, worked to create, train, and strengthen child protection networks at the provincial and municipal levels in all 18 provinces. No central mechanism existed to track cases or provide statistics. The government also dedicated resources to the expansion of educational and livelihood opportunities for children and their families.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, religion, disability, or language, and the government in general effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. The International Labor Organization noted the law did not clearly define discrimination, however. The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination, although it does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity (see section 6). On January 23, the National Assembly passed a penal code that decriminalizes same-sex sexual relations and makes it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation. At year’s end the penal code, which parliament passed in January, had not been published or entered into force. The law provides for equal pay for equal work, but gender pay disparities in the country were among the highest in the world. Women held ministerial posts.

The government did not effectively implement the law. There were no known prosecutions of official or private-sector gender-based discrimination in employment or occupation. Persons with disabilities found it difficult to gain access to public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to participate in the education system and thus find employment. Reports during the year indicated that persons with albinism also experienced discrimination in employment and access to public services. There were no known prosecutions for discrimination in employment. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination against foreign workers also occurred.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A minimum wage for the formal sector exists and varies by sector. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights raised concerns about the wide disparities of minimum wage by sector and the possibility this may undervalue work in woman-dominated sectors. The lowest minimum wage was for agricultural work and was set below the UN Development Program’s official line of poverty. The minimum wage for the formal sector may be updated annually or when the government assesses economic conditions warrant. The minimum wage law does not cover workers in informal sectors, such as street vendors and subsistence farmers.

The standard workweek in the private sector is 44 hours, while in the public sector it is 37 hours. In both sectors the law mandates at least one unbroken period of 24 hours of rest per week. In the private sector, when employees engage in shift work or a variable weekly schedule, they may work up to 54 hours per week before the employer must pay overtime. In the formal sector, there is a prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, defined as more than two hours a day, 40 hours a month, or 200 hours a year. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. By law employers must provide, at a minimum, a bonus amounting to 50 percent of monthly salary to employees each year in December and an annual vacation. Workweek standards were not enforced unless employees filed a formal complaint with the Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security. Labor law protected foreign workers with permanent legal status or a temporary work visa.

The government effectively enforced the minimum wage law within the formal labor sector, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Most workers in the informal sector were not covered by wage or occupational safety standards. An estimated 60 percent of the economy derived from the informal sector, and most wage earners held second jobs or depended on the agricultural or other informal sectors to augment their incomes.

A 2016 presidential decree established minimum employment standards for domestic workers, including national minimum wage protection, an eight-hour work day for domestic workers living outside of their employer’s home, a 10-hour work day for domestic workers living inside their employer’s home, compulsory employer contributions to a domestic worker’s social security protection, and maternity and holiday allowances. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security is charged with implementing and enforcing the law. An insufficient number of adequately trained labor inspectors hampered enforcement efforts. Some companies received advance warning of impending labor inspections.

The labor law requires a safe work environment in all sectors of the economy. Employees have the right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions and may file a formal complaint with the Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security if employers insist they perform hazardous tasks. The government enforced occupational safety and health standards and investigated private company operations based on complaints made by NGOs and labor unions. On May 27, the General Labor Inspector of Lunda Sul reported that 10 companies were charged and fined for violating health and safety labor laws in the first quarter of the year.

Antigua and Barbuda

Executive Summary

Antigua and Barbuda is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state. The governor general is the queen’s representative in country and certifies all legislation on her behalf. The ruling Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party won a majority of seats in March 2018 parliamentary elections. In their initial report, election monitors stated there were problems with the electoral process but concluded that the results “reflected the will of the people.” As of November their final report had not been released.

Security forces consist of a police force; a prison guard service; immigration, airport, and port security personnel; the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force; and the Office of National Drug Control and Money Laundering Policy. Police fall under the supervision of the attorney general, who is also the minister of justice, legal affairs, public safety, and labor. Immigration falls under the minister of foreign affairs, international trade, and immigration. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included serious corruption and laws against consensual male same-sex sexual activity, although the laws against same-sex sexual activity were not strictly enforced.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish those who committed human rights abuses. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government respected this right on a somewhat limited basis.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Privately owned print media, including daily and weekly newspapers, were active. There were claims, however, that the government was hostile to opposition and independent media and did not provide them equal access to government officials. Senior government officials routinely refused to grant interviews to media outlets critical of the ruling Labour Party.

Libel/Slander Laws: In contrast with 2018, there were no reports of new libel cases.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government handles asylum requests on an ad hoc basis.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Media reported several allegations of corruption against officials during the year. A culture of impunity for acts of official financial corruption existed at all levels of the government.

Corruption: Media and private citizens reported government corruption was widespread and endorsed at the highest levels of government. On a radio program in March, Prime Minister Gaston Browne explained how Antiguan politicians manipulated government contracts to include a “platform for theft,” stating ministers could “walk away with five million dollars, no questions asked.” In the same interview, Browne said he had no problem with politicians who “enrich themselves creatively.” Although the government took steps to improve public financial management and transparency, citizens continued to express concern about oversight and use of funds raised by the Citizenship by Investment program. Of particular concern was the ability of international criminals and fugitives to acquire citizenship through the investment program to avoid prosecution and accountability.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires elected public officials to disclose in a confidential report to the Integrity Commission all income, assets, and personal gifts received in the course of the performance of their public functions. The commission has the power to investigate public officials without a formal complaint being lodged, but the commission lacked adequate staff for investigations. The commissioner made a formal request to the government for additional resources.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an ombudsman, who is an independent authority appointed by parliament to handle complaints made by the public against police, government officials, and government offices. The ombudsman takes complaints, conducts investigations, and then makes recommendations to the relevant authorities.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of public- and private-sector workers to form and join independent unions. The law also provides for the right to bargain collectively and conduct legal strikes, but it imposes several restrictions on the right to strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers, but it does not specifically require reinstatement of workers illegally fired for union activity.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination, nor were there any reports of violations of collective bargaining rights.

Workers who provide essential services (including water, electricity, hospital, fire, prison, air traffic control, meteorology, telecommunications, government printing office, and port authority) must give two weeks’ notice of intent to strike. The International Labor Organization considered the country’s list of essential services to be overly broad by international standards, highlighting the inclusion of the government printing office and port authority. There were no strikes within the essential-services sector, but postal workers and some workers at a psychiatric hospital went on strike during the year. Protests were peaceful.

If either party to a dispute requests court mediation, strikes are prohibited under penalty of imprisonment for any private-sector worker and some government workers. The Industrial Relations Court may issue an injunction against a legal strike when the national interest is threatened or affected. The law prohibits retaliation against strikers.

Penalties for violating labor laws range from a minor fine to two months in prison and were adequate to deter violations. Government enforced the right of association and collective bargaining. Administrative and judicial procedures, however, were often subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. While the government enforced the law, it did not fully implement standard operating procedures on proactive identification and referral of forced labor victims. The labor code allows the labor inspectorate authority to enter residences to investigate allegations of forced or compulsory labor. Forced child labor occurred in domestic service and the retail sector.

The Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy investigates cases of trafficking in persons, including forced labor allegations. The law prescribes penalties of 20 to 30 years’ imprisonment with fines not to exceed $400,000 XCD ($148,000). These penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Laws contain definitions that collectively constitute the worst forms of child labor, but specific details are not in any single statute. The government enforced child labor laws effectively, and there were no reports of child labor law violations during the year.

The law stipulates a minimum working age of 16 years although work prohibitions do not apply to family businesses. In some circumstances children younger than 16 are eligible for employment with restrictions, such as working only during nonschool hours and working only a certain number of hours. Persons younger than 18 may not work past 10 p.m., except in certain sectors, and in some cases must have a medical clearance to obtain employment. No list of hazardous work exists for the protection of those younger than 18.

The law requires the Ministry of Labour to conduct periodic inspections of workplaces, and the ministry effectively enforced the law. The law allows for a small financial penalty or three months in prison for violations, which were adequate to deter violations. The Labour Commissioner’s Office has an inspectorate that investigates child labor in the formal and informal sectors.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation regarding race, color, sex, age, national origin, citizenship, political beliefs, and disability. In general the government effectively enforced the law and regulations. Penalties include a fine and up to 12 months in prison, which were adequate to deter violations. The Ministry of Labour did not receive any discrimination complaints during the year.

The law does not prohibit employment discrimination based on religion, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status, but the government encouraged employers not to discriminate on these grounds. Female migrant workers, who worked mainly in hospitality and industry, reported discrimination. There were also anecdotal reports of employment discrimination against employees with HIV/AIDS (see section 6, HIV and AIDS Social Stigma).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government does not have an established poverty level. Most workers earned substantially more than the minimum wage.

The law provides that workers are not required to work more than a 48-hour, six-day workweek. The law requires that employees be paid for overtime work at one and one-half times the employees’ basic wage per hour after exceeding 40 hours in the workweek. The Ministry of Labour put few limitations on overtime, allowing it in temporary or occasional cases, but did not allow employers to make regular overtime compulsory.

The law includes occupational safety and health provisions, but the government has not developed occupational safety and health regulations apart from those regarding child labor. The law does not specifically provide that workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. It does, however, give the ministry the authority to require special safety measures, not otherwise defined in the law, for worker safety.

Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Labour and the Industrial Court are responsible for enforcement in the formal and informal sectors. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. The government enforced labor laws, including levying remedies and penalties of up to $5,000 XCD ($1,850) for nonpayment of work. Penalties for illegal overtime did not always effectively deter labor violations.

Labor inspectors reported they conducted periodic health and safety checks, as well as inspections of working conditions and work permit violations. Workers in construction, mechanics, and agriculture were particularly vulnerable to hazardous working conditions and accidents, especially when working with heavy machinery.

Argentina

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Local NGOs, including the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), expressed concerns that the Ministry of Security imposed restrictions on the right to peaceful protest and assembly.

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

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

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

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

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

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

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armenia

Executive Summary

Armenia’s constitution provides for a parliamentary republic with a unicameral legislature, the National Assembly (parliament). The prime minister elected by the parliament heads the government; the president, also elected by the parliament, largely performs a ceremonial role. During December 2018 parliamentary elections, the My Step coalition, led by acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan, won 70 percent of the vote and an overwhelming majority of seats in the parliament. According to the assessment of the international election observation mission under the umbrella of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the parliamentary elections were held with respect for fundamental freedoms.

The national police force is responsible for internal security, while the National Security Service (NSS) is responsible for national security, intelligence activities, and border control. The Special Investigative Service (SIS) is a separate agency specializing in preliminary investigation of cases involving suspected abuses by public officials. The Investigative Committee is responsible for conducting pretrial investigations into general civilian and military criminal cases and incorporates investigative services. The NSS and the police chiefs report directly to the prime minister and are appointed by the president upon the prime minister’s recommendation. The cabinet appoints the SIS and Investigative Committee chiefs upon the prime minister’s recommendations. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: torture; arbitrary detention, although with fewer reports; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary interference with privacy; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons; and use of forced or compulsory child labor.

The government took steps to investigate and punish alleged abuses by former and current government officials and law enforcement authorities. For example, throughout the year, an investigation continued into the culpability of former high-ranking government officials surrounding events that led to the deaths of eight civilians and two police officers during postelection protests in 2008.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press.

Since the 2018 political transition, the media environment has been freer, as some outlets began to step away from the earlier practice of self-censorship; however, there were reports that some outlets avoided criticizing the authorities so as not to appear “counterrevolutionary.” In its final report on the December 2018 elections, the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Election Observation Mission stated that while most interlocutors noted improvements in media freedom and an increase in plurality of opinions since April 2018, some also noted that the postrevolutionary public discourse was not conducive to criticism of the government, in particular, the then acting prime minister. Many traditional and online media continued to lack objective reporting.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals were free to criticize the government without fear of arrest. After the 2018 “Velvet Revolution,” there were calls for legal measures to address hate speech following incidents of advocacy of violence targeting individuals’ political opinions, religious beliefs, as well as sexual and gender identity.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Broadcast and larger-circulation print media generally lacked diversity of political opinion and objective reporting. Private individuals or groups, most of whom were reportedly tied to the former authorities or the largest parliamentary opposition party, owned most broadcast media and newspapers, which tended to reflect the political leanings and financial interests of their proprietors. Broadcast media, particularly public television, remained one of the primary sources of news and information for the majority of the population. According to some media watchdogs, public television continued to present news from a progovernment standpoint, replacing one government perspective with another in the aftermath of the political transition. Nonetheless, public television was open and accessible to the opposition as well and covered more diverse topics of public interest than before.

Social media users freely expressed opinions concerning the new government and former authorities on various social media platforms. Use of false social media accounts and attempts to manipulate media, however, continued to increase dramatically during the year. According to media watchdogs, individuals used manipulation technologies, including hybrid websites, controversial bloggers, “troll factories,” and fictional Facebook groups and stories, to attack the government.

The country’s few independent media outlets, mostly online, were not self-sustainable and survived through international donations, with limited revenues from advertising.

The media advertising market did not change substantially after the 2018 “Velvet Revolution,” and key market players remained the same. According to a 2016 report by the Armenian Center for Political and International Studies, the advertising sales conglomerate Media International Services (MIS) controlled 74 percent of the country’s television advertisement gross value, with exclusive rights to sell advertising on the country’s five most-watched channels. Another company, DG Sales, was majority owned by MIS shareholders; it controlled more than one-third of the online commercial market, operating similar to MIS. Internet advertising, although a small segment of the advertising market, increased during the year.

Media company ownership was mostly nontransparent. The country’s Fourth Action Plan of Open-Government Partnership Initiative of the Republic of Armenia (2018-2020) included commitments to improve ownership disclosure. Media NGOs advocated for the media sector to be included as a priority sector in the action plan and proposed changes to the Law on Television and Radio that fostered media ownership transparency.

The government maintained a de facto monopoly on digital broadcasting multiplex, while most channels represented the views of the previous government. Some 10 regional television stations remained at risk of closure due to a drop in viewership and advertising. The stations did not receive government licenses to transmit digitally via the single state-owned multiplex following the 2016 national switch to digital broadcasting, and they continued to transmit via the unsupported analog broadcasting system. The heavy cost of starting and maintaining a private multiplex (which could ensure the continuity of those stations) resulted in three unsuccessful tenders with no applicants since the 2016 switchover. As a result, on January 31, the government decided to shut down “Shirak” Public Television, claiming that the station’s analog broadcast was unable to attract a wide audience and that the transfer of the station to a digital broadcast would require significant financial investment, which the government was unable to make. Media watchdogs criticized the decision and urged the government to change legislation to encourage the entrance of private multiplexers into the country and end the state’s monopoly on digital broadcasting.

Violence and Harassment: The local NGO Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression reported three cases of violence against reporters in the first nine months of the year. Two reporters were attacked by employees of cafes that were being dismantled by Yerevan City Hall in a crackdown against illegal buildings. No criminal charges were filed. In the third case, the bodyguard of former NSS chief Artur Vanetsyan pushed a reporter to the ground.

On February 27, the Kotayk region trial court acquitted Kotayk police department head Arsen Arzumanyan, who had been charged with abuse of office and preventing the professional activities of journalist Tirayr Muradyan in April 2018. On June 5, in answer to an appeal of the acquittal, the Criminal Appeals Court found Arzumanyan guilty and fined him 500,000 drams ($1,000).

Libel/Slander Laws: Media experts raised concerns regarding the unprecedented number of libel and defamation cases launched against media outlets by lawmakers, former officials, and others during the year. According to the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, 83 cases were filed with the courts during the first nine months of the year, placing a significant financial burden on media outlets.

National Security: According to media experts there was a dramatic increase in false news stories and the spread of disinformation regarding social networks and media during the year. The government claimed that former government representatives, who reportedly owned most media–including television stations with nationwide coverage–used media outlets to manipulate public opinion against authorities.

On April 4, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan ordered the NSS to crack down on anyone using mass media or social media to “manipulate public opinion.” Media experts, including some who said there was a need to address fake news and hate speech, criticized the prime minister’s instructions as an attempt to silence free speech. On April 9, the NSS reported the arrest of a person who administered a Facebook page that falsely presented itself as associated with the prime minister’s Civil Contract Party. The page spread fake news stories and incited violence, including against members of religious minorities. Although the NSS had investigated the Facebook account on charges of incitement of religious hatred since fall 2018, an arrest was made on this charge only after the prime minister’s April 4 instructions.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports of nonsystemic discrimination in the acceptance of applications and in detention of asylum seekers based on the country of origin, race, or religion of the asylum seeker, as well as difficulties with integration. Civil society contacts reported discriminatory attitudes and suspicion directed towards foreign migrants seeking employment.

In the first nine months of the year, 15 foreigners were arrested for illegal entry after crossing the border via land or air, a decrease from 28 in the first nine months of 2018. Despite a provision in the law exempting asylum seekers from criminal liability for illegal border crossing, authorities required them to remain in detention pending the outcome of their asylum applications or to serve the remainder of their sentences.

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law accounts for specific needs of children, persons with mental disabilities and trauma survivors and allows detention centers to receive asylum applications. Three years of legal residence in the country is required for naturalization of refugees who are not ethnic Armenians.

Shortcomings in asylum procedures included limited state funding for interpreters and deficiencies in capacity of eligibility officers. Enhanced capacity of the judiciary resulted in an increased number of overruled State Migration Service (SMS) decisions on asylum applications. Following a 2018 administrative court judgment overruling an SMS denial of refugee status to a family from Iraq, the applicants were required to start the asylum process again. In general the courts drew more attention to the merit of asylum applications and used country of origin information more systematically than before 2018.

Authorities continued to offer ethnic Armenians from Syria who remained in the country a choice of protection options, including expedited naturalization, a residence permit, or refugee status. Quick naturalization gave persons displaced from Syria the same legal right to health care and most other social services as other citizens. Many of the countrywide reforms such as provision of increased social services, higher pensions, and more accessible health care also benefited naturalized refugees.

While the overall quality of procedures and decision making for determination of refugee status improved over the last decade, concerns remained regarding adjudication of cases of asylum seekers of certain religious and gender profiles with non-Apostolic Christian and non-Armenian backgrounds.

Access to Basic Services: Many refugees were unable to work or receive an education while their cases worked their way through the legal system, despite legal provisions protecting these rights.

Housing allocated to refugees was in limited supply, in poor condition, and remained, along with employment, refugees’ greatest concern. Many displaced families relied on a rental subsidy program supported by UNHCR and diaspora organizations. Authorities operated an integration house with places for 29 refugees and offered refugees accommodation free of charge during the first months after they acquired refugee status. Language differences created barriers to employment, education, and access to services provided for by law.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and offered naturalization to refugees residing on its territory. The SMS also offered integration programs to returnees from Western European countries who either voluntarily returned or were deported by the host country. On November 21, the government allocated 1.5 billion drams ($3.2 million) for permanent housing to 112 refugee families who fled from Azerbaijan in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption. After the May 2018 “Velvet Revolution,” the government opened investigations that revealed systemic corruption encompassing most areas of public and private life. The government launched numerous criminal cases against alleged corruption by former government officials and their relatives, parliamentarians, and in a few instances, by members of the judiciary and their relatives, with cases ranging from a few thousand to millions of U.S. dollars. Many of those cases continued as of year’s end, and additional cases were reported regularly. The government also launched such cases against a few current government officials.

Corruption: The country has a legacy of systemic corruption in many areas, including construction, mining, public administration, the parliament, the judiciary, procurement practices, and provision of grants by the state. There were allegations of embezzlement of state funds, involvement of government officials in questionable business activities, and tax and customs privileges for government-linked companies. In 2018 the government made combatting corruption one of its top priorities and continued to take measures to eliminate it during the year. Although top officials announced the “eradication of corruption” in the country, local observers noted that anticorruption measures needed further institutionalization. Criminal corruption cases were uncovered in the tax and customs services, the ministries of education and health care, and the judiciary.

According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, in the 13 months ending in June, enforcement bodies and tax services uncovered violations in the amount of 110.5 billion drams (almost $230 million), constituting damages to the state, embezzlement, abuse of official duty, and bribes. Of this amount, 30.1 billon drams ($63 million) was reportedly paid to the state budget; NGOs raised concerns regarding insufficient transparency in this process.

During the year former officials made public announcements of their intent to return assets to the state, allegedly to avoid prosecution. The process by which the government accepted or negotiated such arrangements were unclear.

In December 2018 the Prosecutor General’s Office launched a criminal case against former minister of nature protection and then member of parliament Aram Harutyunyan, for bribery in especially large sums. According to the Special Investigative Service, Harutyunyan misused his position as chair of the interagency tender commission on the establishment of mining rights over the parcels of lands containing minerals of strategic importance, receiving a bribe of $14 million from a business owner in exchange for 10 special licenses for mineralogy studies in mines, further extension of those studies, and, subsequently, permission to exploit the mines. As of late November, Harutyunyan was in hiding from the prosecution.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires high-ranking public officials and their families to file annual asset declarations, which were partially available to the public on the internet. The law grants the Ethics Commission for High-Ranking Officials the powers and tools to partially verify the content of the declarations, including access to relevant databases and the mandate to impose administrative sanctions or refer a case to law enforcement authorities when elements of criminal offenses were identified. After the May 2018 change in government, the Ethics Commission imposed penalties on officials for filing incomplete or late declarations.

By law full verification of the data as well as other functions aimed at preventing corruption is carried out by the Commission on the Prevention of Corruption. The commission, an autonomous collegial body accountable to the parliament, is authorized to have five members who are appointed for a six-year term. It replaces the Ethics Commission for High-Ranking Officials and is broadly empowered to promote official integrity, support development of anticorruption policy, and conduct anticorruption awareness and training. On November 19, the National Assembly elected the five members of the Commission on the Prevention of Corruption by secret ballot; one member was nominated by the government, one by each of the three parliamentary factions, and one by the Supreme Judicial Council. A civil society leader nominated by an opposition party became the commission chairperson.

Under a law criminalizing illicit enrichment, many public officials, including judges and members of parliament and their spouses, disclosed large sums of unexplained income and assets, including large personal gifts and proceeds from providing loans. After the May 2018 change in government, authorities initiated several investigations of discrepancies or unexplained wealth identified in the declarations. On October 3, the government adopted an anticorruption strategy that, among other actions, envisages the creation of a separate special law enforcement body, to be called the Anti-Corruption Committee, by 2021.

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

Following the May 2018 change in government leadership, some civil society representatives joined the government. Others, however, continued to serve as watchdogs, scrutinizing the actions of the government. Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Civil society organizations considered the government change a window of opportunity for closer collaboration. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Human Rights Defender (the ombudsperson) has a mandate to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms from abuse at all levels of government. The office improved its outreach to regions and collaboration with regional human rights protection organizations. During the year the office launched a public-awareness campaign on the procedures for reporting domestic violence. The office continued to report a significant increase in the number of citizen complaints and visits, which it attributed to increased public expectations and trust in the institution.

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 protects the right of all workers to form and to join independent unions, except for noncivilian personnel of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies. The law also provides for the right to strike, with the same exceptions, and permits collective bargaining. The law mandates seven days’ notification and mandatory mediation before a strike, as well as the agreement of two-thirds of the workforce obtained in a secret vote. The law stipulates that worker rights may not be restricted because of membership in a union. The list of justifiable grounds for firing a worker, enumerated in the labor code, does not include union activity.

In 2018 a law on government structure came into force changing the Health Inspection Body, which was tasked with ensuring the health and occupational safety of employees, to the Health and Labor Inspection Body (HLIB). The HLIB had limited authority to conduct occupational safety and health inspections during that time. There were no other state bodies with inspection responsibilities to oversee and protect the implementation of labor rights. The government did not effectively enforce laws on freedom of association and collective bargaining and has not established which entity should have responsibility for enforcing these laws. On December 4, the National Assembly adopted changes to the labor code reviving the state oversight function of the HLIB and penalties for labor code violations to come into effect in July 2021.

Labor organizations remained weak because of employer resistance, high unemployment, and poor economic conditions. Experts reported that the right to strike, although enshrined in the constitution, is difficult to realize due to mediation and voting requirements. Following the “Velvet Revolution,” trade unions emerged in the areas of education and research institutions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced and compulsory labor, although it does not define forced labor. While the government effectively prosecuted labor trafficking cases, resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to identify forced labor cases at large due to absence of an effective labor inspection mechanism. Penalties for labor trafficking were sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

There are laws and policies designed to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. In most cases the minimum age for employment is 16, but children may work from age 14 with permission of a parent or a guardian. The law allows children younger than 14 to work in the entertainment sector. The maximum duration of the workweek is 24 hours for children who are 14 to 16 and 36 hours for children who are 16 to 18. Persons younger than 18 years may not work overtime; in harmful, strenuous, or dangerous conditions; at night; or on holidays. Authorities did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties were insufficient to enforce compliance. The absence of worksite inspections conducted at the national level impeded the enforcement of child labor laws.

According to the Armenian National Child Labor Survey 2015 Analytical Report, conducted by the Statistical Committee and the International Labor Organization, 11.6 percent of children between ages five and 17 years were employed. Most were involved in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sectors, while others worked in the sectors of trade, repair, transport, storage, accommodation, and food services. Children were also involved in the trade of motor fuel, construction materials, medication, vehicle maintenance and repair works. According to the survey, 39,300 children were employed, of whom 31,200 were engaged in hazardous work, including work in hazardous industries (400 children), in designated hazardous occupations (600 children), work with long hours (1,200 children), work that involved carrying heavy loads and distances (17,200 children) and, other forms of hazardous work (23,600 children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and the labor code prohibit discrimination based on sex, race, skin color, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion, political opinion, belonging to a national minority, property status, birth, disability, age, or other personal or social circumstances. Other laws and regulations specifically prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on gender. The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were no effective legal mechanisms to implement these regulations, and discrimination in employment and occupation occurred based on gender, age, presence of a disability, sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS status, and religion, although there were no statistics on the scale of such discrimination. Administrative penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Women generally did not enjoy the same professional opportunities or wages as men, and employers often relegated them to more menial or lower-paying jobs. While providing for the “legal equality” of all parties in a workplace relationship, the labor code does not explicitly require equal pay for equal work. According to a gender-gap study by the UN Population Fund, Diagnostic Study of Discrimination against Women, released in 2016, the gap between the average salaries of men and women in all economic spheres was almost 36 percent. The International Monetary Fund cited the gender pay gap in the country as being strikingly large. According to World Bank data released in 2016, more than one-half of women with intermediary education and one-third of women with advanced education did not participate in paid work. According to the 2017 World Bank study, Leveling the STEM Playing Field for Women, “cultural stereotypes about the work women should engage in and their responsibilities at home present the strongest barrier to equality between women and men” in the country. Women also represented a larger share of the registered unemployed, and it took them a longer time to find work.

Many employers reportedly practiced age and gender discrimination, most commonly requiring job applicants to be of a specific gender, age, and appearance. Such discrimination appeared to be widespread, but there were no reliable surveys, and authorities did not take any action to mitigate it. While there was little awareness of and no comprehensive reporting to indicate the scale of sexual harassment in the workplace, media reports suggested such abuse was common. Vacancy announcements specifying young and attractive women for various jobs were common. Unemployed workers, particularly women, who were older than 40 had little chance of finding jobs appropriate to their education or skills. LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, as well as pregnant women also faced discrimination in employment. Religious minorities faced discrimination in public employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The established monthly minimum wage was above the poverty income level. The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, 20 days of mandatory paid annual leave, and compensation for overtime and nighttime work. The law prohibits compulsory overtime in excess of four hours on two consecutive days and limits it to 180 hours in a year. The government established occupational and health standards by decree.

Authorities did not effectively enforce labor standards in either the formal or the informal sectors. According to lawyers, workers’ rights remained unprotected due to the absence of a viable labor inspection regime and lack of independent trade unions. While administrative courts were mandated to rule on labor-related cases within three months, few employees sought to apply to courts to reinstate their rights, due to legal costs, the complexity of the application process, as well as distrust of the judiciary. It was unclear if the overloaded courts were able to meet the legally required three-month window for those labor disputes that were submitted.

Many employees of private companies, particularly in the service and retail sectors, were unable to obtain paid leave and were required to work more than eight hours a day without additional compensation. According to representatives of some employment agencies, many employers also hired employees for an unpaid and undocumented “probationary” period of 10 to 30 days. Often employers subsequently dismissed these employees, who were then unable to claim payment for the time they worked because their initial employment was undocumented. According to a 2018 survey carried out by the local NGO Advanced Public Research Group, among 800 respondents only 47.7 percent of those employed by small businesses (20 percent of the respondents) had contracts. The survey also revealed problems related to inability to take paid annual leave and lack of compensation for overtime work.

Managers of enterprises that were the primary employers in certain poor geographic areas frequently took advantage of the absence of alternative jobs and did not provide adequate pay or address job safety and environmental concerns. As of 2017 nearly one-half of all workers found employment in the informal sector. According to official statistics, the government’s anticorruption efforts and active efforts by the tax authorities have led to a notable increase in the number of officially registered employees in the country.

In November 2018 the NGO Helsinki Committee of Armenia presented the results of a study conducted in 2017 on labor rights of teachers working in public schools that found problems with working conditions in terms of safety and health. Some teachers said they did not feel protected from psychological pressure exerted by the school administration and teachers hired to work through nepotism. Approximately one-half of the teachers had to find students to enroll in the schools and some had to ensure the participation of children in political events. According to the teachers, the least protected teachers in their schools were representatives of religious minorities, LGBTI teachers, and former convicts. There were several reports after the revolution that teachers who had voiced corruption concerns regarding school principals faced retribution and were fired. On June 11, a new trade union of teachers (Education and Solidarity) was registered.

During the past several years, there were consistent reports of labor law violations at the company formerly responsible for waste collection in Yerevan, but there were no reports that authorities imposed penalties on the company as a result. Safety and health conditions remained substandard in numerous sectors, and according to official information there were 16 fatal workplace incidents during the year. In light of high unemployment in the country, workers generally did not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety. Authorities offered no protection to employees in these situations, and employees generally did not report violations of their rights.

On July 2, the workers of the Agarak Copper Molybdenum Mine began protests demanding compensation for overtime and for especially heavy and dangerous work, improved working conditions, and the provision of a safe working environment. According to media reports, after a long history of unaddressed grievances, the July protests were triggered by the refusal of mine leadership to address life-threatening stone falls and the demand that miners continue working despite the risk to their lives. The mine leadership claimed the strikes were illegal and demanded that protest organizers provide explanations for absence from work.

Australia

Executive Summary

Australia is a constitutional democracy with a freely elected federal parliamentary government. In a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May, the Liberal Party and National Party coalition was re-elected with a majority of 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives. The House subsequently reconfirmed Scott Morrison as prime minister.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP), an independent agency of the Department of Home Affairs, and state and territorial police forces are responsible for internal security. The AFP enforces national laws and state and territorial police forces enforce state and territorial laws. The Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force are responsible for migration and border enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials accused of abuses, and ombudsmen, human rights bodies, and internal government mechanisms responded effectively to complaints.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Although the constitution does not explicitly provide for freedom of speech or press, the High Court has held that the constitution implies a limited right to freedom of political expression, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists expressed concern that strict defamation laws have had a “chilling effect” on investigative journalism and freedom of the press. In February businessman and political donor Chau Chak Wing won a defamation case against a media organization that linked him to a bribery case implicating a former president of the UN General Assembly. A member of parliament, Andrew Hastie, criticized the verdict, saying, “Generally speaking, we are concerned about the impact that defamation laws in Australia are having on responsible journalism that informs Australians about important national security issues.”

National Security: In June the AFP raided ABC’s headquarters and the home of a News Corp journalist as part of an investigation into the alleged publishing of classified national security information. The media union denounced the raids as an attempt to “intimidate” journalists; an Essential Poll found that three-quarters of citizens were concerned about press freedom in the aftermath of the raids. The country’s three largest media organizations–ABC, News Corp, and Nine Entertainment–jointly called for more legal protections for journalists and whistleblowers. In July the parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security opened an inquiry into the impact of law enforcement and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press. Media companies challenged the constitutionality of the AFP’s warrants in court.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are not codified in law, the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Domestic and international organizations expressed serious concern about credible allegations of abuse of migrants in the detention center on Nauru and from the former detention center at Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Abuses included inadequate mental health and other medical services, instances of assault, sexual abuse, suicide, self-harm, suspicious deaths, and harsh conditions. The government claimed to continue to provide necessary services to refugees.

In March parliament passed medevac legislation giving medical experts the authority to authorize refugees and asylum seekers from the former Manus Island detention center or Nauru to travel to Australia to receive medical treatment. According to media reports, 179 persons had transferred to the country for health reasons under this legislation as of December.

In December parliament repealed the medevac legislation, a step human rights advocates denounced. The repeal of the law restores the full discretion of federal ministers to accept or reject medical transfers to the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a statement saying that it was “disappointed by the repeal” and expressing concern that it “may negatively impact vital care for asylum seekers in offshore processing facilities.”

Refoulement: UNHCR noted that immigration authorities in the country and offshore detention centers forcibly deported refugees and asylum seekers. The government refused to allow these families to be reunited in the country. UNHCR is aware of several cases where family members are held on offshore processing facilities, while spouses undergoing medical treatment reside in the country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees for resettlement in the country. UNHCR identifies and refers the majority of applicants considered under the program.

The law authorizes the immigration minister to designate a country as a regional offshore processing center. Parliament must be notified and then has five days to reject the proposed designation. Asylum seekers transferred to third countries for regional processing have their asylum claims assessed by the country in which the claim is processed. Agreements were in effect with Nauru (2013) and Cambodia (2014), although the latter has been little used.

In May authorities intercepted a boat with 20 Sri Lankans trying to reach the country to claim asylum. The Sri Lankans were taken to Christmas Island, a small Australian island approximately 300 miles south of Jakarta. They were held there for a few days while their asylum claims were adjudicated. After the claims were denied, the 20 were flown back to Sri Lanka with the cooperation of the Sri Lankan government. The incident was the first use of Christmas Island for detention of asylum seekers in five years. Authorities also occasionally forced intercepted boats carrying smuggled persons back into the territorial waters of their country of embarkation when safe to do so.

By law the government must facilitate access to legal representation for persons in immigration detention in the country. Access to government-funded legal assistance is available only to those who arrived through authorized channels.

In June 2018 the immigration minister stated no refugee in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, including persons with close family ties, would be resettled in the country. The government sought to enforce this policy, although UNHCR representatives accused the government of breaking a previous promise to accept refugees with close family ties. Moreover, the long-term status of persons evacuated to the country for medical treatment pursuant to the March parliamentary action remained uncertain as of November.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and funded refugee resettlement services. The Humanitarian Settlement Services program provided case-specific assistance that included finding accommodation, employment programs, language training, registering for income support and health care, and connecting with community and recreational programs.

Temporary Protection: The law permits two temporary protection options for individuals who arrived in the country and were not taken to regional processing centers in third countries. The temporary protection visa (TPV) is valid for three years, and visa holders are able to work, study, and reside anywhere in the country with access to support services. Once expired, TPV holders are eligible to reapply for another TPV. The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) is valid for five years and is granted on the basis that visa holders intend to work or study in nonmetropolitan areas. SHEV holders are eligible to apply for certain permanent or temporary visas after 42 months.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting is mandatory.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively.

Corruption: All states have anticorruption bodies that investigate alleged government corruption, and every state and territory appoints an ombudsman who investigates and makes recommendations in response to complaints about government decisions. The government also appoints one commonwealth (federal) ombudsman as laws differ between states, and one process or policy cannot always be used across jurisdictions.

The Australian Capital Territory established its anticorruption commission in July.

The law requires persons and entities who have certain arrangements with, or undertake certain activities on behalf of foreign principals to register with the government.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all federal, state, and territory elected officials to report their financial interests. Failure to do so could result in a finding of contempt of parliament and a possible fine or jail sentence. Federal officeholders must report their financial interests to a register of pecuniary interests, and the report must be made public within 28 days of the individual’s assumption of office. The law prohibits foreign campaign contributions.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Commission (HRC), an independent organization established by parliament, investigates complaints of discrimination or breaches of human rights under the federal laws that implement the country’s human rights treaty obligations. The HRC reports to parliament through the attorney general. Media and nongovernmental organizations deemed its reports accurate and reported them widely. Parliament has a Joint Committee on Human Rights, and federal law requires that a statement of compatibility with international human rights obligations accompany each new bill.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions and associate freely domestically and internationally, to bargain collectively and to conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law requires that employers act in “good faith” when a majority of employees want a collective agreement, although it places some restrictions on the scope of collective bargaining. Prohibited terms include requiring payment of a bargaining services fee, enabling an employee or employer to “opt out” of coverage of the agreement, and anything that breaches the law. Furthermore, the law prohibits multienterprise agreements or “pattern bargaining,” although low-paid workers can apply for a “low-paid bargaining stream” to conduct multienterprise bargaining.

When deciding whether to grant a low-paid authorization, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) looks at factors including the terms and conditions of employment, the bargaining strength of employees, and whether employers and employees are bargaining for the first time. A bargaining agent may represent either side in the process. The law designates collective agreements as being between employers and employees directly; trade unions are the default representatives of their members but, with some exceptions, are not official parties to collective agreements.

The law restricts strikes to the period when unions are negotiating a new enterprise agreement and specifies that strikes must concern matters under negotiation, known as “protected action.” Protected action provides employers, employees, and unions with legal immunity from claims of losses incurred by industrial action. Industrial action must be authorized by a secret ballot of employees; unions continued to raise concerns this requirement was unduly time consuming and expensive to implement. The law subjects strikers to penalties for taking industrial action during the life of an agreement and prohibits sympathy strikes. The law permits the government to stop strikes judged to have caused “significant economic harm” to the employer or third parties. Some jurisdictions have further restrictions. For example, in New South Wales the state government may cancel a union’s registration if the government makes a proclamation or calls a state of emergency concerning an essential service and the “industrial organization whose members are engaged in providing the essential service has, by its executive, members, or otherwise, engaged in activities which are contrary to the public interest.”

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining protections for individuals and for corporations were generally sufficient to deter violations. The FWC is the national independent industrial relations management institution. Its functions include facilitating dispute resolution; if dispute resolution is unsuccessful, the parties may elect the FWC to arbitrate the dispute, or the applicant may pursue a ruling by a federal court.

Unions reported concerns that the scope of collective bargaining had been narrowed in recent years, including through decisions by the FWC, which also affected the right to strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by migrant workers. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. As of January 1, companies of a certain size must file annual statements identifying risks for modern slavery in their supply chains and efforts to address those risks. The first statements are due by mid-2020.

The government effectively enforced applicable labor laws and convicted four defendants in one case involving forced labor. In one case, in April a court convicted a couple of bringing a Fijian woman to the country, withholding her passport, and forcing her to work as a maid in their Brisbane home between 2008 and 2016. Most forced labor cases were addressed through civil law.

Some foreign nationals who came to the country for temporary work were subjected to forced labor in sectors such as agriculture, cleaning, construction, hospitality, and domestic service. There were reports some domestic workers employed by foreign diplomats faced conditions indicative of forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Not all of the worst forms of child labor are prohibited. As noted by the International Labor Organization, the use, procuring or offering of a child age 16 and 17 for the production of pornography or pornographic performances is not prohibited in New South Wales. In Queensland it remains unclear whether children ages 16 and 17 can be used, procured, or offered for the production of pornography or pornographic performances. There is no law prohibiting the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs, in the Northern Territory.

There is no federally mandated minimum age of employment. State minimums vary from no minimum age to age 15. With the exception of the states of Victoria and Queensland, and the Norfolk Island territory, states and territories have established 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work.

There are laws and regulations pertaining to hazardous work across sectors. For example, under the law in Western Australia, an underground worker may not be younger than age 18 unless he or she is an apprentice or a cadet working underground to gain required experience; a person handling, charging, or firing explosives may not be younger than age 18; and a person may not be younger than age 21 to obtain a winding engine driver’s certificate.

Federal, state, and territorial governments effectively monitored and enforced the laws. Penalties for violations of related laws included fines and were sufficient to deter violations.

The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) actively sought to educate young workers about their rights and responsibilities. Compulsory educational requirements effectively prevented most children from joining the workforce full-time until they were age 17. Although some violations of these laws occurred, there was no indication of a child labor problem in any specific sector. There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  for information on the territories of Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Island, and Norfolk Island.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Federal, state, and territory laws provide for protections against employment discrimination. The HRC reviews complaints of discrimination on the ground of HIV/AIDS status under the category of disability-related complaints.

The law requires organizations with 100 or more employees to establish a workplace program to remove barriers to women entering and advancing in their organization. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government continued efforts to encourage persons under the Disability Support Pension (DSP) program to enter the workforce when they have the capacity to do so, including by requiring compulsory workforce activities for DSP recipients younger than age 35 who can work for more than eight hours per week.

The government enforced laws prohibiting employment discrimination; however, employment discrimination against women, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities occurred. According to the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the full-time gender pay gap was 15.3 percent. The International Labor Organization noted its concern that, despite several government initiatives, indigenous peoples continued to be disadvantaged and that employment targets were not met.

Persons with disabilities also faced employment discrimination. In 2017-18, the latest year for which such data were available, approximately 30 percent of the complaints about disability discrimination received by the HRC were in the area of employment and 36 percent in the area of goods, services, and facilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

For a single adult living alone, the minimum wage exceeded the poverty line defined as 50 percent of median income.

By law maximum weekly hours are 38 plus “reasonable” additional hours, which, by law, must take into account factors such as an employee’s health, family responsibilities, ability to claim overtime, pattern of hours in the industry, and amount of notice given. An employee may refuse to work overtime if the request is “unreasonable.”

Federal or state occupational health and safety laws apply to every workplace, including in the informal economy. By law both employers and workers are responsible for identifying health and safety hazards in the workplace. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The law includes an antibullying provision. The law also enables workers who are pregnant to transfer to a safe job regardless of their time in employment.

The government effectively enforced laws related to minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. The FWO provides employers and employees advice on their rights and has authority to investigate employers alleged to have exploited employees unlawfully. The ombudsperson also has authority to prosecute employers who do not meet their obligations to workers. FWO inspectors may enter work sites if they reasonably believe it is necessary to ensure compliance with the law. The number of FWO inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors can order employers to compensate employees and sometimes assess fines. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations, but there were some reports violations continued in sectors employing primarily migrant workers.

Workers exercised their right to a safe workplace and had recourse to state health and safety commissions, which investigate complaints and order remedial action. Each state and territory effectively enforced its occupational health and safety laws through dedicated bodies that have powers to obtain and initiate prosecutions, and unions used right-of-entry permits to investigate concerns.

Most workers received higher compensation than the minimum wage through enterprise agreements or individual contracts. Temporary workers include both part-time and casual employees. Part-time employees have set hours and the same entitlements as full-time employees. Casual employees are employed on a daily or hourly wage basis. They do not receive paid annual or sick leave, but the law mandates they receive additional pay to compensate for this, which employers generally respected. Migrant worker visas require that employers respect employer contributions to retirement funds and provide bonds to cover health insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and other benefits.

There continued to be reports of employers exploiting immigrant and foreign workers (also see section 7.b.). As part of the FWO’s Harvest Trail inquiry into the exploitation of overseas workers in the agricultural sector, the FWO continued to operate a system for migrant workers to report workplace issues anonymously in 16 languages.

There were reports some individuals under “457” employer-sponsored, skilled worker visas received less pay than the market rate and were used as less expensive substitutes for citizen workers. The government improved monitoring of “457” sponsors and information sharing among government agencies, particularly the Australian Tax Office. Employers must undertake “labor market testing” before attempting to sponsor “457” visas. A “417” working holiday visa-holder inquiry recently found the requirement to do 88 days of specified, rural paid work to qualify for a second-year visa enabled some employers to exploit overseas workers.

Safe Work Australia, the government agency responsible to develop and coordinate national workplace health and safety policy, cited a preliminary estimate that, in the year to October, 121 workers died while working. Of these fatalities, 41 were in the transport, postal, and warehousing sectors; 28 in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sectors; and 17 in construction.

Austria

Executive Summary

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

The federal police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of the Interior. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities and reports to the Defense Ministry. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government investigated public officials for suspected wrongdoing and punished those who committed abuses. The criminal courts are responsible for investigating police violations of the law. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs reported that strict libel and slander laws created conditions that discouraged reporting of governmental abuse. For example, many observers believed the ability and willingness of police to sue for libel or slander discouraged individuals from reporting police abuses.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

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

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: EU regulations provide that asylum seekers who transit an EU country determined to be “safe” on their way to Austria be returned to that country to apply for refugee status. Authorities considered signatories to the 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol to be safe countries of transit. The Federal Administrative Court ruled, however, that deportations to Hungary would have to be examined on an individual basis due to the possibility of human rights abuses there.

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

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

Temporary Protection: According to the Interior Ministry, in 2018 the government provided temporary protection to approximately 4,190 individuals who might not qualify as refugees but were unable to return to their home countries. According to the Interior Ministry, between January and August, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 1,455 individuals.

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

Corruption: The trial of former finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser and 15 others on embezzlement and corruption charges continued. Grasser and his codefendants were charged in connection with the 2.45 billion euro ($2.7 billion) auction sale of 62,000 state-owned apartments in 2004. Prosecutors alleged that information from the Finance Ministry under Grasser’s leadership helped the eventual auction winner by signaling the size of the bid needed to acquire the properties.

In May the vice chancellor and leader of the Freedom Party resigned after the publication of a 2017 video in which he promised a woman posing as a wealthy Russian that he could manipulate government procurement contracts to her benefit in exchange for her purchasing a major stake in a mass-tabloid newspaper and providing his party with positive media coverage. A special unit with the Vienna Prosecutor’s Office began investigating the case in May.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws; there were no reports that officials failed to comply with disclosure requirements. Politicians must publicly disclose biannually when they earn more than 1,142 euros ($1,260) for certain activities, but they are not required to disclose the amounts they earned. The law does not require public officials to file disclosure reports upon leaving office. There are no sanctions for noncompliance with financial disclosure laws.

In July campaign finance reform legislation went into effect that set new annual limits on campaign donations of 7,500 euros ($8,300) for single donations and a maximum of 750,000 euros ($830,000) in total donations from all sources. The law increases fines for violations to 150 percent of the amount of an illegal donation.

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

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, the government effectively enforced the law, and resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Labor inspectors and revenue authorities conducted routine site visits to identify forced labor. The government initiated forced labor awareness campaigns and workshops. Depending on the specific offense, penalties ranged from three to 20 years’ imprisonment and were sufficient to deter most violations.

According to antitrafficking NGOs and court documents, some citizens and migrants, both men and women, were subjected to trafficking and forced labor in the agriculture, construction, and restaurant/catering sectors. Some traffickers also subjected Romani children and persons with physical and mental disabilities to trafficking for forced begging.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum legal working age is 15, with the exception that children who are at least 13 may engage in certain forms of light work on family farms or businesses. Children who are 15 and older are subject to the same regulations on hours, rest periods, overtime wages, and occupational health and safety restrictions as adults, but are subject to additional restrictions on hazardous forms of work or for ethical reasons. Restrictions for hazardous jobs include work with materials considered dangerous for teenagers, work in the sawmill business, on high-voltage pylons, and specified jobs in the construction business.

Laws and policies protect children from exploitation in the workplace and prohibit forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced these laws and policies effectively.

The labor inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Consumer Protection is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies in the workplace and did so effectively. Penalties in the form of fines may be doubled in cases of repeated violations of the child labor code. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

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

The law requires equal pay for equal work, but women occasionally experienced discrimination in remuneration.

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

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

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

The labor inspectorate effectively enforced mandatory occupational health and safety standards, which were appropriate for the main industries. The number of inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. Resources and remediation remained adequate. Penalties for violations in the form of fines were sufficient to deter violations. In cases of violations resulting in serious injury or death, employers may be prosecuted under the penal code.

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

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

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

Azerbaijan

Executive Summary

The Azerbaijani constitution provides for a republic with a presidential form of government. Legislative authority is vested in the Milli Mejlis (National Assembly). The presidency is the predominant branch of government, exceeding the judiciary and legislature. The election observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that the April 2018 presidential election took place within a restrictive political environment and under a legal framework that curtailed fundamental rights and freedoms, which are prerequisites for genuine democratic elections. National Assembly elections in 2015 could not be fully assessed due to the absence of an OSCE election observation mission, but independent observers alleged numerous irregularities throughout the country.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service are responsible for security within the country and report directly to the president. The Ministry of Internal Affairs oversees local police forces and maintains internal civil defense troops. The State Security Service is responsible for domestic matters, and the Foreign Intelligence Service focuses on foreign intelligence and counterintelligence issues. The State Migration Service and the State Border Service are responsible for migration and border enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group. Violence along the Line of Contact remained low throughout the year.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killing; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; pervasive problems with the independence of the judiciary; heavy restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence against journalists, the criminalization of libel, harassment and incarceration of journalists on questionable charges, and blocking of websites; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; severe restrictions on political participation; systemic government corruption; police detention and torture of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; and the worst forms of child labor, which the government made minimal efforts to eliminate.

The government did not prosecute or punish most officials who committed human rights abuses; impunity remained a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

While the law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and specifically prohibits press censorship, the government habitually violated these rights. The government limited freedom of expression and media independence. Journalists faced intimidation and at times were beaten and imprisoned. During the year authorities continued to pressure media, journalists in the country and in exile, and their relatives.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution provides for freedom of expression, but the government continued to repress persons it considered political opponents or critics. The incarceration of such persons raised concerns about authorities’ abuse of the judicial system to punish dissent. Human rights defenders considered six journalists and bloggers to be political prisoners or detainees as of year’s end, including Afgan Mukhtarli (see section 1.e. and the Country Reports on Human Rights for Georgia).

A number of other incarcerations were widely viewed as related to the exercise of freedom of expression. For example, on June 12, the State Security Service arrested the editor in chief of the Xeberman.com and Press-az.com websites, Polad Aslanov, on charges of treason. Human rights defenders asserted the case was a reprisal for Aslanov’s public assertion that the State Security Service demanded bribes from Azerbaijani pilgrims seeking to travel to Iran. Aslanov remained in the pretrial detention facility of the State Security Service at year’s end.

Other such examples included opposition Popular Front Party youth activist Orkhan Bakhishli. Bakhishli was arrested in May 2018 four days after giving a speech holding President Aliyev responsible for journalist Elmar Huseynov’s 2005 killing. He was sentenced to six years in prison in September 2018 for alleged blackmail and extortion. On June 3, the Supreme Court reduced his sentence to three years.

The constitution prohibits hate speech, defined as “propaganda provoking racial, national, religious, and social discord and animosity,” as well as “hostility and other criteria.”

In addition to imprisonment, the government attempted to impede criticism through other measures, including placing activists in administrative detention for social media posts critical of the government. For example, on June 25, opposition Popular Front Party member Eldaniz Agayev was sentenced to 30 days of administrative detention after criticizing the government in social media. Authorities also attempted to impede criticism by opening disciplinary proceedings against lawyers to intimidate them from speaking with the media, as the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatovic, noted on July 12.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Throughout the year government-owned and progovernment outlets continued to dominate broadcast and print media. A limited number of independent online media outlets expressed a wide variety of views on government policies, but authorities pressured them in various ways for doing so. The 2019 International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) Media Sustainability Index stated that “access to independent news sources in Azerbaijan gets more limited from year to year” and that “there is no independent print media in the country.”

Journalists reported that, following their coverage of the October 19 police operation, they were summoned to police precincts. Not all journalists responded to the summons, but those who did noted they were intimidated and made to justify their coverage before being released.

Authorities continued exerting pressure on leading media rights organizations and independent media outlets outside the country as well as individuals associated with them in the country.

Foreign media outlets, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and the BBC, remained prohibited from broadcasting on FM radio frequencies, although the Russian service Sputnik was allowed to broadcast news on a local radio network.

Violence and Harassment: Sometimes police used force against journalists and prevented their professional activities. According to the Index on Censorship project, at least three journalists sustained minor injuries from police during an attempted unsanctioned opposition rally in downtown Baku on October 19, and one journalist, Nurlan Gahramanli, was beaten by officers in a police car after being detained.

Local observers reported that journalists from independent media outlets were subject to harassment and cyberattacks during the year. The harassment mainly targeted journalists from Radio Liberty, Azadliq and other newspapers, Meydan TV, and Obyektiv Television.

Activists claimed that impunity for assaults against journalists remained a problem. Authorities did not effectively investigate the majority of attacks on journalists, and such cases often went unsolved. Civil society activists continued to call on the government to effectively investigate the high-profile killings of journalists in 2015 (Rasim Aliyev), 2011 (Rafiq Tagi), and 2005 (Elmar Huseynov).

Lawsuits believed to be politically motivated were used to intimidate journalists and media outlets. On February 25, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes conditionally sentenced the editor in chief of Bastainfo.com, Mustafa Hajibeyli, to five and one-half years in prison with two years’ probation on charges of calls against the state, abuse of power, and forgery after republishing articles covering the July 2018 unrest in the city of Ganja. On March 18, Criminal.az editor Anar Mammadov received the same sentence. Both journalists asserted the charges against them were false and meant to intimidate them and others from independent journalistic activity.

Most locally based media outlets relied on the patronage of individuals close to the government or the State Media Fund for financing. Those not benefitting from this type of financing experienced financial difficulties, such as problems paying wages, taxes, and periodic court fines.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most media outlets practiced self-censorship and avoided topics considered politically sensitive due to fear of government retaliation. The National Radio and Television Council required that local, privately owned television and radio stations not rebroadcast complete news programs of foreign origin.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses and cover written and verbal statements. The law provides for large fines and up to three years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of libel or slander. The law imposes a fine for libel of 1,000 to 1,500 manat ($590 to $880); the fine for slander is 1,000 to 2,000 manat ($590 to $1,180). Insulting the president is punishable by up to two years’ corrective labor or up to three years’ imprisonment.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected many of these rights but continued its practice of limiting freedom of movement for some prominent opposition figures, activists, and journalists.

Foreign Travel: While authorities lifted the travel bans of several opposition figures, lawyers, and journalists during the year, travel bans on others remained. Those whose travel bans were lifted included opposition Republican Alternative (REAL) Party chairman Ilgar Mammadov, former REAL Party Assembly head Azer Gasimli, 11 freelance journalists who worked with Meydan TV, and human rights lawyers Asabali Mustafayev and Emin Aslan.

Authorities continued, however, to prevent a number of other opposition figures, activists, and journalists from traveling outside the country. Examples included Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli (banned from traveling since 2006), investigative journalist and activist Khadija Ismayilova, journalist Shahvalad Chobanoglu, and lawyer Intigam Aliyev.

The law requires men of draft age to register with military authorities before traveling abroad. Authorities placed some travel restrictions on military personnel with access to national security information. Citizens charged with or convicted of criminal offenses but given suspended sentences were not permitted to travel abroad until the terms of their suspended sentences had been met.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Refoulement: There were no reports of refoulement, unlike in 2018, when the press reported that Turkish citizens were transferred without due process from Azerbaijan to Turkey, where they were detained by Turkish authorities who alleged they were followers of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.

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 some refugees through the Refugee Status Determination Department at the State Migration Service, which is responsible for all refugee matters. Although UNHCR noted some improvements, the country’s refugee-status determination system did not meet international standards. International NGOs continued to report the service remained inefficient and did not operate transparently.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: According to UNHCR, the country did not allow Russian citizens who fled the conflict in Chechnya access to the national asylum procedure. UNHCR noted, however, that the country tolerated the presence of Chechen asylum seekers and accepted UNHCR’s role in providing for their protection and humanitarian needs.

Access to Basic Services: The estimated 1,120 refugees (a number that included state-recognized refugees and those recognized as such only by UNHCR) in the country lacked access to social services. Many IDP and refugee children also enrolled at ordinary schools in numerous regions throughout the country.

Temporary Protection: The government did not provide temporary protection to asylum seekers during the year.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, the government continued to restrict this ability by interfering in the electoral process. While the law provides for an independent legislative branch, the National Assembly exercised little initiative independent of the executive branch.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the government made some progress in combatting low-level corruption in the provision of government services, there were continued reports of corruption by government officials, including those at the highest levels. Media reported the arrest of the mayor of Agstafa on December 19 for accepting bribes.

Transparency International and other observers described corruption as widespread. There were reports of corruption in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. For example, in six reports on visits made to the country between 2004 and 2017, the CPT noted that corruption in the country’s entire law enforcement system remained “systemic and endemic.” In a report on its most recent visit to the country in 2017, for example, the CPT cited the practice of law enforcement officials demanding payments in exchange for dropping or reducing charges or for releasing individuals from unrecorded custody.

Authorities continued to punish individuals for exposing government corruption. On March 19, the Baku Court of Appeals rejected investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova’s appeal of the December 2018 decision of the Baku Economic Court to hold her accountable for 45,143 manat ($26,600) of RFE/RL’s alleged tax debt, despite RFE/RL’s tax-exempt status as a nonprofit entity. On August 7, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict. Ismayilova’s reporting on elite corruption was widely considered the reason for the targeting, which also included her imprisonment from 2014 to 2016, subsequent travel ban, and the freezing of her bank accounts since 2017.

Corruption: In April 2018 the Council of Europe issued a report of its Independent Investigation Body on allegations of corruption within the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). The findings indicated strong suspicion that certain current and former members of PACE had engaged in illicit activities, such as the giving and receiving of bribes, to inappropriately influence processes related to Azerbaijan in the Council of Europe and PACE. PACE censured 13 of its members for accepting gifts and bribes from the government, stripped their voting rights, and removed them from current and future leadership positions on PACE committees.

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) published an article on October 15 reporting on a 19-day vacation to the Greek island of Mykonos taken by a group of Azerbaijani young men whose parents were senior officials of the State Oil Company. The group reportedly spent $2.2 million on private helicopters, luxury villas, and extravagant parties. Previous OCCRP publications asserted that the children of government officials used dozens of offshore companies to obscure their investments in luxury properties, businesses, and high-end hotels in Europe and the Middle East. During the year authorities initiated some criminal cases related to bribery and other forms of government corruption, but few senior officials were prosecuted. The Anticorruption Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office stated that during the year it opened 25 criminal cases concerning corruption, but no senior officials were prosecuted.

There was widespread belief that a bribe could obtain a waiver of the military service obligation, which is universal for men between the ages of 18 and 35. Citizens also reported military personnel could buy assignments to easier military duties for a smaller bribe.

The government continued efforts to reduce low-level corruption and improve government services by expanding the capabilities and number of State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations service centers, which functioned as one-stop locations for government services, such as obtaining birth certificates and marriage licenses, from nine ministries.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires officials to submit reports on their financial situation, and the electoral code requires all candidates to submit financial statements. The process of submitting reports was complex and nontransparent, with several agencies and bodies designated as recipients, including the Anticorruption Commission, the National Assembly, the Ministry of Justice, and the Central Election Commission, although their monitoring roles were not well understood. The public did not have access to the reports. The law permits administrative sanctions for noncompliance, but there were no reports that such sanctions were imposed.

The law prohibits the public release of the names and capital investments of business owners. Critics continued to state the purpose of the law was to curb investigative journalism into government officials’ business interests.

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

Leading human rights NGOs faced a hostile environment for investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. For example, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor’s Office separately summoned human rights defender and former political prisoner Ogtay Gulaliyev on May 6 and May 13. Gulaliyev reportedly informed independent media outlet Turan that the ministry expressed concerns about his Facebook posts on repression and torture, including the July 2018 Ganja case (see section 1.c.). According to a May 13 Turan report, the Prosecutor General’s Office issued a statement that evening accusing Gulaliyev of intentionally spreading untrue information that undermined political stability and cast a shadow on law enforcement measures. According to the statement, officials had warned Gulaliyev that if he continued to do so, more serious measures within the law would be taken against him, including criminal prosecution.

On October 29, Gulaliyev was struck by a car while crossing a Baku intersection on foot, causing head trauma that resulted in a cerebral hemorrhage and coma. Doctors did not perform surgery on him until October 30. Some activists and Gulaliyev’s sons stated the collision was an attack on Gulaliyev for his recently announced campaign against torture and his advocacy for those accused of wrongdoing by the government in connection with the July 2018 unrest in Ganja, and that doctors had purposefully withheld timely medical treatment after the accident. Other activists said there was no evidence the collision was intentional and that Gulaliyev received the standard care from a deeply flawed health-care system. The government-controlled Heydar Aliyev Foundation covered the costs of Gulaliyev’s transfer and treatment in a private hospital in Turkey, where he remained in a coma at year’s end.

The government continued to impose severe restrictions on the operations of domestic and international human rights groups. Application of restrictive laws to constrain NGO activities and other pressure continued at the high level of recent years. Activists also reported that authorities refused to register their organizations or grants and continued investigations into their organizations’ activities. As a result, some human rights defenders were unable to carry out their professional responsibilities due to various government obstacles, such as the travel ban on Intigam Aliyev and the frozen bank accounts of Intigam Aliyev and Asabali Mustafayev.

While the government communicated with some international human rights NGOs and responded to their inquiries, on numerous occasions, it criticized and intimidated other human rights NGOs and activists. The Ministry of Justice continued to deny registration or placed burdensome administrative restrictions on human rights NGOs on arbitrary grounds.

Government officials and state-dominated media outlets engaged in rhetorical attacks on human rights activists and political opposition leaders (see section 3), accusing them of attempting to destabilize the country and working on behalf of foreign interests.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government objected to statements from international bodies criticizing what authorities called interference in the country’s internal affairs. For example, government officials and members of the National Assembly criticized the OSCE/ODIHR assessment of the 2018 presidential election, stating it had been written in advance of the election to smear the country (see section 3).

Government Human Rights Bodies: Citizens may appeal violations committed by the state or by individuals to the ombudsman for human rights for Azerbaijan or the ombudsman for human rights of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. The ombudsman may refuse to accept cases of abuse that are more than one year old, anonymous, or already being handled by the judiciary. Human rights NGOs criticized the Ombudsman’s Office as lacking independence and effectiveness in cases considered politically motivated.

Human rights offices in the National Assembly and the Ministry of Justice also heard complaints, conducted investigations, and made recommendations to relevant government bodies, but they were similarly accused of ignoring violations in politically sensitive cases.

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 to form and join independent trade unions. Uniformed military and police and managerial staff are prohibited from joining unions. While the law provides workers the right to bargain collectively, unions could not effectively negotiate wage levels and working conditions because government-appointed boards ran major state-owned firms and set wages for government employees.

The law provides most private-sector workers the right to conduct legal strikes but prohibits civil servants from striking. Categories of workers prohibited from striking include high-ranking executive and legislative officials; law enforcement officers; court employees; fire fighters; and health, electric power, water supply, telephone, railroad, and air traffic control workers.

The law prohibits discrimination against trade unions and labor activists and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law also prohibits retribution against strikers, such as dismissal or replacement. Striking workers who disrupt public transportation, however, could be sentenced to up to three years in prison.

The government did not effectively enforce laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Administrative penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. There were some additional restrictions in practice, such as increased bureaucratic scrutiny of the right to form unions and conduct union activities.

Most unions were not independent, and the overwhelming majority remained tightly linked to the government, with the exception of some journalists’ unions. The Azerbaijan Trade Unions Confederation (ATUC) was the only trade union confederation in the country. Although ATUC registered as an independent organization, it was closely aligned with the government. ATUC reported it represented 1.2 million members in 27 sectors. Both local and international NGOs claimed that workers in most industries were largely unaware of their rights and afraid of retribution if they exercised those rights or initiated complaints. This was especially true for workers in the public sector.

Collective bargaining agreements were often treated as formalities and not enforced. Although the labor law applies to all workers and enterprises, the government may negotiate bilateral agreements that effectively exempt multinational enterprises from it. For example, production-sharing agreements between the government and multinational energy enterprises did not provide for employee participation in a trade union. While the law prohibits employers from impeding the collective bargaining process, employers engaged in activities that undercut the effectiveness of collective bargaining, such as subcontracting and using short-term employment agreements.

The state oil company’s 50,000 workers were required to belong to the Union of Oil and Gas Industry Workers, and authorities automatically deducted union dues from paychecks. Many of the state-owned enterprises that dominated the formal economy withheld union dues from workers’ pay but did not deliver the dues to the unions. Employers officially withheld one-quarter of the dues collected for the oil workers’ union for “administrative costs” associated with running the union. Unions and their members had no means of investigating how employers spent their dues.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except in circumstances of war or in the execution of a court decision under the supervision of a government agency. Penalties for violations, including imprisonment, were generally sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources and inspections were inadequate, due in part to a moratorium on all routine and unannounced labor inspections.

Broad provisions in the criminal code provide for the imposition of compulsory labor as a punishment for expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social, or economic system. In 2018 the International Labor Organization Committee of Experts noted its concern with a growing trend of using various provisions of the criminal code to prosecute journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, and others who expressed critical opinions, under questionable charges that appeared politically motivated, resulting in long periods of corrective labor or imprisonment, both involving compulsory labor.

During the year there were anecdotal reports of workers subjected to conditions of forced labor in agriculture and the construction industry, forced begging by children, and forced domestic servitude. In 2018 the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that 450 children were identified as being forced by their parents to beg in the streets. Although some children were removed from the exploitative situation, in general it was treated as a family issue rather than a criminal offense.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

In most cases the law permits children to work from the age of 15 with a written employment contract; children who are 14 may work in family businesses or, with parental consent, in daytime after-school jobs that pose no hazard to their health. Children younger than age 16 may not work more than 24 hours per week; children 16 or 17 may not work more than 36 hours per week. The law prohibits employing children younger than 18 in difficult and hazardous conditions and identifies specific work and industries in which children are prohibited, including work with toxic substances and underground, at night, in mines, and in nightclubs, bars, casinos, or other businesses that serve alcohol.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child labor and setting a minimum age for employment. The government maintained a moratorium on routine and unannounced inspections, which prevented effective enforcement of child labor laws. Resources and inspections were inadequate to enforce compliance, and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of Population was only permitted to conduct inspections based on complaints. In 2018 the State Labor Inspection Service received five child-labor complaints in the catering industry but failed to take further action on them.

There were few complaints of abuses of child labor laws during the year, although there were anecdotal reports of child labor in agriculture, in restaurants and wedding halls, forced begging, and street work, such as in bazaars and markets, auto garages and car washes, and selling fruit and vegetables on roadsides throughout the country. In agriculture there were limited, anecdotal reports of children working in the production of fruits, vegetables, and cotton and, to a lesser extent, involved in producing tea and rice. There were also reports of children subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children, and section 7.b.).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, but the government did not always enforce the law effectively. Penalties for discrimination in employment existed under various articles and laws but were patchwork in nature and did not effectively deter discrimination in all its forms. The law excludes women from certain occupations with inherently dangerous conditions, such as working underground in mines. Many of these positions were higher ranked and better paid than positions that women are permitted to occupy in the same industries.

Employers generally hesitated to hire persons with disabilities, and workplace access was limited. Discrimination in employment and occupation also occurred with respect to sexual orientation. LGBTI individuals reported employers found other reasons to dismiss them because they could not legally dismiss someone because of their sexual orientation. Women were underrepresented in high-level jobs, including top business positions. Traditional practices limited women’s access to economic opportunities in rural areas. According to the State Statistics Committee, in 2018 the average monthly salary for women was 53.8 percent of the average monthly salary for men.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was increased on March 1 and again on September 1, and it was higher than the poverty level (minimum living standard), which was increased on January 1. Experts stated government employers complied with the minimum wage law but that it was commonly ignored in the informal economy. The law requires equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, age, or other classification, although women’s pay lagged behind that of men.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek. Workers in hazardous occupations may not work more than 36 hours per week. Information was not available on whether local companies provided the legally required premium compensation for overtime, although international companies generally did. There is no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime. The law provides equal rights to foreign and domestic workers.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on acceptable conditions of work, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

In 2017 the government extended its moratorium on scheduled and unannounced labor inspections until 2021. Although inspectors were still permitted to inspect private-sector workplaces after receiving a complaint and government-owned workplaces, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security did not report any inspections during the year. The ministry reportedly maintained its full staff of inspectors.

Inspection of working conditions by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection’s labor inspectorate was weak and ineffective due to the moratorium. Although the law sets health and safety standards, employers widely ignored them. Violations of acceptable conditions of work in the construction and oil and gas sectors remained problematic.

Local human rights groups, including the Oil Workers Rights Defense Organization, an NGO dedicated to protecting worker rights in the petroleum sector, maintained that employers, particularly foreign oil companies, did not always treat foreign and domestic workers equally. Domestic employees of foreign oil companies reportedly often received lower pay and worked without contracts or private health-care insurance. Some domestic employees of foreign oil companies reported violations of the national labor code, noting they were unable to receive overtime payments or vacations.

According to official statistics, 63 workers died on the job during the year, including six in the oil and gas sector. Workers may not remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety, as there is no legal protection of their employment if they did so. On July 16, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) reported the death of worker Seymur Valikhanov, stating the cause of death was trauma to the head from a fall in the bathroom. Media outlets reported that the real cause of death was a falling bucket of acid that hit Valikhanov in the head and throat, and that SOCAR had covered up the incident to avoid paying compensation to the family of the deceased.

Bahamas

Executive Summary

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis’s Free National Movement won control of the government in 2017 elections international observers found free and fair.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force maintains internal security. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force is primarily responsible for external security but also provides security at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre (for migrants) and performs some domestic security functions, such as guarding foreign embassies. Both report to the minister of national security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

In September Hurricane Dorian, the worst humanitarian disaster in the history of the country, directly struck Grand Bahama and Abaco, the second- and third-most populated islands, respectively, displacing thousands of residents and causing billions of dollars in damage.

Significant human rights issues included violence by prison guards against prisoners. Libel is criminalized, although it was not enforced during the year.

The government took action to prosecute police officers, prison officials, and other officials accused of abuse of power and corruption.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes both negligent and intentional libel, with a penalty of six months’ imprisonment for the former and two years for the latter. The government did not use criminal libel laws during the year.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Migrants continued to accuse police and immigration officers of excessive force and warrantless searches, as well as frequent solicitations of bribes by immigration officials (see sections 1.f., 4). Human rights organizations alleged that bias against migrants, particularly those of Haitian descent, intensified in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. The government generally enforced its immigration policies equally on all irregular migrants, regardless of nationality or origin.

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Refoulement: The government had an agreement with the government of Cuba to expedite removal of Cuban detainees. The announced intent of the agreement was to reduce the amount of time Cuban migrants spent in detention; however, concerns persisted the agreement allowed for information-sharing that heightened the risk of oppression from the Cuban government of detainees and their families.

Access to Asylum: While the law does not provide protection for asylum seekers, the government issued refugee cards to four asylum seekers in the past year, allowing them to work. Access to asylum in the country is informal, with no legal framework under which legal protections and practical safeguards could be implemented. The lack of refugee legislation or formal policy complicated UNHCR’s work to identify and assist asylum seekers and refugees.

According to the government, trained individuals screened applicants for asylum and referred them to the Department of Immigration and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for further review. Government procedure requires the ministry to forward approved applications to the cabinet for a final decision on granting or denying asylum.

Authorities did not systematically involve UNHCR in asylum proceedings, but they sought UNHCR’s advice on specific cases during the year and granted access so that UNHCR could interview detained asylum seekers awaiting deportation.

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. The long-standing lack of a fully implemented freedom of information act continued to limit citizens’ access to information necessary to inform their political decision-making.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices, including accepting small-scale “bribes of convenience,” with impunity. There were isolated reports of other government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption in the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services was a long-standing problem, with allegations by both prisoners and prison wardens. In June a court convicted a former prison officer of smuggling two pounds of marijuana to a prisoner. The court fined the former officer 7,000 Bahamian dollars (B$) (one Bahamian dollar equals one U.S. dollar).

The campaign finance system is largely unregulated, with few safeguards against quid pro quo donations, creating a vulnerability to corruption. The procurement process was susceptible to corruption, as it contains no requirement to engage in open public tenders. The government nevertheless routinely issued open public tenders. The government had a process for all vendors and suppliers to register on an electronic platform to increase transparency and otherwise to improve the procurement process. The Minnis administration brought corruption charges against three former high-level government officials. As of December, however, two of the three had been acquitted, with claims of witness intimidation and jury tampering, as well as alleged missteps by the police and prosecutors overshadowing the credible allegations of corruption. The trial for a bribery case against a third former official was scheduled to begin in March 2020.

Haitian migrants reported being solicited by immigration officials for bribes to prevent detention.

Financial Disclosure: The Public Disclosure Act requires senior public officials, including senators and members of Parliament, to declare their assets, income, and liabilities annually. The government publishes a summary of the individual declarations. There was no independent verification of the submitted data.

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

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

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, participate in collective bargaining, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. By law, employers may be compelled to reinstate workers illegally fired for union activity. Members of the police force, defense force, fire brigade, and prison guards may not organize or join unions, although police used professional associations to advocate on their behalf in pay disputes. Unions can exist without a majority vote from workers, but to be recognized by the government, a union must represent at least 50 percent plus one of the affected workers.

By law, labor disputes must first be filed with the Department of Labour. If not resolved, disputes are transferred to an industrial tribunal, which determines penalties and remedies, up to a maximum of 26 weeks of an employee’s pay. The tribunal’s decision is final and may be appealed in court only on a question of law.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and most–but not all–employers in the private sector did as well.

The government generally enforced the law, although Department of Labour officials admitted some legal reforms were necessary. Penalties varied by case but generally deterred violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. The Department of Labour wrote its annual report for the minister but did not provide updated statistics to the public during the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law effectively. Local NGOs noted exploited workers often did not report their circumstances to government officials due to fear of deportation and lack of education about available resources. Penalties for forced labor were sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

Undocumented migrants were vulnerable to forced labor, especially in domestic servitude, in the agricultural sector, and particularly in the outlying Family Islands. There were reports noncitizen laborers, often of Haitian origin, were vulnerable to compulsory labor and suffered abuse at the hands of their employers, who were responsible for endorsing their work permits on an annual basis. Specifically, local sources indicated employers required noncitizen employees to “work off” the work permit fees, which ranged from B$750 to B$1,500 ($750-$1,500) for unskilled and semiskilled workers. The risk of losing the permit and the ability to work legally within the country was reportedly used as leverage for exploitation and created the potential for abuse.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 14 for industrial work and any work during school hours or between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children between the ages of 14 and 17 may work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. but only in hotels, restaurants, food stores, general merchandise stores, and gas stations. Children between the ages of 14 and 17 may work outside school hours under the following conditions: on a school day, for not more than three hours; in a school week, for not more than 24 hours; on a nonschool day, for not more than eight hours; and in a nonschool week, for not more than 40 hours. The government did not have a list of jobs that are considered dangerous, although it intervened when children were performing permissible jobs in dangerous environments (e.g., selling peanuts at a dangerous intersection). Occupational safety and health restrictions apply to all minors. The government does not have a list of light work activities that are permitted for children age 12 and older.

The government generally enforced the law effectively. The Department of Labour reported no severe violations of child labor laws. The penalties for violating child labor laws generally deterred violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, skin color, national origin, creed, sex, marital status, political opinion, age, HIV status, and disability, but not based on language, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce the law. While the law allows victims to sue for damages, many citizens were unable to sue due to a lack of available legal representation and the ability of wealthy defendants to prolong the process in courts.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage is above the established poverty line.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, a 24-hour rest period, and time-and-a-half payment for hours worked beyond the standard workweek. The law stipulates paid annual holidays and prohibits compulsory overtime. The law does not place a cap on overtime. The government set health and safety standards appropriate to the industries. According to the Department of Labour, the law protects all workers, including migrant workers, in areas including wages, working hours, working conditions, and occupational health and safety standards. Workers do not have the right to refuse to work under hazardous conditions, and legal standards do not cover undocumented and informal economy workers.

The Department of Labour is responsible for enforcing labor laws, including the minimum wage, and it generally enforced the law effectively. It had a team of inspectors that conducted onsite visits to enforce occupational health and safety standards and investigate employee concerns and complaints. Inspections occurred infrequently. The department generally announced inspection visits in advance, and employers generally cooperated with inspectors to implement safety standards. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Working conditions varied, and mold was a problem in schools and government facilities, a common problem due to climate conditions.

Bahrain

Executive Summary

Bahrain is a constitutional, hereditary monarchy. King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, the head of state, appoints the cabinet, consisting of 24 ministers; 12 of the ministers were members of the al-Khalifa ruling family. The king, who holds ultimate authority over most government decisions, also appoints the prime minister–the head of government–who does not have to be a member of parliament. Parliament consists of an appointed upper house, the Shura (Consultative) Council, and the elected Council of Representatives, each with 40 seats. The country holds parliamentary elections every four years, and according to the government, 67 percent of eligible voters participated in the most recent elections, held in November 2018. Two formerly prominent opposition political societies, al-Wifaq and Wa’ad, did not participate in the elections due to their dissolution by the courts in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The government did not permit international election monitors. Domestic monitors generally concluded authorities administered the elections without significant procedural irregularities.

The Ministry of Interior is responsible for internal security and controls the public security force and specialized security units responsible for maintaining internal order. The Coast Guard is also under its jurisdiction. The Bahrain Defense Force is primarily responsible for defending against external threats, while the Bahrain National Guard is responsible for both external and internal threats. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: allegations of torture; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including restrictions on independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) keeping them from freely operating in the country; restrictions on freedom of movement, including revocation of citizenship; and restrictions on political participation, including banning former members of al-Wifaq and Wa’ad from running as candidates in elections.

The government prosecuted low-level security force members accused of human rights abuses, following investigations by government or quasi-governmental institutions. Human rights organizations claimed investigations were slow and lacked transparency.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord and sectarianism are not aroused.” The government limited freedom of speech and the press through prosecution of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws that targeted citizen and professional journalists.

Freedom of Expression: The law forbids any speech that infringes on public order or morals. Speech is curtailed in both traditional media and social media. While individuals openly expressed critical opinions regarding domestic political and social issues in private settings, those who expressed such opinions publicly often faced repercussions. During the year the government took steps against what it considered acts of civil disobedience, which included critical speech. The penal code allows penalties of no less than one year and no more than seven years of imprisonment, plus a fine, for anyone who “offends the monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag, or the national emblem.”

On May 22, King Hamad ratified amendments to the Protection of the Community against Terrorist Acts law spelling out penalties of up to five years in prison for encouraging or possessing materials that support terrorist activities. The law appeared to give law enforcement and prosecutors greater authority to submit audio, emails, and social media posting as evidence in court. Activists expressed concern the provisions could be used to curtail dissent and criticism, especially in social media forums.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government did not own any print media, but the Ministry of Information Affairs and other government entities exercised considerable control over privately owned domestic print media.

The government owned and operated all domestic radio and television stations. Audiences generally received radio and television broadcasts in Arabic, Farsi, and English from countries in the region, including by satellite, without interference. The Ministry of Information Affairs reviewed all books and publications prior to issuing printing licenses. The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs also reviewed those books that discussed religion.

Since the 2017 closure of al Wasat newspaper, opposition perspectives were available only via online media sources based outside the country, some of which the government blocked.

Violence and Harassment: According to local journalists and human rights groups, authorities sometimes harassed, arrested, or threatened journalists, photographers, and “citizen journalists” active on social media due to their reporting. Authorities claimed, however, that some individuals who identified themselves as journalists and photographers were associated with violent opposition groups and produced propaganda and recruiting videos for these groups. International media representatives reported difficulty in obtaining visas to work as journalists. The government brought criminal complaints against journalists who worked without accreditation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government censorship occurred. Ministry of Information Affairs personnel actively monitored and blocked stories on matters deemed sensitive, especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary. Journalists widely practiced self-censorship. Some members of media reported government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop publishing articles on certain subjects.

The press and publications law prohibits anti-Islamic content in media and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion to offense and criticism.” The law states, “Any publication that prejudices the ruling system of the country and its official religion can be banned from publication by a ministerial order.”

Libel/Slander Laws: The government enforced libel and national security-related laws restricting freedom of the press. The penal code prohibits libel, slander, and “divulging secrets,” and it stipulates a punishment of imprisonment of no more than two years or a fine of no more than 200 dinars ($530). Application of the slander law was selective. The Ministry of Interior reported the government fined or imprisoned 172 individuals for “slander,” “libel,” or “divulging secrets” between January and September, compared with 19 cases in 2018. Twenty-four persons were convicted of “insulting a government institution,” and 529 were convicted of “misusing a telecommunications device.”

On March 13, former senior opposition leader Ebrahim Sharif received a six-month suspended sentence and a 500-dinar ($1,300) fine from the Lower Criminal Court for defaming the then president of Sudan Omar al Bashir in a tweet by referring to him as a “despot.” The government maintained that Sharif’s case was about an illegal act, not a narrowing of freedom of expression. The Court of Cassation upheld his conviction on December 31.

National Security: National security-related law provides for fines up to 10,000 dinars ($26,500) and prison sentences of at least six months for criticizing the king or inciting actions that undermine state security, as well as fines of up to 2,000 dinars ($5,300) for 14 related offenses. Punishable activities include publicizing statements issued by a foreign state or organization before obtaining ministry approval, publishing any reports that may adversely affect the dinar’s value, reporting any offense against a head of a state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country, and publishing offensive remarks concerning an accredited representative of a foreign country due to acts connected with the person’s position.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government did not always respect these rights.

Foreign Travel: The law provides the government may reject for “reasonable cause” applications to obtain or renew passports, but the applicant has the right to appeal such decisions before the High Civil Court. Individuals, including citizens of other countries, reported authorities banned them from travel out of the country due to unpaid debt obligations or other fiduciary responsibilities with private individuals or with lending institutions, as well as for open court cases. The government maintained an online website during the year that allowed individuals to check their status before they traveled, although some persons reported the website was not a reliable source of information. Authorities relied on determinations of “national security” when adjudicating passport applications. During the year authorities prevented a number of activists from leaving the country without providing options for legal recourse.

Exile: There were no reports the government prohibited the return of individuals whom the government considered citizens. The government, however, prohibited the return of those whose citizenship it formally revoked, or those it no longer considered citizens.

Citizenship: The government may revoke citizenship in both criminal and political cases, including for natural-born citizens. Authorities maintained the revocation of citizenship of some opposition political and religious figures. The government did not consider whether individuals may become stateless by these actions. At times it threatened to halt payments of pensions or remove families from government-assisted housing if a head-of-household lost his citizenship. Some family members, especially women and minor children, reported difficulties renewing their passports and residence cards and obtaining birth certificates for children. The government did not report how many persons had their citizenship revoked during the year; international human rights NGOs placed the total number of such cases at more than 700 since 2012. On June 27, King Hamad declined to finalize the more than 550 revocations in process, effectively cancelling the process and returning full citizenship to individuals named in those cases.

Also on June 27, King Hamad issued Royal Decree-Law No. 16, which ended the practice of automatically recommending citizenship revocation when individuals were convicted of certain terrorism-related crimes. The decree appeared to clarify that the prime minister and the minister of interior, rather than King Hamad and the courts, would now determine citizenship revocations. Some activists expressed concern that the new law reduced the transparency of the citizenship revocation process.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government at times provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; however, protection was mostly limited to those who had been able to obtain and maintain employment in the country. Such individuals generally had access to health care and education services while employed but were at risk of deportation if they became unemployed or if their country of origin revoked their passports. The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees reported that as of September, there were 312 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the agency.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens have limited ability to choose their government and their political system. The constitution provides for a democratically elected Council of Representatives, the lower house of parliament. The constitution permits the king to dissolve the Council of Representatives, but it requires that he first consult the presidents of the upper and lower houses of parliament as well as the head of the Constitutional Court. The king also has the power to amend the constitution and to propose, ratify, and promulgate laws.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, but the government did not implement the law adequately, and some officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices. The law subjects government employees at all levels to prosecution if they use their positions to engage in embezzlement or bribery, either directly or indirectly. Penalties may be up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The General Directorate of Anticorruption and Economic and Electronic Security held workshops for various ministries throughout the year.

Corruption: The National Audit Office (NAO) is responsible for combating government corruption. The Government Executive Committee, chaired by the crown prince, reviews any violations cited in the NAO’s annual report. In December 2018 the government released the office’s annual report, and the government released some findings to the public; however, the full report was not published or made available online. The government reported that six officials were charged with or jailed on embezzlement or bribery-related charges during the year.

Significant areas of government activity, including the security services and the Bahrain Defense Force, lacked transparency, and the privatization of public land remained a concern among opposition groups.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require government officials to make financial disclosures.

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

Government officials sometimes met with local human rights NGOs but generally were not responsive to the views of NGOs they believed were politicized and unfairly critical of the government.

Domestic human rights groups operated with government restrictions, with some human rights activists imprisoned, exiled, or coerced into silence, according to reporting by international human rights organizations. Domestic human rights groups included the Bahrain Human Rights Society and Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, the primary independent and licensed human rights organizations in the country; the BCHR, although dissolved by the government in 2004, continued to operate and maintain an online presence; and the unlicensed Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. The unlicensed umbrella human rights organization Bahrain Human Rights Observatory also issued numerous reports and had strong ties to international human rights NGOs.

Domestic human rights groups faced significant difficulties operating freely and interacting with international human rights organizations. The government sometimes harassed and deprived local NGO leaders of due process. Local NGO leaders and activists also reported government harassment, including police surveillance, delayed processing of civil documents, and “inappropriate questioning” of their children during interviews for government scholarships. Activists reported forgoing travel, in particular to international human rights events, fearing a reimposition of international travel bans.

Individuals affiliated with international human rights and labor organizations, or who were critical of the government, reported authorities indefinitely delayed or refused visa applications, or at times refused entry to the country for individuals who possessed a valid visa or qualified for the country’s visa-free entry program.

Government Human Rights Bodies: A 2016 amendment to a royal decree re-established the country’s National Human Rights Organization, now called the NIHR. The decree strengthened the NIHR by giving it the right to conduct unannounced visits to police facilities and increasing its financial independence. Throughout the year the NIHR conducted numerous human rights workshops, seminars, and training sessions, as well as prison visits, and referred numerous complaints to the PPO. It issued its latest annual report in March 2018 and contributed to PDRC, ombudsman, and SIU investigations. It also operated a hotline for citizens and residents to file human rights-related complaints and offered an in-person walk-in option for filing complaints.

The government reported that between January and August, there were 12 referrals of law enforcement for misconduct and one conviction of a police officer on criminal charges, noting 46 other cases were pending further investigation.

The SIU investigates and refers cases of security force misconduct, including complaints against the police, to the appropriate court, which includes civilian criminal courts, the ministry’s Military Court, and administrative courts (see section 1.c.). As of September the SIU received 53 complaints of police misconduct, one of which was against the Special Security Force Command. The SIU referred one case to the criminal court for prosecution. The ministry generally did not release the names of officers convicted, demoted, reassigned, or fired for misconduct, although it reported the highest-ranking police officer prosecuted for any crime was a captain.

There was also a BNSA Office for the Inspector General and a Ministry of Interior Ombudsman’s Office, created as a result of the BICI. While both offices were responsible for addressing cases of mistreatment and abuse by the security forces, there was little public information available regarding the BNSA inspector general’s activities. The ombudsman’s sixth annual report, released in September, reported 289 complaints and 778 assistance requests between May 2017 and April from alleged victims of mistreatment by police and civilian staff, their families, or organizations representing their interests. Of these complaints, 70 were referred to the relevant disciplinary body, including police administrative hearing “courts” and the PPO, 50 were still under investigation, and 144 were closed without resolution. The ombudsman reported receipt of 43 complaints against the CID, of which seven cases were referred for criminal or disciplinary proceedings, and 86 complaints against Jaw Prison, of which 40 cases were referred for criminal or disciplinary action. The ombudsman referred 15 of the cases against the CID and 73 against Jaw Prison for criminal or disciplinary procedures; four and 19 additional cases were still under investigation, respectively.

The PDRC, chaired by the ombudsman, monitors prisons, detention centers, and other places where persons may be detained, such as hospital and psychiatric facilities. The PDRC is empowered to conduct inspections of facilities, interview inmates or detainees, and refer cases to the Ombudsman’s Office or SIU.

The ministry organized various human rights training programs for its employees, including a year-long human rights curriculum and diploma at the Royal Police Academy. The academy regularly negotiates memoranda of understanding with the NIHR to exchange expertise. The academy continued to include a unit on human rights in international law as part of the curriculum for its master’s degree in Security Administration and Criminal Forensics. The NIHR had a memorandum with the BNSA to organize workshops and training sessions for BNSA officers relating to human rights and basic rights and to collaborate on future research.

During the year two women in the police force held the rank of brigadier general and general director.

In part to address concerns about inadequate Shia representation in the demographics of police and security forces, in 2005 the government established the community police program, which recruited individuals to work in their own neighborhoods. Local activists and human rights organizations reported, however, that the demographics of the overall security forces still failed to represent adequately Shia communities. Official statistics documented 1,374 community police officers, of whom 307 were women. The ministry did not keep official statistics on the number of Shia members of the community police force, however, and did not recruit new community police during the year. Community members reported that Shia citizens were among those integrated into the community police and the police cadet programs. Information was not available on recruitment rates of Shia citizens into other security forces.

The government also maintained the Ombudsman’s Office within the Ministry of Interior, the SIU within the PPO, and the PDRC. These organizations worked with each other throughout the year. The Ombudsman’s Office maintained a hotline for citizens to report police abuse via telephone, email, or in person.

Many human rights groups asserted that investigations into police abuse were slow and ineffective and questioned the independence and credibility of investigations by government-sponsored organizations. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations reported that government-affiliated human rights institutions did not fully investigate or follow up on claims of abuse. Furthermore, Amnesty reported that detainees faced reprisals for their or their families’ attempts to engage with the Ombudsman’s Office.

Local and international observers and human rights organizations also continued to express concern the government had not fully implemented BICI recommendations, including dropping charges against individuals engaged in nonviolent political expression, criminally charging security officers accused of abuse or torture, integrating Shia citizens into security forces, and creating an environment conducive to national reconciliation.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and labor code recognize the right to form independent trade unions and the right to strike, with significant restrictions. The law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining.

The law prohibits trade unions in the public sector. Public-sector workers may join private-sector trade unions and professional associations, although these entities may not bargain on their behalf. The law also prohibits members of the military services and domestic workers from joining unions. Foreign workers, composing nearly 80 percent of the civilian workforce, may join unions if they work in a sector that allows unions, although the law reserves union leadership roles for citizens. The law prohibits unions from engaging in political activities.

The law specifies only an official trade union may organize or declare a strike, and it imposes excessive requirements for legal strikes. The law prohibits strikes in 10 “vital” sectors–the scope of which exceeds international standards–including the oil, gas, education, telecommunications, transportation, and health sectors, as well as pharmacies and bakeries. The law makes no distinction between “vital” and “nonvital” employees within these sectors. Workers must approve a strike with a simple majority by secret ballot and provide 15 days’ notification to the employer before conducting a strike.

The law allows multiple trade union federations but prohibits multisector labor federations and bars individuals convicted of violating criminal laws that lead to trade union or executive council dissolution from holding union leadership posts. The law gives the labor minister, rather than the unions, the right to select the federation to represent workers in national-level bargaining and international forums. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination; however, in practice independent unions faced government repression and harassment. The law does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

Relations between the main federations and the Ministry of Labor and Social Development were publicly contentious at times. The government sometimes interfered in GFBTU activities, such as preventing public May Day observances, although the ministry supported GFBTU partnership with international NGOs for training workshops.

Some workers and union affiliates complained union pluralism resulted in company management interfering in union dues collection and workers’ chosen union affiliation. They stated that management chose to negotiate with the union it found most favorable–to the detriment of collective bargaining agreements and the legitimate voice of workers.

In 2014, after signing a second tripartite agreement, the International Labor Organization (ILO) dismissed the complaint filed in 2011 regarding the dismissal of workers. During the year the government reported it considered efforts at reinstatement, as reflected in the tripartite agreement, to be completed. The government reported that 154 of the 165 cases had been resolved through either reinstatement or by financial compensation. Human rights organizations and activists questioned the government’s claims and reported continuing, systemic labor discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor except in national emergencies, but the government did not always enforce the law effectively. There were reports of forced labor in the construction and service sectors. The labor law covers foreign workers, except domestic workers, but enforcement was lax, and cases of debt bondage were common. There were also reports of forced labor practices that occurred among domestic workers and others working in the informal sector; labor laws did not protect most of these workers. Domestic workers have the right to see their terms of employment.

In many cases employers withheld passports, a practice prohibited by law, restricted movement, substituted contracts, or did not pay wages; some employers also threatened workers and subjected them to physical and sexual abuse. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development reported 2,445 labor complaints from domestic workers and construction workers, mostly of unpaid wages or denied vacation time.

Estimates of the proportion of irregular migrant workers in the country under “free visa” arrangements–a practice where workers pay individuals or companies to sponsor visas for persons who are then “free” to work informally wherever they want–ranged from 10 to 25 percent of the foreign workers in the country. The practice contributed to the problem of debt bondage, especially among low-wage workers. In numerous cases employers withheld salaries from foreign workers for months or years and refused to grant them permission to leave the country. Fear of deportation or employer retaliation prevented many foreign workers from complaining to authorities.

In 2017 the Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) launched a flexible work-permit pilot program, which permits an individual to self-sponsor a work permit. It is available only to workers who are out of status and costs approximately 450 dinars ($1,200), in addition to a monthly fee of 30 dinars ($80). Some NGOs expressed concerns regarding the cost of the visa and the fact that it shifts responsibilities, such as health insurance, from the employer to the worker. According to government reports from September, despite significant political opposition, more than 25,000 persons had received the flexi permit since its launch. Governments of origin countries stated it was an important first step in regularizing undocumented workers but also criticized the program for being too expensive. The Philippine government provided some funding to cover application costs for its citizens who were eligible for the program. The LMRA reported that as of September there were approximately 70,000 undocumented workers in the country.

In 2016 the LMRA instituted procedures that allowed workers to change the employer associated with their visa–either without permission from their old employer or without their passport. The LMRA threatened employers who withheld passports with criminal and administrative violations and prohibited at-fault employers from hiring new workers. During the year the government shut down recruitment agencies and revoked licenses of others for infringing on workers’ rights. Recruitment agencies complicit in illegal practices may be subject to license revocation, legal action, shutdown of business operations, or a forfeit of license deposits.

The LMRA employed inspectors who were sworn officers of the court, with the authority to conduct official investigations. LMRA inspector reports may result in fines, court cases, loss of work permits, and termination of businesses. These inspectors focus on the legal and administrative provisions under which individuals fall, including work permits, employer records, and licenses. The Ministry of Labor employed general inspectors and occupational safety inspectors. Their roles are to inspect workplaces, occupational health and safety conditions, and the employer/employee work relationship.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 15, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. Children younger than 18 may not work in industries the Ministry of Health deemed hazardous or unhealthy, including construction, mining, and oil refining. They may work no more than six hours a day–no more than four days consecutively–and may be present on the employment premises no more than seven hours a day. Child labor regulations do not apply to family-operated businesses in which the only other employees are family members.

The law requires that before the ministry makes a final decision on allowing a minor to work, the prospective employer must present documentation from the minor’s guardian giving the minor permission to work; proof the minor underwent a physical fitness examination to determine suitability; and assurance from the employer the minor would not work in an environment the ministry deemed hazardous. Generally, the government effectively enforced the law.

The law does not allow expatriate workers younger than 18 to work in the country.

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national private-sector minimum wage. A standardized government pay scale covers public-sector workers, with a set minimum monthly wage. While the minimum wage for Bahrainis is generally considered a living wage, there is no minimum wage for foreign workers in the public sector; however, the government issued “guidelines” advising employers in the public and private sectors to pay a minimum monthly wage. There was no official poverty level.

Subject to the provisions of the private-sector law, employers may not employ a worker for more than 48 hours per week without including contract provisions for overtime pay. Employers may not employ Muslim workers during the month of Ramadan for more than six hours per day or 36 hours per week.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational safety and health standards. The labor law and relevant protections apply to citizens and noncitizens alike, with the exception of domestic workers. The revised labor law improved the legal situation for many workers as it pertains to access to contracts and additional holidays, although it excludes domestic workers from most protections.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the labor law and mandating acceptable conditions of work. The labor law stipulates that companies that violate occupational safety standards be subject to fines.

The Ministry of Labor enforced occupational safety and health standards; it also used a team of engineers from multiple specialties primarily to investigate risks and standards at construction sites, which were the vast majority of worksites.

Inspectors have the authority to levy fines and close worksites if employers do not improve conditions by specified deadlines. A judge determines fines per violation, per worker affected, or both. A judge may also sentence violators to prison. For repeat violators, the court may double the penalties.

Despite the improvements, NGOs feared resources for enforcement of the laws remained inadequate for the number of worksites and workers, many worksites would not be inspected, and the regulations would not necessarily deter violations.

A ministerial decree prohibits outdoor work between noon and 4 p.m. during July and August because of heat conditions. Authorities enforced the ban among large firms, but according to local sources, violations were common among smaller businesses. Employers who violated the ban are subject to up to three months’ imprisonment, fines, or both. The ministry documented 156 companies in noncompliance with the summer heat ban during the year.

The government and courts generally worked to rectify abuses brought to their attention. Workers could file complaints with the ministry. The vast majority of cases involving abused domestic workers did not reach the ministry or the public prosecutor. Police referred 40 cases to the National Referral Mechanism in the first half of the year. Individuals with referred cases received a range of services, including shelter provided by the National Committee for Combating Trafficking in Persons (NCCTIP).

The Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) reported it visited unregistered camps and accommodations, including accommodations of irregular “free visa” workers, who often lived in overcrowded apartments with poor safety standards.

The government continued to conduct workers’ rights awareness campaigns. It published pamphlets on foreign resident workers’ rights in several languages, provided manuals on these rights to local diplomatic missions, and operated a telephone hotline for victims.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in sectors employing foreign workers, such as construction, automotive repair, and domestic service. Unskilled foreign workers, mostly from South and Southeast Asia, constituted approximately 60 percent of the total workforce. These workers were vulnerable to dangerous or exploitive working conditions. According to NGOs, workplace safety inspection and compliance were substandard.

The labor law does not fully protect domestic workers, and this group was particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Domestic employees must have a contract, but the law does not provide for same rights accorded to other workers, including rest days. In 2017 the LMRA announced that all newly arrived domestic workers would be required to use new tripartite work contracts. The recruitment agency, the employer, and the employee must agree upon the contents of the new contracts. According to local press reports, the new contracts include daily working hours, weekly day off, and mandatory wage receipts, among other conditions. Activists reported that usage of the forms among employers and recruitment agencies remained low throughout the year.

There were credible reports employers forced many of the country’s 91,000 domestic workers, most of them women, to work 12- to 16-hour days and surrender their identity documents to employers. Employers permitted very little time off, left female workers malnourished, and subjected them to verbal and physical abuse, including sexual molestation and rape. Reports of employers and recruitment agents beating or sexually abusing foreign women working in domestic positions were common, but most cases involving domestic workers did not reach the Ministry of Labor. The press, embassies, and police received numerous reports of abuse. The MWPS provided female domestic workers with temporary housing and assistance with their cases, although its shelter closed permanently in March. Additionally, the NCCTIP provided workers with shelter. Most women in these cases sought assistance with unpaid wages and complaints of physical abuse.

According to NGO sources, the construction sector employed more Indians, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis than other nationalities. Worker deaths generally were due to a combination of inadequate enforcement of standards, violations of standards, inadequate safety procedures, worker ignorance of those procedures, and inadequate safety standards for equipment. While some workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, the level of freedom workers enjoyed directly related to the types of work they performed.

A Ministry of Labor order requires employers to register any labor accommodations provided to employees. The order also mandates minimum housing standards for employer-provided accommodations. Many workers lived in unregistered accommodations that ranged in quality from makeshift accommodations in parking garages, to apartments rented by employers from private owners, to family houses modified to accommodate many persons. Conditions in the many unregistered or irregular worker camps were often poor. Inspectors do not have the right to enter houses or apartment buildings not registered as work camps to inspect conditions.

Bangladesh

Executive Summary

Bangladesh’s constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government in which most power resides in the Office of the Prime Minister. Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League (AL) party won a third consecutive five-year term, keeping her in office as prime minister, in an improbably lopsided December 2018 parliamentary election that was not considered free and fair and was marred by reported irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters. During the campaign there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely. International election monitors were not issued accreditation and visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission, and only seven of the 22 Election Working Group nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were approved to conduct domestic election observation.

The security forces encompassing the national police, border guards, and counterterrorism units such as the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) maintain internal and border security. The military, primarily the army, is responsible for national defense but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The security forces report to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the military reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary or unlawful detentions by the government or on its behalf; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; arbitrary arrests of journalists and human rights activists, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive NGO laws and restrictions on the activities of NGOs; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, where elections were not found to be genuine, free, or fair; significant acts of corruption; criminal violence against women and girls; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting indigenous people; crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; restrictions on independent trade unions and workers’ rights; and the use of the worst forms of child labor.

There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses. The government took few measures to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse and killing by security forces.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes failed to respect this right. There were significant limitations on freedom of speech. Some journalists self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution equates criticism of the constitution with sedition. Punishment for sedition ranges from three years’ to life imprisonment.

The law limits hate speech but does not define clearly what constitutes hate speech, which permits the government broad powers of interpretation. The government may restrict speech deemed to be against the security of the state; against friendly relations with foreign states; and against public order, decency, or morality; or that constitutes contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense. The 2016 Foreign Donation (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act criminalizes any criticism of constitutional bodies. The 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act references defamation of individuals and organizations and was used to prosecute opposition figures and civil society.

The 2018 Digital Security Act (DSA), passed ostensibly to reduce cybercrimes, provides for sentences of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for spreading “propaganda” against the Bangladesh Liberation War, the national anthem, or the national flag. Human rights groups, journalists, media outlets, and political opposition parties denounced the DSA for suppressing freedom of expression and criminalizing free speech.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Both print and online independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, media outlets that criticized the government experienced negative government pressure. In October the World Economic Forum found press freedom declined over the past year.

The government maintained editorial control over the country’s public television station and mandated private channels broadcast government content at no charge. Civil society organizations said political interference influenced the licensing process, since all television channel licenses granted by the government were for stations supporting the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities, including intelligence services on some occasions, and student affiliates of the ruling party, subjected journalists to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation, especially when tied to the DSA. The DSA was viewed by human rights activists as a tool to intimidate journalists. The Editors’ Council, an association of newspaper editors, stated the DSA stifled investigative journalism. Individuals faced a threat of being arrested, held in pretrial detention, subjected to expensive criminal trials, fines, and imprisonment, as well as social stigma associated with having a criminal record.

On October 21, police arrested Munir Uddin Ahmed, a district correspondent of the newspaper New Nation and former general secretary of Khulna Press Club, in a case filed under the DSA for mistakenly posting on his Facebook a photograph of the Chittagong Metropolitan police commissioner instead of the Bhola superintendent of police. Although the court twice denied Ahmed’s bail, the Khulna Metropolitan Magistrate court rejected a police request to interrogate him. Observers commented police interrogation–known as remand–occasionally involved mistreatment of the detained. Ahmed remained in prison at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent journalists and media outlets alleged intelligence services influenced media outlets in part by withholding financially important government advertising and pressing private companies to withhold their advertising as well. The government penalized media that criticized it or carried messages of the political opposition’s activities and statements. Reporters without Border alleged media self-censorship was growing due to “endemic violence” against journalists and media outlets and the “almost systematic impunity enjoyed by those responsible.”

Privately owned newspapers, however, usually enjoyed freedom to carry diverse views. Political polarization and self-censorship remained a problem. Investigative journalists often complained of their management and editors “killing” reports for fear of pressure from the government and its intelligence agencies. Some journalists reportedly received threats after publishing their stories.

According to some journalists and human rights NGOs, journalists engaged in self-censorship due to fear of security force retribution and the possibility of being charged with politically motivated cases. Although public criticism of the government was common and vocal, some media figures expressed fear of harassment by the government.

On January 2, the newspaper Daily Star reported the government detained Khulna reporter Hedait Hossain Molla to investigate accusations he violated the DSA by reporting “false information” about the number of votes cast from Khulna during the 2018 general elections. Following the elections, Molla reported that official initial elections results showed the number of votes cast was higher than the number of eligible voters. A Khulna elections official later corrected the official vote tally, lowering the number of votes cast, but reporters had already published their stories. Molla was then arrested under the DSA for spreading false information. Although Molla was released on bail, he was obliged to appear regularly before the court, since the case remained active.

Journalists claimed the government penalized media that criticized the government or broadcast the opposition’s activities and statements. In April the government cancelled the publishing rights of Juger Chinta, a daily newspaper in Narayanganj. This move sparked a human chain protest in Narayanganj. Journalists claimed the government penalized Juger Chinta because it published reports criticizing the ruling party’s local member of parliament (MP).

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, defamation, and blasphemy are treated as criminal offenses, most commonly employed against individuals speaking against the government, the prime minister, or other government officials. The DSA provides for sentences of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for spreading “propaganda” against the Bangladesh Liberation War, the national anthem, or the national flag. As of July a total of 420 petitions requesting an investigation had been filed under the act with more than 80 individuals arrested.

In March law enforcement arrested Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Council member Mahfuza Khter Kiron for allegedly defaming the prime minister after saying on a television talk show that Prime Minister Hasina was neglecting football in the country in favor of cricket, maintaining a double standard rewarding the cricket team’s successes, but ignoring those of the football team. In April, Kiron was granted bail, but the charges against her were not dropped.

Nongovernmental Impact: Atheist, secular, and LGBTI writers and bloggers reported they continued to receive death threats from violent extremist organizations.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited or restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except in two sensitive areas: the CHT and the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar. The government enforced restrictions on access to the CHT by foreigners.

In-country Movement: The government is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. As a result the government claims it is not bound under legal obligation to uphold the basic rights enshrined in this document.

The government did not recognize the new Rohingya arrivals as refugees, referring to them instead as “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals.” In practice, however, the government abided by many of the established UN standards for refugees. One notable exception was that the Rohingya did not enjoy full freedom of movement throughout the country. While the refugees were able to move largely unrestricted in the Ukhia and Teknaf subdistricts, the government established checkpoints to prevent their movement outside this area.

Foreign Travel: Some senior civil society representatives reported harassment and delays at the airport when departing the country. The government prevented war crimes suspects from the 1971 independence war from leaving the country. The country’s passports are invalid for travel to Israel, according to government policy.

f. Protection of Refugees

Prior to the August 2017 Rohingya influx, the government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provided temporary protection and basic assistance to approximately 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees from Burma living in two official camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara), while the government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) provided assistance to approximately 200,000 undocumented Rohingya living in makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar. In August 2017 more than 700,000 Rohingya fled ethnic cleansing in neighboring Burma to seek safe haven in Bangladesh. As a result of this influx, approximately one million Rohingya refugees were living in refugee camps, makeshift settlements, and host communities. According to the United Nations, more than half of the population was younger than 18 years old. A National Task Force, established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led the coordination of the overall Rohingya crisis. The Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief coordinated the Rohingya response with support from the Bangladesh Army and Border Guard Bangladesh. At the local level, the Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner provided coordination.

The government temporarily deployed the military to Cox’s Bazar District in the fall of 2017 to streamline relief activities and to assist in registration of Rohingya in coordination with the civilian administration. In response to growing security concerns, the military again became more active in the refugee camps. In September the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the army would begin taking over security tasks the police and other law enforcement agencies had held since 2017. In the same month, the government introduced restrictions on telecommunication services in Cox’s Bazar. This move limited access to mobile and internet service in and around camps and hampered emergency response and coordination of life-saving services, including the Protection Hotline for reporting incidents of violence or abuse.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to Rohingya refugees. As of August the IOM identified 96 Rohingya trafficking victims from the camps, the overwhelming majority for labor exploitation. While the majority of the victims were women and girls, there were indications many Rohingya men and boys did not self-identify, nor did they seek services following their return. When discovered, government officials returned trafficking victims to the camps.

International organizations reported an increase in gender-based violence directed against women in the camps, with intimate partner violence comprising an overwhelming majority–approximately 70 to 80 percent–of the cases. International organizations warned the numbers could increase further if the dearth of livelihood and educational opportunities for Rohingya men continued.

Accountability for all crimes, including human trafficking, remained a problem. Rohingya relied on government officials responsible for each camp (also known as the Camps in Charge, or CiC) to address allegations of crime. The CiCs were largely autonomous in practice and varied in terms of responsiveness to camp needs. According to international organizations, some were susceptible to corruption. International organizations alleged some border guard, military, and police officials were involved in facilitating the trafficking of Rohingya women and children, ranging from “looking the other way,” to bribes for allowing traffickers to access Rohingya in the camps, to direct involvement in trafficking.

Refoulement: According to UNHCR, the government sent six Rohingya back to Burma in September in a possible incident of refoulement. There were no other reported cases of potential refoulement or forced repatriation. On August 22, authorities sent buses to selected Rohingya camps to pick up and transport anyone ready to return to Burma. They called off the initiative when no refugees volunteered. Several times during the year, senior government officials reaffirmed the country’s commitment to voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable refugee returns, based on informed consent. On September 27, at the United Nations, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina underscored voluntariness and safety as necessary requirements for any repatriation.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, nor has the government established a formal system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided significant protection and assistance to Rohingya refugees resident in the country. The government cooperated with UNHCR to provide temporary protection and basic assistance to registered refugees resident in two official camps. After the 2017 arrival of Rohingya refugees, the government started to register the new refugees biometrically and provided identity cards with their Burmese address. The government was working jointly with UNHCR to verify Rohingya refugees and issue identity cards that replaced prior cards and provided for protection of Rohingya refugees, consistent with the government’s commitment against forced returns to Burma. Despite this documentation system, the lack of formal refugee status for Rohingya and clear legal reporting mechanisms in the camps impeded refugees’ access to the justice system, leading to underreporting of cases of abuse and exploitation and impunity for traffickers and other criminals.

Freedom of Movement: There continued to be restrictions on Rohingya freedom of movement. According to the 1993 memorandum of understanding between Bangladesh and UNHCR, registered Rohingya refugees are not permitted to move outside the two camps. After the August 2017 influx, police set up checkpoints on the roads to restrict travel by both registered refugees and new arrivals beyond the Ukhia and Teknaf subdistricts. In November the government began erecting fencing to better secure the camp and protect Rohingya from migrant smuggling.

Many camp authorities introduced curfews and law enforcement patrols, particularly at night, in response to reported concerns about violent attacks, abductions, or kidnappings in the camps.

Employment: The government did not formally authorize Rohingya refugees living in the country to work locally, although it allowed limited cash-for-work schemes for Rohingya to perform tasks within the camps. Despite their movement restrictions, some refugees worked illegally as manual laborers in the informal economy, where some were exploited as labor trafficking victims.

Access to Basic Services: The rapid increase in the population strained services both inside and outside of the designated camps and makeshift settlements. The UN-led Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) coordinates the many actors and agencies providing basic services to the Rohingya. Nonetheless, according to the ISCG, refugees lived in congested sites that were poorly equipped to handle the monsoon rains and cyclone seasons. While agencies made significant efforts to move those most vulnerable, the shortage of land remained a central issue that hindered the ability of Rohingya to access basic services.

Public education remained a problem. The government continued its policy prohibiting formal education but allowed informal education of Rohingya children. UNICEF led the education sector in developing a comprehensive learning approach to guide the education interventions of humanitarian partners in the camps. Primary education followed a learning framework developed by UNICEF and endorsed by the government; it does not confer recognition or certification of students having attained a specific education level by the Bangladeshi or Burmese government, however. Rahima Akter, a Rohingya woman, hid her identity to enroll in Cox’s Bazar International University to study law. In October 2018 Rahima was featured in a video by the Associated Press in which she discussed her dreams to study human rights. The video went viral and revealed her identity. In September the university expelled her for being Rohingya.

Government authorities allowed registered and unregistered Rohingya formal and regular access to public health care but Rohingya needed authorities’ permission to leave the camp. Humanitarian partners ensured their health-care expenses were covered and that they returned to the camps. The health sector maintained information about all of the health facilities within the camps and the surrounding areas. Based on the data available, overall coverage met the minimum requirements.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Corruption remained a serious problem. In July the ACC chairman stated the commission suffered from a crisis of public trust, since most of the ACC’s investigations were only against petty instances of corruption.

The ACC leadership were also suspected in corruption. In July, Khandaker Enamul Basir, a former ACC director, was arrested on charges of bribery in a corruption case involving top-ranking Deputy Inspector General of Police Miznur Rahman. The ACC found Rahman earned 4.63 crore BDT ($550,000) between 1998 and 2018, but only 1.35 crore BDT ($160,000) came from legal sources. Rahman claimed Basir accepted a bribe to clear Rahman of graft allegations, an accusation that led to Basir’s removal from the ACC and arrest.

In August 2018 parliament enacted a law prohibiting the arrest of any public servant by the ACC without permission from the government before framing charges by the court. Campaigners for good governance and transparency decried the provision, saying it shielded corrupt officials.

The government took steps to address widespread police corruption through continued expansion of its community-policing program and through training.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires candidates for parliament to file statements of personal wealth with the Election Commission. The law does not require income and asset disclosure by officials.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with some government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative and responsive to their views.

Although human rights groups often sharply criticized the government, they also practiced some self-censorship. Observers commented on the government’s strategy to reduce the effectiveness and inhibit operations of civil society, exacerbated by threats from extremists and an increasingly entrenched leading political party. Even civil society members affiliated with the ruling party reported receiving threats of arrest from the security forces for public criticism of government policies.

The government continued to restrict the funding and operations of the human rights organization Odhikar. Odhikar continued to report harassment by government officials and security forces, including disruption of their planned events, and planned to close operations due to funding constraints at the end of the year.

On November 14, a local magistrate mobile court ordered human rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) to leave its main Dhaka office in two months. The magistrate also fined the organization 200,000 BDT ($2,400) for violating a law that prohibits commercial activities from operating in a residential space. ASK Executive Director Sheepa Hafiza called the order “illegal” and told reporters ASK would move the matter to the judicial court to refute allegations the organization committed an offense. Hafiza further said the government’s move “shrank the activities of rights bodies.”

The government required all NGOs, including religious organizations, to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Local and international NGOs working on sensitive topics or groups, such as religious issues, human rights, indigenous peoples, LGBTI communities, Rohingya refugees, or worker rights, faced both formal and informal governmental restrictions. Some of these groups claimed intelligence agencies monitored them. The government sometimes restricted international NGOs’ ability to operate through delays in project registration, cease-and-desist letters, and visa refusals.

Numerous NGOs entered the country in response to the August 2017 Rohingya influx. In August the NGO Affairs Bureau imposed restrictions and suspensions on a number of NGOs in Cox’s Bazar, following an August 25 peaceful rally commemorating the two-year mark of the 2017 Rohingya crisis (see section 2.b.). The government did not publicly disclose all the names of those NGOs.

The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act restricts foreign funding of NGOs and includes punitive provisions for NGOs that make “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution of the country, its founding history, or constitutional bodies (that is, government institutions and leaders).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not respond to a UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances request to visit the country. The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh reported 15 other pending requests for UN special rapporteurs to visit the country, including the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has seven members, including five honorary positions. Nasima Begum, former senior secretary in the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, was appointed NHRC chairman in September. This appointment prompted quick criticisms from civil society, who questioned the government’s selection process, and larger discussions on the commission’s effectiveness and independence as all members were government bureaucrats. The NHRC’s primary activities are to investigate human rights violations, address discrimination in law, educate the public about human rights, and advise the government on key human rights issues.

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 to join unions and, with government approval, the right to form a union, although labor rights organizations said cumbersome requirements for union registration remained. The law requires a minimum of 20 percent of an enterprise’s total workforce to agree to be members before the Ministry of Labor and Employment may grant approval for registration of a union. The ministry may request a court to dissolve the union if membership falls below 20 percent. Generally, the law allows only wall-to-wall (entire factory) bargaining units. NGOs reported the approval rate for union registration applicants declined significantly over the past year. Registration applications were often rejected or challenged for erroneous or extrajudicial reasons outside the scope of the law.

The labor law definition of workers excludes managerial, supervisory, and administrative staff. Fire-fighting staff, security guards, and employers’ confidential assistants are not entitled to join a union. Civil service and security force employees are prohibited from forming unions. The Ministry of Labor and Employment may deregister unions for other reasons with the approval of a labor court. The law affords unions the right of appeal in the cases of dissolution or denial of registration. Export processing zones (EPZs), which do not allow trade union participation, are a notable exception to the labor law. On February 28, the government enacted a new labor law for the EPZs. These laws continued to deny EPZ workers the right to form or join a union.

Prospective unions continued to report rejections based on reasons not listed in the labor law. The Ministry of Labor and Employment reported that the country had 7,823 trade unions, covering nearly three million workers, with 596 unions in the garment sector. This figure included 574 new unions in the garment sector formed since 2013. The ministry reported the shrimp sector had 16 unions and the leather and tannery sector had 13. According to the Solidarity Center, a significant number of the unions in the ready-made garment sector ceased to be active during the year due to factory closures or alleged unfair labor practices on the part of employers, and it became increasingly harder to register unions in larger ready-made garment factories. After a sharp increase in trade union applications in 2014, there was a decline every year thereafter.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but with many limitations. For example, the government may prohibit a strike deemed to pose a “serious hardship to the community” and may terminate any strike lasting more than 30 days. The law additionally prohibits strikes for the first three years of commercial production if the factory was built with foreign investment or owned by a foreign investor.

The government occasionally targeted union leaders. During wage protests in December 2018 and January, police dispersed protesters using tear gas, water cannons, batons, and rubber bullets, reportedly injuring dozens of workers and killing at least one. In the aftermath, factory owners filed cases against thousands of workers. More than 50 workers and union leaders were arrested and spent weeks in jail. According to Solidarity Center, most if not all of the cases against hundreds of workers remained pending at year’s end. Several companies also illegally suspended or terminated thousands of workers without proper severance payments. In some cases, factory management exploited the situation to target active union leaders and to blacklist them from employment. Other intimidation tactics included frequent police visits to union meetings and offices, police taking pictures and video recordings of union meetings, and police monitoring of NGOs involved in supporting trade unions. While most workers from the 2016 widespread Ashulia labor unrest were reinstated, labor leaders had cases pending against them despite international pressure to resolve these cases.

In response to unrest in the Dhaka industrial suburb of Ashulia in 2016, the government formed a permanent tripartite consultative council to address labor concerns in the garment industry. NGOs said the tripartite consultative council was not functioning. The state minister for labor and employment and the ministry’s deputy secretary serve as president and secretary of the 20-member council. The council also includes six representatives from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, six additional representatives from the government, and six worker representatives. The council was supposed to meet at least three times a year, but the president may convene meetings as needed. Labor leaders expressed concern that worker representatives were appointed, not elected, and that some of the appointed council members were either not active in the ready-made garment industry, were leaders of very small federations, or were closely aligned with industry.

Legally registered unions recognized as official Collective Bargaining Agents (CBAs) are entitled to submit charters of demands and bargain collectively with employers. This occurred rarely, but instances were increasing. The law provides criminal penalties for unfair labor practices such as retaliation against union members for exercising their legal rights. Labor organizations reported that in some companies, workers did not exercise their collective bargaining rights due to their unions’ ability to address grievances with management informally or due to fear of reprisal.

The law includes provisions protecting unions from employer interference in organizing activities; however, employers, particularly in the ready-made garment industry, often interfered with this right. Labor organizers reported acts of intimidation and abuse, the termination of employees, and scrutiny by security forces and the intelligence services, a tactic used to chill the organizing environment. Labor rights NGOs alleged that some terminated union members were unable to find work in the sector because employers blacklisted them. The BGMEA reported that some factory owners complained of harassment from organized labor, including physical intimidation, but statistics and specific examples were unavailable.

According to the labor law, every factory with more than 50 employees is required to have a participation committee (PC). A 2018 amendment to the labor law states there shall not be any participation committee if any registered trade union exists in a factory. Employers often selected or appointed workers for the PC instead of permitting worker elections to determine those positions. Employers also failed to comply with laws and regulations to ensure the effectiveness and independence of PCs. The International Labor Organization’s Better Work Bangladesh program found 75 percent of factories had ineffective or nonfunctional PCs.

A separate legal framework under the authority of the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) governs labor rights in the EPZs, with approximately 458,000 workers. EPZ law specifies certain limited associational and bargaining rights for worker welfare associations (WWAs) elected by the workers, such as the rights to bargain collectively and represent their members in disputes, but prohibits unions within EPZs. While an earlier provision of the EPZ law banning all strikes under penalty of imprisonment expired in 2013, the law continues to provide for strict limits on the right to strike, such as the discretion of the BEPZA’s chairperson to ban any strike he views as prejudicial to the public interest. The law provides for EPZ labor tribunals, appellate tribunals, and conciliators, but those institutions were not established. Instead, eight labor courts and one appellate labor court heard EPZ cases. The BEPZA has its own inspection regime with labor counselors that function as inspectors. WWAs in EPZs are prohibited from establishing any connection to outside political parties, unions, federations, or NGOs. There were no reports of legal strikes in the EPZs.

The government adopted standard operating procedures regarding union registration. With the exception of limitations on the right of association and worker protections in the EPZs, the labor law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court may order the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities, but reinstatement was rarely awarded.

The government did not always enforce applicable law effectively or consistently. For example, labor law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court. It also establishes that workers in a collective-bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. Few strikes followed the cumbersome legal requirements, however, and strikes or walkouts often occurred spontaneously.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced or bonded labor offenses are insufficient to deter violations. Inspection mechanisms that enforce laws against forced labor did not function effectively. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were inadequate. The law also provides that victims of forced labor have access to shelter and other protective services afforded to trafficking victims.

Some individuals recruited to work overseas with fraudulent employment offers subsequently were exploited abroad under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Many migrant workers assumed debt to pay high recruitment fees, imposed legally by recruitment agencies belonging to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies and illegally by unlicensed subagents.

Children and adults were also forced into domestic servitude and bonded labor that involved restricted movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law regulates child employment, and the regulations depend on the type of work and the child’s age. The 2018 amendment of the labor law establishes the minimum age for work as 14, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18, with no exceptions. The government reported all labor inspectors were notified on the amendment, including the changes to the light work provisions for children. Formerly, the law had allowed children ages 12 or 13 to perform light work. Minors may work up to five hours per day and 30 hours per week in factories and mines or up to seven hours per day and 42 per week in other types of workplaces. By law every child must attend school through eighth grade. Several factors contributed to children not attending school, such as inadequate access to water and sanitation facilities and the costs associated with education, including books and uniforms.

The Labor and Employment Ministry’s enforcement mechanisms were insufficient for the large, urban informal sector, and authorities rarely enforced child labor laws outside the export-garment and shrimp-processing sectors. Agriculture and other informal sectors that had no government oversight employed large numbers of children.

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including forced child labor in the production of dried fish and bricks. Children also performed dangerous tasks in the production of garments and leather goods. Laws do not cover children working in the informal sector, and hazardous work prohibitions are not comprehensive. Moreover, the number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the size of the workforce.

The law specifies penalties that were not sufficient to deter violations of child labor laws. The government occasionally brought criminal charges against employers who abused domestic servants.

Child labor was widespread in the informal sector and in domestic work. According to a 2016 Overseas Development Institute report based on a survey of 2,700 households in Dhaka’s slums, 15 percent of six- to 14-year-old children were out of school and engaged in full-time work. These children were working well beyond the 42-hour limit set by national legislation.

According to the International Labor Organization, agriculture was the primary employment sector for boys and services was the main sector for girls. According to Young Power in Social Action, an NGO working to protect the rights of shipbreakers in Chittagong, 11 percent of the shipbreaking workforce was younger than 18. NGOs, such as Shipbreaking Platform, reported laborers worked long hours without training, safety equipment, holidays, adequate health care, and also without contractual agreements.

Children frequently worked in the informal sector in areas including the unregistered garment, road transport, manufacturing, and service industries.

In 2018 the government funded and participated in programs that include the goal of eliminating or preventing child labor, including a $35 million government-funded three-year project that seeks to identify 100,000 child laborers, reintegrate the children into schools, and provide livelihood support for their parents.

Rohingya children residing in refugee camps were vulnerable to forced labor. Rohingya girls were trafficked from the camps to Dhaka or other countries for domestic servitude. Rohingya children recruited to work outside the refugee camps were reported to be underpaid or unpaid, subjected to excessive working hours, or in bonded labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of sex or disability, but it does not prohibit other discrimination based on sex, disability, social status, caste, sexual orientation, or similar factors. The constitution prohibits adverse discrimination by the state on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth and expressly extends that prohibition to government employment; it allows affirmative action programs for the benefit of disadvantaged populations.

The lower-wage garment sector traditionally offered greater employment opportunities for women. Women represented the majority of garment-sector workers, making up more than 50 percent of the total ready-made garment workforce, according to official statistics, although statistics varied widely due to a lack of data. Despite representing a majority of total workers, women were generally underrepresented in supervisory and management positions and generally earned less than their male counterparts, even when performing similar functions. A 2017 Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education Economics Institute and Oxford University study found women earned lower wages in export-oriented garment factories, even after controlling for worker productivity. According to the study, approximately two-thirds of the wage gap remained even after controlling for skills, which the study attributed to higher mobility for male workers. Women were also subjected to abuse in factories, including sexual harassment. In June a human rights NGO concluded, after conducting survey research, that 80 percent of female garment workers reported experiencing gender-based violence on the job.

In the tea industry, female workers faced discrimination. Male workers received rice rations for their female spouses, but female tea workers’ male spouses were not given rice rations, as they were not considered dependents.

Some religious, ethnic, and other minorities reported discrimination, particularly in the private sector (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The National Minimum Wage Board established minimum monthly wages on a sector-by-sector basis. The board may convene at any time, but it is supposed to meet at least every five years in a tripartite forum to set wage structures and benefits industry by industry. During the year the board failed to include a legitimate workers’ representative. Without a workers’ representative, garment workers did not have a voice in negotiations to set the new minimum wage. By law the government may modify or amend wage structures through official public announcement in consultation with employers and workers. The minimum wage was set for $94 a month and fixed for the ready-made garment sector only. This wage was above the poverty line. The minimum wage was not indexed to inflation (which averaged 6 to 8 percent annually since 2010, according to World Bank data), but the board occasionally made cost-of-living adjustments to wages in some sectors.

Wages in the apparel sector often were higher than the minimum wage, and wages in the EPZs typically were higher than general wage levels, according to the BEPZA. In November 2018 a BEPZA circular declared the minimum wages and other benefits for workers employed in different enterprises in the EPZs. Among the lowest minimum wages were those for tea packaging at 3,060 BDT ($36.14) a month, as of December 2018. A Transparency International Bangladesh report found more than 90 percent of tea worker families shared a single room with domestic animals without proper access to safe water, electricity, or health care. None of the set minimum wages provided a sufficient standard of living for urban dwellers. The minimum wage was not indexed to inflation, but the board occasionally made cost-of-living adjustments to wages in some sectors.

By law a standard workday is eight hours. A standard workweek is 48 hours, but it may be extended to 60 hours, subject to the payment of an overtime allowance that is double the basic wage. Overtime cannot be compulsory. Workers must have one hour of rest if they work for more than six hours a day or a half-hour of rest for more than five hours’ work a day. Factory workers are supposed to receive one day off every week. Shop workers receive one and one-half days off per week.

The law establishes occupational health and safety standards, and amendments to the law created mandatory worker safety committees. The law states that every worker should be allowed at least 11 festival holidays with full wages in a year. The days and dates for such festivals are supposed to be fixed by the employer in consultation with the CBA, if any, or on the recommendation of the participation committee in absence of the CBA.

Labor law implementing rules outline the process for the formation of occupational safety and health committees in factories, and the government reported that approximately 2,175 safety committees were formed as of July 2018. The committees include both management and workers nominated by the CBA or, in absence of CBA, workers representatives of the factory’s worker participation committee. Where there is no union or worker participation committee, the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) arranges an election among the workers for their representatives.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, overtime pay, and occupational safety and health laws. Although increased focus on the garment industry improved compliance in some garment factories, resources, inspections, and remediation were generally not adequate across sectors, and penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. A labor rights NGO found 95 percent of factories did not comply with overtime limits.

DIFE’s resources were inadequate to inspect and remediate problems effectively. On March 4, a fire broke out at an apparel warehouse in Ashulia, damaging the entire factory. According to DIFE’s website, they last visited the factory on October 26, 2013. There were also criticisms regarding DIFE’s complaint mechanism. In the current system, a worker has to enter his or her name, position, and identity number in DIFE’s complaint form. Once received, DIFE issues a letter to factory management with reference to the complaint form. This provides inadequate protections to workers and raises doubts on the efficacy of the mechanism for filing complaints.

The 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse killed 1,138 workers and injured more than 2,500. In the aftermath of the collapse, private companies, foreign governments, and international organizations worked with the government to inspect more than 3,780 garment factories. Many factories began to take action to improve safety conditions, although remediation in many cases proceeded slowly due to a range of factors, including failure to obtain adequate financing. Two initiatives formed by international brands, Nirapon (including most North American brands and continuing the work of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety) and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (“Accord,” consisting mostly of European brands), continued to oversee the inspection and remediation efforts of ready-made garment factories producing for Accord and Nirapon members while government oversight of factories outside of these initiatives remained limited. The two brand-led initiatives covered only member factories in the ready-made garment industry, leaving thousands of other garment and nongarment factories without oversight. Boiler or chemical-related explosions increased the focus on nonfire industrial accidents.

In May a court-ordered memorandum of understanding established guidelines for a transition process for the Accord to begin to hand over authority to the government. In this transition the ready-made garment Sustainability Council was established, including representation from the BGMEA, international brands, and trade union federation leaders.

The court case against the owner of Rana Plaza and 40 other individuals on charges including murder began in 2016. Rana received a maximum three-year sentence for failing to declare his personal wealth to an antigraft commission. The murder trial against Rana and others repeatedly stalled, however, due to appeals and High Court stay orders.

A trial against those implicated in the 2012 Tazreen Fashions fire started in 2015 after charges were brought against 13 individuals, including chairman Mahmuda Akhter and managing director Delwar Hossain, in September 2015. The case was ongoing.

Workers’ groups stated safety and health standards established by law were sufficient, and more factories took steps toward compliance. The law provides for penalties that did not deter violations. Many ready-made garment employers failed to adequately train workers on safety and hazardous materials, provide required equipment, or ensure functioning Safety Committees, all required by law.

Legal limits on hours of work were violated routinely. In the ready-made garment sector, employers often required workers to labor 12 hours a day or more to meet export deadlines, but they did not always properly compensate workers for their time. According to the Solidarity Center, workers often willingly worked overtime in excess of the legal limit. Employers in many cases delayed workers’ pay or denied full leave benefits.

Few reliable labor statistics were available on the large informal sector that employed most workers, and it was difficult to enforce labor laws in the sector. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics reported 51.3 million workers in the informal labor sector in 2016, which was 86.2 percent of the total labor force.

In February a fire broke out in Chawkbazaar, a historic Dhaka neighborhood, when a compressed natural gas-powered car caught on fire. The blast ignited other cylinders used at street-side restaurants. Very quickly, a plastics store and a shop illegally storing chemicals also burst into flames. The fire–which analysts assessed may have been averted had proper building violations been addressed–killed at least 70 persons.

Barbados

Executive Summary

Barbados is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state. The governor general is the queen’s representative in the country and certifies all legislation on her behalf. In the 2018 national elections, the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) won all 30 seats in the legislature. BLP leader Mia Mottley was appointed as prime minister by the governor general with the support of the BLP’s overwhelming parliamentary majority.

The Royal Barbados Police Force is responsible for internal law enforcement, including migration and border enforcement. The Barbados Defence Force protects national security and may be called upon to maintain public order in times of crisis, emergency, or other specific needs. In January the prime minister transferred responsibility for oversight of police and all other law enforcement agencies to the attorney general. The defense force reports to the minister of defense and security. The law provides that police may request defense force assistance with special joint patrols. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police and defense forces.

Significant human rights issues included the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity between men. Authorities did not enforce the law on same-sex sexual activity during the year.

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Libel/Slander Laws: The press provided unverified, anecdotal reporting on corruption issues throughout the year. Civil society representatives raised concerns that defamation lawsuits could lead to self-censorship in some cases.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Immigration Department was responsible for considering refugee and asylum claims.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voters elect 30 members of the National Assembly. The governor general appoints 21 senators: 12 on the advice of the prime minister, two on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and nine at his or her discretion.

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. Media reported that senior officials acknowledged some official corruption occurred but said citizens were reluctant to file complaints.

Corruption: There were no formal investigations of government corruption during the year. There was unverified anecdotal evidence in the media, however, of government corruption.

Financial Disclosure: Upon assuming power in 2018, the prime minister required all high-level public officials to disclose income and assets to the government. While the government claimed officials complied with this directive, the disclosures were not published.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office hears complaints against government ministries, departments, or other authorities for alleged injuries or injustices resulting from administrative conduct. The governor general appoints the ombudsman on the recommendation of the prime minister and in consultation with the opposition. Parliament must approve the appointment. The ombudsman submits annual reports to Parliament that contain recommendations on changes to laws and descriptions of actions taken by the Ombudsman’s Office.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions and conduct legal strikes but does not specifically recognize the right to bargain collectively. Moreover, the law does not obligate employers to recognize unions or to accept collective bargaining. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects workers engaged in union activity. A tribunal may order reinstatement, re-engagement, or compensation, although no cases of antiunion discrimination were reported during the year. The law permits all private-sector employees to strike but prohibits strikes by workers in essential services such as police, firefighting, electricity, and water.

In general the government effectively enforced labor law in the formal sector. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The law gives persons the right to have allegations of unfair dismissal tried before the Employment Rights Tribunal. The process often had lengthy delays. A tripartite group of labor, management, and government representatives met regularly. The group dealt with social and economic issues as they arose, formulating legislative policy, and setting and maintaining harmonious workplace relations.

With a few exceptions, workers’ rights generally were respected. Unions received complaints of violations of collective bargaining agreements, but most complaints were resolved through established mechanisms.

Although employers were under no legal obligation to recognize unions, most major employers did so when more than 50 percent of the employees made a request. Companies were sometimes hesitant to engage in collective bargaining with a recognized union, but in most instances they eventually did so. Smaller companies often were not unionized.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced such laws, which was sufficient to deter violations.

Although there were no official reports of forced labor during the year, foreigners–especially those from neighboring Caribbean nations–remained at risk for forced labor, particularly in the domestic service, agriculture, and construction sectors. The punishment for labor or sex trafficking of adults is the same: 25 years in prison, a fine of one million BBD ($500,000), or both. Forced labor or sex trafficking of children is punishable by a fine of two million BBD (one million dollars), life imprisonment, or both. There were no prosecutions during the year.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law provides for a minimum working age of 16 years for certain sectors but does not cover sectors such as agriculture or family businesses. The law prohibits children younger than age 18 from engaging in work likely to harm their health, safety, or morals, but it does not specify which occupations fall under this prohibition. The law prohibits employing children of compulsory school age (through age 16) during school hours. The law also prohibits school-age children from working after 6 p.m. The law was effectively enforced, and child labor laws were generally observed. Parents are culpable under the law if their children younger than age 16 are not in school. Under the Recruiting of Workers Act, children ages 14-16 may engage in light work with parental consent. The law does not provide a list of occupations constituting light work.

Ministry of Labour inspectors may initiate legal action against an employer found employing underage workers. Employers found guilty of violating the law may be fined or imprisoned for up to 12 months. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. According to the chief labor inspector, no underage employment cases were filed in recent years. Although documentation was not available, observers commented that children may have been engaged in the worst forms of child labor, namely drug trafficking, and as victims of commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, known or perceived HIV/AIDS status, or disability. Nevertheless, employment discrimination persisted against persons with HIV/AIDS. Foreign workers in high-risk sectors, such as domestic service, agriculture, or construction, were sometimes not aware of their rights and protections under the law. Unions expressed concern that domestic workers were occasionally forced to work in unacceptable conditions. Anecdotal information indicated persons with disabilities believed they were discriminated against because of their disabilities and that employers professed other reasons for not hiring them.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no law establishing a national minimum wage. The law establishes minimum wages for housekeepers and shop assistants and is considered by society as the established “minimum wage.” Full-time shop assistants and housekeepers earn wages in excess of the poverty level.

The standard legal workweek is 40 hours in five days, and the law provides employees with three weeks of paid holiday for persons with less than five years of service and four weeks of paid holiday after five years of service. The law requires overtime payment of time and a half for hours worked in excess of the legal standard and prescribes all overtime must be voluntary. The law does not set a maximum number of overtime hours. The government set occupational safety and health standards that were current and appropriate for its industries.

The Ministry of Labour is charged with enforcing the minimum wage as well as work hours, and it did so effectively. The ministry also enforced health and safety standards and, in most cases, followed up to ensure management corrected problems, but the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to effectively enforce compliance. The ministry used routine inspections, accident investigations, and union membership surveys to prevent labor violations and to verify that wages and working conditions met national standards. Penalties include fines of up to $500 BBD ($250) per offense, imprisonment of up to three months, or both. These penalties were inadequate to ensure compliance. The ministry reported that it historically relied on education, consensus building, and moral persuasion rather than penalties to correct labor law violations. The ministry delivered presentations to workers to inform them of their rights, and it provided education and awareness workshops for employers. The ministry’s Health and Safety Inspection Unit conducted several routine annual inspections of government-operated corporations and manufacturing plants, with no serious problems noted.

Office environments received additional attention from the Ministry of Labour due to concerns about indoor air quality. Trade unions monitored safety problems to verify the enforcement of safety and health regulations as well as the correction of problems by management.

The law provides for the right of workers to refuse dangerous work without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities generally protected employees in this situation.

Belarus

Executive Summary

Belarus is an authoritarian state. The constitution provides for a directly elected president who is head of state and a bicameral parliament, the National Assembly. A prime minister appointed by the president is the nominal head of government, but power is concentrated in the presidency, both in fact and in law. Citizens were unable to choose their government through free and fair elections. Since his election as president in 1994, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has consolidated his rule over all institutions and undermined the rule of law through authoritarian means, including manipulated elections and arbitrary decrees. All subsequent presidential elections fell well short of international standards. The November parliamentary elections failed to meet international standards.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs exercises authority over police, but other bodies outside of its control, for example, the Committee for State Security (KGB), the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee, the Investigation Committee, and presidential security services, exercise police functions. The president has the authority to subordinate all security bodies to his personal command, and he maintained effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary arrest and detention; life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; undue restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and the existence of laws regarding criminal libel and defamation of government officials; detention of journalists; severe restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, including the imposition of criminal penalties for calling for a peaceful demonstration and laws penalizing the activities and funding of groups not approved by the authorities; restrictions on freedom of movement, in particular of former political prisoners whose civil rights remained largely restricted; restrictions on political participation, including persistent failure to conduct elections according to international standards; corruption in all branches of government; allegations of pressuring women to have abortions; and trafficking in persons.

Authorities at all levels often operated with impunity and failed to take steps to prosecute or punish officials in the government or security forces who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government did not respect these rights and enforced numerous laws to control and censor the public and media. Moreover, the state press propagated views in support of the president and official policies, without giving room for critical voices.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could not criticize the president or the government publicly or discuss matters of general public interest without fear of reprisal. Authorities videotaped political meetings, conducted frequent identity checks, and used other forms of intimidation. Authorities also prohibited displaying certain historical flags and symbols and displaying placards bearing messages deemed threatening to the government or public order.

On June 10, a Minsk regional court convicted prominent painter and art performer Ales Pushkin for holding banners urging Belarus to join NATO as well as protesting “Russian Aggression in Europe” in the town of Krupki on June 6. Despite the fact that Pushkin staged his protest alone, authorities charged him with violating the Law on Mass Events and resisting police and fined him 204 rubles ($100).

The law also limits free speech by criminalizing actions such as giving information that authorities deem false or derogatory to a foreigner concerning the political, economic, social, military, or international situation of the country.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Government restrictions limited access to information and often resulted in media self-censorship. State-controlled media did not provide balanced coverage and overwhelmingly presented the official version of events. Appearances by opposition politicians on state media were rare and limited primarily to those required by law during election campaigns. Authorities warned, fined, detained, and interrogated members of independent media.

By law the government may close a publication, printed or online, after two warnings in one year for violating a range of restrictions on the press. Additionally, regulations give authorities arbitrary power to prohibit or censor reporting. The Ministry of Information may suspend periodicals or newspapers for three months without a court ruling. The law also prohibits media from disseminating information on behalf of unregistered political parties, trade unions, and NGOs.

Independent media outlets, including newspapers and internet news websites, continued to operate under restrictive media laws and most faced discriminatory publishing and distribution policies, including limiting access to government officials and press briefings, controlling the size of press runs of newspapers, and raising the cost of printing. For example, journalists from independent media outlets Euroradio, BelaPAN, and tut.by did not receive accreditation to cover President Lukashenka’s April 19 annual address to the nation and the parliament, allegedly because the press center did not have enough seats.

State-owned media dominated the information field and maintained the highest circulation through generous subsidies and preferences. There was no countrywide private television, and broadcast media space was dominated by state-owned and Russian stations.

Some international media continued to operate in the country but not without interference and prior censorship. Euronews and the Russian channels First Channel, NTV, and RTR were generally available, although only through paid cable services in many parts of the country and with a time delay that allowed the removal of news deemed undesirable. At times authorities blocked, censored, or replaced international news programs with local programming.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities continued to harass and detain local and foreign journalists routinely.

Security forces continually hampered efforts of independent journalists to cover demonstrations and protests in Minsk and across the country. The independent Belarusian Association of Journalists reported that authorities briefly detained an accredited German media outlet’s driver and impounded media equipment, which prevented the outlet from covering a rally on November 15.

On March 4, a Minsk district court convicted popular independent news portal tut.by editor in chief Maryna Zolatava of “executive inaction” allegedly for allowing tut.by journalists to access the subscription service of state-run news agency Belta without payment. The court sentenced her to a fine of 7,650 rubles ($3,740). In addition, Zolatava must pay Belta’s court costs of 6,000 rubles ($2,930). Criminal charges against several other journalists from tut.by and an independent press agency Belapan were dropped after the accused agreed to pay fines.

The government refused to register some foreign media, such as Poland-based Belsat Television and Radio Racyja, and routinely fined freelance journalists working for them. As of September 25, at least 17 journalists were fined in 38 cases for not having government accreditation or for cooperating with a foreign media outlet. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, freelance journalists received fines totaling more than 35,000 rubles ($17,200). Most of the fines were imposed on journalists working for Belsat Television.

In October the Foreign Ministry refused the 11th accreditation application of freelancer Viktar Parfyonenka to work for Radio Racyja.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government exerted pressure on the vast majority of independent publications to exercise self-censorship, warning them not to report on certain topics or criticize the government. The government tightly and directly controlled the content of state-owned broadcast and print media. Television channels are required to air at least 30 percent local content. Local independent television stations operated in some areas and reported local news, although most were under government pressure to forgo reporting on national and sensitive issues or risk censorship.

According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office of Democratic Initiatives and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) monitoring report, during the November 17 parliamentary elections campaign at least seven opposition candidates’ prerecorded television speeches were not aired, and state newspapers censored or refused to publish a number of opposition candidates’ campaign platforms.

Authorities allowed only state-run radio and television networks to broadcast nationwide. The government used this national monopoly to disseminate its version of events and minimize alternative or opposing viewpoints.

Authorities warned businesses not to advertise in newspapers that criticized the government. As a result, independent media outlets operated under severe budgetary constraints.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses. There are large fines and prison sentences of up to four years for defaming or insulting the president. Penalties for defamation of character make no distinction between private and public persons. A public figure who is criticized for poor performance while in office may sue both the journalist and the media outlet that disseminated the critical report.

On April 9, police searched Belsat Television’s Minsk office and confiscated computer equipment. The Investigative Committee press service indicated that the search was related to an unspecified defamation case. According to Belsat journalist Ales Zaleuski, the criminal case might have been connected to an article in which Belsat Television incorrectly reported that Andrei Shved, the head of the Committee for Forensic Examination, had been detained. Belsat Television issued a retraction and apology, and the committee returned the computer equipment on April 11.

On April 18, a Brest district court convicted popular video blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin on charges of defaming and insulting police officers and sentenced him to a fine of 9,180 rubles ($4,480). In addition, Piatrukhin was ordered to pay 7,500 rubles ($3,660) in damages to police officers.

National Security: Authorities frequently cited national security as grounds for censorship of media.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government severely restricted this right. Authorities employed a variety of means to discourage demonstrations, disperse them, minimize their effect, and punish the participants. The law provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted it and selectively enforced laws and registration regulations to restrict the operation of independent associations that might criticize the government.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government at times restricted the right of citizens, former political prisoners in particular, to foreign travel.

In-country Movement: Passports serve as a form of identity, and authorities required them for permanent housing, work, and hotel registration. Police continued to harass selectively individuals who lived at a location other than their legal place of residence as indicated by mandatory stamps in their passports.

The law also requires persons who travel to areas within 15 miles of the border (aside from authorized crossing points) to obtain an entrance pass.

Foreign Travel: The government’s database of persons banned from traveling abroad contained the names of individuals who possessed state secrets, faced criminal prosecution or civil suits, or had outstanding financial obligations. Authorities informed some persons by letter that their names were in the database; others learned only at border crossings. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and security agencies, border and customs services, and financial investigation departments have a right to place persons on “preventive” surveillance lists.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is also required to track citizens working abroad, and employment agencies must report individuals who do not return from abroad as scheduled.

Exile: The law does not allow forced exile, but sources asserted that security forces continued to threaten some opposition members with bodily harm or prosecution if they did not leave the country, and many were in self-imposed exile.

Many university students who were expelled or believed they were under the threat of expulsion for their political activities opted for self-imposed exile and continued their studies abroad.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status and complementary and temporary protection to foreign citizens and stateless persons, with some exceptions. The government has established a procedure for determining refugee status and a system for providing protection to refugees. The law provides for protection against refoulement granted to foreigners who are denied refugee status or temporary protection but cannot be returned to their countries of origin.

All foreigners except Russians have the right to apply for asylum. According to the terms of the Union Treaty with Russia, Russians may legally settle and obtain residence permits in the country based on their Russian citizenship.

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers have freedom of movement within the country but must reside in the region where they filed their applications for refugee status and in a place known to authorities while their applications are being considered, including during appeals. Authorities reportedly often encouraged asylum seekers to settle in rural areas; however, the majority settled in cities and towns. Change of residence was possible with a notification to authorities. Authorities issue registered asylum seekers certificates that serve as documents to confirm their status as asylum seekers and identity and protect them from expulsion. In accordance with the law, they also must register with local authorities at their place of residence.

Durable Solutions: Adult asylum seekers have to pay for higher education as well as for nonemergency medical services while minors receive education and medical services free of charge. Free legal assistance, housing, and language training are not available to either asylum seekers or refugees. Naturalization of refugees was possible after seven years of permanent residence, as in the case of other categories of foreign residents.

Temporary Protection: Although the government may provide temporary protection (for up to one year) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, it did not do so during the year.

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, but the government consistently denied citizens this ability by not conducting elections according to international standards.

Since his election in 1994 to a four-year term as the country’s first president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has steadily consolidated power in the executive branch to dominate all branches of government, effectively ending any separation of powers among the branches. Flawed referendums in 1996 and 2004 amended the constitution to broaden his powers, extend his term in office, and remove presidential term limits. Subsequent elections, including the presidential elections held in 2015 and parliamentary elections held in November, continued to deny citizens the right to express their will in an honest and transparent process including fair access to media and to resources.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government regularly prosecuted officials alleged to be corrupt; however, the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem in the country.

On March 19, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) declared the country noncompliant with its anticorruption standards. The government did not publish evaluation or compliance reports, which according to GRECO “casted a dark shadow over Belarus’s commitment to preventing and combating corruption and to overall cooperation with GRECO.”

Individuals dismissed for lower-level corruption face a five-year ban on public-service employment, while those found to have committed more serious abuses are banned indefinitely from government employment. The law also allows seizure of property worth more than 25 percent of a public servant’s yearly income for those found guilty of corrupt practices. The law provides for public monitoring of the government’s anticorruption efforts. On May 10, the president signed a decree forbidding those convicted on corruption charges to be released early or on probation. It also prohibited such jail terms from being replaced with softer penalties. On October 18, President Lukashenka said his “government personnel list had some 850 names who enjoy certain powers and are granted certain immunity and who cannot be arrested without the president’s consent.”

Corruption: According to official sources, most corruption cases involved soliciting and accepting bribes, fraud, and abuse of power, although anecdotal evidence indicated such corruption usually did not occur as part of day-to-day interaction between citizens and minor state officials.

The absence of independent judicial and law enforcement systems, the lack of separation of powers, and a harried independent press largely barred from interaction with a nontransparent state bureaucracy made it virtually impossible to gauge the scale of corruption or combat it effectively.

The Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for organizing and coordinating activities to combat corruption, including monitoring law enforcement operations, analyzing the efficacy of implemented measures, supervising engaged parties, and drafting further legislation.

The most corrupt sectors were state administration and procurement, the industrial sector, the construction industry, health care, and education. In September the Supreme Court reported that from January to June, courts convicted 463 individuals “on corruption-related charges.”

There were numerous corruption prosecutions during the year, but prosecutions remained selective, nontransparent, and in some cases appeared politically motivated, according to independent observers and human rights advocates. For example, on July 4, the Supreme Court sentenced former presidential aide and Hrodna region chief inspector Siarhei Rauneika to 12 years in prison and property confiscation in a closed-door trial. The government charged Rauneika with accepting bribes of up to $200,000.

During the year at least 93 head doctors from the regions and Minsk, officials of the healthcare ministry, including a deputy minister, representatives of local pharmaceutical productions, and owners of pharmacy businesses were investigated for numerous accounts of corruption related to procurement of medicines and equipment. While a number of those cases continued at the end of the year, more than a dozen doctors and officials received sentences of up to nine years in prison. Former deputy health minister Ihar Lasitski was sentenced to six years in prison for accepting bribes.

Financial Disclosure: Anticorruption laws require income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials, their spouses, and members of households who have reached legal age and continue to live with them in the same household. According to the law, specialized anticorruption departments within the Prosecutor General’s Office, the KGB, and the Internal Affairs Ministry monitor and verify anticorruption practices, and the prosecutor general and all other prosecutors are mandated to oversee the enforcement of anticorruption law. These declarations were not available to the public; an exception applies to candidates running in presidential, parliamentary, and municipal elections. There are administrative sanctions and disciplinary penalties for noncompliance.

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

There were a number of active domestic human rights NGOs, although authorities were often hostile to their efforts, restricted their activities, selectively cooperated with them, and were not responsive to their views.

Two prominent human rights NGOs–the BHC and the Center for Legal Transformations–operated as registered entities. The government refused to register a number of others, placing them at risk of fines of up to 1,280 rubles ($625). Some unregistered NGOs, including Vyasna and Legal Assistance to the Population, continued to operate.

Authorities at times harassed both registered and unregistered human rights organizations. They subjected them to inspections and threats of deregistration and reportedly monitored their correspondence and telephone conversations. The government largely ignored reports issued by human rights NGOs and rarely met with unregistered groups. State-run media rarely reported on human rights NGOs and their activities.

During the year the BHC’s bank accounts remained blocked due to long-standing tax arrears related to foreign funding in the early 2000s, but the government allowed the committee to operate without other interference.

Authorities were generally reluctant to engage on human rights problems with international human rights NGOs or other human rights officials, and international NGO representatives often had difficulty gaining admission to the country. Authorities routinely ignored local and international groups’ recommendations on improving human rights in the country and requests to stop harassing the human rights community.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In September 2018 the UN Human Rights Council appointed Anais Marin as the new special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country and extended her mandate for another year on July 12. The government continued to speak against “the politicized” mandate of the rapporteur and did not recognize it. The rapporteur’s July report indicated, “the absence of significant improvements and the necessity for the government to clearly demonstrate its commitment to addressing long-standing criticism by introducing concrete, durable changes.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government took minor steps to implement the Human Rights Action Plan adopted in 2016 to outline, in the government’s words, “main activities for us to implement our international obligations” on human rights. While independent human rights groups, including the human rights center Vyasna and the BHC, welcomed the plan’s adoption, they also noted that the documents lack specific target goals or results assessment mechanisms.

A standing commission on human rights in the lower chamber of parliament was ineffective.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Although the law provides for the rights of workers, except state security and military personnel, to form and join independent unions and to strike, it places a number of serious restrictions on the exercise of these rights. The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively but does not protect against antiunion discrimination. Workers who say they are fired for union activity have no explicit right to reinstatement or to challenge their dismissal in court, according to independent union activists.

The law provides for civil penalties in the form of fines for violations of the freedom of assembly or collective bargaining, which were not sufficient to deter violations. The government also did not enforce these penalties.

The government severely restricted independent unions. The government-controlled Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus is the largest union federation, claiming more than four million members. It largely resembled its Soviet predecessors and served as a control mechanism and distributor of benefits. The Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BCDTU), with four constituent unions and approximately 10,000 members of independent trade unions, was the largest independent union umbrella organization, but tight government control over registration requirements and public demonstrations made it difficult for the congress to organize, expand, and conduct strikes.

The government did not respect freedom of association and collective bargaining. Prohibitive registration requirements that any new independent union have a large membership and cooperation from the employer continued to present significant obstacles to union formation. Trade unions may be deleted from the register by a decision of the registrar, without any court procedure. The registrar may remove a trade union from the register if, following the issuance of a written warning to the trade union stating that the organization violates legislation or its own statutes, the violations are not eliminated within a month. Authorities continued to resist attempts by workers to leave the official union and join the independent one.

The legal requirements to conduct a strike are high. For example, strikes may only be held three or more months after dispute resolution between the union and employer has failed. The duration of the strike must be specified in advance. Additionally, a minimum number of workers must continue to work during the strike. Nevertheless, these requirements were largely irrelevant, since the unions that represented almost all workers were under government control. Government authorities and managers of state-owned enterprises routinely interfered with union activities and hindered workers’ efforts to bargain collectively, in some instances arbitrarily suspending collective bargaining agreements. Management and local authorities blocked worker attempts to organize strikes on many occasions by declaring them illegal. Union members who participated in unauthorized public demonstrations were subjected to arrest and detention. Due to a persistent atmosphere of repression and the fear of imprisonment, few public demonstrations took place during the year.

The Law on Mass Events also seriously limited demonstrations, rallies, and other public action, constraining the right of unions to organize and strike. No foreign assistance may be offered to trade unions for holding seminars, meetings, strikes, pickets, etc., or for “propaganda activities” aimed at their own members, without authorities’ permission.

Government efforts to suppress independent unions included frequent refusals to extend employment contracts for members of independent unions and refusals to register independent unions. According to BCDTU leader Alyaksandr Yarashuk, the government had not approved establishment of new independent unions since a 1999 decree requiring trade unions to register with the government but on January 15, it approved the third registration application of a branch of the independent trade union of miners, chemical, oil refinery, energy, transport, construction industries and other workers in Salihorsk. Registration followed restructuring of the state-owned potash fertilizer producer Belaruskali, which resulted in establishment of a number of separate subsidiaries, including Remmantazhstroi, where 400 workers wanted to keep their membership in the independent trade union. Authorities routinely fired workers who were deemed “natural leaders” or who involved themselves in NGOs or opposition political activities.

In August 2018 a Minsk district court convicted independent Radio and Electronics Trade Union chairman Genadz Fedynich and chief accountant Ihar Komlik for allegedly evading taxes in 2011 and sentenced the two to four years of house arrest. The court also banned the trade unionists from holding any administrative positions for five years. Protesters outside the courthouse were detained while protesting the trial. In November 2018 the Minsk city court dismissed their appeal. A November 2019 presidential amnesty law reduced the sentences of both Fedynich and Komlik by a year.

On May 10, Fedynich reported that the Penitentiary Inspectorate eased the conditions of his four-year restricted freedom sentence. Under the original house arrest order, Fedynich was required be at home from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. and was prohibited from leaving his residence on weekends and public holidays. Since May Fedynich has been allowed to visit health-care providers, post offices, stores, and other public facilities from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and also permitted to walk from his apartment to his mailbox inside the apartment building at any time. His curfew time was moved back from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Authorities refused Fedynich’s request to allow him to visit a church and help his ailing relatives with housework on weekends.

The government requires state employees, including employees of state-owned enterprises, who constituted approximately 70 percent of the workforce, to sign short-term work contracts. Although such contracts may have terms of up to five years, most expired after one year, which gave the government the ability to fire employees by declining to renew their contracts. Many members of independent unions, political parties, and civil society groups lost their jobs because of this practice. A government edict provides the possibility for employers to sign open-ended work contracts with an employee only after five years of good conduct and performance by the employee.

Opposition political party members and democratic activists sometimes had difficulty finding work due to government pressure on employers.

In 2014 the president issued Decree No. 5 On Strengthening the Requirements for Managers and Employees of Organizations, which the authorities stated was aimed at rooting out “mismanagement,” strengthening discipline, and preventing the hiring of dishonest managers in new positions. Among other subjects under the new decree, managers may reduce payment of employee bonuses (which often comprised a large portion of salaries) and workers may be fired more easily. An independent trade union lawyer told the press that workers have fewer rights under the new law.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce its provisions.

Parents who have had their parental rights stripped and are unemployed or are working but fail to compensate state child-care facilities for the maintenance of their children, may be subject to forced employment by court order. Individuals who refuse forced employment may be held criminally liable and face community service or corrective labor for a period of up to two years, imprisonment for up to three years, or other freedom restrictions, all involving compulsory labor and garnishment of 70 percent of their wages to compensate expenses incurred by the government.

In 2010 the government enforced procedures for placing individuals suffering from chronic alcohol, drug or other substance abuse in so-called medical labor centers when they have been found guilty of committing criminal violations while under the influence of alcohol, narcotics and psychotropic, toxic or other intoxicating substances. Such offenders may be held in these centers by court orders for 12 to 18 months. They are mandated to work, and if they refuse, they may be placed in solitary confinement for up to 10 days. In 2017 the deputy head of the Supreme Court, Valer Kalinkovich, justified operations of the medical labor centers, saying there was no alternative for alcohol addicts who also “violated rights of other people.”

Minsk authorities required officially registered unemployed individuals to perform paid community service two days a month from May to September and one day a month from October to December and January to April. In addition, they were banned from receiving some unemployment benefits, depending on their length of unemployment, if they performed less than 22 working days of community service during a year. Individuals with disabilities, single parents and parents of three and more children, as well as parents of children with disabilities and younger than 18 were exempt.

Regulations against forced labor were seldom enforced, and resources and inspections dedicated to preventing forced and compulsory labor were minimal and inadequate to deter violations. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government rarely identified victims of trafficking, and prosecution of those responsible for forced labor remained minimal. Government efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor in the country did not improve.

The government continued the Soviet practice of subbotniks, (Saturday work) that requires employees of government, state enterprises, and students receiving government assistance to work uncompensated on a few Saturdays a year. Employers and authorities threatened workers who refused to participate with fines or unpaid premium compensation. In some localities, some local authorities forced students and state companies’ employees to participate in harvesting in September-October. For example, university students in Vitsebsk reported the administration had them harvest apples at a local farm for two weeks in September.

Former inmates stated their monthly wages were as low as three to four rubles ($1.50 to $2.00). Senior officials with the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Interior Ministry stated in November 2015 that at least 97 percent of all work-capable inmates worked in prison as required by law, excluding retirees and persons with disabilities, and that labor in prison was important and useful for rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16, but children as young as 14 may conclude a labor contract with the written consent of one parent or a legal guardian. The Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for enforcement of the law. Persons younger than 18 are allowed to work in nonhazardous jobs but are not allowed to work overtime, on weekends, or on government holidays. Work may not be harmful to children’s health or hinder their education.

The government generally enforced these laws and penalties were sufficient to deter most violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, language, or social status. These laws do not apply specifically to employment or occupation. The government did not effectively enforce these laws or secure any effective penalties to deter violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to ethnicity, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and HIV-positive status (see section 6). In addition, some members of the Romani community complained that employers often discriminated against them and either refused to employ them or did not provide fulltime jobs. The government did not take any action during the year to prevent or eliminate employment discrimination. Employment discrimination happened across most economic sectors and in both private and public workplaces.

The law requiring equal pay for equal work was not regularly enforced, and the minister of labor and social welfare stated in 2016 that on average women were paid 24 percent less than men.

The government maintains a list of 181 “physically demanding” jobs “in hazardous or dangerous conditions” that women are not permitted to occupy. Very few women were in the upper ranks of management or government, and most women were concentrated in the lower-paid public sector. Although the law grants women the right to three years of maternity leave with assurance of a job upon return, employers often circumvented employment protections by using short-term contracts, then refusing to renew a woman’s contract when she became pregnant.

A government prohibition against workdays longer than seven hours for persons with disabilities reportedly made companies reluctant to hire them. Local NGOs reported that up to 85 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed. Authorities provided minimal welfare benefits for persons with disabilities, and calculations of pensions did not consider disability status. Members of the country’s Paralympic teams received half the salaries and prize money of athletes without disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

As of October 1, the national minimum monthly wage exceeded the poverty line.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours and provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week. The law provides for mandatory overtime and nine days of holiday pay and restricts overtime to 10 hours a week, with a maximum of 180 hours of overtime each year.

The law establishes minimum conditions for workplace safety and worker health, but employers often ignored these standards. Workers at many heavy machinery plants did not wear minimal safety gear. The state labor inspectorate lacked authority to enforce employer compliance and often ignored violations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare was responsible for enforcement of these laws. Information regarding resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties was not available. The government reported that approximately 400,000 of the 4.5 million workforce worked in the informal economy. The law did not cover informal workers.

The labor ministry reported 146 persons killed at workplaces in 2018, up from 115 in 2017.

The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Belgium

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Belgium is a parliamentary democracy with a limited constitutional monarchy. The country is a federal state with several levels of government: national; regional (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels); language community (Flemish, French, and German); provincial; and local. The Federal Council of Ministers, headed by the prime minister, remains in office as long as it retains the confidence of the lower house (Chamber of Representatives) of the bicameral parliament. Observers considered federal parliamentary elections held on May 26 to be free and fair.

The federal police are responsible for internal security and nationwide law and order, including migration and border enforcement. They report to the ministers of interior and justice. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: some attacks motivated by anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Authorities generally investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted such cases.

Authorities actively investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, including specific subsidiary protection that goes beyond asylum criteria established by the 1951 Convention relating to the Treatment of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. Refugee status and residence permits are limited to five years and become indefinite if extended.

Authorities continued to face a significant flow of “transit migrants,” defined as those who remained in the country without requesting asylum while attempting illegal travel to the United Kingdom. To address the flow, the federal government started to detain transit migrants physically to ensure their repatriation, in those cases where they could be deported to a safe country of origin. Subsidiary protection is available to transit migrants if they request it, and local governments and NGOs did inform migrants of this option. Many transit migrants, however, do not request legal status in the country, even if they are aware of the possibility to apply for subsidiary protection.

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

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

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary “subsidiary” protection to individuals who did not satisfy the legal criteria for refugee status but who could not return to their country of origin due to a real risk of serious harm. Under EU guidelines, individuals granted “subsidiary protection” are entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, and equal access to health care, education, and housing. In 2018 authorities granted subsidiary protection to 1,777 individuals.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

The law provides for the right to strike for all public and private sector workers except the military. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and the government protected this right. Trade union representatives cannot be fired for performing their duties and are protected against being fined by their employers; they are also entitled to regular severance payments.

The government generally enforced applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties were generally not sufficient to deter violations, as employers often paid fines rather than reinstate workers fired for union activity. At the same time, fines on workers for strike or collective bargaining actions often resulted in breaking strike movements. Administrative or judicial procedures related to trade unions were not longer than other court cases.

Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were inconsistently respected by employers. Worker organizations were generally free to function outside of government control. Unions complained that judicial intervention in collective disputes undermined collective bargaining rights.

In July a court sentenced an employer for abusive termination of four employees who went on strike without support from their trade union. The court highlighted that all employees are protected equally during a protest, regardless of the trade union position.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but such practices occurred. The government effectively enforced the law; resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were adequate. Legal penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Instances of forced and compulsory labor included men who were forced to work in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, agriculture, construction, cleaning, and retail sites. Foreign victims were subjected to forced domestic service. Forced begging continued, particularly in the Romani community.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

There are laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. The government generally enforced these laws with adequate resources, inspections, and penalties, although such practices reportedly occurred mainly in restaurants. Persons found in violation of child labor laws could face penalties sufficient to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Some employers discriminated in employment and occupation against women, persons with disabilities, and members of certain minorities as well as against internal and foreign migrant workers. The government took legal action based on antidiscrimination laws. UNIA facilitated arbitration or other settlements in some cases of discrimination. Such settlements could involve monetary payments, community service, or other penalties imposed on the offender.

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

The Federal Institute for the Equality of Men and Women is responsible for promoting gender equality and may initiate lawsuits if it discovers violations of equality laws. Most complaints received during the year were work related and most concerned the termination of employment due to pregnancy. Economic discrimination against women continued. According to Eurostat, women’s hourly wage rates were 6 percent less than those of their male colleagues in 2017. The law requires that one-third of the board members of publicly traded companies, but not private ones, be women.

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service generally enforced regulations effectively. Inspectors from both the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Social Security enforced labor regulations. These ministries jointly worked to ensure that standards were effectively enforced in all sectors, including the informal sector, and that wages and working conditions were consistent with collective bargaining agreements. Wage, overtime, and occupational safety violations were most common in the restaurant, construction, and logistics industries. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Some employers still operated below legal standards.

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

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

Belize

Executive Summary

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

Police are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of National Security is responsible for oversight of police, prisons, the coast guard, and the military. Although primarily charged with external security, the military also provides limited domestic security support to civilian authorities and has limited powers of arrest that are executed by the Belize Defense Force (BDF) for land and littoral areas and by the coast guard for coastal and maritime areas. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

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

In some cases the government took steps to prosecute public officials who committed abuses, both administratively and through the courts, but there were few successful prosecutions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Press and Media, Including Online Media: In July a law firm representing Prime Minister Dean Barrow informed media outlets they could face legal action if they broadcast a statement from a foreign government agency related to Barrow. The statement, which was made public, was one of the court documents filed in a real-estate fraud case involving foreign investors. The prime minister and his law firm were named in the court document as having knowledge of the land scam. The opposition party criticized the prime minister’s letter, and Senator Osmany Salas described it as an attempt to restrain freedom of press.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government detained several unaccompanied minors who were transiting the country en route to the United States to join their families.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government does not distinguish between refugees and asylum seekers, as the law itself does not reference asylum seekers–only refugees and recognized refugees. During the year the government did not grant asylum status to any of the pending 3,740 applicants, although the Refugee Eligibility Committee recommended 517 persons for approval. Many applications were summarily denied because the applicants did not apply for asylum within 14 days of entering the country, as the law requires. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Help for Progress, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees implementing partner in the country, opened a resource facility near the western border to offer information on how to apply for asylum status, and it continued to assist by providing limited basic services, including shelter, clothing, and food to refugees and asylum seekers.

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

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

During the year the Elections and Boundaries Department conducted a reregistration of the entire electorate. A significant number of citizens claimed they were not allowed to register, and subsequently vote, because they lacked identification documents, which they said the government failed to provide.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Allegations of corruption in government among public officials, including ministers, deputy ministers, and chief executive officers, were numerous, although no substantial proof was presented in most cases. In September a foreign law enforcement agency detained the deputy director of the Belize Tax Service Department, Reynaldo Verde, for extortion and attempted extortion of a foreign national investor in Belize. The investor claimed that in 2017, Verde requested BZ$350,000 ($175,000) in exchange for erasing the taxes the investor owed to the government. Verde denied the accusations, and as of year’s end he continued detained abroad awaiting a court hearing.

The Senate Select Committee charged with investigating alleged corruption within the Immigration and Nationality Department failed to produce a report and recommendations to the government. Public hearings conducted during the 2017 investigation revealed several instances where high-ranking government officials, including ministers of government, approved the issuance of visas, citizenship, and passports to unqualified individuals. Citizens alleged corruption against the Lands and Surveys Department in the Ministry of Natural Resources for illegally distributing lands to party associates. Despite the accusations of political cronyism, the government insisted it maintained transparency in the distribution of land.

The 2017 case brought by the government against Andre Vega, the son of former deputy prime minister Gaspar Vega, concluded in July with a court ruling that Vega must repay BZ$400,000 ($200,000) in compensation he received for wrongfully being awarded a privately owned piece of land. Andre Vega and attorney Sharon Pitts were accused of unjustifiably enriching themselves from questionable land transactions while Gaspar Vega was minister. Pitts entered into mediation with the government in an effort to find an amicable solution to return money made in the scheme.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to submit annual financial disclosure statements, which the Integrity Commission reviews. At the same time, the constitution allows authorities to prohibit citizens from questioning the validity of such statements. Anyone who does so outside of the rigidly prescribed procedure is subject to a fine of up to BZ$5,000 ($2,500), three years’ imprisonment, or both. Many public officials did not submit annual financial disclosure statements and suffered no repercussions. In July the Integrity Commission published the names of 32 local government members who failed to file sworn declaration of assets for 2018. In accordance with the law, a report was also sent to the director of public prosecution for further action, but as of year’s end, none had been taken. As of September the commission continued to be staffed by only a secretary.

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

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

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

The law allows authorities to refer disputes involving public- and private-sector employees who provide “essential services” to compulsory arbitration, prohibit strikes, and terminate actions. The postal service, monetary and financial services, civil aviation, petroleum sector, port authority personnel (stevedores and pilots), and security services are deemed essential services by local laws, beyond the International Labor Organization definition of essential services. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination, but there were some reports workers were intimidated into either not joining a union or dropping union membership if they had joined. In July, 125 employees of the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH), the country’s only referral hospital, walked out after learning the institution had no pension program for employees. The KHMH Workers’ Union stated the policy contradicted the law governing their employment and sought a legal opinion on the matter. On another matter, in September the union demanded that the hospital authority remove its director of medical services for arbitrarily withholding overtime payments to medical officers for two months. The union threatened to commence legal action if the director was not removed.

In August, Belize Water Service Limited (BWSL) signed a collective bargaining agreement for 295 employees that sought to promote efficient, safe, and effective working practices between the company and the union. BWSL, the only water and sewage utility for the country, is government owned.

Workers may file complaints with the Ministry of Labor or seek redress from the courts, although it remained difficult to prove that terminations were due to union activity. The ministry’s Labor Department generally handled labor cases without lengthy delays and dealt with appeals via arbitration outside of the court system. The court did not apply the law requiring reinstatement of workers fired for union activity and provided monetary compensation instead.

The Labor Department was hampered by factors such as a shortage of vehicles and fuel in its efforts to monitor compliance, particularly in rural areas. There were complaints of administrative or judicial delays relating to labor complaints and disputes. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Antiunion discrimination and other forms of employer interference in union functions sometimes occurred, and on several occasions, unions threatened or carried out strikes. NGOs working in migrant communities asserted that in certain industries, particularly the banana, citrus, and construction sectors, employers often did not respect due process, did not pay minimum wages, and classified workers as contract and nonpermanent employees to avoid providing certain benefits. An NGO noted that both national and migrant workers were denied rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced or compulsory labor are covered under the antitrafficking law and include penalties sufficient to deter violations, although the government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources and inspections to deter violations were limited. The government reportedly investigated three forced labor cases; it did not identify any forced labor victims during the year.

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

The International Labor Organization expressed concern that the Trade Unions Act allows the sanction of compulsory labor to be imposed as a punishment for breaches of labor discipline or for peaceful participation in strikes.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

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

The Labor Department has primary responsibility for implementing labor policies and enforcing labor laws, but it was not effective in enforcing the law. Inspectors from the Labor and Education Departments are responsible for enforcing these regulations, with the bulk of the enforcement falling to truancy officers. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. There is also a National Child Labor Committee under the National Committee for Families and Children, a statutory interagency group that advocates for policies and legislation to protect children and eliminate child labor.

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was above the poverty-limit income level, according to statistics from 2009, the most recent year for which statistics were available. The law sets the workweek at no more than six days or 45 hours and requires premium payment for overtime work. Workers are entitled to two workweeks’ paid annual holiday. Additionally, there are 13 days designated as public and bank holidays. Employees who work on public and bank holidays are entitled to pay at time-and-a-half, except for Good Friday and Christmas, which are paid at twice the normal rate.

Several different health and safety regulations cover numerous industries. The regulations, which apply to all sectors, provide that the employer must take “reasonable care” for the safety of employees in the course of their employment. The regulations further provide that every employer who provides or arranges accommodation for workers to reside at or in the vicinity of a place of employment shall provide and maintain sufficient and hygienic housing accommodations, a sufficient supply of wholesome water, and sufficient and proper sanitary arrangements. In September, two men died after falling 40 feet from scaffolding while placing insulation in a public sporting facility. Four other men also fell but survived. The men, who were not provided harnesses, fell when the scaffold they were working on collapsed due to the condition of the wood.

The Ministry of Labor did not always effectively enforce minimum wage and health and safety regulations. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to secure compliance, especially in the more remote areas. Fines varied according to the infraction but generally were not very high and thus not sufficient to deter violations. In 2017 a labor tribunal was established, but it was unclear how many cases the tribunal had heard.

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

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

Benin

Executive Summary

Benin is a stable constitutional presidential republic. In 2016 voters elected Patrice Talon to a five-year term as president in a multiparty election, replacing former president Thomas Boni Yayi, who served two consecutive five-year terms. During the year authorities held legislative elections in which no opposition party was deemed qualified to participate after failing to meet registration requirements implemented in 2018, effectively excluding them from the elections. As a result voter turnout declined from 65 percent in 2015 to 27 percent; the pro-Talon Progressive Union and Republican Block parties continued to hold all 83 seats in the National Assembly. Unlike in 2015, when the last legislative elections were held, international observers did not assess the elections as generally free, fair, and transparent.

The Beninese Armed Forces (FAB) are responsible for external security and support the Republican Police in maintaining internal security. The Republican Police, formed in 2018 through a merger of police and gendarmes, are under the Ministry of Interior and have primary responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order in urban and rural areas. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; rape and violence against girls and women with inadequate government action for prosecution and accountability; and child labor.

Impunity was a problem. Although the government tried to control corruption and abuses, including by prosecuting and punishing public officials, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights.

There were many public and private media outlets, including two public and seven private television stations, three public and 50 private radio stations, and approximately 175 newspapers and periodicals. Many of these refrained from openly criticizing government policy.

There were reports the government inhibited freedom of the press.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The press and media were closely regulated. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasigovernmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual and perhaps inherently contradictory role of providing for press freedom and a mandate to protect the country against “inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing” media reporting.

The government arrested journalists during the year. On April 18, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, police arrested Casimir Kpedjo of the newspaper Nouvelle Economie for “spreading false information about the Beninese economy.” On April 23, he was released pending prosecution before CRIET, which had yet to be conducted by year’s end. On August 12, Ignace Sossou was convicted of “publication of false information by electronic networks” on Benin Web TV and journalist Parfait Folly was convicted of disseminating “false information” through WhatsApp. The journalists received one-month and six-month suspended sentences respectively and fines of 500,000 CFA francs ($849). Sossou appealed his sentence to the Court of Appeals of Cotonou. His appeal had yet to be heard at year’s end.

On December 20, Sossou was arrested on separate charges and on December 24, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fines of 200,000 CFA francs ($340) for “harassment through electronic means” after posting quotes to his personal social media accounts that he attributed to Cotonou’s public prosecutor. Sossou alleged that the prosecutor had made the comments during an anti “fake news” training organized by the French Media Development Agency (CFI).

On May 16, the Court of Appeals ruled that HAAC’s May 2018 suspension of the newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune violated the constitution and ordered HAAC to rescind the suspension. The ruling struck down a lower court’s finding in favor of HAAC’s suspension of La Nouvelle Tribune for publishing an article regarding the president’s private life that was deemed offensive. At year’s end HAAC had yet to rescind the suspension and La Nouvelle Tribune had yet to resume publication.

On December 17, the HAAC ordered the opposition-owned radio station Soleil FM to suspend its broadcasts on the grounds that its owner and 2016 presidential candidate Sebastien Ajavon failed to appear in person to sign the station’s annual broadcast registration documents, even though it is common practice for legal representatives to sign media registration documents on behalf of owners. Ajavon resides in France after being sentenced in absentia to 20 years imprisonment on drug trafficking charges. The charges against Ajavon were viewed by some observers as political in nature.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: HAAC publicly warned media outlets against publishing information related to legal cases pending before criminal courts because it could be interpreted as an attempt to influence court rulings. It was possible to purchase and thus influence the content of press coverage. HAAC warned media against such practices. Some journalists practiced self-censorship because they were indebted to government officials who granted them service contracts. Other journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear the government would suspend their media outlets. HAAC held public hearings on alleged misconduct by media outlets during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law journalists may be prosecuted for libel and slander. Journalists may also be prosecuted for incitement of violence and property destruction, compromising national security through the press, or a combination of the two. Penalties for conviction include incarceration and fines. According to the 2018 Digital Code, anyone convicted of “relaying false information against a person using electronic means” may be sentenced to between one and six months in prison and a fine between 500,000 and 1,000,000 CFA francs ($849 to $1,698). The Digital Code applies to all social media.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association. Advance notification is required for demonstrations and other public gatherings. Unlike in 2018 the government frequently restricted freedom of peaceful assembly on political grounds.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

In 2018 as part of its effort to reduce corruption, the government banned roadblocks throughout the country. There were no illegal roadblocks during the year.

Foreign Travel: The government maintained documentary requirements for minors traveling abroad as part of its campaign against trafficking in persons. This was not always enforced, and trafficking of minors across borders continued.

The government regulates the timing and length of seasonal movement of migratory Fulani (Peul) herdsmen and their livestock into and within the country.

On July 31, the government issued a decree barring anyone wanted on criminal charges from obtaining civil documents, including passports, national identity cards, and certificates of citizenship.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Durable Solutions: The government assisted refugees and asylum seekers with obtaining documents from their countries of origin while granting their status as privileged residents. The government also facilitated naturalization of refugees as part of a local integration effort. The government involved civil society, media, and academia in the process. In March 2018 the government National Commission of Assistance to Refugees assumed responsibility for refugee issues in the country following closure of the local UNHCR office. The commission cooperates with UNHCR through its regional office in Dakar, Senegal.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices.

It was commonly believed, and acknowledged by some judicial personnel, that the judicial system at all levels was susceptible to corruption.

Corruption: The government took several actions during the year to combat corruption. On February 7, after eight years in pretrial detention, CRIET convicted and sentenced the leaders of an unregulated investment company (Investment Consultancy and Computering Services) and its accomplices. CRIET found five individuals guilty of illegal microfinance activities, illegal banking activities, and fraud. Sentences ranged from three to 10 years’ imprisonment, with fines of between eight and 10 million CFA francs ($13,582 to $16,978). On February 20, the Council of Ministers dismissed Modeste Toboula, prefect of the Littoral Department, because he had authorized the illegal sale of state-owned plots of lands, two plots of which he acquired for himself. CRIET convicted Toboula of abuse of office and on June 3, sentenced him to one year in prison and fined him two million CFA francs ($3,396). In August, Toboula was released conditionally on medical grounds. On April 8, CRIET tried former chief clerk of the Court of Cotonou Abou Seidou in absentia, convicted him of embezzlement, and sentenced him to life imprisonment and a fine of 800 million CFA francs ($1.4 million).

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected public officials. Declarations are not made available to the public. The National Anti-Corruption Agency (ANLC) reported that as of August 12, the president and all cabinet members, and members of the Constitutional Court, HAAC, the Independent Electoral Commission, the ANLC, the High Court of Justice, and the Office of the Ombudsman submitted asset disclosure statements. The ANLC report noted, however, that only 63 of the 83 sitting National Assembly members and 27 of the 30 members of the Economic and Social Council had submitted declarations.

The penalty for failure to submit an asset disclosure is a fine of six times the monthly wage of the official concerned. The penalty has never been applied.

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

Several 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: In December 2018 the Constitutional Court swore in the first members of the Benin Human Rights Commission. The country had an ombudsman responsible for responding to citizen complaints of maladministration who was independent, adequately resourced, and effective. The Office of the Ombudsman reported addressing 258 cases, including cases involving contested land ownership, unfair dismissal, debt recovery, and government failure to implement judicial rulings.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers, except certain civil servants and public employees, to form and join independent unions with some restrictions. Unions must register with the Ministry of Interior, a three-month process, or risk a fine. The law does not establish clear grounds on which registration of a trade union may be denied or approved, and official registration may be denied without the union having recourse to a court. The law provides that a trade union federation must be made up of at least five enterprise-level trade unions in the same sector or branch of activity. Additionally, the law requires that a trade union confederation must be composed of at least three trade union federations of different sectors or branches of activities and that only trade union confederations may have affiliation at a national or international level.

On March 28, police arrested and jailed Joseph Aimasse–a member of a union affiliated with the Trade Union Confederation of Beninese Workers in Porto-Novo–for attempting to organize a women’s demonstration against National Assembly votes on laws limiting citizens’ freedom. The Court of Porto-Novo convicted Aimasse of “inciting people to participate in an unauthorized demonstration” and sentenced him to two months in prison, with a fine of 200,000 CFA francs ($340).

The law provides for the rights of workers to bargain collectively. By law, collective bargaining agreements are negotiated within a joint committee including representatives of one or several unions and or representatives of one or several employers’ associations. A labor inspector, a secretary, and one or two rapporteurs preside over the committee. The minister of labor and civil service has the authority to determine which trade unions may be represented in the negotiation at the enterprise level. The minister has the power to extend the scope of coverage of a collective agreement. The law imposes compulsory conciliation and binding arbitration in the event of disputes during collective bargaining in all sectors, “nonessential service” sectors included. The National Permanent Commission for Consultation and Collective Bargaining, and the Social Sector-based Dialogue Committee were active in each ministry to foster dialogue between the government and unions. On September 5, the commission met to address the status of outstanding union demands.

In 2016 the government, the National Employers’ Association, and six union confederations signed a “National Charter of Social Dialogue” including several measures to be undertaken by the parties to enhance dialogue while fostering democracy and good governance in a climate of social accord and national unity. In 2017 the government approved two decrees to establish a National Social Dialogue Council and to appoint its members. The council is intended to replace the National Permanent Commission for Consultation and Collective Bargaining.

The law provides for the right to strike for a limited duration with prior notification. The merchant marine code grants seafarers the right to organize but not the right to strike. A trade union considering a strike should notify, in writing, the leadership of the concerned entity and the minister of labor and civil service at least three days before the start of the strike. The notification letter should mention the reasons for the strike, including the location, date, and start time of the strike, and the expected duration of the strike. Although authorities do not formally grant permission to strike, strikes that fail to comply with these requirements are deemed illegal.

Authorities may declare strikes illegal for reasons such as threatening social peace and order and may requisition striking workers to maintain minimum services. The government may prohibit any strike on the grounds it threatens the economy or the national interest. Laws prohibit employer retaliation against strikers, except that a company may withhold part of a worker’s pay following a strike.

In September 2018 the National Assembly passed Act No 2018-35 Amending and Supplementing Act No 2001-09 of 2002 related to the right to strike; in October 2018 the president implemented the law. The law restricts the maximum duration of a strike to 10 days per year for all employees, except workers who are barred from striking. By law health-sector staff and military and police, customs, and water, forest and game and wildlife officers are barred from striking. Minimum service is required for workers that carry out essential responsibilities such as judges, prison and justice system personnel, and staff of the sectors of energy, water, maritime and air transport, financial administration, and telecommunication. Private radio and television broadcasters are excepted. Another provision provides that strikes motivated by the violation of universally recognized union rights may not prompt salary deductions.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Employers may not take union membership or activity into account in hiring, work distribution, professional or vocational training, or dismissal. In addition to certain civil servants and public employees, domestic workers, agricultural workers, migrant workers, and those in export processing zones are excluded from relevant legal protections.

Workers discussed labor-related issues with employers through the National Consultation and Collective Bargaining Commission. The commission held sessions and met with the government to discuss workers’ claims and propose solutions. Information regarding whether remedies and penalties had deterrent effects was not available.

The government generally respected the right to form and join independent unions and the right to collective bargaining. By law workers in the defense, justice, public security, and health sectors may not strike. The government did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the informal sector and with regard to the provisions on antiunion discrimination and reinstatement. There were reports that employers threatened individuals with dismissal for union activity. No violations related to collective bargaining rights were reported. Penalties were enough to deter violations.

In January 2018 the National Assembly passed legislation abolishing the right to strike for workers in the security, health, and justice sectors. The move triggered a general strike by the National Union of Magistrates, paralyzing the administration of justice. In January 2018 the Constitutional Court struck down these provisions stating that the right to strike is a constitutional right that should be protected. The court in its decision urged the National Assembly to regulate the right to strike instead of banning it. In June 2018 the court reversed its previous ruling on the right to strike for government workers in the defense, security, health, and justice sectors, giving as justification the greater societal good of providing that essential state functions are performed without interruption.